Mexico’s Southern Border
In other parts of Mexico
Compiled monthly by the Chiapas Support Committee. The primary sources for our information are: La Jornada, Enlace Zapatista and the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Centre (Frayba).
“The earth is that from which we were born, that gave us life, and in which we will rest eternally. That is why we are all the colours that we are, all of the languages that our hearts speak; that is why we are peoples, tribes, and nations. We are the guardians of these lands, of this country Mexico, of this continent and of the world.”
(EZLN, August 2014)
To the National and International Sixth:
To the peoples of the world who resist, giving bloom to rebellions:
The dispossession that we have faced as indigenous people is the pain that unites us in the spirit of struggle that we commemorate today in honour of our compañero David Ruíz García, who passed away while sharing the pain of the brothers and sisters from the Zapatista Army for National Liberation after the murder of compañero Galeano. We become one in our history and in our hopes.
The death of the compañero, who is today collectively reborn among the 28 peoples, colours, and languages that are gathered in the Zapatista Caracol of La Realidad, inspires us as original peoples to share the happiness of encountering each other; of knowing each other to be as alive as are our peoples, our languages, our collective history that becomes our memory, our resistance, and our accountability to mother earth, who also lives and to whom we are indebted.
The struggle that we collectively represent is diverse, and we name our enemy dispossession because that is what we see, live, and die every day—an experience as collective as the corn, as our compañero Galeano, as our compañero David, and as our brothers and sisters whose lives have been taken in this war of extermination.
This dispossession is so diverse that it can only be called by one name: capitalism.
From the beginning, capitalism has grown through DISPOSSESSION and EXPLOITATION. PLUNDER and INVASION are the words that best describe the so-called conquest of America—plunder and theft of our territories, of our knowledges, of our culture. DISPOSSESSION, accompanied by wars, massacres, imprisonment, death upon death; these create a life in common because here we are as the peoples that we are, that we continue to be.
After the War of Independence, the emergence of the new nation, and the liberal reforms and dictatorship of Díaz, Mexico was born in denial of our peoples, through constitutions and laws that privatized our lands and sought to legitimize the looting of our territories. Thousands of our brothers and dozens of our peoples were exterminated and exiled en masse through military campaigns.
In spite of a million deaths of indigenous people and peasants during the revolution, the agrarian laws that appeared afterward were inspired by Venustiano Carranza and Álvaro Obregón—the ones who assassinated Emiliano Zapata—with the goal of protecting the large land owners, preventing the return of the people’s communal lands, water, and air, and converting communal property into ejidos. That is to say, they have wanted to kill us off time and time again as peoples and as individuals. Yet through all of this death, we continue on as living and collective peoples.
We have responded to our dispossession and extermination with rebellion and resistance. Hundreds of rebellions in Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nayarit, Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Querétaro, Veracruz, the State of Mexico, San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, Morelos, Puebla, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo, and notably, the Zapatista revolution, defied colonial society. All of these took place after the liberal reforms, giving rise to the armed movement of 1910 and the armed defence of communal lands up until the era of the agrarian reforms and Cardenista oil expropriation.
Currently, the neoliberal capitalists, with the assistance of all of the political parties and bad governments led by the criminal paramilitary boss Enrique Peña Nieto, are applying the same policies of large-scale dispossession applied by the nineteenth-century liberals—the Carranzas, the Obregones—propped up by militarization and paramilitarization and advised by U.S. intelligence in areas where there is resistance to the dispossession.
Just like the governments of that era, the current governments are giving our territories and the resources that belong to the Nation to large national and foreign corporations, seeking the death of all the peoples of Mexico and of our Mother Earth. But death among our people means collective rebirth.
We reiterate that our roots are in the land, and that the dispossession that we discussed in the Seminar Tata Juan Chávez Alonso in August 2013 is our pain and our rage; it is where our determination and rebellion are born. It is our unceasing and unfailing struggle and our very lives. These dispossessions continue in force today just as before, and have multiplied into new forms and onto new corners where new struggles and resistances are born that are reflected in the mirror that we are.
