Paramilitary murder in Oaxaca

May 3, 2010

Afsaneh Moradian reports from Mexico on a paramilitary assault against a humanitarian caravan delivering water and other necessities to an autonomous town.

A GROUP of 15 paramilitaries attacked a caravan of solidarity activists delivering humanitarian supplies to the besieged town of San Juan Copala on April 27. Two of the activists were killed, and another was injured in the assault.

The activists who were murdered are Beatriz Alberta Cariño Trujillo of the group CACTUS, an organization for indigenous rights, and Tyri Antero Jaakkola, an international observer from Finland.

The town of San Juan Copala has been under pro-government paramilitary siege since a 2006 uprising that nearly overthrew Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz and resulted in the town declaring itself autonomous in January 2007.

The caravan arrived at a blockade made of rocks just outside the town where 15 armed paramilitary men confronted it. Trujillo and Jaakkola were killed immediately in the hail of bullets, and the rest of the convoy hid in the hills. Initially, it was feared that five others were disappeared by the paramilitaries, but they have since been found alive and well.

The caravan was made up of a group of Oaxaca activists, members of the Teachers Union Sección 22, members of the Popular Assembly of Oaxaca, independent journalists and international observers.

Paramilitaries in Oaxaca, 2006
Paramilitaries in Oaxaca, 2006

"The organization that carried out the attack is the UBISORT, which is an organization that has been declared a paramilitary organization by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees," according to independent journalist Kristen Bricker in a Democracy Now! interview.

"The state's ruling party, the PRI, created the organization in 1994 in order to control the Triqui region...[UBISORT] continues to be led by PRI members, that's the ruling party in Oaxaca, and its leaders were actually both state representatives in the Congress. The UBISORT is very open about its close relationship with the PRI."

This isn't the first time the paramilitary has been used in the area to stop an autonomous movement in San Juan Copala. As the killing of U.S. journalist and activist Brad Will during the teachers strike in 2006 demonstrates, the Oaxacan government uses the paramilitary to do its dirty work for it.

"The U.S.-funded 'war on drugs' certainly creates a cover for these kinds of politically motivated attacks," according to Bricker. "Twelve people have been murdered by UBISORT since November, and it's only now that the international media is paying attention. The rest of the murders simply get lost in the overall violence that has gripped the country.

"The attacks are often used as a pretext to send in the military...and experience shows that this only increases violence."

In protest of the attack, traffic has been blocked in various parts of the city, and a demonstration also took place in the city center. Activists are demanding that Gov. Ruiz and the paramilitary be held accountable for the attack and that aggression towards the people of San Juan Copala be stopped. There was also an April 30 solidarity demonstration in front of the Mexican Consulate in New York City.

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