Mexico’s federal government has expropriated more than 14,000 hectares of the Lacandon Selva, the lowland rainforest region of southern Chiapas state. The expropriation, approved by the Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat (SEMARNAT), came in response to a request by the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas for a new protected area adjacent to the existing Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve. The Agrarian Reform Secretary has been authorized to pay some 58 million pesos (about US$5 million) to compensate land-owners. (La Jornada, May 10)
The expropriation decree, published May 8 in the federal government’s Diario Oficial said the affected area included lands titled to the Lacandon Community, which had officially “consented” to the expropriation. More than 500,000 hectares were titled to the Lacandon Community, including Lacandon Maya indigenous inhabitants, by the federal government in 1971. Since then, there have been numerous land conflicts between the Lacandon Maya and Highland Maya settlers in the rainforest.
SEMANART Secretary Juan Elvira Quesada said consultations had been held with communal land-holders in the affected area, who agreed to the expropriation. (Notimex, May 11) But this immediately raises the question of which communities were consulted, as the Selva is a patchwork of overlapping land claims.
The Chiapas environmental group Maderas del Pueblo called the decree a “juridical abberation,” noting that the text fails to precisely delineate the borders of the affected lands. Maderas del Pueblo contested government claims that that the decree had been promulgated with the consent ARIC-I, the campesino organization that controls lands on the edge of the Montes Azules reserve at Candelaria-Amador Hernández.
The Council of Traditional Healers and Midwives of Chiapas (Compitch) issued a statement decrying the “treason of the Lacandon Community,” accusing it of accepting payments for lands it never used or had a legitimate claim to. The Compitch statement called the decree “madness, which has no environmental justification or biological connection,” and charged it is part of a “a much broader plan” to exporpriate the lands of the rainforest settlers. It especially cited recent decisions by the Agrarain Reform Secretariat in favor of the claims of “cacique [political boss] Pedro Chulín,” director of the “paramilitary” organization OPDDIC. (La Jornada, May 13)
The Chiapas Network for the Defense of Land and Territory, made up of ten local groups, issued a statement voicing their “total support” for Lacandon Selva settlements resisting relocation. It also named the OPDDIC and allied Indigenous Campesino Agricultural and Forestal Union (UCIAF) as responsible for “new and ever more violent threats” against the settler communities, including Zapatista “autonomous municipalities.” The Network is made up of the Xinich Committee, Casa de la Mujer Ixim Anzetic, Fray Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada Human Rights Committee, and other Chiapas popular organizations. (Expreso Chiapas, May 11)
The expropriation comes with an escalation of military activity in Chiapas. On May 11, some 500 federal police and army troops, backed up with machine guns and a helicopter, raided houses in in the municpalities of Palenque and Benemérito de Las Américas, on the edge of the Selva, arresting 17 in a crackdown on narco gangs. (APRO, May 11)
Simultaneous with the Lacandon Selva expropriation, the Federal Prosecutor for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) announced a new “Zero Tolerance” campaign against the illegal exploitation of timber in Mexico’s protected areas. The arrest of nine adults and one minor were announced in a PROFEPA operation backed up by over 100 army troops at the Lagunas de Zempoala protected area in the state of Mexico. (La Jornada, May 10)