dorset chiapas solidarity

March 31, 2014

Juan Vázquez Lives. Invitation to Commemoration

Filed under: Bachajon — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 5:35 pm


Juan Vázquez Lives. Invitation to Commemoration

A year after the death of our compañero Juan, adherent to the sixth declaration of the Lacandon jungle, we invite media and society in general to a political event on the 26th April 2014 in cumbre Na’choj to remember our compañero.





Bachajón: Death and life in the waterfalls of Agua Azul

Filed under: Bachajon, Displacement, Human rights, Indigenous, La Sexta — Tags: , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 5:30 pm


Bachajón: Life and Death at the Agua Azul waterfalls  

The ejidatarios of San Sebastián Bachajón, Chiapas, adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle, explain the interests which lie behind the waterfalls of Agua Azul and the region around them.

Por: Alfonso Flores

Water of Life

Squash and chayote, sapodilla and beans, citrus fruits and corn grow around the waterfalls of Agua Azul. Boas, ocelots and jaguars, tapirs and toucans live around the waterfalls of Agua Azul. Also, men and women, indigenous peoples, mainly Tzeltal, belong to the waterfalls of Agua Azul.

img_3775The ejidatarios of San Sebastián Bachajón, adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle – a political initiative of the EZLN in 2005 – explain that there are great interests in the Waterfalls and the region around them. All of which they call their “mother earth.”

“It is the richest part of the State of Chiapas,” says Domingo Perez, a resident of Bachajón. “There is everything: oil, gold … that is why the government has set its sights on this area.”

A Protected Forest Area, Wildlife Refuge and Special Biosphere Reserve (according to a presidential decree of April 29, 1980), the Agua Azul waterfalls are unmistakable due to the light colour of their water caused by it constantly falling on limestone.


11agua-azul11The whole area (the waterfalls of Agua Azul, the Lacandón Jungle, the beaches of Catazajá, the waterfalls of Misol Ha and Palenque) falls within the tourism plans of the government headed by Manuel Velasco. All this is proposed in the CIPP (Palenque Integrally Planned Centre), in which there are plans for the construction of Palenque Airport and the San Cristobal -Palenque highway (which directly affects the Tzotzil communities of Mitzitón and Ejido Los Llanos). Also the uncontrolled growth envisages hotel developments for the municipalities of Catazajá, Chilón, Ocosingo, Salto del Agua, Palenque and Tumbalá.

“The government will build hotels here, golf courses,” says Domingo, “… our thinking is that later on, as indigenous, we will not have access. It will be tourists, though not just any tourists, only those who have a lot of money, and the hotel owners who have access.”



Bachajón. Dispossession is death. Life is resistance.

For English subtitles watch here:

On February 12 Velasco and Peña Nieto inaugurated Palenque airport, which became operational on March 13. According to a note in Proceso magazine, entitled Yesterday in Palenque the EMP threw out petitions from indigenous to EPN, indigenous inhabitants wanted to deliver petitions to the governors, but they were ignored.

The ejidatarios of Bachajón who we spoke with do not consider it necessary to build large tourist complexes. They explain that people come anyway to the waterfalls and ruins and to visit the rivers, especially the Tulijá where sport is practiced and crafts are sold.

They ask for nothing from the government, most of them do not receive support from government programmes. They have their cornfield (milpa), which they harvest twice a year. They plant it, clean it and at the right time bend the stalks and begin to pick it to take home and keep.

“Here it rains all year round. We do not burn, it is natural pasture which stays as fertilizer,” says Jerónimo Aguilar,” so we work here on the Mother Earth.”

“Everything is beautiful, this is why the government likes it: because there is water, there is forest, there are beautiful stones, so the government wants it, so it interests them very much, because everything here is natural. Wherever you go they want it,” accuses the ejidatario Ediberto Guzmán.

“This is the reason for this struggle, because if they harm the birds, the animals, there will be nowhere to live,” says Domingo, “the wind that blows through is natural. It is not contaminated. With this construction pollution, machinery will come.”

“We defend it as indigenous and so they want to remove us and take us elsewhere. The indigenous are accustomed to living on their land, where their grandparents lived.”

History of death

In 2011, 117 prisoners were all taken at the same time to the Prosecutor in Palenque. They had already arrested four, accused of assault and robbery with violence. Ten out of the 117 remained in the prison at Catazajá beaches. Five months later the last five were released.

The adherents to the Sixth from Bachajón have had, during their movement, about 150 prisoners. And two assassinations.

The ejido of Bachajón is the largest in Chiapas. It was founded in 1980, and belongs to the municipality of Chilón. You have to cross it to reach the municipality of Tumbalá, where the waterfalls are situated.

“Our grandparents legalized the ejido with a file and a certificate of land rights, but the officialists gave the the ejido to the government,” says Domingo.

The Sixth of Bachajón was born on March 19, 2007 with the confirmation of alternative authorities to those chosen by the then ejidatarios, who were close to the political parties. Today the same situation continues, and the Agrarian Prosecutor from Ocosingo considers as authorities Pedro Álvaro Hernández and Pascual Pérez Álvaro, as ejidal commissioner and security commissioner respectively. Both are close to the official government, according to the adherents of the Sixth.

Later that same year [2007], the adherents decided to put a tollbooth in their territory where tourists would pay to visit the Agua Azul waterfalls. It was decided in assembly what to do with the money. Mainly, they say, it was used for the sick, and to support families in need.

In 2009 they were evicted; they reclaimed the booth, but on February 2, 2011, they were thrown out, violently, by police and shock groups affiliated to political parties.

On 24th April 2013,  Juan Vázquez Guzmán was murdered; he was an activist and farmer and in 2010 was the Secretary General of the Sixth in Bachajón; when more than a hundred people were imprisoned, he visited them all in the different prisons.

On December 24, 2011, Juan Vázquez was arrested without a warrant by the local police of Chilón at the request of then Ejidal Commissioner Francisco Guzman Jiménez, and taken to the state prison in Ocosingo, Chiapas. Hours later he was released. On March 22, 2012, he was threatened with death by the same ejidal commissioner.

Among the prisoners he visited were Antonio Estrada Estrada and Miguel Demeza Jiménez, both unjustly detained and tortured by the police to force them to plead guilty, with sentences of two years four months and three years two months (respectively); their people conducted ​​an intensive campaign to free them similar to the campaign for the liberation of the indigenous Tzotzil professor Alberto Patishtan.

On March 21, Juan Carlos Gómez Silvano was killed with over twenty gunshots. He was travelling to the community of Virgen de Dolores, founded by the adherents to the Sixth in 2010. Juan Carlos served as regional coordinator for the Sixth in Bachajón, a position which Juan Vázquez Guzmán previously occupied.

Next to the tomb of Juan Vázquez (June 25, 1980 – April 24, 2013) is a smaller tomb. It is that of his nephew, who died at the age of ten months.

Death in Chiapas has different forms: the infant mortality rate is 75 per thousand children, it is the state with the second most malnutrition in the country, 71% of the indigenous population suffers from this; the state lives in a crisis of justice, its prisons hold prisoners who are innocent of the crime they are accused of – as in the case of the Tzotzil Alejandro Diaz Sántiz, also an adherent to the Sixth; badly planned mining and tourism projects affect the environment and communities; the army (in Xanil) and groups affiliated to political parties  who are responsible for violent attacks both maintain a constant presence.

“What the government does is send people to jail or order their killing like Juan Vázquez Guzmán,” says Marcelo Mariano López, also an ejidatario, “Our struggle is not for economic or political power. It is for the people, the mother earth and the territory.”

A seed which sprouts

Juan Vázquez’s tomb is surrounded by lime, orange and tangerine trees. In his room there are photos of him with Bishop Raúl Vera in the Fray Bartomolé de las Casas Human Rights Centre. Everyone speaks of Juan in the present tense. “Juan loves his people”, “Juan is a farmer,” as if Juan is still alive.

“Juan for us is a seed which sprouts,” says Domingo; “we are never going to lose the fight because if we did, what would be the point of all the time that Juan spent in front of the people. Juan lives, so the Bachajón struggle continues”.

Antonio Estrada Estrada, recently liberated – in December 2013 – is sitting with his son, surrounded by his father, mother and brothers. He shows a corn cob and smiles. The marks of torture he suffered during his arrest show on his face.


Antonio Estrada Estrada

“Very happy because of being with your family. Being free to run and walk wherever you want.”

He is 26, but says: “I’ll keep fighting, I will carry on until I die, I will continue to defend what is ours, what belonged to our grandparents: the territory.”


Foto: Alfonso Flores

Antonio (right) with his father

Miguel Demeza, who was also released in December, says:

“We are indigenous. We work in the fields and we have the right to participate in an organization and to defend our land, but the government does not like this. It was not just to serve a prison sentence for something I never committed. I will continue to fight against the injustice which exists in the state of Chiapas. The injustice which exists in my community.”



Miguel in the office on reclaimed land

He says all this while being interviewed in the office of the adherents to the Sixth which they call Nah Choj (where the tiger lives). It is on land reclaimed since 1994. Today they have a popular communication project, workshops and a committee of Human Rights, and a gravel pit called Nah Chawuk (where the lightning lives). Men watch the clouds and children play football on the patio of their offices. There is a painting of Zapata on the wall and the women prepare tostadas. On the wall there is a poster with a blue waterfall. Next to it, the face of Juan Vázquez Guzmán.


Sign in the gravel quarry


 Text: Aldabi Olvera. Photos: Eduardo Velasco, Alfonso Flores, Ignacio Martínez and Erika Lozano. Video: Eduardo Velasco.



With the new magazine Rebeldía Zapatista (Zapatista Rebellion), words go further than bullets

Filed under: Zapatista — Tags: — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 5:17 pm



With magazine Rebeldía Zapatista (Zapatista Rebellion), words go further than bullets

March 30, 2014

Frayba began to speak 25 years ago with the words “This shouldn’t be like that!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 5:55 pm


Frayba began to speak 25 years ago with the words “This shouldn’t be like that!

