By Al Giordano
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Chiapas
November 13, 2006
Today, Monday, November 13, presumed paramilitaries committed a massacre in the Montes Azules jungle region of Chiapas, killing nine indigenous women and men and two children.
The assassinated, according to a hand-written document received by Narco News from inside Zapatista civilian communities in the region, are:
- Marta Pérez Pérez
- María Pérez Hernández
- María Nuñez González
- Petrona Nuñez González
- Pedro Nuñez Pérez
- Eliver Benítez Pérez
- Antonio Pérez López
- Dominga Pérez López
- Felicitas Pérez Parcero
- Noilé Benítez (8 años)
- A recently born infant yet to be baptized
The details of the massacre, in a very isolated area, far from urban and media centers, are still sketchy, but the warning signs that violence on this scale was brewing in the region have been known by state and federal officials all along. They were specifically warned by human rights organizations last July and August, but in lieu of taking positive action, their police and other agencies merely aggravated the problems since then.
The dead lived and worked in the Ejido Dr. Manuel Velasco Suarez II, known as Viejo Velasco Suárez, a farming community established in 1984 through an agreement with the Mexican government. They and their previous generations had lived in other parts of the Lacandon Jungle that, in 1972, had been declared a “nature preserve.” Then, as now, the ecological imprimatur turned out to have more to do with looting Mother Nature than protecting her: the creation of the Montes Azules biosphere served to grant the Mexican government monopoly control over exploitation of hardwoods and other natural resources. As part of the environmental show and simulation, 66 families of the Lacandon indigenous group – a population that today numbers in the hundreds, descendants of Maya peoples of the Yucatan Peninsula that had emigrated to Chiapas centuries ago – were declared sole stewards of more than 600,000 hectares of rainforest, but on the condition that they cede economic rights to the government over the land.
Since then, members of other Maya indigenous peoples – primarily Tzeltal and Chol – have lived under siege by the government, its police agencies, its Armed Forces, the Lacandones, and other communities of Tzeltales (from the town of Nueva Palestina) and Choles (from the town of Frontera Corrazal) that had allied with and benefited from the deal. The remaining indigenous communities in the region found themselves under permanent attack since then. Conflicts in the zone led to the 1984 agreement that created Viejo Velasco Suarez and other communally farmed communities, protected, supposedly, by law: Flor de Cacao, Nuevo Tila, Ojo de Agua and San Jacinto Lacanja, all in the same region as the world-renowned ancient Maya temples and ruins at Yaxchilán, near the gigantic Usamacinta River that is Mexico’s border with much of Guatemala.
The eleven deaths in today’s massacre come – as massacres often do – at a time when the Mexican federal government has returned to the bad old days of large scale repression (in Atenco last May, and in Oaxaca at present). At times like this, paramilitaries and police agencies are emboldened by the signals sent from the top, and increase their historic aggressions against those – especially indigenous – communities perceived as being in the way of economic interests.
The federal government of Vicente Fox and his Interior Minister Carlos Abascal (“the Butcher of Oaxaca”) was warned as recently as this year about the time bomb of violence threatening Viejo Velasco Suarez and the other communities in the Montes Azules regions.
On July 19 of this year, the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center issued an alert titled “Threats of Eviction and Harrassment Against Indigenous Peoples in the Lacandon Jungle.” Known as “the Frayba Center,” this organization was founded by former Catholic Bishop Samuel Ruíz and is respected throughout the world as thorough and honest in its work.
The human rights organization alerted that it had received reports that:
“…on Saturday, July 14, the (state of Chiapas) Public Security police installed itself near the community of Ojo de Agua in El Progreso, threatening to violently evict the families of that community, families that are defending their right to the land as indigenous peoples… We who live in San Jacinto Lacanja, Flor de Cacao and Viejo Velasco are also threatened with eviction.”
The Frayba Center stated in its July 19 alert:
“In the opinion of Frayba this is an historic problem with a series of irregularities and clumsiness by institutions and functionaries that disregard previous agreements, manipulate parties to the conflict generating more problems, threaten violent eviction to force the communities and organizations to ‘sit down and negotiate” or don’t understand the commitments assumed during negotiations with the communities in dispute.”
The Frayba Center demanded that government authorities take measures to “guarantee the personal security and integrity of the families” of the four threatened indigenous communities, that they respect the 1984 agreement and others that granted them their lands, and that international treaties guaranteeing such protections for indigenous peoples be respected.
A few weeks later, representatives of that organization, together with a delegation of North Americans from Global Exchange, as well as the NGOs Maderas del Pueblo (“Hardwoods of the People”) and Xi’ Nich, went on a fact-finding mission to the afflicted communities. Global Exchange issued a detailed seven page report, which explains much of the background history of the conflict and, also, interestingly, the difficulties and obstacles presented to their attempts to visit the communities.
