San Miguel del Progreso and the heart of darkness

San Miguel el Progreso.

By: Luis Hernández Navarro

Malinaltepec is known as one of the municipalities in La Montaña of Guerrero with the greatest social inequality. Its residents lack sufficient nutrition, good health, dignified housing and adequate public services. Now it will also be known for being one of the epicenters of the national indigenous struggle against mining.

One of its indigenous communities, that of San Miguel del Progreso (Júba Wajíin), just obtained a very important victory, as much in defense of its ancestral territory as in the battle to make evident the unconstitutionality of different articles of the mining law, and its use as the principal instrument to legalize the dispossession and looting of indigenous territories.

The history comes from a while ago. Without the consent of the communities that live in La Montaña and Costa Chica, the federal government granted 44 concessions to mining companies. Nevertheless, 17 agrarian communities of the region agreed not to give their approval to carrying out mining exploration and exploitation activities, formalizing their decision in written records of agrarian assemblies or through uses and customs.

One of the beneficiaries, the English company Hochschild Mining, baptized its mining project in the region with the truculent name of The Heart of Darkness, the same name as the famous novel by Joseph Conrad, in which he traces the portrait of Belgian colonialism in Africa. However, the entrepreneurs didn’t have time to enjoy their business. The struggle of the Júba Wajíin community forced Mexican authorities to cancel those concessions between July and September 2015. Questioning the mining law more in depth was thus avoided. This opened the door for any interested company could request concessions on the cancelled lots, placing the territory of the San Miguel del Progreso community in danger.

Júba Wajíin, countered legally and it won an order of protection so that the Secretariat of Economy would leave without effect a declaration of freedom of lands that would permit any company to request mining concessions within the community’s territory. Moreover, the authority was ordered to have prior consultation with the community in these kinds of proceedings. It’s the second protective order that San Miguel del Progreso has won in federal tribunals.

As the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of La Montaña explains, this is an unprecedented victory, since, for the first time, the secretary was ordered judicially to leave non-existent a declaration of liberty of lands due to violating the collective rights of indigenous peoples.

The indigenous Me’phaa Júba Wajíin community has centuries of roots in that territory. There, since 2011, its 3,800 inhabitants have defended, inch-by-inch, its natural springs, sacred hills, natural resources, climate diversity, fruit trees, coffee plants and its way of earning a living.

Its struggle is exemplary, as much because of its permanence and organization as for the results that it’s harvesting. Among other reasons, because the community was able to see that the promises of development and wellbeing sold by authorities of the Agrarian Prosecutor’s Office in 2011 so that they would accept the exploitation of their territory, were no more than mere glass beads.

The arguments that the community offers for rejecting the dispossession of its territory are profound. According to Valerio Mauro Amado, its commissioner of communal wealth, “we don’t want the mining companies to enter our territory for any reason, because the water is born there, our sacred places are there and we maintain ourselves from our lands” (

Anastasio Basurto, San Miguel del Progreso’s commissioner when the resistance began in 2011, explained to the journalist Vania Pigeonutt: “The mining companies are not going to enter, they are not going to enter, we must give life! We don’t want to be like those towns that are getting sick, that changed their lands and are dying.”

The consistency of opposition to the extractive project is explained by the confluence of three actors. In the first place, by the extraordinary organizing ability and solidarity of the Me’phaa people, who have preserved and reinvented their identity with great vigor. The vitality and extent of their associative fabric is as remarkable as their ability to reach agreements through consensus.

Secondly, by the accompaniment and support of the priest Melitón Santillán, born in Iliatenco, who warned of the risks of open sky mining, because “I cannot remain silent in the face of an injustice that is going to be commit against poor people.”

And, finally, the effective and professional advice from Tlachinollan and its allies since 2010 explains it. Tlachi put at the center of community defense the use of the legal margins available in national international legal instruments, not as a rhetorical device to air in public opinion, but rather as a matter to litigate effectively in the tribunals.

The dispossession and looting of indigenous territories throughout the country, with its cause of repression, exploitation and devastation doesn’t stop. The victory of San Miguel del Progreso is one piece of good news. It shows that native peoples’ resistance was able to beat back the modern plunderers in the heart of darkness.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee




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