Jul 3, 2012

The struggle for territory in San Sebastián Bachajón is once again met with repression

Desinformemonos: Americas Program Original Translation by David Feldman
See Spanish Original.

The indigenous peoples of San Sebastián Bachajón once again tried to exercise their rights over their territory by taking back the ticket booth at the Agua Azul waterfalls; the government’s response was the same as always: repression and paramilitaries.

Chiapas, México. This past June 19, members of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacondón Jungle (SDSL in Spanish) of the San Sebastián Bachajón Ejido (SSB) in Chiapas took back the Agua Azul Waterfalls ticket booth. The response from the government of Juan Sabines’ Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) was the same as always: a violent and repressive removal and a flagrant violation of the human and collective rights of the members of the San Sebastián Bachajón cooperative.

Taking back what is legitimately theirs, and solidarity with national demands
During the early morning of this past June 19, members of San Sebastián Bachajón, tired of suffering so much injustice, entered the “Agua Azul Waterfalls” complex to take back the ticket booth located at the entrance. As a native tzetzal village in the region, the booth rightfully and legitimately belongs to them, but Juan Sabines’ government in Chiapas took it from them on February 2, 2011. At the same time, the members set up a roadblock near Agua Azul, where they distributed flyers and demanded the release of three political prisoners from the San Sebastián Bachajón cooperative, as well as the immediate release of Alberto Patishtán Gómez and the Zapatista Francisco Sántiz López. This action took place within the framework of a disjointed national and international action called for June 19, with the goal of demanding the release of Alberto Patishtán Gómez—on the twelfth anniversary of his detention—and the rest of the political prisoners in the country.

One of the San Sebastián Bachajón cooperative’s spokespeople explained during the mobilization: “This current movement is part of a process that we are carrying out to take back a part of the cooperative’s land, which the government has been trying to violently strip us of since last February 2. And so we as organizations and members of the San Sebastián Bachajón cooperative want to retake this piece of land that Juan Sabines’ government wants to take away from us.

Another violent removal under Juan Sabines’ PRD government
Hours later, at approximately six-thirty in the morning, the scene around the entrance to Agua Azul was very different. Twelve trucks carrying 800 state police troopers arrived, directed by the cooperative’s former commissioner, Manuel Jiménez, identified by the members as the main informant and collaborator with Juan Sabines’ government and the secretary of government, Noé Castañon. According to reporters present, they used excessive violence to forcibly remove the members, beating women and men, causing bodily harm and leaving “bruises everywhere.” Two people needed medical attention to treat injuries resulting from the beatings.

No respect for the current protection: one more rights violation
The spokesperson for San Sebastián Bachajón admits that those affected by the removal were surprised by the attitude of Juan Sabines’ government. “They removed us violently. The only thing that we wanted was to take back the part of the land that the state government is stripping us of, and to keep its plans for the transnational project from gaining strength. There is a document from 2010 that states that nearly a hectare of land was donated to the organization. And in 2011, Francisco Guzmán Jiménez, the cooperative’s current commissioner, gave it to the governor of the state.”

The Bachajón spokesperson is referencing protection 274/2011, which was promoted by the members of San Sebastián Bachajón—who were advised by the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Center for Human Rights—to defend the territory that belongs to them and houses the ticket booth. The request for protection is being processed, but for some reason it is taking longer than normal and there still hasn’t been a response. Nonetheless, under the protection there shouldn’t be any police presence in the area. There is information that says that the operation was ordered by Noé Castañón, at the request of Francisco Guzmán Jiménez. “The governor of the state, with the aid of the secretary of government, Noé Castañon, are above the law, and so they are ignoring the ruling. They are also not respecting the laws that they themselves have passed. We the indigenous people are demanding our rights as cooperative members,” says the spokesperson.

A little context
The cooperative—a plot of communally owned land—is located in the center of the jungle region in Chiapas, an official municipality of Chilón in the autonomous Zapatista region of San José en Rebeldía. It is home to some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world: the Agua Azul Waterfalls. A tourism complex has been built at Agua Azul, and has been the target of financial speculation by large hotel consortia for more than 20 years. Ever since the six-year presidential term of Carlos Salinas, government authorities have raised their expectations to convert the Agua Azul Waterfalls into the center/nucleus of a tourist corridor to compete with Cancun: the Fully Planned Center-Agua Azul Waterfalls (CIP-CAA in Spanish). Today, the CIP-CAA is linked to the Mundo Maya tourism project, which brings together Central American and Mexican investors and governments in their quest to speculate even with the last of the land still belonging to the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, who have protected them for centuries.