Mirror 1: On the Nahua coast in the state of Michoacán, the drive to extract natural riches has been the reason, since 2009, for the murder of 31 people and the disappearance of 5 at the hands of the Caballeros Templarios [Knights Templar, a drug cartel]. They rely on corruption within the structure of the bad government, which has provided cover for the plunder of the communal lands by small proprietors who are in turn the regional heads of organized crime, and for the illegal extraction of minerals and precious wood to be exported by Chinese transnational corporations from the Manzanillo and Lázaro Cárdenas ports, which are administered by the bad government. This corruption has left a wave of mourning, pain, and brutality for the community Ostula, which has strengthened itself with a growing rebellion that has allowed them to maintain security and detain the extraction of their resources. All of this while the bad governments threaten unceasingly to dismantle the indigenous people’s right to defend themselves by imprisoning or murdering their community leaders—a warning of more destruction to come.
Mirror 2: The Nahua and Totonaco territories in Totonacapan, Veracruz, have been destroyed by electric power plants, the release of flared gas, and toxic spills from damaged pipelines that have devastated the region’s water sources. All of this is part of the Proyecto Paleocanal de Chicontepec, now known as Tertiary Gulf Oil, where 29 oil fields are being exploited in an area of 3,875 square kilometres, with 1,500 oil wells across 14 municipalities in the region, destroying rivers and streams through hundreds of spills originating from 2,220 well overhauls that were made up until the year 2010. Currently there is a threat of 33,000 more well overhauls according to the National Commission of Hydrocarbons. Fracturing has been carried out through the detonation of dynamite, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in 1,737 wells in the entire zone. In that same area numerous mining concessions have been granted that put at risk the integrity of the territory.
Mirror 3: The Wixárika people, despite the fact that they encompass parts of the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, and Durango, have maintained their continuous territory and their autonomous organization is strong and ancestral. Today they face an onslaught on simultaneous fronts: past agrarian invasions which, despite restitution having been ordered in favour of the community San Sebastián Teponahuaxtlán, continue without enforcement of restitution due to blurry delimitations between states. Their territory has been subjected to the imposition of highways whose objective is the plunder of the region’s natural resources, as has been the case of the community of Santa Catarina Cuexcomatitlán, which since 2008 has mobilized large protests to halt the imposition of the Amatitán-Bolaños-Huejuquilla Highway. Currently the government of the state of Jalisco refuses to repair the damages caused to their forests, communal roads, and sacred sites, despite the fact that the community obtained legal rulings in its favour.
In the state of Durango, the Autonomous Wixárika Community of Bacos de San Hipólito continues their long struggle for recognition of their ancestral lands, exercising autonomy as their only option for their continuing existence as indigenous peoples.
For our peoples, territory is not only agricultural but also ceremonial. The principal sacred site of the Wixárika people is found in the Wirikuta desert in San Luis Potosí, which, in addition to being threatened by 5 mining corporations who have in their possession over 78 concessions, is currently undergoing the unauthorized extraction of antimony, uranium, gold, and silver in the zones of San José de Coronados and Presa Santa Gertrudis, in the Municipalities of Catorce and Charcas.
Mirror 4: In the Municipality of Villa Guerrero in Jalisco, the Autonomous Community Wixarika-Tepehuana de San Lorenzo de Azqultán, in spite of holding a viceregal title since the year 1773, have not received recognition for their own territory. On the contrary, the land that has always belonged to them has now been put at the mercy of the caciques [land bosses] and governments. The forest is being cut down, the territory invaded, and their sacred sites destroyed, such as in Cerro Colotlán where the bad government has given the landowners endorsement and money to carve up ceremonial stones for use as stone barriers supposedly to protect the soil. This is not only dispossession, but genocide.
Mirror 5: In the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where the Ikoots and Binniza people of the communities of San Mateo del Mar and San Dionisio del Mar live, as well as the people of Juchitán and the inhabitants of the barrio Álvaro Obregón, the firms Endesa, Iberdrola, Gamesa y Unión Fenosa Gas Natural Fenosa, Demex (a subsidiary or Renovalia Energy), Eclectricte de France (EDF), Eolicas del Sur, Zapotecas de Energía, Grupo Mar, Preneal, and Ener green Power are plundering communal lands and destroying sacred sites throughout the region. They have illegally occupied more than 32,000 hectares and installed 1,600 wind turbines since 2001 on top of communal lands in Juchitan and Unión Hidalgo for the Biiyoxo and Piedra Larga II and II wind farms. Currently, the collective assembly of Unión Hidalgo is opposing the expansion of these parks to the communal lands of Palmar and El Llano, protected mangrove areas in the south of the Binizaa communities. This is territory defended by our compañeros from the Popular Assembly of the Juchiteco People and the Isthmus of Tehuantepéc Assembly of Indigenous Peoples in Defense of Land and Territory (APIITDTT).
