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The extraction of life in Michoacan lands

The face of lawyer Ricardo Lagunes and Professor Antonio Díaz have appeared on various posters and publications of social networks since January 15, 2023, the date of his disappearance. What is publicly known it is that they were leaving a meeting in the municipal seat of Aquila, the community of San Miguel Aquila, and were heading towards Morelia using the highway that connects Colima with the capital of Michoacán. 

His vehicle, a white pickup truck, was found in the Cerro de Ortega stretch with bullet-riddled tires, but no trace of them in the vehicle.

Three days after this disappearance occurred, a video began to circulate on social networks in which Professor Díaz appears giving some information about what apparently happens in Aquila, however, relatives of the community member have denial this and claim that in the recording he is saying false things. 

A little earlier, on January 12, shortly before 8 in the morning, just at the change of shift of the Communal Guard of the Nahua community of Santa María Ostula, members of the criminal group known as the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel ?CJNG? They attacked a surveillance point on the outskirts of the communal lands of Ostula and the territory of the municipal seat of Aquila. 

The extraction of life in Michoacan lands
Communal Guard Santa María Ostula. Photo: Heriberto Paredes

As a result of this attack, three guards were murdered at close range, whoever did it knew not only the terrain but also the moment to commit this triple crime. 

The assassins also released a video on social networks, in which they showed how they viciously shot at the guards, despite the fact that they were already lifeless. 

This is how the comunicado that Ostula disseminated on the occasion of this attack: “a command of approximately twenty hitmen, who riddled our colleagues, recording various videos in which they flaunted their cruelty and their belonging to the aforementioned CJNG, which currently has its lair and center of activity in the town of La Naranja, municipality of Aquila».

Who is behind these two violent events? Who has the logistical capacity and knowledge of the area to act with the certainty of impunity? Is there any relationship between the disappearance of Lagunes and Díaz and the murder of the three community guards of Ostula?

The common denominator they have is the Ternium mining company, which has the Las Encinas mine, right on these boundaries between the municipal seat and the communal lands of Ostula. 

The extraction of life in Michoacan lands
Photo: Heriberto Paredes

The history of conflicts and violent acts headed by mining activity dating from the installation of the mine in 1971, going through the complaints made ?already in the 80s? by the activists José Ramírez Verduzco and Efrén Capiz Villegas of the Emiliano Zapata Community Union ?UCEZ?, in which they accused the company of not paying the royalties agreed with the community register.

Ramírez Verduzco was assassinated on April 29, 1989 without an investigation leading to justice for his death. In 2005, Ternium bought this mine and it was under its administration that several conflicts with the community were recorded, not only due to complaints against environmental effects on arable land and the Aquila river, but also due to the attempt by the mining company not to pay royalties or for trying to reduce them to a minimum amount.

On April 12, 2012, Las Encinas published the amount that it would pay to each community member and with this, the Knights Templar, a criminal organization that prevailed at that time, were certain that they could extort money from the population without fear of making a mistake. 

Faced with so many abuses, a group of inhabitants of Aquila rose up in arms on May 3, 2013 and referred to their reasons in a video, exposing the company Ternium. 

As part of the response given by the federal government to the security crisis in Michoacán, the actions of Commissioner Alfredo Castillo also reach this group and in a military operation more than 200 community members were disarmed, of which 40 face criminal proceedings and They spend just over 4 years in different state prisons.

Currently, the main intention of the mining company is to expand the land of its concessions. With 383 hectares, Ternium seeks to occupy more land at all costs and thanks to this it has begun a series of illegal explorations to find out if there is more iron ore or other economically relevant for its exploitation, such as gold and silver. This is the reason why he has set his eyes on the communal territory of Ostula, because that is where he intends to expand.

The extraction of life in Michoacan lands
Photo: Heriberto Paredes.

It is a big business in which many ambitions are concentrated and where it is necessary to have territorial, legal and political control based on the fear caused by weapons, violent actions such as disappearances and murders. 

This is not a new strategy in the region, for example, at least in the community of Ostula, as a result of the defense of their territory and their self-determination to exercise their uses and customs, 35 community members have been cruelly murdered and others 6 have been missing since 2008. 

The perpetrators of these events have been criminal organizations?linked to political parties?, the Army and the Navy.

In the analysis of a community member from Aquila ?who prefers to keep his identity hidden? the profits from iron mining would be the following: depending on the market fluctuations, the price of a ton of iron goes from 130 to 311 dollars. 

In Las Encinas, 4 daily trips are made for each truck and there are 100 trucks per day and each one transports 40 tons. An approximate of 2 million 80 thousand dollars a day having the lowest amount and 4 million 976 thousand dollars with the highest price.

The extraction of life in Michoacan lands
Photo: Heriberto Paredes

It is logical that the company thinks about expanding, reducing costs in royalty payments and increasing profits. 

The problem is that this capitalist logic is also a criminal logic that does not intend to stop, neither because it affects and destroys nature nor because it generates violence and fractures communities. 

These are the communicating vessels that can be traced between the two recorded events, without being the only ones or the last ones. There is also continuity between Ternium's relationship with the Knights Templar, between 2012 and 2015, and now, with its remnants that operate under the name of CJNG. 

Those who are part of these organizations are key to understanding what is happening in this municipality. However, it must be emphasized that it is not a foreign or private dynamic, on the contrary, it is perhaps one of the clearest examples that the origin and procurement of violence is in dispossession, extractivism and the capitalist system that is imposed at the point of gunpowder and cruelty.

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Heriberto Paredes
Heriberto Paredes
(Tlaxcala, 1983), a freelance Mexican photographer and journalist, dedicated to documenting organizational processes in indigenous and peasant communities, the search for missing persons, and environmental issues in Mexico. He is currently exploring formats such as documentary and podcast without abandoning photography and text, where he explores new narrative routes. He has collaborated with national and international media, has directed short documentaries and is currently in the development phase of a long documentary as well as writing a book that brings together more than a decade of work on the Michoacan coast. He lives in Patzcuaro, Michoacan.

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