Oaxaca state police chief José Sánchez Saldierna has now been held hostage for three days by residents of a community in the midst of a territorial dispute.
The police chief arrived in Santa Catarina Juquila on Monday to mediate a conflict between residents of Juquila and the neighboring town of Santiago Yaitepec.
But frustrated residents instead took Sánchez and another man hostage, relieving them of their cell phones and locking them up inside municipal headquarters. Citizens also erected barricades to prevent state authorities from rescuing the two captives.
The conflict flared on February 3 when residents of Yaitepec blocked roads leading to Juquila, preventing access to that town’s popular religious shrine, the Virgin of Juquila.
Many Juquila businesses were forced to close due to a lack of supplies and the lack of tourists, who number close to two million every year. Those visitors and the money they bring — some 12 million pesos a year (US $620,000) — are at the heart of the conflict, according to one version of the story.
The municipality of Yaitepec claims ownership of 500 hectares of land within Juquila, including the location of El Pedimento, the shrine to the virgin.
Three days ago, more than 100 Juquila residents gathered to demand that authorities take down the blockades.
In light of the hostage situation, a federal judge authorized Oaxaca authorities to intervene.
Governor Alejandro Murat Hinojosa rejected using state forces to end the blockade and requested assistance instead from federal authorities.
The state Human Rights Comission issued warnings to state and local authorities, urging them to act quickly to take down the blockades to prevent the situation from escalating further.
Officials from the two communities signed a peace pact in the presence of the governor March 1, but it failed to end the conflict.
Source: El Universal (sp)