Recent events in Chiapas require an international solidarity response. Armed attacks are being directed at unarmed forcibly displaced persons in the Highlands (los Altos) of Chiapas. Those doing the shooting are a group of paramilitaries in Chenalhó municipality that also patrol and block access to crops and fields. The “targets” of the shooting and roadblocks are a mix of Civil Society Las Abejas members, civilian Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas that are members of various political parties. The attacks against Aldama municipality are especially frequent and dangerous. The paramilitaries use a dispute over a piece of land that was officially granted to Aldama as their excuse for the armed attacks. These attacks and patrols have resulted in deaths, injuries and hunger in Aldama.
The Chiapas Support Committee is urging our friends and supporters to join us in signing the letter below, which will be delivered to the Mexican consulate in San Francisco and mailed to the Mexican Embassy in Washington DC. We will also email it to the president of Mexico and the governor of Chiapas.
Please read the letter below and send an email to the Chiapas Support Committee’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org saying that you agree to sign on by close of business (5pm) on Friday, September 11, 2020. Thank you!
Dear Consul General Gómez Arnau,
We write to express our alarm over the growing violence in the Highlands of Chiapas, Mexico; specifically, in the municipalities of Aldama, Chenalhó and Chalchihuitán, where paramilitaries have violently attacked and forcibly displaced thousands of indigenous people from their homes, fields and communities. We are demanding that the Mexican government stop the paramilitary violence, stop any support being given to the paramilitaries and dismantle them.
According to the internationally respected Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba), paramilitary-style civilian armed groups in Chenalhó municipality perpetrate the violence, shooting indiscriminately into the civilian communities where displaced persons are sheltered, often causing them to flee for safety in the mountains, thus leaving them outdoors without shelter and food. In Aldama, for example, bullets fired from Chenalhó injured13-year-old María Luciana Lunes Pérez in the face and shoulder while she was working on her loom inside her home in Koko’, Aldama.
These paramilitary groups also patrol roads and block access to fields so that those displaced cannot grow or harvest their food, creating hunger and the threat of famine in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, as well as preventing the harvesting and sale of cash crops that provide the only income these subsistence farmers have. Meanwhile, deaths and injuries are claimed on both sides.
A troubling photo apparently taken from a video in the local press shows heavily armed men in Chenalhó, dressed in camouflage uniforms, wearing ski masks and sporting high-powered rifles. The video’s release, in which the paramilitaries introduce themselves to society, would seem to assert: “We have impunity!” Further evidence of impunity appeared on social media with the news that 80 residents of Santa Martha (Chenalhó) took weapons and munitions away from a detachment of police in that town and continued to retain the weapons.
Another report from those displaced in Aldama indicated that there have been 30 armed attacks in three days against the people of Aldama, with the gunfire coming from Chenalhó. This shocked readers in Mexico and abroad. These egregious human rights violations must be stopped now to avoid further loss of life and serious bodily injury. Human rights defenders and those displaced are seeking such intervention.
This is a crisis situation that requires the Mexican government’s immediate intervention to dismantle these paramilitaries and repair the damage done to all victims. Mexico’s federal and state governments failed to do this before and after the December 22, 1997 Acteal Massacre in which paramilitaries attacked and murdered 45 women, men and children. Paramilitary violence forcibly displaced thousands in the months before that massacre, as is happening now. Additionally, there is evidence that the current paramilitary group is related to the one involved in that massacre.
The growing paramilitary attacks on Aldama feel eerily reminiscent of the conditions that preceded the Acteal Massacre. And the present reminds us all too painfully of the past. The Mexican government can prevent a greater calamity from taking place by stopping and dismantling the paramilitary violence now.
We, therefore, urge Mexico’s federal and state governments to stop the paramilitary attacks, dismantle the paramilitary group(s) in Chenalhó and begin repairing the damage done to all the victims.
[We’ll add the signatures as they come in and then send to the Consulate]