The Tseltal communities that resist the National Guard


Nacional Guard barracks constructed on indígenous territory in Chilón municipality, without prior consultation of the communities.

Text and photos: Orsetta Bellani in Pie de Página

The Chilón Community Government is opposed to the megaprojects and the presence of National Guard barracks, which has now been constructed by order of Sedena, [1] thus violating the right of the peoples to territory and putting the communities’ right to security at risk.


César Hernández Feliciano took his pozol seated in front of a small store at the Temó Crossroads, Chiapas, when he perceived that the tension was going to explode. The director of the Chilón Municipal Police used his knife to cut the banner of the Bachajón ejido members who, on October 15, 2020, were demonstrating against the installation of a National Guard barracks in their territory, and the struggle was beginning.

Cesar kept the pozol in his morral (shoulder bag) while he watched the rain of stones that the police threw at the protesters, and tried to take cover in the little store. He didn’t make it in time: a baton hit him and a group of police dragged him, kicked him and put him into the gondola of a patrol car. Then they transferred him to another, where the campesino and catechist, a militant of the Movement in Defense of Life and Territory (Modevite, its Spanish acronym), met José Luis Gutiérrez Hernández, another ejido member who had been arrested.

He had a deep head wound. They took them to the Center for Social Reinsertion for those Sentenced (CERSS, its initials in Spanish) in Ocosingo and charged them with rioting. Soon the torture began again.

“You are the leader of the Modevite,” the police shouted while they were beating him with a baton, behind the bars of his cell.

“There are no leaders in Modevite,” he answered to the blows.

“You are lying, asshole,” and another blow came.

César and José Luis were two days without eating or having any contact with the outside. On the third day, with their hands and feet in chains, they put them in a white [Nissan] Urvan.

“Now we’re going to take you to hell,” the police threatened them. “It’s good, you’ll go after us,” answered César.

They spent more than five hours with their heads covered and bowed, their hands clasped at the neck. “It seemed like a forced disappearance, but I wasn’t afraid because I had faith in God,” says César Hernández.

It was arriving at the CERSS “El Amate” that the sadness began to appear. Nightmares haunted his nights and the marks on his body didn’t stop reminding him of the blows. It was difficult for him to walk and in order to stand up he had to scale the wall with his hands. To this day, César cannot carry much firewood because his abdomen burns.

Consequences of militarization

Chilón residents know the consequences of militarization. In 1995, after the EZLN Uprising, Sedena constructed a barracks in this area of the Lacandón Jungle populated by indigenous Tseltals, which was closed in 2007 due to opposition from the population.

“When I’m sitting here, everything that happened to me comes to mind and I start to cry,” says César. Not even here, in the courtyard of his home in San Martín Cruztón community, where he and his wife planted purple and orange flowers, does he find peace.

We’re talking about a Tseltal self-government body promoted by Modevite, which just this November 20 celebrated its fourth anniversary. It was elected through uses and customs, works in a parallel way to the partisan municipal government and asks for a consultation so that its right to govern its territory is recognized exclusively.

The Chilón Community Government is opposed to the megaprojects and the presence of the National Guard barracks, which have already been built by order of Sedena –instead of a civilian government body, as the Constitution provides- in spite of the fact that there was no prior, free and informed consultation. Those who approved its installation were only the municipal commissioner and the municipal president, who handed the territory over to the National Guard with a loan contract -in other words without making any payment- for 30 years renewable for another 30 years.

“The rates of violence and insecurity in Chilón do not justify the imposition of a military barracks and presence in this territory,” César Contreras of the Prodh Center affirms in a press conference, which together with the Frayba Human Rights Center assumed the legal defense legal of César Hernández and José Luis Gutiérrez, and the legal accompaniment of the Tseltal communities. “The question is: what then are the objectives of the installation of these barracks? Who or what projects are you taking care of?”

According to the Chilón Community Government, the megaprojects in play are several. “The San Sebastián Bachajón ejido commissioner goes around saying in the assemblies that the Coca Cola company will come to exploit a water hole to produce soft drinks,” says councilor Pascuala Vázquez Aguilar.

Chilón would also be crossed by the Highway of the Cultures, [2] infrastructure that is part of a megaproject that revives an ambition the Fonatur [3] has had since 2000 to build a superhighway between the tourist cities of San Cristóbal de Las Casas and Palenque, in order to transform Chiapas into a “new Cancun.”

The highway project was frozen in 2008 because of opposition from the communities, but the current administration decided to extend it some 300 km to the coastal city of Pijijiapan. The superhighway would permit tourists to travel easily from [Pacific Ocean] beaches in western Chiapas to the archaeological sites and swimming holes and spas in the Lacandón Jungle, and would serve as a link between the Trans-Isthmus Corridor and the Maya Train. Along this highway there would be seven National Guard barracks: in Tonalá, Arriaga, Cintalapa, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chilón and two in Palenque, a city where they also plan to build one of the Maya Train stations.

The authors of the document “Militarization of the Mexican Southeast” from the Latin American Observatory of Geopolitics express a strong concern about the growth of military power during this six-year term, including the National Guard, 76% of which is composed of members of the armed forces­. “When this administration ends in three years, the military will already have occupied entire regions of the country,” warns Ana Esther Ceceña, a researcher at the UNAM and a co-author of the document. “I don’t know who will be able to dismantle that power, or return it to its previous levels, which were not small either.”

According to the Prodh Center, 10 National Guard barracks have already been built in Chiapas -without consultation- and they plan to build 21 of the 300 barracks that in a few years we will have in national territory.

“The Chilón barracks is the only one in Chiapas that is not yet inaugurated. We think that our restraining order (amparo) is stopping it from starting to function,” says Victorico Gálvez Pérez of the Frayba Human Rights Center. Jointly with the Prodh Center, in November 2020 the Frayba filed a lawsuit, which is still not resolved, against the presence of barracks in Tseltal territory and against the deployment of military activities in general. The judicial authorities made no progress in investigating the torture that César and José Luis suffered, and the Public Ministry even affirmed that the injuries were self-inflicted.

The two indigenous Tseltals are firm in their struggle and in their demand that the legal process against them cease immediately. César Hernández celebrates the change of precautionary measures that he obtained a year ago, but traveling every two weeks to Ocosingo to sign-in at the Control Court is very expensive for him and the prohibition on leaving his municipality makes him feel encaged. The days pass slowly between work in the milpa and his house.

“When I’m sitting here, everything that happened to me comes to mind and I start to cry,” says César. Not even here, in the courtyard of his house in San Martín Cruztón community, where he and his wife planted purple and orange flowers, does he find peace.


[1] Sedena is the Spanish acronym for the Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, Mexico’s National Defense Ministry

[2] Highway of the Cultures is the new name of what was previously called the San Cristóbal-Palenque Superhighway.

[3] Fonatur is the Spanish acronym used for Mexico’s National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism.


Originally Published in Spanish by Pie de Página

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Re-published in Spanish by:

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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