For over two years the Triqui people of San Juan Copala, an autonomous municipality, have been a dispossessed people. Forced to leave their homes by a wave of paramilitary violence between February and September of 2010 these Triqui have been trying to achieve safe passage back to their lands ever since. The yearning for a peaceful homecoming lies at the centre of the Triqui of San Juan Copola’s recent struggles which also stand more broadly for the right of indigenous peoples to claim their autonomy without having to fear violent retribution.
In an attempt to secure a just return to San Juan Copala these Triqui have maintained an almost constant, peaceful presence in the state capital, Oaxaca City, since the summer of 2010. Here they have made their voices heard, creating a platform for negotiations with State authorities which have, thus far, proved fruitless despite many false dawns.
The Triqui protest camp has persisted in various guises despite forced evictions, broken promises, failed talks and the poor living conditions endured by those who comprise it. These hardships have not broken their resolve which was once again tested last month, almost three years since their trials began.
In the greying embers of 2012 reports began to emerge from Oaxaca City that the peaceful protest camp was once again under threat due to the impending Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes) festival. This event attracts a great deal of annual tourism to Oaxaca and given the protests camps’ visibility, situated as it was in front of the governmental palace, it became clear that state authorities would not stand for its continued existence.
Clearly wanting to show its acceptable face to the visiting masses the state government ordered the forced removal of the camp. State and municipal police sporting full riot gear carried out these orders on the 23rd of December. Accusations of violence and brutality quickly followed this action, utterly believable given the barbarity of previous evictions and the circumstances of the Triqui’s general plight.
Most disturbingly it is alleged that during the eviction a heavily pregnant woman was beaten by police. Triqui spokesmen from the camp report that this beating caused the woman to give birth prematurely to a baby boy named Jesus Hernandez. Tragically the child survived only four days. As if to add insult to greivous injury police forces subsequently blocked the funeral party’s procession to the church where he was to be buried.
Some rival Triqui leaders have questioned this version of events in the local press and have gone so far as to accuse the Triqui of San Juan Copala of intending to “profit from the death of a baby.” They claim that the mother in question was not even present in the camp on the day of the eviction. Protest leaders maintain ardently that she was, pointing to other incidents of children coming to harm in the camp at the hands of state aggressors. It has also come to the media’s attention that all possessions which had to be left at the previous camp were destroyed.
It is likely impossible to verify whose version of events are closer to the truth, even though the camp has already seen the tragic deaths of two other children for whom adequate medical response and care was not provided. Either way this is a further tragedy to have struck the protesting Triqui and there can be no excuse for blocking the funeral proceedings. Showing the depth of their commitment to resistance the Triqui re-established a new camp just one block away from the last as soon as they were able. Here a vigil was held for Jesus Hernandez.