There is a worrisome inability to govern in Chiapas

Women resisting militarization in Xoyep after the Acteal Massacre. This painting is part of the Zapatista art exhibit at the Omni Commons.


By: Hermann Bellinghausen

Being a situation latent and encouraged for years, since last October, when an age-old conflict over boundaries between the Tsotsil municipalities of Chenalhó and Chalchihuitán sharpened to an alarming level, omissions and failings of government authorities become obvious, as well as partisan interests, vices in irregular agreements and the discretionary distribution of resources that suddenly went out of control. Faced with that, the researcher Arturo Lomelí considers that: “there is a worrisome inability to govern” in Chiapas.

Some days before the twentieth anniversary of the Acteal Massacre, the same Los Altos region could be on the edge of a tragic outcome. Paramilitary groups, identified, but officially denied, have occupied the center of a conflict that is agrarian in origin. Lomelí, a specialist in the history and culture of the indigenous people of Chiapas, ventures that: “the start flag for activation of the paramilitaries, who have displaced thousands of indigenous in recent weeks, seemed to be the lavish visit of Governor Manuel Velasco Coello and the head of the Secretariat of Social Development, Luis Enrique Miranda Nava, last October 13 to Majumpepentic, a Chenalhó spot at the boundary of Chalchuihuitán. They gave tools, tools, big Rotoplás vats of water, dressed in the local style, with staffs of command and everything.”

Who knows whether it was deliberate or not, he points out, “but five days later, on October 18, a campesino with the surnames Pérez Luna, of Chalchuihuitán, was murdered during one of the violent evictions from villages by armed groups of Chenalhó, that have taken place since October.” The intricate territorial boundary between the two municipalities “was always a time bomb.” Now, it goes beyond the agrarian, “although it calls to mind that violence breaks out on the eve of a resolution from the Agrarian Tribunal at the third level that will probably favor Chalchihuitán,”

And suddenly “terror is unleashed.” The temptation of déjà vu is incomplete, but real. The counterinsurgency ingredient, key to the events of Chenalhó in 1996 and 1997 that culminated in the Acteal Massacre, seem nonexistent now. Both the aggressors and those affected are in the large majority pro-government folks identified with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), or with the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM). [1] “Besides, it is alleged that negotiations have been held with the participation of government officials, academics, lawyers and representatives from the communities.”

They talk about between 5 and 8 thousand displaced, 80 percent from Chalchihuitán, who would be the ones attacked. “We remember that because of an internal post-electoral conflict in Chenalhó between factions of the PVEM, and others from the PRI, there are more than one thousand displaced, many of them in San Cristóbal de Las Casas; they have nothing to do with the Chalchihuitán problem, but the violence that expels them is the same. The armed civilians are encouraged or tolerated by the municipal president of Chenalhó, Rosa Pérez Pérez, of the PVEM, with her position in dispute.”

The accesses to Chalchihuitán, to its hidden and dispersed population, are blocked by the paramilitaries, Lomelí reports: “They don’t let anyone approach. They have stopped the Army, the Attorney General of the Republic, the state police and district attorneys because the paramilitaries receive them with bullets.” They just established a mixed operations base in Las Limas, a Chenalhó landmark community founded years ago to advance on the territory in dispute, and that was the seat of the failed 1997 negotiations before Acteal.

The researcher agrees with the Frayba Center in pointing out that the armed groups never disappeared after the massacre. “They didn’t take away their weapons, which must be more now; not all those responsible were prosecuted and besides all those that were in prison are now free. In Chiapas no one has ever been incarcerated for being a paramilitary; those who fall are always charged for something else,” he ended.

The state “is full of red lights (conflictive areas), with unresolved conflicts in Oxchuc, Comalapa, Chicomuselo and Venustiano Carranza. In fact, there is an inability to govern and the state authorities don’t act. What’s happening is the State’s responsibility, from the federal to the municipal level. With the experience that Chiapas already has in this kind of conflict, how is it possible that they don’t know how to behave? They continue giving gifts, distributing indemnifications and programs without the will to definitively resolve the problem.”

Faced with the violence, one thing remains clear to the interviewee, “the possible indemnification that Chenalhó would receive if the lands are recognized as belonging to Chalchihuitán raises the price.” The thousands of women, children and men that have been expelled from their villages and homes, who pay the price (they speak of more deaths due to the precarious conditions in which the displaced are found) seem like pieces of a perverse game or an omission of officials and local political bosses (caciques).

“It’s cruel to see that, despite the experience of the Acteal Massacre, just 20 yeas later exactly the same scenes, the same institutional inactions, the same warnings from observers, the same pain of hundreds of families that could lose everything are repeated.”

[1] This would seem to clarify that Zapatista bases of support are not displaced, but live in the conflictive area.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: