By: Luis Hernández Navarro
Panic and anxiety. Those words sum up what thousands of residents of San Cristóbal de las Casas experienced for hours last June 12, when dozens of armed civilians, masked and wearing bulletproof vests, fired Kalashnikov and AR-15 rifles, blocked avenues and streets with double-wheeled trucks and painted walls, disputing control of the city’s North Market. They sought to remove remover its eternal administrator, Domingo Pishol, representative of Hugo Pérez, self-proclaimed mayor of Oxchuc.
With the sound of the first volleys, the people had to take cover or throw themselves on the floor in stores, schools, clinics and businesses, fearful that some projectile would hit them. Gunshots are a frequent thing in that part of the city but this time they had an unusual intensity.
The existence of criminal groups in Chiapas isn’t new. It began to grow during the governorship of Juan Sabines (2006-12). But in recent years, in large areas of the state zonas their presence and their disputes over territories, routes and markets have intensified. Guatemala is an immense warehouse at the service of the criminal industry. Drugs, weapons, piracy, human beings, and stolen vehicles come from there, through the porous Chiapas border, towards the United States and different regions of Mexico.
Controlling the border and the roads is essential to moving merchandise. The Frontera Comalapa, Comitán, San Cristóbal, Tuxtla Gutiérrez corridor has acquired great importance in the shipment of drugs.
A couple of examples, among many. In July 2021, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), now in dizzying expansion in the state, executed “El Junior,” son of a Sinaloa Cartel leader, in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas. The dizzying expansion of the Chamula Cartel, evidenced by the permanent accidents of vehicles loaded with Central American migrants and the broadcasting of their narcocorridos.
San Cristóbal is no stranger to this war. Like other tourist spots, such as Cancun or Acapulco, it’s an enclave desired by organized crime. In that city, with impunity, at least five known groups (some say there are eight), such as the “motonetos” or “motopandilleros,” linked to narcomenudeo (local drug dealing), charge a fee for protection, steal, murder and fire gunshots into the air, sowing terror and uncertainty. They emerged as a shock group during the administration of Marco Antonio Cancino González (2015-18), of the PVEM. His brother Sergio Natarén controlled them. The battle for control of the North Market last June 12 is part of this scheme in the state and in the coleto  city.
A key figure in this scheme is Martín Pale Santiz, alias El Gemelo, leader of the Coordinator of Organizations for the Environment for a Better Chiapas (Comach), with tight relations with the state government, one time arrested for extortion and then released. His agents are capable of strangling San Cristóbal, blocking highway accesses, while confronting other groups with firearms and sticks. They’re also capable of evicting and beating up families of Santa Catarina (a district of San Cristóbal), members of the Popular Campesino Front of Chiapas, in order to dispossess them of five hectares (https://bit.ly/3n3Fmjm). With the support of Gerónimo Ruiz Sántiz, el Moshán, they charge around 800 thousand pesos a week to some 1,200 street vendors (whom they control) on the Plaza de la Paz (Peace Plaza), the Andadores,  Santo Domingo and the Historical Center.
One person was murdered in the operation: Xalik. It was reported that he had been “reached” by a stray bullet. Civilian defenders in San Cristóbal point out that the deceased was a young Tsotsil who was openly opposed to the recruitment of boys to make up armed groups in Chamula. “This man was very young and had separated from his lineage clan, distancing himself from those dynamics that now impregnate many Chamula families. But not just that. He dedicated himself precisely to organizing the street children and especially those who walk around in that area’s market.” A very convenient death for some people.
The partial “taking” of the city is just one more incident in an interminable chain of violence that shakes the state. Last June 8, just 30 kilometers from San Cristóbal, the mayor of Teopisca, Rubén de Jesús Valdez Díaz, was murdered in a truck outside his home.
The list of aggressions is endless. According to the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Centro (Frayba), during March of this year alone, 437 attacks with firearms were recorded against the Aldama community by the narco-paramilitaries from Santa Martha, Chenalhó.
Likewise, attacks have intensified against Zapatista support base families in Nuevo San Gregorio autonomous community that puts their lives, security and integrity at risk.
Within this context, the San Cristóbal de las Casas Diocese and other organisms made a joint statement in the face of unstoppable increase of violence in Chiapas, in which they express their “concern about the presence of strongly armed groups in the territory.”
They also state their “concern about the constant attacks, persecutions and vigilance of human rights defenders in our country and in Chiapas, principally those who defend land and territory.”
They denounce that last May 29, Manuel Santiz Cruz, an indigenous Tseltal, president of the Human Rights Committee of San Juan Evangelista parish, in San Juan Cancuc municipality, along with another four individuals were arbitrarily deprived of their freedom. (https://bit.ly/39D6G53)
Fear and uncertainty. In Chiapas, the violence, far from stopping, grows and intensifies. Let no one call it a “surprise when what’s going to happen happens.”
 Coleto is a local term in Chiapas that refers to San Cristóbal de Las Casas residents who claim to be of Spanish ancestry; in other words, not mestizo. They are also referred to as “authentic coletos.”
 Andadores are passageways for walking between buildings. In San Cristóbal, specific streets are dedicated for walking only. No vehicles. Street vendors walk these streets in shopping areas selling their merchandise.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Tuesday, June 21, 2022, https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/06/21/opinion/018a1pol and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee
Is it safe to move to San cristobal?
It depends on whether you know your way around and/or have friends to show you what’s safe.. or not. Most residents know what’s safe and what isn’t.