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Displaced by violence, forgotten by government

With forced displacement it is not just material goods that are lost but identity, a way of life. This is what has happened to several peasant families from the municipality of Coyuca de Catalán in Mexico. But although they have no support and violent groups expelled them, they prefer to return and fight.

Hercilia Castro


The Asociación Mexicana de Abogados del Pueblo (Amap – a group of lawyers who defend the human rights of the Mexican people) says the state government must not forget those displaced by violence.

In the case of those displaced from La Laguna, a municipality of Coyuca de Catalán, between 2005 and 2012, close to 26 extrajudicial killings were recorded along with three forced disappearances just in that small unit, and this is what caused their definitive displacement. That is according to an interview with Omar Villareal Salas, a researcher at the Metropolitana Autónoma University (UAM) and Amap’s documentation coordinator, who pointed out that the displacement occurred after the assassinations of the ecologists Rubén Santana and Juventina Mojica.

“These facts,” he says, “are so well known that they led to, in this case, the Internal Forced Displacement Law in Guerrero. The law is what has come out of this.”

However, despite the existence of a law not all the families in the La Laguna case have been relocated. “The second characteristic,” Villarreal Salas says, “is that the families have not been looked after. There are around 50 displaced families, over 200 people, but many of them found themselves unprotected, very unprotected, and suffered threats from the families that displaced them.”

He explains that a third characteristic is that people do not fully understand the concept of internal forced displacement “since families do not just lose their material goods but also their identity, their way of life that in this case is that of the peasant man or woman, because being small groups of dispossessed peasantry, they live off the land, from their work, subsistence work, if they don’t grow food they don’t eat.”

Villarreal Salas emphasises that despite the fact that negotiations are underway with the undersecretary for human rights, Alejandro Encinas, the repair of damage and compensation for the La Laguna victims remain outstanding, which is why so far it has not been possible for them to return to their home. “Returning is not within any plan of the federal authorities.”

In his opinion there are still groups of illegal loggers and drug traffickers in Coyuca de Catalán’s hinterland, as well as local groups who obstruct ministerial investigations and complaints and who have interests.

His view is that there exists a sort of collusion between certain agencies of the state government and illegal loggers and local groups with larger interests which has allowed violence in the territory. He recalls Leonor Ochoa’s complaint that “they were displaced by local groups who now argue on social media that they were the victims.”

He adds that the state and federal governments must not put boundaries between themselves and the displaced people of La Laguna and Guajes de Ayala since their responsibility is to bring about a solution in the short term to make reparations to the victims and not let them be forgotten.

The displaced people want to return

Leonor Ochoa commented by telephone that in the more than a decade since she and 30 other families from La Laguna were displaced, the Mexican government has not supported them.

“We have been affected in every way, we lost our homes, our land, everything and the government has never supported us, they don’t resolve sour situation,” she said.

She explains that in 10 years the state government has not given solutions to the violent conflict, leaving them desperate and the only option they can see is to return.

“We didn’t want to go back for fear of what they would do to our families, but we’ve talked about it with our daughters-in-law, our daughters, the women, and it’s preferable to return and fight than not to fight and live in these conditions,” she said.

I have known Leonor for years, I have seen her at national and international forums, telling her story over and over again, but her voice before the press falls on deaf ears, nobody understands her drama, what it means to be guerrerense (born in Guerrero) and always live with insecurity. To be displaced.

Ochoa states that they currently live in precarious conditions, without support from any programme or stable employment. “We don’t even have pans to cook with, we live as though we are always just passing through.”

As a displaced person, she exhorts the federal and state governments to accompany them on their return to La Laguna, 10 years after they were displaced by organised criminal groups.

Leonor was displaced from there along with the ecologist Juventina Villa Mojica, who was later assassinated.

Seeking exile

To date, more than 20 of her relatives have been murdered in a painful exodus which has been full of uncertainty and where justice seems out of reach.

According to data from the Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights and the University of Syracuse, between October 2020 and February this year the United States government accepted 4,361 of the 27,454 asylum applications that it received from Mexicans. The majority of the applicants argued that they had been displaced by threats of organised crime.

However, the exclusion of Mexican citizens from the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) has impeded their access to the asylum process and many of them only have informal waiting lists with no legal basis.

In March 2021, 835 people were displaced from various communities in Ejido Guajes de Ayala, in the municipality of Coyuca de Catalán, Guerrero. The confrontations began on 25th February but there is still no definite figure. The entity is in fourth place nationally in terms of internal forced displacement. However, the General Law to classify displacement as a crime and award victims compensation for damages and comprehensive attention remains blocked in the local congress.

(Translated by Philip Walker – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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