Murder in the Backwoods

The Economist, 8/5/2010

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.”

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Leader of Mexico Indian community, wife killed

Associated Press, 5/21/2010

A leftist, anti-government faction in an Indian town where a Finnish rights observer was killed in April said Thursday its leader has been shot to death along with his wife, authorities said.

Jesus Martinez Flores, the self-styled mayor of the “autonomous” Triqui Indian town of San Juan Copala in southern Oaxaca state, said the leader of the town’s autonomy movement was killed Thursday by gunmen from a rival faction.

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Ambush Highlights Mexico’s Lingering Land Fights

CBS News, 5/5/2010

Before the barrage of gunfire, a makeshift roadblock of boulders was the only sign that a small caravan of cars had crossed the line into a decades-old feud that long ago drove off police and federal poll workers.

What followed was a stunning reminder that pockets of Mexico remain submerged in volatile local conflicts over land, resources and power, with some factions keeping state and federal authorities at bay.

Gunmen opened fire with assault rifles late last month on a group of European and Mexican rights activists, journalists and teachers union representatives who were attempting to reach a Triqui Indian village besieged by rival political factions.

Two of the activists – from Finland and Mexico – were shot and killed almost instantly inside one of the cars, and several more were wounded as the panic-stricken group scrambled out of shattered car windows and fled into the surrounding hills.

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Human rights observers killed in attack in Mexico

Washington Post, 4/28/2010

Two human rights activists were shot and killed in an ambush in southern Mexico as they tried to deliver food and supplies to a town being harassed by armed groups, authorities said on Wednesday.

Beatriz Carino, the Mexican director of the rights group CACTUS, and Finnish human rights observer Jyri Antero Jaakkola died when gunmen attacked a convoy of some 30 rights workers on Tuesday, local attorney general Maria de la Luz Candelaria said.

The convoy was headed to San Juan Copala in the impoverished state of Oaxaca, where tensions have been building between towns of indigenous Triqui people.

San Juan Copala is trying to set up an independent government based on native customs. But armed groups from nearby towns oppose the plan and cut off water and electricity supplies in an effort to isolate the community.

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