Sonora Governor Escalates Confrontation With Yaqui Tribe

Francisco López Bárcenas

La Jornada, 13th September, 2014

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Sonora is burning. Contamination of the Bacanuchi River from the spill of toxic substances used by the Buenavista del Cobre [Copper] mine owned by Grupo Mexico; statements that the fire at the ABC Daycare Center (which claimed the lives of 49 children and permanently injured another 76) could have been caused by officials of former Sonora Governor Eduardo Bours; disagreements between current Governor Guillermo Padrés Elías and the federal government over statements by delegates from the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) and the Federal Prosecutor for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) that the governor might have built a private dam while the people of Sonora suffer from a lack of drinking water–to all this is added escalation of the confrontation with members of the Yaqui tribe, which for five years has been fighting in defence of their territory and water.

On September 11 at 11:40 a.m. Mexico City (9:40 a.m. in Sonora) Mario Luna Romero, secretary of the Yaqui authorities and the tribe’s spokesman during their struggle, was arrested in Ciudad Obregón. According to his colleagues, his arrest was made by people in civilian clothes who used four non-official vehicles to transport him. Moreover, fifteen hours passed before Luna Romero was presented at the Centre for Social Rehabilitation [prison] in Hermosillo.

According to Carlos Navarro Sugich, Sonora Attorney General, the detainee is accused of kidnapping and theft, two crimes that according to the authority he committed on June 8, 2013, against Francisco Delgado Romo. The context was closure of the Mexico-Nogales Highway in protest because the authority refused to comply with the judgment of the Supreme Court of Justice, which recognized that if the Independence Aqueduct violated their rights, it had to be cancelled.

There are many reasons to believe that the representative of the Yaqui tribe was not arrested because he committed a crime, but because he is the link between his pueblo and other movements in solidarity with the tribe’s struggle to defend their land and water. This land was deeded to them in 1940 by President Lázaro Cárdenas; this is the same land that the Sonora government is now seeking to strip from them in order to deliver it to businessmen in the state capital. This is the perception of more than 75 organizations in 20 states of the Mexican Republic, which immediately declared that the allegations against Mario Luna Romero "are part of a strategy of criminalization against the struggle of the Yaqui tribe; this is taking place in the context of the defence of their water, before the construction and operation of the Independence Aqueduct."

Consequently, they demanded that the state government immediately release Luna Romero, stop the escalation of repression against the representatives of the Yaqui tribe and open pathways of dialogue to find ways out of the conflict.

The timing of the arrest also causes suspicion. Why was Luna Romero arrested just now when the state government faces the problem of contamination of the Bacanuchi River, one of the most serious caused by mining activity? Why now does Governor Padrés Elías accuse his predecessor of having responsibility for the fire at the ABC Daycare Center, where 49 children died and 76 suffered permanent injuries? Why now when the governor himself is accused of misappropriating water for personal gain, while many Sonorans go without [adequate access to water]? Will the governor want to create a distraction to divert public attention from the above problems? Will he want to use Luna Romero as a bargaining chip to silence other voices?

It’s too early to tell. What I can say is that with this action the government is adding more fuel to the Sonoran countryside, which is already hot, because knowing the Yaquis it is certain that they are not going to be silenced, and they are going to mobilize to achieve the release of their representative.

Viewed from another perspective, the detention is an historic error. While the detainee holds the position of secretary of tribal authorities, he is not a subordinate less than them, as someone from the outside might think. Among the Yaquis, the secretary is a kind of representative of the people with the rest of society; thus, they all feel aggrieved by Luna Romero’s detention.

It is a lesson that they [governments] should have learned from the historic Yaqui wars, many of which were caused by offences that the yoris, as the Yaquis call white people, committed against their [Yaqui] authorities. A politically sensible approach would be to deal with the proposals of the organizations calling for the detainee’s release, stop criminalizing the struggle, recognize the justness of the Yaqui’s struggle and seek solutions. … The other approach is to keep adding fuel to the fire.

Translated by Jane Brundage


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