Above: Presentation of the El Machete Self-Defense group, in Pantelhó, Chiapas, last July – Photo: Image taken from YouTube
This is the second of two articles from Hermann Bellinghausen that gives an overview and analysis of the current situation in Chiapas.
By: Hermann Bellinghausen
The PRI hegemony, taken for granted for decades in Chiapas, was broken on New Year’s Day of 1994. The reality was much more porous, the complexity of the indigenous peoples turned out to come from deep, having great diversity and being crossed by important historical tensions that, after gaining visibility on the political agenda, became of national interest. Great and terrible days followed one another in the next decade. Chiapas became an essay of the future on two opposite fronts. The organized indigenous people, in rebellion, in resistance, or at least in protest against the government and the state of things were and are very numerous. Against them, the acute militarization, massive by the standards of 25 years ago, established a land of exception in the Mayan Mountains of Chiapas.
The segregation, racism, invisibility and contempt towards indigenous peoples had been the hallmark of the urban population and the property owners, the so-called cashlanes (non-indigenous people). The inequality was abysmal, even after the Revolution and its distant agrarian reform. In the communities people were dying from the flu, diarrhea, hunger, and nobody cared. Many were slaves. Elections came and went, total, the polls were full.
The unexpected indigenous emancipation altered the balance sheets and calculations. Ever since then, the state governments have been nonexistent for practical purposes (with the relative exception of Roberto Albores Guillén, a proactive collaborator with the generals, and Pablo Salazar Mendiguchía, who quickly squandered his democratic credentials). The state went from being “governed” from the center (the federal government in Mexico City) to governing itself, for better or worse. Zapatista discipline and its autonomy in the territories where exercised, are a guaranty of governability, but it has also generated any number of paramilitary-style replicas that evolved into powers unto themselves. The communities and pacifist organizations that inherited the theology of liberation from tatic Samuel Ruiz García receive the same response.
The partisan replay in Chiapas ever since “democracy” arrived in 2000, according to the center, has not been less ruthless against the communities, not by pantomime, which, with the continuous ingredient of the military presence in their territories, was always loaded with counterinsurgent propaganda. No less is the role of the countless Christian denominations that with varying degrees of legitimacy and transparency have created divisions, violence and pretexts in favor of the State.
The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN, Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) declared war on the federal government, a declaration, by the way, that is still in effect. And the government, especially from 1995 on, responded with long-term war. The initial clashes in January 1994 with the Salinas government responding to the war with war, were small in the face of what was experienced during the administration of Ernesto Zedillo.
Community division was considered strategic and was stimulated where possible: confrontations between Evangelical or Pentecostal Christians and Catholics; red or green parties against yellow or purple ones; the insidious “regularization” of cattle lands recuperated for the native peoples thanks to the insurrection; the emergence of clearly para-militarized groups, aggressive and well armed.
The multitude of layers and folds that such divisiveness unleashed is explained by the great economic, political, logistical, intelligence, manipulation and corruption investment in the indigenous regions of the jungle, the Highlands and the Northern Zone.
These ingredients generated a great disorder that makes it difficult to coexist among brothers in communities, ejidos, municipalities and traditional indigenous regions. All this, naturally sprinkled with the sustained introduction of weapons. Faced with the Zapatista challenge, the government, which, although it said yes, never intended to comply with the rebels demands for the native peoples that had become national, responded with an arms escalation seasoned with alcohol, prostitution and drugs.
All this must be considered in order to interpret terrible and absurd acts like the permanent shooting that some 15 Tsotsil communities of Aldama (or Magdalena) suffer. The existence of shock groups, militias, paramilitaries and now sicarios in Chamula, Pantelhó, Chenalhó, Simojovel, Ocosingo, Pueblo Nuevo and Altamirano comes from both the old white guards of the finqueros and from the marginal people and criminals authorized as paramilitaries in the Highlands and the Northern Zone.
The emergence of self-defense groups, in principle on the side of the peoples and against crime, can be the product of the example of Zapatista armed resistance and the effectiveness of their autonomies, and not only of the historical perversities of the local chiefdoms (cacicazgos). That would be the case of El Machete of Pantelhó, and maybe the self-defense groups announced in Simojovel and Altamirano.
It would also seem to weigh the dispute between two candidates for governor from the block for now related to the federal government, which would guaranty the continuity of the Chiapas political farce anchored to it, and it reinforces the tempests that government agencies and institutions, the armed forces and political parties sowed in the past four or five six-year terms. The municipal presidencies in the Highlands (los Altos) make up true narco-governments (Pantelhó, San Cristóbal, Chenalhó). Let’s add to this the expansion in the Chiapas Highlands of criminal organizations dedicated to the trafficking of arms, drugs, pornography and migrants. Let’s not forget that the state has become the gateway for the growing tide of Central American and Haitian families. The border with Guatemala is heavily militarized.
Political groups within indigenous communities have been blocking highways for years, retaining machinery and officials; usually with explicit demands, or because of electoral conflicts that are endemic in Oxchuc and other municipalities.
Now in the communities, they intercept the National Guard (the paramilitaries did it in Santa Martha, Chenalhó; Mitontic residents did it to prevent the National Guard from going into Los Altos), and they also disarm it.
The government’s negotiating commissions come and go in Aldama, Chenalhó, Pantelhó and Altamirano, without containing the violence.
The most serious executions, not the only ones, have been of the special prosecutor for the Pantelhó case, Gregorio Pérez Gómez, last August 8 on the main avenue of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, and that of the former president of Las Abejas de Acteal, Simón Pedro Pérez Gómez, on July 5 in the Simojovel market. In both cases they were the objects of an act of sicarios (hit men) on a motorcycle, which has become the new modus operandi. It’s no longer repression, but rather “organized crime.”
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee