The Oaxaca state congress voted April 12 to modify the border with neighboring Chiapas state, complying with a March 2022 order from Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN). A 162,000-hectare territory of montane forest known as the Chimalapas is ostensibly to be returned to Zoque indigenous communities of Oaxaca, who have protested to demand that the state comply with the SCJN ruling. The decision came as the result of a decades-long campaign by the Zoque communities of San Miguel and Santa María Chimalapa. These municipalities filed a case with the SCJN in 2012, arguing that their rightful lands had been invaded by ranchers and loggers from Chiapas with approval of that state’s government. However, the border change also impacts several campesino communities that have since settled in the area from the Chiapas side. These were incorporated as the municipality of Belisario Domínguez by the Chiapas government in 2011. Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE) has stopped issuing credentials to the 20,000 residents of Belisario Domínguez until it is determined whether they are legally citizens of Oaxaca or Chiapas.
The border dispute began in 1950, when the Chiapas government granted five logging concessions to two companies on 100,000 hectares of communal forest traditionally used by the Zoque communities. To legitimize the concessions, these communal territories were designated as national lands within what was then the municipality of Cintalapa, Chiapas. Later, the Chiapas government opened much of these areas to settlement by displaced Tzotzil communities from the state’s conflicted Highlands. In 2018, the Chiapas state congress created a “Special Commission to Address the Chimalapas Case,” which sought to maintain the region as part of Chiapas. However, the commission seems to have been disbanded since the SCJN decision. (Mexico News Daily, Mexico Daily Post, El Heraldo de Chiapas, Cuarto Poder, IstmoPress, Aqui Noticias)
The Chimalapas, which border the Selva El Ocote Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, are currently being hit hard by forest fires, which the remote Zoque communities are mobilizing to extinguish. (El Universal Oaxaca)
Map via Wikimedia Commons