Above: Cocó community, Aldama, Chiapas – Photo: EFE, Carlos Lopez
By: Hermann Bellinghausen
The daily life of violence can anesthetize public opinion, but not those who suffer it every day. Not one day goes by without bullet baths against more than a dozen Tsotsil communities in the municipality of Aldama, in the Chiapas Highlands. On February 27 alone, La Jornada received the report, in real time, of 31 armed attacks from the community of Santa Martha, in neighboring Chenalhó (municipality). In January 2022 there were 230 attacks. It’s possible that by the end of February they will reach half a thousand.
The alleged reason for this practically unilateral violence (since occasional responses from Aldama are also reported without victims in Santa Martha) is the dispute over 60 hectares (roughly 148 acres) in the lower strip of land between the two indigenous municipalities. From the scale of the aggressions, and the evident and explicit ineffectiveness of government authorities, it is evident that, as Gardel would say, 60 hectares is nothing. That explanation is not enough.
The reports repeat the communities under fire: Cocó’, Xuxch’en, Taba, San Pedro Cotzilnam, Yeton, Ch’ivit, Cabecera, Stzelejpotobtik, Juxton Ch’ayomte’, and sometimes others. Sometimes there are injured or dead. It is remarkable the number of times that the state police, and even the National Guard (NG), are attacked from Santa Martha. Just last February 22, the population of these communities was surrounded by attackers who fired from Yaxaltik, Tulan, Tok’oy Police Base, Saclum, Tojtik, Telesecundaria, T’elemax, T’ul Vitz, Vale’tik, Ontik, Xchuch te’1, 2, K’ante’ Pantheon, Temple, Chalontik, Tijera Caridad, Rancho Caridad, all in Santa Martha, Chenalhó, in addition to El Colado, Chino, Ranchito and El Ladrillo, within the 60 hectares in dispute.
They will make a pronouncement
Without going far, on the 20th, at 12:36 pm, according to the inhabitants of Aldama (they sent photos and videos) “elements of the NG, Navy and state preventive police were attacked in Tabac; the high-caliber shots come from T’elemax in Santa Martha.” In Ch’ivit, the septuagenarian Tomás Lunes Ruiz, who was inside his house, was wounded in the belly at 6:45 in the morning.”
Civil groups and observers in the region that will soon make public a statement to which this reporter had access, emphasize that “the situation of the Tsotsil municipalities of Aldama and Chenalhó is placed within the context of violence that has increased dramatically in various regions (municipalities) of the state: Pantelhó, Oxchuc, Chalchihuitán, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, San Juan Chamula, Simojovel, Altamirano, Ocosingo, Palenque, Chilón, Venustiano Carranza, Tila, Frontera Comalapa, Chicomuselo, Chapultenango, Amatán” and we can add the municipality of Benemérito de las Américas.
The statement adds: “The list of violent episodes, confrontations, murders and disappearances, grows every day throughout the state, as an expression of a clear, accelerated and, apparently, uncontrollable social decomposition. The large number of high-power weapons for the exclusive use of the Army that circulate without any authority intervening is striking. Likewise, the presence of criminal groups, some of national relevance, that operate in absolute impunity is evident.”
It is not, they add, “only intra-community and inter-community agrarian conflicts that in themselves would deserve immediate intervention by the authorities. It’s about a dispute for territorial control, in which interests of all kinds converge, and whose terrible consequences we have seen in other states of the Republic.”
The open, unpunished and fearsome actions of the paramilitaries of San Pedro Chenalhó, in Santa Martha and other communities, are the direct heir of those who carried out the Acteal massacre in 1997. There are already three generations of armed men, with no other roots than belonging “to the gang”, as visionary Angélica Inda and Andrés Aubry described 30 years ago when studying the situation in Los Chorros and Ejido Puebla, localities that were the cradle, along with Santa Martha, of para-militarism in the region within the government’s counterinsurgency plan, never officially recognized, to counter the influence of the Zapatista Uprising (see Los llamados de la memoria, 2003).
“Faced with this terrible reality” in which no strategy is glimpsed at the three levels of government, observers consulted by La Jornada ask: “Are the authorities overwhelmed? Is there incompetence? Complicity?”
Researcher Carla Zamora Lomelí, with many years of academic work in the Chiapas Highlands documenting the unbridled violence in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, points out: “It’s clear that there is a dispute for territorial control among groups associated with organized crime. The safe houses that shelter hundreds of migrants (as evidenced after the road accident that claimed the lives of 56 people in December) operate in complete impunity, while access to the arms market is simple.” Zamora Lomelí concludes: “In Chiapas the war seems to be perpetuating itself and justice is increasingly diffuse.”
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, March 1, 2022: https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/03/01/politica/015n1pol
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee