Friday, December 1, 2023

Territorial dispute delays new Oaxaca highway

The construction of a highway connecting Oaxaca city to the beach resort of Puerto Escondido has hit a snag due to a land dispute between rival towns in the Oaxaca Sierra.

Inhabitants of the bordering municipalities of Villa Sola de Vega and San Vicente Coatlán, both about 95 kilometers south of Oaxaca city, have a longstanding dispute over 20,000 hectares of land, which is holding up the construction of 13 kilometers of the Barranca Larga-Ventanilla highway, which authorities plan to open in August next year.    

A court ruling in 2003 awarded the territory to Sola de Vega, but people in San Vicente Coatlán have not given up their claim to the area. The conflict has frequently turned violent, as it did most recently in April, when seven people were killed in a confrontation between communities in the two municipalities.

According to the newspaper Reforma, the conflict has taken more than 50 lives over about 60 years. Residents of both municipalities have at different times in 2021 blocked various federal highway construction projects in an attempt to get the state and federal governments’ attention regarding the conflict.  

Agrarian conflicts of this kind are common in the largely rural state. On Sunday, in another part of the state, part of a road to an isolated village in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec — which had been paved via a federal public works program — was destroyed by rival villagers due to a conflict over land, cutting off another eight rural communities.

Villa Sola de Vega, Oaxaca
A funeral procession in Sola de Vega in April after armed conflict erupted between residents in rival municipalities.

President López Obrador addressed the dispute during his morning news conference in Oaxaca city on Monday. The inhabitants of San Vicente “don’t want the work to conclude,” he said. In June, he visited the municipality on a tour of infrastructure projects in the area and promised to help resolve the conflict in exchange for residents lifting a blockade on another construction project — the Oaxaca-Isthmus highway, Reforma reported at the time.   

“I have already met with them. They acted well and we reached an agreement to find a solution, but the problem is not the road but an agrarian issue, a conflict about the limits of Sola de Vega and San Vicente Coatlán, which comes from a long time ago,” López Obrador said. 

He asserted that, depending on their goodwill and good faith, the stretch would be finished in December, and the highway inaugurated in August 2022. 

The 20-year-old project has seen presidents come and go: Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto all failed to fulfill their promises to complete it.

Sola de Vega’s inhabitants share their neighbors’ tendency to take matters into their own hands. In January, residents put a rope around the neck of their mayor, Esaú Núñez, and threatened to hang him, arguing that he was corrupt and did nothing for the community. 

With reports from Proceso 

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