The Chimalapas, a chima victory

Chimalapa campesinos

On November 11, 2021, Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) ruled in favor of Oaxaca in its dispute with Chiapas over 64,777 acres in the area known as the Chimalapas.

By: Luis Hernández Navarro

The real driving force that moves the lawsuit over the territorial limits between Oaxaca and Chiapas in the Chimalapas Jungle, is the conflict between the Zoque community members (chimas) who defend their lands and natural resources, and the Chiapas loggers, ranchers, politicians and drug traffickers, who loot and attack indigenous communities.

In Serpent’s Knot, the extraordinary novel-testimony published in 2004, Alejandro Aldana Sellschopp narrates the kidnapping, a few hours after the armed uprising in January 1994 of General Augusto Castillejos (in reality the finquero and former governor of Chiapas Absalón Castellanos Domínguez, the one responsible for the Wolonchán Massacre) [1], guarded by the then Major Moisés of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN, Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN). On the same track, the writer also tells of the pillage of the Chimalapas at the hands of Chiapas politicians and loggers.

Interweaving stories of different personages, Aldana Sellschopp, relates how, Rodrigo del Monte, a personage at the service of the general’s brother, responsible for the cutting of cedar, mahogany and pine, instructs his subordinates: “we will organize people to move to San Isidro la Gringa, in the Chimapalas (…) from there we are close to Santa María and San Miguel, where there is a very big mess, because some say it belongs to Chiapas and others say Oaxaca; As you will see, there is no defined law and that gives us a chance to cut trees without problems.”

When one of his interlocutors tells him that the argument had already been resolved, Rodrigo responds: “No, man, fucking laws are worth shit, we screw them by moving the markers about 30 kilometers, and that’s it, now it’s Chiapas land, and to top it all off the very Secretary of Agrarian Reform, one Rafael Rodríguez, just now in April ruled that there in Cintalapa, that La Gringa is national property and now it doesn’t matter if the enemies fight with us.”

The novel also relates the moment in which, in that war over wood, the Oaxacans took Hernán (Jorge Castellanos Domínguez), the governor’s brother, as a hostage while he was devastating the jungle in November 1985. To release him, they demanded that the Chiapas president abandon predatory action in the region. “They cut us down –says a personage in the book–, became very fucked up, disarmed everyone, beat us up, it turned into a mess. The little shits didn’t respect don Hernán, they tied him to a pole and they say that Governor Heladio Ramírez will hand him over to the general; but I think that they will kill him.”

The kidnapping of Jorge Castellanos Domínguez is just one more episode in the uninterrupted ancestral struggle of the Zoque communities in defense of their territory. In 1867, they bought their own lands from the Spanish crown in order to preserve them. In 1850, the then president, José Joaquín Herrera, recognized the document. And in March 1967, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz’ presidential resolution validated the property of two communities: Santa María and San Miguel.

In the Zoque language, Chimalapas means “gourd of gold,” in memory of the payment made to the crown to obtain their viceregal titles. It’s located in eastern Oaxaca and shares borders with Chiapas and Veracruz. Its surface is greater than those of states like Tlaxcala or Colima. According to Miguel Ángel García, for many years dedicated to the defense of the indigenous communities and to the region’s biodiversity, “it has 594,000 hectares of land, of which 495,000 are forest and jungle, which makes it the most important of Mexico and also of Mesoamerica” (

Supported by the Chiapas government and with federal endorsement, in 1947 five large forestry companies with 25 sawmills were established in the region, led by the Rodolfo Pérez Monroy from Michoacán. Without concern for conservation of the environment or the needs of the population, they savagely exploited the jungle and the labor. Until, in 1977, the residents and workers rose up and expelled the loggers.

Then the hand of Absalón Castellanos continued the invasion of that territory with ranchers, new loggers and drug ranchers supported by Governor Patrocino González Garrido. At the same time, the state government sponsored migrations of poor Tsotsils from the Chiapas Highlands, of those displaced by the Cerro de Oro Dam [2], or of victims of the Chichonal Volcano [3] explosion.

To legalize the dispossession 160,000 hectares (approximately 64,777 acres) of the Chimalapas, in 1995 Chiapas modified Article 3 of its Constitution. Before that date, the boundaries of that state were clearly established and there was almost no overlap between its boundaries and those of Santa María and San Miguel. State governors like Julio César Ruiz Ferro and Roberto Albores sponsored the occupation of that territory and protected the predators. To nail down the illegal invasion, the government of Juan Sabines created Belisario Domínguez Municipality on that soil.

Last November 11, after a 10-year controversy, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation set the boundary line between the two states. It established that Belisario Domínguez Municipality, which the Chiapas government unilaterally created in 2011 in the Chimalapas, is in reality in Oaxaca territory.

The decision is, without a doubt, a legal victory for the golden communities in defense of their territory. A victory that ranchers, drug traffickers and loggers will not stand idly by.

Translator’s Notes:

[1] In 1980, after 28 fruitless attempts to legalize the land they farmed, indigenous people took over the Wolonchán finca. In May of that year, state police entered and killed one campesino and injured several others. Two weeks later, a large contingent of soldiers entered the community, launched tear others gas canisters and then began uninterrupted shooting. This caused the death of 12 people; 40 wounded, homes burned and 723 families expelled from the village. Days later in nearby Yajalón, police attacked a group of families from Wolonchán, leaving one dead and several injured. The victims were militants of the Socialist Workers Party.

[2] Cerro de Oro Dam (Gold Hill Dam, in English) and also known as Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado Dam is located in the state of Oaxaca. Construction began in 1973 and was completed in May 1989. 26,000 people were displaced as a result of the dam’s construction.

[3] The Chichonal Volcano (also known as El Chichón) is located in Francisco León, which is in northwest Chiapas. Presumed to be dormant, it erupted 3 times in 1982. It destroyed 9 communities, killing 1,900 people, which made it the largest volcanic disaster in modern Mexican history.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: