Monday, December 13, 2010

Juarez Doctors Announce Total Work Stoppage to Protest Violence

The work stoppage includes emergency rooms, announced representatives from Doctors United and the Citizens' Medical Committee

by Manuel Cruz, correspondent for El Universal
"Enough violence and insecurity and ineptidude from
municipal, state, federal governments and lawmakers."

[Update 12/17/2010: Added video, below, of the doctors strike.]

On Monday, Juarez residents will go without medical attention for 24 hours because the doctors guild will declare a total work stoppage.

The measure is being taken following over two years of demanding that the violence end.

The doctors that work in public and private clinics and hospitals will not go to work beginning at 7:30am on Monday the 13th. 

The stoppage includes emergency rooms, announced Alfredo Lugo Villa, Alejandro Flores Olivares, Alejandro Terrazas Gracia, and Leticia Chavarría, representatives from Doctors United for Juarez and the Citizens' Medical Committee.

They noted that patients who need urgent medical attention, know to doctors as Code Red, will be in the care of municipal and state authorities who will use the City Council Hospital and Clinic and the General Hospital.

Likewise, they called upon citizens and workers in other sectors who cannot participate in the stoppage because of the economic crisis to demonstrate against insecurity with signs, banners, and painted messages on their businesses and vehicles.

They said that on Monday the guild will hold a special session in a place that has not been made public due to security concerns.

Chavarría noted that as of Saturday a group of lawyers and some other sectors had also joined the work stoppage.  She said that the Bishop of the Juarez Diocese, Renato Ascencio León, as come out in favor of the work stoppage.

"On Sunday in mass, some of the priests will promote the work stoppage to their congregations," she added.

They warned that this is the first of a series of actions designed to pressure authorities to put a stop [to insecurity], and they gave authorities seven days to carry out the following:

1. clear up the murders of doctors Alfonso Rocha y Alberto Betancourt;
2. that police do their jobs with their faces uncovered and with their badges clearly visible;
3. and that the state assign financial resources to the city in proportion to that which the city itself generates, and that it assign additional resources to reactivate the local economy.

The doctors noted other demands, such as purging and professionalizing the municipal police; holding corrupt officials accountable and punishing them; and the assignment of 200 agents from the Public Prosecutors' Office to investigate the thousands of crimes that have been committed to date.

"As of this Saturday, all of the private hospitals and clinics have confirmed their participation in the work stoppage.  Furthermore, we have received support from the Social Security Union [which represents workers in public hospitals]," she said.

They indicated that doctors from the following medical centers would not go to work: Family Medicine Units and Social Security Hospitals 6, 34, 35, 46, 48, and 66; the private hospitals Star Medical, Angeles Hospital, Specialty Medical Center, Poliplaza Medical, and 17 other clinics; and the ISSSTE [a government hospital].

"We will stand firm.  We've thought long and hard about these actions, the work stoppage.  After two years of demanding--December marks two years since we first protested--and in that time we have not seen real results in terms of reducing the violence.  We are determined to continue with our demands, and we will step up the pressure depending on the authorities' disposition to resolve the situation," said Dr. Chavarría.

Translated by Kristin Bricker

Video from the work stoppage: 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mexican President's Proposed Military Jurisdiction Reform Perpetuates Impunity, Say Human Rights Organizations

by Kristin Bricker, Security Sector Resource Reform Centre

Jurisdiction!!! "What the hell do you
know about human rights..."
On October 18, Mexican President Felipe Calderón sent Congress a proposed reform to the country’s “military jurisdiction,” in which the military investigates and tries all alleged crimes committed by active-duty soldiers.  Mexican and international human rights organizations, the United Nations, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) have long criticized Mexico’s continued use of military jurisdiction to investigate soldiers’ alleged human rights violations, arguing that the practice promotes impunity.  Under Calderón’s proposed reform, cases of torture, rape, and forced disappearance would be investigated and tried by civilian authorities, not military authorities.

Mexican human rights organizations criticized Calderón’s proposed reform as “absurd,” “incomplete,” “harmful,” and “a cosmetic gesture.” Opposition legislators have argued that the reform is designed to “simulate” compliance with a recent IACtHR ruling that ordered Mexico to investigate and try cases of soldiers’ alleged human rights violations in the civilian judicial system. Thirteen Mexican human rights organizations argued in an open letter that in reality, “Mexico would be no closer to complying with its international human rights obligations with this bill, including its duty to implement the binding orders of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights [IACtHR].”

The IACtHR case in question is Radilla Pacheco vs. Mexico.  In its November 2009 decision in the case, the Court ruled that “regarding situations that violate the human rights of civilians, the military jurisdiction cannot operate under any circumstance.” The IACtHR gave Mexico until December 2010 to reform the Military Code of Justice accordingly.

Human rights organizations and Mexican opposition parties have identified various loopholes in the proposed reform that would allow the military to continue to police itself in human rights abuse cases.  The fact that the reform will only send three crimes—torture, forced disappearance, and rape—to civilian courts has many organizations concerned that the overwhelming majority of human rights abuses committed by soldiers will stay in military courts.  Human Rights Watch notes that out of all of the cases in which the Mexican government’s National Human Rights Commission [CNDH] ruled that the military committed “serious abuses” during the Calderón administration, only 5 percent of those cases involve torture, rape, or forced disappearance. “The remaining 59 cases, which include extra-judicial executions, sexual aggression, and cruel and degrading treatment, would continue to be investigated by the Military Public Prosecutor.”

Luis Arriaga, director of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center, shares Human Rights Watch’s concern: “The most common crimes have been: physical aggression or torture, arbitrary detention, attack with a firearm, raid without a warrant, homicide, threats, harassment, robbery… When we consider the crimes committed by military personnel, we can see that the majority of them are not contemplated in the presidential initiative.”

Human rights organizations are concerned that even in cases of rape, torture, or forced disappearance, the charges could still be downgraded to keep the cases in military courts.  Under Calderón’s proposed reform, the Military Public Prosecutor will still have the right to classify charges, allowing it to determine if the cases stay in military courts or go to the civilian system.  The Military Public Prosecutor already has a proven track record of downgrading charges.  For example, in October 2008, soldiers detained four men in Chihuahua. A CNDH investigation into the incident found that the soldiers “put them face-down on the ground, covered their eyes, tied them up with rope, inserted a broom handle in their anuses, and then tied them to a tree so that they would confess to participating in criminal acts.”  Rather than charging the soldiers with rape or torture, the military is investigating them for “abuse of authority and sexual abuse.” Both crimes would fall under military rather than civilian jurisdiction despite Calderón’s proposed reform.  In November 2009, soldiers detained two brothers from Chihuahua without a warrant.  The men’s whereabouts are unknown.  The CNDH ruled that soldiers disappeared the men, but the military invested the case as “abuse of authority,” not forced disappearance. Under Calderón’s reform, this case would also stay in military courts.

Calderón’s proposed reform also reportedly puts a statute of limitations on forced disappearances, a move that has Senator Rosario Ibarra livid.  She argues that the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearances prohibits putting time limits on the investigation of forced disappearances.  But Calderón’s proposal struck a personal cord for Sen. Ibarra: “My son, Jesús Piedra Ibarra, has been disappeared for 35 years.  It is not right that they want to give the soldiers [who kidnapped him] impunity.”

