Violence against indigenous groups in Oaxaca remains mostly environmentally motivated

Overview

07/10/20 (written by CMurray) – During the early morning of June 21, 2020, 15 people were murdered in the municipality of San Mateo del Mar in Oaxaca, where a majority of the population identifies with the Ikoots indigenous people (Graham). State prosecutors announced that the victims, including 13 men and two women, were tortured and burned alive by armed attackers. Residents of San Mateo del Mar have claimed that the attack was orchestrated by the mayor’s supporters, who were upset about opposition towards large scale wind power projects within the region (Associated Press). The brutal attack was believed to have originated at a COVID-19 checkpoint where a group of around seven individuals initiated the attack on local dissidents (Chaca). Following the assault, the governor of Oaxaca, Alejandro Murat Hinojosa, confirmed the deployment of a security operation to the municipality in an effort to mitigate continued violence (La Jornada). According to El Universal, the security deployment included four detectives, 80 state police, and 39 National Guard members who were ultimately only able to rescue two men. Although no suspects have been identified, the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) stated that officials need to “determine the exercise of criminal action, with respect to the facts constituting offenses and the probable responsibility of the people involved” [author’s own translation]. The indigenous population within San Mateo del Mar has been the subject of various disputes during the past several years, most of which are related to land rights.

Land Rights

In January 2018, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that a large-scale wind energy project be suspended after it failed to gain sufficient support from the local Zapotec community in the town of Juchitán (Mexico News Daily). Proponents of the infrastructure project, headed by Energía Eólica del Sur (Southern Wind Energy), were insistent that the $1.2 billion project would be profitable for the state and make it the largest wind park of its kind in Latin America (Mexico News Daily). In November of 2017, Governor Murat, attended the official groundbreaking ceremony and affirmed that the project was approved by local communities despite not having gone through the proper channels. A report that specifically addressed the Bíi Hioxo wind park in Juchitán argues that increased efforts to combat global warming through renewable energy resources have subsequently ignored indigenous groups’ territorial claims. There have been efforts on behalf of state authorities as well as private organizations to wage counterinsurgency tactics against indigenous groups that oppose the construction of these large energy projects. One local woman commented that these forms of clean energy could not possibly promote sustainability when they were also responsible for deforestation, polluting groundwater, and eliminating natural forms of medicine. Based on the legal precedent set forth by Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization, judges within the Mexican Supreme Court issued their ruling in favor of the indigenous community. This Convention states that native communities are guaranteed land rights as well as the ability to participate in managing and conserving the land that they safeguard. Despite the court ruling, tensions continue to rise in respect to the issue of land rights in the area, because although the project promises to generate around 1,500 new jobs, it jeopardizes the autonomy of indigenous land in the region (Rodríguez).

Environmental Violence in Oaxaca

The state of Oaxaca continues to be a hub for violence perpetrated against environmental activists, many of whom hail from indigenous communities. On May 7th of this year, 21 year old environmental activist, Eugui Roy Martínez Pérez was found murdered at a ranch in the town of San Agustín Loxicha. He was a student at the Technological Institute of the Valley of Oaxaca (Instituto Tecnológico del Valle de Oaxaca) and was reported to have been an outspoken supporter for environmental advocacy (Miranda). According to the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental, CEMDA), 460 cases of aggression against environmentalists were reported between 2012 to 2018. Of these 460 cases, Oaxaca led with the highest number of reported attacks at 79. Additionally, 29% of all reported cases were associated with energy projects, of which 53 out of 460 constituted wind energy-specific cases (CEMDA).

Due to continued violent attacks against indigenous groups, especially within Oaxaca the past few years, many are calling for increased accountability from the government. The brutal assassinations that took place within San Mateo Del Mar are just some of the more recent attacks being perpetrated against indigenous communities that oppose these large scale energy projects. These communities have received support from the Mexican Supreme Court and human rights groups such as the Committee for the Integral Defence of Human Rights (Comité de Defensa Integral de Derechos Humanos, Gobixha, CODIGO DH), but still face the prospect of highly volatile attacks from those that oppose their territorial claims.

Sources: 

International Labour Organization. “C169 – Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169).” June 27, 1989. 

