For two days, Capulalpam de la Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca turned into a modern Babel of land disputes.
The town was the site of the Third National Forum Building Resistance to Protect our Land, May 20 and 21, and the indigenous participants spoke a variety of different languages: Mixe, Zapotec, Mextec, Chatino, Cuicatec and Huichol (Wixarika) as well as the languages of the foreign guests.
The organizers said the goal of the event was, “a critical analysis of the current model of development, and the compilation of a list of demands so as to allow the communities to form a united front in the defense of their lands.” Villages, communities and organizations from all parts of Oaxaca and all over the country came together with the common goal of protecting their land against politicians and projects that threaten their natural resources.
Their diversity was not only reflected in the mix of languages during the forum. The community organizations in attendance had different ideologies: Zapatista sympathizers, The Other Campaign, Christians in supports of popular resistance, Communist party militants, NGO activists, members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), anarchists and scientists. At another time, these differences might have prevented communication during any kind of debate. But in this case, neither language nor political affiliation got in the way of their exchanging ideas and reaching a consensus. The basic tenet was to listen.
Rurik Hernández, a member of the San Javier Front Against Mining, explained the situation in his community, “A mineral company came to Mt. San Pedro, in San Luis Potosí, and started to create division in the community, offering people houses and money. The company owners were very aware that if a city is built on mineral deposits, it has to move. They take the minerals and leave us with death.”
The Santiago Lachiguiri authorities, who were struggling to recoup the rights to their at-risk land from the so-called “political greens” of the federal government, took the microphone to announce, “We’re not going to let anyone take away our rights or our community laws.”
Representing the Coordinating Comittee for the Defense of Tlacolula’s Natural Resources, a women denounced SEMARNAT and conagua for handing out permits to a real estate company to tap the wells and supply water to more than 5,000 houses. According to the woman, the Tlaculula Valley population has been left without any water because of this act of political irresponsibility.
Nadia Chávez, a young woman from Bolivia, called the government before Evo Morales’ traitorous and firmly supported the fight in Oaxaca.
There was a noticeable presence of young people at the gathering, many of them environmental science students from the University of Sierra Juárez. They were worried about the future of their town. “We can’t allow global standards of development,” said university student Andrés. “Our communities have a collective approach where the well-being of everyone is what matters.”
The Marakame’s Dream and Mexican Mining
They say that a Marakame – the name for the Wixárika priests – had a very vivid and prescient dream. The Marakame dreamed that his intestines were being pulled out. The people of the San Luis Potosí area associated the dream with the exploitation of the mines that were taking place in the region.
“The earth suffers because they’re pulling out her intestines, just like in the shaman’s dream.”
These are some of the tales that the participants told around the stove where they were preparing food for the more than 300 participants.
It was no coincidence that this event took place in Capulalpam, as media coverage recently revealed that the federal government had granted the Canadian mining company Continuum Resources concessions to silver and gold deposits in a 50,000 hectare area in this Zapotec region. The company then transferred those rights to the Sundance Company.
Capulalpam is an example of what is happening all over Mexico. Hernandez, from the San Javier Front Against Mining commented: “They’re selling off the country, not as a maquiladora site anymore but as a mining center, and they’re acting as if Oaxaca is an important national resource for mining.” And he added, “The petrochemical industry isn’t the priority any more in this country, it’s the mining industry, so the secretaries of economy and energy are crying to the four winds, ‘come, come and invest, we have minerals in Mexico.’”
The conference attendees had harsh words for the state government of Gabino Cue, who took power Dec. 1, 2010 after 80 years of Institutional Revolutionary Party control. “It’s the same nonsense, just in a different guise,” charged Jaime Jiménez from the coastal region of the Paso de la Reina cooperative and adviser to the Counsel of Communities United in Defense of Rio Verde (COPUDEVER). “Gabino Cué knows what our problems are, he committed to help us; we supported the opposition Alliance and now there’s no action, now they don’t remember anything, now the government is mute.”
The Secretary for Indigenous Affairs Adelfo Regino Montes arrived on the second day of the event. Regino is very sensitive to indigenous problems, which he became familiar with after having been part of the state’s movement for indigenous rights. He sat in as one of the regular participants. There were comments among the forum participants: “In the past, government officials were received with honors and seated at a special table; perhaps times have changed, and relationships between the government and indigenous people have changed too.”
Protecting Capulalpam’s Sacred Land
The high point of the forum was when Capulalpam city officials formally designated their sacred site, the “Y” – also known locally as The Sabines – as a “Community Historical Site for Recharging Aquifers.” The decree means that these lands will be protected at least at the local level and could be seen as a first step toward protecting territorial autonomy. The authorities stated in the decree: “This is the place where our history as an indigenous Zapotec people lives and where we have lived together for generations along with the water, the mountains and nature.”
This decree was followed by a religious procession that began at the temple of San Mateo and went in the direction of The Sabines. The residents in the Santa Catarina Lachatao neighborhood initiated the religious ritual. Men and women, dressed in traditional outfits, carrying a banner to the Virgin Mary along with three crucifixes, flowers, candles and music led the march up a long incline toward the holy site. Salvador Aquino explained that this is the traditional ritual to pray for rain.
The ceremony was conducted beside a spring, under the shade of a huge tree. After the ritual, where a group of women prayed and offered food to mother earth, the president of Capulalpam, Néstor Baltasar Hernández, formally opened a session of the city council and had the ordinance read: “We announce to all the communities of Sierra Juárez, to society in general and to the state and federal governments in particular, that Capulalpam’s inheritance will not be subjected to any kind of exploitation.” Then the plaque was unveiled and the event concluded with a group celebration with mescal and tortillas
Capulalpam has turned into a center of resistence. A village was settled here about 800 years ago; today the same indigenous people lay claim to what is theirs and has never ceased to be so. The indigenous people have created this place on this land and they are not about to give it up.
Miguel Ángel Vásquez works with Oaxaca-based Alternative Education Services and is a collaborator with the Americas Program.
Translated by Frances Fernandes
Communication Services for an Alternative Eduction (A.C. EDUCA), Escuadrón 201 #203 Col. Antiguo Aeropuerto, Oaxaca, Oax. Tel. (951) 5136023 – 5025043, Cel. 0449514390926