On 23 December 2012, the encampment of indigenous Triqui stationed in front of the Government Palace in Oaxaca City was violently evicted by municipal and state police. Police in full riot gear arrived at 12.30am to remove those present at the camp. The eviction was carried out prior to the large Noche de Rábanos (Night of the Radish) festival that was scheduled to take place in the evening of 23 December in the main square of Oaxaca City.
Those evicted claim that an expectant mother among them received several strong blows from the police. She prematurely gave birth to a baby boy the next day, but he passed away just four days later. The infant, named Jesús Hernández, was buried on 29 December following a vigil at the camp. As the coffin was being carried to a nearby church, state police blocked the path of the funeral procession, forcing mourners to take a different route.
Jesús is the third child to have died at the camp. The first child passed away in December 2011 and the second in October 2012. In both cases, medical assistance arrived to the camp too late to save the children. The camp site in front of the Government Palace had little protection from the elements and was described as ‘unhealthy and uncomfortable’ by its occupants. Both the young and the elderly have struggled in the harsh conditions of the camp.
Despite heavy police presence in the area following the eviction, a new camp has been formed just one block south-west of the former site. Posters strung up around the site denounce the state governor, claiming that, ‘The eviction that [Governor] Gabino Cue ordered caused the death of a 4 day old baby ‘. People at the camp also claim that the riot police destroyed all of the belongings of those at the previous site.
The Triqui have been stationed in front of the government buildings for two years with a simple request: we want to go home. They first fled from their home town of San Juan Copala due to the increasingly dangerous activities of the various paramilitary groups active in the area, including sniper attacks during broad daylight. There has been ongoing violence between the paramilitary groups, as they battle for control of the region, and the reasons for the fighting are extremely complex.
In an open letter to the governor, camp residents have deplored the long-standing violence experienced at home, stating, ‘… we have suffered ambushes close to our communities, forced evictions, prison, kidnapping, torture, hunger and despair.’ Many residents of San Juan Copala have been killed or injured in the past five years and those at the protest camp have called on the state government to provide them with safe passage home.
Back in 2007, the community of San Juan Copala declared their autonomy from the federal government under the provision of usos y costumbres . This allows indigenous communities to make decisions about their land collectively and to govern their territory according to traditional practices. In reality, the presence of paramilitary groups, working in conjunction with the state government, has impeded the political process and made life in the small town unsafe for many of its residents. The paramilitary groups continue to push for the exploitation of natural resources in the area, contrary to the wishes of many within the community. One poignant poster at the new protest site in Oaxaca reads, ‘Autonomy is not a disease. The Triqui are not dying because they are autonomous. They are dying because of the paramilitaries and [the state governor] Gabino Cue.’
The residents of San Juan Copala have lived with years of intense conflict and so far they have received little support from the government, despite promises of action. The death of baby Jesús is yet another blow to an already traumatised community.