San Sebastián Bachajón: Following the Assassination of Juan Vázquez Guzmán, the Struggle for the Defense of the Land Continues
“The government does not like the people to organize and defend what is theirs; they repress us with state forces and order assassination to silence our movement”, declared the ejidatarios (communal landholders) of San Sebastián Bachajón recently. Despite the assassination of their much-loved community leader Juan Vázquez Guzmán, they insist: “we are here, we are staying here and we are not going to leave our land which is the birthplace of our mothers and fathers, our grandfathers and grandmothers, who also fought and gave their lives for the mother earth.”
Their struggle against luxury tourism in their territory
The indigenous Tzeltal ejido of San Sebastián Bachajón is situated in the jungle region of the state of Chiapas in South-East Mexico. It is located in an area of great natural beauty, rich in flora and fauna. The common lands of the ejido straddle the access road to the spectacular series of turquoise waterfalls of Agua Azul, and are not far from the great Maya archaeological site of Palenque. For over 20 years, the Mexican government has planned, as part of the “Maya World” concept, a high class tourist mega-project in Chiapas to rival Cancun; Agua Azul is to be the “jewel in the crown” of this development, with a luxury “eco-lodge retreat” complete with arrival at the waterfalls by helicopter or seaplane. Unfortunately for the people who have lived on and cared for this land for centuries, for whom territory is the basis of a dignified life, they are now the only obstacle to what could become, for rich tourists, “one of the most special experiences in the Western hemisphere”, and, for the resort owners, a lucrative source of income. The realization of this project would inevitably involve dispossessing or co-opting the indigenous population, and taking over their ancestral lands and territory.
As a result, the ejidatarios of Bachajón have become the recipients of daily threats, aggressions, arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, imprisonment, extensive use of torture, and attacks from paramilitary groups. The strategy of the three levels of government has been to develop alliances with, and give support to, local political party members so they will back the government plans, and to criminalise those who resist these plans, with the aim of generating conflict among the communities in the area.
Since 2006, Juan Vázquez Guzmán had been at the center of the struggle in defense of the common lands of the ejido of San Sebastián Bachajón. On 24 April, 2013, he was shot dead with six bullets in the doorway of his home. He was aged only 32, and the father of two small children aged four and seven. His community members were left devastated, and his assassins escaped into the impunity which reigns in Mexico. There has been no evidence of an investigation into the murder, and the material and intellectual authors of the crime have not been identified.
Focus of conflict: the ticket booth
In 2007, the ejidatarios of San Sebastián Bachajón “organized to defend our mother earth and natural resources”, and decided to become ‘Adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle’, a Zapatista initiative which seeks to bring together the struggles of all those ‘from below and to the left’. As part of their struggle, they decided to take back control of the booth where tourists buy tickets to view the waterfalls.
In a communiqué released on July 2, 2013, they describe what this booth represented to them: “Our toll booth is a symbol of our struggle and resistance…. It represents the exercise of our right to autonomy and self-determination, not for personal gain but for the collective benefit of our people; using the income from the booth, work and projects are carried out for the common good and the defense of our territory; it is a space of struggle.”
Government-backed forces have violently evicted the Bachajón ejidatarios from the booth on repeated occasions. One of the most serious attacks was on February 2, 2011, when federal and state authorities took possession of an area of the common lands, as well as the ticket booth, through the use of state forces together with armed civilians. This provoked a clash which resulted in the arbitrary detention of 117 people, “as a means of dissolving the indigenous organization in resistance and of pressurizing them into handing over their lands into the control of the Mexican state”, according to San Sebastián Bachajón’s legal representative, Ricardo A. Lagunes Gasca.
Following the events of February 2, 2011, the ejidatarios of Bachajón put out an urgent call for solidarity, which was answered by Movement for Justice in El Barrio from New York, who coordinated an international campaign which continued until the last four of the prisoners were set free on July 23, 2011. “Here in Chiapas law and justice do not exist, but rather the government imposes its mandate,” Juan Vázquez Guzmán explains in one of the videos released during the campaign. “We will never negotiate our lands. The only thing we are asking is that they respect our right to self-determination as indigenous people. We are demanding justice, control of our land and territory, and, above all, the right to care for ourselves and conserve the natural resources of the land.”
