Chiapas: charges in jungle massacre; land conflicts escalate

Diego Arcos Meneses, an indigenous Chol Maya campesino, has been arrested by Chiapas state police and charged with murder in connection with November’s massacre at the rainforest settlement of Viejo Velasco. The Chol campesino organization Xinich protests his innocence. The Xinich statement says Arcos Meneses, 42, is a health promoter and Jesuit “catechist” (lay worker) at the settlement of Nuevo Tila, Ocosingo municipality. “Regrettably in our country such human gestures can be dangerous: solidarity is criminalized while repression walks with impunity,” says Xinich, the group believed by rights observers to have actually been targeted in the attack. (Xinich statement, March 4)

Meanwhile, land conflicts in the Chiapas rainforest are rapidly escalating, and the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (OPDDIC) is emerging as an aggressive new force. This is the group which both Xinich and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) say was really behind the Viejo Velasco massacre. Especially at issue are lands claimed by OPDDIC as “Ejido Mukulum Bachajon,” now home to the Zapatista “autonomous municipalities” 17 de Noviembre, Vicente Guerrero and Olga Isabel. The lands were taken by the EZLN in the 1994 rebellion, but the Zapatistas say their supporters had earlier been forced from those same lands by adherents of the then-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). OPDDIC, which is in the PRI camp, is now supporting the claims of these ejiditarios (collective farmers), who have apparently won title to the lands by the agrarian reform bureaucracy, despite the expulsions and the fact that the lands have been occupied by others for 13 years.

The Zapatista community of El Nance in 17 de Noviembre autonomous municipality told reporter Hermann Bellnghausen of the daily La Jornada that they anticipate an imminent attack from OPDDIC following a decision by the authorities upholding the rival claim to the lands. (La Jornada, March 5)

The Agrarian Reform Secretariat (SRA), reviewing the case on behalf of OPDDIC, has ruled for the ejiditarios, finding the Zapatista families who have been on the land since 1994 are “invaders.” The local Center for Political Analysis and Socio-Economic Investigation (CAPISE) accuses the SRA of partiality in the case, and complicity with land expropriations. (La Jornada, Feb. 28)

According to the SRA ruling, “the ejido Mukulum was created in September 2002, by request of the National Council of Indigenous Peoples (CNPI). It comprises a surface of 1,764 hectares, duly regularized and certified in December 2005 by the Certification Program of Eijdo Rights and Urban Lots (PROCEDE). The PA [Agrarian Prosecutor], in its character as defensor of the rights of the agrarian subjects, has and will proceed with all legality to find a viable solution to this conflict.” The ruling did not mention that the plaintiff in the case is the OPDDIC. (La Jornada, March 2)

OPDDIC’s attorney, Beltran Ruiz Chacón, reportedly argued to the SRA that the ruling Zapatista body in the region, the Good Government Junta Corazón de Arcoiris de la Esperanza, based at the settlement of Morelia, “does not exist.” (La Jornada, Feb. 26) But the ruling is now in question, as the SRA has opened an investigation into Ruiz Chacón following revelations in the press that he is an employee and union leader at the SRA’s Agrarian Tribunal in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the Chiapas state capital. This is considered a conflict of interest under SRA regulations. (La Jornada, Feb. 28) Furthermore, CAPISE claims evidence that many of the names officially listed as members of Ejido Mukulum Bachajon are invented or are not actually those of local campesinos. (La Jornada, March 3)

Good Government Junta El Camino del Futuro at La Garrucha settlement reports similar conflicts over lands recuperated in 1994 at autonomous municipalities Ricardo Flores Magon, Francisco Villa and others. These lands are claimed by Ejido Egipto, under the control of the PRI-aligned campesino group URCI. It is not said what URCI stands for, but the Junta statement charges it is an arm of the notorious paramilitary group Paz y Justicia, which was responsible for the displacement of thousands of pro-Zapatista peasants in the 1990s. The statement claims Zapatista families have already been threatened at gunpoint and been fired on by armed URCI invaders. (JBG El Camino del Futuro, March 2)

Meanwhile, civil authorities called for military assistance when some 400 hectares were destroyed by forest fires at La Sepultura ecological reserve on Chiapas’ Pacific coast. The fires are believed to have been started by local campesinos clearing land to plant crops. (El Universal, March 3) State authorities say some 40 fires have destroyed nearly 1,000 hectares of forest in Chiapas this dry season (November-March). (La Jornada, March 3) President Felipe Calderon recently announced that army troops will be mobilized to police Mexico’s protected areas.

All sources archived at Chiapas95.

See our last posts on Mexico and Chiapas, the Zapatista struggle and the paramilitary resurgence.