Thousands of acres planted with oil palm Photo: Aldo Santiago López.
By: Yessica Morales
MAYAN COMMUNITIES in CHIAPAS DENOUNCE THAT OIL PALM TAKES WATER and LAND FROM THEM
Slowly but surely, international oil companies have taken possession of more than 36,000 hectares of land in Chiapas, now planted with oil palm.
Claudia Ramos Guillén,  a member of Water and Life, Women, Rights and Environment (Agua y Vida, Mujeres, Derechos and Ambiente A. C.) announced that in Chiapas the official data about oil palm are ambiguous, but these plantations represent 70% of the cultivated fields in Mexico, especially that which is exported to the central part of the country for the purpose of refining the oils.
These plantations started in the 1940s with seed brought from Costa Rica; this expansion took place gradually. However, around 2006–2007 it had a “boom,” especially in the Northern Zone municipalities of Benemérito de las Américas and Palenque, which link with Campeche, Tabasco, Veracruz and the Guatemalan Petén.
Ramos Guillén added a more regional view of the processes of expansion of this mono-crop, and especially of what’s happening in these territories and in the bodies of women faced with the expansion of violent extraction processes, of dispossession in the territories, of extraction of water and the natural commons in our state.
She pointed out that there is a presence of oil palm in the area of La Encrucijada (above photo)  and in the Palenque Nacional Park, where there is talk of deforestation processes, which is contradictory because by being Natural Protected Areas (NPA), there is a conservation policy.
In other words, on the one hand there is a policy of expansion of mono-cultivation or of cattle ranching, while on the other hand the NPAs function as control strategies, and of telling people how to manage and exercise environmental policy in the country associated with palm cultivation.
She emphasized the use of a technological package, especially glyphosate and other fertilizers that create soils with greater salinization and contamination of water sources. That not only dries out the plantations, but the water is also used for processing the oil and doesn’t allow it to infiltrate the root system of the plant that is sown in large mono-crop areas.
There are eleven oil-processing plants. The modus operandi of these companies is to have about three processing plants in areas of interest –the north and south of the state-, which are linked to processes of expansion and monopolizing of small producers from whom they buy and lease lands.
The foregoing generates great pressure on areas where crops and staple foods are supplied, like the traditional milpa, corn and beans, since it directly affects the strategies of women for the conservation and care of life.
Ramos Guillén added that these projects are very close to places where they extract raw materials, as were the special economic zones and the Maya Train, which just function to exacerbate the extractive model the territories experience.
She said about the Sembrando Vida Program that they are not able to specify the strategy of how it goes from a monoculture palm plantation to a rubber plantation, issues that they could discuss about where rural politics are headed and on what terms to support it.
The question would be: Do we want to move from one monoculture to another? The effects on territories and women’s bodies reminds us of a phrase that compañera Miranda of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH) shares: To the big companies we have never stopped being a Banana Republic.
She explained that it’s a hard phrase because it makes them do an analysis about all the effects the plantations have on territories, on women’s bodies and what it means in terms of the dispossession of the natural commons; it is a loss of food sovereignty, knowledge, conflicts over water, damages to health and to the environment.
Added to this is the dumping of waste from the processing plants on natural springs near the communities, processes of militarization, para-militarization and the association with the organized crime that generates more violence and dispossession on the bodies of the women, which are functional to the patriarchal system.
Many rights are violated, such as: the right to information, the right to consultation, the right to a healthy environment, the right to self- determination and the right to territory.
At the same time, community assemblies have all male representation; the women cannot make decisions. Many times they mention that “they make decisions in the family,” but really the word, ownership and decision-making authority are in the hands of men.
Finally, she said that the expansion of oil palm mono-cultivation cannot be thought of solely as plantations; it’s also part of a corridor that represents geo-strategic and geopolitical interests in the southeast area of Mexico and it’s part of a Mesoamerican bloc with Guatemala and Honduras.
We tend to analyze blocs when the cumulative effects, for example, soil erosion or the effect of violence in our territory are very strong, especially when we talk about the part of Honduras where the processes of violence and displacement of populations linked to land dispossession are more evident, Ramos Guillén concluded.
 Claudia Ramos Guillén lives in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas. She is a campesina who studied to be a technician in rural development and engineering in Agro-ecology at Chapingo Autonomous University. She earned a Masters of Science in Natural Resources and Rural Development from the Colegio de la Frontera Sur (College of the Southern Border), in Chiapas. Currently, she is studying for a Masters in Environmental Education and Communication at the Moxviquil Institute of Sustainable Human Education in San Cristóbal de Las Casas and is also a member of Agua y Vida, Mujeres, Derechos and Ambiente A. C.)
 La Encrucijada Biosphere Reserve (established 2006) is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve situated in the Pacific Coastal Lowlands physiographic region of Mexico. It covers 144,848 hectares (559.26 sq mi) stretching over six municipalities on the Chiapas Coast. It is composed of two large coastal lagoon systems that correspond to two core areas (La Encrucijada and Palmarcito), and a wide variety of natural ecosystems including mangroves, zapotonales, tule swamps and marshes, as well as patches of tropical seasonal forest, coastal dunes and palm trees.
Originally Published in Spanish by Chiapas Paralelo
Tuesday, June 15, 2021
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee