Special Report on the Tragic Murder of Yaqui Leader and Human Rights Advocate
Francisco Antonio Delgado Romo of Pueblo Vícam
Deceased Secretary of Pueblo Vicam, Francisco Antonio Delgado Romo
Back ground to the political murder of Secretary Romo of Pueblo Vicam
In early 2011, the Traditional Authorities of the eight Rio Yaqui Pueblos filed a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (as amended). The petition asserts and alleges, among other human rights abuses, acts and omission by Mexico (the State) concerning the permanent removal of the Rio Yaqui from the lower Yaqui delta in the traditional Yaqui territory. At the time of Secretary Romo’s murder, he held the position of Secretary to Pueblo Vicam. He murder involved extensive torture, physical mutilation, and the placement of a marker on his dead body that read, “Traitor”. Before addressing these details, the following background information is essential.
With respect to the Yaqui territory, following its formal recognition and establishment as a federal indigenous reserve 1937, President Cardenas gave an explicit guarantee and protection with regard to reasonable use and enjoyment of the Rio Yaqui by the Rio Yaqui Pueblos, a guarantee of fifty percent with regard to the Rio Yaqui’s surface flow for agricultural purposes, and the preservation of cultural use of the Rio Yaqui.
Mexico then embarked in a well-documented and systemic encroachment within and around the Yaqui territory for, among other purposes, establishing two large irrigation districts whose growers are dependent on the Rio Yaqui. Today, other users of the Rio Yaqui include the City of Obregon and more recently the largest city in Sonora, the capital of Hermosillo.
Over allocation of water users and the infrastructure required to divert the Rio Yaqui to meet their water needs left the Yaquis without a river. In 1997, President Zediollo attempted to override the 1937 Decree by annexing and effectively removing the Rio Yaqui from the legal description of the remaining Yaqui territory and placing compensatory funds for the Yaquis into trust with FIFONAFE.
Water runs out, the State divides the Yaquis, and the Traditional Authorities resist
Of the many Rio Yaqui water users, access to the Rio Yaqui by the City of Hermosillo was accomplished with the completion and operation of a 150 kilometre aqueduct in 2013. During and after its construction, Mexico vigorously opposed any and all efforts by the Traditional Authorities to peacefully resort to international human rights bodies for redress concerning the devastating environmental harms the Yaqui people in and around the Pueblos experience due to the removal of the Rio Yaqui and the development of their territory. These harms include drought due to the lack of access to safe drinking water, in utero exposure due to the prevalence of DDT and other agro-chemical usage by non-Yaqui growers in the irrigation districts, the absence of civic infrastructure in the Pueblos, poverty, and high rates of infant mortality.
Under Mexican law, the Pueblos – situated in what is now an irrigation district squarely on their territory – are not the formal legal titleholders to their land despite the 1937 Treaty and repeated reference to their autonomous status by the State. For example, in 2013, the State cut the delivery of electrical power to Pueblo Potam – one of the most populous of Yaqui Pueblos – for failure to pay the communal electric bill. The delivery of the invoice reads, “the Barrio of Potam”, which is simply another term of reference for an unincorporated and informal cluster of non-titled dwellings.
Apart from the effect of shutting down the Pueblo’s groundwater pumps, this treatment illustrates a duality in the way Mexico views the Yaqui Pueblos and its policies in dealing with them. On the one hand, the 1937 Decree is viewed as an acknowledgement of their sovereignty. On the other, their marginalization and the continued development of their territory by the State reflects a long established practice of discrimination and other human rights abuses against the Yaquis by the State.
Water politics and the Yaqui proxy “governors” before the Supreme Court
During 2012 and 2013, the Traditional Authorities continued with their human rights claims, however, the Hermosillo-Yaqui aqueduct dominated Sonora politics. Specifically, a well funded and well organized group of Yaqui and non-Yaqui individuals established an intermittent blockade along Highway 15 at the town of Vicam Switch. In the lead up the blockade, agencies and actors at both the state and federal level sought to exploit the situation to their advantage and worked in a loose partnership with the Yaqui organizers for the ultimate goal of preserving the State’s water interest and thwarting the human rights struggle advocacy of the Traditional Authorities.
Part of the synergy between the state and federal alignment was a result of a unique period in Mexican politics where the state and federal government were both dominated by the PAN party. These actors converged over the principal Yaqui organizers – Mario Luna and Thomas Rojo – who purported with their colleagues to be the Traditional Authorities o the Rio Yaqui Pueblos. Their interest in making such a representation was essential for their state-funded legal action before the federal courts and in order to properly claim financial compensation in regard to (a) seeking a Court order mandating compensation to them individually for the infringement of Yaqui water rights resulting from the Hermosillo aqueduct; and (b) seeking a Court order requiring FIFONAFE to release the 1997 trust monies to them individually as the true Pueblo governors.
In this regard, the City of Obregon and its adjacent irrigation district members in the Yaqui territory shared on common an objection to the Hermosillo-Yaqui aqueduct, fearing a loss of their water. Converging in reaction to the Hermosillo water users, these actors worked closely with the public interest law firm, CEMDA, to proceed with the Yaqui proxy case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Eventually, the Yaqui actors became known as “the dual authorities” becaue they openly took on the role of a governor as needed. All of this was brought to the Supreme Court’s attention in the May 2013 decision with the Traditional Authorities filed an amicus brief alerting the Justices to what was in essence, an act of fraudulent misrepresentation. Prior to the May 2013 judgement, CEMDA was informed and acknowledged that their clients were not in fact the Traditional Authorities. To this date, CEMDA, having lost the case for their clients, has not disclosed how it received compensation to pursue a legal battle to the Supreme Court.
