Interoceanic Corridor: 226 Acts of Aggression Registered Against Land Defenders in the Last Three Years

Cover image: Indigenous communities have organized protests against the imposition of the Interoceanic Corridor in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec between Oaxaca and Veracruz.

Land and environmental defenders of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec have suffered at least 226 acts of aggression in the last three years related to the Interoceanic Corridor, a megaproject being pushed by the Andrés Manuel López Obrador administration in the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz. The investigation was carried out by 23 social and human rights organizations gathered in a civil observation mission.

Within the period of investigation, between May 2021 and May 2024, the civil mission registered 72 attacks in total, in which 226 acts of aggression were committed. Among them, they documented intimidation, harassment, threats, physical aggression, criminalization, property damage, defamation, arbitrary detention, stigmatization, forced displacement, homicide, forced dispossession, undue use of force, raids, theft, and disappearance.

“There is criminalization, the threat of being incarcerated, of perhaps being disappeared or assassinated. That always has been present for us…waiting to see what happens, to see what they are going to do to us,” explains an Indigenous Binnizá land defender from San Blas Atempa, Oaxaca.

The victims are in the majority members of Indigenous groups and communities. The organizations registered 66 of the 72 attacks documented were carried out against Indigenous Mixe (Ayuuk) and Zapotec (Binnizá) peoples.

Carlos Beas, member of the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Northern Zone of the Isthmus (UCIZONI), an organization that is part of the civil mission, sustained in a press conference on Thursday, June 27, that there was an increase in acts of aggression in the last year and a half.

For him, there were two elements that coincide with this increase. “On the one hand, there is the transfer of command of the Interoceanic Corridor from civil control (until September 2023 run by Rafael Marín Mollinedo) to the (Secretariat of the) Navy,” he sustains.

According to Beas, the change in command has caused a series of problems. An example he cites is that for “many communities that allowed the works of the corridor in exchange for some development or housing program, the government, and in particular the Secretariat of the Navy (SEMAR), has not wanted to recognize those agreements.”

On the other hand, together with the arrival of the Navy as the entity responsible for the development project, in December 2022, Salomón Jara (of the MORENA party) took power as governor of the state of Oaxaca. “The highest number of aggressions began in January 2023, acquiring more intensity mainly from January 2024 onward,” he maintains.

Luz Coral Hernández, member of Territorios Diversos para la Vida, another one of the organizations that is part of the civil mission, explained during the press conference that the data presented by the organizations is in reality a reference to the magnitude of violence that communities and peoples who defend their land in the region are facing. "It is only the basic minimum of the true number of acts of aggression that are being carried out against peoples and communities,” they say.

State Agents

Those responsible for carrying out the human rights violations are in their majority agents of the state, who participated in 66% of the acts of aggression. Private agents follow at 30%. And 4% are not identified. “In 26 of the 72 attacks there was participation from one or multiple elements of military-tinged public security forces,” says Coral Hernández.

Social organizations count 226 acts of aggression against land defenders in the context of the imposition of the Interoceanic Corridor.

The organizations highlight acts of aggression carried out by government agencies responsible for the protection of agrarian communities, as is the case of the National Agrarian Registry and the Environmental Attorney.

Furthermore, acts of aggression by authorities in charge of investigation and administration of justice both at the federal as well as the local level—federal and state attorney general’s offices, along with federal and state judicial power.  

Justice

Today there are 12 open investigations, at both the federal and state levels, related to 55 land defenders. Furthermore, they have registered 20 arrests of land defenders, with 19 of them being freed.

“We are highly concerned about the use of the justice system to prevent the labor of human rights defenders. This is a tendency that is maintained in a recurrent and systematic manner,” alerts Nataniel Hernández, of the RED TDT.

You might be interested in – In Defense of the Isthmus: The Persistent Struggle Against the Interoceanic Corridor

Women and Children

In at least 28 of the attacks documented, the impacts of the violence also affected children, wives, mothers, and fathers of land defenders who were victims at the specific moment of the event.

Gender-based violence against Mixe women land defenders was also identified. “Through physical aggression and intimidation, when they were attacked by elements of SEMAR, or their labor as land defenders was questioned due to stereotypes of gender roles, regarding care and domestic work,” says the report of the organizations.

What is being experienced in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, assured the organizations, is an accelerated and imposed process, with a climate of intimidation and generalized military securitization, with the dispossession of lands and territories, with the imposition of forms of life, as well as the plunder of natural resources: “All of that has meant an unacceptable reality for communities and organizations of the Isthmus.”

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