Conflict grows in Chiapas over sociopolitical fights and insecurity

Tsotsil families displaced in Shishemantik, Chalchihuitán, Chiapas, on September 24 – Photo: Hermann Bellinghausen

By: Hermann Bellinghausen

San Cristóbal De Las Casas, Chiapas

Municipal presidencies closed or looted, municipal councils (substitutes for the elected government) in localities where some significant political assassination has occurred (Oxchuc, Amatán, Arriaga, Chalchihuitán) and there is a dispute for local power, which leaves in its wake a trail of displaced people, destruction, theft of crops, dispossession of lands, all kinds of extortions and a cluster of murders. In a brief tour of La Jornada through some localities of Los Altos (Chenalhó, Chalchihuitán, Chamula, rural and urban San Cristóbal de Las Casas), and direct testimonies from Oxchuc, El Bosque, Ocosingo and Las Margaritas, evidence was perceived of explosive situations. Social conflict, insecurity and community decomposition in Chiapas has been accentuated to a degree that should raise alarm. The sum of ingredients is overwhelming.

It’s appropriate to incorporate into this account an unusual fear of making denunciations and statements, similar to a “tendency” of governmental sources at least at the municipal and community level, aimed at inhibiting the previously habitual denunciations to the media or civilian organisms; that through promises of solution conditioned on silence or veiled threats.

On top of everything party fragmentation and the implanting of forms of organized crime in the Tzotzil region, with the insecurity and fear they bring with them. Just the current conflict in San Juan Chamula, only 12 kilometers from this city, poses a scenario of potential war between strongly armed civilian groups and the National Guard, which already registered one death in Bochil this week.

A group headed by Juan Shilón Gómez demands the destitution of the Morena mayor, Ponciano Gómez Gómez. On the 25th, two communal representatives and a constable were kidnapped by an armed group and exhibited in a photo on their knees, bloodied; four masked men in campaign uniforms point at them with tremendous rifles. If the demands are not met, they would burn them alive. A video circulated on Twitter where they were begging in Tzotzil and Spanish the government to respond to their captors, who threatened to burn the house of the current mayor. The municipal presidency was closed on Thursday afternoon, after being vandalized. A large sheet made in a hurry demanded of the governor on the facade: “Deal with the issue now!” and “Respect San Juan Chamula!”

At the entrance to the municipal headquarters, a burned patrol car in the middle of the road served as a warning. The media talked about that the National Guard was ready to intervene, but it wasn’t in the vicinity of Chamula. Of course, there were hawks, like in the movies, attentive to those who were traveling in the direction of Chamula. The air could be cut with a knife in the center of town: closed or vacant businesses, few women in the streets and groups of men spying on each other.

The burned municipal patrol car at the entrance to San Juan Chamula, on September 26 – Photo: Hermann Bellinghausen

But this is only one case. The community of Chavajebal, in El Bosque, is in suspense due to the hostility against Zapatista support bases and PRI members by an armed group of 40 components that calls itself the Alianza Morenista and has support in the municipal government. The entire population had to displace for two weeks at the end of 2018, after the execution of the municipal agent and the ejido commissioner; the atmosphere of danger is maintained, bullets fired into the air and harassment. The negotiation between the parties and the government is stagnant, if it’s not sabotaged. There are threats and a social network campaign against the indigenous parish priest of Simojovel, Marcelo Pérez Pérez, for intervening in favor of the victims.

Meanwhile, in Oxchuc, the interminable dispute for municipal power between parties recently caused a serious clash. In Chalchihuitán, dozens of families continue outside their lands as of today, nine groups from eight communities under fire that the paramilitaries detonate from neighboring Chenalhó, within an age-old conflict about boundaries that intensified at the end of 2017. Those displaced in Sishemtontic said they were abandoned and denied even by the municipal government. An equivalent scenario is recorded at the border between Chenalhó and Aldama, which also affects an autonomous Zapatista municipality. In Acteal last week, also in Chenalhó, the civil society Las Abejas suffered the destruction of its clinic and three homes in the displaced persons, the Catholic sanctuary and the organization’s headquarters, while several families of Río Jordán, in Los Chorros, are displaced from their community. In these two latter cases, the municipal authorities and those of Río Jordán disqualify public denunciation as a method, and they demand that not be done, “to then negotiate.”

On Friday the 27th, residents of Chalchihuitán denounced that members of the municipal council retained and deprived of their freedom the councilors Javier Nuñez Pérez and Mateo Pérez García. This Friday, Ricardo Núñez Pérez, Rafael Núñez López and Julio Girón Pérez were detained “in the same way,” and were reported “as disappeared.”

In the border jungle region, a recent crime shocked the population. On the Santo Domingo River, near Las Nubes spa, municipality of Las Margaritas, a couple of residents were found decapitated and dismembered. In Comitán, meanwhile, an organization operates that kidnaps the beneficiaries of the federal Youth Constructing the Future program (that aims to stimulate job training of those who don’t study), “charges” them half of their monthly 3,000 pesos, retains the card and the boys have to go every month to pick up “their part.” Not a few have been recruited by their captors.

There is much more to say just about Chamula, the same as San Cristóbal, a municipality with which the Chamulans maintain a paradoxical symbiotic opposition (the population of indigenous [Chamulans] formerly displaced in San Cristóbal could soon be a majority). There are many testimonies in the city about the excesses and boasts of a criminal group called Los Motonetos, something more tan urban myth, which has already carried out a nighttime “protest” with, it is said, 300 motorcyclists without license plates patrolled by vehicles also without license, challenging the San Cristóbal government. Assaults and armed violence and are attributed to them.

Originally they would have been organized, different sources maintain, by the former Coleto mayor, Marcos Cancino, a businessman of the Green Party and an Evangelical, for territorial control. Now they seem to command themselves.

In Chamula attempts at kidnapping children and disappearances are repeated. The context includes an age-old practice of trafficking persons, both migrants (polleros) and for sexual exploitation, and more recently the local production of child and adult pornography, which is sold openly in the urban markets. Reported femicides whose authors are known remain unpunished. Not to mention drugs, a business known for years. A Tzotzil friend based in San Cristóbal transmits to me the impact that it caused him seeing some young indigenous women “like this, with their traditional clothes, inhaling cocaine in the street.”


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee


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