Chiapas burns

Bodegas on fire at the Cuxuljá crossroads.

By: Luis Hernández Navarro

Chiapas burns. The masters of the paramilitaries let go of the reins and, emboldened, they do their thing. They attack indigenous rebel communities with firearms, are given the luxury, as in Santa Martha, of showing themselves with arms and uniforms and disarming state preventive police agents.

Just this August 22, a group of transporters belonging to the a la Regional Organization of Ocosingo Coffee Growers [1] (Orcao, its Spanish acronym) living in the municipality of Oxchuc, headed by Tomás Santiz Gómez, shot, looted and burned two coffee warehouses belonging to Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) [2] support bases, in Cuxuljá community, Moisés Gandhi autonomous rebel municipality (Ocosingo, in official nomenclature).

Cuxuljá is a village at the foot of the highway that that connects San Cristóbal and Ocosingo. Eight autonomous Zapatista municipalities surround it and it’s the crossroads for different communities. The Army occupied it until 2001. The soldiers withdrew from that position in order to comply with the three signals that the EZLN demanded from the government of Vicente Fox to re-establish the dialogue.

The withdrawal of the troops did not “pacify” the zone. As soon as the dialogue failed, due to the approval of the constitutional reform on indigenous rights and culture that did not fulfill the San Andrés Accords, aggressions of the Orcao paramilitary group began against the rebel bases in that community. Its objective was to occupy the territory the troops vacated left.

The Orcao wasn’t always like that. For some years it had a close relationship with Zapatismo. However, it broke this tie between 1997 and 1999, and its leadership began to dispute the rebel social base, with economic support and positions in the government for its leaders. With the arrival of the state government of Pablo Salazar (2000-06), the conflict escalated. In 2002, the coffee growers aggressions against as Zapatista bases intensified dramatically, to the point of destroying an insurgent mural. It became a paramilitary force.

The Orcao formed in 1988, with 12 communities in Sibacjá, in the municipality of Ocosingo. Soon after, other towns joined until adding up to almost 90. It’s original demands consisted of both the search for better prices for coffee (in 1989 they fell drastically) and a solution to the agrarian backlog. Influenced by progressive pastoral work, in 1992, in the context of the commemoration of 500 years of indigenous, black and popular resistance, it vindicated indigenous self-determination, opposed the reform to Constitutional Article 27 and demanded liberty, justice and democracy (

However, it suffered an unstoppable decomposition. It was practically expelled from Unorca in 2015. Internally divided, two groups fought over its leadership, the José Pérez group, linked to the Greens and to the control of control of passenger transport, and the Juan Vázquez group, the commissioner for reconciliation in the Juan Sabines government, more oriented to the productive. Allied with the rotating governments, its leaders have enjoyed, for their personal benefit, positions in public administration. Many of them were part of the PRD, the PVEM and now of Morena.

There is a long history of Orcao attacks against Cuxuljá. As a result of the armed uprising, the EZLN support bases (a collective group of 539 campesinos) were benefitted with 1,433 hectares expropriated from finqueros (estate owners). They have a “delivery-receipt of land certificate” from the Agrarian Reform Ministry.

The Zapatistas work the land collectively and refuse to parcel it out individually. They say that doing so would be like returning to 1994. However, a small group from the Orcao who abandoned the community and sold their houses, originally supported by the Army and police, has insisted for 19 years on subdividing the property, obtaining certificates and selling individually what is the product of a common struggle.

Orcao’s attacks against the EZLN’s support bases have been a constant. They are not limited to Cuxuljá, but rather encompass several municipalities. The last one took place last February 23 in Chilón, when Orcao, los Chinchulines and members of Morena violated and kidnapped community representatives, in retaliation for participating in the Days in Defense of Territory and Mother Earth We Are All Samir (

These aggressions have been carried out regularly, within the framework of government offensives to try to weaken Zapatismo and contain its advance. They are not the product of inter-community fights, but rather the result of a strategy of the State fabricating internal conflicts. The governments in turn (even the current one) support the Orcao with economic resources, productive projects (many of them cattle projects), political cover and police impunity, to try to erode and wear down the EZLN.

Just a year ago, the rebels announced the creation of seven new Caracoles in addition to the five existing ones, giving them a total of 43 self-government bodies, unrelated to official government bodies. Additionally, they have announced their rejection of the Tren Maya and the Interoceanic Corridor. The new battle of Cuxuljá and the non-stop war of the Chenalhó paramilitaries are part of a containment strategy against that advance of Zapatismo; a strategy that doesn’t seem to worry about setting the state on fire.

[1] Organización Regional de Cafeticultores de Ocosingo (Orcao)

[2] Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: