Wednesday, October 08, 2014



Mario Luna, Secretary of the Yaqui nation’s traditional authorities in the town of Vicam in the state of Sonora, Mexico was arrested on September 11th  because of his actions taken in the defense of the Yaqui people's water rights.  He was arrested while preparing to take the case of the Yaqui people to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.   

According to Carlos Navarro Sugich, Sonora Attorney General, Luna is accused of kidnapping and theft, two crimes that according to the authority he committed on June 8, 2013, against Francisco Delgado Romo. The alleged crime took place during the closure of the Mexico-Nogales Highway in protest of the State's refusal to comply with the judgment of the Supreme Court of Justice, which recognized that the construction of Independence Aqueduct violated rights of the Yaqui People and should  be cancelled.


With this action they intend to imprison the very struggle of the Yaqui Tribe for defending its waters, which, after a long war, were recognized as theirs in 1940 by Lázaro Cárdenas. Since 2010, the money-owners want to again take these waters by way of the Independence Aqueduct, in violation of a resolution emitted by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation and violating all of the rights given us by International Conventions on such matters.

It is a joke to say that the Independence Aqueduct is so that the poor have water and progress, as those above say; it is so that the rich can take possession of the water that for centuries has belonged to the Yaquis. Instead of feeding fields and crops, they want to divert the water to large industrial companies in Sonora....

We don’t ask anything of the bad governments, and at this moment we want to tell them clearly one thing: our compañero Mario Luna’s freedom does not belong to them and they cannot take it away just like that. We want to make clear that his freedom belongs to him and his people, and that what was taken by force must be returned....

The National Indigenous Congress and the Zapatista National Liberation Army further stated that, “the Yaqui River has served as the historical carrier and ancestral continuation of the Yaqui Tribe’s culture and territory,” adding the demand for Luna’s immediate release and “the cancellation of all arrest warrants and fabrication of crimes against members of the Yaqui Tribe.”

The Yaqui tribe in Sonora has demonstrated publicly against the construction of the aqueduct.  The Aqueduct construction has been marked by irregularities which remind us again of the tradition of the seizure of indigenous lands and the dispossession of the people which has continued for over 500 years.  Talli Nauman writes:  

A 1937 treaty signed by Mexican President Lazaro Cárdenas and Yoeme authorities guarantees them 50 percent of the river’s water. That right was upheld recently in a Dec. 3, 2013 federal Supreme Court ruling.

However, said Yaqui Tribe Solidarity, “It’s not about just one river, water or land, rather life itself and the right to exist, and not be eliminated by petty interests that hold money above all else.”

The 1992 Rio Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, of which Mexico is a signer, in its Principle 10 promotes public access to government environmental information, citizen participation in environmental decision-making, and legal remedies for environmental rights abuse.

The jailing of Luna should be a wake-up call for environmental and human rights activists everywhere. 

As stated at Mexico Voices: can be assumed that the arrest of Mario Luna is not due to a desire for justice by the Sonora state government, but that it is part of a campaign of persecution. That campaign, in turn, is part of the history of dispossession that the Yaqui people have historically suffered at the hands of the State, at least since the 1870's when the notorious Yaqui War took place that resulted in the mass killing of the people at the hands of the liberal governments.

In its contemporary version, historic harassment is accompanied by repressive policies and actions that criminalize social dissent, wage smear campaigns in the media and on social networks, and systemically refuse to recognize the Yaquis' right to decide about their natural resources.

The Alliance for Global Justice stated:

We call on the state of Sonora to stop robbing the Yaqui people of their water. We call for the repeal of NAFTA and the defeat of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which includes the NAFTA signatories, because these neoliberal trade agreements put transnational corporate profits above ecosystems and indigenous rights.

We believe it is no coincidence that Luna was arrested while preparing to take the case of the Yaqui people to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.

Finally,  Francisco López Bárcenas writing for La Jornada asks,

Why was Luna Romero arrested just now when the state government faces the problem of contamination of the Bacanuchi River, one of the most serious caused by mining activity? Why now does Governor Padrés Elías accuse his predecessor of having responsibility for the fire at the ABC Daycare Center, where 49 children died and 76 suffered permanent injuries? Why now when the governor himself is accused of misappropriating water for personal gain, while many Sonorans go without [adequate access to water]? Will the governor want to create a distraction to divert public attention from the above problems? Will he want to use Luna Romero as a bargaining chip to silence other voices?

It’s too early to tell. What I can say is that with this action the government is adding more fuel to the Sonoran countryside, which is already hot, because knowing the Yaquis it is certain that they are not going to be silenced, and they are going to mobilize to achieve the release of their representative.

Viewed from another perspective, the detention is an historic error. While the detainee holds the position of secretary of tribal authorities, he is not a subordinate less than them, as someone from the outside might think. Among the Yaquis, the secretary is a kind of representative of the people with the rest of society; thus, they all feel aggrieved by Luna Romero’s detention.

