Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

August 6, 2021

Ten Bacum Yaqui preparing for traditional feast remain missing: Families believe mining companies responsible

Bacum Yaqui are desperate to find kidnapped family members.

Three weeks after their disappearance, there are no answers about 10 members of the Yaqui community in Sonora.

No criminal group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, so the Yaqui community believes that it is a form of pressure from mining companies.

Bacum Yaqui families believe lithium and other mining responsible for missing Yaqui. Three weeks after being kidnapped while going for a cow for a traditional feast, ten Yaqui men remain missing. Four of the 15 were released by the kidnappers, and one escaped. Families believe mining companies are responsible, because of the new interest in lithium mining in Sonora, just south of the Arizona border. Lithium is in demand for batteries for electric cars, computers, and cell phones. This comes after Bacum's long fight with Sempra gas pipeline. Before the men were kidnapped, the Mexican military planted drugs in the community in a scheme to disarm the Traditional Yaqui Guard. There were also attempts by mining companies to bribe Bacum Yaqui, which failed. Now, the Canadian mining companies -- and the criminals they depend on -- have initiated a campaign of fear. In nearby Vicam Pueblo, Yaqui Water and Land Protector Tomas Rojo was assassinated after being kidnapped in May. Today's excellent article is written by Animal Politico and translated online. This is dangerous work for journalists in Sonora, because of criminals inside the Mexican military and government, and the cartels. -- Censored News

By Animal Politico


LOMA DE BACUM, Sonora -- On July 14, 15 people left the Yaqui community of Loma de Bácum, in southern Sonora, bound for the ranch known as Agua Caliente, some 85 kilometers to the north. There they would pick up some cows to take back to their community for the traditional festival that began that day. They did not return to their community and since that day there has been no news of their whereabouts.

"So far no official, no one from the state or federal government has shown up here to give us their support, they just sent the National Guard, the Navy, the Sedena, the police and the investigative agency, who according to them are the ones who are supporting us, however, no results have been seen," denounced Guadalupe Flores Maldonado, a member of the Yoremia Troop of the Heroic Town of Loma de Bácum.

In an interview with Animal Politico she explained that, although 15 people were initially kidnapped, four of them were released and one more managed to escape from his captors. Three weeks after their disappearance, he stressed, no criminal group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, so in the Yaqui community they believe that this is a form of pressure from mining companies -- in collusion with the authorities -- because they want to settle in this community and exploit its natural resources.

"We believe that what is happening is a consequence of this because we are against the mining companies, the mining companies are a very strong group, but we are also thinking of expelling them, so one strategy they are using is to divide the people, they are trying to divide the people, they are trying to put them in fear ... Since they have not been able to do this by threatening us, putting fear in us or trying to bribe us, what they are doing now is sending people to kidnap us," Flores Maldonado said.

In recent months, violence against the Yaqui people has intensified, with the disappearance and death of community leaders, rights defenders and activists including Tomás Rojo, Agustín "El Roque" Valdez and Luis Urbano.

In defense of the land 

The Yaqui tribe nation is made up of eight villages. Each has its own well-defined jurisdiction and is autonomous. In the case of Loma de Bácum, where around 4,750 people live, their laws and customs apply 100 percent.

In total, it is estimated that the Yaqui community in the country is made up of more than 40,000 people, who live in the eight towns located in southern Sonora, in addition to another 15,000 people -- also belonging to the Yaqui community -- who live in Tucson, Arizona.

For years, each of the towns has had to defend its territory in the face of constant pressure from various public and private works, such as gas pipelines.

This, explains Guadalupe Flores Maldonado, has led these towns -- especially Loma de Bácum -- to have a very strained relationship with state authorities.

"We have had a very strained relationship with the state because we have opposed ... we won a gas pipeline project that they wanted to pass through here, but we are also seeing that each six-year term of the state government that changes brings its own now we have the problem of the mining companies that will affect the next (governor), who is (Alfonso) Durazo," he said.

"We know that this new affront is not organized crime or anything like that, but it is a way of pressuring our people so that the toxic mining companies can enter.

In the last five years they have had to be more alert of everything that happens in their territory. In September 2016 they noticed the presence of people who claimed to belong to the Mexican geological services. In the sierra they started with prospecting work and since then they have been in permanent dispute with them.

Before that they had to defend themselves to prevent a gas pipeline from crossing their lands.

"We won the gas pipeline by legal and physical means. We filed an injunction, they gave us the injunction and still the government allowed the transnational company Sempra Energy to work and even gave them special surveillance with all the police elements they have... from ministerial police to the Army itself that the governor (Claudia Pavlovich) asked for, despite there being a federal injunction against it, which forced us to use our laws and customs and our regulatory system and with that we expelled them from here," explained Flores Maldonado.

"We saw that this pipe was more to put an obstacle towards the north, towards the mountainous area, which is where the Canadian transnational mining companies want to enter."

According to the testimony of the Yaqui community member, the companies seeking to exploit the resources of this area of the country are dedicated to locating the leaders of the native peoples and bribing them to give their authorization to establish themselves on their lands.

Loma de Bácum was no exception, they were also offered cash and some other gifts, but they were not received.

Where is my brother?

One of the people kidnapped is 49 year old cattle rancher Gustavo Acosta Hurtado. He is married and has an 11-year-old son.

According to his sister Olivia, in Loma de Bácum and in all the other surrounding towns there is no one who does not know El Güero, as Gustavo is called. 

All his life he has dedicated himself to buying and selling cattle, but since July 14 there has been no information about his whereabouts.

The last news Olivia had of her brother was from an acquaintance who said that they were 20 kilometers from Loma de Bácum, on a ranch known as Los Coyotes, but that around 4:30 p.m. they were ambushed.

"They gave me the car, but the car is not a guarantee, where is my brother?" the woman told Animal Político.

From the moment of their disappearance, the authorities of Loma de Bácum organized themselves and with the support of other members of the community began the search for the 10 missing people. In the first rounds they found the belongings of some of them scattered around, as well as a burned cow.

"They kidnap our people to try to intimidate us so that the families of those kidnapped can pressure the authorities, and they try to get the people to accuse them that it is the fault of the authorities for not accepting these death projects, however, they also know, they have lived it first hand and they know where this new threat of extermination of our Yaqui nation comes from," insisted Flores Maldonado.

"We know that times change, but intentions do not. We know that there is always the interest to take away our natural resources and our territory because they think there is even lithium."

Olivia says that the day after her brother's disappearance a report was filed for his disappearance and that of the other nine people and that, although the Sedena, the Navy and the National Guard have participated in search days in the highlands, there has been no progress.

Separately, Flores Maldonado emphasized that on July 10 the community of Loma de Bácum expelled the Army and the Sedena from their land when they detected that they were carrying out intimidation work and for trying to disarm the traditional guard of this community.

"They were expelled and coincidentally four days later they disappear our people," he claimed. "We believe that these are acts that are linked."

"We know that the organized crime that works on this side then executes people, however, not here, to date we believe that they are still alive and that those who are participating are people who have a separate interest and who do not dare to tell us what they want."

Translated with (free version)Translated with (free version)

Read more at Mexico News Daily:

Bacum Yaqui said that almost 500 kilograms of methamphetamine seized by the army earlier this month in Bacúm was planted on residents.

“It’s always the same strategy. They come and plant drugs to try to accuse us and justify their repression,” he said “… The state itself promotes and protects criminals. They’re the same.”

The Yaquis have historically mistrusted authorities, and held numerous protests last year to demand that the federal government compensate them for ceding land for a range of infrastructure projects and to fulfill social development commitments.

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