Land disputes between indigenous communities in the southern Sierra of Oaxaca continue to simmer, occasionally boiling over as one did on Tuesday when two people lost their lives.
The two men, aged 65 and 70, were residents of San Vicente Coatlán, located in the Ejutla district, which has been battling its neighbors in Rancho Viejo, Sola de Vega, for many years — 45, according to one report.
The two victims, along with a third man who was wounded in the gunfire and several others, had been planning on bathing in the Atoyac River — which divides Rancho Viejo and Coatlán — before cutting firewood. But gunmen on a hill overlooking the river opened fire with high-powered rifles.
The aggressors are believed to have been from Rancho Viejo, and were allegedly avenging the torching Tuesday morning of three homes in their community.
The bitter dispute is over some 19,000 hectares, which a legal judgment gave to Rancho Viejo and Sola de Vega in 1999.
No arrests were ever made.
The last time the violence flared was in 2012, when six people died and nine more were wounded. The altercation began when a 16-year-old girl was tending a herd of goats near the boundary line between the two communities.
She didn’t realize that some of the herd had crossed the line, but the local police chief did. He reportedly pulled out his pistol and shot the girl twice, provoking further aggression. The girl later recovered.
State police were deployed in the area following Tuesday’s shooting, while state officials were attempting to arrange a meeting between the two factions. The latest reports indicate that so far only Rancho Viejo, winner of the legal judgement, has agreed to meet.
In another conflict in the same area, 21 people have been killed since 1998, the year in which the village of Yucutindoó obtained a judgement in its favor over the ownership of 7,977 hectares. Residents of Santiago Amoltepec continue to dispute that judgement, and allegedly killed a Yucutindoó man on April 5.