Systematic violence against the municipality of Pantelhó in Chiapas
The EZLN's Clandestine Committee had already warned a few days ago that Chiapas was on the brink of civil war.
After thousands of residents in the Chiapas highlands have been driven from their villages by increased paramilitary violence, the situation is escalating as feared.
The EZLN's Clandestine Committee had already warned a few days ago that Chiapas was on the brink of civil war. Due to the apparent tolerance and support of the state and federal government for paramilitary groups and militias, the situation, as the latest images from Chiapas show, is increasingly out of control. Kidnappings, evictions and armed ambushes against civilians are increasing by the day.
The situation in Chiapas is extremely tense. Medya TV conducted an interview with Manuel Pérez Gómez, a member of the NGO Serapaz de Chiapas, who explained the background to this conflict.
Since 1994, Chiapas has become internationally known through the Zapatistas' uprising against this direct and structural violence. Currently, the municipality of Pantelhó is an emblematic case and a reflection of the systemic violence of which the indigenous communities of Chiapas and all of Mexico are victims. Pantelhó is one of the 124 municipalities of the state of Chiapas. It is located in the highlands of the state, north of San Cristóbal de las Casas, and more than 80 communities belong to this municipality.
In these days and moments, hundreds of people are once again fleeing the municipality, especially women, children and the elderly, for fear of new waves of violence that could accompany the transfer of power in the municipality next Friday, 1st of October.
We interviewed Manuel Pérez Gómez from Chiapas, a staff member of the NGO SERAPAZ in Chiapas. Manuel Pérez Gómez is from the Mayan Tsotsil people of San Andrés Larrainzar Chiapas, and has been working for three years with the NGO Serapaz, which has two offices, one in Ocosingo and the other in San Cristobal, in the highlands of Chiapas, where the above-mentioned district of Pantheló is located.
Apart from the age-old crisis and structural violence in Chiapas, the situation has worsened around the municipal elections on 6 June this year. Was it possible to hold the 6 June elections in Chiapas in a regular manner?
Before 6 June, there was information and disagreement due to numerous violations by the governor and the incumbent community leaders. Before that, more or less from May on, there were protests where people from the municipalities and the district capitals denounced that the incumbents at that time played a very important role in appointing their candidates for the future municipal councils. That is, people were appointed who were trusted by the incumbents and also by the governor. And that made the situation very tense, because there were demonstrations where men and women in the different localities said: we don't want this kind of person as municipal president!
We can mention Tila in the north of Chiapas, for example, also Carranza, Pantheló, Chenalhó, Aldama, San Andrés Larráinzar, San Cristobal de las Casas, Comitán, Palenque and other places. Everywhere there, the people did not want to be governed by people they knew and were imposed on them. That's why they started demonstrating against it, but were told by the government or the previous incumbents that this or that person must stay as a candidate for the future municipal presidency.
As far as we know, there was also violence in connection with the elections on 6th of June.
Yes, there was violence. For example, in the rural school of Mactumactza in Tuxtla Gutierrez in Chiapas, where they also expressed their rejection against those practices and that was met with violence. In different parts of the state there were burnings of ballot boxes, theft of ballot papers, they also filled in the ballot papers for others, they manipulated people and they used a lot of money to buy people's votes. And so there was a lot of tension and violence in different places.
To go specifically to the case of Pantheló: What is the conflict in Pantheló, who are the opponents there?
The conflict specifically in Pantheló is due to the fact that after a long time, more than 20 years of demonstrating and fighting, many of the 86 communities did not agree that the municipality was governed by political authorities closely linked to organised crime. So they organised themselves and said we want to be governed by dignified, trustworthy people.
And so they started to demand that Raquel Trujillo, who belongs to organised crime in Pantheló district, should not be the new district president.
And they demanded to be able to appoint their officials through their own customs and traditions. Authorities for all of the 86 municipalities belonging to the district: the commissioners, the public servants, some ecclesiastical authorities, some of the current district councillors.
The people want to change that, and that's why from now on they want to choose the 20 members of the district council themselves, so that the situation calms down and there is no more violence in this region.
We have heard that there is some kind of round table negotiation. How many such meetings have already taken place, who are the participants and what is still pending?
So far, two meetings have been held before the state congress appoints the new office bearers who are already waiting in the wings.
