The New York Times today has a fascinating story of a town in Mexico where women have taken over in an armed occupation. They report that the people of Cheran, in the state of Michoacan, had been harassed by armed, illegal loggers for years:
On the morning of April 15, 2011, using rocks and fireworks, a group of women attacked a busload of AK-47-armed illegal loggers as they drove through Cherán, residents said. The loggers, who local residents say are protected by one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations and given a virtual free pass by the country’s authorities, had terrorized the community at will for years.
Cherán’s residents said they had been subjected to multiple episodes of rape, kidnapping, extortion and murder by the paramilitary loggers, who have devastated an estimated 70 percent of the surrounding oak forests that sustained the town’s economy and indigenous culture for centuries.
What happened next was extraordinary, especially in a country where the rule of law is often absent and isolated communities are frequently forced to accept the status quo. Organized criminal syndicates, like the drug cartel La Familia, created in Michoacán, act like a state within a state, making their own rules and meting out grisly punishments to those who do not obey.
But here in Cherán, a group of townspeople took loggers hostage, expelled the town’s entire police force and representatives of established political parties, and forcibly closed the roads.
The piece goes on to mention the idea of community rule isn’t new to the area. In fact, in the Fault Lines episode above we explored the issue in the neighboring state of Guerrero. (Warning: The show contains some footage that is pretty hard to watch.)
This reminds me of a recent story out of southern Colombia where indigenous people took over a mountain, kicking out both the Colombian military and the FARC.
I’ve covered war for many years. One of the first realities you learn when covering conflicts is that no matter what the fight is for, or where in the world it is, those that suffer war’s horrible effects the most are the people caught in the middle. I now find it heartening that at least in a few quiet corners of the globe that some of those people are starting to take back what should have been theirs all along.
This story is developing now: One miner has been rescued, five more remain trapped after an explosion caused a partial collapse at a mine in the state of Coahuila in Mexico. This is the second incident at this same mine in the last two weeks. On July 25 an explosion killed seven miners.
For a look at what going inside a mine in Latin America looks like, check out my Fault Lines episode above about illegal gold mining in Colombia. Parts of this episode were filmed in the department (or region) of Cauca, which is where the indigenous people have recently risen up against the military and the FARC (see last post).
Alfanso Cano was killed over the weekend Colombia. Cano was the head of the FARC. I was surprised to learn that he was killed near Suarez in the Cauca department of southern Colombia, because I was just there earlier this year and attempted to arrange an embed of sorts with the local front of the FARC. My meet up with the FARC didn’t work out, but we got a great story about gold fever hitting Colombia. If you’re interested in the area Cano was killed fast forward to about the 14th minute of the video above. It’s a beautiful area. Over the next few days, I’ll post a few photos from the trip as well.
Again from the continuing series of our reporting at Fault Lines being followed by other media, last week NPR quoted our story in a piece it ran about the gold boom happening in Colombia right now.
When we filmed this episode (above) in April, the price of gold was at an “historic high” of $1,500; now, only four months later, I feel naive for thinking that was a lot. Today gold is selling for near $1,900 an ounce, which goes a long way to explaining why I’m a journalist and not an investor.
Parts of our show, Gold Fever (above), were filmed in the vicinity of this attack. The scenes at the end of the program were filmed in Mondomo which is about 25 miles west of where this attack took place in Toribio.
Gold fever is sweeping across South America. Nowhere is it more lethal than in Colombia, where the gold rush has become a new axle in Colombia’s civil war. Turf wars are erupting between paramilitaries, and leftist rebel groups fighting to take control of mining regions. It’s fueling an old ideological conflict and has displacing hundreds of people.
Helicopter raids by the Colombian Army on small community mining collectives have become commonplace, and the Colombian government is accused of targeting poor workers to protect big business interests, and operating with impunity from human rights violations.
Thousands have fled their homes where land is violently contested, and others live in fear they’ll be removed from their land, arrested, or killed.
The multinationals are flooding in too. With gold now worth around $1,500 an ounce, everyone is getting in on the act, including North American mining companies. Colombia’s pro-business mentality has seen arbitrary concessions by the state sold to multinational companies, often on indigenous land.
Fault Lines traveled to Colombia to speak to the people caught in the middle. The rural workers and artisan miners who’ve mined for generations, and some whose ancestors were enslaved during the first gold rush centuries ago. Others are former coca farmers, put out of work by the US-led Plan Colombia.