A Thousand Rages, One Heart: ¡The Zapatista Communities Live!
Starting in 2009 a new phase of attacks, primarily by state-sponsored paramilitaries, against the Zapatista communities and adherents to the Zapatista initiated Other Campaign began. These attacks, in various parts of Zapatista territory in which there are economic interests at stake, are intended to put an end to the Zapatista struggle. This struggle shows the real possibility of constructing social relations differently to the capitalist way, and of building another world which is emerging through the experience of autonomy in their communities, and which is projected nationally and internationally through the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle. Although the repression has been constant, it increased as 2010 approached. The new Zapatista campaign against the repression “Miles de Rabias, Un Sólo Corazón: ¡Vivan las Communidades Zapatistas! (http://milesderabias.blogspot.com/) began with international days of graffiti and banners in July and August. November 27th will see another international day of action.
The Father Bartolomé Human Rights Centre has linked the paramilitary attacks to the Centro Integralmente Planeado Palenque – CIP, the Tourist Plan for Chiapas, a corporate tourism project.
Large hotels and service companies with enough money to build luxury facilities will be invited to be part of the project. The project does not consider tourism for the benefit of the local communities. High prices will also be charged at eco-tourism extreme sports centres, that do not benefit the environment. Two transnational consultants, Norton Consulting, Inc. and EDSA Florida are working on the development plan and have carried out an analysis of the necessary strategy to build this mega-tourist project. The government needs to buy the land or evict the indigenous communities from the land that is located in the project areas. The £149 million road from San Cristobal De Las Casas to Palenque and the new £36 million Palenque airport still need to be build. Long term businesses require security before investing and the perception of political insecurity among companies needs to be eliminated.
The government needs to buy Bolon Ajaw community land, to build a luxurious hotel and exploit its waterfalls and also for commercial areas at Azul Waterfalls. But, Bolon Ajaw is land recovered by the Zapatistas Support Base in 1994. The 32 Zapatista families of Bolon Ajaw are part of the autonomous municipality Comandanta Ramona, The government cannot negotiate because the Zapatistas will never sell. Therefore, the government’s strategy is to use a paramilitary group, OPDDIC (Organization for the Defence of Indigenous and Campesino Rights), a fake indigenous group, to take over this land and then buy it from them. As a result, the Bolon Ajaw community is resisting the continuous harassment and attacks by OPDDIC members.
The last armed attack by OPDDIC was on 6th February 2010 when they killed one of their own members. A few months before, some of the land near Bolon Ajaw, near the waterfalls was taken. The Zapatistas organised and about 200 Zapatistas got together to reclaim the land. They had a rota system with members from other villages coming to keep watch and guard. This meant that people left their land and family, putting their lives in danger to show solidarity.
San Sebastián Bachajón
Adherents of The Other Campaign of San Sebastián Bachajón control the toll booth at the entrance to the Azul Waterfalls. Attempts to remove them from there have been constant and there have been threats against civilians of this community by local police and OPDDIC members on a daily basis.
On April 17 2009, the payment booth was dismantled through an operation involving state and federal police. 1 Zapatista supporter and 7 Other Campaign supporters were arrested in San Sebastián Bachajón. They were detained without charge and falsely accused of highway robbery. They were tortured and forced to sign confessions not in their own language, Tzeltal. In the first few days local residents built roadblocks to demand their freedom, but it was broken up by police. OPDDIC collaborated with the Federal and State police during the repression of the roadblock. As a result, OPDDIC, took the money from the entry booth to the waterfalls. They were also the real perpetrators of the robberies. The Zapatista supporter was released after a few weeks. 5 others were released in July 2009 thanks to national and international solidarity.
In Autumn 2009 the Tzeltal population of San Sebastián Bachajón peacefully regained control of the booth through a consultation process in assemblies in the three centres of the community. The response of the government, headed by Juan Sabines Guerrero (PRD), was to intimidate and threaten the community by despatching about 250 police to the area.
One of the tourist routes, the Comitán – Montes Azules Corridor, is rich in natural resources, water and biodiversity. Apart from ecotourist plans, natural resources could be extracted from this area, but the presence of indigenous communities stops this possibility. Therefore, both, government and transnational companies are in a hurry to evict these communities.
Reforestation has been given as the reason for evictions of indigenous communities from the area. However as part of The Mesoamerica Project (formerly The Puebla-Panama Plan), the federal and state governments had agreed to greatly expand the agro-fuels industry for the use in Mexico’s aviation sector. Friends of the Earth International reported in February 2010: “Families from the Biosphere of Montes Azules, Lacandon Jungle, are being evicted from their land in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. The evictions, being forced by police operations, are to make way for palm oil plantations.” Heavily armed police arrived in helicopters and with aggressive violence evicted men, women and children from their homes, which they then burnt down and, with no explanation, removed the community to the city of Palenque. Over 40 communities have now been evicted from the area. One of the two communities uprooted from their lands in the January 2010 displacements described above was a Zapatista support base settlement. Their lands are now being watched over by private guards. Laguna San Pedro, Laguna El Paraiso and Laguna Suspiro are under threat and are preparing to resist.
