The paramilitaries who invaded San Juan Copala, Oaxaca, this past July 30 have since abandoned the autonomous municipality’s town hall. They didn’t go far, however, and near-daily shootings from the paramilitary sharpshooters stationed around the town keep San Juan Copala under a state of siege.
San Juan Copala declared itself autonomous following the 2006 uprising that nearly drove Oaxaca’s governor out of office. The Union for the Social Well-being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT), a paramilitary organization founded by the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI, which has ruled Oaxaca for eighty years), has kept San Juan Copala under siege since January. UBISORT has blocked the road into town with boulders and logs, forcing Copala residents to use trails through the woods to bring in desperately needed supplies on their backs. UBISORT snipers are positioned in the hills surrounding the town, making it extremely dangerous for residents to leave their homes at all.
“No one can go outside in Copala,” says Mariana Flores, a representative of the autonomous municipality. “If they [paramilitaries] see you on the street, they will shoot at you.”
Residents believe that the paramilitaries are more likely to kill men than women. According to Flores, “If men try to go outside, they don’t take more than two steps before [the paramilitaries] try to hurt or kill them.”
As a result, Triqui women are playing increasingly vital roles in San Juan Copala. “In San Juan Copala, it is mainly women who risk their lives to go out and look for food,” says Flores. When paramilitaries raided San Juan Copala with the help of Oaxacan state police this past July 30, it was women who attempted to repel the invasion. “Women have decided to demand their rights, and now it is women who are struggling for the community,” reports Flores.
Women’s increasingly protagonistic role in the conflict means that they now bear the brunt of the paramilitaries’ violence. Over the past four months:
- UBISORT murdered Bety Cariño, a non-Triqui Oaxacan community organizer, along with Finnish observer Jyri Jaakkola, during an aid caravan to San Juan Copala on April 27. It is believed that Cariño was targeted.
- On May 15, UBISORT leaders beat and attempted to kidnap two Copala women. Later that day, UBISORT members kidnapped 12 women and children who had snuck out of San Juan Copala to purchase food.
- On May 20, unidentified assassins murdered Cleriberta Castro Aguilar and her husband Timoteo Alejandro Ramírez, one of the founders of the autonomous municipality.
- On June 24, sharpshooters shot and wounded 8-year-old Miriam Martínez in San Juan Copala.
- On June 26, sharpshooters shot and wounded Marcelina de Jesús López and Celestina Cruz Ramírez as they left a meeting in San Juan Copala.
- On July 26, Maria Rosa Francisco disappeared near her home in San Juan Copala when sharpshooters opened fire. She had left her house to look for firewood and is feared dead.
- On July 30, when women attempted to repel the paramilitary/police raid on San Juan Copala, two girls aged 17 and 14 were shot. The 14-year-old was paralyzed when a bullet fired by the UBISORT lodged in her spine.
During the same time period, in addition to the murders of Jaakkola and Ramírez, only one man was injured; sharpshooters shot him in the leg when he left his home to use the bathroom.
On August 11, Triqui women took their fight to the state capital and are now occupying Oaxaca City’s main plaza. They expect their protest encampment to grow as more and more Triquis who have been displaced by the violence converge on the state capital. The women say they will stay in Oaxaca’s main plaza until the government brings the people responsible for dozens of murders in the Triqui region to justice. “We haven’t received any response from the government,” reports Flores. She says that governor-elect Gabino Cué has not responded to their demands either.
The women had planned to travel to Mexico City on Monday, August 23, to meet with social organizations in an attempt to gain more support. However, the caravan was postponed following an ambush on August 21 that killed three men associated with the autonomous municipality and injured another two. Amongst the dead is Antonio Ramírez López, the leader of Santa Cruz Tilapa, a community that belongs to the autonomous municipality. Ramírez López was one of the founders of the autonomous municipality. The five men were helping organize the women’s caravan, and the Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño Human Rights Center says that the men were ambushed as they travelled in a pick-up truck to pick up Triqui women who were supposed to participate in the women’s caravan. Forensic investigators report that AK-47s and AR-15s were used in the ambush. Both weapons are classified as exclusively for military use, and it is illegal for civilians to own them.
The autonomous municipality claims that paramilitaries from both UBISORT and the Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULT) participated in the ambush, although at this point survivors have not identified their attackers.
Organizers in the women’s protest encampment in Oaxaca City say that they will remain in the capital’s main plaza until their demands are met. They are currently in the process of reenforcing the protest encampment with more supporters. The reenforcement is a security precaution because Rufino Juarez, the leader of UBISORT, was seen on Saturday and Sunday near the women’s protest encampment. Juarez has personally participated in assaults against Triqui women, including the May 15 kidnapping of twelve women and children.
- Kristin Bricker, My Word is My Weapon
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