Thursday, May 20, 2010

Copala Autonomous Leader and His Wife Assassinated

by Kristin Bricker

Timoteo Alejandro Ramirez and his wife Cleriberta Castro were found dead in their home today, according to San Juan Copala's blog.  Contralinea reports that the perpetrators are "hitmen from MULT," the Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle.  Neighbors saw an armed commando that they say works for MULT in the area around the time of the killing.

Ramirez was a "natural leader" of the Yosoyuxi neighborhood, which forms part of the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala.  According to indigenous customs, "natural leaders" are those who don't propose themselves as leaders; the community chooses them because of their long record of community service.

San Juan Copala declared itself autonomous following the 2006 peaceful uprising that nearly overthrew Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.  It threw out all political parties and organizations and governs itself through traditional indigenous governance, known in Mexico as "uses and customs."  The autonomous project initially enjoyed support amongst the rank-and-file of some of the political organizations that operate in the zone.  However, some organizations' leaders, concerned that they would lose power if the autonomous project moved forward, actively and violently opposed the project.  Those leaders who supported autonomy were quickly replaced by people who were sympathetic to the political parties.

San Juan Copala made international headlines last month when alleged members of the Union for the Social Well-being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT) opened fire on an international aid caravan headed to the besieged community.  Mexican social leader Bety Cariño and Finnish observor Jyri Jaakkola died in the attack. The caravan was bring food, clothing, water, and medicine to San Juan Copala, which UBISORT paramilitaries have blockaded since January.  No one can enter or leave the community, and the paramilitaries cut off electricity and running water.

The intense international outrage that followed the caravan attack did nothing to stem the violence.  Two weeks after the attack, UBISORT paramilitaries kidnapped six Triqui women, five children, and a baby when they snuck out of Copala to purchase food in the market of the nearby town of Juxtlahuaca. The Oaxaca state government and the Oaxaca State Human Rights Commission refused to accompany the woman back to San Juan Copala to ensure their safe passage.

San Juan Copala has called for a second, larger international caravan to the autonomous municipality on June 8.

First photo: Courtesy of Contralinea.
Second photo: by Heriberto Rodriguez.  Timoteo Alejandro Ramirez talks to Oaxacan state police.
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