The betrayal of Santa Maria Ostula Print

Translation of an original piece in Spanish by Luis Hernandez Navarro in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada.

On three occasions, drug traffickers, landowners and miners wanted to kill Semeí Verdía Zepeda. They were unsuccessful. Thin, shrewd, and with a sombrero, the Nahua community member of Santa Maria Ostula out alive from the attacks. However, on Sunday July 19th, he wasn't lucky. That day, at 10 am, members of the Army detained him in the village of La Placita, despite having no arrest warrant against him.

Semei, the first commander of the Community Police of Santa Maria Ostula and general coordinator of the self-defense groups in the municipalities of Aquila, Coahuayana and Chinicuila, was taken by helicopter to Morelia. He is accused of "probable violation of the Law on Firearms and Explosives and likely involvement in crimes related to the destruction of electoral material."

On July 19, a platoon arrived at El Duin and Xayakalan, where the Community Police of Ostula and self-defense groups of the coast-sierra maintain checkpoints. The soldiers launched their vehicles into the checkpoints, fired shots, and tried to detain several community members.

Later, members of the
Michoacan Coordination Group tried to arrest the treasurer of common goods of Santa Maria Ostula. They could not, but instead stole radios used by the community to protect its territory as well as the seal of the community Security Council.

Hours later, at 5 pm, federal and state forces attacked the checkpoints placed by community members in Xayacalan and Duin, found on Highway 200, Lazaro Cardenas, Manzanillo. With their vehicles, federal and state forces attacked the Community Policing roadblocks and burned several trucks and trailers that were there. They fired tear gas and opened fire indiscriminately at community members.

According to the villagers, the tragic toll of this attack was the murder of the child Iriberto Reyes Garcia, 12 years old, (injuries to) the girl Neymi Natali Reyes Pineda, 6 years old, and Melesio Cristino, 60. Two other people were injured.

The arrest of Semei and military-police attack on the villagers is a betrayal: it violates the agreements signed between the community and the government, both federal and state, in which the government commits to respect the local community police.

Ostula is an indigenous community in the municipality of Aquila, Michoacan. Its name in Nahuatl means place of caves. It has over a thousand people, overwhelmingly indigenous villagers, who grow organic hibiscus, papaya and tamarind and develop alternative ecotourism projects. Its beaches are one of the largest centers where Olive Ridley turtles come ashore, and the place is very appreciated by surfers.

Ostula is plagued by the alliance of Knights Templar cartel, so-called small landholders, and mining companies, who have tried to strip the Indigenous people of their lands, natural resources (iron mines) and timber (especially the sacred sangualica tree). Its terrain can be a very important base for the movement of drugs and weapons.

According to the Regional Sustainable Plan of Michoacán, the government wants to build highways, bridges, hotels and residential subdivisions without consulting the community. It aims to open the business to others.

In their quest to acquire the riches of Ostula, the alliance has not hesitated to use violence. Since
the inhabitants of Ostula organized in 2009 to defend themselves, 32 villagers have been murdered and six disappeared, many of them bilingual teachers. Interestingly, none of the local heads of the Knights Templar cartel operating in the region have been arrested. They are all free and seek to recover this rich territory.

In June 2009, long before the rise of
Michoacan self-defense groups, the community of Ostula signed, together with the members of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), the Manifesto of Ostula ( This document, which is in many ways historical, revindicates the right to indigenous self-defense, which later spread to many parts of the country that were plagued by organized crime and government complicity with it. Two weeks later the firm, hundreds of villagers recovered more than 700 hectares illegally occupied by mestizo caciques connected to drug trafficking.

This was was when the Indigenous people of Ostula, in accordance with their legal systems, formed their community police to defend themselves and protect their lands and territories. Semei Verdía was elected commander on February 8, at a general meeting attended by 1,200 people. In 2010 he had to flee her village because they tried to kill him while playing football. For years he was on the run in Jalisco, Colima and Veracruz. At that time, two of his uncles, who are teachers, were killed.

The community police restored order to Ostula and expelled the drug traffickers in the region. But the criminals took refuge in other communities, lurking, waiting for the opportunity to control the region again. This is the reason for the military-police attack on the villagers and the detention of Semei Verdía.  It violates the agreements signed between villagers and government officials and is a betrayal. In fact, it opens the way for the narcos to sit there again and makes it easier for large businesses to do business on communal Indigenous lands without the consent of their genuine owners.

Tragically, Ostula reminds us that in this country who defend themselves against organized crime are attacked by the government, while criminals are free and unpunished. The Army was responsible for the murders of two children and an adult in this indigenous community.