The Alliance for Global Justice is very concerned about the arrest of Mario Luna, Secretary of the Yaqui nation’s traditional authorities in the town of Vicam in the state of Sonora, Mexico. We are convinced that Luna has been arrested because of his activities in defense of the Yaqui people’s water rights and the Rio Yaqui. We believe it is no coincidence that Luna was arrested while preparing to take the case of the Yaqui people to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. Luna is an important spokesperson whose message is reaching international audiences. In August, 2014, AfGJ participated in a delegation organized by the Alianza Indígena and the Yoeme (Yaqui) Human Rights Commission to visit Luna and other leaders in Vicam. A week later, Luna visited with us at our home base in Tucson, Arizona. He was arrested by order of the Sonoran Attorney General’s office shortly after returning to Vicam from meetings in the Phoenix area. Undoubtedly, Luna is being targeted because of his effective representation of the Yaqui people, and because of his efforts to raise international solidarity.
The Rio Yaqui watershed is situated in some of the most rugged territory in North America and is home to a large number of native and endangered species. It is also the traditional home of the Yaqui people. As Luna told us, “Without the water of the Rio Yaqui, there will be no Yaqui people in this region. It is our most important resource.” To steal the water from this land can and should be considered an act of attempted genocide. Furthermore, it is a crime against nature-a serious blow to a fragile ecosystem.
The government of Sonora has built an aqueduct that is diverting the river at an
alarming and illegal pace mainly to provide for an industrial center and tourist hotels that have sprung up in Hermosillo as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)*. Among the transnational corporations represented in this zone are Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Heineken (which also own Tecate and Dos Equis).
In protest, the community of Vicam and the traditional leadership have been maintaining a blockade since June, 2013 of the highway that runs through the town. At times the blockade is total, usually one lane is kept open, and sometimes the blockade is lifted completely to allow backed up traffic to move forward.
In a 1937 treaty signed by President Lázaro Cárdenas, the Yaqui were guaranteed rights to 50% of the river’s water. That right has been upheld again and again in Mexican courts, including a decision by the Supreme Court on December 3, 2013. Nevertheless, the Sonoran government continues unabated, diverting far more water than their share, so much so that the ecosystem of the Rio Yaqui has been seriously compromised. As we traveled through this territory in August, we saw evidence and heard testimony about how the water levels have plummeted.
We believe that the motivations for arresting Luna were purely political. Luna was apprehended for kidnapping and the theft of a vehicle stemming from an incident over a year ago, when, according to a report by El Proceso, Francisco Antonio Delgado Romo drove his vehicle recklessly into an assembly gathered to discuss the water issue. Delgado was a leader of a faction of the Yaqui who are collaborating with the state of Sonora with respect to the aqueduct. He had also, on January 5, 2013, lead an attempted takeover of the town hall, but was stopped by the unified action of the community.
During the reckless driving incident, community members present surrounded Delgado Romo’s vehicle and detained him, taking him to the local detention facility, and impounded his vehicle.The right of the sovereign Yaqui nation to deal with such cases is recognized by Mexican law. A report by Front Line Defenders states that, “The arrest warrant issued by the Third Tribunal of the Criminal First Instance Court of Hermosillo concerns the charges of abduction of a member of the Yaqui community who was detained for committing a crime on the tribe’s territory as an indigenous person. The accusations arose out of the events of 8 June 2013, when, during a road block maintained by the Yaqui, a member of the indigenous group committed an infraction while driving his car and, in accordance with the practices and customs of the tribe, was detained, transferred to the Commissary and sanctioned. Article 2 of the Constitution states that, as members of an indigenous community with practices and customs, the community’s autonomy to apply its own norms is recognised, and allows for the use of an indigenous legal system to resolve internal disputes within the indigenous communities and towns.”
Even more seriously, Luna has been detained in connection with Delgado’s murder. Delgado’s body was found on September 8, 2014 with a placard hung around his neck branding him a “traitor”. No details or evidence has been provided linking Luna to the murder. We have met with Luna on two different occasions and our friends from Alianza Indígena have had ample contact with him. He is a gentle, impassioned man and a devoted father of young children. In recent months, he has been making considerable progress in building international solidarity for the Rio Yaqui struggle. Frankly, we at AfGJ find it simply unbelievable that this man, in this position, at this time would risk all he has worked for by murdering a known opposition leader and then hanging a sign around the victim’s neck that blatantly assigns authorship for the crime to those fighting the aqueduct. We suspect foul play–and not on the part of Mario Luna.
According to the latest information we received, Luna’s whereabouts have not been confirmed, although initial reports said that he had been taken to Cefereso 11, the new federal penitentiary in Hermosillo. Construction of this prison was funded by the United States and completed in 2012. This prison is the first in Mexico managed by a private company. The Mexican prison system is already notorious for keeping its prisoners incognito for long periods of time, not even notifying their lawyers about their whereabouts. We are concerned that Luna will be denied access to legal counsel as well as to his family and friends. According to an investigation of Cefereso 11 by Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights, the prison had “…even graver deficiencies than those found in other jails of the Republic of Mexico without private capital.” In only 4 months, the CNDH received 47 complaints regarding sudden transfers to Cefereso 11 without warning or notice either to families or legal representatives. Research conducted by AfGJ shows that when Cefereso 11 was first built, inmates were held there for well over five months with no notice given to defense lawyers or family.
Mario Luna is a political prisoner. The Alliance for Global Justice calls for his immediate release and for all charges against him to be dropped. We call on the state of Sonora to stop robbing the Yaqui people of their water. We call for the repeal of NAFTA and the defeat of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which includes the NAFTA signatories, because these neoliberal trade agreements put transnational corporate profits above ecosystems and indigenous rights.
While Luna continues to be held, we also call for his whereabouts to be made publicly known and for him to be granted immediate and adequate access to his legal defense team and family members. As for those who wish to silence Luna and quell support for the Rio Yaqui struggle, that goal has already failed because now the world is watching.
Justice for Mario Luna! Stop the diversion of Rio Yaqui!
* The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, which includes the NAFTA signers, would be even worse than NAFTA, superseding the previous agreement. The situation regarding the Rio Yaqui is but one of many examples of how agreements like NAFTA and the TPP lead to serious threats to fragile ecosystems. We urge AfGJ supporters to remember the Rio Yaqui and take action to defeat the TPP!