Indigenous communities rise up in Michoacán

For the second time in less than two years, an indigenous community in the southwestern Mexican state of Michoacán has erected barricades and seized control of security matters. Located in the Purépecha highlands of the Pacific coast state, the small community of Urapicho in Paracho municipality has been under the self-declared control of the people for about a month now. The news was publicized last week with the posting of a video on YouTube that shows armed and masked men, some clothed in military-style camouflage clothing, attending a sand-bagged checkpoint, where motorists are searched. Two masked spokespersons explain the reasons for the uprising and the goals of their movement.

In the nearly nine-minute video, one masked man speaks in Purépecha peppered with Spanish. Translated into Spanish sub-titles, his words tell viewers that the children lack money for school supplies. A second masked man, sporting a Che Guevara image on his cap, speaks in Spanish while a group of 14 men also adorned in masks stand or sit behind him. According to the man, the community of 2,500 people has experienced a “very critical situation lately” because of insecurity.

Residents say they have been under assault from criminal groups that have a strong foothold in the region. The Spanish-speaking spokesman mentions four people who were forcibly disappeared in 2009 and 2010, including a woman named Bautista. “We don’t know her whereabouts,” he says.

Urapicho’s residents demand recognition of the community police; action against insecurity; the preservation of natural resources; and respect for their self-organization. An intro to the video written in Spanish proclaims, in part, that the people have been “victims of aggressive policies of cultural assimilation” and now confront attacks by criminal organizations.

The Purépecha community is located between the towns of Paracho, long known for its locally produced guitars, and Cherán, a larger indigenous community that rose up in April 2011 and seized control of the local government. Still barricaded and under community guard, the Cherán rebellion broke out after locals grew frustrated by violence and government inaction in stopping the clear-cutting of the area’s remaining forests. Like Urapicho, numerous deaths and disappearances blamed on organized crime have been reported in Cherán.

From Frontera NorteSur, Oct. 19.