dorset chiapas solidarity

February 17, 2015

Five lights amidst the fog of the Bachajon conflict

Filed under: Autonomy, Bachajon, Corporations, Displacement, Human rights, Indigenous, La Sexta, Movement for Justice in el Barrio — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 9:04 pm


Five lights amidst the fog of the Bachajon conflict

by Aldabi Olvera


First Light: the project for a “Cancun for Chiapas”

A “Cancun for Chiapas”, the “Entrance to the Mayan World”, “the Mayan route, the end of an era, for you, a new journey”: all of this in the northern zone of Chiapas, a key location for the economic development plans of the state government. In 2007, media coverage took off with the announcement of the CIPP (Centro Integralmente Planeado Palenque, or “Palenque Holistically Planned Centre), a development that had been mothballed for eight years. The plan aimed to bring together a series of mega projects, taking in the waterfalls at Agua Azul and Misol Ha, the beaches at Catazaja, the Mayan ruins at Palenque and the surrounding Lacandon Forest. The concept included not only hotel developments, a theme park, golf course and residential and commercial development, but also an airport for Palenque (opened in 2014) and a motorway connecting San Cristobal de Las Casas and Palenque. This development prospect would affect at least seven municipalities in Chiapas: Catazajá, Chilón, Ocosingo, Salto de Agua, Tumbalá and Palenque.


Information obtained in a Point of Order in the federal senate, regarding the progress of the overall mega project as of 2010 (in Spanish)

Article in Spanish on the proposed San Cristobal – Palenque highway

Article in English from the Financial Times about the Agua Azul conflict


There is however an obstacle in in the way of these projects and their implementation, one which also lies between the ambitions of hotel and construction companies and the abundant nature of the region. This obstacle is the ancestral territory and the ejidos of the indigenous peoples of the region, in particular the Tseltal Mayans of San Sebastian Bachajon.

The Second Light: Ejido Territories and Defending the Land

It’s enough to flick through the novel Balun Canan to get a sense of the contempt of the colonisers, as well as the struggle for the land, which has been the experience of the Tseltal people for 522 years. After the Mexican revolution of 1910, land was redistributed to peasants through the communal structure of the ejido. This was also achieved after the 1994 Zapatista uprising, when indigenous people across Chiapas managed to recover other lands from the hands of big land-owners.

Today, these ejidos and communally-owned territories still exist. Some are forest; others are used for cattle ranching or for the cultivation of maize or coffee.

The Tseltal people of San Sebastian Bachajon were late in obtaining official recognition for the lands of their ejido, which only took place in 1980. The ejido’s lands cover around 70,000 hectares, making it one of the largest ejidos in the country. As in all ejidos, power to make decisions over any part its territory lies only with the ejido’s general assembly. The position of ejido commissioner (today occupied by Alejandro Moreno Gomez) has a role limited to executing decisions made by that assembly.

The current conflict in the ejido dates back to the launch of the CIPP project, and worsened with an armed eviction that took place on 2 February 2011. This was carried out by a group from the villages of Pamala and Xanil, headed by Manuel Jimenez Moreno and Juan Alvaro Moreno respectively, with the support of around 800 state and federal police. Following this, in March 2011 Franciso Guzman Jimenez, ex-commissioner of the San Sebastian Bachajon ejido, made an agreement with ministers from the government of ex-Governor of Chiapas, Juan Sabines Guerrero and with representatives of the village of Agua Azul, which handed over an area of land to the Chiapas state government and to the National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP, from its initials in Spanish). Under this agreement a tollbooth was set up on the road leading to the waterfalls, at the point where the ejido’s lands border those of neighbouring Tumbala municipality. None of this was done with the free, informed and prior consent of the ejido members.

In response, ejido members, including women, children and old people, set up their own tollbooth, pledging their support for the Zapatista movement’s Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Forest.

In February 2014, the Los Llanos ejido, located in the municipality of San Cristobal de Las Casas, and inhabited by Tsotsil Mayans, applied for an injunction against the new motorway which had been announced in November the previous year by the state Government Secretary General, Eduardo Ramirez Aguilar, on the grounds that it would affect their lands. In August 2014, an assembly in the ejido of San Jeronimo Bachajon (neighbouring the San Sebastian ejido) gave an emphatic no to the construction of the San Cristobal – Palenque motorway. From these actions arose the Movement for Defence of Life and Territory. On October 12, the Los Llanos ejido celebrated a day of resistance with indigenous peoples from other settlements and organizations, including those from San Sebastian Bachajon.


