By: Hermann Bellinghausen, Envoy
San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas
After a month and a half of relative calm in the Tsotsil communities of Magdalena Aldama, the rain of bullets from snipers, alleged paramilitaries, posted in different Santa Martha towns, in the municipality of Chenalhó, was reactivó, this Thursday.
According to reports from people displaced from the municipality of Aldama, at 3:50 pm the communities of Tabac and Coco’ were attacked with “high caliber shots fired by armed groups, who come from the attack points of the Police Base and Curva Tontik in Saclum, Chenalhó.” The attack was repeated at 8:24 pm.
The reason for this temporary “respite” is that on June 25 a conflict broke out, with gunfire, between the armed civilian groups themselves in Santa Martha. Since then, the inhabitants of Aldama observe shootings in the community from which they are separated by a large ravine (the disputed territory). There was even an attack on the ejido commission, one of whose members died in the events.
For the communities under attack in Aldama, it was the first time in three years that they were not shot at because of an old agrarian conflict that entered a critical phase five years ago. The representatives of the 12 beneficiary communities of Precautionary Measures 284-18 from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Permanent Commission of the 115 Community Members and Displaced Persons of Magdalena Aldama expressed in recent days:
“For five years our people have been experiencing a humanitarian and economic crisis after being attacked by armed groups operating in Santa Martha, in the municipality of Chenalhó, due to a dispute over 60 hectares; this has led our people into poverty, to the migration of many people because they cannot work on their plots and crops have also been lost due to abandonment as a result of the attacks, which caused permanent and intermittent forced displacements, as well as several injured and deceased. “
Since April 23, 2021, precautionary measures have been implemented in favor of 12 affected communities in Aldama (IACHR Resolution 35/2021). The commission asked the Mexican State to implement the “security actions necessary to protect and safeguard the life and physical integrity of the beneficiaries.” This has not prevented the shootings. In 2022 alone, more than 200 attacks have been perpetrated.
In the opinion of Aldama’s representatives, the internal conflict among their aggressors shows that in Chenalhó there are not one, but several armed groups, and not all are from Santa Martha, they come from other distant towns; those where the Acteal massacre was conceived 25 years ago.
“They continue to operate and murder, as recent events prove. On June 25, a conflict began in Santa Martha between armed groups and the people of the commission over a land dispute.” In fact, there are families displaced from Zapata, in Chenalhó.
The indigenous representatives warn: “If the government doesn’t act in the face of this problem, what happened in Acteal in 1997 could be repeated, because paramilitarism is still active and was never disarmed. The real murderers still move freely, while the innocent, who seek true justice, demand their human rights, their rights to the land, to peace and to defend the territory, continue to be deprived of their freedom, threatened, persecuted.
“The government never dismantled and investigated these armed groups, while the organizers remain free, and the threats against our people continue. The population continues living in fear and with psychological effects, nervousness and illnesses that this situation has caused.”
The displacements are permanent” The communities of Xuxch’en, Coco’, Tabac, Ch’ivit, Stzelejpotobtik and the municipal seat are “high risk zones. The last displacement took place in Ch’ivit on February 20 of this year. But, “intermittent displacement encompasses 10 communities that leave their homes when the attacks are very intense.” This impedes transit and causes “crop damage and losses.”
The Tsotsil representatives declare: “The only thing we ask is to live in peace, to resume our daily lives and that the children return to the classrooms, that transit is free and without fear, that when we go to our parcels we are no longer hunted like animals.” Although some compensatory agreements have been reached in their favor, before the pending granting of the lands to Santa Martha, “the economic, material, physical and psychological damages are still latent in our hearts.” And most of their demands have not been met.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Saturday, August 6, 2022, https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/08/06/politica/010n1pol and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee