Two days ago, more than one hundred Oaxaca state troopers raided the autonomous indigenous municipality of San Juan Copala, in Oaxaca, Mexico.
The shocking move reveals the extent of the Oaxaca government’s complicity in the murders, the illegal blockade and the rampant human rights violations of the Triqui community at the hands of the paramilitary group UBISORT.
Following the raid, roughly thirty members of UBISORT, who had accompanied the police on their so-called ‘humanitarian mission’, occupied the autonomous municipality’s town hall. As a result, San Juan Copala is now effectively under the control of UBISORT. Kristin Bricker Reports.
At approximately 12:15 pm on July 30, over one hundred Oaxaca state police raided the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala. Approximately thirty heavily armed members of the Union for the Social Well-being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT, a paramilitary organization) accompanied the police on the raid. Rufino Juárez, UBISORT’s leader, reportedly participated in the raid.
The goal of the raid, according to the state government, was to remove the body of Anastasio Juárez Hernández from his home in San Juan Copala. Police did remove the dead man from his home and then left San Juan Copala. However, the paramilitaries, taking advantage of the police presence, took over San Juan Copala’s town hall. The town hall is now occupied by thirty UBISORT paramilitaries armed with automatic assault rifles. “They have taken over control of the entire town,” reports a source close to the autonomous authorities.
Meanwhile, the Mexican military has deployed soldiers to La Sabana, a nearby town that is controled by UBISORT. Thus far the soldiers have not entered San Juan Copala.
Two young indigenous Triqui women were wounded when the paramilitaries and police entered San Juan Copala. The women were part of a human blockade at the entrance to the town that attempted to impede the police and paramilitaries’ access. The two women, ages 15 and 18, were “gravely wounded” when paramilitaries from UBISORT shot them as they entered San Juan Copala. The women were evacuated and are being treated at an undisclosed location.
Autonomous authorities questioned the circumstances of the raid in a communique published on their website, http://autonomiaencopala.wordpress.com. In the communique, the autonomous municipality claims that Juárez Hernández was actually murdered in the city of Juxtlahuaca, implying that his body was later planted in San Juan Copala in order to justify the police raid.
Local press immediately parroted the government’s claims that Juárez Hernández, who was UBISORT leader Rufino Juárez’s brother and the government-recognized “municipal agent” of San Juan Copala, was murdered in his home in San Juan Copala. Juárez Hernández was not elected to the position of municipal agent; UBISORT appointed him to that position this past November.
The claim that Juárez Hernández was murdered in his home in San Juan Copala raises several questions about its veracity: How did Juarez Hernandez enter San Juan Copala, a town which his organization, UBISORT, has successfully blockaded with boulders, logs, and gunmen since January? Why would Juárez Hernández enter San Juan Copala, a town whose remaining residents fully support the autonomous municipality? UBISORT claims that the autonomous municipality is armed. So why would Juárez Hernández enter a town whose only residents are bitter enemies whom his organization claims are armed?
It is true that police retrieved Juárez Hernández’s body from his home in San Juan Copala. San Juan Copala has historically been an important cultural, political, economic, and spiritual center for the lower Triqui region. San Juan Copala has historically had very few permanent residents. Leaders had homes in San Juan Copala, but they only lived there when they were serving the public. When their service was over, they returned to their permanent homes in other communities. Furthermore, most of San Juan Copala’s residents (seasonal and permanent) have fled the area due to the violence and the paramilitary blockade. As a result, many Triquis have homes in San Juan Copala that they rarely or never inhabit. Such was Juárez Hernández’s case. While his body was recovered on his property, residents report that he did not live there at the time of the murder.
Due to frequent fire that comes from paramilitary sharp-shooters stationed in the hills that surround San Juan Copala, the town’s streets are deserted. No one leaves their homes unless absolutely necessary, and those who do leave frequently come under fire if the sharp-shooters spot them. The siege makes it relatively easy for someone who his complicit with the sharp-shooters to plant a body without anyone noticing, because residents spend the majority of their lives hidden in their homes away from any windows.
Regardless of how or where Juárez Hernández died, the consequences of his murder are painfully apparent for San Juan Copala’s residents. Their town is occupied by heavily armed paramilitaries who were escorted in by state police. To add insult to injury, the raid comes after seven months of a paramilitary blockade that the government has claimed it is incapable of breaking despite the autonomous municipality’s claims that residents may starve to death if the blockade continues. The raid’s irony wasn’t lost on the Oaxaca-based Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño Human Rights Center, who wrote in a press release:
“It is inconsistent and paradoxical that when security measures were requested so that the ‘Bety and Jiry’ Humanitarian Caravan could enter [San Juan Copala] and leave food supplies, the State did not fulfill its responsibility and prevented the Caravan from fulfilling its mission. At that time, [the state] put together an impressive operation that was headed by the State Attorney General, the State Security Commissioner, and the President of the Oaxaca Human Rights Commission, which impeded the caravan’s passage. They argued that conditions did not permit a safe entrance, and that not even the police could enter that territory. But in reality, they were just protecting the armed group named UBISORT.
“Now it is absurd that the authorities could put together an entire operation in order to carry out the initial investigation of the homicide, and that now they can enter [San Juan Copala] and on top of that repress the people, when before they did not listen, nor did they act, when faced with the demands of hundreds of residents of the autonomous municipality who requested food, the reinstallation of basic services, treatment for sick people, under the false argument that they were incapable of entering the zone and that they would not risk their people.”
The government’s preferential treatment of the paramilitaries is unmistakable: in addition to deploying armed state police to guard the UBISORT’s blockade when the humanitarian caravan attempted to enter San Juan Copala this past June, the government has failed to act when members of the autonomous municipality have come under attack, presumably by government-aligned paramilitaries. Just this past July 26, Maria Rosa Francisco disappeared when her home in San Juan Copala came under fire. All of her animals were killed in the attack, and she remains missing and is feared dead. The Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño Human Rights Center publicly denounced the attack and called on its supporters to contact the government and demand that put an end to the violence.
The Human Rights Center’s pleas were met with indifference in the government. However, as soon as a paramilitary’s cadaver appeared in San Juan Copala, the government acted.
The autonomous municipality reports that it desperately needs money to pay for the wounded women’s medical treatment and to buy phone credit in order to communicate with the press and human rights organizations.
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