Human rights organizations are now focused on pressuring Congress to use Calderón’s proposed reform as an opportunity to democratically legislate the Military Code of Justice for the first time ever.  The Military Code of Justice, which establishes military jurisdiction, has remained virtually unchanged since 1933, when then-President Abelardo Luján Rodríguez—a military general who was appointed president without an election—decreed the Military Code of Justice without Congressional debate or approval.

Despite having Calderón’s proposal for nearly a month, the Senate has not had a single meeting on the reform, nor can it estimate when it will get around to debating the issue. Opposition Senator René Arce blames the delay on the military’s omnipotence: “The political parties fear the Armed Forces like they fear the Virgin of Guadalupe.”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Federal Police Shoot Student in Ciudad Juarez During Forum Against Militarization and Violence

by Kristin Bricker, Huffington Post

Darío Alvarez Orrantia is an adherent 
to the Zapatistas' Other Campaign.
Mexican Federal Police shot and injured sociology student José Darío Alvarez Orrantia during the 11th Walk Against Death in Ciudad Juarez on Friday, October 29.  Witnesses say that federal police fired at least five shots at Walk participants.

Alvarez Orrantia survived surgery and is in grave condition, reports La Polaka.  The bullet entered his body in the upper part of his buttocks and exited through his abdomen, exposing his intestines. Witnesses say police shot the victim from behind as he ran. Alvarez Orrantia's intestines have been perforated in multiple places.  If he survives his injuries, he will likely have permanent complications, doctors told La Polaka.

The 11th Walk Against Death was part of the International Forum Against Militarization and Violence, which was held this past weekend in Ciudad Juarez.  Alvarez Orrantia was shot just before a scheduled roundtable discussion entitled "Youthicide."

A statement from forum participants claims that federal officers shot Alvarez Orrantia at close range on the campus of the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez, where the Forum was being held. Mexican law strictly prohibits police from entering autonomous university campuses.

Participants in the Walk say that the police targeted a group of graffiti artists who were painting walls during the demonstration, and that the officers chased the demonstrators onto the university campus, where they shot Alvarez Orrantia. Photos of the Walk show that the demonstration was peaceful in nature. Participants carried several large banners that clearly identified the gathering as a protest against the military's presence in Juarez. Alvarez Orrantia appears in several photos stenciling graffiti during the Walk.

The federal government contradicts witnesses' claims. It argues that the officers were pursuing homicide suspects when they inadvertently stumbled upon the Walk Against Death. "A couple of [demonstrators] had their faces covered," said the federal Ministry of Public Security in a statement, "leading the federal agents to get out of their vehicles and shoot warning shots into the air." The Ministry statement does not clarify how warning shots fired into the air could have injured Alvarez Orrantia. Internal Affairs is investigating two officers for their involvement in the shooting.

Juarez has been a laboratory where government officials have experimented new tactics and strategies in Mexico's increasingly violent drug war.  The military occupied Juarez and relieved local police of their duties from March 2008 to April 2010, when Federal Police took over policing duties from the soldiers. Juarez's mayor and the governor of Chihuahua, where Juarez is located, have sought advice and training from Colombian mayors and police.   Furthermore, a new phase of the US drug war aid package the Merida Initiative will reportedly focus on "institution building" and "rule of law" in Ciudad Juarez.

Despite the drastic measures, violence has only increased in Ciudad Juarez. The city now has the distinction of being the deadliest city in the world.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Federal Police Reportedly Shoot Student in Ciudad Juarez During International Forum Against Militarization and Violence

by Kristin Bricker

La Polaka reports that sociology student Darío Alvarez Orrantia was shot and gravely injured in a clash with federal police during the 11th Walk Against Death in Ciudad Juarez.  A witness says the shot came from Federal Police vehicle #12428.  The confrontation occurred just outside the municipal headquarters of the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI), which rules Juarez.

Alvarez Orrantia survived surgery and is in grave condition, reports La Polaka.  The bullet entered his body in the upper part of his buttocks, meaning that he was shot from behind.  The bullet exited through his gut, exposing his intestines.  His intestines have been perforated in multiple places.  If he survives his injuries, he will likely have permanent complications due to the damage to his intestines, doctors told La Polaka.

The 11th Walk Against Death was part of the International Forum Against Militarization and Violence, which is underway this weekend in Ciudad Juarez.  Alvarez Orrantia was shot just before a scheduled roundtable discussion entitled "Youthicide."

Juarez has been a laboratory where government officials have experimented new tactics and strategies in  Mexico's increasingly violent drug war.  The military occupied Juarez and relieved local police of their duties from March 2008 to April 2010, when Federal Police took over policing duties from the soldiers.  Juarez's mayor and the governor of Chihuahua, where Juarez is located, have sought advice and training from Colombian mayors and police.   Furthermore, a new phase of the US drug war aid package the Merida Initiative will focus on "institution building" and "rule of law" in Ciudad Juarez.

Ciudad Juarez has the distinction of being the deadliest city in the world.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chile Rescue Stirs Up Bitter Memories of Mexican Mining Disaster

by Kristin Bricker, Upside Down World

The rescue of 33 miners who spent 68 days underground following a cave-in a Chilean copper mine has struck a nerve in Mexico, where the widows of 63 miners killed in the Pasta de Conchos disaster are still fighting for justice and the right to give their husbands a decent burial.

On February 19, 2006, an explosion in the Pasta de Conchos coalmine, located in the state of Coahuila, buried sixty-five miners. Only two bodies were ever recovered. Grupo México, the Mexican company that owns the mine, left the other sixty-three bodies in the ground.

As the the Chilean miners were raised to the surface on October 13, widows and other family members gathered at the Pasta de Conchos mine to ask themselves what would have happened if the Mexican government had responded as the Chilean government did. "In Chile they declared that they were alive," said the families in a statement. "They didn't condemn them to death, they weren't discouraged by the 700 meters that separated them, nor by the fact that a rescue beyond a depth of 300 meters had never been attempted before." The Pasta de Conchos miners' location is estimated to be only 150 meters below the surface.

The mining union that represented some of the miners killed in the Pasta de Conchos argues that, in contrast with the Chilean response, "Grupo México, with the [Mexican government's] full complicity, decided to close the mine only five days after the incident, when there was still hope that the trapped miners were alive. It condemned them to death and, above all, covered up the real causes of the tragedy."
Raúl Vera López, the bishop of Saltillo, Coahuila, said that he suspects that Grupo México doesn't want to recover the remaining 63 bodies for fear of proving that at least some of the miners survived the explosion and died awaiting rescue. "If they find the bodies all together, with clothing, bones, helmets," argues Bishop Vera, "it means that they were waiting to be rescued."

Grupo México justified calling off the rescue after only five days by arguing that it was impossible that any miner survived the explosion, which Coahuila Gov. Humberto Moreira said had reached temperatures of 600˚C. The company also presented a 
report that claimed that the air inside the mine could not sustain life. The report was based on air samples taken from air ducts. However, samples were taken from a part of the mine where only 15-26 workers were believed to be working when the explosion occurred.

Carlos Rodriguez of the Center for Labor Reflection and Action (CEREAL) questions Grupo México’s decision to call off the search so soon. “Why wasn’t seismic monitoring used [during the rescue attempt] to locate where people were concentrated?” he asks. “Digital plans weren’t given to the rescuers so that they would know where the miners were working. If [the company] really knew where the workers were, why didn’t it drill? If they would have drilled they could have gotten the methane gas out of there, and they would have found signs of life. Chile searched [for survivors] for 19 days. Grupo México searched for 48 hours, and it declared them all dead after five days.”

