Angry citizens in a town in Oaxaca detained seven National Guardsmen and declared war on the Mexican state on Thursday, before releasing the officers early on Saturday.
Citizens in the predominantly Zapotec town of San Cristóbal Amatlán, 130 kilometers south of Oaxaca city, blocked the entrance to the town with burning tires and detained the Guardsmen after disarming them on the town’s basketball court and puncturing the tires of their vehicle.
The citizens have been in a conflict with elected authorities for a year and accuse Mayor Juan Celso Santos and his council of corruption.
The security agents were trying to free an education councilor who was detained in the town on Thursday, but were outnumbered by the angry locals. Councillor Eufemia Flores Antonio had been offered protection by the Oaxaca Human Rights Ombudsman (DDHPO).
The protesters said in a statement that they were at war with the Mexican state. “We declare war against the Mexican state. We declare ourselves an autonomous municipality. We appoint self defense groups not to attack, but to defend the people of San Cristóbal Amatlán,” the statement read.
They blamed security forces for intimidation and said they were inspired to action by the words of President López Obrador.
“We have been without a government for months. We declare that no government will intimidate us, we are indigenous people. We urge the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples to fulfill its word. As President López Obrador says, the people give power and the people take it away. We have made this decision because we are tired of being repressed,” the statement added.
San Cristóbal Amatlán has a long-running conflict with government authorities which has blurred the lines of who is in charge. Citizens have pressured local officials to leave their posts for a year and elected officials have been detained. Under pressure, local officials resigned from their posts, but a state court later ruled that they were forced to resign under threat of violence.
“The authorities were previously deprived of their liberty on April 14 and July 12 … which resulted in the early termination of their positions,” the court said in its ruling.
The Guardsmen were released on Saturday at 1:45 a.m. after negotiations with state authorities and the federal Defense Ministry. Local citizens and government authorities sang the national anthem together after reaching an agreement.
Politics are complicated in Oaxaca. The state is divided into 570 small municipalities — almost one quarter of the total in the country — many of which are semi-autonomous and are governed under the indigenous governing code known as usos y costumbres.