ATENCO, IN STRUGGLE AGAIN
By: Blanche Petrich
Three hours was enough for an ejido assembly in San Salvador Atenco, last Sunday, June 1, to open the door to the sale and purchase of the lands that in the last 15 years the local campesinos fiercely defended. A “spurious and totally illegal” assembly, according to how the leaders of the Peoples Front in Defense of Land (FPDT, its initials in Spanish) classify it, which quickly dispatched of an 11-point agenda; particularly point seven, the big apple of discord among the ejido owners, was resolved without debate, in 15 minutes.
This change modifies the ejido’s property regime to “full dominion,” which concludes the system of community lands that was won in 1922, in the heat of the agrarian struggles. It was voted on by a show of hands and without ballots that would clear up doubts about the legitimacy of the decision.
This change removes the legal impediment so that the National Water Commission (Conagua) and the developers that promote the Future City (Ciudad Futura) megaproject may buy the ancient lands that have been in dispute for 14 years.
The FDPT “will not permit it,” Ignacio del Valle, Hermenegildo Márquez and Martha Pérez, representatives of the campesino resistance movement, set forth in an interview. What follows, they report, will be a combined strategy: legal battle in the courts, “to throw out the agreement” and, from below, demonstrations of resistance. “It is the same struggle ever since we confronted Vicente Fox. They didn’t take their finger off the issue. We didn’t either,” Del Valle affirms.
–Are we going to see the machetes in the streets again?
–We never put the machetes away. But they are not a threat of a sign of challenge. They are a warning: we will defend ourselves at all cost.
–Ignacio, could you have entered the assembly, as an ejido owner?
–Why didn’t you do it?
–I wasn’t able to, the commissioner ordered placing walls and filters, with police dressed as civilians wearing white shirts. They provoked our people; there were blows. They did not permit entry to many ejido owners that are in opposition. What we did was to avoid provocation as well as confrontation.
Among the proofs for declaring the official record of the cited assembly null are videos in which one sees the ring that formed with husky men, foreign to the community, with a military haircut, that shout: “Out, out!” when the FPDT column approaches. Some exhibit posters with words charged with a threat: “Nacho (alluding to Ignacio del Valle) you are responsible for any confrontation.” “Nacho, spy of the CCH.” “Nacho, you were guilty of the confrontations on May 3 and 4, 2006.” “América del Valle (his daughter) stop living at the expense of the people.”
–Doesn’t the ejido assembly have mechanisms for controlling the registration and the list of attendees?
–“It did have –responds Márquez, who left the position of commissioner in October of last year–; there is a vigilance committee, but now they control it. If we had been able to enter, we would have demanded a role call. That would have ended that spurious assembly. But we couldn’t.”
Del Valle adds: “Everything, everything was illegal; from the place they selected for holding the assembly, a hall for fiestas, property of their relatives. We suspect that they brought in with anticipation the people that don’t belong to the ejido, maybe since the previous night, in order to reach a quorum in the roll call. They bought the rest of the votes with Soriana cards and cash.”
The men in the ring were wearing a shirt with the legend “Peace and Progress.”
Martha Pérez, who took up residence in Atenco years ago and that made up part of the group of women that assumed command of the FPDT when the men were prisoners, in the offensive of then governor Enrique Peña Nieto, comments that for each one of the conflicting gangs, “peace and progress” means very different things: “To them it means keeping quiet, respecting the government’s line. They receive gifts in exchange, because the government takes advantage of their need.”
–Can you identify them?
–Yes. Some are youths from neighboring towns, who also came as part of the provocation plan when erasing our ejido house mural was ordered in December. We know them. Many are Antorchistas that nestled in neighbor towns around 20 years ago and now, in front of their leader Yolanda Solís, are penetrating Atenco. We identified a lot of municipal police dressed as civilians and employees of the municipal council.
It is alleged that within the ranks of those promoting the sale of lands they had measured well the forces of the FPDT. Since weeks ago, Trinidad Ramírez, Del Valle’s wife, keeps close to the laundry place on her patio a little book where she has record of the helicopter flyovers, of the state and federal police patrols, soldiers and even marines that kept the town under strict vigilance the previous days. Other eyes and ears make a similar list of who enters and leaves the Del Valle’s home, which has been converted into an operations center for the FPDT ever since they lost the house of culture the municipal president, Idelfonso Vega Silva, snatched from them.
They hold the mayor responsible: “He was behind all that. He has passed himself off promoting the idea that we are savages, violent and that we oppose everything. And it’s clear that we oppose the sale of the land. We have not equivocated,” Del Valle says.
Martha Pérez maintains that the change in the legal regimen of the ejido lands “not only affects the ejido owners, but also all the rest. We already saw the mock up of the Future City Project. It looks beautiful on the Internet. But it’s an invasion to us, a life change that we don’t want, with those giant condominiums, those business centers. One must remember that all of that was a lake before that by the way dried up. And our grandparents, our ancestors, knew how to take advantage of that disaster. With a lot of effort they worked and concerted those lands into a fertile zone, very beautiful. Future City now talks about a system of lakes, but not natural ones, but rather with wastewater from the Federal District aguas, treated waters. Isn’t it absurd? And in the face of all that, where do we stay, the people?”
For now, the Atencans opposed to the sale of lands prepare for what they call “the legal battle.” Paradoxically, because there is a deep distrust among them for the legal institutions ever since the state and federal police violently invaded the town, resulting in two dead youths; they arrested hundreds of people, tortured them, raped almost all the women arrested and sentenced their principal leaders to more than 100 years, in a legal decision that was reversed four years later.
“We have many elements to annul what was done in the assembly, to throw all that out. We know that visitors from the Agrarian Prosecutor have been promoting the purchase of lands and even so we will go with them wherever may be necessary. We will go to the tribunals. We have always exhausted the legal part, although the law has deceived us many times,” Del Valle comments.
Neither Del Valle nor Hermenegildo Márquez lives exclusively from the land. But they and their families identify and live as campesinos.
Hermenegildo has one hectare (2.47 acres). Two months ago he planted asparagus on contract with a company for export to the United States. “The plant is already big, in two months it will start to produce and it is a project that I have for 10 years. I am not going to leave.”
Ignacio has been late in planting. The well was closed on his land; he now depends on the rains. In these days he’s going to plant corn, at the end of the month, barley.
“We plant –he concludes– so that the people that are discouraged may see that defending the land, defending our identity as campesinos, indeed makes sense. And it’s worth a lot of pain.”
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Sunday, June 8, 2014