 ** Although it started in Chiapas, its action has contributed to local and national evolution

** With the Zapatista Uprising, the centre was in the eye of the human rights hurricane

By: Hermann Bellinghausen,

San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, March 28, 2014

The Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Centre (Frayba) is the pioneer in Mexico in the exercise of this defense, which today no State that calls itself democratic can ignore. Founded in March 1989, by Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, in 5 de Febrero Street of this city, the centre was born in a local context of alarming inequality, discrimination and exploitation towards the Maya peoples of a still feudal Chiapas. The life of an Indian was worth no more than that of a chicken, according to the expression of a cattle rancher at the end of 1993. Until very recently, serfdom, the droit de seigneur, deliberate brutalization and slavery existed here.


Demonstration of Zapatista support bases in Chiapas against the “drug” war undertaken by the Felipe Calderón government in the last six-year term. Photo: Moysés Zúñiga Santiago

But an every day less isolated process was also developing, of conscience, organization, vindication of identities and collective rights among the Tzotzil, Chol, Tzeltal and Tojolabal peoples. The bishop and the very original organization of his diocese were key players in this process, in the initiative from the Vatican II Council that in time would be known as “of liberation”; also independent campesino organizations linked to national movements. Another actor, controversial, were the Christian Churches, the majority initially spread through US missionaries, promoting the search for prosperity under individualistic values, in contradiction to the ancestral communitarianism that Catholicism did not eradicate.

Presided over by the combative Raúl Vera López, former auxiliary bishop to Samuel Ruiz and now the bishop of the Diocese of Saltillo, Frayba has become independent of the church structure and inserted itself into the citizen space in the mountains of Chiapas without betraying its original objective of 1989: “the defence of the rights of persons in their individual and community dimensions, with a preference for the poor.” The six-year term of Carlos Salinas de Gortari begins, and in Chiapas also the term of Patrocinio González Garrido.

The first thing that Frayba denounces is “the undemocratic and unconstitutional character of the December 1988 reforms to the penal code” in Chiapas, and describes the situation of the hour, taking as a turning point the National Indigenous Congress held in San Andrés Larráinzar in 1974, where many analysts place the beginning of the process of liberation of the peoples. It cites the reprisals: “This situation finds its high point at the beginning the decade of the eighties, when the population in Wolonchán is savagely repressed resulting in several deaths (there is no one to count them) and injuries. In El Paraíso, Venustiano Carranza, nine campesinos are cruelly massacred.”

The “black history” of Chiapas, Frayba said on its first day, “is difficult to measure.” According to “public sources,” just between January 1974 and July 1987 “4,731 cases of repressive actions were presented: of the murdered, injured, wounded, detained and imprisoned, kidnapped and tortured, disappeared, attacks, expulsions of families, rapes, beatings, evictions, home break-ins, looting of offices and archives, police cordons, robbery of agrarian documentation, repression of marches and meetings, destruction of houses, churches and schools;” all on a theme. The work would be to combat the silence.


Señor José Torres López shows the photo of his murdered son, José Tila García, when participating in the Permanent Tribunal of the Peoples, which met last December in the community of Susuclumil, municipality of Tila, where the paramilitary group Paz y Justicia perpetrated crimes against the Chol population. Photo: Moysés Zúñiga Santiago

Indignation and Rebellion

“We face an unjust and dehumanizing reality which provokes an indignation and a rebellion in us that makes us say: “That cannot be, it should not be like that!” These are the first words of Frayba 25 years ago, when a team, in which Concepción Villafuerte, Gonzalo Ituarte and Francisco Hernández de los Santos participated, begins to tell the stories and awaken memories of the offence and illegality of power.

Similar centres emerged in the country’s capital. The same “modernizing” government had to establish its National Human Rights Commission. But the defence in Chiapas was almost as dangerous as the struggles and the mere existence of the Indian peoples. Without the umbrella of the Catholic Church it would not have been viable. In January 1994 the centre’s circumstances changed dramatically with the EZLN Uprising and the Bishop’s participation in the mediation between the rebels and the government. Frayba, directed by the then priest Pablo Romo, was in the eye of the hurricane. Now it had to defend the rights of the peoples in the middle of a war which, while the fighting lasted 12 days, the militarization and covert war had been developing without respite for 20 years on multiple fronts.

In recent days Gonzalo Ituarte, a close collaborator with don Samuel, celebrated Frayba’s contribution “to the evolution of Chiapas and of Mexico, to the action and thinking of the peoples, the communities, civil society and the Church itself.” Besides covering the field of the promotion and defence of human rights, “it has contributed with its action to the strengthening of popular initiatives, non-governmental organisations, mediation efforts –particularly with the Conai (National Commission of Intermediation)–, with a very relevant and not sufficiently analyzed role in the complexity of the unresolved armed conflict in Chiapas and its multiple collateral effects.”

Increasing legitimacy

Since 1996, Frayba is made up only of lay people, some of them indigenous. Two women in succession (Marina Patricia Jiménez and Blanca Martínez Bustos) directed it. It faced the great tragedies of the period (Chenalhó, El Bosque, the Northern Zone) and increased its legitimacy with the poor, including the Zapatista peoples. The State is obliged to take it seriously and it becomes an obsession of successive governors, like everything that comes from their propaganda radar. Roberto Albores Guillén, Pablo Salazar Mendiguchía and Juan Sabines Guerrero, as well as the federal intelligence services, spare no effort to watch, threaten and defame it. The attempts at co-optation are intense and two former directors (Marina Patricia Jiménez and Diego Cadenas) join the state governments, which only reinforces the independence of the collective project as voice, companion, advisor, legal defender of peoples and individuals determined to shake off oppression, abuse and humiliation.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Saturday, March 29, 2014

En español:

English translation by the Chiapas Support Committee for the International Zapatista Translation Service






Frayba is another actor in a process of liberation: Víctor Hugo López

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 12:13 pm

Frayba is another actor in a process of liberation: Víctor Hugo López

 ** The director of the NGO recognizes the role of Bishop Samuel Ruiz, founder of the centre

** The largest number of denunciations it receives today are from women “hooked” by loan sharks



Ethno-sociologist Andrés Aubry and Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, during the presentation of a Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Centre report, in April 2006. Photo: Courtesy of the Frayba Centre

By: Hermann Bellinghausen

San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, March 28, 2014

“Frayba is one actor more in a process of liberation,” says Víctor Hugo López, director of the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Centre. He makes clear that the defence of guarantees is an action of commitment, and their violation as well as denunciation and action in search of justice is essentially political. After a quarter of a century of unceasing activity at a state level, Frayba’s influence and range has a national and international scope.

Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, the founder of the centre in 1989, and its first president, “encouraged its independence from the Church hierarchy in 1996,” López recognizes. But the constructive role of the historic bishop of the indigenous diocese of Chiapas gave Frayba a participative and educational character in the same communities. “Don Samuel trained many of the current human rights promoters, and they constitute an invisible network of observation and denunciation which documents, telephones, comes to our door and guides us in the communities; people committed to their own liberation.”

He admits: “Today we have all fronts open, defence of territory, militarization and paramilitarization, justice,” and what he calls “structural violence” derived from inequality and poverty. He offers an unexpected example. Currently, the largest number of denunciations Frayba receives are from women “hooked” with loans from stores like Elektra or from illegal “loan sharks” who, protected by government offices, frequently public servants, grant loans and charge stratospheric interest. “Let’s say, they give 20,000 pesos to the women, and they have to repay 100,000.” The number of reports of sexual assaults, intra-family and gender violence is also increasing. “That is the case with teachers who abuse or violate minors, but the authorities hide them, and if they feel pressure they make an arrangement with the teacher and change his place.”

Does this mean that “political” issues are no longer the centre’s principal work? he is asked. “Everything is political,” he answers. Poverty, structural violence and bureaucratic corruption seem as political to him as counterinsurgency, induced division, electoral manipulation, judicial persecution of innocents, execution of representatives, or evictions.


Zapatista women in the Caracol of Morelia, June 7, 2007. Photo: Moysés Zúñiga Santiago

In assessing the current state of the armed conflict, which has largely determined the work of Frayba work since 1994, he states: “Here we think that the State has not forgiven the Zapatista National Liberation Army for the declaration of war. In Chiapas, all the constitutional reforms, social policies and programmes, including the (National) Crusade against Hunger, have a counterinsurgency function. Maybe in other places they have a palliative function, but here they always operate to stir up the conflict. The crusade against hunger has, in Ocosingo alone, some 1,000 committees,” he illustrates. Those committees, coordinated by Martín Longoria, ex PRD member with counterinsurgency experience in the region, “stipulate that their members should not be in resistance, should have their papers in order and not hold any autonomy; thus, they are added to those who are in officialist (pro-government) ranks, or those coopted by public resources at any price.” The supporters “are obliged to fight against their brothers who are in any form of resistance: the recuperation of land, not paying for electricity, opposition to highways or tourist centres.”

He recognizes that the panorama in the communities has had “a complex evolution.” The situation “is not black and white, there is a strong social antagonism directly promoted by the State.” And cites two current events: “The attack on 10 de Abril, a community of the Caracol of Morelia, on January 30, by members of the CIOAC-democratic, could have been avoided. Prior to the acts, a group from the Frayba interviewed with officials in the government palace, and warned them that the Zapatistas were not going to permit people who suddenly have official roles to take their land away; that the agrarian authority was giving the green light to a provocation. They told us that there was a commitment not to attack or invade. They broke it within a few days.”

He remembers the role played by former Secretary of Government, Noé Castañón León, linked directly to the conflicts in some Zapatista communities; in others he even “recommended” the expulsion of those that were in resistance (San Sebastián Bachajón, Venustiano Carranza). “Today, the state government attempts to present the community conflicts as between private parties and minimizes them in the voice of the new secretary, Eduardo Ramírez Aguilar.”

Frayba today

López delineates Frayba’s functioning, which has varied in the course of years. Today, as strange as it may seem, its basic function is not the defence, but rather the strengthening of the organizational processes and the work of orientation with affected individuals, involving victims in their own defence. “We did not take the lead in the Alberto Patishtán case, he made his own strategies. But we helped to make his struggle visible, we were a platform for his defenders.” He adds an astounding reality: “There are some 11,000 cases in the country of indigenous prisoners that could be similar. They have to learn to get organized and defend themselves.” He also clarifies that the Frayba “continues the litigation of unresolved “historic cases:” the massacres of Acteal, the Northern Zone and Viejo Velasco Suárez.

“To work in the Chiapas context it is necessary to know the actors.” He mentions the number of times that in recent years alleged “comandantes” or “junta members” have presented themselves in Frayba’s offices with writings directed to the governor demanding something. “At times with seals of some good government junta, or signatures of ‘the commanders.’ Although the seals could be identical to those of a caracol, the falsification was recognisable. And the authentic Zapatistas don’t act like that.” It’s appropriate to wonder how many of these fakers arrive before governors or federal commissioners and make them believe that they are Zapatistas.

Frayba, which maintains contact with the five rebel caracoles, only disseminates denunciations and statements authenticated by the Juntas. López emphasizes that they (the Juntas) have very efficient documentation teams, “they support the denuncias with convincing evidence,” but they always try to avoid public denunciation; “they prefer to conciliate with the other parties.”

Cooptation is a tradition in Chiapas. The government has pressured, besieged, threatened, courted, spied on, infiltrated and attacked Frayba throughout the years. “For the current government secretary, who unlike his predecessors shows only disdain, we would be organized only to ‘boycott’ the state government.” That’s how much the official mentality has advanced in the comprehension and respect of human rights. But Frayba does not stop evolving and deepening its imprints on the communities.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Saturday, March 29, 2014

En español:

English translation by the Chiapas Support Committee for the: International Zapatista Translation Service






March 29, 2014

Tzeltales of Bachajón, against the co-optation of ejido authorities

Filed under: Bachajon, Displacement, Human rights, Indigenous, La Sexta — Tags: , , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 8:13 pm



Tzeltales of Bachajón, against the co-optation of ejido authorities

Ejido members defending their territory seek the removal of the official authorities, who are playing dirty tricks in order to hand over land to tourism megaprojects

Ricardo Lagunes Gasca

Desinformémonos, 23 March, 2014




“The bad government wants to finish us off completely, they are killing our friends”, denounce the ejido members of San Sebastan Bachajón. Juan Carlos Gomez Silvano, regional coordinator of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle for the San Sebastian Bachajón ejido, was assassinated, hit by more than 20 high-power gunshots. The Chiapas state authorities are seeking to downplay his murder as an act of inter-community conflict, but what is really happening in Bachajón is a struggle for the defence of the land worked by the ejido members who support the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, against the government supporters’ plans for the implementation of large-scale tourism projects.

In January and March of 2014, the supporters of the Sixth Declaration publicly denounced the fact that the commissioner Alejandro Moreno and security agent Samuel Díaz are seeking to obtain – using deception – a copy of the certificates of agricultural rights of the ejido members, supposedly with the intention to develop a government coffee project, when in reality these documents will be used to fake support for an Act of the General Assembly of Ejido Members, in which the annulment of the amparo (injunction) 274/2011 of the Seventh District Court in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas (the result of a case brought by the adherents of the Sixth Declaration in March 2011 for defence of their territory), will be requested.
Since 2012, these ejido members have independently taken responsibility for the defence of their territory, demanding justice for the assassination of several of their ejido authorities, and the release of the political prisoners who come from the area.

In response to this fraudulent act on the part of the official ejido authorities, on the 5th of February of 2014, the supporters of the Sixth Declaration demanded, before the Unitary Agricultural Tribunal in Comitán, the annulment of the appointment of the commissioner Alejandro Moreno Gomez, and the remaining members of the official board, for their failure to act in accordance with the Agrarian Law and the usos y costumbres (traditional laws) of the community. They also requested the surrender of accounts and the balance sheets of income and expenditure of ex-ejido commissioner Francisco Guzmán Jiménez for the period 2010-2013. The demand was upheld by the Agrarian Trbunal and a date was set for the 25th of March, 2014 for an appearance before the Audience of Law, which the community authorities involved will be obliged to attend.

With repression and impunity, the State is seeking a way to establish dispossession and privatization of indigenous territories. This strategy of physical and psychological violence is also accompanied by the usual social anti-poverty programs, used to divide the population and disincentivise community organization – combined with the co-optation of community authorities, who ensure that land is handed over for the implementation of large-scale projects, designed by international private corporations or organizations.

This is an integral part of the strategy of dispossession of indigenous peoples. It is for this reason that the State seeks to distract public opinion from the fundamental issue, which is the repossession of land and natural resources, reducing all local violence associated with this process to mere intra/intercommunity conflict.

Juan Vázquez, living memory

This April will mark the one-year anniversary of the politically-motivated murder of the community leader, and human rights advocate, Juan Vazquez Guzman, his life stolen from him by firearm shots on the night of the 24th of April, 2013, in the Bachajón village, in the municipality of Chilón, Chiapas, while he was resting inside his house, with his two sons, both minors.

Juan Vázquez Guzmán struggled tirelessly to defend the dignity of his people, and he denounced at both a national and international level the government corruption that sought the appropriation, whatever the cost, of the lands of the San Sebastian Bachajón ejido. This would allow state and private interests to acquire greater political and social control, so that they might be able to implement, without opposition, the tourism megaproject in the neighbouring village of Agua Azul, in the municipality of Tumbalá.

Until now, the legal proceedings launched by the State that were charged with shedding light on the murder of Juan Vázquez Guzmán have only managed to ensure impunity for the crime. An unequivocal sign of this is the lack of progress in the investigations, and the underlying fact that the entity responsible for them, the District Attorney for Indigenous Justice in Bachajón, lacks even the most basic resources necessary to carry out a serious, exhaustive investigation.

Despite the displacement currently occurring under police and military occupation, and the murder and incarceration of their members, the Tzeltales of the San Sebastian Bachajón ejido – supporters of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle – are staying organized, willing to continue struggling for their rights and to maintain alive the memory of Juan Vázquez Guzmán, as a true act of justice and symbol of the value of their work at the service of the people.

In September 2013, the Tzeltales presented an example of this, in founding the Nah Chawuk gravel bank on their territory, with the objective to break with the monopoly of the principal gravel bank of the San Sebastian Bachajón ejido, which is administrated by the official ejido authorities – who do not permit fair and equitable access to natural resources to the ejido members, instead providing exclusive access for private businesses and particular interests.

After the founding of Nah Chawuk, the supporters of the Sixth Declaration suffered threats of displacement from the official ejido commissioner, Alejandro Moreno Gómez, and from the head of security Samuel Diaz Guzmán. This pair, unbeknownst to the General Assembly of Ejido Workers, tried to encourage their displacement by groups aligned to the Green Ecological Party and the Institutional Revolutionary Party. This is the same modus operandi used by the ex-ejido commissioner Francisco Guzmán Jiménez during the events of the 2nd of February, 2011, when a violent displacement took place from the common lands through which the path to the Agua Azul Waterfalls Ecotourism Centre traverses. This time, the threat of displacement failed to achieve its goal, and the adherents of the Sixth Declaration maintain the gravel bank under their protection.

In December 2013, the adherents of the Sixth Declaration from San Sebastian Bachajón won the release of Miguel Demeza Jiménez and Antonio Estrada Estrada, unjustly held prisoner since October, 2010, and August, 2011, respectively.

Miguel Demeza regained his liberty outright; nonetheless, Antonio Estrada continues to be subject to a federal penal process before the Sixth District Court of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, despite the fact that the evidence with which he was accused was declared inadmissable by the Third Collegiate Tribunal of the Twentieth Circuit on resolving his lawsuit 915/2013. Until his legal situation is resolved, Antonio has to travel every fifteen days from his community to the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez to sign a control register for defendants.

The Tzeltal Bachajón adherents of the Sixth Declaration recognise that the release of Miguel and Antonio is the fruit of the struggle of Juan Vázquez Guzmán and that of national and international solidarity, who were a watchful presence throughout his incarceration.
Faced with this situation, the Tzeltales of San Sebastián Bachajón who support the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle continue to stand out as an example of dignity and resistance.  Continuously, they are confronted firsthand with the imposition of the whims of capitalism, as the the veil over the economic and political interests provoking community conflict for the sole purpose of appropriating land is removed.


Translated by Andrew Green


Filed under: Human rights, Uncategorized — Tags: — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 6:34 pm


Lawyers for Patishtán and communal police of Michoacán denounce death-threats and harassment

Leonel Rivero (@SIPAZ archivo)

Leonel Rivero (@SIPAZ archive)

In an Urgent Action published on 14 March, Amnesty International (AI) denounced the death-threats and harassment suffered by the lawyers of the Strategic Defense for Human Rights, Leonel Rivero Rodríguez and Augusto César Sandino Rivero Espinoza.  These lawyers are known for their interventions in cases such as that of now ex-prisoner Alberto Patishtán, those arrested from the Front of Peoples in Defense of the Land from San Salvador Atenco, and communal police from Michoacán.

On 17 January, Rivero Rodríguez received a threatening telephone call and then presented a denunciation before the Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR), though the perpetrator of the action has not yet been identified.  Indeed, the PGR has now informed her that it plans to place the affair in the archive.

On 4 March, “three unknown persons invaded a hotel in which Leonel Rivero Rodríguez was meeting with members of communities from Michoacán state to address delicate issues,” regarding a case that she was covering together with Sandino Rivero Espinosa.  On 10 March, the office that Leonel Rivero Rodríguez has in her home in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas was harassed.

AI has called on the authorities to guarantee the security of the lawyers of Strategic Defense for Human Rights, to undertake an impartial investigationi into the telephone threats made on 17 January, and the harassment of 10 March, as well as to guarantee that “the lawyers who work on potentially delicate affairs be allowed to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of suffering repression.”




UA: 57/14 Index: AMR 41/008/2014 Mexico Date: 14 March 2014

URGENT ACTION: human rights lawyers harassed in mexico

Two prominent human rights lawyers in Mexico have repeatedly suffered harassment and intimidation as a result of their work. A full investigation into the incidents must be carried out and their safety guaranteed.

Well known human rights lawyer Leonel Rivero Rodríguez has reported that his office, which is also his home in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas state, was broken into on 10 March. The back doors were left open and the lights in his office left on, but no confidential documents seemed to have been taken. Similarly on 4 March, three unknown men tried to force their way into a hotel where Leonel Rivero Rodríguez was meeting with community members from Michoacán state regarding a sensitive case that he and his colleague from the Defensa Estratégica en Derechos Humanos A.C., Augusto César Sandino Rivero Espinosa, are representing. This intimidation has been reported to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos).

On 17 January Leonel Rivero Rodríguez received a threatening telephone call. The unknown caller said: “Look, do not fuck around with me, I am telling you, because I am, I am, I am not going to tell you who I am but I am something” (Mira no me estés chingando la madre porque te estoy hablando bien verdad, porque yo soy, yo soy, no te voy a decir quién soy verdad pero soy algo). He subsequently filed a formal complaint with the Federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR), however, there has been no substantive investigation to identify the caller and the PGR informed Leonel Rivera of its intention to archive the case. In response to these incidents and on the request of the federal human rights defender’s protection mechanism, the Chiapas state government has promised to send a patrol car to Leonel Rivero’s house.

Leonel Rivero Rodríguez has reported other incidents of harassment and surveillance in the past. On several occasions in March 2013, messages were left on his voice mail with recordings of personal conversations he had had during the day and in meetings with clients, suggesting that he was under surveillance and that those monitoring him had access to his home and office.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

Urging the authorities to guarantee effective safety of Leonel Rivero Rodríguez and Augusto César Sandino Rivero Espinosa of the Defensa Estratégica en Derechos Humanos A.C., in accordance with their wishes;

Demanding that they carry out a full, prompt and impartial investigation into the telephone threat on 17 January and the break-in on 10 March, including evidence that suggests it was not a robbery, and the other threating incidents reported to the authorities;

Calling on them to ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals, including human rights lawyers working on potentially sensitive cases.


Attorney General of the Republic

Lic. Jesús Murillo Karam

Paseo de la Reforma 211-213

Col. Cuauhtémoc, C.P. 06500

Distrito Federal, México

Fax: +52 55 5346 0908


Salutation: Dear Attorney General / Estimado Señor Procurador

Minister of the Interior

Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong

Secretaría de Gobernación

Bucareli 99, col. Juárez, Cuauhtémoc Distrito Federal, México, C.P. 06600

Fax: +52 55 5093 3414


Salutation: Dear Minister / Sr. Secretario

And copies to:

Local NGO

Defensa Estratégica en Derechos Humanos A.C.



Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:


human rights lawyers harassed in mexico


The lawyers at the Defensa Estratégica en Derechos Humanos are working on a number of sensitive cases including the suspected enforced disappearance of two alleged members of an armed opposition group, as well as members of an Indigenous community in Michoacan who were arrested on the grounds of their involvement in a community self-defence group. After the incidents of intimidation in March 2013, Leonel Rivero Rodríguez requested protection measures from the Mechanism for Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists which provided three of the lawyers with temporary police protection.

In the past, Leonel Rivero Rodríguez and Augusto César Sandino Rivero Espinosa have been the recipients of special protection measures ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights after receiving threats in relation to another case.

A Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists was unanimously approved by both houses of Mexico’s parliament, and signed by the President, in 2012. The process for implementing the law has now started, including the direct participation of representatives of civil society, however operational protocols, clear guidelines on cooperation between the federal and state authorities and resources urgently need to be put in place to guarantee its effectiveness. It is vital that the authorities do not assume that their responsibilities are restricted to establishing a protection mechanism and that there is a vital flow of communication between the federal, state and municipal governments.


March 27, 2014

The treatment given to prisoners in the San Cristóbal de Las Casas state prison is getting worse

Filed under: La Sexta, Political prisoners — Tags: — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 6:55 am


The treatment given to prisoners in the San Cristóbal de Las Casas state prison is getting worse

 ** The food is very bad and prisoners were told they would not be given any medication

** Prisoners complain about abuses; authorities say that they are not afraid of any denunciations or organizations

By: Hermann Bellinghausen,

San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, March 25, 2014

ceferesoThe discontent of the population in this municipality’s state prison grows because of abuses and restrictions imposed by the new director, who has occupied the position for the past 20 days. Before occupying the post, Juan José Trujillo Cruz was an agent of the Ministerio Público (MP), and according to the prisoners’ stories, he continues to behave like one. There is now a complete shortage of drugs, and two successive accountants have now warned that the institution would stop providing them to the prisoners, the majority indigenous of Los Altos.

Since February, the people incarcerated have been denouncing that the food is of bad quality and on occasions it is rotten and not edible. Even the language with which prison authorities address the population has changed radically since Alberto Patishtán, members of La Voz del Amate and the adherents of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle were released in the course of 2013.

It is appropriate to say that the defence of their rights benefitted hundreds of prisoners, because there was a voice and attention to them. Within certain limits, that solidarity perceptibly humanized the life of the prison. Now, an authoritarian revenge seems to have arrived.

To an indigenous prisoner who demanded medications the director said: “Look, little daddy, from now on you have to buy your own medicines. You can’t place responsibility on me, or on the CERSS. We are not boys for supplying you with medicine.” From his first days in the position he made it clear that “it’s worth it.”

The discontent reaches the prison’s personnel, according to a general version among the prisoners. In recent weeks, the prisoners of the State Centre for Social Reinsertion of the Sentenced (CERSS) number 14 have denounced bad treatment on several occasions. Now something new is added: the accountant José Asunción Chacón Méndez announced that a “tax” would be charged to the artisans and those who exercise any craft, like carpentry. They will have to deliver seven percent of their profits from the sale of hammocks, embroidery and utensils, whose manufacture allows the prisoners to generate some earnings. And we’re talking about activities foreseen within the programme of social reinsertion that is supposed to reign in the institution.

In the opinion of Alejandro Díaz Sántiz, the only adherent to the Sixth who remains deprived of his freedom in the CERSS 14, and of other indigenous consulted by La Jornada who asked not to be identified, they treat them that way precisely because they are indigenous.

Some already knew the director: he was the MP’s agent who sent them to prison. “Nothing happened like that before in the CERSS,” one of them remembers. For example, the medications “could be delayed up to three months, but they arrived, now they already warned us that the families would have to get them.” They no longer issue prescriptions.

At his turn, Díaz Sántiz pointed out that both the director Trujillo Cruz and the accountant Chacón Méndez have declared that: “they don’t fear any denunciation or any organization of prisoners.” Until a few months ago, “the trades were self-directed, now for any work, even for passing the materials,” a sum will be paid. “They tell us that the ‘tax’ is for ‘supplying’ our needs.”

In dozens of cases documented by human rights organisations in recent years, many indigenous were arbitrarily arrested, tortured and subjected to irregular processes without a translator, frequently being innocent.

Protests and hunger strikes during the past five years evidenced the modus operandi of certain agents of the Ministerio Público, as well as judges and both state and municipal police. Nevertheless, with the number of occasions on which such practices were shown (Patishtán is not the only case), neither sanctions nor criminal action have ever been exercised. Instead, bad public servants have been promoted to other positions.

Finally, Díaz Sántiz repeated his demand for freedom, remembering the promise of Governor Manuel Velasco Coello, and appealing to the government of Veracruz (where his record is) and the federal government.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

En español:


English translation by the Chiapas Support Committee


March 26, 2014

Communiqué from the Ejido San Sebastián Bachajón on the assassination of Juan Carlos Gómez Silvano

Filed under: Bachajon, Displacement, Human rights, Indigenous, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 5:40 pm


Communiqué from the Ejido San Sebastián Bachajón on the assassination of Juan Carlos Gómez Silvano


To the compañer@s adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle

To the mass and alternative media

To the Good Government Juntas

To the Zapatista Army of National Liberation

To the Indigenous National Congress

To the Network for Solidarity and against Repression

To Movement for Justice in El Barrio from New York

To national and international human rights defenders

To the people of Mexico and the world

69594_137471423089900_539397097_nCompañeros and compañeras in struggle, on Friday March 21, 2014, at around 9 am, our compañero Juan Carlos Gómez Silvano was ambushed and cruelly assassinated with over twenty shots from a high calibre firearm, while he was driving his small truck with passenger seats up to the San José Chapapuyil crossroads in the direction of the Autonomous Community Virgen de Dolores, founded by our organization in 2010.

At the time of his murder, Juan Carlos was 22 years old, held the post of regional Coordinator of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle for the ejido San Sebastián Bachajón and was the father of a baby aged six months.

Municipal police from Chilón and preventive state police arrived at the crime scene and began taking photos and video of the body of our compañero without respect for the deceased and his family. The public ministry of Chilón said the body of our compañero would be taken away for an autopsy, but we did not allow it, because this is our custom, and we took him to rest at Virgen de Dolores community so we could pray for him.

Since we founded the communities of Nah Choj and Virgen de Dolores in 2010, our organization has been harassed at various times by the army and state preventive police, threatening us with eviction because of pressures from those who say they are the owners of the property, among them a former municipal president of Chilón, fomenting division and buying the consciences of some ex compañeros with their crumbs, like they did with Carmen Aguilar Gómez and his son of the same name who, when he sold out to Noé Castañón León, the Secretary of Government of Juan Sabines Guerrero, organized for the eviction of our ticket booth on February 2, 2011 and dispossessed us of our lands in complicity with the ex ejidal commissioner of San Sebastián Bachajón Francisco Guzmán Jiménez (alias el goyito).

The bad government wants to finish us off completely by assassinating our compañeros, like they did with Juan Vázquez Guzmán on April 24, 2013, using their paramilitary gunmen, who with complete impunity, whether by night or in the full light of day, are capable of vilely murdering our compañeros who are working and struggling to construct a world in which other worlds fit, and who are daily resisting the attacks of the capitalist system which wants to make us disappear so they can take over our mother earth, water, rivers, waterfalls and all that will serve to make them more money at the cost of our lives and suffering.

The real criminals, assassins and corrupt ones are the party politicians who, despite reaching their position through fraud and buying votes, consider that they are the owners of all that exists in our lands. Every day they want to get richer and it doesn’t matter how many indigenous they have to kill to achieve this. Like the current mayor of Chilón, Leonardo Guirao Aguilar, a member of the Green Ecologist Party, and one of the authors of the dispossession of our lands, because he financed the weapons of the group led by Carmen Aguilar Gómez the elder, Juan Alvaro Gómez and Manuel Jiménez who evicted our compañeros from the ticket booth in February 2011.

