The Assassination of Don Tomás
By Luis Hernández Navarro, Translated by Shantal Montserrat Lopez Victoria
Tomás Martínez Pinacho was preparing to eat something at Los Primos taqueria, in the municipality of Ánimas Trujano, Oaxaca, when a heavily armed commando shot him. It was 6:30 pm on August 24th and he was returning from participating in a rally of 2,600 people in the state capital. His lifeless body was left sown to his chair.
The biography of Don Tomás – as he was affectionately called by his comrades in the Sierra Sur – intersects with the social struggles of the district of Miahuatlán over the past 30 years. His trajectory was summarized in one word: struggle. He organized the Union of Poor Peasants; he managed better water services and garbage collection; he opposed the construction of the Cefereso in the municipality; he mobilized so that government resources would reach communities, agencies and ranches and not remain in the headwaters; he was re-elected as candidate for municipal president and for councilman; he supported the protests of democratic teachers against educational reform and in favor of public education, and he actively opposed open-pit mining.
He was born in Miahuatlán de Porfirio Díaz, on March 7, 1956, to a very humble family. His father was a farmer. As a child, Tomas supported his mother in selling tortillas at the center. He studied a few years of elementary school between 1965 and 1969, at the Leona Vicario School, and then migrated to Mexico City. In Naucalpan, State of Mexico, he continued his studies at the Manuel Avila Camacho night school and at the INEA. He sold food at the Teatro Blanquita. He worked in a grocery store until he returned to his hometown in 1990.
The attitude and commitment of democratic professor Germán Mendoza Nube, several times arrested and tortured for his participation in popular struggles, marked him definitely. Tomás told how, on one occasion when a comrade of Germán’s went to look for him because he had a problem, the teacher, in spite of having to move on a wheelchair, got up from bed, got on his chair and went to solve the problem. Germán’s attitude impacted Tomás. At that moment he said to himself: I have two hands, I have two feet. I return to my community and begin to fight for my compañeros, for the people.
And this is how he did it. Since then, Martinez Pinacho joined the Union of Poor Farmers and the Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR), in a struggle that only his murder stopped. He traveled through the communities, he named organizational committees, gathered the demands and needs of the people and their agrarian conflicts.
Tomás actively participated as a councilman in the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) in 2006, which demanded the resignation of Governor Ulises Ruiz. For this reason he was persecuted, harassed and forced into hiding.
In Oaxaca there are about 300 mining concessions, three of them in the Sierra Sur: in Suchixtepec, another in the Coatlanes and one very close to Miahuatlán, in communities of Zompantle and Ocote. Don Tomás played a central role in the resistance to open-pit mining in the region, with the engineer Bernardo Vázquez Sánchez, who was murdered on March 15, 2012, for opposing the Fortuna Silver Mines project in San José del Progreso. In 2018, after a work of information and organization in the communities that began in 2016, he promoted the formation of the Frente Regional de la Sierra Sur en Defensa del Territorio, los Recursos Naturales y la Libre Autodeterminación de los Pueblos, in rejection of mining, in which social organizations such as MULT, API-PUP, FPR, section 22-CNTE, MAS and Coordinadora de Comunidades de Loxicha also participated.
Unfortunately, events such as don Tomás’ murder are far from being an exception in this government. According to the organization Front Line Defenders, Mexico is the fourth most dangerous country in the world for human rights defenders. In 2019 alone, 24 activists, environmentalists and land defenders were murdered. In May, several organizations, including the German Coordination for Human Rights in Mexico, documented that at least 30 human rights defenders have been killed during López Obrador’s six-year term.
Son of a tortilla maker and a campesino, simple and extremely humble, Tomás was always concerned about the people who came to see him and those who sought him out for some support. He was dismissed in Miahuatlán by his comrades, friends and family, in a massive public tribute, in the midst of endless rain, the explosion of bottle rockets and inconsolable expressions of rage and mourning.
The crime of Don Tomás left in the Sierra Sur a mixture of pain and commitment to keep his saga alive. In the words of his son José Alberto: I am in pain as my father, as my mentor, as my comrade in struggle, but the struggle of Tomás Martínez remains. The State thought that by killing him everything would end. It is the opposite. Tomás Martínez is revived in hundreds, in thousands who today are asking for justice together.