Sunlight glistens over three coffins as they are carried up the mountain. Orange cempasúchil flowers are placed on their wooden frames and the smoke of copal lingers in the air, cleansing the spirits of our dead siblings.
It was only days before that the communities of the Popular Indigenous Council of Guerrero – Emiliano Zapata (CIPOG-EZ) were celebrating día de los muertos, day of the dead, commemorating those that came before and those that died in the struggle.
The bodies and spirits of three more comrades, Adán Linares Silverio, Moisés Cuapipistenco and Guillermo Hilario Morales, have joined more than 40 other members of their community that have been killed in this ruthless struggle in defence of their territories and lives against transnational mining companies and narco-paramilitary groups.
On Saturday 5 November 2022, Adán, Guillermo and Moisés travelled out of their liberated territories into Chilapa de Alvarez, the municipal centre, in order to buy spare parts for one of their vehicles. At 2.30pm they were stopped by the municipal police who asked for their names. Soon after, they began to be tailed by a motorbike, which intercepted them as they were leaving Chilapa, back to the safety of their communities. At 9.30pm their bodies were found dead in the town of Xochimilco, Chilapa, ridden with bullets.
Adán, Moisés and Guillermo were Indigenous Nahua peoples, community leaders and members of the CIPOG-EZ, a council made up of 24 Indigenous communities that have been defending their territories against transnational mining companies and narco-paramilitary groups like ‘Los Ardillos’ in the Montaña Baja region of Guerrero, Mexico.
“Today, as we mourn our dead, rage floods us, because they were important comrades in our organisation, those who worked twice as hard, those who did not sleep for days when Los Ardillos’ bullets passed over our heads. Those who joined the frontlines to resist in order to save the lives of our communities. But not only did they engage in this form of resistance, they were also involved in the political aspect of it. They committed to delivering workshops on autonomy, defence of the territory, and human rights based education; and committed to the installation of community radios in our territories. They represented the collective heart of the CIPOG-EZ,” shared the CIPOG-EZ in a public announcement following the assassinations.
It is necessary here to highlight the entirely political nature of their assassination. The three were working on a recent project, launched by the CIPOG-EZ, to set up three community radios in their territories. This project would allow for the organisation to disseminate political and human rights-based education that would build the communities’ capacity to defend their territories legally and extra-legally.
The radios would also strengthen their organisation, working towards the construction of peace in their communities. Workshops with all members of the community were carried out. The strengthening of the community fabric was a problem for these narco-groups, but the CIPOG-EZ also claims that there are deeper, more sinister roots behind the constant violence they endure.
The CIPOG-EZ claim that “There is a chain of complicity in our communities being massacred; it is as if they want to take over our territories and to do so they must exterminate those of us who live here.” They believe that Los Ardillos work as an armed wing of the government and transnational mining companies, who assassinate and displace whole communities for their lands to then be concessioned up to mining companies. Local journalists have reported similar findings.
In July, I wrote a piece regarding the CIPOG-EZ and the power of their organisation. In it I quoted one of the CIPOG-EZ’s public announcements that named Jesús Plácido Galindo, Isaías Posotempa Silverio, Adán Linares Silverio, Benjamín Sánchez Hernández, and the families of disappeared Pablo Hilario y Samuel Hernández, saying that they were being targeted by Los Ardillos and to hold the Mexican government accountable for anything that were to happen to them. Four months later, Adán Linares and Guillermo Hilario, the brother of Pablo Hilario, are being lowered into the ground as their community watches in pain.
The assassinations of Adán, Guillermo and Moisés are a clear demonstration of the violence of the system, showing how our communities are being failed by all levels of society.
For years, the CIPOG-EZ has been denouncing the violence plaguing their territories, explicitly naming those being targeted. They warned the world that Adán would be killed and he was. Their words and reality was not highlighted by the media or popularised to the masses. And the message this sent to Los Ardillos was that they could kill with impunity and with state complicity, and no-one would bat an eye.
The silence of the media felt even more acute alongside the silence of international human rights institutions like the UN Office of Human Rights Defenders that also failed the CIPOG-EZ. I wrote in the first piece about how, whilst we were in Alcozacan, the heart of the CIPOG-EZ’s liberated territories, the community was surrounded by vehicles filled with armed men from Los Ardillos in what seemed to be an armed attack. During the night we sent out messages to human rights groups internationally. We received a response that a UN Special Rapporteur could put out a statement to publicly denounce the violations carried out in the territory.
The hope this gave quickly dwindled after we received a message stating that because the CIPOG-EZ communities are armed, the UN would not be able to issue a response on this. Again the CIPOG-EZ was failed and met with silence and complicity. It is important in this to highlight the total ignorance of the communities’ context, their legal rights as Indigenous peoples and the violence of this ‘non-violence narrative.’