Our organization has had the dignity to continue standing in struggle and defending our people although we have had many compañeros imprisoned or murdered; we are not afraid because we are on the path that our grandparents followed, our ancestors have given us the wisdom to read the signs of life and of the times; the bad governments come and go, but we the peoples who have resisted are still standing here in struggle and will continue whatever the cost.

One day our compañero Juan Vázquez Guzmán told us well that our struggle is for the life of our people and because we want to continue being what we are. A few weeks before the first anniversary of the assassination of Juan Vázquez Guzmán, the bad government sends its killers to hurt the Virgen de Dolores community; it was born with great effort and sacrifice, and now the cornfields and the fruits of the good mother earth grow there to feed our children. Compañero Juan Carlos Gómez Silvano is part of the foundation and construction of autonomy in the Virgen de Dolores community, his participation and his work for the organization and the community will never be forgotten because we carry it in our hearts.

Manuel Velasco Coello and Enrique Peña Nieto are wrong if they think that they are going to finish us off with violence and repression, our organization is ready to resist and to continue building the autonomy which has been denied in law and in action to the indigenous communities.

We salute all the expressions of solidarity and support for our struggle from organizations nationally and internationally. The men and women of San Sebastián Bachajón want to say that we are also aware of your word and your struggle, from our geography we have our fists raised in solidarity with you.

From the northern zone of Chiapas, receive a combative embrace.

Never again a Mexico without us


Land and Freedom!

Zapata Vive!

Hasta la victoria siempre!

Freedom for political prisoners!

Juan Vazquez Guzman Lives, the Bachajón struggle continues!

Juan Carlos Gómez Silvano Lives, the Bachajón struggle continues!

No to the dispossession of indigenous territories!





The Plan Puebla-Panama is Changing Chiapas

Filed under: Bachajon, Tourism — Tags: , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 2:06 pm


The Plan Puebla-Panama is Changing Chiapas

 By: Mary Ann Tenuto-Sánchez

The Palace at Palenque

The Palace at Palenque

Vicente Fox took office as president of Mexico in December 2000. Not long afterwards, social organizations in Mexico and Central America learned about an ambitious plan called the Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP), a virtual corporate wish list of “development” projects. It instantly became controversial because it threatened to displace people, damage the environment and sell off the region’s natural resources to transnational corporations. It was also severely criticized for its failure to consult with those affected and for the secrecy of its plans. Organizations formed in Mexico, Central America, the United States and Europe and joined together in an international network to oppose the PPP.

The Plan Puebla-Panama encompassed the southern (and heavily indigenous) Mexican states of Puebla, Veracruz, Tabasco, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas, Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo.  It also encompassed the seven Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Belize and Panama.

The purpose of the PPP was to develop the infrastructure needed for a dramatic expansion of trade via the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Free trade agreements establish the legal structure for trade, while the PPP was to develop the infrastructure. The eight initiatives of the Plan were: 1) sustainable development; 2) human development; 3) prevention and mitigation of natural disasters; 4) promotion of tourism; 5) facilitation of trade; 6) highway integration; 7) energy interconnection; and 8) integration of telecommunications services.

In Chiapas the PPP initially envisioned at least 10 dams on various rivers, including the Usumacinta, Jataté and Lacantún, sweatshops in the central part of the state and mass tourism from the state’s Pacific Coast to the Usumacinta River.

Resistance to the PPP appeared to be successful. The PPP got a bad reputation and a public relations firm was employed to clean up its negative image. This led some to wrongly assume that the PPP was dead.

An important function of the PPP was to obtain financing for infrastructure projects, such as new or improved highways, bridges, ports and airports that would facilitate transportation for business ventures. Apparently the PPP was overly ambitious and could not find enough financing. The strong resistance coupled with the lack of financing signalled the demise of the PPP as originally proposed. But, that demise did not stop the infrastructure projects, and for about five years the projects for which funding was available continued without any mention of the PPP.

In June 2008, the heads of the affected countries and the governors of the nine Mexican states involved met together in Villahermosa, Tabasco for the 10th Tuxtla Summit on the Plan Puebla-Panama.  They all agreed to rename it the Mesoamerica Project and to reduce the 100 development projects to 5 mega-projects: electricity, highways, telecommunications, cybernetic information and health. The addition of a social aspect (health) to the project may be to soften the impact of its more controversial aspects, like electricity and highways, both of which imply the displacement of indigenous people and environmental damage.

Some of the infrastructure projects that have been completed in Chiapas are:

1) Puente Chiapas – A bridge over the lake created by the Malpaso hydroelectric dam near the Chiapas border with Veracruz, which completed the highway connecting a large Gulf of Mexico port to the Pacific Highway in Chiapas and cut the travel time between Mexico City and Tuxtla Gutierrez to around 12 hours.

2) Puerto Chiapas – What was formerly known as Puerto Madero, a natural harbour on the Pacific Coast, was dredged and made into a deep-water port for shipping raw materials out and bringing in cruise ships full of tourists.

3) Angel Albino Corzo International Airport – A new international airport located in Chiapa de Corzo, near the state capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, facilitates both business travel and tourism.

4) Tuxtla-San Cristóbal Highway – A new toll road that whisks tourists from the new airport near Tuxtla to the colonial tourist Mecca of San Cristóbal de las Casas in one hour. It also facilitates commerce between the two rapidly growing cities.

5) Puente San Cristóbal – A bridge between two mountains that completed the toll road between Tuxtla Gutiérrez and San Cristóbal de las Casas.

All of these infrastructure improvements facilitate commerce, attract investment and pave the way for elaborate tourist development. None of them has met with significant opposition.

One infrastructure project that has generated controversy and prolonged resistance is the construction of a toll road between San Cristóbal and the city of Palenque, the jungle city located a couple miles from the internationally famous archaeological site with the same name. The toll road will cut through numerous indigenous villages and territories, some of them Zapatista. Resistance to the toll road has resulted in violent confrontations between pro-government and pro-Zapatista groups, unjust imprisonment, torture and one death in the Mitzitón ejido, situated where the toll road begins.

The strongest resistance has been and will continue to be directed towards the massive development project the toll road is intended to facilitate: the Palenque Integral Centre, known as the CIP for its initials in Spanish. This tourist project includes expansion of the small Palenque airport to accommodate international flights. Construction at the airport began several years ago and was completed in February 2014. The airport’s expansion is not the controversial part of the CIP project. It is the plan for development of a tourist corridor, approximately 35 miles long, between the Agua Azul Cascades and the Palenque archaeological site that is disputed.

A number of large ejidos (collective farms), some of them containing communities of Zapatistas and their supporters, are located within that 35-mile corridor. In addition to the Agua Azul Cascades and the Palenque Ruins, the Misol Ha Waterfall and the Agua Clara area for swimming and camping are also within the corridor. The Palenque site is an archaeological wonder left to us by the ancestors of the modern-day Mayas that inhabit this part of the state. The Agua Azul Cascades are a series of turquoise blue waterfalls that cascade down a mountain surrounded by lush green jungle.

The CIP project contains an elaborate plan to convert the area surrounding the Agua Azul Cascades into a “world-class resort destination.” The government plan includes a Boutique Hotel, a European 5-Star Hotel, a Conference Centre with golf course, and a Lodge overlooking the waterfall at Bolom Ajaw, a Zapatista community on land reclaimed in 1994. But of course, one would have to helicopter into the Lodge at Bolom Ajaw due to its remoteness!

The Agua Azul area has become a flashpoint of conflict between pro-government communities (in favour of luxury tourist development) and pro-Zapatista communities (opposed to that kind of development). The controversial project proposed for Agua Azul has already generated three deaths, numerous violent conflicts, political prisoners, death threats and torture. The state government argues that these tourist projects will bring jobs and income into a very poor state, while Zapatista supporters and their allies argue that the volume of tourism envisioned will damage the environment, their food security and their traditional way of life; that is, their culture. In a state where two-thirds of the population is indigenous and that indigenous culture is one of the tourist attractions, this is an important debate.


* This article was originally written in November 2013 for educational background information. It is included in the recently published book “Mayan Whitewater: Chiapas & Belize” by Greg Schwendinger and Rocky Contos.










Self-Defence and Disarmament in Ostula

Filed under: Indigenous — Tags: , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 1:53 pm


Self-Defence and Disarmament in Ostula

Luis Hernández Navarro

La Jornada, March 25th, 2014

Translated by Brittany Doss

Captura de pantalla 2014-03-25 a les 13.45.04Luxury, refinement, and quality are the hallmarks of Rolls Royce vehicles. The panels of several of their models are made from the sangualica tree, which has a beautiful, hard, heavy wood, also known as Rosewood, which grows on the Michoacán coast. Because of its quality and colour, it’s also used to make yacht panels, scalpels, and musical instruments.

In Mexico the sangualica is considered an endangered tree and is listed in the protected species category. Its high price and strong demand in the Asian market have led to looting and illegal exportation. Last July, as a precautionary measure, the Federal Prosecutor for Environmental Protection preventively secured two containers in the port of Manzanillo that had just over 39 cubic metres of sangualica wood that was slated to be sent to China.

As with other illegal activities carried out in the 25 kilometre coastal region of the Municipality of Aquila, The Knights Templar cartel is involved in the illegal logging of sangualica and selling it to China. It’s not their only business in the region. From there also go out tons and tons of iron with the same destination. From these beaches, [illegal cargo] comes and goes from the steepest parts of the Tierra Caliente. Speedboats land on its shores with cocaine shipments from Colombia. On private ranches illegally set up on communal lands Cessna airplanes land transporting weapons and drugs.

On these coasts, the land, territory and natural resources are disputed inch by inch and life by life. On one side, are the Nahua community members of Ostula and 22 nearby villages; on the other, together or separately, are private “small landowners,” the mining company Ternium-Las Encinas SA (second most important in the state), and The Knights Templar.

This fight has dragged on for half a century. It began in 1964 when, after their ancestral lands were recognized by a presidential resolution, technical flaws in the plans permitted the smallholders of La Placita to invade the communal territory and subdivide it. Today, these invaders are frequently members or allies of organized crime in the region.