The report concluded:
“While the exact reasons for the exclusion of these four communities from the land legalization process are unclear, geographical and political factors offer an important clue. Three of the communities—Flor de Cacao, San Jacinto Lacanja, Ojo de Agua el Progreso—are located in a terrain where there are still precious woods that the Lacandon community wants to exploit, according to Miguel Angel García from Maderas del Pueblo. They are also on the banks of the Usumacinta River, one of the most important sources of pristine drinking water in the region. “Plan Puebla-Panama,” the government’s proposal for economic “modernization” for the country, also contemplates the construction of hydroelectric dams on the Usumacinta. Additionally, many of the individuals who testified believe the reason that the Lacandon community and comuneros want the land for themselves is so they can develop it for tourism purposes, as the archaeological site of Yaxchilan is located nearby, and the Lacandon community engages heavily in the tourism business. The fourth community, Viejo Velasco, because of its affiliations with the EZLN, also is likely perceived by the Mexican government to be an impediment to the maximization of profit. Indeed, shortly after our visit to El Desempeño, government officials violently evicted the EZLN civilian support base community Chol de Tumbala that was similarly in the process of securing their land claims. Federal, state, and local government officials should take immediate steps to guarantee the integrity and safety of Ojo de Agua El Progreso, Flor de Cacao, San Jacinto Lacanja, and Viejo Velasco. These communities are entitled—under both the covenant of 1984 and the agreements reached at the Limonar roundtable—to land security. The local, state, and federal government should immediately take action to stop the threatened illegal evictions and restore the families who have fled to their lands, if those families wish. Fairness and justice demand nothing less.”
The international human rights organization sent its findings to Mexican president Vicente Fox, his Interior Minister Carlos Abascal, to Chiapas Governor Pablo Salazar Mendiguchía and various bureaucrats under each of them.
Instead of taking action to correct the wrongs, the state and federal governments set in motion the events – and gave signals that would be received as impunity by the opponents of these communities that have violently threatened them – that brought about, today, the massacre of eleven indigenous civilians.
According to a hand-written chronology of the events since then, received today by Narco News, authored by members of the afflicted communities, the aggressions against them increased after the Fox and Salazar governments were informed:
- September 19: “At 4:30 p.m. comuneros from Nueva Palestina came armed with machetes, rifles, shovels, pickaxes and stones.” They destroyed the home of one family. At 8 p.m. they shot bullets into a building where women and children slept.
- October 4: Comuneros from Nueva Palestina attacked two farmers in their bean field with guns, destroying the crops.
- October 8: Members of the government-allied Nueva Palestina community met and agreed to attack the inhabitants Viejo Velasco Suarez.
- October 9: The attack was carried out and the home of one family razed; that afternoon they kidnapped a community member who was “seriously wounded” in the altercation.
And in another handwritten document sent to Narco News, dated Saturday, November 11, community members explain that the comuneros from Nueva Palestina shut off their water supply, leading the community of Viejo Velasco Suarez to turn the water back on and expel eleven of the occupying comuneros from their community. The document contains the names and signatures of the 11 men expelled.
“We ask the Palestinas, the state and federal governments, to respect this agreement to cease the violence in both parts of our community. We hold the government responsible for anything that happens…
“On Wednesday, November 1, 2006, the Palestinas began to close the tap for piped water through today, Saturday, November 11 of this year. That is why the original groups of this community take the following action… we totally disassociate ourselves from the Palestina groups and we don’t want them to keep harassing us in this community of Viejo Velasco, where each one of them signs his agreement to leave and to never return so as not to cause more problems with the original residents.”
According to an email just received from the families of the dead:
“The aggressors have been residents of the community of Nueva Palestina, and in common with the sad occurrences of the Acteal Massacre (of December 22, 1997, also in Chiapas) the families of the victims confirm that there are now various police roadblocks put up around them.”
According to a communiqué tonight from Maderas del Pueblo, the attackers were from Nueva Palestina, and they came at dawn: “four subcomuneros from the aggressor group who came to the community strongly armed with intentions of violently evicting the families that lived there.”
Two days later, today, six women, three men, and two children from this afflicted community are dead. At press time, various human rights organizations and the Good Government Council in Roberto Barrios of the civilian bases of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials), as well as the Other Journalism with the Other Campaign, are investigating the details of another massacre forewarned.
Narco News: Massacre in Chiapas: Six Women, Three Men, Two Children, Assassinated in Montes Azules