On March 2, 2011, one of the founders of the ejido of San Sebastián Bachajón filed a petition requesting amparo (an order for legal protection) against the arbitrary deprivation of their common lands, and protection of their territory and collective rights. The acts of February 2, 2011, the petition stated, constituted “a partial and definitive deprivation of the common use lands, without consultation, and without the full, prior and informed consent of the General Assembly.”
On January 30, 2013, the Seventh District Judge of Tuxtla Gutiérrez gave judgement on the amparo after almost two years, declaring the request inadmissible. A different court, on May 16, 2013, overturned this decision, and ordered the amparo to be reinstated, referring the claim to the General Assembly of the Ejidatarios. The matter remains unresolved; as the community’s lawyer has pointed out, this is just the beginning: the theft of the rest of their land is still to come.
At the end of May 2013, the ejidatarios sent a delegation to Mexico City to present a letter to the president of the Council of the Federal Judiciary, asking him to ensure impartiality and objectivity in the resolution of their amparo. They also visited the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to demand the return of their territory, and asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington to issue measures to protect the autonomous authorities of the ejido and the family of Juan Vázquez Guzmán.
The struggle continues
At the end of May, 2013, a worldwide alliance of grassroots community organizations announced a new initiative in support of the adherents to the Sixth from San Sebastián Bachajón. The Week of Worldwide Action: “Juan Vázquez Guzmán lives! The Bachajón struggle continues!” took place from Tuesday, June 25(Juan’s birthday) to Tuesday, July 2, 2013.
Groups and individuals from all five continents took part, and acts of solidarity took place in countries including Mexico, the US, the UK, Germany, India, Austria, Peru, the Philippines, Argentina, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, France, Italy, Uruguay, Brazil and Colombia. Messages of support were received from many parts of the world, from organizations such as the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity and the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Centre, and from well-known writers and thinkers Hugo Blanco, Sylvia Marcos, Gustavo Esteva, and Raúl Zibechi.
In his pronouncement, Gustavo Esteva concluded: “The struggle of Juan and the people of San Sebastian Bachajón is clearly in the forefront of the battle in which our destiny will be defined….. Juan’s struggle is directly linked with that of all of those who are defending their lands and their waters, their territories and their common properties, and also with all of those who have taken to the streets in other struggles against corruption and for justice.”
“Juan’s total commitment”, wrote Sylvia Marcos, “to the struggle for a dignified and autonomous life for his people and for the safeguarding, protection and defense of their territory was the reason for his vicious murder”.
On July 2, 2013, hundreds of men and women from San Sebastián Bachajón, adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, carried out one of their traditional acts of protest, an “informative roadblock” of the Ocosingo-Palenque highway, near the entrance to the Agua Azul waterfall. They released a communiqué the same day which they read aloud during the roadblock: “The men, women and children of San Sebastian Bachajón are willing to give their lives for our mother earth and for our struggle, just as compañero Juan Vázquez Guzmán did, and as the native peoples of Mexico and the world have done for hundreds of years against oil, mining, wind, gas, dams and tourism projects, all of them bringing dispossession and death to our people, intending to destroy our way of life, our language and our culture.”
As they said in an earlier communiqué, on May 6, 2013: “The bad government wants to fill our lands with death and fear, so we get tired and no longer continue to defend our life, the people, our mother earth….but we are here and we are not going to leave, because even though they kill us and want to destroy us as indigenous peoples, the heart of the people is alive and will continue struggling whatever the cost.”
For further information in English: http://vivabachajon.wordpress.com/en-ingles/
US training of Mexican military forces spiked in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, coinciding with a sharp rise in drug-war homicides in Mexico, an analysis of records made public under the Foreign Assistance Act show.