Comité de Defensa Integral de Derechos Humanos, Gobixha A.C. “Rostros de la Impunidad en Oaxaca Perspectivas desde la Defensa Integral de los Derechos Humanos.” March 2014. 

Dunlap, Alexander. “Counterinsurgency for wind energy: the Bíi Hioxo wind park in 

Juchitán, Mexico.” The Journal of Peasant Studies. January 19, 2017. 

Rodríguez, Óscar. “Colocan primera piedra del Parque Eólico en el Istmo.” Milenio. November 26, 2017. 

Mexico News Daily. “Court orders halt to Juchitán wind farm.” January 11, 2018. 

Leyva Hernández, Alejandra, et al. “Informe Sobre La Situación De Las Personas Defensoras De Los Derechos Humanos Ambientales.” Edited by Andrea Davide Ulisse Cerami and 

Anaid Velasco Ramírez. Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental. March, 2020.

Rodríguez, Óscar. “Asesinan a biólogo ambientalista en Oaxaca.” Milenio. May 11, 2020. 

Miranda, Fernando. “Environmental activist Eugui Roy Martínez was murdered in Oaxaca.” El Universal.  May 12, 2020. 

“Reportan asesinato masivo en el sur de Oaxaca; 15 muertos.” La Jornada. June 22, 2020. 

Associated Press. “At least 15 dead in southern Mexico wind-farm feud killings.” Washington Post. June 23, 2020. 

Chaca, Roselia. “Crece masacre en San Mateo del Mar; suman 15 muertos.” El Universal. June 23, 2020. 

Graham, Dave. “Fifteen killed in brutal attack on indigenous Mexican village.” Reuters. June 23, 2020. 

Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. “La CNDH requiere urgentemente al Gobierno del Estado de Oaxaca cumplimentar medidas cautelares decretadas a favor de los habitantes del Municipio de San Mateo del Mar.” CNDH México. June 26, 2020. 

American teen killed in Mexico in latest instance of police violence

06/25/20 (written by JHale)- In a widely circulated video online, a coffin emblazoned with a glossy image of Our Lady of Guadalupe lies adjacent to a makeshift soccer goal. A young man passes a ball so that it ricochets off the coffin and into the bottom right corner. Immediately, a group of individuals dressed in white swarms the coffin, jumping up and down and celebrating. Inside the coffin lies the body of Alexander Martínez Gómez, a 16 year old soccer player who dreamt of becoming a star before he was killed in Mexico’s most recent incident of police violence (Miranda, “Despide Multitud a Alexander”).

A troubling incident

An American citizen born in North Carolina, Gómez was visiting family in Oaxaca at the time of the shooting (“Mexico Police Officer Investigated”). Gómez split his time between the two countries, but hoped to move to Mexico permanently to become a professional soccer player. This dream would come to an end on the night of June 9th, when he was killed by police. The incident occurred as Gómez and a friend were riding motorbikes to a local store when, according to official reports, a police car with its lights off stopped ahead of the duo and blocked the road. An officer exited the vehicle and opened fire without warning. Alexander was killed, while his companion lost control of his motorbike and was injured (Miranda, “Dan Prisión Preventiva”).

The incident prompted a swift reaction from multiple parties. Gómez’s mother released a video to social media denouncing the police and asserting that her son had been denied first aid after the shooting. The town of Acatlán de Pérez Figueroa, where Gómez was killed, issued a statement expressing that the officer’s actions were not in bad faith (Agren). Nonetheless, the Attorney General of the State of Oaxaca (Fiscalía General del Estado de Oaxaca, FGEO) secured a judge’s approval to preemptively detain Alexander’s accused killer. Furthermore, prosecutors told reporters that the accused officer would be charged to the full extent of the law (Miranda, “Dan Prisión Preventiva”).

An uncertain road forward

As outraged locals demanded justice, officials hurried to provide solutions. The Secretary of Public Safety of Oaxaca (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública de Oaxaca, SSPO) promised changes, including greater accountability and increased training of police. Many local residents and members of Gómez’s family have rejected the police entirely, calling for the protection of Mexico’s National Guard. The SSPO expressed understanding, even going so far as to suggest that a National Guard base would be installed in the local municipal center (Rangel). It is still unclear whether the National Guard has a plan in place to prevent the same abuses of power that have plagued local police forces. 

Mexico’s police force has come under increased scrutiny after recent instances of violence against unarmed citizens. The killing of Alexander Gómez follows the death of construction worker Giovanni López in police custody after being detained for not wearing a facemask (“Giovanni López: ‘Justicia Para Giovanni’”). Both incidents have sparked protests, riots, and challenging conversations surrounding the role of police in enforcing justice in Mexico. It remains to be seen whether outrage over police brutality will lead to concrete changes in law enforcement practices.

Sources

gren, David. “Mexico: US Teenager Shot Dead by Police in Oaxaca.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 10 June 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/10/mexico-teenager-oaxaca-police-shot-dead.

Miranda, Fernando. “Dan Prisión Preventiva a Policía Que Presuntamente Asesinó a Alexander.” El Universal, 13 June 2020, 10:24, www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/dan-prision-preventiva-policia-que-presuntamente-asesino-alexander.

Miranda, Fernando. “¡Queremos Justicia! Despide Multitud a Alexander, De Blanco y Con Globos Azules.” El Universal, 12 June 2020, 12:08, www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/alexander-se-despidio-de-la-cancha-con-un-ultimo-gol-su-familia-clama-justicia.

Associated Press. “Mexico Police Officer Investigated for Alleged Murder of Boy.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 13 June 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/protest-over-mexico-police-killing-of-mexican-american-teen/2020/06/12/faeb494c-ad17-11ea-a43b-be9f6494a87d_story.html.

Rangel, Alejandro. “Familia De Alexander Rechaza Las Policías De Acatlán; Piden a La Guardia Nacional.”

Https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/Estados/Familia-De-Alexander-Rechaza-Policias-De-Acatlan-Piden-La-Guardia-Nacional, 12 June 2020, 20:29, www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/familia-de-alexander-rechaza-policias-de-acatlan-piden-la-guardia-nacional.

Redacción. “Giovanni López: ‘Justicia Para Giovanni’, El Caso De Brutalidad Policial Que Conmociona a México.” BBC News Mundo, BBC, 5 June 2020, www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-52935685.

El Universal. “Vinculan a Proceso a Policía De Acatlán Por Asesinato De Alexander.” El Siglo, El Siglo De Torreón, 18 June 2020, www.elsiglodetorreon.com.mx/noticia/1713183.vinculan-a-proceso-a-policia-de-acatlan-por-asesinato-de-alexander.html.

Ex-Mayor Arrested for Embezzlement in Oaxaca

Oaxaca jails exmayor for embezzlement

Oaxaca jails exmayor for embezzlement.                                 Source: Mexico News Daily

12/9/15 (written by alagorio) – On December 1st, it was reported that ex-mayor of Pluma Hidalgo, Pablo Pérez Ramos, was arrested on corruption and embezzlement charges. He is one of thirty-nine former mayors who are being investigated for embezzling public funds in the state of Oaxaca.

Pérez was the mayor of Pluma Hidalgo from 2008 to 2010. Tiempo en Linea reports that the Superior Audit of the State (La Auditoría Superior del Estado, ASE) explained that the city of Pluma Hidalgo did not submit accurate information that documented the spending of public funds in the years Pérez was mayor. There were numerous requests made for accurate documentation but there was never proper documentation filed by the year 2015. Also, there have been arrest warrants issued for thirty-nine ex mayors who have failed to account for public funds

The former mayor is accused of embezzling $7.1 million pesos, which is equivalent to $429,000 U.S. dollars. Mexico News Daily reports that the funds were intended for public works and projects to combat poverty in the state of Oaxaca. Óscar Rodríguez of Milenio.com reports that Pérez was arrested when he tried to file for legal protection in order to avoid being prosecuted for the charges against him.

Forty-five other mayors are being investigated in the state of Oaxaca. The arrest is a success in the process of rooting out corrupt politicians but sources like the Mexico News Daily report that 189 million pesos are still not accounted for.

Sources:

“Detienen a ex edil de Pluma Hidalgo por malversar los recursos públicos.” Tiempo en Linea. December 1, 2015.

“Oaxaca jails ex-mayor for embezzlement.” Mexico News Daily. December 1, 2015.

Rodríguez, Óscar. “Cae primer alcalde corrupto en Oaxaca.” Milenio.com. November 30, 2015.