November in Aldama

Displaced women and children in Aldama

By: Luis Hernández Navarro

In November, the coffee trees of Aldama, Chiapas, wear red. The aromatic cherries reach their optimum maturity. Right then, growers must collect the beans by hand, one by one, leaving the green ones for later. If the fruit stays on the bush longer, they change color and acquire a bitter and vinegary taste.

But this November, Aldama’s small producers cannot harvest their coffee. Nor were they able to collect it in its entirety last year or in 2018. Doing so, puts your life at risk. When they walk to their fields, the Santa Martha paramilitaries shoot to kill them, with weapons for the exclusive use of the Army. Therefore, they have to use the darkness of night to pick a few fruits from the bushes. The violence against them, present every month since 2017, intensifies in the harvest season.

For a coffee grower, not picking the aromatic is ruin. With the little profit he obtains from its sale, he raises the money necessary to acquire products that the milpa doesn’t produce. If you don’t market the grain, you have no income. This has happened to those in Aldama for the last three years.

The same thing happens with the women who are dedicated to artesanía. Not only were they displaced from their communities along with their children and their parents; they spend each day between bursts of projectiles, fearing for their lives and the lives of others, unable to go out to work.

According to the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center, as of September 19 there had been 628 intimidations and attacks with firearms. As Ernesto Ledesma and have documented, the authorities have not intervened to prevent the attacks; to the contrary, the state police have supported the Santa Martha paramilitaries. These attacks have forced inhabitants of Aldama to build concrete walls in order to protect themselves from the bullets. They have even erected parapets in the schools (

Starting in March 2018, the paramilitary offensive caused the forced displacement of more than 2,000 people from 13 communities. Houses, personal belongings, lands, milpas, orchards, animals and the right to live in peace have been taken from those in Aldama. Every day and night, hundreds of women and children live in the mountains, under the threat of something bad happening to them. Hunger is their habitual companion.

Aldama is a small Tsotsil Maya municipality in the Chiapas Highlands, with its municipal capital in Santa María Magdalena. It emerged from the 1999 re-municipalization, promoted by the government of Roberto Albores, El Croquetas, [1] to confront the Zapatista expansion. During the XIX century, it had the rank of municipality, until it was subordinated to San Pedro Chenalhó in 1921 (

The aggressors belong to the neighboring ejido of Santa Martha, in Chenalhó. In 1975, the Agrarian Reform Ministry improperly awarded 60 hectares (approximately 148 acres) belonging to Santa María Magdalena. Thus began, by governmental error, a long agrarian litigation, aggravated over the years by a mixture of governmental partiality and laziness. In 2008, the Unitary Agrarian Court ruled in favor of Aldama regarding the 60 hectares. However, Santa Martha rejected the court’s decision.

But, the Aldama-Santa Martha fight is not the only one existing in the region. Inside Santa Martha there is an internal conflict that has caused deaths, which began with the release of the paramilitaries that perpetrated the Acteal Massacre. There is a strong dispute between the former mayor of Chenalhó, Rosa Pérez, and the former trustee, who lives in Santa Martha.

Throughout the years, peaceful coexistence agreements that are not complied with have been negotiated and reached ( Meanwhile in the region, the business of junkyards for stolen cars (of good brands and recent years), the trafficking and sale of weapons, piracy and local drug dealing (narcomenudeo) are flourishing. These activities show the presence of organized crime groups, with national articulations, that seek territorial control for their operations, and that can only act with the collusion of the authorities. Zapatista autonomy and the autonomy of other indigenous communities are disturbing to these groups.

In Santa Martha, a paramilitary group with high-powered weapons and the capacity and resources acts with impunity to daily harass an entire municipality, without the authorities preventing it. To suppose that a paramilitary operation of this magnitude originates exclusively because of a conflict over 60 hectares is, to say the least, naive. Of course, the agrarian problem exists and has to be resolved. But it isn’t limited to that. The revival of inter-community disputes forms part of the counterinsurgency warfare manual. Aldama is no exception.

More: since 2006 in Oaxaca, with the APPO struggle, civilian authorities have subrogated counterinsurgency tasks that were previously entrusted to the Army and police to organized crime groups. The model has been extended, at least to Guerrero, Michoacán and Baja California ( Everything appears to indicate that it also operates in Chiapas, where there is a close relationship between institutional politics (the Chiapas family reloaded) and criminal activities, such as trafficking migrants and drugs.

[1] El Croquetas is the nickname Subcomandante Marcos gave Roberto Albores. It means Doggie Biscuits. Albores promoted and the legislature approved the creation of new municipalities carved out of large ones that were heavily Zapatista.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee



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