“It was a massacre.” (Octavio Vélez Ascencio, NOTICIASNET.MX)

This article was first published on Noticias, Voz y Imagen de Oaxaca on 18 May 2013, and was republished via that newspaper’s portal NoticiasNet.Mx on 21 March 2014 in recognition of its author winning the 2013 Premio Nacional de Periodismo (National Journalism Award). Vélez Ascencio has worked as a reporter for 30 years, with the last two decades at the same newspaper. He has been covering agrarian and social conflict in Oaxaca for the past ten years.  This article has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). 

“It was a massacre.”
By Octavio Vélez Ascencio (NOTICIASNET.MX)

CERRO METATE, San Juan Mixtepec, Oaxaca.- “There was no confrontation. What happened was a massacre,” confirmed the President of Communal Property in this Mixtecan village, Paulino Hernández Paz. He was talking about the latest incursion from Santo Domingo Yosoñama into his community’s land, leaving three elderly villagers dead.

“They entered the village and the old people couldn’t run. That’s why they killed them. It was murder,” he said.

Agrarian officials say that the inhabitants of Santo Domingo Yosoñama belong to the municipality of San Juan Ñumi – who are in conflict with San Juan Mixtepec for a dispute about ownership rights to 1,740 hectares – there’s been shooting on the Cerro Metate for the past two weeks, and they have penetrated around 100 of the community’s hamlets.

“They came in to burn several houses and rob livestock, but the saddest things was that they killed the elderly just because they could not run.”

He states that the dead were identified as Bonifacio Vicente Hernández and Porfiria Salazar Gómez, both 70 years old, and also Margarito Santiago Ramírez, 75 years old, all of whom were shot at close range and not from afar.

“They grabbed them up close, one of the grandparents – Margarito Santiago Ramírez – couldn’t see; and he couldn’t run or walk,” he said.

He mentioned that the woman among them survived for three hours after the violence that took place at 15:40. She could not be transported to the county seat for medical attention because of her wounds.

“It was something terrible,” he said.

He emphasized that the Cerro Metate community normally places guards on the border with Santo Domingo Yosoñama, but only three or four villagers were there at the time of the attack.

“Since we don’t want everybody to kill ourselves over them, we don’t place guards every day. That’s how they got in. We don’t want a war with them because we are as fucked as they are,” he said.

Cerro Metate’s other inhabitants saved themselves because they were working the fields while others fled to the mountain when they heard gunfire.

“Several families live in the village. Fortunately, most managed to escape,” he said.

He underlined that the whole of San Juan Mixtepec is upset about the violence, especially for the murder of three elderly villagers. They are ready to take revenge.

“People are really angry and want to do something. We’re larger than Santo Domingo Yosoñana and we can do a lot. But that’s not what we want. We are calling for calm because they’ve also got old people and children. Some families have relatives in each town,” he pointed out.

He thinks that it’s not only Santo Domingo Yosoñama’s residents who are responsible for this and other previous violent events but also gunmen from Antorcha Campesina, a community assistance organization.

“We want them to apply the law and punish them, which is just as it should be,” he observed.

Even so, he called on the federal and state governments to apply the law and carry out an operation in the disputed area to arrest those responsible for the events, bringing the violence to an end.

Hernández Paz said that the lands demanded by Santo Domingo Yosoñama legally belong to San Juan Mixtepec. Its ownership must be respected according to the ruling by the Tribunal Unitario Agrario (TUA) of district number 46, dated 15 May 2000.

“That land belongs to us. They’re demanding it knowing it’s ours. They just want to bribe the government,” he noted.

Armed Men Arbitrarily Detain NOTICIAS’ correspondents

The team of reporters from NOTICIAS, Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca sent to San Juan Mixtepec to provide journalistic coverage of Santa Domingo Yosoñama’s violence against the Cerro Metate community were illegally detained by a group of its officials and villagers, as well as by people from Rancho Viejo.

Reporters Octavio Vélez Ascencio, Mario Jiménez Leyva and Uriel López Salazar identified themselves to officials and villagers, informing them of their presence in the region to record the events.

But when they were returning at around 2:30, they came across a vehicle blocking their way.

Tens of villagers had gathered, some of them were armed and obviously drunk. They harassed the reporters, even taking their IDs, cell phones and reporting kit.

Four hours later, the reporters were taken to the Municipal Building, to be presented in front of the assistant receiver.

Residents drawn from San Juan Mixtepec recognized the reporters and intervened on their behalf, recognizing the reporters professional work conducted in 10 previous visits to the township, through the conflict with Santo Domingo Yosoñama.

Some officials and villagers groundlessly accused the reporters of having broken and entered into a home, suggesting they had trespassed in a victim’s house to ask questions. But even the son of one of the victims remembered that his wife had given the reporters permission to enter.

The assistant receiver even said that he knew of the journalism published by the reporters and agreed that they were not in the wrong, had committed no crime, and so could leave.

Journalist Octavio Vélez Ascencio has spent the best part of a thirty-year career reporting for NOTICIAS, Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca. This article was first published under the title, “Fue una masacre,” available at: http://www.noticiasnet.mx/portal/general/agropecuarias/152005-fue-una-masacre.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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