Rodriguez believes that despite the companies’ claims, some miners could have survived the blast. “The two bodies that were recovered were not burnt,” he argues. If all of the miners died from the heat of the explosion, “why is it that the only two bodies that have been recovered weren’t burnt?”
Elvira Martínez, the widow of one of the trapped miners, believes that Grupo México has consistently opposed rescue and recovery efforts because it wants to leave incriminating evidence in the ground. “They’re afraid of what could be found. They don’t want the evidence to come out: the safety conditions and, above all, how our family members died in there.”

Rodriguez believes Grupo México’s 
blatant disregard for safety regulations caused the explosion. “They used machinery that was prohibited because it is dangerous. The gas levels were very high. Methane gas, between 11 and 12 percent is explosive. The first measurements that were done following the explosion were at 54%. The ventilation system was extremely deficient.”

The Mexican Geological Service contracted mining specialist Raúl Meza Zúñiga to investigate 
the possible causes of the fatal explosion. Meza argues that the mine was being overexploited, with workers extracting over 250 tons of coal per hour. Meza believes that the dangerously high extraction rate released the methane gas that is naturally found in coal deposits, raising the level of methane gas in the mine to an explosive level. The use of soldering and welding equipment in a mine where gas levels were not properly tested could have caused the explosion.

government-commissioned report on safety conditions in the Pasta de Conchos mine found that the supports that reinforced the mineshaft were not designed to withstand horizontal pressure, such as the pressure produced by an explosion. The explosion caused multiple cave-ins in the mine. The report concluded, “The failures that are described throughout the Pasta de Conchos report are, in almost all cases, systemic failures: of safety, of maintenance, administrative controls, of emergency preparedness, and of emergency response.”

Government Complicity

The Pasta de Conchos mine had many known safety problems for years before the 2006 explosion. Rodriguez accuses the government of not enforcing Mexican mine safety regulations that could have prevented the explosion. “We have safety inspection reports for Pasta de Conchos that go back as far as the year 2000. [The explosion] in 2006 was in danger of happening since 2000,” he argues. “The mines weren’t properly inspected. And if they were inspected, the proper precautionary measures were not required. And if they were required, the company didn’t enact them, because it was cheaper for them to pay the fine than to implement measures to guarantee the workers’ safety.”

The International Labor Organization, which is currently reviewing the Pasta de Conchos disaster, concluded that “the Government of Mexico did not do all that was reasonable expected of it to avoid or to minimize the effects of the Accident which had such devastating effects with the loss of life of as many as 65 miners.”

Bishop Vera argues, “The federal government is essentially covering up a murder that was committed by Grupo Mexico because they've systematically refused to recover the bodies.”

Certain government officials’ financial conflict of interest could have played a role in the Mexican government’s indifference in the face of glaring safety issues at the mine and the subsequent explosion. “The reason why there wasn’t a rescue at Pasta de Conchos,” argues Rodriguez, “is the relationship between economic power and political power.”

Grupo México became Mexico’s largest mining company—and its owner, the third richest man in Mexico—thanks in large part to a 
World Bank-mandated restructuring of Mexico’s mining sector. This restructuring opened up Mexico’s mining sector to privatization, and allowed former president Carlos Salinas to sell off the nation’s state-owned companies to his friends at bargain basement prices. Grupo México snatched up state-owned companies for a fraction of their real values.

In addition to its economic power, Grupo México has significant political power, thanks to the politicians who have worked for the company. At the time of the Pasta de Conchos disaster, two members of Grupo México’s Board of Directors also sat on the Board of Directors of the Vamos México Foundation, which is run by then-president Vicente Fox’s wife.

Several former Cabinet members have served on Grupo México’s Board. Since 2001, 
Juan Rebolledo Gout has served as the Grupo México’s International Vice-President. Gout served in the Salinas and Zedillo administrations, as spokesman for the President and Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs, respectively. Luis Téllez Kuenzler served as President Zedillo’s Chief of Staff and Secretary of Energy. He was Grupo México’s Chairman of the Board during the Pasta de Conchos disaster, and he served as current President Calderón’s Secretary of Communications and Transportation. Carlos Ruiz Sacristan was Secretary of Communications and Transportation from 1995-2000; he joined the Board of Directors of Southern Copper Corp. (owned by Grupo México) in 2004. Armando Ortega Gómez has served on Southern Copper’s Board since 2002. He was Grupo México’s General Counsel during the Pasta de Conchos disaster. Just prior to joining Grupo México, Ortega served as the Mexican government’s Deputy Vice Minister of Economy.

“It is this Board of Directors who could have said, ‘We will rescue the miners, no matter what it costs,’” argues Rodriguez. “The people who made the decision to not rescue the miners are the economic powerhouses of this country.”

It is not surprising then, that Manuel Fuentes, a lawyer representing the victims’ families, reports that Minera México, the Grupo México subsidiary that ran the Pasta de Conchos mine, “has not paid a single cent of its fines. Not a single Minera México employee has set foot in jail, and currently there is not a single judicial procedure open” against the company.

On the contrary, Grupo México has only 
strengthened its position since the disaster. The Mexican government awarded the company a mining concession in Zacatecas only two days after the Pasta de Conchos explosion.

Despite a government order to permanently close Pasta de Conchos following the explosion, former governor of Coahuila Rogelio Montenayor Seguy managed to re-open the site’s coal washing facility by setting up a straw company that he claims purchased the plant from Grupo México. In 2007, the same year that the government ordered Pasta de Conchos closed, it awarded Grupo México thirty new concessions, including some in Coahuila. In 2008, Grupo México received another 33 mining concessions.

Faced with such cynicism, the Pasta de Conchos families have brought their case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). They argue that they have exhausted all of their legal options, but justice hasn’t been served. The IACHR process will take time, but it is their last hope to hold the Mexican government and Grupo México responsible for a crime the Mexican miners union has termed “an industrial homicide.”

Friday, October 15, 2010

Autonomous Supporters Describe Their Last Days in San Juan Copala

by Zósimo Camacho, Contralínea

October 1, 2010

After almost ten months under siege, San Juan Copala fell.  The paramilitaries kicked up the siege this past September 7, and over the following days they occupied the political and ceremonial center of the Triqui culture.  Nothing, no one, stopped them from smashing down doors, tearing down walls, burning homes, and ransacking houses.  Terror took hold for the last thirty families that resisted, and they fled through the hills, carrying the elderly, hurrying up children, falling into gullies.  Many escaped with bullet wounds.  They haven't been treated by doctors.  Under fire for 303 days, now displaced, always invisible, the Triquis that demand autonomy blame MULT [the Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle] and UBISORT [the Union for the Social Well-being of the Triqui Region].  They accuse Amado Ortiz and Antonio Cruz [1] of leading the assault.

Yosoyuxi, Copala.  Barefoot, Altagracia Fernández de Jesús hides between her father's legs.  At four years old, she barely speaks.  Her mother, Francisca de Jesús, was shot in the back last September 7 as she tried to leave San Juan Copala.  She is in a hospital in Oaxaca.  Her brother, Elías, was murdered at the age of nine on November 29, 2009, in a classroom when paramilitaries shot up the school.  Her sister, Maribel, couldn't leave Copala's boarding school and stayed in the town center.  Her father, Benito Fernández, a 53-year-old carpenter with wounds on one foot, is desolate. 

