An Interview with Santiago Martinez of Amador Hernández, Chiapas

Santiago Martinez collecting medicinal plants Photo; Jeff Conant

Santiago Martinez is a community health worker from the village of Amador Hernández in the Lacandon jungle of Chiapas, Mexico. Amador Hernández, a village of about 1500 people, sits at the biological center of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, and at the edge of a roughly 500,000 hectare area of jungle known as the Lacandon Community Zone, which was deeded to sixty-six families from the Lacandon tribe, and a few communities of the Tzeltal and Ch’ol ethnicities, in the 1970’s. The conflicts that have ensued since then have given birth to many local campesino and indigenous organizations, the most famous of which is the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

The community of Amador Hernández is historically allied with the Zapatista movement, and is now facing a new threat: the delineation of the Lacandon Border (la brecha Lacandona), which may force the community to abandon its territory, due to the fact that the villagers have never had legal title to the land they occupy.

On March 25, 2011, in Amador Hernández, I had the chance to speak with Santiago about the situation. Following is a part of the interview I conducted with him. The text of the interview is transcribed and translated, but is edited minimally, with little background, in the hope that Santiago’s perspective might come through as clearly as possible. – Jeff Conant

Jeff Conant: There are plans for the ‘brecha lacandona’ to pass through your community. What is the brecha lacandona, and how will it affect your village, Amador Hernández?

Santiago Martinez: The brecha lacandona came to be in the year 1972. It hasn’t just appeared as a problem today, but was a problem born many years ago, in our grandparents’ time. Our parents and grandparents had to confront it, they organized, and they never allowed it to be completed. The original intention was that gringo companies had to define the limits of what is called the Lacandon Community, because these companies, one was called Maderera Maya, wanted to be able to extract precious wood, especially Mahogany. But there was no area defined where they could extract the wood from. At that time, our parents did not allow the brecha to be drawn, because they didn’t want any company taking out wood. Not on this side of the brecha, and not on that side. They had to be very organized, and they managed to prevent the brecha, always with the idea that we were born on this land, and on this land we will die.

Montes Azules from above Photo: Jeff Conant

JC: It appears that the brecha lacandona is the local manifestation of the REDD Program [Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation]. What do you know about REDD? What is REDD?

Santiago Martinez: Supposedly, from what we’ve heard about this REDD program, it’s a global program that’s led by the rich people of the world, the businessmen, the Europeans. They think because they’re rich and they have a lot of resources, they can do whatever they feel like. We’ve heard that REDD is a program that the government is promoting to do what they call “capturing carbon,” and conserving the jungle. As indigenous people, we’re accustomed to working in the milpa [the traditional agricultural plot of maize, beans and other native crops], but now the rich are saying to us, it’s no good to work in the milpa, that we’re destroying the jungle, that when we make the milpa by burning in the forest, we are causing contamination. This is what they tell us.

But we make our milpa every year, and those who are supporting REDD, they came up with the idea of REDD because of the change in the climate, because of flooding, because of too much heat, because people are losing their crops, so they came to ask, what is the main problem causing climate change? And they decided that it had to do with us, that we cut down the forest, and with that idea they went and developed this program.

But we, as indigenous peoples, since many years ago, since the beginning of the brecha lacandona, they’ve always blamed us, they’ve always tried to find ways to prove that we’re the cause of the problem, but in reality we are not what they say we are. In this program they’re saying again that we’re destroying the jungle, so we need to stop planting our milpa. They say this is the main cause of climate change. But the climate, just as much global warming – we haven’t done this ourselves, it’s the fault of the factories, of cars, of industrial production in many countries. In contrast, what we do is get around by walking, we move our products on horseback, on mules, and we produce what we need to eat ourselves. In exchange, they need to use gasoline, in the case of the industries, they’re the ones who burn petroleum everyday, and this is the main source of pollution and of climate change.

Photo: Jeff Conant

They won’t stop this in one day. And that’s why we know that this REDD program that they’re pushing on us, that they are the guilty ones for what the world is suffering. We’re seeing that people are suffering from floods, from being forced off their lands, from vast changes in their lives, but those who have caused it aren’t us, it’s them. They are promoting the idea of giving carbon credits to these industries, so they can continue contaminating.

JC: If you could speak with the Governor of Chiapas, what would you tell him?

Santiago Martinez: If I had the chance to speak with the governor, I’d tell him that we’re extremely angry for the injustice that they’re forcing on us, and for the lies that they’re telling us. We’d tell him that we know that he’s not just pushing these programs here in the area of Montes Azules, but also in Marqués de Comillas [a municipality to the south and east of Montes Azules, on the border with Guatemala]. There, Governor Juan Sabines is promoting projects of African oil palm so that they can take the oil and use it to make fuel. They’re doing this because they think one day soon the petroleum will run out, and this is a good business for them. So they’re saying it’s also a good business for the indigenous people, that instead of planting maize, we should plant African palm. But we’ve talked to the people who are planting it, and they’re having a hard time feeding themselves and living as they did before, because the price isn’t as good as the government told them it would be.

So, the governor always goes around speaking in other states, in other places; for example, we know that he went to the state of California in the United States to promote the sales of carbon credits, and to the part of Brazil called Acre. We know he goes around selling all these projects, but without being the one who owns the land. If I go around selling someone else’s home out from under him, well, he’s going to get angry. So, for that reason, since he goes around selling our land, our very Mother that supports us, well, it makes us very angry. If we had the opportunity to speak with him, this is what we would say.

Village scene, Amador Hernández Photo: Jeff Conant

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