Violence returns to Altamirano, 27 kidnapped

Altamirano_

Above: Smoke from Altamirano’s municipal palace last September

After municipal offices were set on fire and ransacked, taxis were burned and people were kidnapped and held as hostages in the struggle to oust a former finquero family from municipal power last October, violence broke out again on December 29, 2021 in the Puerto Rico ejido, a community in Altamirano municipality, Chiapas, Mexico.

The Puerto Rico community was holding an assembly with Altamirano’s municipal council, when masked members of the Alliance of Social Organizations and Left Unions (ASSI) arrived carrying sticks, stones and guns. The ASSI members kidnapped 27 civilians and took them to a nearby community by the name of La Candelaria, also in Altamirano municipality, but apparently a community the ASSI members control, where they have held them as hostages since December 29. Two days later, another 12 were kidnapped; it’s unclear from news reports where the 12 were taken and whether they are still being held.

The response to the kidnappings was prompt and predictable. On the morning of Monday, January 3, 2022, thousands of Altamirano ejido owners blocked the three entrances to the town of Altamirano, which serves as the municipal seat, to demand that the state government intervene to obtain the release of the people being held and that the federal and state governments apply the rule of law in the municipality.

Road blocks were removed from all three entrances to Altamirano 2 days later, after a meeting with state government officials, who agreed to meet again with a commission of ejido owners and municipal authorities to find a way to liberate those being held hostage.

Ejido owners in the town of Altamirano have opposed the ASSI and its members for some time, alleging that it is a paramilitary group at the service of former municipal president Roberto Pinto Kanter. The October conflict was about preventing Pinto Kanter’s wife, Gabriele Roque Tipacamú, from succeeding him as municipal president. Those same ejido owners allege that Pinto Kanter finances and directs the ASSI, which they say is also responsible for kidnapping the child of an ejido owner and kidnapping and torturing ejido owners.

The ejido owners allege that Pinto Kanter used the ASSI to set fire to the municipal office building last September in order to destroy records he did not want an external body of auditors to see, but also so that he could blame the fire on the ejido owners. They also allege that the ASSI is involved in drug trafficking and organized crime.

State officials and the State Congress accepted the resignation of the Altamirano municipal president and her slate of municipal council authorities elected in the June 6, 2021 local elections, and in October 2021 the Congress appointed a new mayor and municipal council to stop the violence. With the December 29 kidnappings, however, it became apparent that the violence had not stopped.

As of January 9, the hostages had still not been released and a group of Tojolabal ejido members told a local reporter that they were no longer supporting the Altamirano ejido owners and the municipal council. They claimed that the new municipal council lacked the ability to govern and that Gabriel Montoya Oseguera had usurped authority.

Who is Gabriel Montoya Oseguera?

From writing about the Zapatista communities in the Lacandón Jungle of Chiapas, this writer recognized the name of Gabriel Montoya Oseguera. The first time that name popped up was back in 2006, a time when well-established indigenous communities located inside the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, including Viejo Velasco Suarez, were facing threats of eviction. Montoya Oseguera’s name appeared in a July 2006 report from the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) published in Biodiversidadla, which described him as a government delegate offering money, beer and vehicles in order to entice folks to peacefully abandon their land and communities.

The Viejo Velasco Massacre took place in November 2006. All residents of that community were either murdered, disappeared or displaced. Viejo Velasco community members belonged to the indigenous Chol organization Xi’ Nich (The Ants), an organization sympathetic to the Zapatistas. The XI’ Nich believes that Montoya Oseguera, who became an advisor to the Lacandón Community Zone (LCZ), orchestrated the Viejo Velasco Massacre. In other words, Xi’ Nich is accusing Montoya Oseguera of being the intellectual author of the Viejo Velasco Massacre. [1]

On May 15, 2014, when a Mexican scientist, Julia Carabias, reported her own two-day kidnapping, the Chiapas government arrested and jailed Montoya Oseguera. His arrest caused large protests by members of the LCZ and the ARIC-ID that paralyzed the city of Ocosingo. Montoya Oseguera was released several months later without being formally charged and, to date, we know of no one who has been charged and prosecuted in regard to the alleged kidnapping of Carabias.

Nor do we know of Montoya Oseguera’s whereabouts between his 2014 release from prison and his candidacy for municipal president of Altamirano in the Spring of 2021.

Importance of Altamirano

The town of Altamirano is the municipal seat of Altamirano municipality. The town is located a few miles up the road from the Zapatista Caracol of Morelia, a large ejido where two Zapatista Women’s Gatherings were held. It is one of the municipalities the EZLN took over during the 1994 Zapatista Uprising and is one of the entryways into the Lacandón Jungle. The road out of the town that leads to Morelia and other indigenous communities gradually slopes downward towards the deep Jungle and the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve. Altamirano municipality also played an important role in the EZLN’s internal clandestine organizing before the 1994 Uprising.

During the struggle to oust Pinto Kanter and his wife, one of the first documents the Altamirano ejido owners sent to the state government asking for help was also sent to the EZLN.

The ejido owners wrote that: for some time, after the January 1, 1994 Uprising, “the indigenous peoples of Altamirano, elected municipal governments through democracy, clean and transparent.” However, they warned: “the caciques took control again and ended democracy in the election of its rulers.”

In its first video, the Altamirano Self-Defense group said it would not make public its name out of respect for the “EZLN brothers.” And, in his excellent 2-part analysis of the deteriorating social situation in Chiapas, Hermann Bellinghausen writes: “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 local chiefdoms (cacicazgos). That would be the case of El Machete of Pantelhó, and maybe the self-defense groups announced in Simojovel and Altamirano.”

A recent local report on the electoral violence referred to Altamirano as a “bastion” of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN, Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional); such a description is not uncommon. The actions of the ejido owners and the self-defense group evidence the strong Zapatista connection and influence.

The EZLN and Altamirano co-exist in the municipality. Violent conflict regarding Altamirano’s municipal council reverberates throughout the municipality’s communities, so it also affects the Zapatistas.

[1] Xi’ Nich – https://chiapas-support.org/2014/06/08/xi-nich-distances-itself-from-conflict-in-the-lacandon-community-zone/

By: Mary Ann Tenuto Sanchez 01-09-22

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Published by the Chiapas Support Committee

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

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