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Paramilitaries Kill Two Human Rights Activists in Oaxaca

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In Mexico, two human rights activists have been shot dead in the state of Oaxaca. The victims have been identified as Beatriz Cariño, director of the Mexican human rights group CACTUS, and Jyri Antero Jaakkola, a human rights observer from Finland. They were traveling as part of a convoy attempting to deliver aid to a town that’s been targeted by paramilitary blockades since the 2006 uprising against Governor Ulises Ruiz. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In Mexico, more survivors have emerged in the aftermath of an attack by a paramilitary group on an international humanitarian convoy in the southern state of Oaxaca. Two people were killed in the attack. Beatriz Cariño is the director of the Mexican rights group CACTUS, and Jyri Antero Jaakkola, a human rights observer from Finland. Both were shot in the head. Gabriela Jimenez of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca described the attack.

    GABRIELA JIMENEZ: [translated] The driver tried to reverse. His tires were gone. And he couldn’t get out, because they were attacking from the front. It was then our colleagues, Beatriz Cariño and Jyri Jaakkola, died. They were hit in the head, as far as we know.

AMY GOODMAN: IPS reports two journalists who were reported missing are now said to be alive. One of them has been shot in the foot. The aid convoy, which included Mexican and European human rights activists and journalists, was carrying food, water and other basic necessities to San Juan Copala. The town has been under constant siege from pro-government paramilitaries since it declared itself autonomous in January of 2007. Jorge Albino, a representative of Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission in San Juan Copala, accused state authorities of being involved in the repression.

    JORGE ALBINO: [translated] The repression came first against these militants at the palace. But yesterday we saw an attack on civilians, which is the most absurd thing. We have to ask for the intervention of the UN and demand this case be taken on by the Attorney General’s office. We don’t trust in the state or what they have done. We don’t trust them, and we’re in this situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Mexican President Felipe Calderón has promised an in-depth investigation into the attack.

For more, we go to Mexico. We’re joined on the telephone by Kristin Bricker, a freelance journalist who’s been closely following the story.

Kristin, welcome to Democracy Now! Please explain to us everything you know.

KRISTIN BRICKER: Well, I’m happy to report that late last night the two reporters who were injured in the attacks have been rescued. So all of the disappeared are now alive and accounted for. It leaves the total death toll at two people.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you understand took place, why this international convoy was in Oaxaca, where they were. And who are the attackers?

KRISTIN BRICKER: San Juan Copala declared itself autonomous in 2007, following the 2006 uprising that nearly overthrew the governor. Ever since then, they’ve been the subject of paramilitary violence. The organization that carried out the attack is the Ubisort, which is an organization that has been declared a paramilitary organization by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. The state’s ruling party, the PRI, created the organization in 1994 in order to control the Triqui region, likely out of fear that the Zapatista uprising would inspire indigenous people in Oaxaca, as well, which, to some extent, was the case. The autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala, for example, are adherent to the Zapatista’s Other Campaign and take much of their inspiration from them. Ubisort, the paramilitary organization, continues to be led by PRI members. That’s the ruling party in Oaxaca. And its leaders were actually both state representatives in the Congress. The Ubisort is very open about its close relationship with the PRI.

What happened with the attack on the caravan is that the caravan was taking basic necessities, as you said, to San Juan Copala, because the community has been under siege since January. Paramilitaries have blocked access to the community with rocks and armed gunmen. And the teachers have been unable to give classes. And the paramilitaries have cut off electricity, and they’ve cut off the water. The people of San Juan Copala are completely incommunicado. Nobody can enter. Nobody can leave. And there’s no communication. The caravan was meant to —-

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe, Kristin Bricker, who -— can you describe who it was that died, the Mexican and Finnish human rights activists?

KRISTIN BRICKER: The Finnish human rights activist had just arrived in Oaxaca to do some workshops on conserving the environment. The woman who was killed, Betty Cariño, was dearly loved, and she was a very important political leader in the region. She was the director of CACTUS, which is an organization that advocates for indigenous rights, and particularly indigenous women’s rights. They do radio projects in the area, in the Mixteca. And she was probably one of the two most important people politically who was on that caravan. And so, it is very suspicious that it was her who was shot in the head. The Finn seems to be collateral damage. He was sitting next to her when she was shot in the head.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the concern of human rights leaders in the area that the government might use this as an excuse to further militarize the area, Kristin?

KRISTIN BRICKER: Well, I want to say — I want to step back and say that the US-funded war on drugs certainly creates a cover for these kinds of politically motivated attacks. Twelve people have been murdered by the paramilitary organization Ubisort since November in San Juan Copala, and only now the international media is paying attention. The rest of the murders simply get lost in the overall violence that has gripped the country. The attacks are often used as a pretext to send in the military, and it is feared that in this case that is what will happen. And experience shows that this only increases violence. The people of San Juan Copala, who have beared the brunt of the violence in this conflict don’t want the government to send in the police or the military, not even to break the blockade. They don’t want this attack to be a pretext for the — to militarize the region. They want the government to guarantee the safety of civil society organizations so that they can enter San Juan Copala and begin to attend to the residents’ needs.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Kristin Bricker, I want to thank you very much for joining us. Is there anything else you feel it’s important for listeners and viewers in the United States and around the world to understand about what has happened in Oaxaca?

KRISTIN BRICKER: I just hope that listeners will remain focused on the region. This is, unfortunately, not going to be the last violent attack in San Juan Copala. If anything, the situation has spiraled out of control and may only get worse. So, hopefully, folks can follow what’s going on and be ready to mobilize to defend people there. There are a number of actions that are planned between now and May 3rd at Mexican consulates and embassies around the world, including the consulate in New York. And there’s also actions planned in Chicago at the consulate there and in San Francisco.

AMY GOODMAN: Kristin Bricker, thank you very much for being with us, freelance journalist speaking to us from Mexico, closely following the story of the attack on an international humanitarian convoy in Oaxaca. Two people, a Mexican human rights activist and a Finnish observer, were killed.

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