Mexico City – Prosecutors in northern Mexico’s border state Sonora said Monday tests had confirmed a severely decayed body was that of an indigenous rights leader who disappeared nearly four weeks ago.
The office said DNA testing and fingerprinting were used to identify Tomás Rojo Valencia, a leader of the Yaqui indigenous community. His body was found last week near the Yaqui town of Vicam, Sonora.
Rojo Valencia disappeared on May 27 after tensions over roadblocks in Yaqui protesting gas canals, aqueducts and railroad lines running through their territory without consulting them or bringing them much benefit. Rojo Valencia served as the spokesman for the Yaquis in previous land and water rights conflicts.
Confirmation came the same day a 25-year-old Yaqui woman was reported missing after leaving her Vicam home to go to work but never arriving. She was last seen on June 17th.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has made it his special project to bring justice to the Yaquis, whom he describes as Mexico’s most persecuted indigenous group.
The road blockade conflict came to a head in February when an indigenous man died when a truck driver plowed through a roadblock in Yaqui and met a member of the group.
Businessmen and truck drivers in Sonora state complain that the roadblocks are seriously affecting the transport of raw materials and exports, saying protesters are sometimes abusive or demanding money to allow them through.
Perhaps best known abroad for the mystical and visionary powers attributed to them by writer Carlos Castaneda, the Yaquis fought tenaciously against the Mexican government’s brutal campaign to destroy the tribe in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
But by 1900 they were largely defeated, and dictator Porfirio Diaz began moving them from their fertile farmland to less valuable territory or practically enslaving them on haciendas as far as the Far Eastern state of Yucatan.
In 2020, López Obrador traveled to the Yaqui territory to set up the Judicial Commission for the Yaqui People and said he plans to apologize on behalf of the government for the war of genocide against them.
The commission has promised housing, development projects and a bigger voice to the impoverished Yaqui communities, but some Yaquis are not participating in the talks and the deal has not quelled protests, which sometimes demand high compensation payments.