Fifteen people in Huazantlán del Río, Oaxaca, were tortured, beaten, set on fire and finally killed, authorities in the largely indigenous municipality of San Mateo del Mar announced.
The massacre was carried out Sunday night by six people with ties to organized crime. They ambushed their victims, reportedly while they were stopped at a coronavirus checkpoint.
“The events were orchestrated by these people and backed by someone who claims to be the leader of an organized crime group called Gualterio Escandón, alias ‘Gual Perol,’” and because of his sadism we have lost innocent lives of men and women,” said a statement by local officials.
The victims were attacked after holding a protest in which they claimed that in previous weeks they had been illegally detained. Only five bodies have been identified thus far.
Organized crime seeks to gain control of the area due to its strategic location for the traffic of undocumented immigrants and the storage of stolen fuel, municipal authorities claim.
The attacks may have also been related to a longstanding dispute over a proposed wind farm in the area, which members of the Ikoots indigenous group were able to block in 2012, arguing that its construction would interfere with their subsistence rights and sacred areas.
Thirty-nine members of the National Guard and 80 state police officers were deployed to the Pacific coast town to restore order and were able to rescue two victims of the attacks, a man and a woman.
Municipal authorities acknowledge that violent conflicts between different interest groups have gone on for years, but the violence of Monday’s events is unprecedented and local authorities are calling for justice to be served, as is the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH).
“The CNDH deeply regrets these violent acts and demands the urgent intervention of the state government, the Attorney General’s Office and the Ministry of Public Security so that they carry out an effective investigation process that leads to the clarification of the facts,” the CNDH said. “It is the duty of the local government to safeguard the integrity and human rights of the members of their communities, as well as preserve liberties, order and public peace.”
Today, in his morning press briefing, President López Obrador described the killings as a “very sad and regrettable” dispute between communities and said the federal government will intervene using “conciliation, dialogue, peace and avoiding the use of violence.”