Indigenous Community near Mexico City again Stands Ready to Fight for its Land
La Jornada, 8th June, 2014Blanche Petrich
Translated by Jorge A. Borrel-Guzman
Indigenous Community near Mexico City again Stands Ready to Fight for its Land
Three-hours of an ejidal [indigenous community] assembly in San Salvador Atenco, held past Sunday, June 1st, were enough to open the doors to the purchase and sale of lands that, for the last 15 years, have been fiercely defended by the local peasant farmers. An “irregular and completely illegal” assembly, as charged by the People’s Front in Defense of The Land, with an 11-point agenda that was expressly finished off. Particularly, Point Seven, the apple of discord among ejidatarios [community members], was settled in only 15 minutes, with no debate whatsoever.
The change modifies the communal system of property to one of “full control” [private ownership by individuals], which terminates the communal land system achieved in 1922 as a result of the fights of the land reform movement. Voting was executed via hand rising, with no ballot papers that would clear up any doubts about the legitimacy of the decision.
Moreover, this change eliminates the legal impediments that prevented the National Water Commission (Conagua) and the businessmen who promote the Future City megaproject from purchasing these old lands, which have been in dispute for the last 14 years.
MV Note: Atenco, just east of Mexico City, has, for years, been a centre of conflict between indigenous farmers and villages and the government of the State of Mexico and the federal government. In 2001, they opposed the seizure of their ejido, communal land, via eminent domain, to construct a second airport for Mexico City and were successful in stopping the project. In 2006, they opposed the construction of highways. This led to a violent repression by state police, at the orders of Peña Nieto, then governor of the state. Protestors were arrested and abused, including women were raped by police. The memory of this led to the uprising of the #YoSoy132 student movement to oppose Peña Nieto´s presidential candidacy in 2012.
The FDTP “will not let it happen”, Ignacio del Valle, Hermenegildo Marquez, and Martha Perez warned in an interview, as representatives of the peasant’s resistance movement. According to them, the next action will be a combined strategy consisting of a legal battle before the courts “to bring down the decision”, and, of course, resistance demonstrations.
“This is the same fight we fought against Vicente Fox. They won’t give up. Neither will we”, affirms Del Valle.
La Jornada: Are we going to see the machetes in the streets again?
"The machetes have never been put away. But they are not to be seen as a threat or a challenge. They are a warning, though: we are going to defend ourselves at all costs."
La Jornada: Ignacio, as a community member, could you have been present in the assembly?
La Jornada: Why weren’t you there then?
"It wasn’t possible. The commission ordered fences and checkers installed, with civilian- dressed police wearing white shirts. They provoked our people. There were beating-ups. Many community members who opposed the action were denied entrance. We avoided provocation and confrontation."
The evidence to nullify the minutes of assembly includes videos that show a roadblock made by hefty men with short, military-style haircuts, strangers to the community, yelling “Get out, get out!, as the FPTD column approaches. Some of them bear signs with threat-loaded inscriptions:
“Nacho (making allusion to Ignacio del Valle), you are held responsible for any confrontation.” “Nacho, you CCH (UNAM’s College of Science and Humanities) thug.” “Nacho, you were responsible for the May 3rd and 4th, 2006 confrontations.” “America del Valle (Nacho’s daughter), stop living on the shoulders of the people.”
La Jornada: Does the ejidal assembly have any mechanisms to regulate the electoral roll and the list of participants?
“It used to" – replies Marquez, who left the commissioner post in October last year.- "There is a surveillance committee, but it’s now under their control. If we had been allowed in there, we would have demanded a roll call. And that would have been the end of that irregular assembly. But we couldn’t.”
“Everything was illegal, even the place selected to hold the assembly, a party room owned by their own relatives,” adds Del Valle. “We suspect that they brought people in advance who are strangers to the community, possibly the night before, to meet the quorum in the roll call. And they bought the other votes with Soriana store giftcards and cash.”
“The men in the roadblock were wearing shirts with the inscription “Peace and progress.”
Marta Perez, a resident of Atenco for several years now, and who was part of the group of women who took the leadership of the FPTD after all men were arrested during then governor Enrique Peña Nieto’s offensive, indicates that for each of the confronting sides, “peace and progress” has completely different meanings:
“For them, it means to remain silent, to obey the Government´s plan. They receive sops in exchange, because the Government takes advantage of needy situation.”
La Jornada: Can you identify them?
"Yes. Some of them are youngsters from neighbouring communities who also came here to provoke when they were ordered to erase the wall painting of our community house in December. We know who they are. Many of them are Antorchistas [another community group] who settled-in in neighbouring towns around 20 years ago, and now, leaded by Yolanda Solis, they are infiltrating into Atenco. We identified many municipal police officers dressed as civilians and employees of the town council."
It could be inferred that those who promote the sale of the lands were well aware of the power of the FPDT. For several weeks now, Trinidad Ramirez, Del Valle’s wife, keeps a little notebook in a place close to the sink in her patio in which she logged the helicopters overflies, as well as the patrolling by State and Federal police, military and even navy personnel, who maintained the town under close surveillance during the days prior to the assembly.
Other eyes and ears maintain a similar log of those who enter and exit the Del Valles’ house, which has become the FPDT´s headquarters since they lost the community centre to the Municipal Mayor Idelfonso Vega Silva.
They hold the Mayor responsible: “He is the man behind all this. He has been spreading the idea that we are savages and violent people who oppose to everything. Of course, we oppose to the sale of the lands. We are making no mistakes here,” mentions Del Valle.
Marta Perez maintains that the change in the legal system of the communal lands “doesn’t only affect the community members, but everyone else too. We already reviewed the Future City project’s miniature model. It looks nice on the Internet, but for us it is an invasion, an unwanted change in our way of living, with its giant condos and its business centres. It should be recalled that this place used to be a lake that was drained on purpose. And it was our grandparents, our ancestors, who were able to make the most of such a disaster. They worked really hard and turned these lands into very beautiful fertile soil.
The Future City project now talks about a system of lakes, but not natural lakes, but made up with waste waters from Mexico City, treated waters. Isn’t it absurd? And with all of this, what are we, the people, left with?”
For now, the Atenco residents who oppose the sale of lands are getting ready for what they call “the legal battle”, which turns out to be a paradoxical situation, given their lack of confidence on the courts since the violent invasion of the town by State and Federal police [in 2006], which resulted in the death of two youngsters, the detention and torturing of hundreds of people, the raping of almost all of the arrested women, and the over-100-years sentences for town leaders, a verdict that was reversed four years later.
“We have a lot of elements to nullify all the decisions made in the assembly, to bring everything down. We are aware that the inspectors from the Agrarian Prosecutor’s office have been promoting the purchase of lands, and despite that, we are going to resort to them to the needed extent. We have always made the most use of the legal entities, regardless of the fact that the law has disappointed us several times,” comments Del Valle.
Neither del Valle nor Hermenegildo Marquez live exclusively from the land. But they and their families feel themselves to be and live as peasant farmers.
Hermenegildo works one hectare [2.5 acres] of land. Two months ago, he sowed asparagus as a part of an agreement with a company to export it to the United States.
“The plants are growing. They will start to produce in two months, and this is a 10-year project I have. I´m not going to let it go.”
Ignacio’s sowing is delayed. The well in his land was closed down, and he currently relies on rainfall. In these days he is going to sow corn, and at the end of the month, barley.
“We sow so that people who feel discouraged understand that defending our land, defending our identity as peasant farmers, really makes sense. It is completely worth the trouble."