In the same area of the Isthmus, Oaxaca’s region of San Miguel Chimalapas and Santo Domingo Zanatepec was invaded by three mining concessions granted to the Cruz Azul Cooperative for the mining lot they refer to as El Chincuyal, to Cascabel Mining for the mining lot called Mar de Cobre, and to Zalamera Mining for the mining lot called Jackita, a subsidiary of the Orum Gold Mining Corporation—whose reach stretches across 7,310 hectares of our peoples’ lands. The invasion is being carried out by the government of the state of Chiapas, rich cattle ranchers, and the Mexican Army.
To the north of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the south of Veracruz, the Nahua Popoluca territory in the Sierra de Santa Martha is under threat from a mining project that stretches across three concessions called La Morelense 1, La Morelense 2, and La Ampliación. The project puts the environment and the integrity of this indigenous area at great risk.
Mirror 6: In the ñatho communities of San Francisco Xochicuautla and Huitzizilpan, as well as in a wide strip of land called Alto Lerma in the State of Mexico, a private road project called Toluca-Naucalpan is being imposed by the Autovan corporation. It will affect a total of 23 kilometres of forest, in addition to the construction of thousands of homes and golf courses as part of the project called Gran Reserva Santa Fe. This territory is defended by our brothers from the Indigenous Peoples Front in Defence of Mother Earth.
Mirror 7: In the Nahua community of Tuxpan, Jalisco, under pressure by the bad governments and national and international investors, the indigenous people have had to lease out ejidal lands to transnational avocado companies headquartered in Michoacán. These communities are being dispossessed by foreign greenhouses such as Driscolt and Aguacates Los Tarascos, who are engaging in weather modification schemes that prevent rain.
Mirror 8: The coca community of Mezcala, Jalisco, continues suffering and defending their territory against the businessman Guillermo Moreno Ibarra, who has invaded and kept a plot in the community’s forest region. The community is preserving its possession and ancestral property over the sacred island that the bad governments can only see as a million dollar business that they can put up for sale to foreign tourist companies.
Mirror 9: In the territory Chinanteco, in the state of Oaxaca, ecological reserves have been imposed that have snatched territorial control from the peoples while, at the same time, the bad government implements projects of destruction and death, such as the Tuxtepec-Huatulco highway and the Chinanteco touristic corridor.
Mirror 10: In Huexca, Morelos, in the Eastern Nahua region of the state, one of the two thermoelectric plants that make up part of the Morelos Integral Project was constructed in a volcanic activity risk zone. This project is promoted by the Abengoa company and the Federal Electric Commission (CFE) with the support of the three levels of government, the Mexican Army, and the state police. The same project seeks to construct an aqueduct for the extraction of water from the river Cuautla, which will affect 22 ejidos in the Municipality of Ayala.
Mirror 11: In Amilcingo and Jantetelco in Morelos, the eastern Nahua region of the state and in the Nahua region of Valle de Puebla, in the communities San Geronimo Tecuanipan, San Lucas Atzala, San Andres Calpan, Santa María Zacatepec, San Lucas Tulcingo, Santa Isabel Cholula, San Felipe Xonacayucan, Santa Lucia Cosamaluapan, San Isidro Huilotepec, San Buenaventura Nealtican, San Juan Amecac, and in other communal regions of Puebla and Tlaxcala, the Integral Morelos Megaproject intents to construct a 160 kilometre pipeline in an area of volcanic risk. This Project is promoted by the CFE, the Spanish corporations Elecnor and Enagas, and by the Italian corporation Bonatti. Over the last two years, the three levels of government in their respective states have exerted brutal repression on all of these communities.
Mirror 12: In Tepoztlán, Morelos, belonging to the Nahua people, the expansion of the La Pera-Cuautla highway will dispossess the community not only of their lands but of their territory’s biodiversity and ancient culture. Ancient trees and sacred sites that have sat on that land for generations have been destroyed to allow the arrival of private companies and the industrialization of the most resource-rich areas in the state of Morelos. The response of the bad governments was a campaign to discredit the indigenous peoples in order to justify the plunder.
Mirror 13: In the Nahua territory of the community of Ayotitlan, in the Sierra de Manantlán in the state of Jalisco, the extraction of two million tons of iron and precious wood has been carried out with the support of organized crime and via assassinations and disappearances of the community and ejidal members.
Mirror 14: In the Nahua community of Zacualpan, in the state of Colima, over the past few months a businessman by the name of Verduzco, with the complicity of the state government and the Attorney General’s Agrarian office, tried to impose a mine for iron, gold, silver, and manganese in the Cerro Grande, whose forests produce all of the waters that supply Colima and Villa de Alvarez. Also in Cerro Grande, the government is promoting programs supposedly for ecological conservation but which serve as a pretext for the dispossession of the community from its communal waters.
Mirror 15: The community of Cherán, Michoacán, on the Purépecha Plateau, has suffered the devastation and the theft of thousands of hectares of forest at the hands of loggers linked to organized crime and with the complicity of the bad government. Violence without precedent has been unleashed against the community members who have exercised their ancestral right to defend their territory within a framework of autonomy and self-determination, constructing their own mode of government through traditional “uses and customs”.
Mirror 16: In the Maya territory of Campeche, dispossession is disguised through the leasing of land in the communities of the Chenes region by groups called Mennonites, to whom the bad government gives money in order to strengthen the plunder of the territories and impose the planting of transgenic soybean crops.
Meanwhile, in the indigenous regions of the so-called Riviera Maya, privatization processes have accelerated on behalf of national and international tourism projects which have destroyed countless sacred sites.
The people of Maya de Bacalar, in the state of Quintana Roo, are suffering the imposition of transgenic soy cultivation which poses great risk to the native seeds, health, and food of the indigenous people. This is done by companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta, and Pioneer with the complicity of the bad governments.
The Maya people of the Yucatan are threatened by various megaprojects, such as the Dzilam de Bravo wind farm, the planting of transgenic corn, the Transpeninsular train project, and real estate development which benefits a handful of businesses and corrupt politicians.
Mirror 17: In the Tzeltal village of Chilón, Chiapas, the construction of the San Cristóbal-Palenque highway is being imposed on the community’s territory.
Mirror 18: The Nahua community of San Pedro Tlanixco, in the State of Mexico, has been stripped of its springs and waters from the Texcaltenco River through concessions benefitting wealthy agro-industrial companies from the Municipality of Villa Guerrero, and has led to the imprisonment of the community leaders.
Mirror 19: In the State of Guerrero, in the Municipalities of Xochistlahuaca, Tlocoachistlahuaca, and Ometepec, hundreds of Amuzga, Mixteca, and Afromestiza communities are threatened by the pipe-laying projects that would send water from the San Pedro River to the City of Ometepec, violating the basic rights that we have as peoples.
Mirror 20: The surrounding areas of the sacred site of Xochicalco in the Nahua community of Xoxocotla in the southwest of Morelos, are threatened by the imposition of a mining project that holds 7 concessions in 3 municipalities that cover an area of 15,000 hectares in Xoxocotla, Temixco, Xochitepec, and Miacatlan in the communities of Tetlama, Alpuyeca, Coatetelco, La Toma, and Xochicalco.
Mirror 21: In the Yaqui territory in the state of Sonora, ambitions over the waters of the Yaqui River has historically motivated aggressions against the tribe. Currently the threat is for the waters to be diverted to the City of Hermosillo via the Independence aqueduct to the detriment of both the Yaqui and hundreds of hectares of the Mayo Yoreme tribe and the farmers of the Valle del Yaqui.
Mirror 22: The Náyari people, in the state of Nayarit, have historically been the guardians of the San Pedro River, home to their sacred site Muxa Tena. Today this site is threatened by the construction of the Las Cruces dam.
