Altamirano, Chiapas: The remaining 36 kidnapped indigenous men are free

Photos of the 36 indigenous men held hostage, most for almost 5 months. Photo: Chiapas Paralelo.

The kidnapping saga has come to an end in Altamirano, but what’s ahead for this important indigenous municipality in which the Zapatista Caracol of Morelia is located?

On May 18, 2022, 35 of the 36 indigenous men kidnapped and held hostage in Altamirano municipality were finally released and were free to return to their homes and families. The 36th man had been released a few days before. During the almost 5 months that 27 of the men were held captive, there was some confusion about how many were being held, but there was no confusion as to who kidnapped them or why they were kidnapped. They were kidnapped by opponents of the current municipal council and held as hostages in order to obtain leverage in a political conflict over control of Altamirano’s municipal government. The kidnappers wanted the current council members to resign as a condition for releasing all the people they kidnapped!

The December 29, 2021 kidnapping of 27 men occurred in the Puerto Rico ejido, a Tojolabal community in Altamirano Municipality, just two months after the Chiapas State Congress appointed the current independent municipal council, which had ousted a Green Party cacique-style government accused of connections to organized crime. The kidnappers who held the indigenous men for almost five months were members of the Alliance of Social Organizations and Left Unions (ASSI), who supported the ousted Green Party municipal government.

Violence broke out in Altamirano after municipal elections in 2018, when the cacique (political boss) Roberto Pinto Kanter was elected municipal president and gave his supporters permits to operate motorcycle taxis, or “moto-taxis,” as they are known in Chiapas. This adversely impacted drivers of regular taxis with permits because a moto-taxi costs 5 pesos, while a regular taxi costs 30 pesos. Moto-taxis and regular taxis were burned, the city hall was set on fire, and houses and cars were burned in the violence.

A regular taxi is burned during the political violence in Altamirano.

When Pinto Kanter’s wife, Gabriela Roque Tipacamú, was elected to succeed him as municipal president in the June 2021 elections, opponents kidnapped Pinto Kanter as his term was expiring for leverage to get his wife to resign her position in order to secure his release. She resigned, he was released and, on October 28, 2021, the State Congress appointed an independent municipal council to replace Tipacamú. An indigenous Tseltal woman, María García López, was named municipal president. The kidnapping of the 27 indigenous men occurred 2 months later, on December 29, 2021.

In February 2022, the ASSI kidnapped more municipal council supporters, bringing the total to 36. It also kidnapped a group of 19 truck drivers, along with their trucks, and held them for two months in La Candelaria ejido with the other 36 kidnapped men. Other violence occurred while the men were being held hostage. A girl was shot and wounded in crossfire at a checkpoint near the Puerto Rico ejido, A cousin of the municipal council president was shot and killed. Ejido members in the town of Altamirano blocked the town’s entrances and exits to prevent ASSI members from entering. Relatives demanded the freedom of the kidnapped men in increasingly angry protests. Employers of the kidnapped truck drivers demanded their safe return and an armed civilian self-defense group, sympathetic to the Zapatistas, formed and released political statements in videos. Protesters displayed banners demanding the return of the kidnapped men.

Now that the kidnapped men have been released, it’s an open question as to what may be in store for Altamirano Municipality and its independent municipal council. No public reports of what agreements, if any, may have been reached between the Chiapas government and the ASSI kidnappers.

The moto-taxis have been withdrawn and the town’s residents are complaining because the regular taxis are more expensive. The current municipal council has closed around 200 clandestine cantinas operated throughout the municipality by, or in collaboration with, organized crime. The presence of organized crime was an important motive behind ousting the Pinto Kanter family of political bosses.

Friends and family greet kidnap victims upon their release. Photo: El Heraldo de Chiapas.

Although the kidnapping saga in Altamirano has come to an end, the dispute for municipal political power has not. The ASSI controls the municipal government of Las Margaritas, the municipality that borders on Altamirano. Its members are armed and allegedly involved in organized crime. It is in their interest to have a municipal government that permits their illegal activities. Their opponents are residents of the Altamirano ejido, who are sympathetic to the Zapatistas and do not want organized crime or political bosses who collaborate with organized crime to be controlling the municipality. This is, unfortunately, a scenario playing out in a number of Chiapas municipalities, as the influence of drug cartels and organized crime grows in the state. And this one is taking place in 2 official municipalities with important Zapatista Caracols: Morelia (Altamirano) and La Realidad (Las Margaritas).

By: Mary Ann Tenuto-Sanchez

Previous articles on Altamirano:

Published by the Chiapas Support Committee

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