Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

July 5, 2021

Arrest Made for the Assassination of Yaqui Rights Leader Tomas Rojo

Yaqui Rights Leader Tomas Rojo

Arrest Made for the Assassination of Yaqui Rights Leader Tomas Rojo

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News
VIdeo interview with Tomas Rojo, Censored News 2012

CAJEME, Sonora, Mexico -- An arrest was made for the assassination of Yaqui Rights Leader Tomás Rojo Valencia, 54, whose remains were found on June 17 after his disappearance in May.

At a press conference Monday, the head of the Prosecutor's Office, Claudia Indira Contreras, said Francisco Hiram, 26, alias "El Morocho" was arrested. The investigation is continuing to others linked to Tomas' murder.

The Yoeme (Yaqui) at Vicam Pueblo have carried out highway blockades on their land -- in protest of gas lines, an aqueduct stealing Yaqui River water for the City of Hermosillo, and rail lines in Vicam territory. These were all constructed without consultation with Vicam Yaqui.

During the press conference, Sonora State Prosecutor Contreras said Tomas had been trying to install a toll booth on the main highway that runs through Yaqui territory to raise money for his community.

Criminal groups “were interested in illegal benefits from charging tolls on the highway,” Contreras said. “Tomás Rojo was pushing for the installation of a toll booth to bring order to the process of charging tolls, to really benefit the Yaqui people.”

El Imparcial news reported Monday evening that the first suspect was indicted in the murder of Tomás, but the investigation is still open.

Contreras said that on May 27, the report was received of Tomas' disappearance, after he went for his morning walk at 5 a.m.

Police found the organized crime group after discovering a clandestine firearms repair shop apparently linked to the criminal organization.

Nine vehicles were seized -- six which had a theft report, two with altered serial numbers, and one more that was used to transport the victim when he was abducted.

Search efforts were coordinated on May 29 and 30, with the participation of AMIC, Semar, Municipal Police, and members of the Yaqui Traditional Guard. The search was carried out on foot and with the use of drones.

Previously, news reports said that a person gathering firewood found the partially covered grave. The Forensic Scientific Intelligence Laboratory determined that the remains found on June 17 in Vícam, did correspond to the body of Tomás.

The prosecutor said that Tomas was found half-buried near Vicam and was identified by matching the clothes and other articles. At the grave, there was a rope, a scapular, a hammer, a red handkerchief, and sports clothes.

The body had blunt blow wounds to the head, apparently caused by a hammer found a short distance from the body.

The following news article was published by La Jornada, and translated online using  Deepl.

Francisco Hiram Hiram, alias "El Morocho", 26 years old, was arrested by ministerial agents of the Attorney General's Office in Sonora (FGJE) for allegedly murdering the leader of the Yaqui ethnic group Tomás Rojo Valencia, who was found dead in a clandestine grave 12 kilometers from the indigenous community of Vícam.

In a press conference, Claudia Indira Contreras, prosecutor of Sonora, said that according to the investigations, the motive for the murder was orchestrated by organized crime groups, and involved the blockade that the ethnic group maintains on the Mexico 15 Federal Highway that crosses their lands. Rojo was pushing for a toll booth that would bring order, and the proceeds would benefit the Yaqui community.

"It is presumed that the murder of the indigenous leader could be related to organized crime groups with interests unrelated to those of the Yaqui people, interested in illicitly benefiting from the collection of fees on the highway," the Sonora prosecutor said.

After five raids in San Ignacio Rio Muerto, Bácum and Vícam, as well as the work of all the security corporations and the Yaqui Traditional Guard, it was possible to find one of the alleged murderers, as well as new evidence that could lead to the capture of others involved in this crime, the prosecutor emphasized.

Among these searches, the ministerial agents seized nine vehicles, six of them with a theft report, including the white Honda Accord sedan, 2006 model, in which Tomás Rojo was abducted and taken to the place where he was found dead.

After the investigations, the State Prosecutor's Office requested the arrest warrant for the crimes of aggravated homicide with premeditation, malice aforethought and advantage and criminal association. Francisco Hiram was arrested on June 25 in possession of a firearm. On Monday, he was charged as the material author of homicide with premeditation, malice aforethought and advantage, and criminal association against the indigenous leader.

