Tuesday, June 8, 2010

San Juan Copala Aid Caravan Enters the Danger Zone

Update 5:52pm: The caravan did not make it to Copala because of the danger.  It has turned around and is heading back to Huajuapan.

A second international aid caravan is on its way to San Juan Copala in the Triqui region of Oaxaca, Mexico.  The caravan has entered an area without telephone service, severely limiting communication.  The lack of communication puts the caravan in grave danger of a paramilitary attack.

Paramilitaries ambushed the first aid caravan on April 27, killing Mexican Bety Cariño and Finnish international observer Jyri Jaakkola.  As a result, the aid caravan could not reach its destination.

The new caravan, which is currently en route to San Juan Copala, is comprised of eight buses.  The caravan is reportedly carrying 40 tons of aid for the municipality, which has been under constant paramilitary siege for the past seven months.  Caravan participants report that people in communities along the route to Copala are lining the streets to cheer on the caravan.

Overt Government Collaboration With Paramilitaries?

The Oaxacan state government attempted to physically impede the caravan on two occasions today.  Once, in Juxtlahuaca, state police physically blocked the entrance to the town so that the caravan could not pass.  Caravan members began to get off the buses and continue on foot, leading the police to move their vehicles and let the buses pass.

While police blocked the entrance to Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca state Attorney General Candelaria Chiñas reportedly approached the caravan and demanded to negotiate with Alejandro Encinas, the leader of the center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).  Encinas is accompanying the caravan as a participant and is not in a position to negotiate on behalf of the caravan nor the autonomous municipality.  The caravan participants' determination to reach San Juan Copala, even if it had to be on foot, successfully pressured the government to lift the police blockade and allow the community to proceed on to Santa Rosa.

In Santa Rosa, the state government once again attempted to stop the caravan.  There, Chiñas demanded that the paramilitary organization UBISORT be permitted to join the caravan. Chiñas' party, the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI), founded the UBISORT and reportedly maintains close ties with the armed organization.  Authorities from the autonomous municipality refused to allow the paramilitaries to join the caravan.

The caravan is now headed for Agua Fría.  From this point on, the caravan is out of telephone range.  This puts the caravan in considerable danger.

Oaxaca City-based Radio Plantón has speculated that the state government's stall tactics are playing into the paramilitaries' hands.  The government stalled the caravan for hours, meaning that if the caravan does reach San Juan Copala, it would have to spend the night there or run the risk of returning after nightfall.

There are reports that UBISORT has sent women and children to re-enforce its physical blockade of the highway into San Juan Copala.  Over the weekend, someone re-enforced the blockade with much heavier rocks that can only be removed with heavy machinery.

As the caravan travels in the telephone dead zone, there are protests in Mexico and around the world demanding that the government guarantee the caravan's safe passage to San Juan Copala so that it can deliver its aid.  In Oaxaca City, supporters have blocked Cinco Señores, a key intersection, in support of the caravan.  A march in Mexico City was attacked by riot police, reportedly leaving several protesters injured.  In Buenos Aires, protesters have set up a protest encampment outside the Mexican Embassy.  They are dialoguing with embassy officials. 


San Juan Copala declared itself autonomous following the peaceful uprising in 2006 that nearly overthrew Oaxaca's governor.  The paramilitary organization UBISORT, which the ruling Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) created in 1994 to counter potential Zapatista influence in the indigenous Triqui region, has violently opposed the autonomous project.  In January, UBISORT blocked the road into San Juan Copala, preventing supplies and teachers from entering the municipality.  UBISORT also cut the running water and electricity to San Juan Copala.  The months-long siege means that San Juan Copala is running out of food.

At least 18 Triquis have been assassinated in the region this year.
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