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Indigenous Communities Rise Up in Mexico

Posted: Oct 19, 2012

For the second time in less than two years, an indigenous community in the southwestern Mexican state of Michoacan has erected barricades and seized control of security matters. Located in the Purepecha highlands of the Pacific coast state, the small community of Urapicho in the municipality of Paracho has been under the self-declared control of the people for about a month now.

The news was publicized this week with the posting of a video on YouTube that shows armed and masked men, some clothed in military-style camouflage clothing, attending a sand-bagged checkpoint, where motorists are searched. Two anonymous, masked spokespersons explain the reasons behind the uprising and the goals of their movement.

In the nearly 9-minute video, one masked man speaks in Purepecha peppered with Spanish. Translated into Spanish sub-titles, his words tell viewers that the children lack money for school supplies. A second masked man, sporting a Che Guevara image on his cap, speaks in Spanish while a group of 14 men also adorned in masks stand or sit behind him. According to the man, the community of 2,500 people has experienced a “very critical situation lately” because of insecurity.

Residents say they have been under assault from criminal groups that have a strong foothold in the region. The Spanish-speaking spokesman mentions four people who were forcibly disappeared in 2009 and 2010, including a woman named Bautista. “We don’t know her whereabouts,” he says.

Urapicho’s residents demand recognition of the community police; action against insecurity, the preservation of natural resources; and respect for their self-organization. An intro to the video written in Spanish proclaims, in part, that the people have been “victims of aggressive policies of cultural assimilation” and now confront attacks by criminal organizations.

The Purepecha community is located between the towns of Paracho, long known for its locally produced guitars, and Cheran, a larger indigenous community that rose up in April 2011 and seized control of the local government. Still barricaded and under community guard, the Cheran rebellion broke out after locals grew frustrated by violence and government inaction in stopping the clear-cutting of the area’s remaining forests. Like Urapicho, numerous deaths and disappearances blamed on organized crime have been reported in Cheran.

The Urapicho uprising occurs amid escalating social conflicts that have political temperatures at the boiling point in Michoacan. In different parts of the state, multiple conflicts pit student, teacher and indigenous groups against the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)-led state government, as well as legislators from the PRI and allied Green Party against the center-left PRD, PT and MC parties.

On Sunday, October 14, tensions exploded when the Federal Police recovered buses that had been seized by protesting students from three rural teachers’ colleges. In the raid, scores of students were detained, buses burned and several officers injured.

In response, anywhere between 15,000 and 40,000 demonstrators, the estimates depending on the source, crowded the state capital of Morelia October 17 denouncing President Calderon and demanding the resignations of state Government Secretary Jesus Reyna Garcia and PRI Governor Fausto Vallejo, who was elected to office in a controversial November 2011 election.

Contingents representing the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), the Purepecha Nation and other organizations participated in the mobilization. A large group of students encircled the state attorney general’s office, while a second group numbering in the hundreds blocked one of Morelia’s highway exits.

As the week ended, the CNTE vowed to continue protesting in Morelia until the remaining 8 students detained on October 14 were released. Outside the state capital, protesters reportedly occupied the town hall of Paracho and threatened to blockade access to other municipalities.

In Urapicho, meanwhile, residents appealed for federal and international attention. The community’s “most powerful arm,” the YouTube video declares, is “our organization and struggle.”

Sources: La Jornada (Michoacan Edition), October 19, 2012. Articles by Celic Mendoza Adame and editorial staff. El Universal, October 18, 2012. Article by Marcos Muedano and Isaias Perez. La Voz de Michoacan/Notimex, October 18, 2012, El Diario de Juarez/Notimex/Reforma, October 18, 2012. La Jornada, October 17, 2012. Proceso/Apro, October 16, 2012. Article by Jesusa Cervantes.

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