According to reporting by the newspaper Proceso, in recent days various violent events have occurred causing the displacement of around 300 people in the municipality of San Esteban Atatlahuca, in the state of Oaxaca. Those displaced say that on October 23, 2021, a group of an estimated 200 people attacked three villages in the Atatlahuca municipality, the Mier and Terán, Ndoyonoyuji, and Guerrero Grande communities. The attackers, using drones and carrying heavy weapons, looted houses and then set them on fire.
Displaced families have stated that the three communities have been experiencing outrage related to the protection of their lands since at least 2003 when Ndoyonoyuji opposed the extraction of wood from communal forests for the alleged profit by outsiders. In 2006, two of its members were imprisoned in connection with this conflict. However, the violence has intensified since last October 21, when the parents of a Ndoyonoyuji municipal official were assassinated. According to the displaced people from this community, on the same day, 25 houses were burned and the next day more were burned. They estimate that the number of homes destroyed may be as many as 100. At this moment, the situation is unclear as they cannot return to the community out of fear of further violence.
Drawing by a displaced child. "They burned my house and my books and my clothes."
This event occurs in a generalized context of violence for human rights and environmental defenders, especially those who are Indigenous. Mexico is the second most dangerous country for environmental activism, according to an article by Reporte Índigo published earlier this month, mentioning 30 murders in 2020 alone. The media reports that almost a third of attacks on land defenders were related to forest exploitation and that half were targeting Indigenous communities. In 2020, Cultural Survival documented 56 murders, 11 disappearances, and 23 violent attacks against Indigenous human rights and environmental defenders in Latin American countries where we work, including 8 in Mexico.
In the city of Tlaxiaco, there are approximately 180 displaced people of all ages, sheltered in the facilities of a government institute. An estimated 60 - 80 more people could be sheltering in private homes in other localities and in nearby forests, facing adverse weather conditions. People may also be seeking shelter in the church of Mier y Terán. The displaced families were forced to flee before the attacks. They lost their assets, including their livestock and crops.
As of October 27, 2021, those impacted and the media estimate between five and seven deaths due to these violent events. Two were Elders and one was found with bullet wounds and signs of torture. Those impacted from Guerrero Grande report that 11 of their companions are missing. Members of the Ndoyonoyuji community estimate that there are a total of 17 people missing or dead. They fear that some of them could have been burned since the Center for Human Rights and Advice to Indigenous Peoples (CEDHAPI) reported the discovery of remains during a recent visit to the burned houses.
The impacted families denounce that the municipal administration has not respected their land rights and that the agreements of previous dialogues with the state government have not been respected. They are now asking for dialogue with the federal government. They also report that they have suffered persecution and imprisonment for several years for denouncing the felling of forests, the proliferation of sawmills, and the damages to a sacred area in the mountainous area, where an archaeological site was destroyed.
Displaced families need urgent support of food, clothing, kitchen utensils, personal hygiene items, and educational materials for children. It is possible to help through the Ve’e Ñuu coffee shop at Tlaxiaco city. However, what they most need is an end to violence and the guarantee of a peaceful return to their communities, since their current conditions are not sustainable in the long term. In addition, they will need resources to rebuild their houses. They are demanding respect for their territory and an end to deforestation of their forests. They ask for support from environmental organizations and the media to shed light on their situation.
Cultural Survival joins human rights institutions and organizations in Mexico, including Defensoría de los Derechos Humanos del Pueblo de Oaxaca (DDHPO) and CEDHAPI A.C in calling on Mexican authorities to take action for:
- the state attorney general's office carry out the immediate investigations of the facts of the case;
- the Mexican State, through the state and federal government, guarantees the life and physical integrity of the people who were attacked by the group of armed persons, by urgently sending, in consultation with affected community members, State, and federal public security;
- the Mexcian State to guarantee the rights of internally displaced persons within the framework of international humanitarian law.
We join the community in urging Mexican officials to respect the community’s rights to their lands and resources, as guaranteed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Top photo: Displaced people in Tlaxiaco.