By Aldo Santiago
The space for coordination and struggle Dignified Seed (Semilla Digna) of the Peoples of Chiapas, brings together some of the communities, families and groups of adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle of the EZLN. Formed by the community of San Francisco, the organized family El Chivero (Teopisca), the organized families of San Isidro Ocotal, Candelaria el Alto, the community of Cruztón and San Isidro de los Laureles (Venustiano Carranza) and the organized family of Alcanfores (San Cristobal de las Casas), as well as the Working Group No estamos todxs, they are all also members of the Indigenous National Congress. As examples of organization and struggle in the reclamation of land from landholders in Chiapas, the communities of Cruztón and San Isidro de los Laureles have suffered a wave of repression in recent days.
They were shooting to kill
On December 20, 2015, members of the Tzotzil community of San Isidro de los Laureles took possession of a total of 165 hectares in the municipality of Venustiano Carranza. The territory used for cattle and (sugar) cane growing, monopolized by caciques who dominate the sugar business in the region, was recovered because “these lands were worked by our grandparents and parents who were indentured peons. They worked since 1940 for a minimal wage, and they have never been given benefits and bonuses. Since we now have nowhere to live or work for the livelihood of our families as indigenous, we recuperated the lands for our families,” said the community members who are also adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, after receiving threats of eviction on subsequent days.
After 83 days defending the territory, in the morning of May 12, 2016, about 35 trucks with policemen and white guards entered the lands to violently evict the community of San Isidro de los Laureles. Among the civilians responsible for the aggression is Octavin Albores, a relative of the former governor Roberto Albores Guillen, who shot to kill with high-calibre weapons. “We then withdrew because it was already too much, we were already seeing the bullets passing close to us, and we felt death, the bullets were close to our heads, but thankfully nobody was hurt,” recounts a member of the Tzotzil community.
Among the material losses were almost 70 hectares of cornfield ready to harvest, which are being cut and taken away by the attackers. Nevertheless, after trying three times while they were being shot at, the 50 organized families managed to reposition themselves in the land of Tres Picos (30 hectares,) property of Albores, from where they are building strategies to recover the remaining 135 hectares, packed with white guards, owned by Francisco and Rodrigo Ruiz, relatives of Jesús Alejo Orantes Ruíz, leader for 23 years of the Local Union of Producers of Sugarcane (CNC) based in the Pujiltic mill, the third largest sugar producer in the country, belonging to the group Zucarmex that controls other mills in Veracruz and Jalisco.
Orantes Ruiz, in his turn, inherited the position of cacique from his father Carmen Orantes, who passed down to him control of PRI affiliated organizations such as the National Campesino Confederation and the National Confederation of Rural Producers. A member of the cacique family Los Orantes, he also owns 40 thousand hectares in the sugarcane region which includes the municipalities of Venustiano Carranza, Villas las Rosas, Socoltenango, La Concordia and Tzimol, among other locations where there are six thousand cane producers altogether.
Considered the country’s richest sugar cane producer, Orantes Ruiz, who is also a former local PRI deputy, has kept the majority of the ejidal commissioners and municipal authorities within his area of influence under his control, which has allowed him to avoid responsibility for crimes such as the fraud of nearly three million pesos against cane producers in the municipalities of Venustiano Carranza, Tzimol, Las Rosas and Socoltenango.
According to a publication by Notimex in June 2011, the fraud materialized through unjustified and arbitrary deductions made by Alejo Orantes and the businesspeople of the Pujiltic mill against campesinos at the end of the agricultural cycle, for supplies received during the period of planting, harvesting and delivery to the industry.
It is the custom for Orantes Ruiz to take over the production of the cane and, on the pretext of inputs delivered, only pay up to 40 per cent of the total value of the cane delivered to the mill, approximately 20 thousand tons of cane per production cycle, of which 53 percent of the value is paid to the campesinos, while accounting for the remaining 47 percent as alleged discounts. Coupled with the fact that the campesinos are not allowed to take their cane production to market with other buyers in the country, the fraud committed by Orantes violates the livelihoods of thousands of farming families.
The memory of almost 24 years ago, after the EZLN uprising, when they were evicted from these same lands by the shore (marina), was revived on 12th May last, when the caciques tried to retake the territory where communities carry out the work of construction of their autonomy. Neither the owners nor government officials have approached the adherents to the Sixth of los Laureles to reclaim the lands or to try to negotiate with them; instead they speak with the language of violence that supports the dispossession of ancestral lands in this region of Chiapas.
If they do not give justice, we will take it with our own hands
Days after the celebration of the ninth anniversary of the recovery of 249 hectares of their lands, the people of Cruztón, a community in Los Altos de Chiapas, in the municipality of Venustiano Carranza, received the news that a member of the organization had been detained and tortured by the group Nuevo Guadalupe Victoria in the community of the same name. The origin of the incident dates back to 21st March, when they blocked the way to the cemetery (panteón: pantheon or mausoleum), a sacred place for the families.
Members of the community of Cruztón told how the denuncia which was raised in the Public Ministry was ignored. “Our own hands will be the ones that do justice, as we told the MP, if they do not do justice, what they have to expect is that the dead will be raised, because it is not right, it is unfair what they are doing, the cemetery is ours, the land is ours, it is our territory, it is ours by right, and will be ours whatever it costs.”
The history of attacks against the community of Cruztón extends from the blocking of the road that leads to their village, to the invasion of small holdings of five hectares by the same group from Guadalupe Victoria, without those responsible for the constant harassment yet being prosecuted and punished. “They even accused us of agreeing with the gringos to exploit the minerals (on the hill of the Mispia where they are trying to extract gold;) now we can see that Guadalupe Victoria is very conflicted; now our route to the pantheon has been closed to us and this process is now leading to much crime; the authorities say they are not stuffed, but yes they are stuffed, as they know perfectly well,” explains a member of Cruztón.
Finally, on 8th May last, inhabitants of the Ejido San Sebastián Bachajón, which is located in the middle of the jungle in the Zapatista region of San José en Rebeldía, denounced the aggression against Esteban Jiménez Gómez and his family by the paramilitary group led by Carlos Jiménez Gómez and consisting of his sons, who also serve as state police, acting with impunity, protected by the police structure of the region.
The people who are adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle in Bachajón struggle to defend their territory against the government’s drive to impose a tourism megaproject in the region of Agua Azul. During the process of resistance, since 2008, in demand of the legitimate use and enjoyment of their territory by two thousand Bachajón ejidatarios, the coordinators of the Sixth, Juan Carlos Gómez Silvano (2014) and Juan Vazquez Guzman (2013,) have been killed. As of today, those responsible for the killings have not been punished.