Bachajón: the Mexican justice system gets the chance to stop rights abuses

Members of this Tseltal ejido continue the legal fight for their lands, in the face of three years of repression and tricks

By Ricardo Lagunes Gasca

A life in struggle

Chiapas, Mexico. Three years after the legal defence of the lands of the San Sebastián Bachajón ejido [communally owned territory] began, the Third Collegiate Court will have the opportunity to address the root of the problem and issue a ruling on the alleged violations of indigenous rights.

The life of the indigenous peoples and communities in Mexico is increasingly threatened with extinction, in the face of “structural” constitutional and legislative reforms that result in the illegal appropriation of their natural resources, either by privatization or through forcible seizure.

Against this background various indigenous communities have begun legal actions to defend their rights. These include the Yaqui tribe, campaigning against the Independence Aqueduct, or the Ikoots people of San Dionisio del Mar, fighting to stop construction of the mega wind farm at Barra Santa Teresa, among others.

Although provisional or final court judgements are meant to offer protection for indigenous lands, they have not in fact changed any facts on the ground for these communities. As a result, the threat to the life and land of the community remains, requiring greater organisation and political mobilization to prevent abuses becoming irreversible.

The Tseltal ejidatarios at San Sebastián Bachajón are adherents to the [Zapatista] Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona. They began the legal defence of their lands in March 2011, aiming to reverse the violent seizure of their lands which began on 2 February 2011 when communal lands adjoining the village of Agua Azul (Tumbalá Muncipality) which belong to the ejido were taken away, along with the ejido’s main gravel quarry.

This land grab was carried out by the Government Secretary, Noé Castañón León, working with Leonardo Rafael Guirao Aguilar (president of the Green Chiapas Foundation and currently the municipal president of Chilón), along with the ex-commissioner of the ejido, Francisco Guzmán Jiménez and government supporting groups from the Xanil and Pamalha villages in Chilón.

Since March 2011 the Zapatista supporters have faced a series of arbitrary judicial decisions that have denied them justice and an effective means of protecting their lands. Nonetheless, in spite of the racism towards indigenous people that pervades the justice system, they continue to resist and to contest the illegal judgements made by the Seventh District Judge in Tuxtla Gutierrez. They have also appealed to public opinion over the lack of ethics of certain federal judges who put themselves at the disposal of the rich and powerful.

In appeal proceedings, the Third Collegiate Court has now accepted that the Seventh District Judge violated due process on two separate occasions. These violations relate to the fact that the judge failed to inform the general assembly of the San Sebastián Bachajón ejido that a legal appeal made by Mariano Moreno Guzman (a representative of the Bachajón ejido) had in fact been granted. Now that the general assembly has been informed and has not contested the appeal, the Third Collegiate Court has the opportunity to address the underlying issue and to make a ruling on the violation of indigenous rights.

Separately, the ex-commissioner of the ejido Francisco Guzmán Jiménez and the current commissioner, Alejandro Moreno Gómez, tried to prevent a judgement being made on the appeal by fabricating proceedings of the assembly. These proceedings do not follow the requirements of the Agrarian Law in the slightest degree. They are also signed only by those two individuals and lack the signatures of other ejido members. So far this has prevented the appeal being resolved in favour of the economic and political interests that are protecting the commissioner and ex-commissioner.

The only reason the government’s placemen hold their positions in the ejido commission is because they are protected by these wider interests. The commissioners have no support in the assembly or among the wider community. They were in fact imposed with support provided by the municipal president of Chilon, and the Rural Procurator in Ocosingo to make it appear their election was legal. The Bachajón ejido members have now challenged the legality of the appointment of Alejandro Moreno Gómez and other members at the 54th District Agrarian Tribunal in Comitán.

In playing his assigned role, Alejandro Moreno Gómez is not only working with various government agencies to appropriate the ejido’s common land and gravel quarry, but is also preparing the way for the construction of the San Cristóbal de Las Casas – Palenque highway. It seems that he is ready to continue playing a role in promoting murder and impunity.

The author is a human rights lawyer

Translated by Fionn O’Sullivan for Dorset Chiapas Solidarity and posted 22/06/2014


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