Groups with paramilitary links pull out all the stops to evict Zapatista communities from their lands in a low-intensity but ongoing conflict.
A war between the poor is changing the face of Chiapas, a southern Mexican state on the border with Guatemala.
In the low-intensity conflict, the indigenous Zapatista communities are being attacked by paramilitary groups of all kinds linked to the increasingly powerful local business and political forces. These play dirty and severely threaten the survival of the indigenous communities. In the last few days, in fact, various reports have come in from La Garrucha, one of the Zapatista caracols, of attempts by ORCAO (the Regional Organisation of Coffee Growers of Ocosingo, a city in Chiapas) to grab land owned by the Zapatista communities. This aside, for quite some time now, many human rights organisations have also been condemning attacks on Zapatistas by farmers who are part of the counterinsurgency.
"The national misgovernment by Felipe Calderon, the state one of Juan Sabines Guerrero (Governor of Chiapas) and that of the mayor of Ocosingo Arturo Zuniga, are only intensifying the counterinsurgency and manipulating the ORCAO leaders, who in their turn have manipulated their affiliates to set them against the Zapatistas," say the representatives of the Garrucha caracol in the Tzeltal zone.
The Zapatista communities have been reporting attacks and land grabs for months now. In Nuevo Paraiso, for example, a group of individuals with links to ORCAO occupied Zapatista fields and began planting them. Representatives of the Zapatista communities complained and asked them to leave but these pleas fell on deaf ears. "We asked the ORCAO leaders to leave the land they'd occupied. They refused and in response caused a great many problems over the next few weeks," says the Zapatista council. Thefts of coffee, sugar cane, livestock, fruit trees and even wire have spiralled in the interim too.
"They threaten us with arms," say the Zapatistas reporting that gravel has been stolen from their lands and then sold on to State building companies. "It all happens as if it nothing was wrong and the authorities don't do anything to defend us from these situations," they say.
Lastly, the Zapatistas also claim to have information that certain members of the federal government "are providing advice to the ORCAO leaders on taking over EZLN land. They simply arrive and fell the trees, as happened in Nuevo Rosario (municipality of San Miguel) and then sell the wood in Ocosingo city," they say in La Gaurrucha. There is no doubt about the role played by the coffee growers who have twofold links to the Chiapas administration and have the economic clout to rent land they don't own to maximise their profits.
translated by Mary Hegarty