Despite Attacks The Triquis Initiate Their New Autonomous Municipality
January 26, 2007
The Triqui indigenous community, which declared autonomy on January 21, 2007, launched itself after the announced election and installation of its municipal authorities. The election process required two months to complete. Ramírez Flores was chosen president of the new municipality after three months of discussions among leaders of the twenty participating Triqui communities, according to La Jornada, a month more than the “election” timeframe.
Including the sixteen communities that remain with MULT, the total Triqui population is about 24,000.
The new authority consists of Leonardo Merino, vice-president to the new Municipal President, José Ramírez Flores; Severo Sánchez, the constitutional mayor; and Macario Merino, secretary. At the same time, six others were named to the new Council of Elders (Concejo de Ancianos).
The chosen new government will employ the traditional indigenous practice of usos y costumbres used among the Triqui, with a council of elders and open decisions of the majority in assemblies. The three authorities will meet with the leaders of the 20 communities which form San Juan Copala and with the Council of Elders, to make decisions.
The autonomous government formed despite death threats against Ramirez Flores and other leaders of the Triqui community who initiated the autonomous municipality. Ramirez, quoted in an article in La Jornada on January 21, referred to deception and oppression practiced by caciques in the nearby towns of Santiago Juxtlahuaca, Putla de Guerrero and Constancia del Rosario, which remain outside the new autonomous municipality. One day before the new authorities assumed office, paramilitary groups burst into San Juan and shot up the place. Worse, Roberto García Flores, a supporter of autonomy, was ambushed on route to San Juan to participate in the new municipality, and murdered.
Many consider the grip of the caciques as the greatest obstacle to peaceful development in Oaxaca. The United Popular Party, (PUP) and leaders of the Unified Independent Movement for the Triqui Liberation (MULT) control the local treasury in their area. Ramirez claimed that more than half of received government funds go into their pockets. He mentioned MULT and its chief leader Heriberto Pazos as stealing resources which should have gone into the relief of poverty for the Triquis.
Therefore, many people support the autonomous community as an act of rebellion against the caciques and their hired gun, identified as the deputy Rufino Maximino Zaragoza, accused by Representative Edilberto Hernandez Cárdenas of the breakaway Unified Independent Movement for the Triqui Liberation Independiente (MULTI), of responsibility in killing more than ten people since March of 2006, mostly children between the ages of six and fifteen. Shootings in indigenous and campesino populations have been ignored by state authorities who declare virtually all deaths to be internal, or land boundary, disputes.
Autonomy is a complicated business anywhere; it’s even more complicated given that some Triqui peoples split off a with the smaller group, a division fought against by the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the PRI, which believed itself in complete control of the Triqui areas. The PRI has been repressing separatists ever since. In an article in Las Noticias on January 15, 2007, Edlberto Hernandez attributed to Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz the assassinations of almost 60 Triquis in the Mixteca Baja, twelve of which occurred in 2006 during the most active period of the Popular Assembly movement.
Fifteen member towns are not identified as MULTI. Those entirely outside the new autonomous entity remain predominantly in the control of the original MULT.
The new autonomous community, San Juan Copala, as a political entity thus far exists only in the determination of the MULTI and united Triqui to maintain it. Its principal objective, “is to achieve that our people, countrymen, brother Triquis, continue struggling for our liberty and thus demand that state authorities recognize our autonomous government and award us the economic resources that belong to us.”
That statement was made by the new president, José Ramírez Flores, in an interview given to La Jornada and published on January 22, 2007. Ramirez went on to say his challenges are to maintain unity among Triquis of the Mixteca region and to combat daily violence in the community.
Historically, in the 1970s an organization formed to unite the Triqui around social issues. From that “Club”, MULT emerged. In 2003 it opted for the formation of a political party to run for office and won at the ballot box. The PRI then threw all its power into infiltrating and corrupting the MULT which was absorbed into the Popular Unity Party (PUP, Partido Unidad Popular). The consequent split between Triqui groups resulted in MULT and MULTI. I was taken aback during the spring of 2006 when I realized that the deaths of three Triquis were not counted among the death toll of the APPO, which I counted as 11 at that time, apparently because the murders were not attributed to the same paramilitary or plainclothes police who were shooting known APPO members. But according to reports, these Triquis (two adults and a young boy) had just left an APPO meeting. That is, one could assume they were MULTI adherents, killed for affiliating with the APPO. Yet they were not counted as “victims” of government repression because they were supposedly shot by fellow Triquis, the MULT-PRIistas, and the government historically discounts these shootings as “internal”, although MULT is paid to maintain at gunpoint the status quo.
The majority of the current attacks against San Juan Copala targeted a secondary school, the municipal market, and the Catholic church. As in past “land disputes”, no state assistance to apprehend the criminals is forthcoming. Abandonmen, extreme misery and poverty, accompanied by repressioni, are the norm, according to Edilberto Hernández, speaking for the new municipality.
With this declaration of autonomy by the twenty united communities, Edilberto Hernandez explained, they will reclaim the category of " free municipality” (“municipio libre") they held in 1826 and which in 1948 was grabbed by the PRI government. MULT, formed as an alternative, betrayed the communities when it entered alliance with the PRI, and the rift is yet to be healed.
The state of Oaxaca thus far refuses to recognize the newly constituted municipality, raising the question of how San Juan Copala can negotiate for its share of state funding. Obviously the new entity wants the legal funding to which they are entitled to get down to the base, without being siphoned off by PRI operatives. One might wonder how that could take place under the current PRI governor. The governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, is caught between the rock of long-time PRIistas and the hard place of state elections in August 2007, when the PRI will be in danger of losing control.
Ramirez Flores speaks of negotiating this way: “If the state government does not want to recognize us, we will have to resort to another type of actions. We want to negotiate, but if it’s not possible, we will carry out marches, meetings, and encampments, until they give us recognition.”
The APPO congratulated the autonomous municipality. In that context, the attempt to achieve working unity among the twenty (of the thirty-six) Triqui communities of the Mixteca region who chose to constitute the new municipality is now paramount. Internal unity is placed above any political party, as modeled by the APPO. In other words, in the new municipal body they will act only as Triqui.
The twenty unified communities placed a paid advertisement in Las Noticias when the autonomy was announced. In it, the language affirmed solidarity with all Triquis. The implicit plea is to quit fighting among themselves for scraps and crumbs which the PRI shares out. The majority of the Triqui want to start looking in a new direction. The sixteen non-participant communities which remain PRI can be wooed.
In Oaxaca, unlike Chiapas, the movement for “autonomy” does not mean withdrawal from contact with the official government. In Oaxaca, indigenous autonomous municipalities are constitutionally guaranteed their existence and rights, albeit rights are not honored in practice. Therefore, San Juan Copala demands recognition by the government. The new municipality strongly supports the APPO. The APPO statewide reflects the demographics of Oaxaca. The majority of the population have indigenous roots. The majority of the population in all its ethnicities is, as was evidenced in the national vote of July 2, 2006, openly in revolt against the PRI.