In San Sebastián Bachajón, Chiapas, Mexico, the impunity given to the attackers has not stopped the ejidatarios’ (common landholders’) resistance to the dispossession of their lands. In recognition of the first anniversary of the assassination of community leader and defender of the land, Juan Vázquez Guzmán, “Two Weeks of Worldwide Action: Juan Vázquez Guzmán lives! The Bachajón struggle continues!” have been called, from Thursday, April 24 to Thursday, May 8, 2014. As part of this initiative, the screening of the video “Bachajón – Dispossession is death, Life is resistance” is being promoted internationally.
In San Sebastián Bachajón, Chiapas, Mexico, the impunity given to the attackers has not stopped the ejidatarios’ (common landholders’) resistance to the dispossession of their lands.
The bad government, say the ejidatarios: “uses public forces, such as the state preventive police, the army and the federal police to terrorize communities and so imposes terror to achieve its goals.”
In recognition of the first anniversary of the assassination of community leader and defender of the land, Juan Vázquez Guzmán, “Two Weeks of Worldwide Action: Juan Vázquez Guzmán lives! The Bachajón struggle continues!” have been called, from Thursday, April 24 to Thursday, May 8, 2014. As part of this initiative, the screening of the video “Bachajón – Dispossession is death, Life is resistance” is being promoted internationally.
“What the government does is send people to jail or order their killing like Juan Vázquez Guzmán. Our struggle is not for economic or political power. It is for the people, the mother earth and the territory.” – Marcelo Mariano López, Bachajón
On April 24, 2013, Juan Vázquez Guzmán, much-loved spokesperson and activist in defense of the people, the land and the territory of the ejido (communal landholding) of San Sebastián Bachajón, was killed with six gunshots in the doorway of his home, in what was widely interpreted as a political assassination. His killers, and those who ordered his killing, remain unpunished, and the plans of the government and corporations to dispossess the ejidatarios of their territory, in order to construct a luxury tourist development, continue. But the indigenous Tzeltal community of San Sebastián Bachajón is staying organized, carrying on the struggle for their rights and keeping alive the memory of Juan Vázquez Guzmán and his work in the service of his people.
The Struggle for the Land
Founded in 1980 by the original Tzeltal inhabitants, the ejido San Sebastián Bachajón is situated in the municipality of Chilón, in Chiapas, south-east Mexico. It is, at 70,000 hectares, one of the largest ejidos in the country, in an area of great biodiversity and natural beauty. The land is rich in natural resources, verdant jungle, wildlife and water. The spectacular waterfalls of Agua Azul, renowned for the turquoise colour of their water at certain times of year, crash and thunder in the neighbouring municipality of Tumbalá, but to gain access to the “Ecotourism Centre” there it is necessary to cross through the ejido of Bachajón, which is why an intense conflict has arisen.
As part of the Plan Mesoamerica, the Mexican government, in consultation with transnational corporations, has drawn up plans, through the National Tourism Foundation (FONATUR), for the Palenque Integrally Planned Centre (CIPP), a network of infrastructure and services through which the natural and archaeological attractions will be used to promote an elite tourism, resulting in the displacement of the indigenous population. Agua Azul is to be the focus of this development, with very expensive luxury hotels accessed by helicopter, which the ejidatarios describe as: “neoliberal tourism projects which are only for the rich, and for which we will only carry the luggage and clean the toilets.” This plan also involves a highway from San Cristóbal de las Casas to Palenque, and the new international airport at Palenque, which was inaugurated on February 12, 2014 by Manuel Velasco Coello, governor of Chiapas, and Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico.
Much of the land worked by the ejidatarios is reclaimed land, recuperated from large ranchers and landowners in 1994. To the indigenous peoples land is everything – it is the mother earth which gives them life and feeds them, it is their ancestors, their history, their culture, their honour, their identity. The attempts over the last eight years to strip them of their communally owned and worked territory have been relentless, marked by threats, violence, terror, imprisonment, torture, paramilitary activity, and a constant police and military presence.