Mirror 23: In the state of Sonora, with the construction of the Los Pilares damn, the sacred sites of the Guarijío people will be destroyed.
Mirror 24: Bachajón, Chiapas, a Tzeltal community, is being stripped of its land, water, and culture through the construction of tourist resorts at the waterfalls of Agua Azul, in addition to highways and hotels. This is taking place through paramilitary repression.
Mirror 25: The Ch’ol people of Xpujil, in the state of Campeche, were displaced from their lands by decree for the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. It was imposed on the community in such a way as to completely restrict their access to the territory.
Mirror 26: In the Nahua and Totonaco territory in the Sierra Norte of Puebla, in the Municipalities of Tlatlaqui, Zacapoxtla, Cuetzalan, Zoquiapan, Xochiapulco y Tetela, Zautla, Ixtacamaxtitlán, Olintla, Aguacatlán, Tepatlán, Xochitlán, Zapotitlán, Zoquiapan and Libres, the capitalist death projects seek to possess every corner of the territory through the extraction of minerals via open air mining and hydroelectric dams. Today, 18% of the territory in Puebla’s Sierra Norte has been conceded to mining companies, as the government has granted 103 concessions to the Mexican companies Gruop Ferrominero, Industrias Peñoles, and Grupo Frisco, as well as to the Canadian company Almaden Minerals. There also exist six hydroelectric projects that affect 12 rivers in an area of 123,000 hectares, distributed across 18 municipalities.
Mirror 27: The territory of the Kumiai people has suffered massive invasions stemming from the lack of recognition, the imposition of ejidos, and the declaration of their lands as national patrimony. Over the last few years, wind projects have been imposed on their lands as well as on the territory of the Kiliwa people.
Mirror 28: The community of Nurío Michoacán on the Purépecha Plateau was stripped of the majority of its territory through resolutions dictated by the Mexican agrarian authorities that provoked conflicts between neighbouring communities resulting in numerous deaths.
Mirror 29: The Bochil, Jitotol, and Pueblo Nuevo communities, of the Tzotzil people of the Chiapas highlands, denounce planned dam projects that threaten this territory.
These are the dispossessions that we suffer, that we learn about during emergencies when attempts are made on our lives. And today we say to the powerful, to the corporations, to the bad governments led by the supreme criminal paramilitary boss, Enrique Peña Nieto, that we do not surrender, that we do not sell out, that we do not give up.
Our memory is alive because we ourselves are that memory to which we are indebted. We understand that there is no better memory than that of our peoples, and as we gather now in order to see each other we see that our struggle will not end; if they haven’t killed us off in these last 520 years of resistance and rebellion, they won’t be able to do it now, or ever. We are people of corn; we know that the milpa is collective and its colours are diverse—so diverse that we also want to give ourselves one name: rebellious and anti-capitalist, with the brothers and sisters of the National and International Sixth. Today, like the corn, we renew our decision to construct from below and to the left a world where many worlds fit.
“THE HEART OF OUR MOTHER EARTH LIVES IN THE SPIRIT OF OUR PEOPLES”
ANDIÜMAATS NANGAJ IüT MEAWAN NÜTs KOS NEJ ÜÜCH IKOOTS MONAPAKÜY (LENGUA OMBEAYETS/IKOOT)
NA MA JOIIY RA PUIY Y RA VENI GUI JIINI (OTOMÍ)
LADXIDO GUIDXILAYU NABAANI LU XQUENDA CA GUIDXI XTINU (LENGUA DIIDXAZA/BINNIZA)
I PUJUK’AL LAK´ÑA LUM KUXUL TYI CHULRL LAK LUMALO’ (CHOL)
TE YO TALN TEJ NANATIL LUM CUXUL SOL XCHULEL TEJ LUMALTIC (TZELTAL)
LI YOON JMETIK BALUMILÉ KUXUL XCHULEL TAJ TEKLUMALTIK (TZOTZIL)
JAS J’UJOL JAJ NANTIK LU’UM ZAK’AN JAB’AYALTZIL JAJ CHONA B’LLTIK (TOJOLABAL)
IN YOLOTL TO TLALTICPAC NEMI IEKAUILKOPA TO ALTEPEUAN (NAHUA)
TA TEI YURIENAKA IYARIEYA TAKIEKARIPA YEYEIKA (WIXARIKA)
U KUXTAL K-LÚUMIL TÍAN TI U YÓOL LE KÁAJILO’OB. (MAYA PENINSULAR)
JUCHARI MINTSÏTA P’ARHAKPINIRHU IREKASÏNI TSÏPIKUANIRHU JUCHARI IRETA (LENGUA PURE/P’URHEPECHA)
TU TLAL UI NANA IYULO ISTOK I TUNAL PAN CHINANKOME (NAHUA)
XNAKU KIN TSEKAN TIYAT STAKGNAMA CHI KGALHI LISTAKGNI NAK KIN PULATAMANKAN (TOTONACO)
BI MAMA NAX BI TZOKOY JEJPA NETZANKUYJO BI KOXEN KUMKUYDE KAY JENAN (ZOQUE)
UU JIAPSI Y iiTOM AYEE VUIAPO ITOM JIPSICO JIAPSA ITOM PUEBLOMPO (MAYO YOREME)
NA’ T’SATS´OOM TYUAA MAYA NA’ M´AA NAQUII´ NTAAYA JA NA NNA NCUEE (ÑOMDAA/AMUZGO)
From the Zapatista La Realidad, August 2014
FOR THE INTEGRAL RECONSTITUTION OF OUR PEOPLES
NEVER AGAIN A MEXICO WITHOUT US!
NATIONAL INDIGENOUS CONGRESS
ZAPATISTA ARMY FOR NATIONAL LIBERATION
Former students at the escuelita in La Garrucha: Zapatista compas we are here!
To the men, women and children of Caracol III:
Resistance Towards a New Dawn, La Garrucha,
To the Good government junta The way of the future,
To the men and women of the EZLN,
To the sixth,
To the men and women of Mexico and the world who walk and feel below and to the left.
Compañeros and compañeras:
We, the undersigned individuals and groups, had the honour of being in the Rebel territory of La Garrucha during the Zapatista escuelita in August 2013. When we set foot on that dignified and rebel territory, we knew from the beginning that nothing would be the same for us, we learned much from you and you shared much with us, it was not only the corn, tortillas, pozol, beans, the house where you welcomed us, the steps, the talks, the laughs and the good times that affected us, it was also the rage and rebellion which today, perhaps more than before, will make us turn to see and feel with the heart when they harass, attack and intimidate the Zapatista children, men and women who were and are our teachers, guardians (votanes), companions and compas.
Quite often, our families talked to us about not being afraid to change things, to take life in our hands, we often received the advice that we should carry on in the best way we can with the struggle to change this world, to make it better. Autonomy and liberty come at a cost – they told us – but in the end the results are there, and so we saw it and lived it.
For 20 years we have walked, we have learned from the Zapatistas, but the Zapatista escuelita was undoubtedly the most profound experience, which means that for us today nothing can be the same.
The paramilitaries, the government programmes, the systematic harassment, the taunts and the murders have always tried, over many years, to crush the rebellion which is made concrete daily in autonomy – our compas told us – “but we are still here” – they said.
Well we are also still here compas, we are here watching, feeling and we will not stop saying that we are watching what the bad government has been doing since votan Galeano was cowardly murdered … but the compa died in order to live.
And he lives in each one of us and we very humbly tell you, that when we say that nothing can be the same for us, it is because every day we look in the mirror and we tell ourselves that we can create something else, other steps can walk with dignity and we have yours as an example.
Today we not only say that we condemn the recent attacks perpetrated by members of ORCAO against our Zapatista compas, today we say that we are feeling these attacks and the only thing we can do is to keep on giving – as they say continue the struggle – we will keep on giving as we can from our spaces of struggle to tell the bad governments that we do not give up, we do not forget, we do not sell out and we keep looking and feeling the rebellion of the Zapatista men, women and children who are seed, walk and path .
That was the lesson that the escuelita left us and as the students we were, we are still here!
You are not alone, you are not alone!
