Persecution and Plunder of the Yaqui
La Jornada, 13th September, 2014
Yesterday tens of members of the Yaqui tribe and the Citizen Movement for Water set up a roadblock on a stretch of the Ciudad Obregón-Guaymas highway in Sonora in protest against the arrest of Mario Luna Romero, designated spokesperson of this community (governed under uses and customs). Luna Romero is accused of robbery and kidnapping by the government headed by PAN [National Action Party] Governor Guillermo Padrés Elías.
The disagreement of members of that community in southern Sonora seems justified in light of irregularities that occurred during Luna Romero’s detention, which was carried out by people in civilian clothes traveling in unofficial vehicles and is based on alleged crimes that have not been proved. Moreover, the event has an unavoidable political and social context: the Yaqui people’s rejection of construction of the Independence Aqueduct. Designed by the Sonora government to divert water from the Yaqui River, presumably to supply the city of Hermosillo, in reality the Aqueduct responds to and favours corporate interests–car assembly plants, breweries and soft drink bottling plants. The Aqueduct also favours influential politicians in the region and the country.
Just like the arrest of the leader, construction of the Aqueduct has been marked by irregularities that evoke the tradition of dispossession that original peoples throughout the country have been subjected to since time immemorial. The above work was built without consulting the Yaqui tribe, despite the existence of a decree in 1940 [issued by President Lázaro Cárdenas] granting the tribe’s use of 50 percent of the river’s waters. Such arbitrariness led the Yaqui community to initiate a legal dispute to ensure their right to be consulted. This legal action resulted in the granting of an amparo [injunction] that ordered, as a preventive measure, suspension of further work on the aqueduct. That’s when the Sonora government initiated a campaign of disparagement and criminalization of the Yaqui community and its leaders, which has included threats of repression and direct threats by state public security officers against protesters.
With these precedents, it can be assumed that the arrest of Mario Luna is not due to a desire for justice by the Sonora state government, but that it is part of a campaign of persecution. That campaign, in turn, is part of the history of dispossession that the Yaqui people have historically suffered at the hands of the State, at least since the 1870s when the notorious Yaqui War took place that resulted in the mass killing of the people at the hands of the liberal governments.
In its contemporary version, historic harassment is accompanied by repressive policies and actions that criminalize social dissent, wage smear campaigns in the media and on social networks, and systemically refuse to recognize the Yaquis’ right to decide about their natural resources.
Counter to government calculations, however, that course of action has done nothing but multiply social tension and encourage ungovernability in the region. Perhaps there is still a route to prevent this outcome: the government might desist from its persecution of the Yaqui and acknowledge its error in promoting construction of the aqueduct without dealing with the disagreement and the damages caused to different sectors, predominantly to members of the Yaqui community.
Translated by Jane Brundage