Third Light: Aggression and Violence by the State

Juan Vazquez Guzman, spokesman and coordinator of the Supporters of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Forest (“La Sexta”), was assassinated on 24 April 2013. The authorities have yet to shed any light on his murder, or to arrest anyone in connection with it. And then on 21 March 2014, Juan Carlos Gomez Silvano, the new coordinator of La Sexta in Bachajon was also murdered.

More than 120 members of this group have been detained by the municipal and state police at various moments since it was founded in 2007. Currently three political prisoners remain incarcerated in State Prison Number 12, at Yajalon, Chiapas: Juan Antonio Gomez Silvano, Mario Aguilar Silvano and Roberto Gomez Hernandez.


Tseltal Mayans Arrested and Tortured in Chiapas (in Spanish)

Testimonies of Four Indigenous Prisoners in Chiapas (in Spanish) Tejido testimonial de cuatro presos indígenas en Chiapas


Coinciding with the start of the Festival of Resistance and Rebellions against Capitalism on 21 December 2014, members of La Sexta decided to re-occupy the land where the toll-booth had been installed. On 9 January they were evicted by more than 800 police. Last weekend, they again decided to recover the toll-booth by blocking the Ocosingo – Palenque highway at the turn-off for Agua Azul. This was achieved, at the cost of being attacked with rubber bullets and firing of live ammunition. Helicopters hovered over the area, and over the houses of La Sexta members, taking photos. At the current moment, according to the available information, police and persons linked to the ejido commissioner have control of the Agua Azul waterfalls.

Fourth Light: Legal Battles Occurring alongside Territorial Defence

No-one has consulted them, no-one has asked if they need, or are in agreement with the planned mega-projects. Not to speak of respecting the autonomy that they have over their ancestral lands. For this reason the legal defence of Bachajon is based on agrarian law, on Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization, on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and on Chiapas’s Law for Dialogue, Conciliation and A Dignified Peace. These grant indigenous peoples the right to free, informed and prior consent in relation to their lands and natural resources, and the right to free determination of their affairs, among other things.

Mariano Moreno Guzman, an elderly member of the community and an ex-ejido commissioner who was one of the ejido members who secured the original registration of its lands, has represented the community in a legal appeal (case reference 274/2011) to the Seventh District Judge in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the state capital of Chiapas. On 29 September last year the Third Collegiate Tribunal in Tuxtla ruled in favour of sending the dispute for adjudication to the federal Supreme Court, noting the following:

“The appeal is justified on the grounds that its legal case seeks to defend the collective rights of the community against the complicity of the ejido commissioner with the expropriatory acts of the federal government and State of Chiapas. Various claims are made in it, including denial and lack of access to justice by indigenous peoples, their right to be consulted, and the need for their free, prior and informed consent”.

On 19 November, the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, decided not to accept the case. As a result, the case was returned to the Third Collegiate Tribunal in Tuxtla Gutierrez so that this body could rule on the issue of the alleged violations of indigenous people’s rights.

20150208_095003_Mx_Chiapas_Bachajon_w1024_par_ValK (1)

Fifth Light: Counter Propaganda and the Free Press on the Bachajon Case

Various media in Chiapas have visited Bachajon to research news stories and documentaries on what is going on there. Websites such as Koman Ilel, Kolectivo Zero and Pozol, as well as Subversiones and Radio Zapote (in addition to other networks) have published bulletins, videos and photos about the area. Members of La Sexta in Bachajon have also worked with the Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio in New York, as this organisation has supported the ejido since 2011, maintaining a blog for denunciations, petitions and opinion pieces (see

A year ago Másde131 [which originally published this article in Spanish] made a documentary which explains the wider context [available at this link in Spanish; English subtitles can also be selected when viewing the video] The Struggle for Life and Death at the Agua Azul Waterfalls.


Translated by Fionn O’Sullivan





1 Comment »

  1. Reblogged this on .

    Comment by aboriginalpress — February 18, 2015 @ 2:53 am

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