Mexico’s 160 Indigenous Conflicts: A National Conflagration
Part I: Megaprojects and Crime
Proceso: Arturo Rodríguez García
Nationwide, conflicts are increasing between indigenous peoples and the authorities or private interests over land, water and public safety. More than 160 conflicts in 24 states have been documented up until February of this year in a preliminary report by the Committee for Dialogue with Indigenous Peoples of Mexico (CDPIM) of the Secretariat of Government Relations [SEGOB].
At a legal disadvantage because of a lack of recognition of their rights, communities protest, organize community police and generate various forms of self-government, even at the cost of official repression and criminal violence, which radicalizes these confrontations and often leads to violence.
From Baja California to the Yucatán, coastal states of the Pacific and the Gulf, and in the center of the country, including the capital, conflicts are spreading regarding land and water, indigenous uses and customs, against the historic discrimination and the lack of government support to create development opportunities. In several cases, there is also the perceived intervention of organized crime.
Clashes increased in April of this year when leaders of the Nahua communities of Puebla who oppose an energy megaproject were imprisoned, and a confrontation on April 13 in Amilcingo, Morelos, between communal land owners and police left one person injured by a gunshot.
The next day, April 14, the Otomí community of San Francisco Xochi Cuautla, in Lerma, the State of Mexico awoke surrounded by the police because the government of Eruviel Avila bussed in people to influence a community consultation on implementation of the Toluca-Naucalpan highway, which the population rejected as an act of ecocide against the Otomí-Mexica Park.
With the case in the State of Mexico, the cases in Morelos and Puebla have in common the presence of OHL and other Spanish transnational construction companies.
During these same days Alejandro Bautista, community leader for San Andrés Totoltepec who opposed the Superhighway and real estate projects on lands of the indigenous peoples of southern Mexico City, was sentenced to prison for participating in the march on October 2, 2013.
On May 21, a showdown in San Bartolo Ameyalco, in the Álvaro Obregón Borough of the Federal District, left dozens of police and residents wounded. And the next day, two police officers were lynched in the community of San Andrés Tlalámac in the State of Mexico.
In Chiapas, the Zapatista communities have recorded a series of attacks since the beginning of this year. On May 2 in the village of La Realidad, an attack killed José Luis López, known as Sergeant Galeano.
Meanwhile, 34 indigenous are being held in the same state, accused of kidnapping the former Secretary of Environment and academic Julia Carabias in the biosphere reserve of Montes Azules.
In the north, since the Yaqui Nation began its opposition to the Independence Aqueduct, a mega project promoted by the government of Sonora to supply water to Hermosillo, 13 of its members have been disappeared; leaders receive frequent threats and, in February, intimidating narco-banners appeared against protesters in several towns in the state. For Mario Luna, spokesman for the Yaqui people, it is clear: "No one other than the state can be undertaking systematic persecution."
Although on last December 3, the Supreme Court of Justice granted an injunction in favour of the Yaquis and ordered federal environmental authorities to undertake precautionary actions, the transfer of water continues while harassment of the Yaqui continues, Luna warns: "It’s a State policy against the Yaqui, one of the original peoples who have retained their autonomy, identity, language and culture, which is a development project with own vision … and all that bothers the national State."
The Sonoran press calls this conflict "a water war," which is only one of many problems indigenous peoples confront with other powers, including organized crime.
The Criminal Factor
On February 26, Bruno Plácido Valerio, one of the leaders of the Union of Peoples and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (UPOEG) presented an apology to the Mexican Army for having disarmed and held a hundred soldiers in August 2013. He did this in order to "build trust with the federal government" and show that he intends to adopt the institutional route, to "Reconcile, not confront."
UPOEG’s objective is "to restore the rights of the people," who in recent years have suffered from criminal violence in their communities. To this end, it adopted the system of community police officers who burst onto the public scene in early 2013. But the organization is even more ambitious: it also wants to unify the people and villages to build a development programme.
"The government people see us as a threat," Plácido says, "they throw out questions about who is behind us. Politicians and officials are alarmed because our project doesn’t stop at security and justice; it is a comprehensive development program that prevents the division caused by political parties, restores the rights of the people and changes the form of government."
According to the CDPIM, the high level of insecurity has also triggered conflicts in Oaxaca, Morelos and Michoacán. The latter is the state registering the most conflicts in indigenous areas due to insecurity. The action of criminal gangs led to the emergence of self-defence groups, but some of them also generate disputes.
In Aquila, which has a Nahua community, a self-defence group was formed to drive organized crime, as in Cherán and other indigenous communities in the Purepecha Nation. Meanwhile, the indigenous community of Pómaro has denounced self-defence forces from Coalcomán for taking away land of members of the Nahua people because they refused to join them.
As in Cherán, they decided to form a group of self-defence and change from the political party system to being autonomously governed by [traditional uses and] customs, against what is perceived as an alliance of organized crime, [illegal] loggers and the government.
The CDPIM report, of which Proceso has a copy, identifies 15 states–including some with no indigenous population, such as Nuevo León–in which there is forced displacement of communities, mostly due to pressure and attacks by organized crime. People are expelled directly by the operations of organized crime or by the action of the security forces combatting it.
In the northwest, Durango is the state with the most cases, in seven municipalities. Displacements have also been documented in Baja California, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Sonora. In the Gulf Region, Tamaulipas is the state registering the most displacements, in 14 municipalities. In Nuevo León, three, Tabasco. five, in Veracruz, three.
