Tag Archives: indigenous

“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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The Militia and the Community Police: Perspectives on their Differences from Guerrero, Michoacán, and Morelos (Jaime Quintana Guerrero, DESINFORMEMONOS)

This article first appeared in Desinformemonos on 26 January 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Militia and the Community Police: Perspectives on their Differences from Guerrero, Michoacán, and Morelos
By Jaime Quintana Guerrero

  • Three members of community justice systems from three Mexican states explain their mechanism’s birth, and how community justice responds to indigenous communities
  • Community justice differs from the militia, but the three agree that everybody needs to find their own path to freedom

Mexico. “If your struggle is freedom, then welcome. But if the struggle is filled with fear and terror, then we know that the paramilitaries have arrived or are coming.” So warns community justice member, Salvador Campanur, a Purhépecha. With Claudio Carrasco from Guerrero’s Community Police, and Guillermo Hernández from Tepotzlán in Morelos State, Campanur explains that community justice systems are rooted in ancient traditions and respond to popular assemblies. The three add that community justice forms part of the complex construction of popular autonomy, while the militias respond to the interests of specific groups.

Salvador Campanur begins to refer to events in Michoacán, where militias battle to expel the Knights Templar criminal group. Campanur comes from Cherán – one of the hotspots where the autonomy movement began in 2011 – and from where the community police expelled the talamontes. He explains that the situation for indigenous townships differs to those of cities or ejidos [communal landholdings]. But he emphasizes that each community needs to find its own path to freedom, “and that we can’t order anybody to do what we have done.”

“The community police,” explains Guillermo Hernández Chapa, from the township of Tepotzlán in Morelos, “respond to the need for autonomy — where the people consider security fundamental for every aspect of their development.”

The Militia and Community Based Policing

Salvador Campanur says that indigenous communities are not just fighting to defend themselves, but against all forms of outside interference. Take extractive industries, for example, “these divide communities, families, and inhabitants.”

Claudio Carrasco from Guerrero’s community police describes how his organization differs from his state’s militias: “those groups don’t apply justice. They don’t respond to popular assemblies. They hand detainees over to government officials.”

A member of the Mepháa community, Carrasco explains that the militia want to operate like the community police but that they don’t have the people or the experience to investigate the detainees for their alleged crimes. He states emphatically this means that, “one hears of the militia torturing people, or letting criminals walk free.”

The state of Morelos has not seen a militia movement emerge like those in Michoacán and Guerrero, explains Guillermo Hernández. “We recognize that the militia responds to specific groups and not to community assemblies.” In Metepec, for example, the owners of avocado orchards created groups to guard their production process. But no community assembly recognizes them.

One other difference exists between the militia and the community police, says the Tepoztlán community member: “the militia enter into agreements with government bodies. But community groups don’t enter agreements because we aren’t waiting for the government’s recognition. Instead, the community police operate under agreements between the general assemblies and the communities.”

The Birth of the Community Police

Community members and indigenous people agree that even before the Mexcian Revolution, local people organized security and justice. “Before armies arrived in the Americas, traditional mechanisms already existed,” explains Campanur.

On 15 April 2011, Cherán Township in Michoacán became tired of the extortions, murders, and clandestine logging of their forests, so its people started an armed uprising using sticks, stones, and machetes. To start the process of organizing security in the Purhépecha township “we had to weather several experiences: the way the government and political parties treated us, divisions within the community, and the presence of organized crime,” remembers Campanur. “In a community, when one wants to organize, confront, and make good on one’s promises, that’s when we turn to the knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors, the things we base ourselves on.”

Cherán’s residents identified that the land “is our house and we have to defend it. That’s the way we understand how to defend the land our ancestors bequeathed us,” reminds the Purhépecha community member. Later, they organized security using torchlight patrols to confront “the bad guys” who, they complained, were supported by armed groups and the military. They took back their land using those methods. Afterwards they organized elections according to their community traditions, processes recognized by official electoral institutes.

Cherán’s community guards provide security to around 20,000 inhabitants over an area of 27 thousand hectares of communal land.

Salvador Campanur explains the community patrol’s membership: “there’s no way to say who can or can’t join a patrol. It’s a duty for children, youth, adults, and old alike,” and nobody receives pay.

In Guerrero’s Costa Chica and on the Mountain, the Regional Coordinator of Community Policing Authorities (CRAC-PC) has 18 years experience providing a system of security, justice, and re-education. Claudio Carrasco, a Mepháa, indicates that, “police selection is based on an open competition run by the community’s general assembly. The village has to choose 14 officers, including first and second commanders.” To nominate commanders and coordinators, the townships convene a regional general assembly where all the communities meet.

The CRAC brings together ethnic communities of Mepháa, Ñu, Savi, Ñancu, Ñomdaa, afro-mestizos, and mestizos. “We have our own rules, and nobody is above them. Not even our regional assembly can change them,” explains Carrasco.

On the Costa Chica and in the mountains – in areas of drug cultivation and transshipment – there are active organized crime groups like Los Pelones and the Independent Cartel. In 2012 the community police confiscated weapons, trucks and drugs from one of these cartels.

Claudio Carrasco was once a coordinator but now is a CRAC council member. He remembers that in the justice system “we came to do a good job and grow. But all of a sudden mining interests appeared and generated a conflict which provoked the formation of a militia.” The former coordinator explains that his community stopped the businesses from coming in, so the government tried to find a way to divide the CRAC. “Divisions erupted, and then the militia arrived.” They tried to take away the community justice system.

“The militias arose spontaneously, so to speak. There’s no project. And from what we know, the government creates them and supports them. But we don’t know to what end,” says the CRAC coordinator.

In the state of Morelos, birthplace of historic leaders like Emiliano Zapata, Rubén Jaramillo, “El Güero” Medrano, and Félix Serdán, some of its regions continue with community security procedures, or “farmers’ patrols.”

Community policing practices have been reinforced in the wake of Rubén Jaramillo’s experiences,” explains Hernández Chapa. “In the ‘sixties, we had community justices of the peace, a post that existed to resolve internal disputes. But the post got lost at the national level of state justice. In the eighties, we still resolved things at the community level,” tells Hernández Chapa.

The patrols were called the “twenties” because indigenous people took turns every twenty days. But things began to change when authorities started to pay for the community’s security, meaning that the communities supported the municipal president. Hernández Chapa explains that in this way in some places, communal practices weakened.

Ocotepec, was the first community in Morelos to put the traditional practices of community safety above municipal law. In 2013 Temoac Township decided to re-establish community patrols in response to violence and home robberies. The communities selected a commander and twelve people to take charge of security. In some cases the patrols have arrested officials so that they answer to the communities.

Patrols are part clandestine, says Tepoztlán’s patrol member, Guillermo Hernández Chapa. Community policing has brought him into conflict with municipal authorities. “In order to be in a position of authority, including policing, you ought to have fulfilled other requirements,” added the patrol member.

Campanur specifies that Cherán did not invent this fight or the way of defending itself. It can’t tell any other community how to do it. “In the first place we are respectful of every group’s autonomy,” he indicates. “We can’t tell anybody to walk the same path as ours. We respect each other’s autonomy and ways of thinking. If they are pursuing freedom on their own terms then we must respect them.” But the Purhépecha community member underlined that “we want them to respect the steps we have taken in our own communities.”

Author Jaime Quintana Guerrero sits on the editorial board of Desinformemonos. This article first appeared under the title, “Autodefensas y policías comunitarias, diferencias vistas desde los pueblos,” at http://desinformemonos.org/2014/01/diferencias-entre-autodefensas-y-policias-comunitarias-vistas-desde-los-pueblos/.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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