Oaxaca: land conflicts turn bloody

The long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lost its hold on power in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca in gubernatorial elections last month, but the PRI’s local apparatus of control may only be hardening—especially in the state’s conflicted Mixtec region, where paramilitary groups terrorize peasant communities that have broken with the political machine.

A shoot-out between residents of the adjoining hamlets of San Juan Mixtepec and Santo Domingo Yosoñama, both in San Juan Ă‘umĂ­ municipality, left at least two and possibly more dead Aug. 8. Up to six San Juan Mixtepec residents are also reported abducted by Santo Domingo Yosoñama inhabitants. At issue are 1,740 hectares of land disputed between the two hamlets. Up to 39 Santo Domingo Yosoñama residents had been seized in late May by San Juan Mixtepec residents after attempting to burn trees and clear brush in the disputed area. Some of those had been freed following mediation by the state police. The land dispute is pending before Oaxaca’s Agrarian Tribunal. The Yosoñama residents are followers of Antorcha Campesina, seen as a pseudo-left organization created by the PRI, and last week marched in Oaxaca City to demand the release of their comrades. Antorcha leaders threatened to take the law into their own hands if their followers weren’t released. (La Jornada, Aug. 8; EFE, Aug. 7; LJ, July 29)

Meanwhile, San Juan Copala pueblo remains under siege, surrounded by snipers who shoot at residents who attempt to leave and occasionally fire into the village. Eight residents are recovering from injuries, including an eight-year-old girl who was hit twice as she tried to leave the pueblo. The gunmen have cut electricity and blocked the roads, allowing only a single party of women out once a week for an eight-hour food run. The siege is entering its ninth month. The gunmen are said to be from the deceptively named Union for the Social Wellbeing of the Triqui Region (UBISORT), also linked to the PRI. In 2007, San Juan Copala declared itself an “autonomous municipality,” breaking from local PRI-controlled municipal authorities. (The Economist, Aug. 5)

See our last posts on Oaxaca and Mexico.

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