On the evening of Saturday, May 20, Miguel Vázquez Torres, an indigenous Wixárika community leader, was murdered, along with his brother Agustín Vázquez Torres, in Tuxpan de Bolaños in the northern mountains of Jalisco.
Miguel Vázquez Torres, age 40, was president of communal lands in the Wixárika (Huichol) community of San Sebastián Teponahuaxtlán, in the Mezquitic municipality. He was one of the foremost indigenous leaders who spearheaded a movement to reclaim their territory, a movement which managed to start the legal restitution of communal lands in the Huajimic municipality in the state of Nayarit, though only 200 hectares have been returned out of 10,000 claimed. He was also one of the leaders who announced the intention of forming a Wixárika community police force tasked with defending the indigenous population.
His brother, Agustín Vázquez Torres, age 30, recently graduated as an attorney specializing in human rights issues and held several positions in the community.
Initial investigations indicate that Agustín was shot by several unknown individuals firing from a Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. Wounded, he was taken to the local health clinic where he died. His older brother Miguel arrived at the clinic and as he was leaving was shot and also killed, the Jalisco Attorney General reported.
Authorities stated that the investigation places responsibility on members of a criminal cell which operates in the border region of Jalisco and Zacatecas, territory which is controlled by the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel.
Miguel Vázquez was a part of the Consejo Regional Wixárika por la Defensa de Wirikuta (Regional Wixárika Council for the Defense of Wirikuta) and was part of its judicial board. Among other projects, he pushed for the creation of a Bicultural High School at the University of Guadalajara which is soon to open its doors.
Last September, after a hard-fought battle, Vázquez and other leaders were able to start the legal restitution of the community’s lands, with a first plot consisting of 184 hectares. He also denounced on several occasions the harvesting of poppy in the Wixárika region and that criminal groups were forcing the indigenous populations to plant the raw material for heroin under threats or taking advantage of the extreme poverty in which they live.
Guadalajara anthropologist Francisco Talavera Durón has worked closely with Pelayo and others throughout the region who have sought to support the Wixarika community over the years. He remembered sadly some of the last words he heard from Miguel, who was speaking at a press conference on the lack of government intervention.
“We indigenous people don’t represent political capital for the political parties; that’s why they don’t have us on their agendas,” Miguel said at the time.
“He said there was such a profound abandonment – and now we are seeing it with the deaths of these two brothers…For me the deaths of Miguel and Agustín represent a huge blow to indigenous leadership,” Durón said.
Alfonso Hernández Barron, inspector for the State Commission on Human Rights, had worked with both of the victims extensively over the years. Agustín had just finished his professional practice as a human rights attorney under Hernández’ tutelage and was preparing to take on a greater responsibility in the land restitution case.
“He was a young man who was always seeking to improve himself, a man of peaceful profile, a hard worker.”
Agustín left a wife and a young daughter, as did Miguel.
Hernández described Miguel as a leader who headed the greatest effort in many years for the recovery and defense of his peoples’ territory – a historic effort in many respects.
“He was held in very high esteem and recognition,” said Hernandez. “This is a wound to the heart of the community, and not just Tuxpan and San Sebastian, but all the communities – because all the leaders of the communities feel increasingly exposed, and at greater risk for representing and defending their people.”
Source: It’s Going Down / Intercontinental Cry