Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Punishment of San Juan Copala

by Zósimo Camacho, Contralinea
photos by Julio César Hernández

The reorganization of paramilitary groups in the Triqui region began after the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) movement.  The construction of the autonomous municipality was seen by the local political bosses and by sectors of the state government as a declaration of war.  The reprimand is directed at the Triquis who thought they could be "autonomous."

Santiago Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca.   Rufino Juárez Hernández, president of the Union for the Social Well-being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT), walks down the streets of this municipal seat without being bothered.  On the contrary, he decides when to talk to the commanders who come from Huajuapan de León to transfer the bodies and the bullet-ridden and plundered automobiles, which were victims of the ambush this past April 27 in the vicinity of the La Sabana community, one of the few communities that his organization, affiliated with the ruling Institutional Revolution Party (PRI), still controls.

It would seem that Juárez Hernández is a peer or a superior of the commanders of the State Investigation Agency (AEI), Lázaro Hernández Rendón and Rodrigo Peralta Mejía.  Not a single police investigator nor commander nor public prosecutor questions Rufino Juárez about his participation in the ambush against the peace caravan, despite the fact that the victims accuse him of being the intellectual author of the murders, and that he has publicly declared himself to be the leader of the UBISORT, the organization that has put the Triqui culture's most important political and ceremonial community, San Juan Copala, under siege.

Nor did agents from the Center for Investigation and National Security (CISEN, the federal government's domestic security agency) reproach him, nor did members of the Mexican Army's second section, which is deployed in the zone.  Some pretend not to see him; others watch him pass without questioning him at all.  All this, despite the fact that Rufino is armed, and four of his bodyguards don't even bother to hide their rifles and shotguns under their long leather coats that reach their knees.

The Consequences of Autonomy

No one remembers a shootout in this municipal seat.  The complex agreements between the conflicting sides in the Triqui region have managed to keep this tiny city of less than ten thousand residents in peace.  The municipal seat is located less than 100 kilometers from the heart of the dispute, San Juan Copala, which its residents declared an autonomous municipality in January 2007.

The construction of Triqui autonomy set off two simultaneous processes: one the one hand, an ethnic cohesion that hadn't been seen in decades.  In 2007, for the first time in over 30 years, the most important Triqui holiday, known as the "third Friday" or carnival, was held in San Juan Copala by members of all of the organizations that have been at odds: the Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULT), the Independent Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULTI), UBISORT, and members of the National Peasant Federation (CNC).

The other process that was set off was the rearming of the leaders who felt displaced by the new autonomous authorities.

"The Mexican State benefits more than anyone else when the Triqui are fighting amongst themselves.  But the region's political and economic bosses also benefit.  It is about the powerful families in the cities of Putla, Juxtlahuaca, and Tlaxiaco," explains lawyer and Metropolitan Autonomous University postgraduate investigator Francisco López Bárcenas.

According to the author of San Juan Copala: Dominación Política y Resistencia Popular (San Juan Copala: Political Domination and Popular Resistance), the violence that the Triqui people are experiencing has been imposed and exacerbated by outside forces.

"The Triquis' lands and harvests have been coveted: coffee, banana, and corn.  And they've suffered from a very strong distain and racism: everyone knows that they can be killed and nothing will happen.  And they have generated very strong resistance and pride."

The postgraduate investigator explains that the political bosses from nearby cities say that the Triquis are violent and murderers, "but they don't say that they sell them weapons;" they say that they are lazy, "but because they don't work for them;" and they say they are ignorant, but not "that the political bosses have always opposed the entrance of teachers in Triqui communities."

The creation of the autonomous municipality broke up the MULT and UBISORT organizations.  When it became about an ethnicity that groups itself into clans, dozens of families, neighborhoods, and entire communities abandoned the organizations to which they had belonged for decades and joined the autonomous municipality.  The organization that resolutely pushed for autonomy was the MULTI.  As López Bárcenas explains, the autonomous Triquis' inspiration and discourse was Zapatista, but "the example and the practical experience" was the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO).

The Triqui Organizations

The UBISORT almost disappeared.  It remained in small communities: La Sabana, where the peace caravan was attacked, barely ten kilometers from San Juan Copala, and Unión Los Ángeles.  It also has some sympathizers in Tilapa.  It is estimated that, in total, its members don't add up to more than 300.  The UBISORT is now supported almost exclusively by its weapons.  It isn't a secret that the three main organizations are armed with AK-47s.  The difference is that the UBISORT is trained, has more weapons, and enjoys the alleged complicity of local political bosses and Gov. Ulises Ruiz's state government.  The organization was created in October 1994 in order to contain the influence of the Zapatistas who had taken up arms in Chiapas.

After a scattering that it managed to stop with assemblies, concessions, threats, and confrontations, the MULT preserved itself as the largest organization of the Triqui people.  It is comprised of approximately 22 communities and has about seven thousand members.

The organization that pushed for Triqui autonomy, after having joined the APPO in 2006, was the MULTI.  It is made up of ten communities, one of them being San Juan Copala.  It has about 3,500 members.

Finally, there are those who belong to the PRI, but not through UBISORT, but through the CNC.  It is basically one community, El Carrizal, and minority members in other communities.  They aren't more than 500 people.

The Paramilitary Siege

In the zone, all Triquis belong to an organization.  Affiliation is by clan.  Even though ideological discourse is present, everything is subordinated to family ties.  If a grandfather decides to belong to an organization, he does it along with his children's families.

In Mexico there are 30,000 Triquis.  Only about 15,000 of them are found in their region.  Due to violence and poverty, the other half have moved their residences to Mexico City and Hermosillo, Sonora, and other states in the country.  Others have migrated to the United States.

The paramilitary siege on San Juan Copala was installed on November 28, 2009.  Since then, there is no market, and merchandise is not easily obtained.  UBISORT also cut the telephone and power lines.  The schools are closed.  Even the Commission for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples, a federal agency, closed its offices in the town.  The only ones who didn't abandon the community were the nuns from the Copala diocese, who maintain a boarding school for local children.

"Things are really difficult there.  People can't leave the town because they shoot at them.  There's nothing to eat," explains Victor Castillo, a member of MULTI and sympathizer of the autonomous municipality.

"And how does the community survive?"

"The compas have figured out ways..."

The Echo Chamber

The news about the ambushes, the confrontations, the executions, and the revenge rarely hit the pages of the local and national newspapers.  Even more rarely do they appear in online media.  But Triquis, nu'saavi, and mestizos from Juxtlahuaca always know what's going on in the brush above.

The main plaza, the market, and taxi stands are the great eyes and ears where even the antagonist organizations can exchange messages.  And, like the drug trafficking organizations, they have halcones who inform them of who arrives and who leaves the municipal seat.  Rufino Juárez has an organization of market vendors, two taxi stands, and guards positioned around the town hall and in businesses in the city's outskirts.  When a person or group of people sets out towards San Juan Copala, the UBISORT leader already knows.

Translator's note: the statistics provided in this article regarding membership in various Triqui organizations should be taken with a grain of salt.  Due to the violence that prevails in the region, there are families and even communities who are afraid to publicly declare or change their allegiance, particularly if they sympathize autonomous municipality.

Translated by Kristin Bricker


or Comment Using Facebook, Yahoo!, Hotmail, or AOL: