They release 9 of the 53 kidnapped in Altamirano  

Movimiento 14 de AgostoTranslation of the banner: August 14 Social Movement, composed of the union of barrios and ejidos, as well as social organizations and work groups say Enough of the kidnappings!

Violence continues to escalate and may have reached a critical juncture in Altamirano municipality, Chiapas, Mexico, regarding the kidnapping and prolonged detention of what has added up to 53 people.

Conditions within the municipality have prompted Chiapas business organizations, schools, associations and indigenous residents of Altamirano municipality, as well as the wives and relatives of kidnapped truck drivers and residents of Altamirano ejido to demand that the state and federal governments intervene to resolve the conflict. It is indeed puzzling why the governments have not acted sooner.

Since our last report on Altamirano, there have been more kidnappings, a cousin of the municipal president murdered and a 12-year-old girl shot and wounded. The 53 people kidnapped have been held as hostages in a post-electoral conflict that seems to have no end. There are also reports of the kidnapping of 20 truck drivers and their vehicles. This escalation of violence represents a shift in the political dynamic within the municipality and makes it more difficult for state authorities to find a solution that will end the violence.

The shift in political position occurred in the large Tojolabal community of Puerto Rico. The community previously supported residents of the Altamirano ejido in preventing the former municipal president’s wife from taking power and in replacing her with the current municipal council. Now, however, they no longer support the current municipal council or the residents of the town of Altamirano, which is the municipal seat. A spokesperson for the Puerto Rico community described the conflict as being about rejection of the municipal council and Gabriel Montoya Oseguera’s usurpation of the municipal president’s functions. They allege that the municipal council president doesn’t know how to manage the municipality.

Gabriel MontoyaGabriel Montoya Oseguera and María García López (in front)

On January 26, an assembly of the Puerto Rico community’s Tojolabal residents agreed to disown María García López, Altamirano’s municipal president, and Gabriel Montoya Oseguera, trustee on the municipal council, because of increased insecurity in the municipality. They are now in agreement with the folks in La Candelaria community, who supported the former municipal president, Roberto Pinto Kánter, and who kidnapped the original 27 people, apparently supporters of the municipal council.

On February 7, dozens of members of the Puerto Rico community kidnapped another 7 people, alleging that they were part of Montoya Oseguera’s “shock group.” They are also being held in La Candelaria, the community from which a spokesperson said: “In recent days, they attacked residents of the Tojolabal region and in response we organized and kidnapped seven more.”

On February 8, a 12-year-old girl was shot at a checkpoint outside the Puerto Rico community while traveling with her mother, a teacher, and younger brother in a public transportation vehicle, a colectivo) [1]. She was taken to a hospital in Tuxtla Gutierrez for treatment. According to a report in La Silla Rota, the colectivo in which the family was riding was in a line of vehicles waiting to pass through a checkpoint when a vehicle near them left the line to turn around. Those maintaining the checkpoint opened fire, apparently realizing that those leaving the line were from an opposition group. The public transport vehicle was caught in the crossfire and the girl was wounded.

The next day, El Heraldo de Chiapas reported the murder of Mariano “N,” a Tojolabal and a cousin of the municipal president. He was murdered on his way home to La Laguna community. No information was available as to any suspects. However, the Tojolabals warned of revenge, which caused the ejido owners in the town of Altamirano to close-off the town and place armed guards at the town’s entrances.

A-new-group-of-self-defense-groups-emerges-in-Altamirano-Chiapas.img-1

Altamirano Self-Defense Group

In the midst of all this, the Altamirano Self-Defense group released another video in which they state clearly that they will not permit a non-indigenous person to become municipal president. Nor will they permit political bossism (caciquismo) or stealing from the poor. And they said they would defend the most marginalized and would also take “other measures” in case mestizos (non-indigenous) continue governing the municipality.

Chiapas residents demand government intervention

What stands out in this conflictive situation is the government’s inability to solve the conflict. There are two opposing political factions: the supporters of Roberto Pinto Kánter and the supporters of the municipal council. Kánter’s supporters are armed and organized. They belong to the Alliance of Social Organizations and Left Unions, known by its initials in Spanish as the ASSI, which is alleged to participate in organized crime, such as drug sales and distribution, as well as kidnapping and murder. ASSI members have turned the municipality of Altamirano into a combat zone with roadblocks and checkpoints, kidnappings and even murder, while state authorities seem unable to do anything.

According to a recent report in La Jornada, 6 collaborators of a grocery distribution business were kidnapped in Altamirano on February 7 and are still being held. The kidnappers also have the 6 heavy vehicles loaded with products to be distributed by those 6 collaborators. The report states that “business organizations, schools and associations asked the state and federal authorities to ‘immediately’ intervene to guarantee the physical integrity and release of 6 of the truckers kidnapped on February 7 ‘in the municipality of Altamirano by armed men, allegedly sympathizers of former mayor Roberto Pinto Kánter, of the Green Party’.”

retienen-a-40-personas-en-AltamiranoKidnapping truckers in Altamirano. Photo: El Heraldo de Chiapas

A group of Tojolabals in Altamirano spoke out in a document against the kidnappings and detention of the 53 being held in La Candelaria; they state that not all residents of the Tojolabal zone are in agreement with the group that kidnapped 53 people and is holding them hostage. They further state that there are people from the Tojolabal zone detained in La Candelaria. They also demand the intervention of state and federal authorities and urge the communities involved in the conflict to dialogue with each other to solve this problem.

