Families displaced by violence in the Mexican town of San Juan Copala are attempting to return to the homes they fled last year. The rural town in the southern state of Oaxaca declared itself autonomous in January of 2007, but differences among factions in the region led to what many call “a paramilitary siege” which lasted for 10 months.
In the early months of the siege armed men blocked vehicular access to and from San Juan Copala and fired shots from the hills that overlook the town. As the situation intensified, snipers targeted the families of those who supported the autonomy project – often wounding people who left their homes or who attempted to flee the town on foot.
By mid-October of 2010, more than a dozen of the small town’s residents were dead and many others had been wounded by gunfire.
Some residents who have escaped the conflict fled to Oaxaca City where they set up a protest camp in front of the Government Palace. Women here swept the side walk this morning ahead of their departure for Mexico City as part of a caravan.
Reyna Martinez Flores is the spokesperson for the Oaxaca City camp and is herself displaced by the conflict.
She says the purpose of the caravan is to demand justice for those who were killed and to gather up the displaced in order to return to the town.
Two caravans of observers attempted to reach San Juan Copala last year. Armed men fired upon the first one, killing a prominent Mexican human rights activist and a Finnish observer. The second caravan was prevented from advancing to the town by a convoy of state police.
I asked Reyna Martinez Flores if the state government of Oaxaca had given assurances that the caravan would be able to reach the town this time.
“We haven’t received any guarantees and we’re well aware of this…but the thing is that we’ve been here for a long time already and the people want to go back to their town, to their homes. The government has been stringing us along …and has even told us that we should wait until there are conditions for our return. But the people are fed up – desperate in the sense that they no longer want to wait until the government decides when it’s time to go back to San Juan Copala. The displaced persons are the ones who took this decision and we’re going to respect it.”
Those who fled San Juan Copala either sought refuge in the indigenous Triqui region or have been living in the camps that were established last August in the state capital and in Mexico City. Martinez Flores told FSRN that a group of women will remain behind in the Oaxaca City camp in the event that the displaced are unable to return to their town.
[This report originally aired in the May 24, 2011 broadcast of FSRN]