Former students of the Zapatista escuelita in the autonomous rebel territory of La Garrucha:
Carla Peracchi, Barcelona
Claudia I. Espinosa Díaz, México
Iván de Jesús Rodríguez Muñoz, México
Miguel Ángel Martínez Ramírez, México
Yael García, Chiapas, México
Colectivo Les trois passants, Francia
Marie-Pia Rieublanc / Otros Mundos AC/Chiapas,
Originally published in Spanish July 31st, 2014
In Chiapas, Mexico, there are plans to build a motorway between San Cristóbal de Las Casas and Palenque – two of the most important tourist sites in the state. The Department of Infrastructure and Communications in Chiapas (SinfrayC) has said the road will be “a tool for the development of historically backwards regions of the state, providing them with mechanisms for self-sustainable economic growth”. However, just two days before that statement, 15,000 people marched through ten Chiapan municipalities between San Cristóbal and Palenque to show their opposition to this project, which was initially proposed ten years ago.
The march was organised for July 19th, with the diocese of San Cristóbal inviting communities to march “for peace” and for “the defence of life, mother earth, and local communities”. Women and men of all ages responded by marching from 9am to 2pm in Huixtán, Tenejapa, Oxchuc, Cancuc, Pantelhó (Altos), Altamirano, Ocosingo (Selva), Chilón, Yajalón, and Tumbalá (Tujilá), chanting “it will only benefit companies, not communities” and “it will damage Mother Earth”. 
“The road will only pass through our municipalities if people allow it”
The project is currently in the hands of the Department of Communication and Transport (SCT), which has hired Mexican engineering consultants ‘Cal y Mayor’ to design the road. The plan is for a 153km-long two-lane road to be built between San Cristóbal and Palenque, along with a 16.3km connecting road to Ocosingo, though exact details have yet to be published. In 2009, the motorway was due to pass through 31 communities in the municipalities of Chilón, Tumbalá, Tila, Salto de Agua (Tujilá), Palenque (región Maya), and Macuspana (Tabasco), but those plans have changed several times. In February 2014, the SCT said it was still looking into a new route as a result of communal opposition to the initial route. Dozens of communities in the municipalities of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Tenejapa, Huixtán, Oxchuc, Ocosingo, Chilón, and Palenque could all now be affected.
“The road will only pass through our municipalities if people allow it to pass through, and for that reason we should not stop fighting”, affirmed one Huixtán resident who participated in the march on July 19th. According to him, the route of the road could affect up to ten communities in his municipality. He hopes, however, that popular resistance will lead to the suspension or cancellation of the project, in spite of the federal government’s commitment to beginning work this year.
To understand the issue in greater depth, it’s necessary to take a closer look at why thousands of Chiapans are opposed to the road passing through their communities:
Violation of the Right to Consultation and Lack of Government Communication
One key issue is the lack of government communication and the violation of the right to consultation. As we have seen, the plans for the road are still not clear, and the indigenous people in the region (from Tzotzil, Tseltal, and Chol communities) are committed to asserting their right to free and informed consultation before the government-corporate coalition begins the project. According to Agreement 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO), which refers to the rights of indigenous and tribal communities, they are entitled to demand that the Mexican government, which is signed up to the agreement, respects this right.
Up to this point, however, indigenous communities have not been involved at all in the process of designing the road. In certain areas, ejidal assemblies have gathered on their own initiative to vote “no” to the road project, but have still seen engineers fly over their territories in helicopters in an attempt to study the feasibility of building on their land. According to one resident of the López Mateo Ejido in Huixtán, this was precisely the case in his community, where an assembly officially rejected the project at the end of 2013.
Destruction of the Environment
Communities are also opposed to the road because they believe it will affect their environment, crops, and housing. The building of the road, for example, will require openings to be created in the hills surrounding the route between San Cristóbal and Palenque – land where houses, crops, woods, and springs are found.
According to the most recent SinfryC statements, the motorway will include three bridges – of 400, 450, and 500 metres in height. The two lanes, meanwhile, will be twelve metres wide in total, though a further 60 metres will be a ‘no-go zone’ for local inhabitants, according to a 2009 environmental study carried out by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat). When the study was released, there were employees of the National Commission for Protected Natural Areas (Conanp) who told an Ecoportal journalist that they were personally opposed to the project because of the environmental damage it would cause.