People wanted to be heard by the state government, two meetings have already taken place, others are still pending. But everyone is still waiting for the final results. On one side sits the government, on the other the diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas, which has set up a commission, and the parish priest of Pantheló, Father Marcelo, who is a human rights defender and very involved in the social pastoral work of the diocese. Marcelo, who is a human rights defender and very active in the social pastoral work of the diocese, is looking for ways to calm the violence in this region through the round tables that have been opened.
At the moment, they have been interrupted because they are waiting for the guidelines from the new district government. We understand that the situation is tense at the moment and that these talks have been suspended until further notice.
On 1 October there will be a change of incumbents in the municipality of Pantheló. What is feared, what is the concern of the people there?
People in Pantheló are worried that the president-elect, Raquel Trujillo, is saying in videos and messages, "I will take the position, from the first of October I will be district president of Pantheló".
People fear. A couple of days ago, people from Pantheló started to flee to other villages and towns for fear of revenge, for fear that many things could be done to them. Many have fled to the Abejas in Acteal. Currently, already 67 people have left. More than 90 people have also fled to San Cristobal. It is feared that there could be bloodshed again, so people are leaving.
And that worries us, because the new district government will not calm the situation at all, but rather make it worse. It's not even 1st of October and no one has been sworn in yet, and there are already displaced people, so that worries us even more.
What do citizens want from a future district administration?
They demand to be listened to, to be taken care of, to have the planned projects carried out, because the district with its 86 communities has a lot of money at its disposal. But it is not managed in the sense of the communities. Rather, the resources are diverted for personal purposes or for certain groups, but not for the communities that are among the poorest.
Public resources have not been well managed. The communities have been demanding this for a long time, but they have not listened to us, they have not acted on it, they have never obeyed the demands of the people.
And what about the idea of an indigenous district council taking office according to their own customs?
Ever since Pantheló's deputy district president (and wife of the now power-hungry Raquel Trujillo) was asked to resign and complied on 9 August, along with seven of her district councillors, the community has elected its own district council. The Chiapas State House of Representatives agreed for 44 days, and the transitional government's term ends on 30 September. But the people want to continue with this district council for the next three-year term. The current district council, elected according to indigenous customs, enjoys the trust of the people, unlike those appointed and imposed by a political party.
Manuel, what are the wishes you can give to the viewers of this programme? What is most needed now in Chiapas and especially in your region?
1. In general, in the highlands of Chiapas, that is, in the districts of Pantheló, Simojovel, Chenaló, etc., to guarantee the physical integrity of the indigenous peoples of the Maya Tsotsil and Tseltal.
2. To demand that Alejandro Gertz Manero, Attorney General of the Republic, and Raciel López Salazar, Attorney General of the State of Chiapas, conduct an independent, immediate, comprehensive and impartial investigation into the murder of Simón Pedro Pérez López, in order to identify the intellectual and material perpetrators, bring them before a competent court and apply the appropriate criminal sanctions. It is also necessary to investigate the links between officials and organised crime in the Pantelhó district, which are responsible for the tense situation of the Maya Tsotsil and Tseltal communities. The investigation should focus on the hypothesis that the murder of Simón Pedro was due to his activities as a human rights defender, as also provided for by international human rights standards.
3. The immediate cessation of all types of harassment against defenders of Mother Earth and Territory and, in general, against all human rights defenders in Mexico. Attacks, disappearances and murders are becoming more frequent and this is very worrying. We urgently demand to be heard at the national and international level.
And that these defenders can speak out in the face of reality and say something about what we have seen recently.
These are the urgent demands and we ask the different media to also spread and pass on this information so that people know what is going on.
Because we don't want another Acteal like in 1997, when they massacred 45 innocent brothers and sisters. We don't want that anymore, Ya Basta! - enough is enough!
We immediately call on the different national and international governments, the Mexican government, especially the state government of Chiapas, to take up these petitions and we demand that our voice be heard.
Chiapas is a state in southeastern Mexico, about the size of Austria, with 4.8 million inhabitants, about one third of whom belong to indigenous peoples of different ethnic groups.
Indigenous peoples in Chiapas have always been marginalised, excluded and suffered from structural and historical discrimination. Its indigenous population is among the poorest, not only in Mexico, but in all of Latin America.
The attempt to dispossess them of their lands and territories is accompanied by processes of territorial militarisation, forced displacement through the implementation of mega-projects, extreme poverty and the presence of organised crime. In recent years, this nightmare has been exacerbated by the new migratory routes from South and Central America to the USA, where not only dirty deals are made with migrants, but also with drugs, organs, prostitution, etc.