Armed group burns houses, murders opponents, displaces 32 families who flee to Polhó

Houses burn in Chenalhó, Chiapas.

By: Ángeles Mariscal

This Tuesday marks six days since factions of the armed group that formed in Santa Martha, Chenalhó, in the Chiapas Highlands, have confronted each other. No authority of the three levels of government has entered the place, those who have managed to flee are at least 32 families (127 people), who explained that there is an undetermined number of people killed and dozens of houses burned.

The state and federal governments have maintained their silence on this situation. Unofficially, an official source explained that they broke off all negotiations with this group that had promised to “stop shooting” in order to defuse the armed attacks that at the time were directed against their neighbors in Aldama, but that are now experienced inside Santa Martha, due to differences among the same armed group.

Youtube Video of fire and smoke from burning houses and the sound of gunshots can be heard:

Juan Ruíz was murdered on September 29, the next day his wife and all his children were killed, one of them was saved and was one of the people who managed to warn that in Santa Martha and the communities that make up that ejido, positions over actions that the armed group should or should not carry out have divided them. There are those who never agreed to its articulation, and have been left in the middle of two fires. [1]

From the mountains adjacent to the Santa Martha Ejido you can see columns of smoke that are coming from the houses being burned. “They opened holes in the roads so that no one can enter and no one can leave,” explained one of the inhabitants of the area through a message.

After several hours of hiding and walking in the mountains, those who were able to leave arrived in the town of Polhó, [2] located some 37 kilometers (roughly 23 miles) away, where the population is also divided over the acceptance or non-acceptance of the civilian armed groups, as well as their participation in them.

Entrance to San Pedro Polhó Autonomous Zapatista Municipality. Photo: Solidarity delegation archives.

Also afraid of being attacked, some Polhó residents accepted receiving the displaced families who are little-by-little leaving Santa Martha. They asked humanitarian organizations for aid because they have no way to give food and shelter to the 32 families who until Monday afternoon, had managed to escape the fire. There are 127 people, including girls and boys in arms, who are currently sheltering in a school.

“Those from Santa Martha no longer want to communicate with the government, they say they are going to fix everything in their own way. Their idea is to end the lives of those who do not agree. The families who live here are locked up,” one of the indigenous people of the place narrated through a message. He explained that the clashes continue.

A Pact without disarmament

Santa Martha’s armed group, Chenalhó, came to light on August 20, 2020, when they made public a video in which they are seen in camouflaged uniform, heavy caliber weapons and masked.

In the video they claim as their own 60 hectares of land that their neighbors in the municipality of Aldama have in their possession. The latter (Aldama residents) have lived under armed attacks for the last 5 years.

The siege against Aldama partially ceased in mid-2022, within the framework of the arrival of Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, head commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), who asked the Mexican government to “commit to arresting those responsible” for the armed attacks against the indigenous population of the area.

Within the framework of that visit, the Mexican government made a pact with the armed group to stop the attacks, and that agreement – which does not include disarmament and disarticulation – is what divided positions within the armed group that is now fighting each other.


[1] It would contribute to our understanding of this situation if we knew the organizational affiliation of people with different positions with respect to the civilian armed groups. For example, are any folks in Santa Martha members of Las Abejas, Modevite or Pueblo Creyente? Are they members of a political party?

[2] The town of Polhó has been the municipal seat (or headquarters) of the Autonomous Zapatista Municipality of San Pedro Polhó, a parallel government to the official municipal government of Chenalhó. It is the autonomous municipality that accepted people displaced by the paramilitary violence that culminated in the December 22, 1997 Acteal Massacre. Acteal is located just a few kilometers up the road from Polhó, close to the border with the municipality of Pantelhó.

Originally Published in Spanish by Chiapas Paralelo, Tuesday, October 4, 2022, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

One Comment on “Armed group burns houses, murders opponents, displaces 32 families who flee to Polhó

  1. Pingback: Chiapas and the Zapatistas face a dramatic increase in violence II +Armed group burns houses, murders opponents, displaces 32 families.. – The Free

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