The training in those two years, funded by the US Department of Defense, and to a lesser extent by the US Department of State, covered a wide range of military skill sets and involved hundreds of training programs offered in the US to Mexican forces as well as dozens (at least 60) provided inside Mexico.
For example, in Mexico City during that two-year period, the US military provided to Mexican security forces training in, among other tactics, “asymmetrical conflict,” “anti-terrorism,” and “open-source intelligence” gathering. US military training also was provided in other parts of Mexico, including the state of Campeche, where infantry, marksmanship and intelligence programs were offered to Mexican troops; and in Chiapas, in fiscal 2011, infantry training was provided to Mexican Marines over two-week periods in April and September.
The latter training programs might be considered particularly sensitive for Mexican politics, given the Mexican state of Chiapas is home to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials).
The Zapatistas are a rebel indigenous group governing more than 1,000 rural communities that rose up in arms in 1994. However, since peace talks were initiated in 1995, the Zapatistas have not fired a shot and have converted to peaceful and civil resistance.
In the 1990s, under Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, a member of the PRI Party, an unsuccessful, violent counter-insurgency campaign was waged against the Zapatistas that involved the use of both the Mexican military and civilian paramilitary forces — as part of an effort to destroy the indigenous movement and its autonomous communities.
On another sensitive front for Latin American/US relations, Foreign Assistance Act records reveal that US military training also was provided to Mexican soldiers in fiscal 2010 and 2011 by the US Department of Defense’s Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). The Institute was formerly the School of the Americas, which, in past decades, provided training to some of the most notorious violators of human rights in Latin America.
WHINSEC, now reportedly reformed and sensitive to human rights, offered at least 10 different training programs (some multiple times) to Mexican troops in fiscal 2010 and 2011 in subjects such as “counter-narco-terrorism,” “joint operations” and “counterdrug ops,” according to data provided to Congress under the requirements of the Foreign Assistance Act. … Full article
- Mexico: Nine Indigenous Prisoners Released in Chiapas (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas released nine indigenous prisoners from its Los Llanos prison near San Cristóbal de las Casas in the state’s highland region on July 4. State governor Manuel Velasco Coello arrived at the prison from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the state capital, to deliver the release papers in person. The nine prisoners, described as adherents of the 2006 Other Campaign of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), had participated in hunger strikes and other actions over several years to win their freedom. Rosa López Díaz, the only woman in the group, was pregnant when she was arrested in 2007; she lost her child, reportedly as a result of torture.
Under pressure from Mexican and international groups, the state appears to have started releasing EZLN allies imprisoned on questionable charges. Francisco Sántiz López was freed on Jan. 25 [see Update #1161]. But the best known of the prisoners, the schoolteacher Alberto Patishtán Gómez [see Update #1173], remains at Los Llanos, along with a prisoner named Alejandro Díaz Sántiz. Patishtán was allowed to take part in the release of the nine prisoners on July 4. He walked a few meters out of the prison and told the relatives, with a smile: “I’m turning the compañeros over to you here; I’m still staying here, but one shouldn’t lose hope.” He then walked back into the prison with Gov. Velasco Coello and various officials. “We’ll go on struggling until we achieve the release of compañero Alberto and all the compañeros who are still prisoners,” former prisoner Rosario Díaz Méndez promised after his release. (La Jornada (Mexico) 7/5/13)
Mexico – December 30, 2012
To the People of Mexico:
To the Peoples and Governments of the World:
Brothers and Sisters:
Compañeros and compañeras:
This past December 21, 2012, in the pre-dawn hours, tens of thousands of indigenous Zapatistas mobilized and we took over, peacefully and in silence, 5 municipal seats in the Mexican southeastern state of Chiapas.
San Cristobal, Chiapas. December 21, 2012
In the cities of Palenque, Altamirano, Las Margaritas, Ocosingo, and San Cristobal de las Casas, we watched you and we watched ourselves in silence.
This is not a message of resignation.
It is not one of war, death, or destruction.
Our message is one of struggle and resistance.