It is a lesson that they [governments] should have learned from the historic Yaqui wars, many of which were caused by offences that the yoris, as the Yaquis call white people, committed against their [Yaqui] authorities. A politically sensible approach would be to deal with the proposals of the organizations calling for the detainee’s release, stop criminalizing the struggle, recognize the justness of the Yaqui’s struggle and seek solutions. … The other approach is to keep adding fuel to the fire.

The following is taken from  The Flower of the Word Will Not Die

Mexico: The Yaqui Tribe’s Struggle for Water

Yaqui Tribe members protest in Mexico City, demanding the release of their leaders (Clayton Conn/ Telesur)

Yaqui Tribe members protest in Mexico City, demanding the release of their leaders (Clayton Conn/ Telesur)

With the detention of their spokespeople, and rejection of court injunctions in their favour, the Yaqui Tribe of the arid Mexican state of Sonora vow to keep struggling to defend their water and territory.

Members of the Yaqui tribe are calling for a "mega march" on October 10th in the city of Hermosillo in the Mexican state of Sonora to demand the release of activists Mario Luna and Fernando Jimenez and to reject the Independence Aqueduct.

The indigenous group, along with a list of civil organizations, are expecting a turnout of more than 30,000 people to participate.

Luna and Jimenez, spokespeople and elected leaders of the tribe, were detained in September by plain clothed Sonora state officers for the presumed “illegal deprivation of freedom” of community member Francisco Romo and for “auto theft.”

Arrest warrants were issued more than 16 months ago after Romo denounced the indigenous leaders for illegally arresting him in the community of Vicam.

The traditional authorities of Vicam state said that Romo was arrested in accordance with the rules and customs of the Yaqui tribe recognized by the Mexican constitution and international treaties, after he, apparently intoxicated, allegedly attempted to ram his vehicle into a group of community members who were blocking a highway in rejection of the operation of the Independence Aqueduct. But neither Mario Luna or Fernando Jimenez were present during the arrest of Romo, and they deny that they ordered his detention.

For the Yaqui people, the arrest of their authorities represents an attack on the community by the government of Sonora for the tribes incesant opposition since 2010 to the state sponsored aqueduct, and their overall history in defense of their land, resources and territory.

The 172 km long mega project transports more than 60 million cubic meters of water per year from the Novillo dam, which is fed by the Yaqui river, to supply the growing urban complexes of Hermosillo, and to supply the large agroindustry in the region.

It was proposed and initiated by the current Sonora governor, Guillermo Padres, of the center right National Action Party (PAN).

The project openly violates a 1940 presidential decree by then president Lazaro Cardenas, which guarentees that at least 50 percent of the water from the Yaqui River pertains to the Yaqui Tribe.

The project also was initiated violating the indigenous people’s right to an open and free prior consultation. In 2011, the Environment Secretary (SEMARNAT) approved the Environmental Impact Statement and granted permission to begin the project, which also included the use of 50 million cubic meters of water for construction.
Of the 55 Yaqui communities, only 30 percent currently have access to drinking water.

It is also not just the 40,000 Yaqui people who live in the region and depend heavily on the water supply from river, but also up to 1 million people from the nearby city of Obregon, who are mostly small scale agricultural and livestock producers.

Continued Resistance
For the past four years, the Yaqui have organized strong resistance against the aqueduct.
After filing an injunction in June 2013, the tribe got an Eighth District Court Judge to order the shutdown of the Independence Aqueduct, but the City of Hermosillo filed a complaint to an Appeals Court, which ordered the nulification of the construction suspension.

Thus, the tribe decided to employ a strategy of civil disobedience, blocking highways such as Route 15, which also cuts into the United States. These kinds of actions have seen stiffer responses from the authorities.
“They are fabricating crimes against those of us who struggle,” explained Luna in an interview prior to his arrest on September 11. “This is a recurring strategy so as to divide and control communities that protest,” said the official spokesperson of the movement in defense of water and the Yaqui River.

“We recognize that justice and the law is selective. It tends to work against those who are screwed and acts complacent with politicians and corporations, in this case with the governor and businessmen who want to commercialize and privatize our water,” he added.

However, the activist affirmed that the struggle in defense of water and territory would continue with or without his presence and the presence of other leaders.

“We are just spokespeople, but there are many more from the tribe who could fulfill our role and work, it also needs to be understood that others outside of the tribe are joining our struggle and that we are connected to other similar struggles. We have defended our land for centuries,” he said.

The tribe continues to look for solidarity from other civil organizations and indigenous groups. With Luna and Jimenez’s detentions, organizations such as the indigenous based Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) have expressed their support and denounced the aggressions by the authorities.

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