Fidencio Aldama Pérez was born in the community of Loma de Guamuchil, one of the eight villages that comprise Yaqui territory in Sonora, Mexico. He married Carmen, a woman from the neighboring village of Loma de Bácum, where their two children were born. Through his family ties, Fidencio made the community his own. He got involved and took on the community responsibilities that being a member of the village entails. And then, at only 27 years old, his freedom was taken from him, accused of a homicide he didn’t commit.
Like most of the residents of Loma de Bácum, Fidencio was always on alert, for several reasons. People had been seen conducting mineral exploration in Yaqui territory without consent, in addition to the presence of an aqueduct carrying water away from the Yaqui River to Hermosillo, Sonora’s capital and largest city. Finally, a gas pipeline was being built that would cross the village only 300 meters away from houses.
Sempra Energy, a US-based multinational company, is in charge of pipeline construction through its Mexican subsidiary IEnova, which in turn is operating under the name Aguaprieta. The pipeline is divided into two segments which extend 516 miles (831 kilometers) in total. Segment I is called Gasoducto Sásabe-Guaymas (GSG, Sásabe-Guaymas Gas Pipeline) and Segment II—the section that crosses Indigenous Yaqui territory—is called Gasoducto Guaymas-El Oro (GGO, Guaymas-El Oro Gas Pipeline). Seven of the eight Yaqui villages accepted the pipeline’s presence on their land; Loma de Bácum was the only one that did not, because of the danger it presents.
The company and local authorities resorted to a number of strategies to bring the pipeline to fruition, such as offering money to the traditional authorities of Loma de Bácum. “When this didn’t work, they orchestrated an attack on our guard (a communal authority) to try to impose a different village authority that would approve the pipeline. This armed group, many of them from other villages of our same tribe who sold out to the company, attacked us. It was Friday, October 21st, 2016. The kids were getting out of school and we defended ourselves,” Guadalupe Flores Maldonado, a community member of Loma de Bácum, said to Avispa Midia.
This attempt to impose another Traditional Guard, which is what the traditional authorities are called, left one person dead: Cruz Buitimea Piña, killed by a .22 caliber bullet. Fidencio was accused of the murder.
However, something doesn’t fit. Fidencio never denied being armed: he carried a .45 caliber pistol because he was part of the Traditional Guard and in accordance with Yaqui internal law, which is tied to self-determination and autonomy, Guard members can carry certain types of weapons to provide security and care for their territory.
The gun that Fidencio was carrying had been confiscated together with a drone and other equipment carried by a group of outsiders who were found conducting mining exploration without the community’s consent. “On one of the community patrols of our territory, they detained the Yoris (white or unknown men) who were excavating for a mine, brought them to the community and confiscated that weapon, which was kept for community security,” said María del Carmen Vásquez, Fidencio’s wife.
“The Traditional Guard uses .30-.30, .45, and .38 caliber weapons, because they’re the weapons we’ve used since the earliest struggles for defense of our territory. A number of them are confiscated. The person who died was shot with a .22 caliber,”SAID MARTIN VALENCIA CRUZ, WHO SERVED AS SECRETARY OF THE TRADITIONAL GUARD IN LOMA DE BÁCUM.
“So they’re accusing Fidencio Aldama unjustly,” added Cruz. “They’re not taking into account the expert testimony presented by the community. The judges didn’t even look at this evidence. Even the investigation file is botched and it shows this case is flawed. What we are certain of is that the people who came to attack us were indeed carrying .22 caliber weapons, because we were able to identify them from the shell casings and in the trucks they left behind. In addition to other weapons, money, and even drugs.”
With the certainty that he had nothing to hide, Fidencio showed up for a series of interviews that state authorities were carrying out in Loma de Bácum concerning the conflict. The interviews were being conducted in a vehicle called a Hercules. “As soon as he got into the Hercules, he gave his name and they took him away with no warning or explanation. When they got to the prosecutor’s office they showed him the arrest warrant and made him sign some papers. He asked what the papers were for and they told him just to sign and that everything was fine. Since then, he’s been imprisoned in the Social Re-adaptation Center in Ciudad Obregón,” said María del Carmen Vásquez to Avispa Midia.
Fidencio has been in prison for more than four years, serving a sentence of 15 years and 6 months. The pipeline hasn’t been completed, but Sempra Energy is still charging millions as if it were transporting shale gas coming from the United States, because its contract states that if the pipeline cannot operate due to “force majeure,” the government is still obligated to pay.
With the entrance of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration, several commissions have tried to negotiate with Loma de Bácum to continue construction of the pipeline, promising that Fidencio will be freed with an amnesty. The community refuses to let this pipeline cross its territory and the amnesty has not benefited Aldama.
“I ask for your collaboration. From all who are listening to me, to gain back my freedom. I am a good man. I am a person who continues struggling forwards, serving God, to get out of this. I hope to find this freedom soon.” Fidencio shared these words in a video from prison that was circulated by a group of collectives and individuals working on a campaign to expose this case of injustice and ensure Fidencio is not forgotten.
Fidencio’s support group is made up of people from Mexico and the United States, who recently created fidencioaldama.org to spread knowledge of his case and let his voice be heard.
The group has also released a call to send Fidencio letters and create art that could help raise awareness about his situation, focused on the week of June 20th to 26th. “We encourage all who are reading this to write or make something during this week, either on your own or by holding an event,” they say on the event page.
They have also asked people to help give exposure to the case and campaign by following and sharing their Twitter account, @FidencioLibre.