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By JESSICA GUERRERO

MORELIA, Michoacán — Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca embodies the essence of the nation. Its endlessly rich culture and gastronomy have made it famous around the world. However, the state has faced a historic struggle with extreme poverty and marginalization of its inhabitants, about one-third of whom are indigenous.

Oaxaca is among Mexico’s the top three poorest states, with at least 60 percent of its total municipalities living in poverty. In fact, the poorest municipalities in Mexico are located in the state.

Moreover, the geographical conditions that prevail in this region of southern Mexico are highly seismic, causing the population that lives there to be constant victims of natural disasters. This adds up to precarious infrastructure conditions and a constantly struggling economy.

Oaxaca is inhabited by indigenous people from at least 17 different ethnic groups, each with their own language, traditions and customs, conforming a colorful multicultural mosaic that cannot be seen anywhere else in Mexico. However, despite the fact that most of these indigenous groups coexist peacefully, some of them have had historical struggles for territories.

This situation has been a constant source of violence and hostility, especially after the intervention of paramilitary groups in the region, as has happened in some indigenous communities such as San Miguel Copala in 2010 and, later in that same year, in San Juan Copala, leaving numerous victims and chaos in its wake after the dispossession of land and the forced exile of its inhabitants.

Since December 2020, a new community has been added to this list of displaced people. Tierra Blanca, inhabited mostly by Triqui indigenous people, who until then had lived there in relative peace. However, everything changed almost overnight, on Christmas Day 2020, when paramilitary groups made up of armed residents of the same community violently erupted and took over the village.

Among the armed groups, the Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULT), a paramilitary gang formed in the 1970s that is accused by the Tierra Blanca locals of being the main promoter of violence in the region for political and economic purposes.

According to the residents of Tierra Blanca, this group has not only led the massive dispossession of their land, but has also organized kidnappings, rapes and murders of families and leaders of this indigenous community affiliated with other political movements, such as the National Famers Confederation (CNC). This has generated an unprecedented displacement of at least 143 families of Triqui who have fled the violence.

Being unable to return home, these exiled Triqui live on the streets of the capital city of Oaxaca and other surrounding communities, such as Yosoyuxi, where they wait, like the other communities exiled years ago, to be heard by the authorities. Others have traveled to the country’s capital to carry out protests and sit-ins in the main avenues and squares of the city, begging to be seen and heard. They are not asking for any money or any social assistance. They just want to return to their homes.

However, according to the exiles themselves, the MULT is currently backed by the municipal president of Tierra Blanca, Nicolás Feria from the leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party and the state’s governor, Alejandro Murat, from the centralist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

If these displaced Triqui’s claims are true, it would explain why this political-paramilitary group has been able to operate with great impunity against the indigenous population of that municipality.

Almost two years after this social crisis began in Tierra Blanca, the Triqui continue to dream of returning to their home. However, the lack of concrete solutions from the government would suggest that this problem is not a matter of primary importance.

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