For almost a quarter of her life, she's had to remain hidden in her house.  On the rainy morning of September 19, her father took her in his arms.  Sometimes he had to make her walk over the rocky ground while he carried 80-year-old Jacinta González Guzmán on his back.  Sometimes the man rolled through the brush with the old woman, at other times, with the little girl.

Also in that group that was fleeing from the hail of bullets was 53-year-old peasant Gabino Hernández; Margarita López Martínez, 45; Cornelio López Martínez, 51; and Susana López Martínez, 18.  The group was lucky: they weren't found by the armed groups.

They didn't bring any food with them, because at that point they didn't have any.  They fled with only the clothing on their backs, which they still wear.  They left behind their houses, their huipiles, some animals, personal documents, family photographs, altars, mats, cooking utensils, domestic goods, clothing...

But what they mourn is intangible.  They have been expelled from the Chuman'a, as they call San Juan Copala, the Triquis' ceremonial center.  They are concerned for their saints [2], which are prisoners in the church, without the flowers and candles that sustain them.  Their voices crack when they count the years they lived there: 12, 20, 40, 80, according to their ages.  The women who were not born in San Juan, but married there, could forget their age or the year they were born, but they'll never forget the year they moved to San Juan Copala, nor the time that they lived there.

"There is hope that we'll return to San Juan Copala," says Cornelio López.  He had previously spoken strongly and firmly.  But now that he's talking about the Chuman'a, where he worked the land for almost 40 years, his voice cracks.

"First God," he adds with difficulty, "we don't know; God knows..."

From "loaned" homes, the displaced recount their stories and show their wounds.  Most of the time they talk through an interpreter.  The sadness and indignation are translated from Triqui to Spanish.  They explain how each group, each family, each individual managed to evade the paramilitaries.  All agree that the gunfire that kept them in their homes for almost ten months got worse on September 13, when the armed groups took over the town hall.

From there, they spread out day by day, until they occupied the whole town.  They attacked street by street, house by house.  They used a loadspeaker to order men and women to leave their homes and give themselves up; they warned that they would hang the autonomous municipal president, Jesús Martínez Flores, and the men in the community.  Some families began to leave town the next night.  Others decided to resist a few more days.

Those who began to leave and had the "bad luck" to be discovered by the paramilitaries were shot and subdued.  The women were raped, like 42-year-old Natalia Cruz Bautista, who was tortured and humiliated (they cut her hair, took off her clothes, and raped her), and Francisca de Jesús García (who managed to flee, but with a bullet wound in her right shoulder; she is now in danger of losing the arm).

Those who stayed for a few more days heard walls being torn down, plundering, and they saw the flames.  Angelina Ramírez Ortega, 71, was one of the last people to abandon San Juan Copala.  She witnessed the massacre of farm animals and pets, the shooting of houses where smoke from the kitchen gave away those who were resisting.  The woman left when the armed group occupied almost the entire town, on September 19.

She leans against the door of the house that is giving her shelter now.  Battered, she awaits the reporters' questions with skepticism, but respect.  Her grotesquely bruised and swollen left hand and arm stand out.  Her arm is broken at the elbow.  No doctor has examined her. 

She recounts that she left alone before dawn: she waited for the heaviest darkness.  It was raining.  She slipped in the mud and tumbled until she hit the bottom of a ravine.  She doesn't know how long she was unconscious.  The paramilitaries found her. 

Angelina Ramírez says that when she came to, Antonio "Toño Pájaro" Cruz, one of the leaders of UBISORT,  dragged her by her hair and pointed the barrel of a submachine gun at her head.  Thin with a wrinkled face and her white hair stained with blood, she begged him to spare her life.

Through an interpreter, the grandmother explains that she had no other choice but to tell Toño Pájaro that she was old, that she couldn't harm anybody, that she is a widow and that they had already wounded her granddaughters (Selene and Adela Ramírez, both shot; Adela has a bullet lodged in her spine that has paralyzed her).

Toño Pájaro told Angelina to never come back, that she stop thinking that she still has a house in San Juan Copala.  He promised her that if she tries to return or to tells anyone, that she will be killed.

Others didn't leave.  José González Cruz, María Juana Agustina (grandparents who are about 100 years old) and 17-year-old Sofía Martínez were trapped in their homes.  Their whereabouts remain unknown.

All of the displaced insist that one of the leaders of the group that attacked San Juan Copala is Antonio Cruz.  The other, they claim, is Amado Ortiz, from the Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULT), from the El Rastrojo community.  They say that UBISORT barely has a dozen armed men, while MULT has an "uncountable" number of armed men.  They say that the majority of the gunmen come from the Rastrojo, Cieneguilla, and Coyuchi communities.  And that amongst the paramilitaries, there were some mestizos (mixed indigenous with Spanish decent) with balaclavas. 

MULT, in the voice of Heriberto Pazos Ortiz and in communiqués, has denied its participation in the occupation of San Juan Copala.

The sun comes up.  The fog begins to rise.  The brush and the plots of cultivated land are an intense green.  The hilly cornfields are yellow.  Clouds of smoke come out of the houses.  The women from Yosoyuxi toss corn tortillas on the griddles.  The displaced from San Juan Copala will eat with their families.    Everything is shared, even the pain.

There are 82 refugees in this community; another 94 are spread out over another four communities and in the cities of Oaxaca and Mexico.  And these are only those who left after September 7.  The total number of people exiled from San Juan Copala since the siege began on November 28, 2009, is over 800.

Since the Autonomous Municipality was founded, the armed groups have murdered at least 15 people and wounded 16.  Leaders of the autonomist movement are amongst the dead.  The region's highest leader, Timoteo Alejandro Ramírez, was executed along with his wife in his own home.  It was an operation that took six months to develop, with masked hitmen. 

The autonomous municipality came out of a MULT splinter group: the Independent Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULTI).  In mid-2006, Timoteo Alejandro Ramírez and the leaders of four other communities broke with the mestizo leadership of MULT, which is lead from Oaxaca City by Heriberto Pazos Ortiz [3].  In addition to the disagreements over the distribution of resources and over the "disciplinary" measures that MULT imposes, MULT created the Popular Unity Party [4].  The Triquis said they felt cheated, and they decided to not join the party.  Both groups accused each other of being traitors.  And the ambushes against those who broke off from MULT began.

In 2007, MULTI promoted the creation of an Autonomous Municipality, based in traditional indigenous governance practices.  They believed that in this way, the indigenous people could be freed from political organizations and parties.  MULTI said that it was willing to dissolve itself as an organization in order to make way for the autonomous government.  Some communities from UBISORT and some MULT members also embraced the autonomous project. 

The two traditional organizations, MULT and UBISORT, antagonists for so long, felt displaced and threatened.  Their leadership rejected the creation of the Autonomous Municipality. [5]

Political power isn't everything.  Federal and state resources [aid] isn't delivered directly to the communities.  Since the 1980s, the money is handed over to the organizations and they decide how to invest it in "their" communities.

In January 2007, San Juan Copala, Yosoyuxi, Paraje Pérez, Santa Cruz Tilapa, Guadalupe Tilapa, and Agua Fría named autonomous municipal authorities who were backed by their respected community assemblies: councils of elders, the mayordomo [a traditional Oaxacan leader chosen through public works], and traditional leaders from each community.

For almost two years, the autonomous project worked: the number of supporters and autonomous educational and health projects grew and took the place of the old projects.  The paramilitary siege began on November 28, 2009.  For almost ten months, residents lived under a state of siege.  The calls for help were not headed, and the paramilitary groups ended up occupying San Juan Copala.  The federal, state, and municipal governments left the Triquis who demanded autonomy to their own fate. 

According to supporters of the autonomous movement, the occupation of Copala was only possible thanks to the assassination of Timoteo Alejandro Ramírez, a great speaker in his Triqui language who enjoyed prestige, even amongst the opposing communities.  He was the highest traditional leader of seven communities and of MULTI.

"Autonomy will go on.  Love live Timo.  I promised Timo that I would give my life for autonomy.  And that's how it will be.  We will not kneel down before MULT or UBISORT," says Miguel Angel Velasco from another community that supports the autonomous movement and has given him shelter.

He explains that he left at the end: on the 19th, with five "little guys," his youngest children.  His adolescent children also left that day, but they took a different route: "If someone was going to have 'bad luck,' we hoped that they wouldn't get all of us."

One of those young men, 16-year-old Pablo Velasco Dorantes,  was wounded by a bullet in his left foot and hand.  Calmly, he explains that in the early hours of September 17, his house was attacked.  It seemed as though it was raining bullets.

In order to leave San Juan Copala, he walked, dragging his foot through 18 km of brush for over five hours.

"And they say that we should sit down and dialogue.  I don't know if you all would agree to dialogue if they run you out of your homes," says an indignant Felipa de Jesús Suárez, 44.

In the houses, the fire dies down but doesn't go out.  Yosoyuxi residents and guests put down straw mats and blankets for the night.  Some prefer to sleep in the backyard in the grass; others lay down with the dogs.

"Narit duini' iue (see you tomorrow)," they say before they stop talking.  Not everyone can get to sleep.

Murders in San Juan Copala Since The Founding of the
Autonomous Municipality
Date Name Age
April 7, 2008 Teresa Bautista Merino 24
Felícitas Martínez Sánchez 20
November 1, 2008 Héctor Antonio Ramírez Paz
November 29, 2009 Elías Fernández de Jesús 9
April 17, 2010 José Celestino Hernández Cruz
April 27, 2010 Beatriz Alberta Cariño Trujillo
Jyri Jaakkola
May 20, 2010 Timoteo Alejandro Ramírez
Tleriberta Castro
August 21, 2010 Antonio Ramírez López 72
Antonio Cruz García 29
Rigoberto González 40
September 5, 2010 Pedro Santos Castro 31
September 18, 2010 David García Réyez 25
September 19, 2010 Paulino Ramírez Réyez 28

Translated by Kristin Bricker.

Translator's Notes:

1.  Amado Ortiz is a MULT leader from the Rastrojo community.  Antonio Cruz is an UBISORT leader whom the autonomous municipality has accused of personally committing various attacks on its supporters.
2.  It is common to put up altars to saints in Mexican homes and churches.  Believers leave offerings for the saints, such as flower, fruits, candles, bread, and alcohol.
3.  Heriberto Pazos Ortiz is not Triqui; he is from Oaxaca's coast.
4.  The Popular Unity Party is billed as the nation's first indigenous party.  However, its candidates are not Triqui; they're not even indigenous.  They have very light skin.
5.  Some UBISORT leaders embraced the formation of the autonomous municipality and left the group.  Here, the author refers to the leaders who stayed in the organization.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Coup in Ecuador?

by Kristin Bricker, NACLA

On September 30, about 1,000 Ecuadoran national police officers took to the streets, blocking key intersections and taking over public space, in protest of a new law that eliminated their bonuses and other benefits.
Even though the protesting police represented a small fraction of the 42,000-member force, things quickly spun out of control. The police occupied Congress, helped shut down airports, and held Correa hostage in a hospital for more than 10 hours until an army Special Operations team rescued him. The unrest left 10 dead and 274 injured.
The police rebellion began after Correa used line-item vetoes to change certain parts of the Public Services Law, which reportedly aimed to streamline Ecuador’s public sector by doing away with certain bonuses and forcing many public servants into early retirement. The president’s line-item veto power is provided for under the country’s 2008 constitution, and the president has often used it to overrule Congress.
According to Edwin Bedoya, vice president of the Ecuadoran Federation of Unitarian Working Class Organizations (CEDOCUT), the version of the Public Services Law that Congress originally passed was crafted in negotiations between Correa’s Alianza PAIS party and public servants. “But we saw in the second round of voting that the president had vetoed the agreements and had gotten rid of certain workers’ rights,” Bedoya said. When Congress, including some members of Alianza PAIS, balked at Correa’s changes to the legislation, the president threatened to use his right to dissolve Congress to pass his version of the Public Services law.
But the ensuing rebellion, Correa and others have emphasized, was not a spontaneous uprising. While still being held hostage, Correa declared: “It is a coup attempt led by the opposition and certain sections of the armed forces and the police.” Many Latin Americans, still rattled by the successful coup against leftist President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras last year, feared Correa would be next. Others argued that calling the unrest a “coup” is an exaggeration, or even that Correa kidnapped himself in order to increase his popularity and political power.
Yet the protests took place in at least four provinces in Ecuador, casting doubt on their spontaneity. And as Correapointed out, the protests were “coordinated with the closure . . . of the airport, coordinated with the attacks on the [state television’s] relay antennas, with the invasion of [government-owned] Ecuador TV’s studios,” and the police takeover of Congress.
Moreover, video footage of the striking police during the operation that freed Correa clearly demonstrates that the police were shooting to kill. Correa told the press that the armored vehicle that drove him away from the hospital wasshot multiple times.
While police held Correa hostage, former Ecuadoran president Lucio Gutiérrez—an outspoken critic of Correa—gave interviews from Brazil, hailing the police rebellion as a coup. “The end of Correa’s tyranny is at hand,” he said, and called for the “dissolution of parliament” and “early presidential elections.” Former president of Congress Alberto Acosta, a Correa supporter turned critic, reported that “ex-soldiers and ex-police, the very people that make up the fat of the Lucio’s party,” were seen in barracks in multiple cities. When police briefly occupied Congress, Acosta added, the representatives who are members of Gutiérrez’s Patriotic Society Party entered and exited freely, while members of other parties “had trouble entering.”
Both Correa and former National Police commander Freddy Martínez, who resigned after his failure to control his troops, argue that outside instigators infiltrated the police, misled police about his austerity measures in the Public Service Law, and provoked the uprising. Labor and indigenous organizations in Ecuador, however, have taken a more nuanced line. The police rebellion occurred, they argue, because Ecuador’s right wing is taking advantage of weaknesses created by Correa’s alienating governing style. Although they opposed any coup attempt and demanded that constitutional order be respected, they also criticized Correa for marginalizing his natural allies in the social movements and leaving himself vulnerable to attacks from the right.
A joint statement from four of Ecuador’s largest indigenous organizations rejected the “right-wing’s actions that in an undercover way form part of the attempted coup” and called upon its members to “be on alert and ready to mobilize.” However, the statement criticizes the Correa administration for violently repressing mobilizations against transnational mining, oil, and agro-industrial companies. The organizations argued, “The social crisis that was let loose today was also provoked by the authoritarian character and the unwillingness to dialogue in the lawmaking process. We have seen how laws that were negotiated [with social sectors] were vetoed by the President of the Republic. . . . This scenario nurtures the conservative sectors.”
Labor leader Bedoya says that on September 30, the CEDOCUT called on all sectors to hit the streets to restore constitutional order. However, like his country’s indigenous organizations, he qualified his organization’s defense of Correa: “We do believe that part of the blame for what is happening lies with not accepting dialogue with social sectors.”
Acosta, who co-founded the Alianza PAIS with Correa, echoed this. “The president and his government don’t know how to dialogue,” he said. “They impose their laws, without even respecting the criteria of the assembly members of their own block.”
Even worse, argued indigenous organizations on the day of the coup, the Correa administration has repressed them just as right-wing governments have. “Faced with the criticism and mobilization of communities against transnational mining, oil, and agro-industrial companies,” wrote the CONAIE, the ECUARUNARI, the CONFENIAE, and CONAICE, “the government, instead of creating a dialogue, responds with violence and repression. . . . The only thing this type of politics provokes is to open spaces to the Right and create spaces of destabilization.”
Bedoya shares this analysis: “Of course the right takes advantage of this, and takes advantage of the most powerful sector, which is the national police and the military, and it begins to sow discontent . . . but the government’s behavior is making that possible.”
Acosta hopes that his former ally will learn from the police rebellion. “History has given to President Correa, once again, the opportunity to reacquaint himself with the origins of the revolutionary process, to rectify. Hopefully he understands it that way.”
“A Citizens’ Revolution,” argued Bedoya, “implies a respect for the rights of all people, of the workers, of organizations’ collective rights, and to establish a dialogue to reach a minimum consensus with the social sectors.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Spain's Under Attack

by Kristin Bricker

[Scroll down for English text of sign-on letter.]

Barcelona City Council member Assumpta Escarp has publicly threatened to begin legal action to close Spanish websites that she believes are "justifying violence," a crime under Spanish law. One of the sites she specifically mentions is Kaos en la Red, a website where I publish my articles in Spanish.

Escarp's statements come in the midst of a Spanish media campaign against Kaos en la Red. One recent television "news" report links Kaos en la Red to riots and "urban guerrilla warfare." The news report argued that Kaos en la Red and other websites help Europe's "anarchist triangle" (Spain, Italy, and Greece) coordinate and organize protests.

Kaos en la Red ( is an open-publishing independent media website that is managed by an editorial collective. Articles are filtered through three layers (main page, region/topic page, and open publishing newswire) based on popularity and content. Kaos en la Red argues that, like YouTube, it is an intermediary that allows users to publish content to the web. A Spanish court recently ruled that as an intermediary, YouTube is not legally required to vet and censor material before it is published. Both YouTube and Kaos en la Red remove content that users flag as potentially illegal.

Kaos en la Red is a vital source of information for Spanish speakers all over the world. Users publish news from Spain in both castellano (commonly known outside of Spain as "Spanish") and Catalan (another Spanish language). Kaos en la Red also carries news from the Basque Country in both Spanish languages and Euskara, the language spoken in Basque Country. Kaos en la Red is an important tool for Basques and Basque supporters to denounce the Spanish government's persistent human rights violations and use of torture in Basque Country, one of the many reasons the website is a particularly uncomfortable media outlet for the Spanish government.

Readers all over Latin America, particularly those in México, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Venezuela, turn to Kaos en la Red as one of their primary sources of news and analysis about issues that affect them and their fellow anti-capitalists. That is why I publish my Spanish articles in Kaos: when I ask Mexican activists where they get their news, they always mention Kaos en la Red.

Kaos en la Red is not a threat to the Spanish State because it is an "apologist for violence." Kaos en la Red is a threat because it is an important source of information for anti-capitalists all over the world. And it is precisely for this reason that we must defend it.

I, along with hundreds of other journalists, academics, workers, activists, and organizations, signed the letter below in support of Kaos en la Red, and I urge you to do the same. The letter will be presented at a press conference in Barcelona on October 14.

We are all kaosenlared! No to the criminalization of freedom of expression and opinion

Faced with the constant criminalization of communications media and alternative social movements, and following the Barcelona City Council's petition requesting that the public prosecutor's office evaluate the possibility of opening up a criminal investigation against and other alternative media with the goal of investigating said websites' alleged justifications for violence, we the undersigned wish to express the following:

1. has always maintained a strict posture without inciting any violence in its reporting of information, which has turned it into a communications media that is vital for the dissemination of information published by different authors through its Open Publishing system, as well as by members of its team of collaborators (well-known people from a range of leftist schools of thought from all over the world). This makes an alternative, plural, free, and truthful communications media that never, under any circumstances, protects or promotes any form of violence.

2. In the era of information, Internet, informative globalization, and the proliferation of the so-called fourth generation war--the media war--, the dominant classes are once again trying to criminalize the popular classes' alternative information.

3. We believe that this action is part of a bigger campaign whose ultimate goal is to criminalize social movements--the social movements to whom alternative media gives a voice and a space which is denied to them by the norms of the communications media that are controlled by the lords of the world: capital and the bourgeoisie.

4. The silencing of alternative opinions and of the people who struggle for a better world is evident; one only needs to analyze how those media outlets report any alternative position. Or even how social movements' communiques aren't even published in those media outlets.

5. The communications media that are at the service of the popular and working classes demand peace. Peace which is indivisibly linked to social justice. The people's objectives have absolutely nothing to do with the monstrous pantomimes that we live every day, sustained over a socio-economic structure of submission and modern-day slavery.

6. The leftist anti-capitalist struggle, submerged in labor and social precarity and police and judicial harrassment, needs means of communication against hegemonic power. It is a fundamental part of our right to freedom of expression and organization. A democratic and human right which no civilized person can deny.

7. If and other alternative media were closed, this would violate all Spanish and international law regarding freedom of expression. This legislation holds the articles' authors responsible for imputable acts, not the media that serves as a simple transmission mechanism. There is absolutely no basis for judicial action against the alternative media. "Justifying violence" is only a crime under Spanish Penal Code if it is done for racist, anti-semitic, or ideological reasons (Article 510 of the Penal Code). is exemplary in the defense of minority rights and respect for all democratic ideologies.

8. We express our solidarity and support for and the rest of the alternative media that have been singled out over the past few days, as well as our profound unease over this new attack on freedom of expression.

9. We, the people who work in, write in, and read kaosenlared are against the criminalization of alternative communications media and social movements.

10. Our struggle lies in the battle of ideas and for professional and alternative information. We know no weapon other than the word, reasoned arguments, and critical thinking. We are peaceful people.


To sign on to this manifesto in support of Kaosenlared and freedom of expression and opinion, send your name, country, and profession to

We gratefully request that all of the compañeros and compañeras, readers, and users of Kaosenlared disseminate this manifesto.


[To see the full and updated list of signers, please see the Spanish version of the manifesto in Kaosenlared]

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Attempted Coup" in Ecuador

Update, 9:30pm Mexico time (10:30pm EST): The military rescued President Rafael Correa from the hospital where police where holding him hostage. There was heavy gunfire, and multiple people are reported injured, including at least one soldier.

The government of Ecuador has announced that an attempted coup against President Rafael Correa is underway.  Correa brought Ecuador into the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, of which overthrown Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was also a member.

The unrest in Ecuador stems from a police protest over bonuses that they allege were taken away from them.  The Ecuadoran government claims the police were compensated for this loss of bonuses in other ways.

