Zapatistas reclaim and defend “Mother Earth”

Zapatistas reclaim and defend “Mother Earth”
A member of Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group writes:
I have just returned from the Zapatista village of Bolon Ajaw, Chiapas, where on 6th February 230 civilian Zapatistas took part in an action to retake control of their “reclaimed lands” which had been invaded and taken over since 20 January by the paramilitary group OPDDIC.

Thanks to inspiring solidarity from Zapatistas from many different communities the Zapatistas continue to control the land, and are carrying out collective work there.

The situation is very tense and the Zapatista villagers of Bolon Ajaw stressed the vital importance of international solidarity, urging us to spread the news of their struggle around the world. Human rights observers from Fray Bartolome are now present to act as a deterrent against more violence from the OPDDIC paramilitaries, who have a base in nearby Agua Azul.

The 32 Zapatista families of Bolon Ajaw, part of autonomous municipality Comandanta Ramona, live close to beautiful waterfalls. These falls are coveted for tourist developments by government and business interests, who are using OPDDIC as tools to try and rob the Zapatistas of their land.

In contrast to the rich natural resources of Chiapas, the villagers of Bolon Ajaw, like the majority of indigenous villagers in the state, live in real poverty. There is no electricity in the village, and water has to be carried from wells half a mile away.

An extremely detailed report by the respected human rights organisation Fray Bartholomew (Frayba) describes the events of 6th February. This investigation dismisses claims by the state government, OPDDIC and the mass media that on 6th February the Zapatistas shot at OPDDIC members, killing one and injuring others. On the contrary, report Fray Bartholomew, it was OPDDIC who at least four times opened fire on the Zapatistas, wounding three Zapatistas, including a sixteen year old.

Frayba’s research confirms that the OPDDIC member killed and those wounded on 6th February were shot by mistake by fellow OPDDIC members, as two different OPDDIC groups opened fire on the inhabitants of Bolon Ajaw, from opposite sides of the village. OPDDIC, linked to the PRI – the Institutional Revolutionary Party which governed Mexico for many decades – have been involved in numerous attacks and harassment of Zapatista communities over recent years.
Frayba give a detailed account of the several clashes which occurred during the day. Actions included the Zapatistas repulsing an attempt by OPDDIC to retake the land, and the Zapatistas breaking out of an armed ambush and encirclement by OPDDIC in order to go to the aid of the inhabitants of Bolon Ajaw, who were being shot at by OPDDIC gunmen.

The Zapatista Good Government Council based at Morelia has also issued a full statement . This details the attacks by the OPDDIC paramilitaries, naming names, and holding all three levels of government – local, Chiapas state, and the national federal government – responsible for the attacks against the indigenous people and their lands. The statement describes how on 6th February OPDDIC shot at unarmed Zapatistas, seriously wounding one man in the stomach, how they completely destroyed a Zapatista’s home, and smashed up sacred objects in the Bolon Ajaw church.
The Zapatistas stress their willingness to hold talks over the problems: “ We, the Council of Good Government, have never closed the door on finding a good solution to problems, we always show good will.”

The Frayba investigation emphasises that government plans for major tourist developments at the renowned local waterfalls lie behind the attacks on the Zapatistas. Nearby Agua Azul Falls are already heavily promoted, featuring in international tourist guides such as Lonely Planet, and Bolon Ajaw counts with five more as yet undeveloped Falls which are even more beautiful.

These proposed developments are part of a much bigger “tourist development plan”. Enormous interests are at stake in the Palenque CIP project, which covers six municipalities in the north of Chiapas around the world-famous Mayan temples of Palenque. The state government of Chiapas is due to invest half of the money involved, the balance presumably coming from private investment. The Project has been in development since 2007, and a major extension of Palenque airport is due this year.

The CIP Project emphasises specialist and luxury tourism, and long-stay visitors. A natural theme park is planned for the Agua Azul Waterfalls, with commercial areas and significant accommodation for “eco“, adventure and sporting tourism. But, international consultants point out, “before attracting investment the State must find a solution to the problems of acquiring the land and the problems of access.”

Waterfalls at Bolon Ajaw – the OPDDIC paramilitaries have been trying to
rob the Zapatistas of their land next to these falls

In other words, for the state and business interests, the Zapatistas and their determination to defend Mother Earth are “a problem” standing in the way of the realisation of multi-million tourist investments.

These planned tourist developments are closely linked to a new highway through Chiapas, which threatens a number of communities on its route from the colonial tourist centre of San Cristobal de Las Casas to the magnificent Mayan temples at Palenque. As well as Bolon Ajaw, the communities of San Sebastian Bachajon , near Bolon Ajaw, and Mitziton near San Cristobal, both adherents to the Zapatista-initiated Other Campaign, are among the communities resisting the new highway in the face of state and paramilitary oppression.

Fray Bartolome denounce the Chiapas State authorities for trying to blame the Zapatistas and the Other Campaign supporters of San Sebastian Bachajon for the violence. They accuse the authorities of “generating the conditions for a military intervention ordered by the Federal Government against the civilian population.”

The lands at Bolon Ajaw were reclaimed by the Zapatistas in the aftermath of the 1994 uprising. Till then they had been in the hands of private owners who brutally exploited the local indigenous people. Frayba detail the numerous attacks by OPDDIC on the Zapatistas since 2003.

These latest events at Bolon Ajaw are noteworthy not only for the scale of the threats facing the Zapatistas, but for the exemplary solidarity, courage, self-organisation and self-discipline displayed by the Zapatistas in taking collective direct action to defend “Mother Earth and its natural resources”.

In Bolon Ajaw, in Montes Azules , in Mitziton, in Sebastian Bachajon, in Chicomuselo and throughout Chiapas and Mexico a war is being waged by the state, paramilitaries and big business to once more rob the indigenous and poor peasant peoples of their land and destroy Mother Earth for money.

In Chiapas, and also in other Mexican states like Oaxaca and Guerrero, the peasant and indigenous peoples’ resistance and struggle for autonomy continues – international solidarity is needed.

As the Fray Bartolome centre state:
“We issue an URGENT call to civil society, in Mexico and internationally, to all those committed to the defence of human rights, to come out and denounce the clear increase in the actions of violence against the civilian, peaceful process of autonomy being developed by the Zapatista “bases of support” (civilian suppporters) and their Councils of Good Governments which are civil authorities.”

If interested in solidarity with the Zapatistas and people of Chiapas and Mexico contact Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group at edinchiapas
Plus UK Zapatista site
Supporters world-wide will be organising solidarity activities with the Zapatista communities under attack on 20th March.
Info in Spanish at . There have already been solidarity actions in various towns and cities in the Spanish State and in Mexico.
Full statement by Zapatista Council of Good Government of Morelia on the events at Bolon Ajaw on 6th February, in English
Fray Bartolome site, info in english
Regular reports from Chiapas, mainly Spanish, some English, on Indymedia Chiapas
Information on the Zapatistas struggle to create autonomous health, education, and grass-roots decision-making structures
Full report by Fray Bartolome human rights group on the events at Bolon Ajaw on 6th February, in Spanish
Letter of protest to Mexican government about the eviction of Zapatista community in Montes Azules, Chiapas, in Spanish

Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group,
c/o 17 West Montgomery Place
Email: edinchiapas

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