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San Juan Copala Second Aid Caravan Enters the Danger Zone

By • Jun 9th, 2010 • Category: News & Analysis

Source: My Word is My Weapon
All Eyes on San Juan Copala, Oaxaca, As Second Aid Caravan Begins
June 8, 2010 – The world will be closely watching the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca, as a second international aid caravan attempts to break the paramilitary blockade that has kept that community cut off from the outside world since January.

The Union for the Social Well-being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT), an armed organization that was founded by and maintains close ties with the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI, the party that has ruled the state of Oaxaca with an iron fist for the past eighty years) blocked the road into San Juan Copala in January. The group also cut running water and electricity to the community. The presence of sharpshooters in the surrounding hillsides and mountains makes it virtually impossible for San Juan Copala residents to leave their homes during the day.

This past April 27, self-identified members of UBISORT opened fire on an international aid caravan headed for San Juan Copala, according to survivors. Two people died in the ambush.

Even though the ambush on that caravan attracted international attention and condemnation, the security situation in San Juan Copala appears to be steadily deteriorating. On May 16, twelve indigenous Triqui women and children were kidnapped by people whom they identify as UBISORT leaders and members. Their captors released them a day later after destroying all of their belongings.

Then, on May 20, mestizo hitmen murdered Timoteo Alejandro Ramírez and Cleriberta Castro in their home in the Yosoyuxi community, which is part of the autonomous municipality. Ramírez was one of the founders of the autonomous municipality and one of its most important leaders.

On June 4, just days before the caravan is scheduled to take place, the blockade outside San Juan Copala was reinforced with “large rocks” which the Oaxaca-based Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño Human Rights Center says it presumes “were placed there with heavy machinery.”

On June 5 and 6, an armed group opened fire on San Juan Copala, injuring 20-year-old Melitón Rodríguez Martínez, reportedly as he left his home in an attempt to reach his bathroom, which is not connected to his house. He received 3-4 gunshots in the leg, according to Father Wilfrido Mayén Peláez. The Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño Human Rights Center reports that Rodríguez Martínez has not yet received medical attention because residents have been unable to transport him out of the community to a medical center.

The new caravan, scheduled to arrive in San Juan Copala the morning of June 8, is considerably larger and higher-profile than the April 27 caravan, which only had about 30 participants. The June 8 caravan is comprised of two contingents: seven buses and trucks that left Mexico City the night of June 7, and one bus from Oaxaca City. In all, over 200 people are expected to participate in the caravan, and they are bringing a three-ton truck full of aid for San Juan Copala residents. Over a dozen federal members of Congress are expected to accompany the caravan.

The Oaxaca state government has provided no guarantees for the caravan. It has reportedly deployed between 150-350 state police along the route to San Juan Copala. It demanded that caravan organizers provide the government with the names and personal information of all of the caravan organizers and participants, along with the immigration statuses of foreigners. It also requested a complete itinerary for the caravan. Caravan organizers say they will not turn that information over to the government for security reasons.

For its part, UBISORT has warned the caravan to cancel the June 8 trip, because it says “the conditions don’t exist.” It said the same thing just prior to the first caravan, which its members allegedly ambushed.

The municipality of San Juan Copala declared itself autonomous following the nonviolent uprising that nearly overthrew the Oaxacan governor in 2006. Since then, it has suffered violence at the hands political organizations in the area, such as UBISORT, which are allied with the government. The crisis intensified seven months ago, when UBISORT paramilitaries blockaded the community. Shootouts and murders are now a common occurrence in the Triqui region.

Update 5:52pm: The caravan did not make it to Copala because of the danger. It has turned around and is heading back to Huajuapan.

A second international aid caravan is on its way to San Juan Copala in the Triqui region of Oaxaca, Mexico. The caravan has entered an area without telephone service, severely limiting communication. The lack of communication puts the caravan in grave danger of a paramilitary attack.

Paramilitaries ambushed the first aid caravan on April 27, killing Mexican Bety Cariño and Finnish international observer Jyri Jaakkola. As a result, the aid caravan could not reach its destination.

The new caravan, which is currently en route to San Juan Copala, is comprised of eight buses. The caravan is reportedly carrying 40 tons of aid for the municipality, which has been under constant paramilitary siege for the past seven months. Caravan participants report that people in communities along the route to Copala are lining the streets to cheer on the caravan.

Overt Government Collaboration With Paramilitaries?

The Oaxacan state government attempted to physically impede the caravan on two occasions today. Once, in Juxtlahuaca, state police physically blocked the entrance to the town so that the caravan could not pass. Caravan members began to get off the buses and continue on foot, leading the police to move their vehicles and let the buses pass.

While police blocked the entrance to Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca state Attorney General Candelaria Chiñas reportedly approached the caravan and demanded to negotiate with Alejandro Encinas, the leader of the center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). Encinas is accompanying the caravan as a participant and is not in a position to negotiate on behalf of the caravan nor the autonomous municipality. The caravan participants’ determination to reach San Juan Copala, even if it had to be on foot, successfully pressured the government to lift the police blockade and allow the community to proceed on to Santa Rosa.

In Santa Rosa, the state government once again attempted to stop the caravan. There, Chiñas demanded that the paramilitary organization UBISORT be permitted to join the caravan. Chiñas’ party, the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI), founded the UBISORT and reportedly maintains close ties with the armed organization. Authorities from the autonomous municipality refused to allow the paramilitaries to join the caravan.

The caravan is now headed for Agua Fría. From this point on, the caravan is out of telephone range. This puts the caravan in considerable danger.

Oaxaca City-based Radio Plantón has speculated that the state government’s stall tactics are playing into the paramilitaries’ hands. The government stalled the caravan for hours, meaning that if the caravan does reach San Juan Copala, it would have to spend the night there or run the risk of returning after nightfall.

There are reports that UBISORT has sent women and children to re-enforce its physical blockade of the highway into San Juan Copala. Over the weekend, someone re-enforced the blockade with much heavier rocks that can only be removed with heavy machinery.

As the caravan travels in the telephone dead zone, there are protests in Mexico and around the world demanding that the government guarantee the caravan’s safe passage to San Juan Copala so that it can deliver its aid. In Oaxaca City, supporters have blocked Cinco Señores, a key intersection, in support of the caravan. A march in Mexico City was attacked by riot police, reportedly leaving several protesters injured. In Buenos Aires, protesters have set up a protest encampment outside the Mexican Embassy. They are dialoguing with embassy officials.


San Juan Copala declared itself autonomous following the peaceful uprising in 2006 that nearly overthrew Oaxaca’s governor. The paramilitary organization UBISORT, which the ruling Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) created in 1994 to counter potential Zapatista influence in the indigenous Triqui region, has violently opposed the autonomous project. In January, UBISORT blocked the road into San Juan Copala, preventing supplies and teachers from entering the municipality. UBISORT also cut the running water and electricity to San Juan Copala. The months-long siege means that San Juan Copala is running out of food.

At least 18 Triquis have been assassinated in the region this year.

Sam Cantera Reports:

A march will go from Siete Regiones at nine in the morning on Wed. For Tues night, those in Oaxaca, especially young people, are advised to stay off the streets. The demonstration at Cinco Señores in support of San Juan Copala was broken up by masked men who kidnapped two protesters, and others were beaten.
The situation is very tense. The caravan will remain in Huajuapan de Leon overnight. The decision was not made to cancel, regardless of what the media claim. Neither was the PRD lead legislator one of the organizers, that’s being put out to influence the election.


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