More armed groups emerge in Pantelhó, Chiapas

The El Machete Self-Defense group emerged in July 2021.

By: Ángeles Mariscal

Three armed groups have emerged so far this month, in the municipality of Pantelhó, located in the Chiapas Highlands, an indigenous region. Armed with high-powered weapons, these groups verbally confronted the self-defense group called “El Machete” through videos.

In July 2021, the self-defense groups against which the armed groups are now demonstrating expelled people accused of being linked to organized crime, who for years subjugated the population of Pantelhó.

At that time (July 2021), the self-defense groups negotiated with the government to install a municipal council that has functioned since then, amid tensions within the municipality.

Now, almost two years after the emergence of the self-defense groups called Los Machetes [1], the tension in Pantelhó has increased, because one of its commanders, named Daniel, was ambushed on March 2. His wife, Petrona López Pérez, died during the ambush, which occurred at the entrance to the municipality. [2]

In the days following the ambush, three armed groups made their public appearance, sending videos to the media, where they introduce themselves and flaunt their weapons.

In the messages they read, they ask the state and federal governments to arrest those who make up the self-defense groups, in particular Commander Daniel.

The latest video from someone who identifies himself as a member of a new armed group from Pantelhó was sent on Tuesday, March 14. He accuses the government of protecting the El Machete vigilantes, calling this organization a “group of criminals.”

In the message they vindicate the 21 people who disappeared in July 2021, allegedly in the hands of the Los Machetes self-defense groups.

Pantelhó municipal council denounces El Machete.

Shortly before they were taken away and disappeared, these people were exhibited at the kiosk in the municipal seat of Pantelhó, accusing them of being part of criminal groups. Then they were never seen again.

This group, opposed to El Machete, also warns that if the government does not respond to their requests, including dismissal of the municipal council that now governs the municipality, there would be new armed clashes.

“In order to avoid bloodshed in the municipality of Pantelhó, heed our requests, appeals and warning; otherwise, we will clean up our people,” the masked men say.

He emphasizes that whoever makes this pronouncement does not have an indigenous accent characteristic of those who live in the Pantelhó region. Prior to this, two other armed groups had already sent similar messages.

In the first, on March 3, a masked man in camouflage clothes reads a statement, while armed people are seen in the background, some of them women with their faces covered and dressed in traditional clothes.

Two days later, on March 5, another armed group sent a new recorded message. It contains men in military-style uniform, who ostensibly carry machine guns and other weapons.

The situation that the indigenous municipality of Pantelhó is going through is similar to what happens in other Chiapas municipalities with the presence of armed groups that confront each other, and accuse each other of being criminal groups.  These are groups that subjugate the population with their arms.

In the case of the Los Machetes self-defense groups, when they emerged in July 2021, they had the support of residents from the 86 communities and 18 barrios, who explained that for years they were subjugated by organized crime groups.

When El Machete emerged in July 2021, it had the support of the population.

Now the situation is confusing because the state and federal governments have not explained to society what the diagnosis is and how this is being addressed.

[1] It is a bit confusing that the article first uses El Machete and then Los Machetes to describe the self-defense forces in Pantelhó. The explanation could be that El Machete has internal divisions and now consists of more than one group.

[2] According to Borderland Beat, 4 people were killed in the ambush. The other 3 were municipal police agents who belong to El Machete.

Originally Published in Spanish by Chiapas Paralelo, Wednesday, March 15, 2023, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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