Three years of relative calm among the indigenous Triqui people of Oaxaca seem to be over, as recent violence has left two opposing leaders dead and a three-year-long peace accord hanging on tenterhooks.
The Triqui of San Juan Copala, which was originally incorporated as an independent municipality in 1826, have been embroiled in a decades-long political, social and territorial conflict with hundreds of victims on all sides.
The dispute dates back to 1948 when the municipality was dissolved by the state government and most of its territory was annexed to the municipality of Santiago Juxtlahuaca. This political rearrangement fired up a complicated conflict that resonates to this day.
Since then, the Triqui have been demanding the restitution of their municipality, creating several political groups, such as the Triqui Unification and Fight Movement (MULT), which was formed in the early 1980s.
In 2004 the organization decided to launch a political party called Popular Unity. This decision created a rift in its membership, which generated the Independent Triqui Unification and Fight Movement, or MULTI.
Another representative group of the Triqui is Ubisort, the Social Welfare Union of the Triqui Region, created in the mid-1990s as a political counterweight to MULT. Since its inception, Ubisort has been closely linked to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the dominant political force in the state.
In 2006, a fickle alliance between MULT, MULTI and Ubisort decided to declare themselves independent of the Mexican state and founded the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala, following the example of the Zapatista movement in Chiapas.
But the alliance was short-lived, and violence escalated in Copala, climaxing in 2010 with the assassination of human rights observers Jyri Jaakkola and Bety Cariño while trying to deliver humanitarian goods to the small town, which had been cut off from supplies such as food, medicine, electricity and water by a Ubisort blockade for several months.
International scrutiny, protests and many more innocent victims culminated in a peace accord signed between several Triqui authorities and the federal and state governments early in 2012, although not all involved recognized it, and violence, while subdued, still plagued the region.
Last Friday, two local leaders of MULT were assaulted and one of them, Ignacio Martínez Guzmán, lost his life.
According to the state Attorney General, Martínez and Reynaldo Ramírez had just left a meeting when two unknown subjects approached them, fired gunshots at them and fled.
Ramírez’s non-fatal injuries were treated at a hospital in the city of Huajapan de León, where he collaborated with authorities in creating a drawing of the two attackers.
The MULT leadership has blamed Ubisort for the assault, demanding the intervention of the state government. They also threatened to take justice into their own hands, endangering the peace treaties.
For its part, Ubisort distanced itself from Friday’s attack, claiming that one of its own members, Severiano Flores Martínez, was killed just a week before. Flores Martinez was considered the organization’s moral leader.
Its leadership said “the devil’s hand” was behind the aggression, hinting that external players were trying to destabilize the “social peace of Oaxaca” with the intention of disrupting next year’s elections for governor, deputies and mayors.
The election of current Governor Gabino Cué in 2010 put an end to 80 years of PRI administrations in Oaxaca after he was nominated by a three-way alliance between the minority parties in the state: National Action (PAN), Democratic Revolution (PRD) and Citizen’s Movement.
Several high-profile candidates have announced their intention to contest the PRI nomination for governor.