On February 20, El Heraldo de Chiapas reported that the wives of the kidnapped transport drivers also spoke out publicly and asked the state government and the president of Mexico to intervene to bring their husbands home.

According to a February 21 report in La Jornada, on around 500 people protested in the municipal seat of Altamirano, demanding the release of all those kidnapped and being held and calling on all sectors to sit down, dialogue, solve problems and construct peace. The protesters say they are part of the “August 14 Movement” and that they support the municipal council. Some of them are the folks who are blockading the entrances to the municipal seat, the town of Altamirano, to protect it from violent acts by the opposition group belonging to the PVEM (Green Party of Mexico), supporters of Roberto Pinto Kánter.

PobladoresRelatives of the kidnapped truckers briefly occupy the Diconsa warehouse in Ocosingo. Photo: El Heraldo de Chiapas.

El Heraldo reported that the protest moved from Altamirano to Ocosingo, where the protesters occupied the Diconsa warehouse [2] for an unspecified period of time, and then withdrew early on Wednesday morning, February 23. The protesters said that they were doing this to pressure the government to release the transport drivers and that this was just the beginning because thousands of people in Altamirano want those being held released and want peace in the municipality.

There are almost daily demands/pleas/polite requests, including videos from the hostages asking the governments to intervene for the purpose of obtaining the hostages’ freedom. Altamirano is not alone in experiencing violent conflict. Many of the municipalities in Chiapas are experiencing violence. Hermann Bellinghausen, writing for La Jornada, quotes Carla Zamora Lomeli, an academic doing research in Chiapas: “It’s clear that there is a dispute for territorial control among groups associated with organized crime.”

Bellinghausen also quotes from a soon to be released document from civil groups and observers: “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-powered 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.”

The violence associated with social decomposition is not lost on tourists. According to the president of the Mexican Association of Travel Agents in Chiapas, the roadblocks, insecurity, assaults and shootings have impacted the spirit of visitors, and many tourists canceled their reservations.

Tojolabals switch sides again

Former ASSI members quit 2Former ASSI members announce at a general assembly in Altamirano that they left the ASSI and now support the ejido owners. Photo: Jlumaltik Organization

Another political shift in the Tojolabal region of Altamirano took place over the weekend of March 5 and 6, when former members of the Alliance of Social Organizations and Left Unions (ASSI, Alianza de Organizaciones Sociales y Sindicatos de Izquierda), announced their exit from this organization and their decision to join the ejido owners of Altamirano, in order to struggle together to demand justice for those detained for more than 2 months, who remain deprived of their freedom in the Tojolabal zone of Altamirano municipality. The ASSI is the organization holding the hostages in La Candelaria.

Importantly, their exit from the ASSI was announced in a general assembly. Altamirano ejido members, representatives of the August 14 Movement, authorities of La Laguna ejido and representatives of the municipality’s middle zone all agreed to work together and in coordination with the three levels of government to seek peace and tranquility.

This shift may have been what was needed, in addition to other protests from civil society, to obtain a show of “good will” from the ASSI. When relatives of the kidnapped drivers and the companies for which they worked protested in the state capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, government officials told them that they were working on the problem, but it was hard to solve because the problem was political. Yet, 9 hostages were released just 4 days after the political shift in the Tojolabal region.

However, according to the report in La Jornada, the ASSI allegedly released the 9 drivers as a “good will” gesture in order to get state authorities to attend to their demand to remove the current municipal council, thereby assuring that the struggle over the composition of the municipal council continues, as does the struggle to release the remaining detainees.

One of those released, a worker for the grocery distributor La Y Griega, said that the alleged sympathizers of Pinto Kánter still have in their possession 10 employees (truck drivers) and an equal number of vehicles. 

According to La Jornada, in addition to the 10 drivers still being held, the ASSI is also holding 34 campesinos who support the current municipal council as hostages in La Candelaria ejido. [3]

Supporters of the municipal council march with the Zapatistas

On Sunday, March 13, the Zapatistas invited Altamirano residents to march with them against capitalist wars and add their demands to the march. They did, and a photo of that march is below.

Altamirano marches with EZLN 2We demand from the state government that our compañeros be released immediately; they are kidnapped by a group from the ASSI organization that has La Candelaria as a base of operations.

Notes

[1] Colectivos (collectives) are the common means of public transportation in Chiapas. They are usually vans belonging to an association of drivers who maintain a garage, set a price and a schedule of stops. The vans have a station where they wait until all the seats are full before departing from the station. The prices are low and affordable.

[2] The Diconsa warehouse stores government grocery items for those enrolled in the “Opportunities” program. The warehouse supplies low-cost grocery items to community stores. At least in the rural areas of the Jungle, it competes with Zapatista warehouses and community stores.

[3] There have been different numbers used by various news outlets since the original 27 were kidnapped in December 2021. The numbers given by the released truck driver mean that there were 19 truck drivers kidnapped, not 20 as previously reported by the press. 

By: Mary Ann Tenuto Sanchez 03-20-22, Published by the Chiapas Support Committee

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