Amidst a series of abuses being carried out against Fidencio Aldama, a Yaqui land defender and political prisoner detained for opposing a gas pipeline in his territory, activists call on people to send letters, messages, and art, demanding his prompt freedom and showing support for his struggle.
The first time I met Fidencio Aldama’s oldest son was when I saw him doing the Deer dance. I couldn’t believe that, as a child, this was his protest to demand freedom for his father.
How a dance, carried out in such an elegant, heartfelt, and emotional way, could evoke justice and freedom.
Ian is blindfolded, barefoot, with butterfly cocoons around his ankles. On his head is a scarf with embroidered flowers that imitate the eyes of the deer, although he lacks the traditional deer antlers.
I arrived to the Yaqui town of Loma de Bácum, thanks to a ride from Hermosillo with the anthropologist and ethnohistorian, Raquel Padilla Ramos. We went to the community because Marichuy, the spokeswoman of the CIG-CNI, was to visit there. The town had prevented a natural gas pipeline from being built in their territory by the transnational company, Sempra Energy, and its affiliate in Mexico, IEnova.
Raquel had accompanied the struggle for Fidencio’s freedom since the very beginning. Daily, she published on her social media account how long he had been imprisoned. She did that until the last day of her life.
Fidencio is 32 years old, originally from the town of Loma de Guamúchil. He now lives with his family in Loma de Bácum. He has held various positions in the Indigenous traditional government. When he was arrested, he was serving as part of the community guard.
He alerted the tribe about the gas pipeline. When his relatives received money from the pipeline company, IEnova, Fidencio said to them: “Why are you taking money if that money is going to eventually disappear, in exchange for territory that will always be here, territory that is supposed to be ours. But if you are selling it, you are not going to have it for your families.”
Fidencio has been imprisoned for 54 months, since October 27, 2016, when “he was kidnapped, and taken by force,” says his wife, Carmen García. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. “They convicted me although I am innocent,” says Fidencio in a recent video released from prison in Obregón.
There are two moments of chaos. One week after Loma de Bácum stopped the machinery, on October 21, 2016, a group of armed Yaquis, the majority from the town of Loma de Guamúchil, entered to wreak havoc in Bácum. Their intention was to replace the traditional authorities with others that would accept the gas pipeline.
In the second moment of chaos, Cruz Buitimea, originally from Loma de Guamúchil, died from a .22 caliber bullet. When that happened, Fidencio was in hiding. However, the Yaqui attackers pointed out Fidencio, saying he was a relative of one of the land defenders, blaming him for Cruz’s murder. Fidencio carried a .45 caliber weapon at the time, which is assigned to those who are delegated as community guards.
“With all certainty,” he told them, “If you think that I killed him, we will see how it plays out legally,” describes Carmen. Her aunt had retold her this story after the fact, because at the time, she was working in the Empalme maquila. At that moment, the attackers pushed Fidencio up against a tree. They beat him. He ran. They chased him, but he managed to escape by hiding in the brush.
When the police arrived a week later to ask questions in the community, they took him away.
His own family thought that it would be good idea for him to give his own version of the events, telling Fidencio to go and do so. The Sonoran police arrived in a van where they went one by one interviewing the inhabitants of the community about what had happened. Fidencio’s family thought that it was important that Fidencio speak out against what they were trying to accuse him of. His family members still feel guilty. All it took was for Aldama to get into the van and say his name, and the doors were closed and he was taken away, alongside the Yaqui lawyer and interpreter, Anabela Carlón. However, Anabela was set free before arriving at the prosecutor’s office in Ciudad Obregón.
There was no arrest warrant nor did they give a reason for why he was being detained. Anabela filed a report of the illegalities carried out by the authorities, which was never included in the case file. When Fidencio went to testify in town before he was taken away, he was handcuffed. When they arrived in Obregón, the investigation file had already been completed the day before, and it already had Fidencio Aldama’s voting credentials. Yet the judge dismissed all this evidence. The authorities have threatened in a veiled manner that Fidencio’s freedom could be possible in exchange for the passage of the gas pipeline. Fidencio has continually refused that deal.
Even with these and other irregularities in the file, the process, and the trial, Fidencio remains imprisoned. AMLO pledged to free political prisoners. Until now, he has not fulfilled that pledge in this case.
Amidst all of these abuses from the state, activists and collectives who make up the Fidencio Aldama Support Group have launched a call to write letters to Fidencio Aldama in prison and to make art in solidarity with the struggle for his freedom. The call is for June 20-26, 2021.
In an interview, the support group explains that the idea of the letter-writing and art campaign arose from internal discussions about how to support and raise awareness about Fidencio’s case and his unjust imprisonment.
“In Mexico it is not common that imprisoned people can directly receive mail. However, writing letters to political prisoners is a common practice in other parts of the world. It is something simple, yet tangible, that folks can do to express their solidarity with people who are imprisoned for struggling for a better world. And it means a lot for those on the inside to know that they have support, and that they have not been forgotten.”
The Fidencio Aldama Support Group says that different people and collectives from multiple countries have already sent messages of support for Fidencio.
“We want to show that the government is holding Fidencio hostage due to Sempra Energy’s influence. We also want to show that Fidencio has growing solidarity and support,” says the collective. “Prison is a cruel, inhumane, and terrible place. We hope that each letter is a grain of hope for Fidencio which can provide him with strength and inspiration during this difficult moment.”
The support group has accompanied Fidencio and his family, remaining attentive to his situation: “Fidencio remains in good spirits, considering everything. He has been working as a barber inside the prison and continues with his woodwork. Furthermore, in the middle of May, Fidencio began taking classes to finish his high school diploma.”
Carmen García has shared information with Fidencio about the letter-writing and art campaign being undertaken by the support group. Fidencio is enthusiastic about the correspondence.
“I ask for your support in order to regain my freedom,” says Fidencio in the video.
Letters can be sent via email to [email protected].