Actions Follow Talks
Ocotlán Residents Take the Highway
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
April 21, 2009
On April 20, 2009 residents from several communities in the valley of Ocotlán took over federal highway 175 which runs from Oaxaca to Puerto Angel. Blockades were raised to prevent the passage of vehicles as part of a demand to permanently close La Trinidad, the Cuzcatlán-Fortuna mine located in San Jose del Progreso, a village in the municipality of Ocotlán. At 1:00 p.m. April 21 I received information that activists had reached an agreement with the head of public safety to discuss their issues. Their original intention was a dialogue with higher officials; we are awaiting clarification.
The citizen action followed the vigorous decisions of the national forum held in San Pedro Apostol, Ocotlán on April 17 and 18. The forum, called Weaving Resistances for the Defense of Our Territories, summoned dozens of grassroots organizations and hundreds of local, national and international environmental activists as well as indigenous Zapoteco, Mixteco, Mixe, Chatino and Chontal communities from the valley, the Sierra Norte, Sierra Sur, Papaloapam and the coast of Oaxaca.
The purpose of the forum was to unite the collective strength of all in concrete actions. The mine had already been blockaded and now the same of the highway occurred as a further strategy to force a dialogue with federal authorities and denounce the ongoing hostilities and persecutions which the state and local government have engaged in against residents who oppose the mining project.
The blockade of the highway was called “a necessary measure” to continue the struggle which began on March 16 with the formal notarized closure of the mine La Trinidad. The mining company had already created damage when it dynamited ejido land to open a series of tunnels in the hills. The dynamite quakes fractured nearby cement, brick and adobe homes.
Education efforts have made people aware of a previous mining experience in San Jerónimo Taviche Ocotlán where forty persons worked. Thirty-eight have died, probably from chemical contamination by cyanide, mercury, copper sulfate and arsenic. Cattle and plants also died from contaminated water which is still unusable.
The activists at the blockade list the history of confrontations:
- March 21: during a public meeting in San Jose del Progreso the popularly rejected PRI municipal president Venancio Oscar Martínez Rivera threatened three members of the Committee for Defense of Rights of the People, plus three inhabitants of San José de Pacifico.
- March 24: men in civilian clothing carrying pistols and heavy weapons tried to kidnap spokesperson Augustín Rios Cruz of the Defensa de los Recursos Naturales and Nuestra Madre Tierra. When Rios Cruz asked to see an arrest order they answered, “We don’t need a fucking paper, these are the orders of the governor.”
- March 25: an attempt was made to kidnap activist José David Hernández Álvarez who was bringing his children to school. He was protected by teachers and parents of families.
- March 25: on April 9 Hernández Álvarez and Augustín Rios Cruz learned about arrest orders.
- April 9: arrest orders were issued for Apolinar Garcia Vasquez Gomez and yet another order for Rios Cruz.
According to Rios Cruz, Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz has tried by every means to divide the resistance movement in San Jose del Progreso using public programs such as Piso Firme (cement floors for homes with dirt floors) as bribes and pay-offs.
The forum concluded on April 18, “We worry at seeing a strong thrust on the part of the governments to promote projects for “development,” investment and public policies which attack our lands and natural resources. Facing this brutality, local and regional methods of organization are being tried out.”
The political context elaborated by the forum focused on the neoliberal policies for “macro-projects.” Foreign treaties permit concessions and privileges to the grand transnationals which in turn encourage and strengthen local oligarchies through irrational exploitation of natural resources, violating the national constitution and indigenous rights. The word “development,” the forum declared, is used as an excuse to steal and destroy local food supplies.
Not surprisingly, exploitation and privatization largely takes place in indigenous and poor rural communities. The complicity between authorities and private enterprises is expressed in the violation of the right of the public to access information. In Oaxaca, reporters such as Noticias reporter Pedro Matías and cartoonist Mario Robles suffer brutal attacks.
Oaxaca, like all Mexico, endures increasing bribery of community leaders and social authorities. Along with that, the government criminalizes citizen action, conflating environmental and social protest with guerrilla terrorism.
The forum asserted in its concluding declaration that in addition to mining projects, activists will now target large scale tourism, dams, housing projects, electric energy production, oil exploitation and the exploitation of scarce water resources by private enterprises like Coca-Cola.
*Sources are EDUCA: http://fridaguerrera.blogspot.com/2009/04/la-coordinadora-en-defensa-de-los.html, Noticias articles by Pedro Matias, personal interviews, and the concluding Declaration of the Forum.
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