The ejidatarios described their situation in a communiqué on 17 August, 2013: “The struggle of our people of San Sebastian Bachajón is to conserve our indigenous territory which we inherited from our ancestors, it is where we live, it gives us life and identity. We are defending our land with our lives if necessary, against the ambition of the government and of the lords of money who want to build luxury hotels, golf courses and runways for rich tourists, at the cost of the exploitation, marginalization and discrimination of our people; faced with the defence we have mounted against these projects the government has had only one answer: repression, imprisonment and death.”
History of Resistance
“The Tzeltales are a combative people”, says their lawyer Ricardo Lagunes Gasca in the film ‘Bachajón – Dispossession is death. Life is resistance,’ “they have always defended and sought to keep control of their territory.” On March 19, 2007, many of the ejidatarios of San Sebastian Bachajón declared themselves adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle, an initiative promoted by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). They marked this action by appointing their own authorities, as the ejidal officials were very close to the government. As they put it in a communique: “Since 2007 the bad government has intervened in the internal life of our community to impose ejidal representatives as they please, who serve them as if they were their minions to defend the interests of the capitalists and not those of the indigenous people.”
Following this decision in 2007, the adherents decided to exert their right as original peoples to free determination over their land and its resources, and erected a tollbooth in their territory where tourists would pay to visit the Agua Azul waterfalls. It was decided in their assembly what to do with the money taken. Mainly, they say, it was used for the sick, and to support families in need, but this money was not just used for the adherents to the Sixth Declaration, it was available to every member of the community who was experiencing hard times, including the government supporters.
The tollbooth became a focal point for the conflict. There was a violent eviction in 2009. The booth was reclaimed, but on February 2, 2011, in a huge operation, police and armed political party supporters again evicted the ejidatarios and 117 people were arrested. At this time, the authorities not only took over control of the tollbooth, they also illegally seized 2,590 square metres of communally owned lands.
As a result, in March 2011, the ejidatarios filed a petition for amparo (legal protection) in defence of their territory, a case that has still not been resolved. In January and March 2014, the ejidatarios denounced that the government-supporting authorities of ejido were attempting, through fraud and deception, to seek the annulment of the case for amparo 274/2011. On 5th February 2014 the ejidatarios adherents to the Sixth Declaration demanded, before the Unitary Agricultural Tribunal in Comitán, the annulment of the appointment of the ejidal commissioner Alejandro Moreno Gómez, and the other officialist ejidal authorities, for their failure to act in accordance with the Agrarian Law and the traditional laws of the community. The case remains ongoing.
It is in this context that the political murder of Juan Vázquez Guzmán must be set. Active in the defence of the land and territory of Bachajón since 2006, on April 18, 2010, he was made Secretary General of the three centres of the ejido. “People sought him out a lot for his skills and abilities to relate to the world of the Caxlanes (white people, non-indigenous),” said Lagune Gasca, “to defend and translate the problems of the indigenous communities and to put them on the table of the authorities”.
A Second Assassination
On March 21st, 2014, Juan Carlos Gómez Silvano, a regional coordinator for the Sixth in Bachajón, was ambushed and killed with over twenty gunshots. At the time of his death he was travelling to his community of Virgen de Dolores, which, along with the community of Nah Choj, was founded by the adherents to the Sixth Declaration in 2010.
In the film, ‘Land and Resistance in San Sebastián Bachajón’, the ejidatarios describe the recuperation of the lands of Virgen de Dolores. “On 31 December 2009 we ‘entered’ the lands which the Caxlanes had taken from us, but really these lands did not belong to them but to our ancestors, so we their children decided to recover them”….” the Caxlanes were not working the lands which they stole, just using them for livestock. Now, in contrast, we work with the machete, we grow corn, plant coffee, yams, squash, banana…and to poor people who suffer like us we give a bit of help sometimes to support them a little.” “Up to now, we have not bought anything, we harvest everything here in this land.” “The land is like our mother, we live here, we eat here, we die here and then we remain here.”
