Tuesday, November 30

Ranchers, farmers, and workers: the victims of the latest drug coup against the Yaqui people

Relatives of the disappeared Yaquis in a demonstration to demand justice this month in the city of Hermosillo, Sonora.
Relatives of the disappeared Yaquis in a demonstration to demand justice this month in the city of Hermosillo, Sonora.Daniel Sánchez / EFE

Now they are dead. Before, they were cowboys, ranchers, day laborers, maquileros and clerks at the Agua Caliente ranch, in Loma de Bácum. And, above all, they were Yaquis, an indigenous people traversed by a history of violence for decades that inhabits the deserts of Sonora, in northern Mexico, one of the territories with the greatest presence of organized crime. Five members of the tribe, disappeared since July 15, have been identified this Monday in a common grave by the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Sonora. Their names were Fabián Sombra Miranda, Braulio Pérez Sol, Heladio Molina Zavala, Martín Hurtado Flores and Fabián Valencia Romero. Another five remain unaccounted for. Dozens of Yaqui activists have been killed or disappeared in the last decade, due to their fight in defense of their territory, in opposition to mining, gas pipelines and aqueducts macro-projects. But this new coup has something different: it is not an attack on front-line militants, but on civilians.


The week of the disappearance the traditional festival of the Virgen del Carmen was celebrated in the Bataconcica community, belonging to Bácum. The group – originally 16 people, although six managed to escape or were released – was heading to the Agua Caliente ranch to collect cattle for slaughter. According to the versions of the community itself, on the way back to the municipality, they were intercepted by members of organized crime. When, alerted by the delay, his relatives and neighbors went out in search of him, they found the cattle loose and their vans empty and abandoned halfway there.

Anabela Carlón, lawyer and part of the tribe, these days offers legal advice to the families of the murdered, in addition to interpreting, since many do not speak Spanish. “This is a blow to the community, they were not active activists,” he defends. However, he adds that the parents of some of them hold important positions within the Yaqui organization, are traditional authorities or participate in one way or another in decision-making. In addition, the victims were part of a community policing brigade. “For us this is a message of power towards our people,” the lawyer synthesizes.

A Yaqui activist who prefers to remain anonymous – since he is in hiding after receiving death threats – poses a different scenario, and places this group in the orbit of organized crime. The ten disappeared belonged to a sector that had separated from the rest of the community and inhabited a land that this town considers sacred. For this reason, they do not allow the Army or the police to enter, something that the drug traffickers take advantage of. “It is an open secret that organized crime people who have their operations center in that part of the mountains are hiding in sacred territory. We think they threatened Yaqui leaders to let them in. “

According to this hypothesis, the disappeared earned extra money acting as hawks (vigilantes) for organized crime. Due to the festivities, the ranch workers neglected their work, and did not warn of an Army incursion into sacred territory in the eastern part of the mountains. There were methamphetamine laboratories in the area, and they seized half a ton of drugs, according to a statement from the National Den. In retaliation, the drug traffickers kidnapped them. “As indigenous people, the forms hurt us and we are outraged, it seems that they were shot at a wall in the Chichiquelites ranch. It is clear how they want to tithe a town. First they tried to dominate the tribe with other religious beliefs so that they would forget their culture and customs. Now, they brought chaos, fear, drugs. Things are being seen that ten years ago were not seen here ”, adds the same anonymous source.

For the lawyer Anabela Carlón, something does not fit in that story: “Yes, it could be a reckoning, but of that number of people, one could be linked to organized crime, I don’t think everyone is involved. That they kill ten people is very serious, it is not the pattern they usually use ”. Already accustomed to violence on a daily basis, Carlón explains that, normally, if someone is related to the drug trafficker and has a problem, “they get up and appear dead somewhere, but that person is not taken away. such a large group. For us that is not possible to believe ”. Although he is unable to explain why they disappeared, specifically, the ranch workers: “They were specifically waiting for this group. The reason is not clear unless it is a manifestation of power ”.

Guadalupe Flores Maldonado, spokesperson for the Traditional Guard – the Yaqui police – of the Bácum community does not share either the thesis of the settling of accounts: soldiers ”. Flores recognizes the presence of drug traffickers on their lands, a transit route for the transfer of drugs to the western border of the United States, but denies the hypothesis that they have penetrated so deeply into the community. Social organizations traditionally committed to the Yaquis’ environmental struggle, such as the Citizen Movement for Water in Sonora, have decided not to get involved with this specific case.

The Yaquis are a very secretive tribe, suspicious of their privacy. Right now, Sergi Pedro Ros is one of the people outside the community who knows them best. Filmmaker, worked for five years in Labyrinth Yo’eme, a documentary where he narrates the problems of this people in the defense of their water and their territory against drug violence and institutional abandonment, which allowed him to be a privileged witness of their reality: “What is happening with the Yaquis is a genocide. It is no longer just that they attack activists and social leaders. Now they go after civil society. Anyone by the mere fact of being Yaqui is in danger today ”.

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