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.
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.
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.