It is in the context of this sordid and silent resistance against dispossession and exploitation that the community members of Ostula emitted the first “Enough already!” [¡Ya basta!] in the region, anticipating the struggles of the community members of Cherán and the self-defence groups in the Tierra Caliente. On June 13th and 14th, 2009, they enacted the Ostula Manifesto. Approved by delegates from villages and indigenous communities in nine states of the Republic attending the 25th Assembly of the Pacific Region-South of the National Indigenous Congress, the Ostula Manifesto proclaimed that indigenous people have the inalienable right, derived from Article 39 of the Constitution, to organize and conduct the defence of their lives, security, freedom and fundamental rights of their culture and territory.

The recuperation of their lands and the organization of their community police were ruthlessly challenged by drug traffickers and the local strongmen. In three years, 32 community members were killed and another five disappeared. On December 6, 2011, community member J. Trinidad de la Cruz, Don Trino, was tortured and killed after an attack on the Caravan of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, despite the fact that a Navy checkpoint was located 500 metres away.

The training and spread of the self-defence groups in the Tierra Caliente and their war against The Knights Templar created the conditions for Ostula’s community members to reorganize and recover their territory. On February 8th of this year, a group of exiles returned to their community. With the support of the self-defence groups in the neighbouring communities of Chinicuila, Coahuayán and Coalcomán, they conducted an assembly and agreed to reconstitute their community police.

Community police differ from self-defence groups in that they are appointed and subject to decisions by the community assembly and must respond to it. In contrast, most self-defence groups are formed by the free association of their members, without relationships to community assemblies and without orders agreed upon by them. The weapons, vehicles, and resources available to the Nahuas of Ostula are much more modest and insecure than those possessed by the self-defence groups.

Dangerous Disarmament

Despite the role that community police have played in the struggle against The Templars, almost a week ago, on March 19th, about 40 troops from the Mexican Navy led by Commander Alfredo Valdés de León, disarmed 14 community police officers who were guarding the village of La Placita, which until a few weeks ago was a stronghold of organized crime under the command of Federico, Lico, González Merino and Mario Álvarez.

In response, the next day, about 1,500 residents of the town of Santa María Ostula and the municipalities of Aquila, Chinicuila, and Coahuayana, along with 300 community police officers and self-defence groups, closed down the Manzanillo-Lázaro Cárdenas Highway for 2 hours at the location of the Mexican Navy’s base and checkpoint in the town of La Placita. They demand that the confiscated weapons be returned to them.

The action of the Marines against the Ostula community police is part of the federal government offensive to disarm and demobilize the Michoacán self-defence groups. But it is also another link in the push to strike and dismantle the most politicized sectors of the indigenous and civic mobilization in Michoacán, those fighting for historic rights and who are confronting large interests, such as the transnational mining companies.

The Ostula community has paid an enormous price in blood for trying to defend themselves against organized crime and trying to conserve their natural resources at risk of extinction, like the sangualica trees. By disarming their community police, the federal government is placing the community of Ostula in a position of dangerous helplessness.



March 25, 2014

Message of Support to the Ejido of San Sebastián Bachajón

Filed under: Bachajon — Tags: , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 8:26 pm


Message of Support to the Ejido of San Sebastián Bachajón


To the family of Juan Carlos Gómez Silvano

To the Ejido of San Sebastián Bachajón

To our comrades and adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle
To members of the mass and alternative media
To the Good Government
To the Zapatista Army of National Liberation
To the National Indigenous Congress
To the Network against Repression and for Solidarity
To the Movement of Justice for the District of New York
To the defenders of national and international human rights
To the people of Mexico and the world

bachajon-fila-391x293Even at the bottom of the world in New Zealand we have heard the terrible news of the shooting death of our comrade Juan Carlos Gómez Silvano on Friday March 21, 2014 after he was ambushed at the San Jose Chapapuyil crossroad while driving his truck towards the Autonomous Community of Virgen de Dolores, of which he was a founder.

We know that at the time of his murder, Juan Carlos was 22 years old, held the post of Regional Coordinator for the ejido of San Sebastián Bachajón for the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, and was the father of a six month old baby.

We in New Zealand deplore this cold-blooded assassination, and note that it is yet another example of the sustained campaign of harrassment and murder waged by the army and state preventive police in collusion with corrupt ejido officials Alejandro Moreno Gómez and Samuel Diaz Guzman, and ex-Ejido Commissioner Francisco Guzman Jimenez against the ejido of San Sebastián Bachajón, designed to create division within the community and drive the ejido members of the Sixth from their lands.

Two more examples of the growing list of crimes against them are the eviction from their toll booth on February 2, 2011 and the murder of Juan Vázquez Guzmán on April 24, 2013.

We express our deepest sympathy and condolences to the family of Juan Carlos Gómez Silvano, and raise our fists in solidarity with the men and women of San Sebastián Bachajón and their struggle.

Receive an ‘abrazo combativo’ from us at the bottom of the world.


Wellington Zapatista Support Group, New Zealand

Land and Freedom!
Zapata Lives!
Until victory always!
Political prisoners! Freedom!
Juan Vázquez Guzmán Lives, the Bachajón struggle continues!
Juan Carlos Gómez Silvano Lives, the Bachajón struggle continues!
No to dispossession of indigenous territories!



The Zapatistas at 20: Building Autonomous Community

Filed under: Zapatista — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 7:02 pm


The Zapatistas at 20: Building Autonomous Community

Melissa Forbis interviewed by Johanna Brenner

Source: Solidarity Webzine

chiapas-01Johanna Brenner: Many activists around the world have been inspired by the Zapatista project of organizing Indigenous communities in Chiapas around the principles of autonomy and participatory democracy. I’m curious to know more about how they are living there, producing and surviving. But first, can you say a bit about where these communities are located and their population?

Melissa Forbis: The “Zapatista territory” covers roughly the northeast half of Chiapas (corresponding approximately with the Diocese of San Cristobal). The population there is predominantly Indigenous, but in many places Indigenous and non-Indigenous people live side by side.

The Zapatistas have been very successful in organizing autonomous governance, autonomous schools, and autonomous healthcare. Their economic situation has been more difficult to work on. They have some advantages from their location in the countryside where they have been able to take over land and establish autonomous territorial governance. However, they are also embedded as we all are in neo-liberal capitalism—this is the 20 year anniversary of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

NAFTA has been devastating for rural people, forcing them to migrate to the larger cities, to the Northern border, and to the U.S. However, the Zapatistas have had some success in taking control over their economy. For example, some areas produce coffee and in the past growers would have to sell to a middle person, who by the way is also called a coyote, just like the person who transports people across borders, for the same reason, because they extort money.

Growers did not have access to transport or transport was expensive, they could not verify the quality of the coffee, they couldn’t process it or roast it themselves, and therefore were dependent on the coyotes who set the prices for their crop. The Zapatistas have formed a number of coffee cooperatives who can cut out the coyotes by making links to fair trade coffee export groups primarily in the US, Mexico and Europe. Yet, while taking control of what they produce, and sharing earnings collectively, the cooperatives are still at the whim of the market—for example when there is a glut—and are threatened by other places that produce coffee more cheaply.

Zapatista collectives also produce for local consumption, for example there are bread-baking cooperatives, cattle cooperatives, and collective cornfields on lands recovered from wealthy landowners. There are also collective stores that provide local people with lower-cost goods because the collectives purchase in bulk. In addition, community members are saved the cost of travelling to the larger cities in order to shop.

Transportation is another arena where I’ve seen innovation. Most Zapatista communities are rural and people rely on buses or trucks to get around. Small companies provide transportation and in a sense they own the routes, setting the price and schedules. After the Zapatistas created the Juntas de Buen Gobierno (Good Governance Councils) in 2003, I think there has been more oversight on whether those private companies are charging fairly and equally. Additionally, there is now Zapatista-owned transportation; those vehicles are also used for other community needs.

In spite of the development of these collective projects, many families rely on subsistence farming which is quite uncertain. In the past, the military destroyed crops or people were not able to harvest in time because of the military’s presence. But even without that pressure, there are years when crops fail because of weather or other conditions and the community has to purchase corn at inflated prices. So life remains precarious. One of the other recent efforts to improve economic security in the communities has been the establishment of “popular banks” or revolving funds that make low-interest loans to Zapatista support base members.

JB: Could you describe the structure of the Juntas de Bien Gobierno (Good Governance Councils)?

territorio-zapatistaMF: The Zapatistas have divided their territory into five regions which they call Caracoles. Within each Caracol there are several autonomous municipalities (the number varies). Each municipality is governed by a council made up of community members nominated to serve for two or three years. Each of the Caracoles has a Junta de Buen Gobierno. These councils are comprised of a rotating group of members who come from all of the autonomous municipalities that correspond to a particular Caracol. There is no standard way that these representatives are chosen – the autonomy is indeed autonomous – but frequently they are people who have served as community authorities, proven themselves, and then been selected to serve at a higher level. There can be a combination of the community naming someone at an assembly, or someone also desiring to serve and making that known. The number of days this group serves on the Junta varies depending on the Caracol. In some they serve 10, in some 14 days. They deal with ongoing and new matters brought before them. When they leave, a new group arrives.

Municipal representatives serve as a feedback link between communities and the Junta de Bien Gobierno. For example, in the municipality of 17 de Noviembre, located in the Caracol corresponding to the Morelia region, each community sends men and women as representatives to a municipal assembly. Sometimes issues discussed at the assembly need to be brought forward to the Junta. Or an issue may be sent to the assembly by the Junta who wants the communities to discuss it and report back. Autonomous governance begins at the community level, moving to the municipality level (municipio), then to the Caracol with the Juntas. Decision-making flows back and forth on decisions that are of a movement-level nature or of regional importance.

So, there is a lot of consensus decision-making and a lot of consultation with the communities before decisions are taken. Many people from outside would be frustrated because things would seem to move so slowly and you couldn’t get a decision quickly. But, it is because there’s this process of bringing things back to the communities to hear what people have to say, what their ideas are, then bringing it back to an assembly to discuss all of that. Community members who serve in the autonomous governing structures are unpaid, and they rotate frequently so that governance is really a matter of grassroots participation.