The planned superhighway from San Cristobal de Las Casas to Palenque could have taken over the land of the Mitzitón community, who are also adherents to the Other Campaign. The local government has used the paramilitary group “Army of God”, part of the evangelic church “Eagle Wings”, to harass the community and impose the road, saying that the conflict is religious and that the police force should intervene.
Construction of the San Cristobal to Palenque toll road was due to begin in 2009, as one of the first steps in the plan to develop the Palenque – Agua Azul area into a luxury paradise for ecotourism. In February 2009, the Chiapas state government announced that it was to begin preparations for work on the 8-mile stretch of road between San Cristobal and the Rancho Nuevo military base. Engineers went to Mitzitón, without asking permission, and told local people they were measuring for the super-highway, for which Mitzitón was to be ‘kilometre zero’. The community met together in assembly in March, and decided to reject the highway which would cut their ejido in half, destroying their homes, lands, forests and water sources. They were able to drive away the surveyors.
In July 2009, 30 Other Campaign adherents were attacked by 60 members of the evangelical group with machetes, slingshots, clubs and stones. A truck killed Aurelio Diaz Hernandez, but the driver of the truck has never been arrested or charged.
At the end of July, members of the Other Campaign in the ejido of Mitzitón together with two other affected indigenous communities, Jotolá and San Sebastián Bachajón, established a roadblock of the highway to demand the cancellation of the highway from San Cristóbal to Palenque, the self- determination of the communities, and justice for Aurelio Díaz Hernández.
The Chiapas state government continued to deny that the route of the road had been decided, while engineers visited communities seeking approval for the super-highway to pass through their lands. In August 2009, after the state government’s denials were published in the media, agents of the Secretary of Communications and Transportation went to Mitzitón asking them to sign a paper stating that the assembly had agreed to let the toll road pass through their territory. Ejido members refused. Threats continued and on August 24th several members of the Army of God entered a house in Mitzitón, brandishing machetes, and told a woman they were going to kill her husband. The three communities demonstrated together again in October in San Cristobal.
A visitor to the community in September commented: ‘Earth movers are at Mitzitón’s door, ready to carve up their land for the new toll road to Palenque. Meanwhile, the heavily armed Army of God members continue to threaten violence. They beat up a 17 year old boy and cut down the hand-painted signs proclaiming resistance to the toll road.
In a surprise move in October, the Chiapas government finally announced the route of the new road, which had previously been surrounded in secrecy. Instead of adopting the original plan drawn up by the Ministry of Communications and Transportation, which would have cut Mitzitón in half, the state chose an alternative route, which did not pass through the community. However paramilitary attacks have continued, but so has community resistance in the from of more roadblocks.
The European Brigade of Solidarity with the Zapatistas visited the other affected areas in July 2010 and were told that tensions remain, but for now the situation seems calm. The brigade also visited the El Salvador spa resort, which belongs to the Zapatista community of Agua Clara. Any territory that surrounds the town of Agua Clara was recovered during the 1994 uprising. Its location in the path of the future Palenque-Comitán motorway also gives it strategic importance. The counterinsurgency strategy of misrule led to the splitting of the population. Now, there are people who support the PRI (neo-liberal Institutional Revolutionary Party) and OPDDIC. To access Agua Clara you must now pass through two toll booths. The first one belongs to PRI/OPDDIC who have already sold their collective land to the government. OPDDIC charge double for those leaving the site and try to scare people by saying the Zapatistas are “thieves and thugs.” The government constructed a spa-hotel there in order to privatise the use and ownership of this land. From there OPDDIC sells alcohol, which has had a socially destructive impact on indigenous communities in the past. Prostitution is also allowed. They do not clean the area. The second toll booth belongs to the Zapatistas. The Zapatistas manage their site collectively organised by a weekly rotation of 20 to 70 comp@s from the Caracol of Morelia. They also run the hotel there. Several times PRI/OPDDIC came to attack the Zapatista toll booth with their machetes. In 2009 many PRI/OPDDIC members stormed the resort and tried to take over running it. The Zapatistas faced up to them quickly and PRI/OPDDIC withdrew before there was a serious confrontation.
San Marcos Avilés
Zapatista gains in recent years have mainly been in the development of their autonomous health and education services rather than territorial gains. Worringly another new phase of attacks may have begun, because of these successes. In September 170 Zapatista supporters were expelled from their land for building an autonomous school by PRI, PRD and PVEM (Green Party) supporters. There was a national and international mobilisation throughout September and October through the 1000 Rages campaign. This included demos in Mexico City and outside the Mexican Embassy in Paris and road blocks by Other Camapign Adherents including Mitzitón. There were also a poster campaign in several Mexican cities as well as Vienna and Argentina and a solidarity convoy organised from Mexico City. Importantly the campaign worked as the families were able to return home after a month hiding out in the mountains in torrential rain.