Death and Detention in the Face of Resistance in Guerrero, Mexico

Jan 12, 2018
8:36 AM

In the wee hours of Sunday January 7, as the village of La Concepción was still celebrating a local festival, an armed attack by unknown men against the local unit of the policía comunitaria or community police (CRAC-PC, Regional Coordination of Community Authorities—Community Police) left two members of CRAC-PC dead, along with six members of the armed aggressors. La  Concepción is part of the communal landholding of Cacahuatepec that comprises 47 such villages, and is located in the district of Acapulco in the southern state of Guerrero, Mexico. The attack was directed against members of CRAC-PC, along with members of the Council of Ejidos (communal lands) and Communities Opposing the La Parota Dam (CECOP), a local people’s organization that has been spearheading the resistance to a proposed hydroelectric power plant to be set up on the Papagayo River since 2006. The formation of the local unit of CRAC-PC in Cacahuatepec is closely related to growing armed confrontations as a result of the conflict introduced by the proposed hydroelectric power project. The entry of CRAC-PC can then be understood as a measure of self-defense initiated by CECOP.

Following the January 7 armed aggression, a large number of state and federal police, as well as members of the army, were mobilized in and around La Concepción. As a response to this violence, state armed forces spread throughout the surrounding villages and raided the houses of other members of CECOP despite having no official permission or search warrants. State armed forces launched a second round of violent attacks against the residents of La Concepción, killing another three members of CRAC-PC. In addition to these attacks, police arrested two key CECOP spokespersons, Marco Antonio Suástegi Muñoz and his brother Vicente Suástegi Muñoz, along with 30 members of CRAC-PC. It is further worth noting that amongst the armed aggressors in this most recent case of violence in Cacahuatepec were local dominant figures who eke out a fair living from the sale of sand mining along the banks of the Papagayo River, a practice that CECOP had clamped down on owing to the damage this has caused to the life of the river.

This attack needs to be understood in the light of a long history of violence against and repression of the movement against the La Parota dam in Cacahuatepec. The movement, that began in 2006, has seen the murder of anti-dam community members, as well as violent police repression unleashed on residents in order to prevent them from attending public hearings related to the project. While a set of five such public hearings were conducted between the years 2004 and 2005, each of these took place by bypassing mandated procedure, flouting norms set in place to conduct such hearings, and using the brute force of state armed forces to prevent actual residents from attending the hearings and presenting their views. The illegality of these hearings was made apparent when the Agrarian Tribunal Court nullified all five hearings on the basis of a case filed and fought by CECOP. On the way to attend one of these very fraudulent hearings in the village of Campanaria, Marco Antonio, along with other members of CECOP, was confronted by the municipal police, who had barricaded the road. In the course of a heated exchange, the police were to point a gun at his chest to threaten, “indios pendejos, aquí se van a morir” (“Indian assholes, you’re going to die here”).

In 2014, Marco Antonio was arrested and kept in jail for 14 months on false charges of homicide, where several organizations in Mexico came together to protest the use of violence against him in jail. In this latest instance of arbitrary arrests and violence, just as was the case in 2014, all due process in the arrests —including the requirement of mandated papers and arrest warrants, ensuring access to lawyers, providing information of their whereabouts and ensuring access to family members— has been violated, ignored and trampled upon.

It is worth mentioning that armed confrontation in Cacahuatepec can be traced back to the entry of the army for the first time ever in 2013 in order to oversee a simple comisariado election (election of agrarian authority) to be held in Cacahuatepec. The position of the comisariado has taken on renewed significance in the context of the conflict over land, particularly the ability to sell or lease land, where the confrontation between pro-dam and anti-dam community members has intensified greatly since the introduction of the proposed project. It was following further incursions of the army, harassment of individual CECOP members by the army, as well as threats from armed miscreants, mostly in favor of the proposed hydroelectric power project, La Parota, that in self-defense, CECOP initiated the formation of a local unit of the Policia Comunitaria (CRAC-PC).

CRAC-PC is a historical regional formation that emerged in the state of Guerrero in 1998 out of a context of the strong nexus between organized crime and the police, in order to establish a communitarian system of ensuring security and justice. It has maintained a close relationship with voices of the community who have been resisting the entry of extractive industries, defending the the right to their lands and territories, and asserting their right to self-determination in deciding the future course of the communities. Even as the government recognizes CRAC-PC as a legitimate formation in the state, it has had a history of constantly attacking, provoking, and confronting it, arresting its leaders and destabilizing the organization, whether by undoing its attempts at ensuring security and justice, or by engendering splits and counter formations.

There exists a clear and direct connection between the attempt to bulldoze ahead with the massive hydroelectric power plant on the Papagayo River and the rise in violent confrontations and a constantly tense and volatile atmosphere in Cacahuatepec. The introduction of the project that divided not only communities, but also friends and families (between those in favor of the dam and those opposed to it) has had serious implications on communal relations in this region—a division that has been amply used by and even created and exacerbated by state forces to foment high intensity violence. Together, this context lays bare the message being sent to members of CECOP and CRAC-PC—one of threat and intimidation, to the extent of murder, for raising their voice against injustice, defending their right to their ancestral lands and territory, and for asserting their right to decide for themselves the course of their future. The blatant disregard to due process stands in complete violation of human rights of those arrested, and prevents them from accessing their right to a just legal process and holding men in power or uniform accountable to their actions.