Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

October 19, 2013

O'odham Ofelia Rivas Photos 'Yaqui Highway Blockade' Oct. 19, 2013

Photo copyright Ofelia Rivas, O'odham

Photo copyright Ofelia Rivas, O'odham

Photo copyright Ofelia Rivas, O'odham

Photo copyright Ofelia Rivas, O'odham

Photos by Ofelia Rivas, copyright
Article by Brenda Norrell
Censored News

Ofelia Rivas, O'odham, is just returning from the Yaqui highway blockade in Vicam Pueblo, Sonora, Mexico. The Yaqui Traditional Authority of Vicam has maintained this highway blockade since June, in protest of Mexico stealing their water from the Rio Yaqui, by way of the Independence Aqueduct, for the city of Hermosillo. 
Yaqui have lived here since time immemorial and depend on the water for survival. Their highway blockade of a major trucking route from the Pacific coast to the US has had a major impact and slowed the flow of produce into the US. 
The Traditional Authority of Vicam hosted the Zapatistas, Marcos and Comandantes, here in 2007 and continue in the struggle for dignity, autonomy and justice.
Photos: Highway blockade Vicam with couple on bike; youths wearing their new Defender of Water T-shirts created and provided by Dwight at the Gloo Factory in Tucsonwoman working embroidery with entire family; evening road blockade.

Support the work of Ofelia Rivas and O'odham Voice against the Wall:
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Photo: Vicam Water Rights Gathering Sept 17, 2013
Yaqui maintain major highway blockade since June

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News Exclusive
Video by Ali Brooks
Sept. 16, 2013
copyright Brenda Norrell, Censored News
VICAM PUEBLO, Sonora, Mexico -- Yoeme (Yaqui) in Vicam Pueblo maintained their highway barricade in defense of their water in the Rio Yaqui, as representatives of the National Indigenous Congress met over the weekend with directives from the Zapatistas Little School.
Ofelia Rivas/Vicam Photo Brenda Norrell
Ofelia Rivas, O'odham representative of the National Indigenous Congress, attended the gathering in Vicam on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013.

"Vicam Yoeme are calling for international support for a meeting on October 18 in the defense of water in Vicam," Rivas said. The Northwest regional meeting of the National Indigenous Congress included the states of Sonora, Sinoloa, Chihuahua and Baja.

"Yaqui are sending a special invitation to the Mohawks to attend this important meeting on water rights on October 18," Rivas said. Earlier, Mohawks joined Subcomandante Marcos and Zapatistas commandantes in Vicam Pueblo for a gathering in 2007. It is located about seven hours southwest of Tucson on the coast of Mexico.

Vicam Water Forum/Photo Brenda Norrell
"Water is essential to our survival," said Mario Luna, spokesman for the Yoeme Traditional Authority of Vicam.

"Generations paid with their blood to maintain our homeland for future generations," Luna told the gathering this weekend.

Luna said the illegal construction is already underway on the Independence Aqueduct. It is a diversion project of Yaqui water from the Rio Yaqui to the city of Hermosillo. Luna said neither the diversion project, nor Mexico's government officials have consulted with Vicam Yaquis as required for the impact statement.

Yaquis said their around the clock, 24-hour a day, highway barricade of federal highway 15, manned by Yoeme warriors, has lasted more than 100 days and has had a major impact on produce flowing into the US. The barricade blocks traffic on the major highway between the Pacific Coast and the city of Hermosillo, a major route from the coast to the US. Yoeme lift the blockade for short periods, allowing trucks to pass after halting the trucks for hours, causing extensive delays, around the clock.

Yaqui highway blockade
Rivas said, "They have cars blocking the highway now. It is causing delays in produce like tomatoes getting to the US on time."

Traditional Authorities of Yaqui Vicam Pueblo issued a summons for this weekend's gathering, in accordance with the Zapatistas Little School.

The Traditional Authorities said the water theft of the Yaqui River Basin will destroy the natural resources of this Indian territory.

"Considering that we have inhabited this territory for 2,500 years, a place where we were born and we have developed our existence, where mother earth provides us with everything for our life and like all the world's indigenous peoples live as brothers, with plants, trees, animals, birds, insects, the air, the heat, the cold, the sun, moon, stars, earth and water, of which is our home, food and healing, and the source of our power."

"Whereas in the territory of the Yaqui tribe, our people are made of earth and water and all that comes from them. While building our culture and creating and consolidating our own institutions, in the vicinity of the river today known as Rio Yaqui, the current government perpetrated one of the most colossal robberies of living memory, stealing the waters of the basin and trying to spoil our people more."

"Whereas for more than 520 years we have suffered, in our lives and in our hearts, the war of extermination, one of the longest and bloodiest wars of living memory, brought on by the political and economic power that is in power today," Yaqui said of the current authoritarian misrule.