JB: Earlier you spoke about the Juntas regulating transportation businesses operating in their region. What other sorts of decisions come before the Juntas?

escuelita-paco-13MF: Individuals and groups come to the Juntas for a variety of purposes. For example, researchers, like me, are required to present their proposals to the Junta(s) in the region(s) where they plan to do research. The Juntas are also responsible for oversight of income that comes into the Caracol and for projects that are undertaken in their region—for example, the secondary school in Oventik or the sort of post-secondary school in Moisés Gandhi. One of the purposes for forming the Caracoles in 2003 was to make sure it was the Juntas rather than the NGOs and other organizations that were setting development priorities, and to also try to balance the distribution of projects and resources within each Caracol.

Since 1994, solidarity groups (national and international) have formed to support the Zapatista struggle and have raised funds to support the movement. Over the years, projects have included health promoter training, education, coffee production, potable water systems, etc. More collective projects have been gradually spreading in the communities, so that these days proportionally more resources are generated internally rather than from outside NGOs and solidarity groups.

JB: Does the Zapatista organization play any role in this system of autonomous governance?

MF: A communiqué from July 2003, “CHIAPAS: The Thirteenth Stele,” is one of the only places that I’ve seen this discussed. The communique says:

“The Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee in each region will monitor the operations of the Good Government Juntas in order to prevent acts of corruption, intolerance, injustice and deviation from the Zapatista principle of ‘Governing by Obeying.’”

That is as much as I can say, because there is nothing else public that I am aware of.

JB: You mentioned increasing migration since NAFTA. I take it the Zapatista communities have not been insulated from those same pressures.

MF: No, they haven’t. The Zapatistas have had a policy or they did have the policy up until the last time I talked to someone, that community members wanting to migrate had to first ask for permission. One reason is because the Zapatistas are not only a social movement, they are also still a clandestine movement. But, the greater reason is because participation in the movement requires a commitment to the collective, and absences make it hard to fulfil responsibilities to the community. Generally, people ask to go for a period of time—for three months, six months. And sometimes people don’t come back. But often they do. And there are people who have been able to build a house or use the money for other needs.

JB: Does that pose a risk of increasing economic inequality within the community?

MF: Well I don’t think people can accumulate large amounts of money in a six-month period. And often, permission is given because of an emergency, such as when a family has built up a large debt from hospital bills or the cost of medicine.

JB: So it seems that where the Zapatistas can use volunteer labour—where they can make their own road, so to speak—outside of the neoliberal capitalist system–that is where they’ve built their community.

MF: Yes. And the Zapatistas maintain autonomy through refusing to become dependent on government funding for social services, healthcare and education. The Zapatistas argue that it is necessary to reject government aid so long as aid is not given equally to all people. They refer to this policy of rejecting government aid and programs as being “in resistance” against what they call the “bad government.”

You could say that this is now the heart of the struggle. The Mexican state has moved from low intensity warfare, which was at its highest in the late ‘90s in the region, to what people have called the war of the projects. There is still a paramilitary presence and other kinds of incursions or threats of violence, but the form has changed since the 90s. Now, there is this “war of the projects” in which both the federal and state governments promise aid. Of course people are highly suspicious of these local officials because for decades, this was pretty much what the politicians did—make promises during elections that were never fulfilled afterwards. Now, the cynical way that the government has tried to break the movement is by capitalizing on people’s needs–needs that they helped create in the first place. The government has also shifted from more formally constituted paramilitary forces to offering incentives to competing Indigenous/campesino groups to attack or re-invade Zapatista recovered lands, for example, offering to legalize the land claims of the competing groups.

An informative mural in a Zapatista clinic.

clinic1_redAll of the Caracoles have clinics. In some places, they’re high level clinics with ambulances, dormitories, dentists, doctors, laboratories.

In La Garrucha an entire clinic is organized to provide for women’s health with trained midwives and a pharmacy with both western allopathic medicine and traditional healing and herbal medicine. Most communities have health promoters, who receive ongoing training, who provide basic preventative medical care and some of them are trained for quite high level medical care.

JB: How do the Zapatistas pay for that? How do they pay the salaries and keep the lights on?

MF: The health promoters are all volunteers. This is the case for most of the Zapatista projects. It’s the work that people do as part of their responsibility and obligation to both the movement and the community. This way of thinking does grow out of the Indigenous culture where you are named to a position and you feel a responsibility to do it well for a certain period of time and then other people can be named and if you like it, you could continue and take a higher position.

When the community health promoters come to the main clinic, they’ll stay in dormitories there and food is provided for them. Medicines are either free or very, very low cost. And the Caracoles have established a policy that for any project coming in from outside, for example from solidarity collectives, part of the money for that project is put aside to fund the ongoing autonomous elements of the Zapatista movement and is spread around among the autonomous municipalities in the region governed by the Caracol.

It is like a tax, or redistribution of income coming into the region. And if the state government wants to build a road through the area, then they need to actually contract with the Zapatista authorities and pay a certain amount too. Typically the contractors for an official government infrastructure project, such as roads or electricity, will negotiate permission with the Junta de Buen Gobierno, in effect recognizing their de facto authority.

Education promoters are also supported by the community. The community assembly might come to an agreement to give some food to them or they might help them in their fields when they have to spend time on their assigned tasks or travel to a training. The Zapatistas have tried many different strategies for supporting their autonomous projects. I really want to emphasize that the Zapatista communities are engaged in a process of evaluation and critique and this is one of the most inspiring parts of the movement to me. At the end of every year, there’s an evaluation. Is this working? Is this not working? How could we change it? What are people saying about it? How can we make it better?

book_of_educationJB: That leads me to another question: what does it mean to be a Zapatista community? Do the Zapatistas have their own organization separate from this overall communal decision-making process?

MF: You know, it really depends on the region and the particular community. So, some communities are mixed. They have Zapatistas, members of other peasant organizations, people who belong to political parties, people who might be Zapatista sympathizers, but not officially Zapatistas. The Zapatistas who are there would have their own meetings, make their own decisions, but wouldn’t necessarily “control” the whole community.

In many of the communities that are mixed, there’s a way of living side-by-side that works. There have been conflict in some communities; there’s been violence, not, by the way, started by the Zapatistas, but by people from other groups. But there are also communities that are 100% Zapatista, because they are settled on land that the Zapatista’s have taken over called recuperated lands.

The oldest communities in the Lacandon Jungle were settled at the end of the 1920s and into the 1930s when people from different parts of Chiapas began migrating in. Previously there had been plantations, many run by the church, and also by landowners. In the 1940’s and 1950’s people began petitioning the government for title to the land. After the Mexican Revolution it was legally possible for peasants to settle on land that wasn’t being worked and then seek a collective title to work the land as an ejido, or peasant community. The government could also take over lands lying fallow.

So, some of the land was national land that belonged to the government, belonged to the Mexican nation, the state, and then others were lands that plantation owners, ranch owners weren’t using. In the years leading up to the uprising, peasant organizations had been forming to demand titles, more land, and services from the government. But one of the major triggers of the uprising was the agrarian counter-reform of 1992. In preparation for NAFTA, the Revolution-era Constitution was amended and land redistribution officially ended, and the collectively managed ejidos could be individually parcelled and titled. This was a major blow to poor and landless peasants.

Differences within communities reflect political history as well. There was some disagreement about the decision to take up arms; those who opposed the Zapatistas on this have tended to remain outside of their movement, although they might be considered sympathizers. Some Zapatista members decided later to leave, for various reasons, for example, to join up with a political party or other peasant organization. Some left because of need, as when people decided to take government assistance. And some people left because of the kind of struggles we see in every political organization and social movement—power struggles and personal issues between people, conflicting thoughts on the direction of the movement, etc.

JB: So in the areas where Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas live side by side, how does governing work?

MF: The Caracoles and the Juntas de Bien Gobierno only involve Zapatistas. But their development has definitely been the result of many influences from the different people working with the Zapatistas in these communities, as well as all the people, Mexican and international, who have come to work in solidarity. Indigenous culture has also been a central influence.

The Juntas and the Caracoles see themselves as governing their territory—which includes people living there who are not Zapatista members. For example, the transport that runs up and down the road in La Garrucha, is also subject to their authority. I remember a case where bus and truck drivers were charging Guatemalan migrants more money than local people. When the Junta de Buen Gobierno learned of this, they said, “no, you have to charge everyone the same amount of money or you can’t run this route.” And, you know, the Zapatistas do have the presence and the numbers to be able to enforce that kind of thing.

Also, community members who are not Zapatistas will come to the Junta de Buen Gobierno to try to resolve matters. They say it’s because that kind of justice is something that they feel is more in line with how they see the world, with their culture, both Indigenous and rural and, the Zapatistas aren’t asking for money, like they would in the official municipality. The Juntas approach decisions by not identifying fault but by trying to reach a compromise that will create more harmony than discord. I think their approach to justice is about an ethic of caring that is quite different from a western model of justice, and the emphasis is on restorative rather than punitive justice.

JB: The Zapatistas originally were from outside Chiapas. Now, when you look at, say, a Zapatista community and the people who are setting up the Caracoles and administering and engaging in these decision-making processes, are they people from the area? Have the Zapatistas become Indigenous?

MF: Well, only part of the original nucleus of the EZLN were from further north in Mexico. The others were from the area. Before the uprising the Zapatistas had engaged in base organizing in Indigenous communities that had already been mobilizing around land rights and other demands for decades. So while not everyone who is a Zapatista is Indigenous, the original small group of non-Indigenous organizers have definitely lived side-by-side with Indigenous people and become part of an Indigenous community. And that’s where Indigenous becomes an identity that people use politically even if it is not a personal identity.

JB: So I’m still trying to envision how the Zapatista autonomous bodies of governing, health, education and so on, relate to non-Zapatista members living in their communities.

MF: Zapatista clinics treat people who aren’t Zapatistas. And people who aren’t Zapatistas can bring a matter before the Juntas to try to have it resolved. On the other hand, the Zapatista schools that have been set up are exclusively for Zapatista members. There’s a general sense that people have to participate in making these institutions work, i.e. community participation in designing the curriculum of the autonomous schools, if they want to benefit from them.

JB: Let’s talk about the gender politics of the Zapatista project. What is your assessment of how older patterns of participation and leadership are being challenged or changed?