Regarding the southern Pacific coast, in Guerrero people in 14 municipalities have been displaced. In Michoacán, the CDPIM documents this situation in 11 municipalities.
Mexico’s 160 Indigenous Conflicts: A National Conflagration –
Part II: Land Use and Social Conflicts
Proceso: Arturo Rodríguez García
More than 160 conflicts in 24 states have been documented up to February of this year in a preliminary report by the Committee for Dialogue with Indigenous Peoples of Mexico (CDPIM) of the Secretariat of Government Relations [SEGOB].
Transnational Corporations vs. Mother Earth
Like all his people, Braulio Muñoz Hernández, a Huichol member of the Wirikuta Council, is concerned about the shamans´warning: "Mother Earth is angry." This began when the Canadian mining company First Majestic tried to establish a mine in the Huichol Wirikuta sanctuary in the Sierra de Catorce in San Luis Potosí. Then the government of Nayarit sold 10 of the 13 hectares [25 of 32 acres] that the Huichol call Tatei Haramara (manifestation of the goddess of the Sea) to build resorts; the communities expressed their disagreement but the PRI Governor Roberto Sandoval didn’t even give them the right to a hearing.
Calling those ten acres in Playa del Rey "idle" and supposedly so they could be productive, the authorities decided to sell them to companies like Paradise del Rey Tourism Development and Aramara Tourism Development.
The first conflict is one of 25 between indigenous communities and powerful mining companies, mostly Canadian businesses, and the second is one of 40 of an agrarian nature that conflict with private interests.
In addition to Nayarit and San Luis Potosi, land conflicts also exist in Sonora, Jalisco, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Morelos, Puebla and Veracruz. But with 19 conflicts Chiapas is the most afflicted followed by Oaxaca, with six, and Chihuahua, with five.
In many cases these kinds of conflicts erupt in opposition to a public work, such as in Tepoztlan, Morelos, where people are unhappy with the expansion of the La Pera-Cuautla highway, which continues to advance under permanent police and military surveillance.
Other settler clashes with authority are rooted in water projects such as the aforementioned case of the Yaqui in Sonora or Zapotillo dam in Los Altos de Jalisco, which involves the flooding of at least three historic towns. A similar situation exists in the Green River in Oaxaca, with the project to build a hydroelectric power in the Paso de la Reina community. The artificial flooding would impact many indigenous and mestizo communities who living by farming.
Mining and Energy
The 25 mining cases involve land dispossession and devastation. There are 19 clashes over energy projects. To them can be added those derived from environmental damage caused by projects on community properties, of which there were nine in 2013, spread across six states.
Regarding the mining onslaught, there are seven conflicts in Oaxaca; Puebla and Jalisco have three each, and there are at least two in Chiapas. There is one conflict each in the states of Durango, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato, Colima, Michoacán, Querétaro, Hidalgo, Guerrero and Morelos. It is important to note that these numbers refer to indigenous communities, but other sectors of the population also oppose mining.
Some energy megaprojects cause multiple uprisings of opposition. For example, Huexca, a Nahua community in the municipality of Yecapixtla, is the epicentre of opposition to the Morelos Comprehensive Project, which involves the construction of a pipeline that would cross nearly a hundred indigenous communities in Tlaxcala, Puebla and Morelos. The purpose of the pipeline is to supply two power plants planned for installation in Huexca whose turbines will be cooled with water from the Valley of Cuautla, affecting communities in the area.
Opponents of the project were repressed by the State Police and gunmen serving the mayors and other local authorities. There have been denouncements of torture and arbitrary detention, especially by the governments of Graco Ramírez, in Morelos, and Rafael Moreno Valle, in Puebla.
Such works have caused three conflicts in Puebla, five in Oaxaca and at least two in Guerrero, Morelos and Veracruz. Chiapas and Nayarit documented at least one case.
Of the 19 energy projects affecting indigenous territories, seven are wind farms. Data collected by the report of the CDPIM indicate the reasons: mostly it is the dispossession of land, as in Ensenada, Baja California, where the company Wind Force "intends to take nearly 2,700 acres belonging to the Quilihua tribe."
Discrimination and Political, Social and Religious Conflicts
"Wearing Huichol traditional dress I cannot go into restaurants or get taxis. Just imagine the picture … Rights are worth nothing."
The defense of indigenous communities becomes even more difficult due to the discrimination suffered since the Spanish conquest, even when there are constitutional provisions against it. This exacerbates confrontation with authorities and encourages social violence, as has happened in Morelos and Oaxaca.
The lack of recognition of indigenous rights has been instrumental in at least five conflicts in Guerrero, three in Chiapas, and at least two in Mexico City, Oaxaca and Tabasco. In the capital, indigenous communities are not legally recognized.
During 2013 there were at least 22 conflicts of political and social nature in the country. Chiapas recorded seven of these cases and Oaxaca, five; Guerrero and San Luis Potosi had at least two, while Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Morelos, Queretaro and the Yucatán suffered at least one.
In addition, three religious conflicts remain in Chiapas and one in Oaxaca. With regard to health-related conflicts, there was at least one case each in Chihuahua, Durango and Chiapas.
Need for Federal Laws
During a forum to harmonize the national legislative framework for indigenous rights, the head of CDPIM, Jaime Martínez Veloz, admitted that some of these problems are due to lack of consultation mechanisms. As an example, he said:
"Today, under the new national and international frameworks on indigenous rights, there is no valid argument to prevent implementation of the San Andrés Accords."
Then the government needs to decide to harmonize the Constitution with international law and for there to be a law of consultation and full recognition granted to indigenous peoples as subjects of public law.