Yaqui said today the resistance and civil disobedience is for Yoeme Autonomy and Self-determination.

"Whereas the existence of Mother Earth and humanity is threatened by the hegemonic capitalist system for their insatiable greed and excessive economic and natural resource exploitation and death of ecosystems, carried out by large multinational corporations seeking to divest from our territories and to be strongholds of natural resources, in collusion with corrupt government institutions and the collusion of free market policies, such as NAFTA Puebla-Panama Plan, and its project northwest of the Sea of Cortez known as the Coastal Highway, along with that project, the current state government is stealing water from the Yaqui River basin through the illegal construction of the Independence Aqueduct, with the aim of more plunder, and giving an existential hit to our people."

"Today through unfair and illegal, bidding, construction and operation of the Independence Aqueduct, they steal Yaqui river water and divert it to the city of Hermosillo, with the evil purpose of feeding large transnational businesses, real estate developments, and to encourage the speculation of businesses, with the rampant corrupt government complicity of Guillermo Padres Elias and consent of the current Federal Government."

"The Yaqui Tribe, like most indigenous peoples and the more than 50 million poor who inhabit the country are on the border of extermination, as a result of economic policies that favor the success of the market," Yaqui said.

The Traditional Authority said Mexico wants to "turn water into a commodity, by privatizing and commodifying," water while neglecting the development, autonomy and the right to self-determination of Indigenous peoples.

The Zapatistas, in conjunction with the Mexican Indigenous National Congress, issued a statement of solidarity and support for Yaqui.

“We believe that the earth is our mother and that the water that runs through her veins is not for sale. The life it gives us is a right, not something that the bad government or the business owners have granted us."

“We demand the immediate cancellation of the arrest warrants and false accusations against members of the Yaqui Tribe, and we condemn the criminalization of their struggle. To the political party-based bad governments we say that the Yaqui River is the historical carrier of the ancestral continuity of Yaqui culture and territory, and that a slight against any of us is a slight against all of us. We will respond accordingly to any attempt to repress this dignified struggle or any other. We make a call to the international community and to our brothers and sisters of the International Sixth to be alert to the events in Yaqui territory and to join in solidarity with the Yaqui Tribe and its demands.”

Photo: Vicam Water Rights Gathering Sept 17, 2013

The Yaqui Traditional Authorities released the following statement at the beginning of the blockade in June: 
Yaqui Vicam Pueblo Water Forum/Photo Brenda Norrell