Correa reports that police are holding him hostage in a hospital where he was being treated after police attacked him with teargas. 

Correa enjoys the continued support of civilians, Congress, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the international community.

I am posting updates to Twitter with photos and translations of breaking news as the situation develops in Ecuador.  Follow me here:

Corruption And Deforestation Caused Oaxaca’s Mudslide Disaster

by Kristin Bricker, Upside Down World

[This article has been updated from the original that appeared in Upside Down World in order to reflect new death tolls.]

On Tuesday morning, the world awoke to the news that a mudslide had buried 80% of Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca, a municipality of 10,000 people. Tearful Tlahuitoltepec officials told the press that 300-500 people were feared buried under the mud, while Oaxaca's Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz placed the number of possible deaths at "up to 1,000." The federal government deployed the military and federal police to the zone, and even the United States offered its assistance in digging out Tlahuitoltepec residents.

Now, as more rescue crews are gaining access to the municipality, the government has toned down its assessment of the damage. Five bodies have been pulled from the mud, and another six people are missing. However, rescue crews have still not reached six communities in Tlahuitoltepec. Electricity and phone service are down in the majority of the municipality, and many roads are covered with debris or have washed away.

Regardless of its final death toll, the disaster was foreseeable and highlights the deadly consequences of the state's notorious, rampant corruption in public works.


The 2010 hurricane season has caused record rainfall in southern Mexico, leading to flooding, mudslides, and deaths in several states, including Oaxaca.

The mudslide washed away 4-6 houses.
A report published by the federal government's Mineral Resources Council in 2001 warned that as a result of deforestation, Tlahuitoltepec regularly suffers major landslides during hurricane season. The report, entitled "Natural Dangers," warns that Tlahuitoltepec's mudslides tend to affect both roads and houses. The government has done nothing to address the mudslide problem in Tlahuitoltepec, where many residents live on the slopes of steep hills.

The mudslide that shocked the world on September 28 didn't happen overnight. The mud began to slide on September 13, causing the walls of nearby houses to crack as the earth began to move. At that time, Mexico's Civil Protection (similar to the US government's Federal Emergency Management Agency) told the municipal president to evacuate the town. However, neither the state nor the federal government appear to have helped with the evacuation, nor did they offer Tlahuitoltepec residents a refuge. It was only after local officials apparently exaggerated the magnitude of the September 28 mudslide that state police began to escort residents out of Tlahuitoltepec.

As rescue crews continue to arrive and evaluate the situation in the entire indigenous Mixe region (where Tlahuitoltepec is located), they will decide if they will evacuate up to 30,000 people. "In that zone it rains a lot. The land is unstable and there could be more mudslides," Oaxacan Governor Ulises Ruiz told El Universal. "It's better to act, because something could happen."

Oaxacan Roads Paved With Corruption

Unfortunately, Gov. Ruiz decided to act only when Tlahuitoltepec officials grossly exaggerated the September 28 mudslide. Local officials have been warning the state government that the mudslides could provoke a humanitarian disaster since August, when they complained that 50% of the highways in their region were damaged. "If they aren't repaired, we'll run the risk that various towns will be completely cut off in the coming days," state Congressman Floriberto Vásquez Vásquez told the state government and press. The state government ignored his pleas.

On September 8, Vásquez's warnings became reality. On that day, a Oaxaca state official reported that 80% of the state's 22,000 km of highways were damaged due to both mudslides and shoddy construction, cutting off over thirty communities from the outside world. The Mixe was one of the most affected regions.

Roads and Runways of Oaxaca (CAO), the state agency in charge of building and maintaining Oaxaca's roads, responded to concerns over the highways' dire conditions by saying that it couldn't repair them because it had no money left in its budget. Adiario, a Oaxacan newspaper that openly supports the state's ruling party, wrote in an op-ed (PDF):
"CAO officials' statements that 'there aren't any resources' to fix the 80% of the highways that are currently damaged in Oaxaca are surprising.  One asks why the CAO...has a multi-million peso annual budget that is mismanaged.  That, sirs, is called incompetence.  If there are dozens of communities that are completely cut off by mudslides and collapsed highways, it is a priority to come up with the money to solve the problem....Audits are necessary, because, despite the allocation of resources, the money doesn't reach the victims the majority of the time."  

Claims of corruption in Oaxaca's highway projects and other public works are as old as the highways themselves. The suspicions stem from the projects'high costs and shoddy results. Some highways fall apart within months.

Public officials often award no-bid construction contracts to their friends and fellow party members. Citizens suspect that funds from many of these contracts are used to fund political campaigns. Such is the case in Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, where Jesús Hiram Mortera funded his campaign for municipal president with his earnings from public works projects. Two successive municipal presidents awarded him the majority of the public works contracts in the town. The government is now auditing the two former municipal presidents over alleged embezzlement of funds through Mortera's construction projects. Of particular concern is Mortera's "rehabilitation" of a four-lane highway in Salina Cruz. The highway has collapsed three times since Mortera "rehabilitated" it.

So far no one has proven that Oaxacan politicians and contractors embezzle money from highway projects by using cheap materials and pocketing the difference. In 2008, state auditors concluded that Carlos Alberto Ramos Aragón used a boulevard construction project to embezzle money when he served as municipal president of Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca, but they never discovered exactly how: Ramos Aragón simply didn't hand over receipts to the auditors. Ramos Aragón was never punished for this presumed embezzlement. He currently serves as director of Oaxaca's State Civil Protection Institute, one of the agencies in charge of Tlahuitoltepec rescue efforts.

About 3km of dirt road connect Tlahuitoltepec to the
nearest paved road.
While details on how politicians embezzle money from completed highway projects are vague or unproven, a recent scandal in the federal program "Firm Ground" demonstrates how many Oaxacans suspect contractors and politicians are stealing money from highway projects. The federal government provided funding to states such as Oaxaca through the "Firm Ground" project to install concrete floors in homes that had dirt floors. The federal government calculated the amount of cement it sent to the states based on the quantity and dimensions of the homes that would receive new floors through the program. In Guerrero, another state that received cement through "Firm Ground," a federal audit found that state and local politicians watered down the donated cement with cheaper sand so less cement was needed to install the floors. Beneficiaries were left with low-quality floors, while local politicians turned around and sold the excess cement. Guerrero politicians and contractors embezzled $149 million pesos through the scheme, according to the federal audit.

Some Oaxacan communities are demanding a similar audit of the “Firm Ground” program in their state. Residents claim that local politicians are using the same scheme to deliver less cement to beneficiaries, and that the politicians use the excess cement to buy votes. Angry residents also claim that politicians pay the workers in charge of installing the floors half of what the federal government budgeted for their salaries, and that the politicians pocket the other half.

While audits have yet to uncover embezzlement schemes connected to the materials used to construct Oaxaca's notoriously terrible highways, "phantom" highway projects are common. In phantom projects, the government pays for a roadway to be constructed or paved. The local officials claim that the project was completed and collect the cash, but in reality the project was never even initiated. Just this past August, the federal government fired nine Oaxacan officials for embezzling $930,000 pesos through phantom roadway projects. In April, authorities from sixty towns marched in San Juan Mixtepec to protest the municipal president's alleged embezzlement of $10 million pesos in federal funds through phantom road, bridge, and potable water projects.