After the media-driven coup d’état that exalted a poorly concealed and even more poorly disguised ignorance to the federal executive branch, we made ourselves present so that you would know that if they never left, neither did we.
Six years ago, a segment of the political and intellectual class went out in search of someone to blame for its loss. At that time we were in cities and communities, struggling for justice for an Atenco that was not fashionable at that time.
On that yesterday first they defamed us, and then they wanted to shut us up. Too incapable and dishonest to see that within themselves they had and have the seeds of their own destruction, they tried to make us disappear with lies and complicit silence.
Six years later, two things remain clear:
They don’t need us to fail.
We don’t need them to survive.
We never left, even though media from all over the spectrum have dedicated themselves to making you believe that, and we are reemerging as the indigenous Zapatistas that we are and will be.
In these past years we’ve strengthened ourselves and we have significantly improved our living conditions. Our standard of living is superior to that of the indigenous communities that are linked to the governments in power, that receive charity and squander it all on alcohol and useless things.
Our homes improve without hurting nature by imposing roads upon it that are foreign to it. In our villages, the land that was previously used to fatten estate owners’ cattle is now used to grow the corn, beans, and vegetables that brighten our tables.
Our work has the double satisfaction of providing us with what we need to live honorably and to contribute to the collective growth of our communities.
Our boys and girls go to a school that teaches them their own history, that of their fatherland and of the world, as well as the sciences and techniques they need to grow without no longer being indigenous.
The indigenous Zapatista women are not sold as merchandise. The indigenous PRI members go to our hospitals, clinics, and laboratories because in those provided by the government there are no medicines, nor equipment, nor doctors, nor qualified personnel.
Our culture flourishes not in isolation, but rather enriched by contact with the cultures of other peoples of Mexico and the world.
We govern and we govern ourselves, always seeking agreement before confrontation.
All of this has been achieved not only without the government, the political class, and the media that accompanies them, but also while resisting their attacks of all kinds.
We have demonstrated, yet again, that we are who we are. With our silence, we were present.
Now, with our word we announce that:
First: we reaffirm and consolidate our membership in the National Indigenous Congress [CNI],a space for meeting with the original peoples of our country.
Second: we will resume contact with our compañeros and compañeras who are Adherents to the Sixth declaration of the Lacandon Jungle in Mexico and around the world.
Third: we will try to construct the necessary bridges towards the social movements that have arisen and will arise, not to lead them or take their place, but rather to learn from them, from their history, from their journeys and fates.
For this we have achieved the support of individuals and groups in different parts of the world who comprise the support teams for the EZLN’s Sixth and International commissions, so that they will become communication links between the Zapatista Support Bases and the individuals, groups, and collectives that are Adherents to the Sixth Declaration in Mexico and around the world who still maintain their conviction and dedication to the construction of a leftist non-institutional alternative.
Fourth: our critical distance from the Mexican political class will continue; they have done nothing but prosper at the cost of the necessities and the hopes of humble and simple people.
Fifth: regarding the federal, state, and municipal bad governments–executive, legislative, and judicial–, and the media that accompanies them, we say to them the following:
The bad governments from all over the political spectrum, without exception, have done everything they can to destroy us, buy us, and make us give in. The PRI, PAN, PRD, PVEM, PT, CC, and the future RN party have attacked us militarily, politically, socially, and ideologically.
The corporate media tried to make us disappear, first with servile and opportunistic slander, later with cunning and complicit silence. Those whom they served and whose moneys breastfeed them are no longer around. And those who have taken their place won’t last longer than their predecessors.
As was evident on December 21, 2012, they’ve all failed.
It remains to be seen if the federal, executive, legislative, and judicial government decides to once again resort to the counterinsurgency policy that has only achieved a rickety farse clumsily based on media management, or if it recognizes and fulfills its duty and raises indigenous rights and culture to constitutional ranking as established by the so-called “San Andres Accords,” signed by the federal government in 1996, which was ruled by the same party that now controls the executive branch.
