Violence against the Indigenous Peoples

Nuevo Paraíso, Campeche: Police violently remove blockage from Maya Train.

By: Francisco López Bárcenas

Popular predictions at the beginning of the year announced that January would bring storms, but few imagined the magnitude of them. The violence against indigenous peoples in this first month of 2023 has acquired such dimension and modalities that it gives us much to think about. In such violence, community mobilizations in opposition to megaprojects are repressed, and community guards responsible for providing security to the peoples of which they are a part are assassinated. Likewise, defenders of communities in struggle are disappeared and community authorities who defend the rights of those they represent are arrested, without any foundation or motivation. All this in a context where human rights organizations denounce that the country is one in which the most violence is exercised against human rights defenders.

One constant in this violence is that it is presented in regions where they generate the most opposition to the emblematic projects of the federal government. This is the case of the repression that was exercised on January 9 against inhabitants of Nuevo Paraíso, Campeche, who had blocked work on the Maya Train. The police action began at noon and involved five units of the state prosecutor’s office with at least 40 heavily armed elements, two of the Mexican Army and about 16 troops, two patrols of the state preventive police with about 10 agents, two units of the National Guard composed of 10 people, as well as three Fonatur vans. Excessive force unnecessary to accomplish its goal, but necessary to instill fear. In the action, several people were beaten and two identified as responsible for the blockade were arrested.

Puente Madera: Signatures in defense of the Land and Territory of Pitayal Mountain, common use lands. Photo: Avispa.

This is also the case of the arrest of David Hernández Salazar, municipal agent of the Puente Madera community, municipality of San Blas Atempa, where the construction of an industrial park for the operation of the Trans-Isthmus Corridor, another of the emblematic works of the federal government, is planned. His arrest occurred on January 17 in the city of Tehuantepec, in compliance with a court order, for the crimes of fire damage and intentional injury. His compañeros mobilized and denounced his disappearance, with which they achieved his freedom, which makes them suspect that the authorities intended to charge him with invented crimes in order to stop him, and to thus stop opposition to work on the Trans-Isthmus Corridor.

Another form of aggression against the indigenous peoples, in which no governmental institutions participate directly, but have responsibility due to their omission, is the murder of opponents of the regime. As Magdalena Gómez wrote in these pages: “Last January 12, three members of the communal guard of Santa María Ostula and the community guard of Aquila municipality were murdered: the community members Isaul Nemecio Zambrano (of Xayakalan), Miguel Estrada Reyes (of La Cobanera) and Rolando Mauno Zambrano (of La Palma de Oro). The crimes were perpetrated at a vigilance point near the municipal seat of Aquila, by a commando of some 20 members of one of the criminal groups that operate in the area.” No one in the government has said anything in that regard.

Santa María Ostula issued photos of the 3 murdered men. Photo: Quadratin.

The most recent case is the kidnapping and disappearance of human rights defender Ricardo Lagunes Gasca and the leader of the indigenous community of Aquila, Michoacán, Antonio Díaz Valencia, on Sunday, January 15 on the highway between Aquila and Tecomán, Colima. According to the public denunciations of their compañerxs and of human rights organizations –including the representation of the United Nations Organization in Mexico–, the lawyer “was accompanying the Nahua community of Aquila in the legal defense of its communal land, coveted for many years by mining companies that operate at the limit of legality and in collusion with organized crime groups.” As in the previous case, the aggression has not occasioned any statement from any authority, despite their obligation of proving security to the population.

One of the characteristics of capital at this juncture is the control of spaces in which to operate and the speed of its movement. On them, as well as on the dispossession of natural goods depend their profits, not on the exploitation of labor to produce surplus value, as in past times. And both the spaces and the resources that interest it are located in indigenous territories. That may explain so much legal and illegal violence against them. What is not explained is that a government that declares itself anti-neoliberal maintains the patterns of repression of its predecessors, from which it seeks to distance itself. Care should be taken with this, because violence generates violence and peoples also get tired of always providing the deaths.

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Monday, January 23, 2023, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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