Mario Luna Romero and the Struggle for Water

Luis Hernández Navarro

La Jornada, 23 September, 2014

10703989_744538848943876_7044520943013365799_nScandal on top of scandal, about 16 months after the arrest warrant was issued against him, Mario Luna Romero, the secretary of the Yaqui tribe, was arrested. Plainclothes policemen aboard four unmarked vehicles seized him on September 11.

The arrest and imprisonment of the indigenous leader–who, according to the state attorney, PAN member Carlos Alberto Navarro, is a person "immersed in a struggle against state authority"–was executed in the midst of the battle between the federal government and Governor Guillermo Padres over the poisoning of the Bacanuchi and Sonora Rivers by Grupo Mexico mining company. There is also the legal complaint that the governor built on his 8,900 acre family ranch a reservoir with a dam over 100 metres wide, capable of storing more than 4 million cubic metres of water.

Mario Luna is a translator and representative of the Vicam Yaquis, one of eight villages that make up the tribe. He has led protests and lawsuits to stop the construction and operation of the Independence Aqueduct, which takes water from the Yaqui River’s El Novillo dam. The aqueduct directly threatens the survival, traditional culture and livelihood of the tribe. Just on September 4, a week before he was arrested, he had travelled to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to present the case.

Luna Romero is accused by the prosecutor of "illegal, aggravated deprivation of liberty and auto theft" against Francisco Antonio Delgado Romo and Deonicio Luzania Valencia, both Yaquis.

Francisco Antonio Delgado Romo is an indigenous teacher known to be a political operator for Governor Padres within the tribe. In the early hours of June 8, 2013, he began drinking and picking fights in Vicam. Hours later, with another individual, completely drunk, driving a black car, he rammed into a protest on the International Highway against the construction of the Independence Aqueduct. He almost ran over a woman and her small son.

The torocoyis (traitors to their people) tried to flee but, after a chase, were arrested and judged according to Yaqui laws. A hearing was conducted by the traditional rulers of the tribe, senior men in charge of exercising justice. The authorities severely reprimanded Francisco in front of his older sister and the car was impounded until those driving it paid for the damages caused by their flight.

Days later, Francisco filed a criminal complaint against several members of the Yaqui tribe, including Mario Luna and Tomás Rojo, for robbery, kidnapping, assault and torture. Neither of the two was present either at the trial or the sentencing.

tribu-yaqui-yoemem-300x201The Yaqui tribe has a history of more than 2,500 years. It has its own institutions, its own laws, its own rules of community life. To ensure a healthy coexistence among its members, harmony within the community, the integrity of its people and mutual respect, they have means for applying punitive measures when the rules are violated. When that happens, traditional authorities–the only ones with permission to exercise justice–apply the internal law. Mario Luna is secretary of the tribe, and secretaries have no authority to apply punitive measures to Francisco Antonio Delgado Romo.

The history and continuous existence of the Yaqui tribe has been questioned by the authorities. During the full-blown conflict over the aqueduct, the PGR [federal Attorney General's Office], controlled by the PAN, attempted to deny the existence of the Yaqui tribe, cleverly using an opinion of the INAH [National Institute of Anthropology and History]. Authorities and researchers of the institution were forced to send a formal letter to the federal prosecutor supervising agrarian lawsuits, Augusto Lezama González, making clear that "it is possible not only to confirm their existence (of the Yaqui tribe), but also the contemporary continuing existence of the traditional eight villages, as well as their well-known territorial claim."

Gov. Guillermo Padres Elias has made the construction and operation of the Independence Aqueduct a personal crusade. He has sought to justify the work as a righteous measure to supply water to Hermosillo, the state capital. The truth is that, before stealing water from the Yaqui, the governor was able to resolve the water supply by other means. Nearly 40 percent of the drinking water in the city is wasted by the poor state of the distribution system. It would have been enough to repair the network. Likewise, it was perfectly feasible to build desalination plants to quench the thirst of the Sonoran capital.

But the governor, himself a cattle rancher and ally of business leaders in the state, chose to strip the Yaqui of their blue gold while he was building a dam on his ranch. And, rather than providing the vital liquid to the people of Hermosillo, the pipeline is aimed at supplying large companies that have been established in the region: Ford Motor Company (each car produced requires between half and one million litres of water), Holcim, Heineken, Big Cola, Coca Cola and Pepsico.

Mario Luna Romero is one more political prisoner. His struggle is for a tribe that seeks to preserve its territory, natural resources and water, its existence as a people. Mario Luna Romero should be released now!

Translated by Reed Brundage


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