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30 January 2024

Mexico: Stop the attacks against indigenous land and territory defenders in the context of the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec megaproject

  • The signatory organisations strongly support the release of nine indigenous Zapoteco defenders of the Santa María Mixtequilla territory, who were arbitrarily detained on 27 January 2024 for opposing to a "Development Zone" as part of the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (CIIT).
  • The attacks against land and territory defenders and communities in the framework of the CIIT has persisted over the last years, and even alarmingly increased in the last months.
  • It is the duty of the Mexican government to ensure a safe environment for all people who legitimately defend their rights and fight against the imposition of this megaproject in their territory.

Early in the morning on 27 January, nine defenders of the territory of Santa María Mixtequilla were arbitrarily detained and charged with the theft of a local police car in the context of protests organised by the community against the imposition of a “Development Zone” as part of the Interoceanic Corridor megaproject. The following day, many State police agents, members of the Navy and the National Guard were reportedly present, which community members see as an act of intimidation aimed at stopping their mobilisation.

These recent acts of intimidation and criminalisation add to a worrisome and unacceptable scenario of attacks against land, territory and human rights defenders and communities in the region. This has already been documented by the Civilian Observation Mission [1], from 25 to 27 July 2023, in which 23 national and international civil society organisations and 11 media representatives visited the affected land defenders and communities of the northern region in Mogoñé Viejo, of Santa María Mixtequilla, Santa Cruz Tagolaba and Puente Madera, Oaxaca.

The people, collectives and communities who defend the land, territory, nature and indigenous peoples’ rights, and who resist the megaproject or have raised specific questions about the Interoceanic Corridor, have reported a systematic context of ongoing attacks due to their legitimate work. From 2021 to 29 January 2024, different organisations have recorded at least 46 attacks in total [2] by State institutions, companies or people with interests connected to the construction of the megaproject.

According to the people and communities affected by the CIIT, the State, through the Police and the National Guard, as well as private agents and others who come from the companies involved and from organised crime, are the main perpetrators of these attacks. The majority of victims were indigenous peoples and communities, including the Mixe, Zapoteca, Zoque and Popoluca. The attacks can be identified in the following categories: I) 20 cases of intimidation and harassment against defenders, their families or collectives; II) 15 cases of direct threats; III) 7 cases of criminalisation with a total of 52 criminal complaints against local authorities and community defenders in the communities San Juan Guichicovi, Mogoñe Viejo, Mogoñé Estación, Paso Real, Estación Sarabia, Tagolaba, Puente Madera and Santa María Mixtequilla, 11 imprisonments and two cases of defamation through far-reaching public media; IV) 10 cases of physical and psychological violence; and V) three homicides of defenders Jesús Manuel García Martínez, Noel López Gallegos and Félix Vicente Cruz.

In addition, in the six months after the Observation Mission, the affected people have reported to the organisations participating in the Mission at least 13 threats and attacks, which shows that the violence persists against defenders and communities in the context of the CIIT. Among the reported threats, the defenders of the region state that shots being fired in the air close to their homes and the offices of their community organisations, as well as surveillance by private actors and police agents, have been continuous. There have also been other threats and physical violence against the communities and organisations who, from the beginning of the construction of the megaproject, have warned about the damages and the lack of free, prior and informed consultation.

In light of the severity of the attacks, the national and international organisations who participated in the Observation Mission urgently call on the competent federal, state and municipal authorities to:

  • Immediately release the nine indigenous Zapoteco defenders of Santa María Mixtequilla who were arbitrarily detained: Adelaido López Gallegos, Armando Sánchez Gómez, Orlando de la Cruz Gallegos, Roberto Vázquez Orozco, Ricardo Vargas Ruiz, Alba Pérez Santana, Ana Sanchez Castro, Albino Palacios Orozco and Jorge Ontiveros Álvarez.
  • Remove the armed forces from the community of Santa María Mixtequilla, and cease all acts of intimidation and harassment by the police and armed forces.
  • Stop all forms of threat, criminalisation and attacks against indigenous peoples, and human rights and environmental defenders, as well as take necessary actions to ensure a safe environment within the framework of Article 9 of the Escazú Agreement.
  • Recognise and respect the human and collective rights of indigenous Zapoteco, Mixe, Zoque, Popoluca, and other communities to self-determination, autonomy, territory, free, prior and informed consent, and life under the recognition of the indigenous jurisdiction of the Community Assembly as the highest decision-making instance and under the highest protection standard.

Lastly, the participant organisations of the Observation Mission reaffirm that we will follow up on the documented violations and attacks against human rights defenders in the context of the CIIT, and will not stop calling on the Mexican State to comply with its obligation to protect until all threats and attacks against defenders in the region cease.

Participant organisations of the Observation Mission:

  • Brigadas Internacionales de Paz (PBI)
  • Territorios Diversos para la Vida, A.C. (TerraVida)
  • Front Line Defenders
  • Grupo de Trabajo «Fronteras, regionalización y globalización» del Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales (CLACSO)
  • Red Nacional de Organismos Civiles de Derechos Humanos “Todos los derechos para todas, todos y Todes” (Red TDT)
  • Unión de Comunidades Indígenas de la Zona Norte del Istmo (UCIZONI)
  • Asamblea de Pueblos Indígenas del Istmo en Defensa de la Tierra y el Territorio (APIIDTT)
  • Indigenous Peoples Rights International IPRI-México
  • Centro de Derechos Humanos de los Pueblos del Sur de Veracruz Bety Cariño
  • Proceso de Articulación de la Sierra Santa Marta
  • Artículo 19 México, Oficina Regional para México y Centroamérica
  • Servicios para una Educación Alternativa A.C. (EDUCA)
  • Servicios y Asesoría para la Paz A.C. (SERAPAZ)
  • Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca, A.C.
  • Centro de Información sobre Empresas y Derechos Humanos
  • Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, A.C.
  • Comisión de Coordinación y Seguimiento del Congreso Nacional Indígena/Concejo Indígena de Gobierno
  • Brigada Humanitaria Marabunta y Brigada Humanitaria Marabunta capítulo Oaxaca
  • Espacio OSC para la Protección de Personas Defensoras y Periodistas. Las organizaciones que integran el Espacio OSC son: ARTICLE 19; Casa del Migrante Saltillo; Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña Tlachinollan; Centro de Derechos Humanos Zeferino Ladrillero (CDHZL); Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA); Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social (Cencos); Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, (CMDPDH); Comunicación e Información de la Mujer A.C. (CIMAC); Instituto de Derecho Ambiental (IDEA), Red Nacional de Organismos Civiles de Derechos Humanos “Todos los Derechos para Todas, Todos y Todes” (Red TDT); SMR: Scalabrinianas, Misión con Migrantes y Refugiados; Servicios y Asesoría para la Paz (Serapaz). El Espacio OSC está acompañado por Brigadas Internacionales de Paz (PBI).

Notes: [1] For more information:

[2] An attack can include multiple acts and people affected.