Whoever Wins Chamula Governs Chiapas

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Municipal palace of Chamula, Chiapas

Massacre in San Juan Chamula

La Jornada
San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

After the violent tragedy in San Juan Chamula on the morning of July 23, several questions arise. What’s behind the criminal acts?

According to Arturo Lomelí González, a specialist on the political history of the area: “In reconstructing the political history of San Juan Chamula, we found there has always been an intense dispute over the municipal presidency. It is not the first time that bloody events have occurred in this town. Moreover, confrontations and clashes have been constant.”

Not only that. Today, he adds: “We know of several groups of armed, organized persons with different political and religious affiliations. To this can be added possible personal and community issues.”

Lomeli has observed the evolution of the Chamula people both in the municipality and in their numerous forced exiles to San Cristóbal de Las Casas and Las Margaritas due to conflicts that occurred more than 30 years ago during a period of great communal violence of religious and political nature. It was a commonplace to say that in Chamula, one could only be a member of the PRI and a “traditional” Catholic, opposed to the “liberationist” doctrine promoted by Bishop Samuel Ruiz García beginning in the 1970s.

“The distribution of religious and political cargos [positions of responsibility] has always been an authoritarian act which was accepted as a way of serving the people and God. But previously, the cargos represented an honour instead of an obligation,”  says the researcher.

Lomelí González continues: “As a practice, the PRI remains crucial. The regional importance of Chamula is that it is the largest and has the most political weight of any indigenous municipality. Repeatedly, it has been said that the party that wins Chamula wins the Highlands [region of Chiapas].”

The new multiparty system seemed to confirm that the PRI ingredient was indispensable. In reality, an agreement between the hegemonic groups was always necessary.

The current governor, Manuel Velasco Coello [2012-2018], in a campaign event in Chamula, declared that whoever won Chamula would win the governorship of Chiapas. There is no president or governor who hasn’t received his baton of office wearing the traditional Chuj [local Mayan subgroup] costume and sombrero.

Velasco Coello began his ongoing campaign to become governor as a member of the PVEM [Green Ecologist Party of Mexico] in 2000, with a presence in the media and through tours of the state. He has been a state and federal deputy and senator. He formed a team of young officials and recycled veteran politicians, especially at the municipal level. According to Lomelí, “already before the last campaign, the Chiapas geography ‘was painted green’, based on political organizations of PRI extraction”.

For the municipal elections of 2015, Eduardo Ramírez Aguilar, first as Secretary of State Government and later as president of the PVEM, managed to convince local politicians to compete under the banner of PVEM.

It produced many triumphs, but exacerbated conflicts. The election results for mayor were challenged in the mayoralties of many Indian villages: Tila, Tumbalá, Yajalón, Chilon, Ocosingo, Altamirano. Chanal, Ixtapa, Zinacantán, San Cristóbal. In Oxchuc, the newly elected president was ousted. A state politician told Lomelí: “the pact with the PRI was terminated.”

In Chamula, the same formula was used. Despite the fact that Domingo López González got more than 20,000 votes, twice that of the PRI, he “was ‘invited’ to leave the PRI and compete on behalf of PVEM.”

The researcher says, “Disagreements started immediately, even before López González, who was killed last Saturday, took office. On August 13, 2015, five hundred members of PRI from Chamula demonstrated in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, destroying things in the government palace and battling police with sticks, stones, slingshots and rockets. They damaged the main door and windows. Twelve were arrested. It was the first time the Chamula PRI demonstrated in this way against the government, in the position of being the opposition.”

Translated by Reed Brundage – Dorset Chiapas Solidarity