In Defense of the Isthmus: The Persistent Struggle Against the Interoceanic Corridor

David Hernández Salazar, community agent of Puente Madera, the Indigenous Binizaá community located in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, was detained on January 17 by members of the Oaxaca Attorney General’s Office, accused of supposed damage to public roads and highways.

However, these crimes are fabricated. The political persecution against the community agent of the Binizaá community is a consequence of the persistent struggle of the community of Puente Madera to defend their common use lands of El Pitayal, where the state seeks to build one of the 35 industrial parks that make up the Interoceanic Corridor megaproject.

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After his arrest, the community mobilized applying pressure and forcing the state to release him only a few hours after his detention. Now, Hernández emphasizes that he is not the only person being persecuted. There are 17 others, all inhabitants of the community of Puente Madera, who have warrants out for their arrest.

For Hernández, the strategies taken up by the state are no surprise. Since 2021, members of the assembly of comuneros of San Blas Atempa—the municipality to which the community of Puente Madera belongs—have denounced the simulation and falsification of signatures to give approval to the installation of one of the industrial parks, which the state is naming, “development poles for wellbeing.”

With the mobilizations that have taken place to denounce the simulated approval of the industrial park, the criminalization of representatives and inhabitants of the community of Puente Madera has not stopped. The same people facing criminalization are those who demand a resolution to the nullity lawsuit presented in the Local Agrarian Court of Tuxtepec seeking the cancelation of the construction of the industrial park on the common use lands of El Pitayal.

As the Binizaá community has pointed out, the United States is also involved, interfering in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec via investments in their quest to reconfigure southeast Mexico, principally for geostrategic value.

As Anna Esther Ceceña, the coordinator of the Latin American Observatory of Geopolitics, reflects: “When containers from China and the United States pass through the Interoceanic Corridor, the security forces watching over them will be from North America, not only from Mexico. It is important to observe the military risk.”

This publication is part of a series of discussions with participants in the Assembly of the National Indigenous Congress, which took place on March 4-5 in Tehuacán, Puebla. You can also consult the past discussions on other social struggles in Michoacán and Quintana Roo. Below, we share excerpts from the interview with David Hernández Salazar, from the community of Puente Madera.

Avispa Mídia: What is the status of the lawsuit against the supposed assembly decision that approved the construction of the industrial park in El Pitayal?

David Hernández Salazar, community agent of Puente Madera (DH): The last hearing was in March of 2022, where the alternate of the Communal Lands Commissioner, Gregorio Salva, and the head of the Agrarian Attorney General’s Office, Mr. Paredes, informed us that the industrial park had not been approved in the assembly of March 14, 2021. So, that is where we are. They recognize that the project wasn’t approved, but the state and federal governments continue entering the lands of El Pitayal for the construction of the industrial park.

AM: Was there a legal resolution?

DH: That is still pending. We also had a conversation with the National Agrarian Attorney General’s Office. They received us in Mexico City. There I presented all the evidence of the irregularities that have taken place in this process. They say that while there is no official ruling which stops them from entering the lands, then they will continue to enter. Thus, the response I gave them was: “Well, then we are going to defend the land.” We are the same. While there is no resolution from the Agrarian Court, you enter the land, and as long as you continue to enter the land, we are going to defend it.

AM: That was last year and then you were arrested…

DH: Exactly, from there we arrive at my arrest…and in response to my arrest we saw clearly the support of the population of Puente Madera. In the end, this struggle is a community struggle, not just of a few individuals, much less of a sole social leader, but of an entire community.

AM: What are you being accused of?

DH: Attacks on public roads and highways, material damage, and the burning of vehicles. That is what they are accusing me of. It shouldn’t be this way, but we know they are fabricated crimes, crimes that don’t have any legal basis, that aren’t based in what really happen.

The fabrication of these crimes is an attack against us, to stop this struggle in defense of the common use lands of El Pitayal. Furthermore, there exists 17 other arrest warrants against the compañeros of Puente Madera. These are the same, fabricated crimes. There is no basis in what really happened that day to justify these warrants. More than anything, these 18 arrest warrants are to intimidate the community. My legal case has already proceeded, but those of my compañeros are pending. However, they are preparing an appeal, so that the compañeros can feel protected and supported by the community.

AM. How important is this struggle against the imposition of the Interoceanic Corridor?

DH: We know that it is one of the priority megaprojects of the president of the republic. We also know that there are political leaders who want to claim these lands and territories. These claims are based upon imposition via the falsification of signatures and of lies to the communities.

As of now, the Interoceanic Corridor has faced many problems. For example, I can mention the group UCIZONI (Union of Indigenous Communities of the Northern Zone of the Isthmus) who have been stopping the advancement of the project for various days, obstructing the train lines, due to the state refusing to fulfill certain agreements with the communities.

On the other hand, is the municipality of Santiago Astata. There, a blockade has been in place for five days because the company hasn’t paid for the stone material that they are extracting, which already exceeds 11 million pesos.

In the specific case of San Blas Atempa, there are various issues: rigged assemblies, both of the comuneros, as well as of the Indigenous communities, on part of the National institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI). These rigged assemblies have been carried out in complicity with the municipal president, the communal lands commissioner, and of course, the state and federal governments.

Related - Mexico abides by United States climate policy, adding four wind farms in the Isthmus

The message is clear: we are going to continue defending our lands and territories. It is our right as Indigenous communities. The lands are not for sale. With the position that we have taken in Puente Madera, we will continue defending our lands, although the state seeks to intimidate us with these arrest warrants. They can lock up one, two, three, as many of us as they want, but because the struggle is of an entire community, we will continue in defense of our common use lands.

AM: What is your reading of the impulse of the United States with the announcement of more investments in the Isthmus region?

DH: We know that on March 21, the United States ambassador to Mexico will arrive to the Isthmus, and of course, we know that larger projects are on their way. Imagine, there are ten industrial parks, which need to be supplied electrical energy. So, there they go, seeking to privatize the common use lands, and in particular the lands of San Blas Atempa, because we have almost 10,000 hectares, enough to put a wind farm to provide energy to these industrial parks. For that, we are on maximum alert, seeking to strengthen this movement in order to impede them from advancing further on the common use lands.

David Hernández emphasizes that the Assembly of the National Indigenous Congress gathers communities who, in spite of their differences, share similar problems in their communities, such as the actions of governments and corrupt agrarian authorities, or the militarization around megaprojects to intimidate the population. “And when they can no longer do what they need to do, organized crime steps in,” said the Binizaá man.

“The message that we bring from our communities is to strengthen our struggle. It is not only in the Isthmus region, but throughout the country, that we are experiencing this situation,” says the member of the community of Puente Madera.



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