Violence Erupts In Northern Mexico As Natural Gas Pipeline Divides the Yaqui Nation

Lead Photo: Photo: Medios OBSON
Photo: Medios OBSON
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While the imminent construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation has galvanized a modern indigenous movement in North America, a similar pipeline plowing its way through Mexico’s Sonora state has sewn division amongst the Yaqui people (also known as Yoeme) and led to a violent inter-tribal confrontation late last week.

The natural gas pipeline known as the Gasoducto Sonora is slated to slice through 56 miles of Yaqui territory, and requires the unanimous consent of eight Yaqui communities in order to move forward. However – after what some have described as shady backroom dealings between tribal leaders and pipeline officials – only seven communities approved the project, while the residents of Loma de Bácum voted down the proposal and obtained a court injunction to stop the pipeline’s construction.

The aftermath of Friday’s confrontation. Photo: Medios OBSON
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The Gasoducto Sonora has been framed by proponents as the future of clean, inexpensive energy in the region, and the deal would include an annual rent of one Mexican peso per square foot paid to the affected communities for 30 years. It’s an attractive proposition for an indigenous nation mired in poverty with little access to basic infrastructure, but the residents of Loma de Bácum are concerned with defending their tribe’s territorial integrity and they’ve demanded reparations for the environmental damage done by the pipeline’s construction so far.

Yet, despite a cease and desist order obtained from a district court, construction on the pipeline has continued unabated with the support of the local government. When residents of Loma of Bácum responded by camping out to prevent further construction, a violent confrontation with a neighboring community known as Loma de Guamúchil ensued that left one individual dead and required the intervention of hundreds of federal and state law enforcement agents.

The Yaqui are known in Mexico for a long history of resistance, and they most recently made headlines for their vehement opposition to an aqueduct project that would have diverted water from the sacred Yaqui river to the state capital of Hermosillo. After a protracted battle, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Yaqui’s water rights in 2013, though the tribe has resisted continued pressure from local authorities. Unfortunately, it seems with the Gasoducto, the tribe’s unity and mettle in the face of external pressure has finally been put to the test.