:: URGENT INFORMATIVE BULLETIN – 4 March 2011
The International Service for Peace (SIPAZ) expresses its strong concern regarding the new escalation of violence and repression directed against social movements and human-rights defenders in Chiapas. A communiqué released by the Peace Network on 28 February refers to this “deteriorating context,” noting the “lack of will and/or capacity of the state government to intervene in existing conflicts, avoid addressing them, or even finding short-term ‘solutions’ that, when not realized, results in the repression against groups who oppose its politics.” The recent events in San Sebastián Bachajón, Mitzitón, and Tonalá seem to reflect these tendencies that have exacerbated social polarization and that could lead to consequences that are still even graver.
San Sebastián Bachajón – provocation and subsequent administration of the conflict
On 2 February, a day after the ‘private visit’ of President Felipe Calderón to Chiapas to promote the “Year of Tourism” in the state, there was a confrontation between a group of adherents to the Other Campaign and a group linked to the official authorities, both groups being comprised of Tseltal indigenous individuals from the ejido San Sebastián Bachajón. The confrontation arose due to a dispute regarding a control-point at the entrance of the Agua Azul waterfalls and resulted in one death on the official side and several injured.
On 3 February were detained 117 members of the Other Campaign, of which 107 were released on 5 February. The Fray Bartolomé de La Casas Center for Human Rights (CDHFBC), which arrived soon on-scene to document the situation, has indicated that “among the number of irregularities in the legal process [the detained] lacked a defense attorney and official translator and were moreover threatened by state police and harassed by local authorities charged with the administration of justice” (informative bulletin of the CDHFBC, 5 February 2011). In accordance with journalistic information, 7 of the 10 incarcerated did not find themselves at the site of the confrontation when the events occurred. Among these are individuals accused of homicide and the carrying of fire-arms.
In a communiqué, the Center of Indigenous Rights A.C., which has a strong presence in the area, denounced that “having had the possibility of avoiding the confrontation between the ejidatarios of San Sebastián and the ejidatarios who pertain to the Other Campaign, the government took no such action; being on-site to avoid the confrontation between the two groups and the death and severe injuries (of a person from the group of ejidatarios from San Sebastián), it adopted a delaying strategy.”
On 6 February, the government of Chiapas reported on a dialogue-table established between the communities of Agua Azul and San Sebastián Bachajón to reach an agreement regarding the control-point; it nonetheless admitted that the group of adherents to the Other Campaign did not participate in the dialogue. A caravan of women that arrived on 19 February to San Sebastián denounced that “We know that the so-called ‘dialogue-table’ carried out last Sunday, which was attended by governmental authorities and representatives of the official Council of Human Rights of the State, was a shameful celebration that attempted to legitimate the government’s intervention and the looting of the tourist center of Agua Azul from its legitimate possessors, who are unfortunately now divided.” For their part, the 10 prisoners of San Sebastián Bachajón have denounced that they have now been visited on four occasions by state officials offering to have them released in exchange for their participation in the dialogue-table.
Going beyond this, the CDHFBC indicates in its 3 March report “Government creates and administers conflict for territorial control in Chiapas” that there is a “calculated strategy on the part of the state government that has generated a confrontation among actors in the area so as to later intervene as mediator and administrator of the very same conflict.” It stressed moreover that “the state government broke with a process of dialogue that the actors had been engaged in since 2010 with the goal of having it be the residents of the zone who would administer and preserve the natural resources inherited to them by their ancestors.”
Mitzitón – omission on the part of state authorities
Another situation of permanent violence and tension is seen in the Tsotsil community of Mitzitón, municipality of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, where for many years there have been observed aggressions and confrontations between a group of Evangelicals linked to the organizations “Wings of Eagles” and “Army of God,” affiliated with official power, and a group of adherents to the Other Campaign that has developed itself largely through the rejection of the construction of a highway between San Cristóbal and Palenque that would cross its community. On 13 February, members of the “Wings of Eagles” attacked a member of the opposed group who was for his injuries hospitalized. According to the CDHFBC, during the afternoon of the same day was requested the intervention of the state authorities who subsequently arrived to the community. Regardless, “at approximately 23:05, while the state authorities found themselves there, there were heard gunshots that resulted in the injury […] of Mr. Carmen Jiménez Herdia,” adherent to the Other Campaign. The CDHFBC emphasizes that “units of the State Preventive Police were present in the community when the gunfire occurred.” The human-rights organization informs that “on 14 February were detained 23 persons of the ‘non-cooperative’ group [that is, the group linked to ‘Wings of Eagles’] and seven of them were presented to the judicial authorities […]. Nonetheless, due tot he detention of these persons, there is a climate of tension in the community that makes-vulnerable the population of the area, given that other violent acts that put at risk the lives, integrity, and security of people could readily detonate.” In accordance with the CDHFBC, “due to this situation, the adherents to the Other Campaign find themselves residing together in the office of the Ejidal Commissariat and the communal church, without being able to work their lands. Furthermore the children find themselves not being able to attend classes, and services in the community have been suspended” (full bulletin, CDHFBC, 23 February 2011).
Tonalá – criminalization of the work of human-rights defenders
Finally, on 22 February, members of the Autonomous Council of the Coast organized an intermittent blockade and a campaign of information and denunciation in solidarity with the adherents to the Other Campaign from San Sebastián Bachajón and Mitzitón as well as with the political prisoners of La Voz del Amate and those in solidarity who are fasting and hunger-striking. Once the blockade ended, close to 300 federal and state police intervened and detained 19 persons. They subsequently sentenced 3 human-rights defenders accused of the crime of mutiny, including two lawyers and the director of the Digna Ochoa Center for Human Rights (Tonalá), who were arrested as they carried out activities of observation and documentation of possible human-rights violations. The Digna Ochoa CDH denounced the arbitrary detentions, the physical and psychological violence, and the communicational isolation to which they were subjected, among other violations of due process in their case. In a 25 February 2011 bulletin, the CDHFBC manifested its “concern for the utilization of legal actions against human-rights defenders with the end of harassing them legally and discrediting their work of defense and promotion of human rights.” If these three defenders were released on 2 March, it was “in accordance with the law,” which signifies that the investigation continues to be open and could be reopened at any moment. There also exists the legal threat of applying arrest-orders against the members of the Autonomous council of the Coast of Chiapas.
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