Although the planned route has changed since 2009, Semarnat has yet to publish another study of the predicted environmental impacts.
Dispossession and Displacement
One resident of the Chilil Ejido in Huixtán fears that the houses, lands, and “whatever [the inhabitants] have” will be “invaded” if they happen to be near the route of the new road. As a result of such worries, the Tzotzil inhabitants of Los Llanos (a municipality of San Cristóbal) set up a defence group in January 2014 in order to protect their land, in the hope of preventing the road from being be built there. They said they opposed the megaproject because it “puts [their] food sovereignty at risk and violates their right to land, autonomy, protection of their environment and natural resources, and freedom from discrimination”. They also affirmed that the sinister behaviour of government officials was responsible for their actions. Fidencio Pérez Jiménez, for example, from the council of San Cristóbal, “came here to warn us that the motorway would pass through our common land and that, if we resisted, the authorities in our community would be sent to jail and the Army would come in to set the construction project in motion”.
Not for the People
The project will not be free. When it was restarted under President Calderón in 2008 (after being forgotten about for years), it initially looked set to be a toll-road under the control of the Spanish-Mexican company CAS (Concesionaria de Autopistas del Sureste). This firm, owned mostly by the Spanish group Aldesa, has been the owner of the road from San Cristóbal to Tuxtla since 2008, and charges a minimum of 48 pesos (far out of the reach of the majority of inhabitants in the area). According to SinfrayC Secretary Bayardo Robles Riqué, the San Cristóbal-Palenque road will not be a toll-road, even though estimates suggest it will cost around 10,600 million pesos. For precisely this reason, critics do not believe Robles’s claim, asserting that the government will seek to recover its money in some way.
It will allow the arrival of extractive companies and the looting of the lands
Inhabitants of Chiapas also feel that the road will facilitate the arrival of extractivist companies which will plunder their land. The General Secretary of Government, Eduardo Ramírez Aguilar, was interviewed by the Heraldo de Chiapas in January 2014, and laid out clearly the intentions of the government. The main reason for the building of the road, he said, would be to “connect Chiapas”. He insisted that “we cannot bring investment if we don’t have the infrastructure”. Both foreign and national companies ask for “good road links” before investing, he asserted, adding that “in Chiapas we have very few”. And, as these are in a poor state (having been “built more than 30 or 40 years ago”), Ramírez said it’s no wonder they “don’t want to invest in Chiapas”. The road project, he argued, would open up a “horizon of opportunities”, and was therefore worth the “economic… and social investment” of the government.
Corporate Profit Is the Driving Force
Perhaps the most important reason for the opposition of Chiapan communities to the road project, however, is that they will not be the ones who will truly benefit. They will indeed be able to sell more of their handicrafts and crops to tourists at some point in the future, but that will be nothing compared to the profits that big companies will get when they enter into the territory of indigenous communities without problems to profit from their natural resources. Nature will simply become a commodity, and will be commercialised and privatised more and more as the number of eco-tourist or ‘adventure’ projects multiplies. The land and lives of ordinary Chiapan inhabitants, on the other hand, will see themselves threatened.
The San Cristóbal-Palenque motorway will allow companies to build factories a lot more easily and, in Huixtán in particular, residents fear that Coca Cola will set up a plant near to one of their natural springs, threatening their water supply in the process (see video below). Energy megaprojects such as reservoirs and mines, meanwhile, which require large machines and trucks, will benefit immensely from the construction of the new road. The simple fact is that, thanks to the government’s approval of the Energy Reform (which has legalised privatisation of land and resources for supposed ‘public gain’), the road will facilitate a capitalist orgy of extraction of whatever resources are found underground. And that is precisely what many Chiapan communities want to avoid.
Videos of the marches for “Peace, the Defence of Life, and Mother Earth” in Huixtán and Cancuc can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpHUa9v3NiM and here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPEhhnnNiDs
Article translated by Oso Sabio from an article originally written in Spanish at: http://otrosmundoschiapas.org/index.php/temas-analisis/31-31-resistencias/1718-porque-los-pueblos-originarios-rechazan-la-autopista-san-cristobal-de-las-casas-palenque