Zapotec Community Demands Annulment of 46-Year Prison Sentence Against Land Defender

Cover image: Residents of Puente Madera, among them David Hernández Salazar, receive activists and organizations in their community to denounce the negative effects of the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Photo: El Sur Resiste

The Community Assembly of Puente Madera, an Indigenous Zapotec town located in the municipality of San Blas Atempa in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, has denounced the prison sentence handed down against David Hernández Salazar. Hernández Salazar is a community organizer involved in communal land defense against the imposition of an industrial park proposed as part of the Interoceanic Corridor megaproject.

On January 30, Hernández, who is a community representative, member of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defense of Land and Territory (APIIDTT), along with the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), was declared responsible for damage to public roads and highways caused by arson.  

In a hearing on February 7, the district judge ratified the sentence against Hernández Salazar of 46 years and 6 months in prison, a fine of $182,000 pesos, and a payment for damages of more than $1,000,000 pesos.

For the Indigenous organizations of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec who are organizing in solidarity with Hernández Salazar, “these sanctions clearly represent the criminalization and persecution of David for his struggle in defense of land, human rights, and Indigenous peoples.”

APIIDTT, as well as the Community Assembly of Puente Madera, argue that the authorities have ignored and omitted evidence and information “demonstrating David’s innocence, such as reports presented by his defense and the contradictory testimonies of supposed witnesses.”

The organizations accuse both the public prosecutor as well as the judge of incriminating Hernández Salazar with false accusations and inconsistent testimonies. “This case makes clear the corruption and collusion of judicial authorities with political and business groups in the region who are linked to organized crime. Territorial defenders are bothering these powerful figures, so they seek to silence them with prison, disappearances, and assassinations.”

Criminalization

The Indigenous organizations detailed that Hernández Salazar has been persecuted since 2017 as a consequence for his struggle in defense of the common use lands of El Pitayal. At that time, the Mexican Military sought to impose an electric substation on the lands.

In 2021, as community agent of Puente Madera and member of the general coordinator of APIIDTT, he was persecuted and prosecuted by authorities of the three levels of government. This includes those of San Blas Atempa, the State Government of Oaxaca, the Interoceanic Corridor, the Secretary of Communications and Transport, the National Agrarian Registry, the Secretariat of Defense, the Marines, and the National Guard. After the investigation file 269/2021 was opened, it was decided to not press charges.

Protests of the Zapotec community demanding freedom for David Hernández Salazar, illegally detained in January 2023.

However, in early 2022, another case file was opened, 446/2022. On January 16, 2023, he was arrested, but only held for a few hours. The investigation from that case has led to the current 46.5-year sentence.

It is important to highlight that in October 2023, he was notified of a new federal charge. The first hearing for that case will be held on February 21. “In these three legal processes, the figure most responsible for the criminalization against David has at all times been the Municipality of San Blas Atempa, obeying the ex-administrator of the State of Oaxaca, and the current candidate for Senate, Antonino Morales Toledo,” emphasized the Indigenous organizations.

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Still, the recent sentence isn’t absolute or immediate. The Indigenous organizations explain that there are different appeals filed against Hernandez Salazar’s arrest warrant, as well as the arrest warrants against the other 17 inhabitants of Puente Madera who are being criminalized in the case file 446/2022.

“We will continue working on the legal defense, filing the necessary appeals, and seeking out the competent authorities who can review and rule on this unjust and absurd sentence,” declared the Community Assembly of Puente Madera and APIIDTT.

Repression Intensifies

At the same time as the repression and criminalization continues against Puente Madera, nine community members of Santa Maria Mixtequilla, Oaxaca, who were detained on January 27, were ordered continued detention. The judge in Tanivet issued the order on February 2 against the members of the Resistencia Civil Mixtequillense.

The Indigenous detainees have participated in protests in the Mixteca community against the imposition of a “development pole,” an industrial complex planned on 502 hectares to house agro, metal, and textile industries as part of the Interoceanic Corridor megaproject.

The Resistencia Civil Mixtequillense pointed out that beyond punishing people who participate in the organization, the actions of the authorities “seek to do away with any opposition to the imposition of the development pole.” In response they have filed an appeal to obtain the freedom of those being processed.

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