This bridge, located about two hours from Tlahuitoltepec,
collapsed, delaying rescue efforts for hours.
The consequences of corruption and embezzlement in public works is costly and deadly, as the disaster in Tlahuitoltepec demonstrates. Exaggerated reports of the mudslide’s magnitude circulated for over ten hours before the first rescue crews could reach the devastated town, which is located only two-and-a-half hours from Oaxaca City. The first rescue crews arrived on foot because the roads were impassable. Heavy equipment such as bulldozers arrived much later. While the world watched in horror as collapsed highways and bridges delayed rescuers and equipment, no one in Oaxaca was surprised—bad road conditions have become a fact of life.

While massive loss of life appears to have been avoided in Tlahuitoltepec, the mudslide should serve as a warning to the state and federal government that more oversight and accountability are needed to avoid a future catastrophe.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

All Autonomous Municipality Supporters Are Out of San Juan Copala

by Kristin Bricker

Reyna Martínez Flores speaking in the women's protest
encampment.  Photo: Verónica Villalvazo
Reyna Martinez Flores, spokesperson of the women's protest encampment in Oaxaca City's main plaza, reports that all residents of the autonomous municipality have made it out of San Juan Copala, with no help from the government.  

David García, previously reported as injured and missing, is now being reported as dead, although there is no word on where his body is.

UBISORT has taken over the municipal palace, and sent a press statement in Spanish and a Youtube video in Triqui calling on UBISORT supporters to repopulate San Juan Copala now that the "autónomos" are gone.

The Oaxaca government plans on continuing with its previously announced (but still unexecuted) police operation to restore electricity and school service (that UBISORT cut off in February) to the new UBISORT-run San Juan Copala.

The autonomous municipality has yet to issue a statement regarding its strategy now that it has lost the municipal cabezera (county seat) of its autonomous municipality.  "We no longer have people in Copala," said Martínez Flores, "but the autonomous municipality will not go away because it is in our hearts and minds."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Autonomous Authorities Order Total Evacuation of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca

by Kristin Bricker, Upside Down World
Tuesday, 21 September 2010 19:19
San Juan Copala's town hall, riddled with AK-47 bullets.
Authorities of the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca, have ordered the total evacuation of the town, which has been under siege since February of this year. The authorities issued the order when alleged paramilitaries raided San Juan Copala and said that they would massacre all supporters of the autonomous municipality.

Alleged paramilitaries cut off water, electricity, and access to the town in February. They also stationed gunmen in the hills surrounding the town and shot at anyone they saw on the streets. For months, San Juan Copala survived off of the little food that women could carry into town on their backs, using trails through the woods to sneak past the gunmen who patrol the perimeter.

However, on September 13, the situation became unbearable when gunmen took over San Juan Copala's town hall. The gunmen, whom the autonomous municipality claim are from rival Triqui organizations Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULT) and the Union for the Social Well-being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT), have kept San Juan Copala under a constant barrage of bullets since they took over the town hall.

The autonomous municipality has reported at least five females injured—including a little girl—and one man killed, all by gunfire, since MULT and UBISORT took over the town hall. Gunmen shot a second man, David Garcia, and at this time it is unknown if he is alive or dead. According to Jorge Albino, a spokesman for the autonomous municipality, police handed his body over to the alleged paramilitaries who are occupying the town hall. The autonomous municipality believes that Garcia was alive when police turned him over to the gunmen who shot him.

In addition, two disabled people disappeared as they fled San Juan Copala. One-hundred-year-old Jose Gonzalo Cruz disappeared as he fled with other people through the brush under heavy gunfire. Cruz is blind, and it is believed that he was separated from the group and became lost.

A mentally handicapped woman named Susana López Martínez is also reported disappeared. She attempted to flee San Juan Copala with a group of other women on September 18 under heavy gunfire. When the women re-grouped out of the line of fire, 21-year-old López Martínez was gone. No one saw her disappear, and it is unknown if she was injured in the shooting. If López Martínez has fallen into UBISORT’s hands, she is in extreme danger. This past May, UBISORT leader Rufino Juarez allegedlykidnapped López Martínezand her mother. The two women escaped and denounced the kidnapping to human rights organizations and the international media.

The autonomous municipality reports that the gunmen who raided San Juan Copala went house-to-house and beat people they found inside. The gunmen are also burning the abandoned homes of residents who have fled the violence.

The autonomous municipality reported that fifty families remained in San Juan Copala at the beginning of the raid on September 13. All but two families have managed to escape. Those two families are in two houses that are completely surrounded by gunmen.

Triqui women and children have maintained protest encampment in Oaxaca City’s town square since August to demand an end to the violence and justice for the victims. Those women declared a hunger strike on September 10 to pressure the government to send police into San Juan Copala to evacuate the two families who remain trapped inside. The striking women, who were driven out of San Juan Copala by the violence, want the government to bring the trapped families to Oaxaca City.

The Oaxaca state government said that it is preparing an operation to “restore order” in San Juan Copala. Oaxaca’s Undersecretary of the Interior Joaquín Rodríguez Palacios announced that Oaxaca state police planned to restore electricity and reopen schools in San Juan Copala. The plan seems completely absurd when it is taken into account that at most 25 residents remain in San Juan Copala—and all of them want to leave. Palacios did not mention any plans to evacuate the remaining residents.

It remains to be seen if the government will follow through with the operation. UBISORT leader Rufino Juarez told Noticias de Oaxaca that there would be a “bloodbath” if the government doesn’t “reach an agreement” with his organization regarding the proposed police operation.

Dialogue Failed Again

Lona Reyes, the bishop of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, and Father Wilfrido Mayrén of the Diocese Commission for Peace and Justice in Oaxaca, called upon MULT and the Independent Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULT-I), a MULT splinter group that co-founded the autonomous municipality, to a dialogue mediated by the church. The goal of the proposed dialogue was to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict through negotiations. Past negotiations mediated by the government broke down because the autonomous municipality has refused sit at a negotiating table with MULT and UBISORT while those groups were allegedly murdering its supporters.

MULT-I refused to participate in the church-mediated dialogue because it claims that MULT is one of the groups carrying out the armed attack on San Juan Copala. MULT-I conditioned its participation in the dialogue on a cease-fire in the autonomous municipality and the presentation of the residents who disappeared during the attack.

The Mexican newspaper Milenio interpreted the failed dialogue and the evacuation of the autonomous municipality as a sign that the autonomous project is dead. However, a source close to the autonomous authorities said, “Once we get everyone out [of San Juan Copala] we will continue the project from the outside. Right now we are worried about getting those people out alive.”

The complete evacuation of San Juan Copala does not in and of itself mean that the autonomous project is dead: San Juan Copala is the name of a town and a municipality (a group of towns, like a county). Only the town of San Juan Copala, which is the municipal cabezera (county seat), has been under siege, and only the town is being evacuated.

Representatives from twenty Triqui communities reportedly participated in the founding of the autonomous municipality. In addition to the town of San Juan Copala, ten Triqui communities are officially aligned with the autonomous municipality. Autonomous authorities claim that an additional six communities support the autonomous municipality, but that they fear retaliation if they publicly declare their affiliation. In addition to the sixteen communities that give their full support to the autonomous municipality, the autonomous authorities claim to have supporters in another handful of communities that are controlled by rival organizations.

Of the ten communities that officially belong to the autonomous municipality, San Juan Copala was the only community under siege. The other communities have suffered attacks and assassinations, but they were not affected by the paramilitary blockade nor the recent invasion.

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