YAQUI Territory, México. June 2013
In defense of water from our rivers, the Yaqui People have now blocked federal highway 15 for 21 days. Mario Luna, secretary for the Traditional Authorities of Vicam, describes how disinformation of the legal strategy in defense of Yaqui territory reminds us that only dignity and strength have made it possible for the Yaqui People to defeat the long series of invasions and attempts to rob the land and its natural resources. This time the call is to alert all of the threat from public law enforcement authorities to dismantle Yaqui blockade of federal highway 15.
From federal highway 15, by Vicam Pueblo -- first headquarters of the 8 Pueblos of the Yaqui tribe -- with 45 centigrade degrees in the shade -- Traditional Authorities are gathered and through me, express the following:
The defense of our territory, land and water goes back hundreds of years since the arrival of a culture of ambition and theft. With wars that have manifested heroic and glorious defense and others have been inhuman actions and total disregard to life, ethnocide and inhumanity.
The Yaqui faces of men, women, elders, youth and children demonstrate determination and endurance yet does not express how they have survived for past generations to sustain many armed incursions in addition to mass deportations - driven to the southernmost part of Mexico to be sold as slaves -in the best of cases- if they were not killed by those who tried to take over their land based on Terra Nullius.
Such attitude of dignity and endurance has allowed the Yaqui People to drive back colonizers during the history of Mexico through warfare. Successful in their battles against historical invasions from foreign nations or bad governments during the independence wars as well as Mexican Revolution- including the takeover of the National Palace in Mexico City along with the Revolutionaries-and the bloody Yaqui War.
As Indian People, the Yaqui demand and exercise an autonomy recognized and formalized in several peace treaties and accords for economic, social, and cultural development.
During the last few years of total disregard for the San Andrés Larrainzar (document/treaty elevating indigenous rights to constitutional level) the robbery and extermination campaign against indigenous Peoples that have recovered and conserved their autonomous lands in Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Michoacán and many more in the country have continued. In our case the governmental apparatus has turned against us in order to carry out the last great robbery, called “Acueducto Independencia”, by pretending to reroute the waters from the Río Yaqui to the Rio Sonora basin to satisfy the urgent water needs of the Hermosillo industrial zone -high use water zone for the Ford assembly plant, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Big Cola and beer plants for Tecate and Heineken. In this same action, industry CEO's expect huge profits to cover large and extensive land grabs which now have no commercial value, yet when they acquire adequate water supply, their property value will increase 2 thousand percent.
The Yaqui tribe was not formally consulted but discovered about this megaproject through various sources and is thus tired of living in a state of low intensity warfare since the last peace treaty in 1927. Therefore, the Traditional Authorities from Vícam Pueblo, decided to legally confront this situation with the new battlefront strategy of using a judicial and institutional process. It began with a water restitution lawsuit in the Agrarian Tribunal Tribunal Unitario Agrario número 35, based in Ciudad Obregón, August 2010. Through this measure, we were able to obtain a cautionary recourse that should have blocked this Megraproject. It commits or limits actions or rights on volume water extrations related to “El Novillo” dam. In 2011 we requested a legal waver from the federal justice system in opposition to an environmental impact statement provided by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) to “Sonora Operations Fund” “Fondo de Operaciones Sonora SÍ” for the construction of Acueducto Independencia. After this waver was denied in several courts, it was finally approved on behalf of the Yaqui tribe in Culiacán, Sinaloa District Court and later formalized and published in the Tenth District Court Hermosillo, Sonora.
SEMARNAT then requested to review the waiver and motivated by a series of irregularities denounced by National Human Rights Commission and the Plural Commission (federal Chambers of Senate and Deputies from various political parties) in a historic decision, the National Supreme Court applied their right to summon and resolve to ratify the waiver to the Tribe by recognizing their legal character as Indian Peoples and constitutional and international rights as Yaqui People, to freely seek and be informed with respect to internal protocols, representation as well as by their customs and traditions.
This May 8, 2013 the Supreme Court ruling nullifies the environmental impact statement for the Acueducto Independencia. This also ratifies the status of construction and operation of the aqueduct as illegal to this day.
With the experience lived during hundreds of years of Yaqui Peoples' struggle and today in confronting impunity from Guillermo Padres Elias, Governor of Sonora to take significant volumes of water from “El Novillo” dam, the Traditional Authorities have decided to strengthen civil resistance actions along with the Citizens Movement for Water Movimiento Ciudadano por el Agua – made up of agricultural producers, micro-farmers and civil society from the seven municipalities in southern Sonora who will be impacted by the loss of water being rerouted by the Aqueduct reservoirs.
On May 28, after an enormous march in Ciudad Obregón (over 30 thousand participants, according to organizers), it was decided to take the highways that same afternoon by blocking the entries of both south and north part of the city. Other protesters later joined the blockade from Bacum and Esperanza. As the government continues to show no intention to stop the pumps that illegally take the water stored in the dam, the Traditional Authorities along with the Yaqui troops from Potam and Belem, the protesters took over the highway at Vicam.
On June 11, after several days of continual blockade at several points on the highway (Cajeme, Bacum and Vícam), the delegate of the Department of Communications and Transportation Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT) in Sonora announced that they had filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office of Procuraduría General de la República (PGR) against several leaders of Movimiento Ciudadano por el Agua and Yaqui Tribe.
The Sonora Attorney General, Carlos Navarro Sugich, announced this as a successful measure by the State Government and has undertaken a media campaign against those responsible within the Commission for defense of tribal water rights.
By seeking approval of the Traditional Authorities of other members in the Yaqui Nation, the State Government was unanimously rejected of its intention to orchestrate the use of public force against the road blockade. The main conflict is that protesters demand that Sonoran rule of law be applied- presently in violation by the Governor of the State - and an end to illegal water extraction of El Novillo dam - covered under the resolution granted by the National Supreme Court Justice to the Yaqui People.
In a climate of tension and rebellion that we live these days, we share these concerns with all Mexican and international people. We have the support and solidarity from the Indian community’s network of Congreso Nacional Indígena National Indigenous Congress, as well as solidarity from teachers of the national coordinator of education workers (CNTE) and public representatives of most local legislators in southern Sonora districts. There is also a political agreement for a joint call to Governor Guillermo Padrés by these local legislators and seven municipal Presidents of southern Sonora (who were present in the traditional guard event at Vicam on June 15) to stop the theft of our water and the rule of law in Sonora.
In the face of constant threats and rumors as to the use of public force against the demonstrations, our call is to be on the alert and avoid the selective use of prompt and expeditious justice against those of us who defend our right to life to use and benefits of our waters. Let us all avoid the impunity and intolerance of a State Government that with their actions promotes divisiveness between southern Sonora with the northern part of our State.

From: Yaqui Territory, June, 2013
Mario Luna Romero
General Traditional Secretary for Vicam Pueblo
Main Headquarters for the eight Yaqui Pueblos
Published: June 2013

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