Displaced indigenous people, between aggressions from paramilitary groups and Covid-19

Chalchihuitán displaced.

By: Hermann Bellinghausen

In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, more than a thousand people displaced because of continuous violence in the Tzotzil municipality of Chalchihuitán [1], in the Highlands (Los Altos) of Chiapas, denounced another armed attack last May 1 against one of their refugee camps. According to testimonies that the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) collected, individuals from a paramilitary group dressed in black shot from the neighboring municipality of Chenalhó.

“It happened on the Chacojtón stretch in Pom community. This has provoked a lot of fear, we can’t go to our milpa to bring our vegetables back to eat, the women and children suffer a lot, they can’t go for firewood and the men can’t go out to work,” the indigenous people stated.

“It’s hard to find a way to feed ourselves in this situation. The authorities tell us not to leave the house due to the Covid-19 disease, but there is no corn, no beans, we have to go and look for our vegetables at the plot. Nor can we buy in the community, because the men cannot go out to work the milpa or to sell the coffee crop, there is fear because of the disease and because we will be injured by a bullet from the paramilitary groups.”

According to the Frayba, the Chalchihuitán communities confront an increased risk of a humanitarian crisis. Acts of armed violence increased the fear and the humanitarian crisis in the communities that have been attacked for a long time. This situation of vulnerability places 273 families at high risk of contracting Covid-19, a total of 1,236 people forcibly displaced. “They are in extreme poverty, without adequate food or safe drinking water, and lacking health services,” the Frayba points out.

Children and adolescents are of special concern, as well as older adults and women in the communities displaced from K’analumtik, Pom, Ch’enmut, Bololch’ojon, Bejelton, Tulantik, Cruzton, Ts’omolton and Cruz Kakanab in Chalchihuitán municipality, and Majompepentik in Chenalhó municipality.

The Frayba, with offices in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, points out that despite the fact that the displaced communities count on precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the fact that the National Human Rights Commission issued a recommendation, “the Mexican State has not complied with implementing the necessary actions.”

According to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval, its Spanish acronym) Chalchihuitán municipality occupies one of the first places of extreme poverty (79.8%), “which has worsened since the acts of violence perpetrated by a group of armed civilians coming from Chenalhó provoked the forced displacement of 5, 023 people in October 2017.”

The United Nations has postulated: “Indigenous peoples, particularly the women and little girls, are often disproportionately affected by epidemics and other crises. Indigenous peoples have almost three times more probability of living in la extreme poverty that non-indigenous peoples.” Moreover, they are “custodians of a great wealth of traditional knowledge and practices, languages and cultures, which include responses to time-tested crises.” Consequently, they must be included in a participatory, culturally appropriate manner and one respectful of their rights, in the responses to the pandemic and its impacts.

[1] Distinguishing the different groups of displaced people in Chiapas is a bit of a challenge. One group of displaced people consists of those displaced from Aldama, a municipality on one side of of Chenalhó. The parallel Zapatista municipality is Magdalena de la Paz. There is some indication that this conflict affects both Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas in Aldama. A second group of displaced people is the one discussed in this article, people from Chalchihuitán, a municipality on the other side of Chenalhó. (See map.) They are non-Zapatistas. In both cases, the armed aggressors are from the municipality of Chenalhó. Chenalhó is where the armed groups that perpetrated the Acteal Massacre originated. It is believed that the current civilian armed groups; i.e. paramilitaries, are made up of some of the same paramilitaries who participated in the Acteal Massacre and the sons of some of those who participated. The community of Acteal is in Chenalhó and the parallel Zapatista autonomous municipio is San Pedro Polhó.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Thursday, May 7, 2020


Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee


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