The San Mateo del Mar Massacre

Ambulances arrive at the scene of the massacre in San Mateo del Mar.

By: Luis Hernández Navarro

San Mateo del Mar is in mourning. On Sunday, June 21, a criminal group killed 17 residents, including two women, together in the municipal agency of Huazantlán del Río to hold an assembly. The masked killers ambushed them in the Reforma District, using machetes, gasoline, sticks, stones and firearms. Not content with the attack, they burned several of their victims. Although people called the National Guard and it came, it withdrew when the attack began.

It’s not the first violent attack that defenders from the assembly suffer. Filemón Villalobos, a Huazantlán substitute municipal agent, was just murdered on May 3, without the crime being clarified or justice being done.

San Mateo del Mar is an Ikoot (Huave) municipality with high marginalization, in which live 15,000 inhabitants (6,000 of them in the municipal capital), surrounded with lagoons and seas. It’s located on a narrow bar that separates Lower Lagoon from the Gulf of Tehuantepec, with only a single dirt road for communication. Strong winds hit the region and the entire municipality between October and March. Most of its population is dedicated to fishing (

The municipality has suffered agrarian conflicts for more than 60 years. They were accentuated during the previous decade. Large wind energy companies want to take over that territory. Unlike other communities, in 2008 San Mateo rejected the installation of wind turbines, which individualize possession of land. It opposed the entry of the Preneal wind megaproject. And, together with San Dionisio, it impelled the expulsion of Mareña Renovables, which sought to install more than 100 windmills on the ecologically fragile Barra de Santa Teresa, sacred Ikoot territory (

San Mateo del Mar is located on the bar that separates the Lagoon from the Gulf of Tehuantepec.

Since 2017, San Mateo has suffered an electoral political conflict that threatens its internal normative system. The nuclei of residents who head the resistance characterize the aggression they suffer as “a war against the people and their maximum decision-making body, the assembly of the municipal capital and the municipal agencies, presided over by their civic-religious traditional authorities.”

Until that year, municipal authorities were elected by rotation, according to the territorial division of the town and its agencies. However, starting then, as a result of pressure from a citizen who demanded his right to be elected an authority despite not having served in the system of responsibilities, the State Electoral Institute and Citizen Participation of Oaxaca ordered holding elections through a list of candidates. A candidate was imposed with support from business by means of an enormous electoral fraud against the assembly, buying votes. However, the spurious municipal president could not carry the staff of command, nor carry out the duties in city hall, although he disposed of the budget.

In 2019, the de facto powers headed by the impresario Jorge Leoncio Arroyo Rodríguez, repeated the fraud. Now in the administration, they quickly dealt out large public works contracts and the administration of municipal funds. Like his predecessor, Bernardino Ponce, the new municipal president also cannot attend to the responsibilities of his position in the municipal palace.

As victims of the attack report, the builder Camerino Dávalos, Sofía Castro Ríos, Anabel Sánchez Hernández, Emanuel Bustillo (commander of the Only Front of Agencies) and Roberto Rueda Velázquez, among others, make up part of the power group embarked on the war against the assembly,

Additionally, organized crime has encamped in some municipal agencies. They began their activities with the theft of copper cable from the high voltage power line in Santa Cruz. The local bad guys are merely one island of a larger criminal archipelago, which was established and expanded in Juchitán and Salina Cruz with the arrival of Gabino Cué in the governorship of Oaxaca. Drugs, kidnapping, piracy, migrant trafficking and extortion are some of the businesses to which they are dedicated.

On June 23, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador made a diagnosis about the massacre’s origin. “It is –he said– a confrontation over the municipal government; on the one hand there are residents of the municipal capital and residents of communities. It usually happens that in the city halls when there are elections and someone from the municipal capital remains the municipal president; there is discontent in the communities because it is felt that what support arrives in public works or the budget is only applied in the capital and is not distributed in the rural communities.”

In this case, however, the nature of the conflict is different. Those attacked, besides belonging to the municipal capital, also represent other agencies. The massacre is part of the offensive of the behind-the-scenes regional powers, functional to the wind power industry, to dismantle or weaken the organized nuclei that are opposed to the megaprojects and articulate the defense of their territory, natural resources and worldview, and that have advanced in an alliance with their neighbor Santa María. The issue is aggravated due to the construction of the inter-oceanic corridor.

The San Mateo del Mar Massacre must not remain unpunished. There is an urgent need to provide precautionary measures to the community. The town’s mourning must find truth, justice and reparation of the damage.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee


2 Comments on “The San Mateo del Mar Massacre

  1. Pingback: Zapatista News & Analysis from CHIAPAS SUPPORT COMMITTEE Home of the Compañero Manuel blog on the Zapatistas & Mexico | Blog of Zapatista Support Group Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

  2. Pingback: Zapatista News & Analysis, July 2020 – Transnational Solidarity Network

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