It remains to be seen if the state government will decide if it continues its dishonest and despicable strategy of its predecessor which, in addition to being corrupt and deceitful, used the Chiapan people’s money for his own enrichment and that of his accomplices and set about openly buying voices and pens in the media, while he heaped misery upon the Chiapan people, at the same time that he was using police and paramilitaries to try to stop the organizational advance of the Zapatista villages; or if it will instead, with truth and justice, accept our existence and the idea that a new form of social life is blossoming in Zapatista territory, Chiapas, Mexico. Blossoming that draws the attention of honest people all over the planet.
It remains to be seen if the municipal governments decide to keep swallowing the millstones that the anti-Zapatista or supposedly “Zapatista” organizations use to extort them to attack our communities, or if they instead use that money to improve the living conditions of their constituents.
It remains to be seen if the people of Mexico who organize themselves in electoral struggle and resist decide to continue viewing us as the enemies or rivals upon whom they can unload their frustration about the frauds and attacks that, in the end, all of us suffer, and if in their struggle for power they continue to ally themselves with our persecutors; or if they finally see in us another way of doing politics.
Sixth: in the coming days the EZLN, through its Sixth and International commissions, will announce a series of initiatives of a civil and peaceful nature, to continue walking together with the other original peoples of Mexico and the whole continent, along with those in Mexico and around the whole world who resist and struggle down and to the left.
Brothers and sisters:
Compañeros and compañeras:
Before, we had the good fortune of honest and noble attention from various media outlets. We thanked them for it then. But that was completely erased with their later attitude.
Those who bet that we only existed in the media and that with the siege of lies and silence we would disappear were wrong.
When there weren’t cameras, microphones, pens, ears, and looks, we existed.
When they defamed us, we existed.
When they silenced us, we existed.
And here we are, existing.
Our pace, as has been demonstrated, does not depend upon our impact in the media, but rather upon the world’s and its parts’ understanding, upon the indigenous wisdom that dictates our steps, upon the unflinching courage that comes from below and to the left.
From now on, our word will begin to be selective in its recipient and, with the exception of a few occassions, will only be understood by those who have walked and walk with us without giving in to the media and current trends.
Here, with not a few errors and a lot of difficulties, another way of doing politics is already a reality.
Few, very few, will have the privilege of knowing it and learning from it directly.
Nineteen years ago we surprised them by taking over their cities with fire and blood. Now we’ve done it again, without weapons, without death, without destruction.
That is how we differentiate ourselves from those who, during their administrations, delivered and deliver death to their constituents.
We are the same from 500 years ago, from 44 years ago, from 30 years ago, from 20 years ago, from just a few days ago.
We are the Zapatistas, the smallest, the ones who live, struggle, and die in the last corner of the fatherland, those who don’t give up, those who don’t sell out, those who don’t give in.
Brothers and sisters:
compañeros and compañeras:
We are the Zapatistas, and we send you a hug.
From the mountains of the Mexican southeast,
For the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee — General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos.
Mexico. December 2012-January 2013.
Translation: Kristin Bricker
The body of indigenous teacher and activist Teódulo Santos Girón was found on May 16 in the town cemetery in La Ticla in the western Mexican state of Michoacán. According to official sources, Santos Girón, who had just finished his term as a local official in the indigenous Nahua community of Santa María Ostula, had been kidnapped in La Ticla the night before; he was shot in the head and in the body.
Santos Girón was active in promoting maintenance of the Náhuatl language and culture, and he was a strong supporter of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) who also admired the indigenous rebels of the Zapatista National Liberation Front (EZLN), based in the southeastern state of Chiapas. He helped lead the movement of Ostula residents that occupied disputed land near the Pacific coast in the summer of 2009. The occupiers were subsequently granted more than 1,000 hectares by Michoacán’s state government, but drug dealers and other forces have been trying to drive the community out of the area. As of last December, 28 community members had been murdered, including leaders Trinidad de la Cruz Crisóstomo (“Don Trino”) and Pedro Leyva Domínguez [see Update #1110].