The filing of the amicus brief by the Traditional Authorities, planted the seed of retaliation by the Yaqui dualists who saw their opportunity to access the FIFONAFE funds diminish. In ordering interim consultation, the Supreme Court parted with traditional legal norms and included additional Yaqui parties beyond the limits imposed by the participants to the action – including the Yaqui Pueblos and their respective leaders. By the summer of 2013, elements from the blockade, including the Yaqui dualists and non-Yaqui state actors – including local police, began to threaten, beat, hog tie and viciously assault Yaqui members whom they deemed to be supporters of the human rights movement. This coincided with a growing consensus that the dualist movement was floundering. The United States State Department issued a travel advisory due to the blockade and interests in Hermosillo were growing less and less tolerant of the increase in delay of traffic along Highway 15. Likewise, the blockade by the dualists coincided with a sharp increase in local crime and an unprecedented uptick in drug cartel related homicides in and around the Yaqui Puebos.
In this context, the dualist focus on retaliation peaked in 2013, when Mr. Romo with several other Yaqui members were hogged tied, tortured, and beaten allegedly by Mr. Lunista. According to Mr. Romo in his testimony given shortly after his release by the dualist Yaquis, again where he was allegedly beaten and tortured by and on the direction of Mr. Lunista, Mr. Romo makes unequivocal reference to the dualist strategy of violence and corrpuption. Two other Yaqui individuals received similar treatment while another, a Yaqui woman, fled into hiding for five months on the basis of credible threats of gang rape and murder. Mr. Romo is the only person who gave public testimony to this effect. The others, fearing for their safety, have chosen to remain silent.
In May 2014, the Traditional Authorities made a significant breakthrough by appearing before FIFONAFE to request a statement of account in regard to their trust fund and a copy of the 1997 court decision allegedly upholding the removal of the Rio Yaqui. The FIFONAFE hearing stemmed from their requirement to satisfy the terms of the Supreme Court order with respect to Yaqui consultation.
In this video, Mr. Romo is seated on the far left of the screen. His alleged assailant, Mr. Lunista, is standing with his back against the wall in the far back wearing a base cap and purple shirt.
Prior to May 2014, the State has never acknowledged the trust fund, they have never met the Traditional Authorities, and to this date, they have not provided a statement of account. They did, however, confirm that the funds were in fact vested. During this hearing, Mr. Luna appeared and denounced the session as he can be seen in the video before the Authorities of Vicam and Pueblo, including Mr. Romo. It is memorable and a testament to the vigor and intuition Mr. Romo had with regard to Yaqui self-determination when he ended the hearing by instructing FIFONAFE to order dinner for the 100 plus Yaqui delegation, but not to invoice it to their trust fund.
Mr. Romo cannot testify as to the truth of these events because in September, 2014, witnesses, including Mr. Romo’s widow allege that Mr. Luna and several Yaqui and non-Yaqui sympathizers, took Mr. Romo from his home, kidnapped him again, and over the course of several days tortured and mutilated him leaving his corpse with a bag over his head and the words traitor marked on a sign that adorned his dead body.
As with the case of duality in Mexico, the media has taken the rallying cry of Mr. Luna as a victim of State action against Yaqui water rights. As an observation, at no point in the past three years has the Yaqui dualist campaign publically acknowledged in fact that the Rio Yaqui is gone; that is to say, they have never pointed to the empty riverbed to clarify the nature of their claim, which was soley about compensation. Moreover, at no point did any media outlet publish their legal filing which quantifies the amount of damages they seek for their own gain. If anyone read the court documents, they could see the sworn affidavits bogusly claiming their status as Yaqui governors for the past decade. Again, all of these issues were raised in the amicus brief and acknowledged by the Court.
Recently, Amnesty International, simply accepting the advice third hand from sympathetic NGOs, are advocating for Mr. Lunista’s release. Paradoxically, and perhaps only in the case of indigenous politics, a champion of global human rights protection such as Amnesty is again duped by failing to make adequate and minimal inquiries one would expect from a diligent and consciencious organization. If Amnesty were aware that the mutilated body of Mr. Romo commands as much attention and protection, perhaps they too would not receive media attention but appropriately rescind their support until they made adequate judgment. The viel, however, is convincing for most. In Tucson, a handful of organizers championed Mr. Luna, but never once mentioned the Yaqui window, Ms. Romo, or her now fatherless Yaqui children. Apart from being a terribly sad situation, it is the hope of the Traditional Authorities, their supporters, to ensure that Mr. Romo, at a minimum, is given the due respect he is owed by providing this information.
Finally, the aims and objects of the IPDF is to provide a safe forum to express the human rights perspectives, which in the context of indigenous human rights activists in Mexico, is an exercise fraught with danger. Mr. Romo’s death is part of a we’ll documented trend with respect to the political execution of indigenous human rights leaders in Mexico. By covering his story with depth and meaning, it is intended to give important requiem for his efforts and those of the Yaqui people who continue to struggle for their human rights and protections.