First of all it needs to be clarified that the CIPOG-EZ are not an armed group as such. They have an Indigenous community police force called the CRAC-PC-PF that is recognised by the government of Guerrero. In accordance with Article 8 of the UN ILO Convention 169, Indigenous peoples have “the right to retain their own customs and institutions, provided that these are not incompatible with fundamental rights as defined by the national legal system and international human rights.” The CRAC-PC-PF is an example of such an institution. The CIPOG-EZ have made it more than clear that they would not be armed if they were capable of surviving without arms. For them, the construction of peace in their territories is the priority.
This ‘non-violence’ narrative has not only been used by human rights organisations to delegitimise the CIPOG-EZ’s organisation but also by the President of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), His negligence towards the community and its practical needs has been made explicitly clear over the last few weeks.
15 days before our comrades were assassinated on 21 October, members of the CIPOG-EZ denounced before AMLO the lethal violence being perpetrated against their community leaders by Los Ardillos, highlighting the complicity of municipal and state police and members of the government like the municipal president of Chilapa, Aldy Esteban Román and public servant Bernardo Ortega Jiménez.
“We told him that they were killing us. We told him who was killing us, giving names and surnames; where and how. But just as if nothing had been said, we were condemned to repeat the same history, to mourn our dead once again,” the CIPOG-EZ shared.
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As though predicting the future, that day they told AMLO explicitly: ”Many of our comrades go down to the municipality to sell their products and they don’t come back.” This is exactly what happened to Adán, Guillermo and Moises.
After hearing, from the safety of his tinted-windowed SUV, about the 40 comrades from the CIPOG-EZ that have been assassinated over the last few years and the 20 who remain disappeared, AMLO’s response was repugnant.
He said: ”There is only one thing I say to you in all sincerity, avoid violence, there are other ways to fight, the most effective of all is non-violence. This policy of non-violence was put into practice by Gandhi, Mandela, Luther King and they taught us that it is possible to change things peacefully. We must not fall into provocation, and we must seek change through peaceful means. We will continue to act peacefully and without complicity with anyone”.
To this, the CIPOG-EZ bravely responded: “to continue calling for non-violence in a scenario of war, without stopping those who generate it, without attacking the causes of the violence – economic, political, social and cultural – is absurd.”
Calls for peace and one-sided disarmament in a context of war does not generate peace: it legitimises a massacre.
To top it off, Government’s institutions have also failed the communities. Adán Linares was listed under the Mexican Government Secretariat of Interior’s Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, as a result of three previous assassinations attempts. This mechanism has proved time and time again to be incapable of providing protection to those that are at high risk of persecution. They were aware of the situation in their communities. They also knew that Guillermo, the other assassinated comrade, was the brother of Bartolo Hilario, a community leader within the CIPOG-EZ who was assassinated and brutally dismembered in May 2019. He was also the brother of Pablo Hilario, who was forcibly disappeared by the municipal police of Atlixtac in January this year.
But the failures do not only come from governments and institutions, but also as a result of the counter-insurgency that emanates from reactionary movement forces that mean we are incapable of defending our siblings and their processes in a real way. Many movements are not working on glocally building power – and so are incapable of making the struggles of our peoples relevant to the masses.
They have been taught to be reactionary forces: to react to the death and criminalisation of our defenders with photos and infographics declaring solidarity, but not to defend their processes in life. Whilst their actions may bring visibility, the reality is that it is not close to the interconnected force that is needed to defend our communities’ processes of resistance.
“When they touch one, they touch all” should not be a phrase that people put on placards at protests if they are not willing to build the power to enforce it. When we have made the effort for communities everywhere to hold up other freedom fighters and activists in life, as if they were their own, governments and corporations will know that there will be repercussions from communities everywhere if they touch them. Then will the power with which we manifest that kind of solidarity be recognised as a deterrent to harming those freedom-fighters and their communities. To get to this stage we first need to build power in our communities.
There are examples of processes that are catalysing this concrete direction like the Planet Repairs Action Learning Educational Revolution, as well as those that are consolidating their power-base building efforts in the diaspora like the Plaza Tonatiuh in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The strongest and most essential aspect of this defence force lies in the interconnection of our Global Majority communities of resistance everywhere.
We must stay alert, the families of Adán, Moises and Guillermo are currently being threatened by Los Ardillos as well as community organisers Benjamín Sánchez Hernández, Prisco Rodriguez Morelos and Jesús Plácido Galindo. Jesús has denounced that in the last few days, whenever he leaves his community, he has been watched and tailed by suspect vehicles of Los Ardillos and by the municipal police of Chilapa. We cannot let history repeat itself.
For Adán, Moisés and Guillermo, and the children and families that form a part of the CIPOG-EZ, we will not forgive nor forget. Those who fight for life never die.
The views of the article are the author’s own.