On a Hunger Strike, the Displaced Women of San Juan Copala
by Debora Cerutti, SubVersiones November 11, 2015
Displaced from San Juan Copala, a Triqui indigenous community in the municipality of San Juan Juxtlahuaca, the women have begun a hunger strike. They are demanding from the government the fulfilment of the promises of return to their territory or their immediate relocation.
In 2007, the struggle for the autonomy of San Juan Copala was disrupted by the intervention of the Union of Social Welfare of the Triqui Region (UBISORT), operated by the PRI, by surrounding the community and finally the expulsion of around 700 people in 2009. Lorena Merino Martinez—representative of the displaced people whose husband (along with a 7 year old boy) was assassinated in the same year by the paramilitary group—explains:
“Among those who were expelled violently it is because the government doesn’t like autonomy, there are political parties that are in with the government. For that same reason the government sent resources to the political parties in order to put an end to the autonomy, in order to be able to take possession of the community because the government finds it more convenient to have political parties and that is why they put an end to the autonomy.”
The members of the community found themselves forced to leave their territory through violence. Their dwellings, according to Lorena, are now occupied by paramilitary members, who are, in some cases, neighbours. Her husband’s murderer, who was freed in 2012, now lives in San Juan Copala. The territory, she says, contains important mineral resources. “For that reason they expelled us and now the government doesn’t see the conditions for us to return to our community.”
Under the demand for justice and the return to the community, the Oaxacan government signed in 2013 an accord for relocation, but it remained only on paper.
“September 13, 2013 we signed an agreement with the government of the State where they committed themselves to protecting the homes of the displaced and they also agreed to relocate us short term in Central Valleys in 90 days. More than two years have already passed. In Oaxaca there are private properties but the government doesn’t consider the price very high and for that reason they haven’t been relocated to this date.”
Since [Nov. 4], members of the Triqui community have been in the corridor of the government palace in the Oaxacan capital demanding the fulfilment of the agreement of 2013, but the response, one more time, was repression and removal:
“Today [Nov. 5] at 3:30 AM we got more than 200 riot police, and they removed us with force from the corridor of the palace, and dragged old women and young sleeping children, throwing us outside and sprayed gas in the faces of our children and aimed the pistols they carry. And they treat us as if we were delinquents. Three of our companions were threatened by the riot police, and a 12-year old boy was chased by the police.”
During the removal, those who objected had their belongings taken.
The situation of the displaced, it is mean, unjust and violent. Many find themselves refugees in the homes of sympathizers or live on the streets. Lorena Merino told us that they used to have coffee and banana farms and had no problems getting permission to sell their products and handicrafts. But the current conditions are difficult and painful. She is worried about the children of the community who today, because of the displacement, neither eat nor study decently.
“The truth is, living on the street is no decent place for our children, being hungry, cold and thirsty is difficult, and for that reason things have not progressed on the part of the state, and for that reason we have chosen, this day, to go on a hunger strike, right now we have been on this hunger strike for six hours, but not one government official has approached us in order to open dialogue regarding our relocation.”