Mitzitón: God’s Army must leave now.

“They are guilty of the crimes of murder, torture, kidnapping, rape, illegal felling of trees, and trafficking in migrants. We demand the government relocates the criminal delinquent paramilitaries”

Mitzitón is a small Tzotzil community, located in woodland near to San Cristóbal de Las Casas. The majority of the inhabitants are adherents to the Other Campaign, and grow and care for the local trees. There have been problems in this community for the past thirteen years, since members of an evangelical group, Alas de Aguila, Eagle Wings, part of a larger paramilitary organisation, Ejército de Dios, the Army of God or God’s Army, came to live in Mitzitón. They have, since 1997, the year of the Acteal massacre, refused to take part in any of the collective work of the community or to contribute to its costs. To the great concern of the majority, members of the organisation have been indiscriminately cutting down the trees which are loved and nurtured by the rest of the inhabitants.

The community say that the aggressive actions of the Eagle Wings have been getting worse and more frequent. As well as squandering the scarce timber and water resources, they operate with complete impunity within the community, issuing threats, kidnapping, beating, raping, using high velocity firearms, and wearing military uniforms. They are basically living off the profits they make from trafficking illegally in timber and in migrant people from Central America.

There has been a long succession of violent incidents. In June 2009 one of the paramilitaries deliberately drove over a group of people with a lorry, killing one and injuring five. The guilty party was freed after 3 months. In February 2010, a group of the community authorities were kidnapped by the paramilitaries who kept them overnight, tying them up and dousing them with petrol, despite the presence of 200 members of the security services.

All these crimes have the support of the ‘bad government’, because this government wants Mitzitón’s land. They want to build a new highway through it. More than 2,000 people live in the community and the majority do not want to sell their communal land, and do not want the highway. This is why God’s Army can operate with impunity and have government protection.  At the beginning of June they threatened to commit ‘a worse massacre than that of Acteal’.

The community is suffering at the hands of a group of criminal intruders, who do not contribute in any way, and who in fact try to sell the community’s land to the government for the building of a road the majority oppose. This group threatens, intimidates, attacks and injures the residents on a daily basis, making their lives intolerable.

The Other Campaign adherents, most of the population, now say they have had enough of living in fear. Those who suffer worst are the women and children, constantly threatened by armed men wearing military uniforms, who walk the community at night firing shots, showing no respect for the people, the land, the trees or the water.

For this reason, on 2nd July 2010, the people of Mitzitón set up a roadblock on the highway from San Cristóbal to Comitán, demanding that the government relocate the paramilitaries, away from the community. “They are setting our children a bad example, teaching them to rob and kill……We want to live in peace, we want our children to be educated well…”  “We are tired of denouncing the aggression and violence we are suffering, over and over again …… and nothing is done”

The first response from the government was to say they if the roadblock was not lifted, the entire community would be relocated, ‘and a forest reserve set up in the area’. Negotiations in Tuxtla were suggested; the people of Mitzitón insisted on any dialogue taking place in the community, so everyone could be present. It was finally agreed that a government commission would visit Mitzitón on 5thJuly, the visit to be moderated by Diego Cadenas, director of the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Centre.

Following this visit, the roadblock was temporarily lifted. The assembly gave the government a period of one month to relocate the paramilitaries of God’s Army, Eagle Wings, or further measures would be taken. They made clear that the struggle is not over, “we are going to continue to defend our land, because without it we cannot live”.

At this time the ‘European Brigade of Solidarity with the Zapatistas’ arrived in Chiapas. Many Zapatista communities are enduring continual threats and attacks, and the brigade aims to offer friendship and support to their Zapatista companer@s, find out about their situation, share their reality, and compile and spread information about what is happening in their lands.

The work of the Brigade has been made more difficult following the assassination on 27 April 2010 of Finnish activist Jyri Jakkola, who was a member of a humanitarian aid convoy to San Juan Copala in Oaxaca. The Mexican government then informed many foreign ambassadors that any international activists present in Mexico who were not in possession of a DDHH FM3 visa would be immediately expelled from the country.

The first community visited by the Solidarity Brigade, along with members of CIEPAC and Frayba, was Mitzitón. The ejidal authorities told the visitors of their concerns about the political and economic cover given by the government to the paramilitaries, and about how much the people of Mitzitón have to endure at their hands. The Europeans spoke of the ‘daily paramilitarisation, corruption and impunity’ faced by indigenous peoples, and of their fears that the government would deprive the people of their ejidal lands in order to build the new highway. They denounced the government protection given to paramilitary groups, and offered the Brigade’s support to the people of Mitzitón.

This story is not over. People of good conscience are asked to watch the situation closely.

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