MF: Well I think people are aware that women were very present from the beginning and took on leadership roles in the insurrection and then as military leaders. This is notably different from the history of the Sandinistas and the post-Somoza Sandinista government. I teach a class called Gender and Social Movements in Latin America and I assign “The Country Under My Skin” by Gioconda Belli, which gives a clear sense of what it was like for a woman to participate in that revolution. The Sandinistas did not include the idea of ending gender and racial oppression from the beginning and that led to considerable disappointment of women and Afro-Nicaraguans once the Sandinistas came to power in 1979.

ezlnwomenFrom the beginning, the Zapatistas emphasized gender equity, as well as the rights of Indigenous people, the rights of peasants, and so on. On the leadership level there have always been women insurgents, large numbers of them, and some in military leadership positions. On the civilian side, there are women who are health and education promoters, political authorities, members of autonomous municipal councils and Juntas de Buen Gobierno.

You see fewer women playing roles as authorities at the community level. One reason is patriarchy, which is just still present. Another is land titles, which give people rights as ejidal members. Women actually do work the land alongside men, although men do more of the work in the fields. Yet there is a persistent belief that women don’t really work the land and so don’t have a right to it. Over the past ten years, Zapatista women have been increasingly raising the idea that they should have rights to the land.

What gender equity looks like is very specific to Indigenous women in the communities. I like to point out that the Zapatista Revolutionary Law of Women, which went into effect in 1993, even before the uprising, included, alongside the rights we would recognize, like the right to control how many children one has, the right to not be forced to marry, the right to education, is the right to participate in the community. I think this right relates to Indigenous ideas that centre on the responsibility individuals have to work on behalf of the community. It’s different from the right to be a leader—which the Law also established. The right to participate comes out of an understanding of a self that is always part of a collective struggle. So to be denied the right to participate equally is to be cut off from being part of the movement in the same way that men are.

A colleague and I are writing a paper looking at Indigenous women’s theorizing and then reflecting back on our own Northern feminism and ideas of citizenship and the challenge to it represented by Indigenous women’s approach.

One of the key things that Indigenous women emphasize is that this is not just a struggle for women and they say that it’s always, always simultaneously a struggle for their people, for themselves as an Indigenous people. Women’s organizing will always have that collective component within it, even as they might be also demanding individual rights.

Outsiders coming to the communities often say it looks like women are still oppressed, because they’re taking care of children or are doing domestic work. Indigenous women are making a more subtle point. They will say yes, men need to help out in the domestic sphere, just as we help out in the fields. But they also say we should not value one kind of work as more important to people’s survival, contentment and happiness than another. They also view all people as inherently capable of doing all of these kinds of work.

The workbooks that were produced for the Escuelita, the Zapatista school, are interesting. They are meant to teach about Zapatista autonomous governance and one of the workbooks is on women. It is written by women from all five Caracoles, and covers different topics. The women reflect back on their struggle. And one of the women wrote “here in my community we think that the women’s revolutionary law needs to be extended from ten points to 43.”

So this is a system always undergoing development through a process of reflection. Autonomous governance is not a model to be simply followed. It’s something that’s worked out through day-to-day practice. The women reflected back on all the years, assessed what has changed and then were very critical about what hasn’t happened. And you see that they engage in this process keeping that utopian horizon in place. It is assumed that “we’re not giving up, we can get there.”

It’s hard, make no mistake. Being a Zapatista, you may be poorer than other people in monetary terms, because you’re not accessing income from government programmes. At the same time, there’s a sense of worth. There’s a sense of struggle, of having built something with other people that has been very empowering.

JB: You’ve described how the Zapatistas are going very deep, developing their autonomy on that land base and for the long-term. They clearly are very interconnected globally and continue to inspire support. I’m curious about their interconnections to organizing in Mexico. I know of one such relationship—with the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. The two organizations engaged in a series of “encuentros” where Zapatistas came up to Blanca Navidad, an illegal settlement near the Mexico-U.S. border, organized by maquiladora workers, and then some of the community activists travelled down to Chiapas.

ezlnotracampanaMF: As it happened, I was at the meetings in Blanca Navidad. My sense is that this connection between the two organizations was one of the outcomes of the Zapatistas’ “Otra Campaña” (Other Campaign), in which a Zapatista delegation travelled throughout Mexico during the national election campaign in 2006. Their goal was to make connections with grassroots organizing projects and to pose an alternative to people passively electing politicians to “represent” them. My sense of the Other Campaign is that they were most successful at the northern border, California through Texas. Blanca Navidad was one of those places. I think it is important to say that these meetings were a real dialogue. People in Blanca Navidad were inspired by the Zapatistas, but they had also been developing their own ways of organizing and their own ideas of building community; so there was a real dialogue.

Despite the fact that the “Other Campaign” did not have the results the Zapatistas had hoped for, which mirrors some of their earlier attempts to reach out to the so-called Mexican civil society, their example continues to inspire people throughout Mexico, as evidenced by the huge response to the invitation to participate in the Escuelita beginning in August 2013. Indigenous communities and areas continue to declare themselves autonomous and are organizing themselves in their own ways.

JB: An interesting contrast with the global connections that the Zapatistas have built.

MF: You know, one global connection I can think of right now that has been important is this question of alternative and social media that I think is something to reflect on with the 20 years of Zapatismo. The Zapatista struggle coincided really with the advent of the internet or at least the popularity of the internet and that it was a tool in the hands of activists. Some have called the Zapatistas the first post-modern guerrilla. Calling a large group of people who are peasants post-modern does not quite capture their daily lives and struggles! At the same time, the Zapatistas’ ability to use that tool for activism was important in shaping the struggle there—in terms of the incredible global solidarity and support they continue to receive– but also in the way that the Zapatista uprising was able to inspire people—for example, the organizing against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999.

JB: Inspiring, yes. But on the other hand, there is a difference between the virtual world and the actual world of ongoing connections to each other. Does the Zapatista presence on the web, expressed through its communiques and reports, fully reflect reality on the ground? Does something important get lost?

MF: That is an interesting point. What inspires me about the Zapatistas is the day-to-day complicated work, often conflictive work of living autonomy and putting it into practice. The communiques don’t always reflect the complexity of life in the communities. Yet it is from those hard, conflictive moments—and how people deal with them—that we have the most to learn.


Melissa Forbis is a member of the Department of Cultural Analysis and Theory faculty at Stony Brook. She has been doing community work and research in Zapatista communities since 1996. Several articles on women in Chiapas and her Ph.D. Dissertation, “Never Again a Mexico Without Us: Gender, Indigenous Autonomy and Multiculturalism in Neo-Liberal Mexico,” are based on that research. She is currently completing her book manuscript based on the dissertation and subsequent research. On the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Zapatista uprising, she was interviewed by Johanna Brenner, a community activist in Portland, OR and an Advisory Editor of Against the Current.



People in Resistance Demand the Right to Live on Lands Free of Mining

Filed under: Mining — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 5:38 pm

People in Resistance Demand the Right to Live on Lands Free of Mining

*In the final declaration they highlight women’s struggle in defence of the land

Rosa Rojas

La Jornada, 17 March 2014

Translated by Julie Kawamura 

safe_imageToday, March 16, the three-day Meeting of People in Resistance against the extractive mining model concluded, with pronouncements against the energy reform “that continues favouring the private sector to the detriment of indigenous and farming communities.”

The meeting also settled on a proposal “decreeing that all of the country’s territories be free of mining and ‘projects of death’ and to build common spaces of resistance and search for strategies that represent worthy life alternatives” constructed from community life.

The convention in Tlamanca, Municipality of Zautla, Puebla, drew in more than 600 people, including indigenous peoples, small farmers and mestizos from eight states in the country, as well as Honduras, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Italy.

Final Declaration

The meeting’s Final Declaration, which united shared experiences and collective discussion of strategies in seven workshops, demands: “That the authorities stop protecting private interests and work to respect the rights of the people to live without violence in a safe territory, free of mines and projects of death.”

It also calls for authorities to respect the communities’ decisions that, in this meeting and in their local assemblies and daily actions, have expressed an emphatic ‘no’ toward mining projects. It asserts that different levels of government “are participants in the promotion and execution of mining projects, and the federal government has conceded more than one-third of the indigenous and farming people’s land.

“However, these companies damage the social fabric through political and economic power formed with governments, which strengthen the private sector with local strategies like welfare programmes and constitutional and structural reforms. Finally, the State has made use of state and federal police to guarantee access by these companies and has acted as the guardian of private interests, while at the same time criminalizing and repressing the people and their struggles.”

In this context, the pronouncement states that it has become necessary for the communities to inform themselves about this new form of exploitation that is open-pit mining.

“We have searched for information and carried out various actions, some of which have been formal and within the framework of the State, while others are everyday actions that strengthen our resistance as indigenous and farming people, involving the development of alternatives from local and communal sources.”

Prominent Role of Women

The declaration emphasizes that in this process, the struggles of women stand out because their role has been prominent in defending the land, as “it is our shelter, sustenance, medicine, and source of life. This resistance has been achieved through strengthening decision-making spaces, like the assembly, individual knowledge, language, culture, and identity. It goes beyond alliances by which businesses, authorities, and political parties intend to harm collective decisions.”

The women recall “with rage those who fought and were assassinated for the cause. Resuming their force to continue the resistance and struggle, we demand justice and commit ourselves to follow the examples of Noé Vázquez from Veracruz, Bernardo Méndez Vázquez and Bernardo Velázquez Sánchez from Oaxaca, and Mariano Abarca from the state of Chiapas.”

They denounce what happened on Thursday, March 13, in the community of Zacualpan, in the state of Colima, when state forces displaced a group of people for carrying out an act of defense against mining permits by shutting off the town’s water supply. During the assault, women and children were beaten.

Additionally, regional overlords in Oaxaca, supported by the state police, displaced the beach community of Cacalotillo, Municipality of San Pedro Tututepec, on March 11. Six residents were detained; women and girls were threatened with rape, and their homes were looted and destroyed.

The declaration underscores that these violent acts are not isolated: “They are examples of daily occurrences for those of us defending our water, land, and life. In this context, the governments criminalize social protest and particularly work by women activists, violating our bodies and our lands as a constant strategy of oppression.”



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