Once again the indigenous peoples of Chiapas are cast in the rôle of defenders of the land, the environment, and natural resources against the predations of the neo-liberal system.
In the beautiful green valleys of the rivers Agua Azul, Bascán, Tulijá and Misol-há, conflicts and violence continue to erupt in response to proposed ‘eco-tourism’ developments, the income from tourism, and the planned new highway between San Cristóbal de Las Casas and Palenque.
A national and international call for action has gone out for people to take action in support of 7 political prisoners. These men are Other Campaign adherents from the community of San Sebastián Bachajón, which is situated near the waterfalls at Agua Azul, and have been imprisoned unjustly since the 16th of April.
The Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Centre has confirmed, in many statements, that these men have been imprisoned on false charges following being forced to sign documents they could not understand (they are Tzeltal speakers, and were not given access to an interpreter). The NGO further confirms that the 7 prisoners have been beaten, tortured, and forced to work continually without rest even though several of them are injured. The 30th of May 2009 has been chosen as the Day of Action in support of these prisoners.
The charges on which they have been unjustly imprisoned are those of robbery with violence on the road to the waterfalls, and organised crime. In reality, their imprisonment is on account of their opposition to the Palenque Integrally Planned Highway which will cross their lands, and the 7 men were active in trying to prevent highway robbery in the area. The JBG of Morelia has named the real perpetrators of these attacks, members of the PRI-supporting paramilitary group OPDDIC, and has arrested two of them. This group, which is closely linked to the state police, has been especially active in the region for the last two years. One of the imprisoned men declared “We in the Other Campaign have organised to defend our land and natural resources from these neo-liberal economic projects, and to detain, according to our customs and traditions, those who engage in attacking people on the road which crosses our community.”
Originally there were eight prisoners. One, a base of support of the EZLN, has since been released, without any explanation or apology. Amnesty International has expressed ‘serious concern’, as has the World Organisation against Torture who denounced the ‘serious repression’.
In addition to inventing crimes, the Chiapas authorities are operating a concerted media campaign to discredit the prisoners, particularly through the government-controlled TV channel, Channel 10.
The JBG has further denounced this situation as part of a larger counter-insurgency campaign, consisting of hostile actions – burnings, shootings, threats, violence, towards the different autonomous municipalities. A gravel quarry, and the booth for collecting entry payments for the waterfalls have been ‘recuperated’ and given to OPDDIC who now benefit from all the tourist income, and will be able to sell the gravel for the building of the new highway.
The road through the area is now under the control of the state police (Highway and Preventive divisions). They have turned the area into a ‘rat’s nest’ – with assaults, intimidation, arms and drug traffic, crimes and aggressions. Anyone who opposes the tourism developments and the building of the new road is persecuted, threatened and attacked. The police operate continuous patrols.
A nearby area with similar problems is Agua Clara, but the situation at the waterfalls of Misol-há is markedly different, perhaps because they is not directly situated on the Palenque Integrally Planned Highway. Here a harmonious agreement has been reached between all political and religious groups, celebrated with a great fiesta in April.
Elsewhere in Chiapas, resistance to the new highway is also under way, as is a vicious response to this resistance. The development will open up the whole area to more foreign investment, and result in whole communities losing their homes, lands and livelihoods. In Mitziton, near Teopisca, the community has rejected the highway “it will only benefit the rich”. In response to this decision ‘a whole wave of aggressions’ has been launched, including attempts to take away their land.
The Autonomous Regional Council of the Coastal Zone of Chiapas, declaring their support for the prisoners, said “They want to shut us up by putting us in prison, but we’re not going to stop because the campaign has hardly started”. But neither, it seems, has the state response.
A related problem, also in the state of Chiapas, among many parts of Latin America, is the continuing depredations by foreign mining companies in search of ‘precious metals’. In Chicomuselo in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Blackfire Exploration and Linear Gold are conducting aggressive mining operations, destroying the land, stealing the water, and contaminating and polluting everything they touch, with grave consequences for the health of the local population.
An unknown quantity in areas of dire poverty is epidemics. While AH1N1 was very convenient for governments, at the time they chose to release information about it, when the indigenous die their deaths are not even counted. They appear on no lists. Their lives and deaths are not taken into account. Enduring a scandalous lack of hygiene, services, infrastructure, washing facilities or safe water they die, as always, in silence.
The call from adherents to the Sexta in San Cristobal for us to raise our voices against state repression in Chiapas states:
“ If we allow this process to continue in silence, we, the national and international community, will leave open the possibility for this government to continue their crimes; allowing repression to continue against social activists; giving permission to torture, intimidate, and detain anyone that defends their legitimate right to live without fear and demand their basic human rights; we will allow them to continue to develop massive projects that will lead to the destruction of a dignified life for any human being.”
The FPDT (people’s front for the defence of the land) in Atenco wrote to the EZLN:
“We also know that you are still fighting a low intensity war against the bad government. We know the situation you’re experiencing is a war that’s less and less covert all the time, a war made up of confrontations with diverse forces, of efforts to wear you down and hit you again and again. On one front or another, the government is trying to undermine your resistance, to do away with one of the most important social processes in Mexico and the world........ We know that for the EZLN, aggression is always latent because you’ve built a counter power capable of confronting the State, that your process is a highly important effort in building democracy from the ground up, and that a blow against you would be a victory for political and economic power, not only in our country, but in the world. And so we say to you that we are with you, that the Zapatista struggle is our struggle and that insofar as possible, to the best of our ability, we’re with you, brothers and sisters.”
[Source of information: La Jornada]
DAY OF ACTION: SATURDAY 30th MAY
Addresses for sending letters:
Lic. Juan José Sabines Guerrero
Gobernador Constitucional del Estado de Chiapas
Gobernatura del Estado de Chiapas
Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Chiapas
Av. Central y Primera Oriente, Colonia Centro, C.P. 29009
Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, México
Fax: +52 (961) 61 88088 +52 (961) 6188056
Dr. Noé Castañòn León
Secretario General de Gobierno del Estado de Chiapas
Secretaría General de Gobierno
Palacio de Gobierno, 2o. piso, Colonia Centro
Tuxtla, Gutiérrez, Chiapas, México
C.P. 29000 Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas.
Fax: +52 (961) 61 20663
Conmutador: + 52 (961) 61 2-90-47, 61 8-74-60
Lic. Juan Gabriel Coutiño Gómez
Tribunal Superior de Justicia
Magistrado Presidente Juan Gabriel Coutiño Gómez
Palacio de Justicia
Libramiento Norte Oriente No.2100
Fraccionamiento El Bosque
Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas
Tel-Fax : (52+)(961) 6178700
Lic. Carlos Alberto Bello Avendaño
Juez Segundo de Penal del Distrito Judicial de Tuxtla Gutiérrez
Carretera Tuxtla Gutiérrez Cintalapa
Tel- Fax: (52+) (968) 36 46 84
RPTE. DE LA OFICINA DEL ALTO COMISIONADO PARA LOS DERECHOS HUMANOS EN MEXICO
Dirección : Alejandro Dumas #165
Col. Polanco Delegación Miguel Hidalgo
C.P 11560 México D.F
Tel: + 52 (01 55) 5061-6350 Fax: 5061-6358
Please send a copy to:
Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, A.C.
Calle Brasil 14, Barrio Méxicanos, 29240 San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, México
Tel: 967 6787395, 967 6787396, Fax: 967 6783548
adherents to the sexta