“Compañero Juan Carlos Gómez Silvano,” say the ejidatarios in a communiqué of 31 March, “is part of the foundation and construction of autonomy in the Virgen de Dolores community, his work for the organization and the community will never be forgotten because we carry it in our hearts…. Ever since we founded the communities of Nah Choj and Virgen de Dolores in 2010, our organization has been harassed at various times by the army and state preventive police, threatening us with eviction…..
“The bad government wants to finish us off completely by assassinating our compañeros, using their paramilitary gunmen, who with complete impunity, whether by night or in the full light of day, are able to vilely murder our compañeros who are working and struggling to construct a world in which other worlds fit.”
Dispossession and Repression Throughout Mexico
Bachajón’s lawyer emphasises that the strategies of dispossession are the same throughout Mexico. “The government arrives, divides the communities, buys leaders or ejidatarios, undermines struggles, promotes one group and treats it as legitimate, represses, imprisons and kills those who do not agree with it.” He continues: “With repression and impunity, the State is seeking a way to establish dispossession and privatization of indigenous territories to ensure that land is handed over for the implementation of large-scale projects, designed by international private corporations or organizations. This is an integral part of the strategy of dispossession of indigenous peoples.” This strategy can be seen a continuation of the 522-year long racist attack against indigenous people, subjecting them to persecution, discrimination and marginalisation; it is also another instance of ‘accumulation by dispossession’.
A recently-released report by Global Witness reveals a surge in the killing of activists protecting land rights and the environment over the past decade, with nearly three times as many deaths in 2012 as there were10 years previously. Between 2002 and 2013, at least 908 activists were killed in 35 countries, with only 10 convictions. The death rate has risen in the past four years to an average of two activists a week.
This report highlights what has become a campaign of terror against defenders of territory, using incarceration and assassination as its weapons. The bad government, say the ejidatarios: “uses public forces, such as the state preventive police, the army and the federal police to terrorize communities and so imposes terror to achieve its goals.” It “wants to fill our lands with death and fear, so we get tired and no longer continue to defend our life, the people, our mother earth.”
Juan Vázquez Guzmán – Where They Sow Fear, They Also Sow Resistance
In the video promoted by the campaign, the ejidatario Domingo Pérez explains that for the people of San Sebastián Bachajón Juan is not dead, he still lives with them in the struggle for land, territory, freedom and justice. They can never forget him or give up the struggle because he is struggling beside them. “What will we teach our children? And to our children’s children?” “Juan lives, so the struggle of Bachajon lives!”
In their contribution to the Indigenous National Congress, Juan’s people said: “We know that the lords of money and power are planning everywhere, day and night, how to end our world, wanting us and all we represent to disappear. We who are indigenous struggle to continue to be what we are, to build our own way of life and to conserve our territory, defending it from the ambition of those above, because to them we are only an obstacle to their being increasingly rich and powerful; they order the killing of our brothers, dignified men and women who fight to defend the Mother Earth, they imprison us, torture us and make us disappear, but they forget that we are one, that we are not alone and that as children of the earth our roots are still alive in spite of all the death that they offer us.
Their homage finishes: “Juan Vázquez Guzmán, you are the heart of the people, you live in every child, woman and man who defends the people and struggles for justice. You told us that the land the mountains and the waterfalls belong to those who take care of them, that is why you defended and gave your life for the mother earth….Your word will be etched in our minds and we will carry your example throughout our lives. Compa Juan, you will live for always amongst your people, your heart was very great. Viva Juan Vázquez Guzmán!”
This article was first published in Spanish in Desinformémonos
Watch the videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJkVziBk214
For further information in English: http://vivabachajon.wordpress.com/en-ingles/