Santa María Ostula, unrelenting assault

In Ostula, the struggle for security is ONGOING.
Photo: Heriberto Paredes

Santa María Ostula (the place of the caves) is a paradise that organized crime wants to turn into hell. The Nahua community in Michoacán, zealous defender of their lands and natural resources, promoter since June 2009 of the Ostula Manifesto, which vindicates the right to indigenous self-defense (, is being savagely attacked by drug traffickers.

Emboldened by the electoral triumph of the candidates they supported in the last elections, the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG) feels it has the green light to attack the community members. On the afternoon of July 3, in the town of La Cofradía, the thugs began to shoot pure 50 caliber from the three hills surrounding the village and to attack with drones. With plenty of weapons and ammunition, the shooting continued uninterrupted throughout the night. The aggression extended to two other communities.

The villagers immediately reported what was happening to federal and state authorities. Nearby, in Coalcamán, is the headquarters of the 65th Infantry Battalion of Sedena. The military knows what the matter is about. On January 21, 2021, in an ambush in Maguey Verde during a reconnaissance operation, the CJNG assassinated Colonel Hector Miguel Vargas, in charge of the detachment. The criminals ran over the commander with a monster truck. An escort and a resident were wounded.

And yet, no one arrived on the night of July 3 in support of the indigenous people. The state government never reported the aggressions as an alert or serious situation. Their narrative was that nothing was happening. As best as they could, the communal guard defended their people and prevented them from taking over the office. It was not until the afternoon of the following day when troops from the 65th Infantry Battalion and members of the National Guard arrived under the orders of Colonel Dámaso Ortiz (a commander who has confronted the CJNG).

Photographer Heriberto Paredes, who has accompanied and documented the struggle in Ostula for many years and was present in the town, narrated on his X account the anxiety and uncertainty experienced that day.

“It’s almost 3 am, the drone shots and the skirmish started around 5 pm here. There were pregnant women, children playing on the roof, the stores open, preparations for an end of school party. The CJNG attacked. In a few minutes all the people were in their homes, fear on their faces, the emergency sounding on the radios. We started to take cover because of the warning that there was a drone flying and that it could possibly fall on the roof (and it did).”

“After the explosion, shots rang out against the population, from the three hills that flanked us, so we had to stay on the ground for hours. More drones and more shots followed, many shots and the reinforcements of the communal guard defending without fear.”

“We continued in La Cofradía, already meeting with the civil and agrarian authorities, in a moment of détente. Although at 6 am a drone was flying overhead for reconnaissance. We have not been able to get out of here because the CJNG are still shooting from one side.”

Outside of the high-risk zone, the community is now concentrating at certain points to monitor the actions of the authorities. There is a generalized tense calm.

The criminal aggressions against Ostula (La Familia Michoacana, Los Caballeros Templarios, Viagras, CJNG) are not new, they date back to the 1970s. They have to do with the attempt to strip the peasants of their natural resources and control the territory of just over 25 thousand hectares, with its beaches, coastal highway, minerals such as iron, silver and gold, precious woods and the passage to the most rugged regions of Tierra Caliente. Between 2009 and 2018 alone, 34 community members were murdered and six disappeared; to date there have been no arrests.

The mining companies have 40,000 hectares of concessions in this territory. As has been documented in the country, there is a marriage of convenience between mining companies and organized crime, in which the cartels are in charge of business security. Ostula is no exception.

Just at the end of January and beginning of February of this year, the community members suffered attacks from the four-letter cartel. The community headquarters was attacked by a group of 50 men with high-powered rifles and drones, who destroyed the building. Thanks to the communal guard, only one person was injured.

The murder in Colima, by gunmen on a motorcycle, of Martha Verdía, daughter of Cemeí Verdía, exacerbated the harassment against Ostula. Cemeí is a former community leader, once beloved and prestigious, who betrayed the villagers and works for the CJNG — according to multiple allegations — and is involved in the cartel war ravaging the region. He was expelled from the community in 2018, for ties to organized crime.

In 2020, the community members denounced that “Verdía Zepeda is the main link operating from Colima to orchestrate attacks with armed groups belonging to the CJNG in order to hand over the municipalities of Coalcomán, Chinicuila, Coahuayana and Aquila, forming groups supported by the CJNG to murder, kidnap, kill, torture, kidnap and extort, causing fear and anxiety among the population.

Although the intent is to underestimate it, what is happening in the municipality of Aquila is very serious. The failure of the State to act, abandoning its responsibilities and leaving the community alone in the face of a serious security crisis, is more than worrisome. It is the State’s obligation to fight drug trafficking and guarantee security for the population. Ostula demands respect for its communal organization, self-determination, community security and a life free of violence. It is their right.

Original article by Luís Hernández Navarro published in La Jornada on July 9, 2024.
Translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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