Indigenous Yaqui Leader Mario Luna Freed From Prison, Vows to Continue Defence of Tribal Water Rights



Gloria Muñoz Ramírez

La Jornada, 25th September, 2015

Translated by Esther Buddenhagen
Mario Luna, traditional secretary of the indigenous village of Vicam and commissioned by the Yaqui tribe to protect its water, was recently released from the Centre for Social Readaptation [Cereso] Number 2 in Hermosillo, Sonora, the prison in which he was confined for a year and ten days for crimes they could not prove he’d committed. On leaving the prison, he said, "Right now, I urgently need to go to see the community, to involve myself in the work of defending our water, to bring myself up to date on the legal fight, to be with my family,”

Happy, with his two daughters in his arms and surrounded by Yaqui tribal authorities, Mario Luna passed through the prison for the last time on the afternoon of September 23. As he left, he emphasized, "strong, convinced that I should never have trod the floors of the jail, strengthened in my convictions, and bound always to the tribe´s fight against the Independence Aqueduct,"

The aqueduct is the mega-project which has been challenged since the bid for a contract was let and against which the courts granted injunctions that didn’t stop it either. Commissioned by the entire tribe to defend the water of the Yaqui River, Luna gave notice that today, more than ever, he will demand "the expansion of full rights, since now laws are only in writing, and that doesn’t help anything. We have to create a culture in which society in general, as well as the indigenous pueblos, have to demand and to exercise the rights that are theirs."

Days Behind Bars

In more than a year in prison, Luna learned “the other face of civilization.” This is the face with which they have tried "to deceive us in the name of progress and development,” but which keeps innocents and young people in prison without opportunities.

“What I lived through in the Cereso for all this time leaves me marked forever. I saw how young people between 20 and 25 years old survived, fought, and tried to overcome their limitations inside an adverse society,” he pointed out in a telephone interview.

This last September 11, when he’d been incarcerated for a year, Mario Luna warned in an interview that, “We face even greater plundering of the natural resources of the indigenous pueblos.”

Thus, they have to maintain themselves “alert and united.” The country, he said, "is in convulsions, but there are various fronts armed for the fight” in the face of the exhaustion of the existing political and economic system.

He affirmed that if the government was trying to put down the tribe’s fight against the Independence Aqueduct by imprisoning him, it didn’t work, since the indigenous authorities and the rest of the pueblo continue to defend their water and to demand the territorial integrity of their community.
Viviana Bacasegua and Francisco Delgado accused Luna of illegal deprivation of liberty and theft of a car. There was not then, nor is there now, a valid legal argument since—he pointed out—he didn’t participate in any crime. Within the tribe they applied the internal laws and regulations to someone [Delgado] who said he was Yaqui, and he turned out to be a known political operator of Governor Guillermo Padrés. He insisted that the proceeding had been mishandled and for that reason they couldn’t establish who was responsible. Therefore, he emphasized, he is now free. [Delgado was apprehended by the community after he ran his truck into a demonstration protesting the Aqueduct.]

He followed the news from prison and when he had the chance, he held meetings with tribal authorities. Through them he learned that the Independence Aqueduct continued in operation, the work pushed forward by the PAN government of Guillermo Padres Elías—who is ten days from leaving office—to seize the water of the Yaqui River for themselves and deliver it to the businesses of Hermosillo [Sonora state capital].

The days in prison passed slowly. At times, they were filled with despair. In jail, the forty-four year old social activist and father of a family, recalled “I re-evaluated everything. For a free indigenous person, being in jail is difficult, although we now know that he can succeed.”

In whatever form, he said, “I felt privileged, because they never left me alone.”

Justice Is On the Tribe’s Side

An indefatigable man in defence of water and territory, Luna emphasized that justice is on the side of the tribe. He reaffirmed, “We are going to win," in spite of the contested aqueduct, "which is already operational, diverting the water from the river towards the industrial zone of Hermosillo. They never gave consideration to connecting it to the domestic network. They did not even construct a water purification plant,” which made it clear, he emphasized, “that the liquid would not be for human consumption, as the government had always said it would be, but for automobile businesses, breweries, and the soft drink industry."

In the last months of his captivity, the Yaqui leader read “about the history of his people and the most critical stages that are repeated like a vicious circle: how the tribe is divided to make it possible to loot it and to manipulate public opinion against what they call the uncivilized or barbaric."

Behind bars, Luna dedicated his time to the attention of young people in the detoxification centre which is operated inside the prison. He counselled, supported, and accompanied the prisoners.

“We rescued three generations who succeeded in detoxifying themselves,” he confirmed, proud to have passed his days and nights at their sides, "encouraging comradeship” since, he made clear, "this system has its young people in jails, without schooling, without knowing how to read or write. It is the other face of what they call civilization.”

From the time he entered prison the prisoners and even the attendants welcomed him. They learned through the media that he was an indigenous person who defended water rights and who didn’t have to be there. They lent him clothes and a coat, and they respected him until the end. Today, he insisted, they are all part of his life, together with the community into which he was immediately reintegrated.


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