OAXACA – Gunfire rings out almost every day around the village of San Juan Copala, as marksmen in the woods take potshots into the town. Eight residents are recovering from injuries, including an eight-year-old girl who was hit twice as she tried to leave the village. The gunmen have cut electricity and blocked access roads, allowing only a single party of women out once a week on an eight-hour hike to fetch food. The siege is entering its ninth month.
The tiny hamlet of some 400 Triqui Indians lies in the north-west of the state of Oaxaca. The shooters are thought to belong to the Union for the Social Wellbeing of the Triqui Region (UBISORT)—a deceptively beneficent-sounding group set up by the ruling party in 1994 to enforce its authority in the remote mountain area.
In 2007 San Juan Copala and various nearby villages declared themselves an “autonomous municipality”. Since then the violence has worsened: over 100 people are thought to have been killed since the beginning of 2008. The terrorisation of the village, probably orchestrated in part by UBISORT paramilitaries, is punishment for this rebelliousness, says Marcos Albino, a Triqui spokesman. The message to other indigenous towns is clear, he says: “You take the risks and you pay the price.”