MEXICO CITY — Prosecutors in the northern Mexico border state of Sonora said Thursday they have found a badly decayed corpse with clothing that matches the description of an Indigenous rights leader who disappeared almost three weeks ago.
The prosecutors office said DNA tests would be conducted on the body found half-buried in a rural area to determine whether it is that of Tomás Rojo Valencia, a leader of the Yaqui Indigenous community.
“At the scene, several pieces of evidence including clothing were collected which match those his family said Tomás Rojo was wearing the day he left his house, most prominently, a red neckerchief around his neck,” the office said in a statement.
The body was found in a semi-desert area near the Yaqui town of Vicam by a local person who was out gathering firewood.
Coming on the same day that two journalists were found murdered, the discovery of what appears to be the Yaqui leader’s corpse constitutes bad news for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has been criticized for his hostility toward, and failure to protect, reporters.
The discovery of what appears to be Rojo Valencia’s body will be an especially hard blow for the president, who has made it his special project to bring justice to the Yaquis, who he has described as Mexico’s most persecuted Indigenous group.
Rojo Valencia served as the Yaquis’ spokesman during past conflicts over land and water rights.
He disappeared May 27 amid tensions over Yaqui highway roadblocks protesting gas ducts, water pipelines and railway lines that have been run across their ancestral territory without consulting them or giving them much benefit.
In February, the conflict over the highway blockades came to a head with the death of an Indigenous man killed when a trucker plowed through a Yaqui roadblock, hitting a member of the group.
Businessmen and truckers in Sonora state complain the roadblocks seriously affect the movement of raw materials and export goods, and said protesters are sometimes abusive or demand money to allow them to pass.
On-and-off roadblocks have affected the main highway that leads to the industrial hub of Hermosillo, and from there to the U.S. border. The route is key for the import and export of autos and auto parts, electronics and other goods.
Perhaps best known abroad for the mystical and visionary powers ascribed to them by writer Carlos Castaneda, the Yaquis stubbornly fought the Mexican government’s brutal campaign to eliminate the tribe in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
But they were largely defeated by 1900, and dictator Porfirio Diaz began moving them off their fertile farmland to less valuable territory or to virtual enslavement on haciendas as far away as the far eastern state of Yucatan.
In 2020, López Obrador traveled to Yaqui territory for the establishment of the Justice Commission for the Yaqui People, and he has said he plans to offer an apology on behalf of the government for the genocidal war carried out against them.
The commission has promised housing, development projects and a greater voice for the impoverished Yaqui communities, but some Yaquis aren’t participating in the talks and the agreement has not quelled the protests, which sometimes demand large compensation payments.