For almost a decade and intermittently, leaders of the eight towns that make up the Yaqui Nation have maintained at least three blockades on the stretch of Federal Highway Mexico 15 that crosses their territory; there they demand their right of access with the request of a voluntary fee to the vehicles of travelers and heavy load trucks that travel on this road that crosses the state of Sonora from Estación Don to Nogales.

The truckers have protested against the payment to members of the Yaqui Nation, as they have said that sometimes they are charged up to three times or else they are not allowed to travel. This situation has generated dissatisfaction on the part of the transportation associations because members of the tribe have threatened drivers who refuse to pay with firearms.

Several members of the Yaqui tribe, among them Rojo Valencia, have proposed to the Federal and State Government the installation of an official toll booth at the entrance to the eight indigenous towns, in order to control income and the collection process, so that the proceeds can be used for the benefit of the development of the Yaqui communities. In addition, the lawsuits between the Yaqui and the drivers must end.

On February 16, Jesús Adrián Valenzuela, 30 years old, a young indigenous man who was selected to collect these quotas, was killed. Valenzuela was run over by a trailer driven by Christian, 26 years old. According to the Traditional Authorities, the driver of the unit "ran the truck over him" because he was forced to pay the quota.

In the early morning of May 1, Agustín Valdez alías "El Roque", leader of the road blockade and son of the ethnic governor, was riddled with bullets by a group of hired killers who attacked him in Loma de Guamúchil.

Tomas Rojo Valencia was reported missing on May 27 to the FGJE, after he had gone for a walk around 5:00 am and did not return.

Immediately, police forces began searches on foot, in vehicles and by air in the municipalities of Vícam, Bácum, San Ignacio Río Muerto, Guaymas and Ciudad Obregón, located in the south of the state.

Following a 911 report, on June 17, the body of a man was found half-buried near some bushes, 12 kilometers southwest of Vícam. Prosecutor's office personnel processed the scene, collected evidence and clothing that matched that described by the Rojo Valencia family in the report of his disappearance, such as sports clothes, shoes that matched in brand and shoe size, as well as his characteristic red scarf around his neck.

The Forensic Scientific Intelligence Laboratory (CIF) of the Sonora Prosecutor's Office informed that the remains located correspond to the ethnic leader Tomas Rojo Valencia. They said the body showed ecchymosis (bruises) and fractures in several parts of his body. The reason for his death was cranioencephalic traumatism (blunt force to the head.)

Read the article at La Jornada.

Expreso news reported the firearms at the location of the arrest.

The search actions were carried out in San Ignacio Río Muerto, Bácum and Vícam. The address was Calle Emiliano Zapata, without a number, on the corner of Ignacio Allende, in the Termoeléctrica de Vícam neighborhood. Behind the façade of a workshop, there was evidence that they were modifying or fixing firearms there.

“Four wooden armors of long weapons were found, three incomplete long weapons, a long weapon and a spell-type short weapon with their respective magazine, eight metal barrels, parts of long weapons, three wooden butts of long weapons, 86 cartridges of various calibers, and casings of various calibers among other objects, which evidently indicated to us that it was an area in which firearms were repaired," the Sonora Prosecutor said.

Expreso also listed all of the vehicles seized. 

Telemundo reported that in 2010, Tomas spearheaded the war for water in Sonora, which was unleashed when the state government announced the construction of the Independencia Aqueduct to bring water from the Yaqui River basin to the capital, Hermosillo, from where it is currently supplying water to more than 300,000 people. The aqueduct began operations in 2013.

Yaquis rose up and defended the exploitation of their natural resources. The tribe implemented a protest where they had collection points on Mexico federal highway 15 in Sonora, which crosses the territory inhabited by the tribe for 90 kilometers (55 miles), between the municipalities of Cajeme and Guaymas.

Censored News provided coverage of the Water Rights Forums hosted by the Traditional Authority of Vicam and the highway blockades.

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