Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Press Freedom

MEXICO: Murder of Reporters Highlights Indigenous Divisions

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Apr 16 2008 (IPS) - The airwaves of “Radio Copala, the Voice That Breaks the Silence” only cover a few hectares in an indigenous region in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. But since the murder of two of the station’s four reporters, they have reached across borders.

A group of social activists joined Wednesday’s fact-finding visit to the area by inspectors sent by the governmental National Human Rights Commission to the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala, created in January by Triqui indigenous people in the heat of divisions that have split the ethnic group.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Reporters Without Borders and the World Association of Community Broadcasters (AMARC) issued statements condemning the early April killings, and on Apr. 23 delegates of these groups and other organisations will visit Oaxaca to investigate the incident.

“We are indignant over this crime, which cannot go unpunished,” Aleida Calleja, vice president of AMARC, told IPS.

On Apr. 7, 22-year-old Felicitas Martínez and 24-year-old Teresa Bautista were ambushed and shot to death on a rural road in their municipality.

The murders left the Radio Copala community station with only two reporters.

A couple and their young son were also injured in the attack.

Calleja blamed the murders on “the spiral of violence, division and poverty that reigns in the Triqui region and their fight for self-determination, which clashes with certain interests.”

Florentino López, spokesman for the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO), a coalition of dozens of leftist and anti-establishment groups that was clamped down on harshly in late 2006 after a six-month uprising against the notoriously corrupt state government, concurred with Calleja that the double murder “is linked to the division among the Triquis and the terrible poverty in which they live.”

“But from our point of view, the government of Oaxaca (headed by Governor Ulises Ruiz of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has ruled the state for over seven decades) has infiltrated the indigenous community to create irregular armed groups that maintain a state of terror and impunity in the Triqui area,” López told IPS by telephone from Oaxaca.

Radio Copala began to operate in January, parallel to the creation of the autonomous municipality, but it does not have a permit from Oaxaca authorities to operate legally.

The station, which is dedicated to promoting indigenous culture, broadcasts for just four or five hours a day, and reaches only a few surrounding hectares.

Martínez and Bautista broadcast messages on health and education, in which they provided advice on a range of subjects. But they never discussed the divisions among their people.

The autonomous municipality to which they belonged was created in opposition to the local authorities of the legally recognised Mixteca Indian municipalities of Juxtlahuaca, Putla and Constancia del Rosario, located in the western part of the state.

One sector of the Triqui Indians says these municipal governments do not represent them.

López said the creation of the autonomous municipality “was a response to the domination by the indigenous and mestizo (mixed-race) political leaders and local strongmen in the Triqui zone,” a remote mountainous area of 27,500 square kilometres marked by scant agricultural production and dire poverty.

“It is very difficult to reach the communities, the roads are terrible or simply do not exist, which means you have to walk a lot,” said López, who took part in the January ceremony in which the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala was declared.

“Communities in the area are still organised on the basis of clans, in which questions of descent and territory overlap,” says a study by the National Indigenous Institute, a state body.

“Each one of the settlements constitutes a clan, in which membership determines land-use and residency rights, as well as preferences and prohibitions on who to marry,” it adds.

“The head of the clan is informed of the distribution of plots of land to family heads, mediates in conflicts among neighbours over property limits and in disputes among groups or lineages, promotes cooperation among local residents, for example in the ‘milpa’ or community harvest, and fulfils certain religious and ritual functions,” the report says.

López said that “in those areas, people are killed on a daily basis, but impunity is the norm. I hope the murders of the reporters will reveal the lack of action by the authorities of Oaxaca state.”

The divisions and clashes among the Triqui communities, a large part of whose members do not speak Spanish, are long-standing, but worsened since the 1970s.

In that decade, native communities created The Club, a group that over the years gave rise to the Movement of Triqui Unification and Struggle.

The organisation later split, and the Independent Movement of Triqui Unification and Struggle was founded, to which the San Juan Copala autonomous municipality belongs.

A statement issued by Reporters Without Borders said that “Although there is so far no evidence that these two women were killed because of their work as journalists, their murders will be traumatic for all of Latin America’s many community radio stations, which are too often ignored or despised by the rest of the media and by governments.

“We are conscious of the risks run by the press in Oaxaca state, where the political climate continues to be tense, where two journalists were killed in 2006 at the height of a period of social unrest, and where other community media have been attacked. We hope the investigators quickly establish the circumstances and motives for this double murder and catch those responsible. And we join their community in paying tribute to the two victims.”

AMARC Mexico said there have been attacks on other small indigenous radio stations in Oaxaca, including Radio Nandia in 2006 and Radio Calenda in 2007.

Two journalists were murdered in Oaxaca during the six-month wave of protests against Governor Ruiz in 2006: independent Indymedia U.S. cameraman Bradley Will and Raúl Marcial Pérez, a indigenous community leader and columnist for the regional newspaper El Gráfico. No one has been prosecuted for either of these murders.

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