Defending the jungle means defending life itself
Ever since 2008, the members of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle of the San Sebastián Bachajón Cooperative have been fighting tirelessly. Their struggle is one to defend their legitimate and recognized right, as an indigenous tzetzal people, for free determination on the territory where they live, for the land and resources. The members are opposed to the state and federal governments’ strategy of removing them from the territory where the Agua Azul Waterfalls are located for economic reasons having to do with the great touristic potential of the region. But the members of the cooperative aren’t “simply” defending the territory in order to survive as families and villages; given the magnitude of the foreseeable impact of the tourism project, the struggle of the members of Bachajón represents an important defense against the irreversible destruction of the jungle itself and the biodiversity that exists in Chiapas.

Taking back the booth
In 2008, the members took back the ticket booth at the entrance of the Agua Azul tourism complex. According to the members of Bachajón, the booth generated income for 2 thousand families in 192 communities. It represented a step towards the fulfillment of the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the ILO’s Convention 1691, since both international agreements stipulate that natural resources must benefit the indigenous people themselves, and that the income generated serve to strengthen their own political, cultural and economic institutions.

However, the act of taking back the booth has had serious consequences for the members of San Sebastián Bachajón, as Juan Sabines’ government has violently stripped them of the booth on multiple occasions. On February 2, 2011, party members paid and co-opted by the state government provoked a clash which resulted in the arbitrary detention of 117 people, and the ticket booth being removed. Some of those who were detained on that day spent more than 5 months in prison. And so the mobilization this past June 19 to take back the ticket booth occurred a year and a half after it was taken from them. At the same time, the aforementioned request for protection is ongoing, but there has still been no response.

Violence is becoming a part of daily life for the inhabitants of the region
While there are plans for expanding the tourism industry in Chiapas, paradoxically promoted as “ecotourism,” the policy of Juan Sabines’ government is causing a lot of suffering and—perhaps irreversible—damage to the social fabric of the region. Repeated arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, the extensive use of torture, daily threats, attacks carried out by the paramilitary organizations Opddic and Uciaf and people affiliated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico (PVEM) have been serious. The region is turning into a veritable “red flag” signaling the intensity of the repression in Chiapas2.

Then there are the political prisoners Antonio Estrada (in the Center for Social Rehabilitation –CERSS—17), Miguel Vázquez (in CERSS 16) and Miguel Demeza (CERSS 14), with fabricated charges against them. This past May 10, members of the paramilitary group Uciaf and militants of the PRI and the Green party carried out an armed ambush on the residents of San Sebastián Bachajón, leaving the minor Javier Pérez Jiménez in serious condition3. While there is violent repression against those opposed to the financial plans, the government is also implementing economic assistance programs. This is the counterinsurgency strategy that was developed once the Secretary of National Defense’s (Sedena) 1994 Campaign Plan was implemented in all of Chiapas. It would seem like this is a never-ending story. With the elections only 1 month away, the PRD and Juan Sabines Guerrero are attempting to clear the territory so that their colleagues can continue with the policy of wealth accumulation at the cost of the future of the indigenous peoples and mother earth.

1. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (articles 4 and 20). ILO Convention 169 (articles 14.1 and 15.1)

2. The attacks carried out by the paramilitary groups and the government repression have been documented since 2008 by various media and statements and reports by the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Center For Human Rights. For more recent information, refer to Paramilitares atacan a ejidatarios de San Sebastián Bachajón; uno agoniza, dicen, Bellinghausen, Herman. 1May 11, 2012. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2012/05/11/politica/016n1pol [1]; or the Informe Especial: Gobierno crea y administra conflictos para el control territorial en Chiapas, Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, http://www.frayba.org.mx/archivo/informes/110303_informe_territorio_bachajon.pdf

3. Ibid.

No comments:

Post a Comment