Armed groups are forcing us to defend ourselves: Tzotsiles de Aldama

Tzotsil women Photo: Cuartocuro

By Hermann Bellinghausen

Armed groups are forcing us to defend ourselves: Tzotsiles 

By Hermann Bellinghausen

If the paramilitary armed groups don’t stop attacking us with firearms, we will be forced to defend ourselves,” warned Tzotzil residents of Aldama, Chiapas. “We will no longer allow any more aggressions with firearms against our people. They emphasize that so far in August “armed aggressions by paramilitary groups in Santa Martha (Chenalhó) have intensified,” which “the authorities have been supporting.”

Presenting themselves as “the voice of the people of Magdalena Aldama,” the indigenous people denounce the constant attacks they receive from armed civilian groups, paramilitaries. “These groups have been operating freely since the 1997 Acteal massacre. To this day, the paramilitarism of Chenalhó and the counter-insurgency continue against the resistances and rebellions of the native peoples of Chiapas and Mexico, such as the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and the National Indigenous Congress, whose struggle is for life.”

They reiterate that “as people of Aldama on various occasions we have raised awareness about the plunder of our lands and territories, land which is our mother. In her [Mother Earth] we live day after day. We have suffered armed aggressions on several occasions by paramilitary groups in Santa Martha. As a consequence, there have been deaths, dozens of wounded and forced internal displacements, loss of crops, burning of houses.”

They mention the roundtable dialogues with the three levels of government and “peace agreements that have not seen effective results.”

“On behalf of the people of Magdalena Aldama, the 115 Comuneros and the 2036 forcibly displaced persons, the population in general, the 21 communities that make up the municipality in the highlands of Chiapas, victims and relatives of victims of armed groups,” they declare, “we are bats`i viniketik – antsetik, we are Tzotzil Mayans.

They then present an account of the attacks from Chenalhó, in the context of a dispute over 60 hectares. On August 13 there were at least 11 armed attacks from different points. On the 14th there were shots against the communities of Stselej Potov and the municipal seat of Aldama at 0:50, coming from Chuch te’, Santa Martha.

On the night of August 15 there were six, and “intense”, attacks against the inhabitants.  Yeton, “one of our communities, was attacked and surrounded by these paramilitary groups. At 10:35 p.m. “they entered to attack that population” and “several dozen people were displaced in the mountains in those hours of the night. There were also people who were trapped in their homes. On the 16th, “at least 21 armed attacks”. On the 17th, there were 34.

On August 18, “as a provocation,” on the Saklum-Santa Martha road stretch “cars with people dressed in black and armed, leaving people at each point of attack.” At 12.35, high-calibre firearms began to be detonated at Ontik and Chuch te’, heading towards the communities of Yeton, Ch’ivit and Stselej Potovtik. While at the point of T’ul Vits Santa Martha three white cars came down and fired towards the community of San Pedro Cotsilna’m where intense attacks lasted at least an hour. The cars of the armed groups headed towards Saklum. “These attacks were constant until today. The armed aggressions intensified along the entire stretch of the river that divides Aldama and Santa Martha.”

They detail the points of attack, and the communities that were shot at incessantly, which are Coco’, Xuxch’en, Tabak, San Pedro Cotzlina’m, Yeton, Ch’ivit, Stselej Potov tik, Cabecera Aldama and Juxton. In addition, for the first time Ch’ayomte’ (also of Aldama) was heavily attacked “and there were holes in walls, doors and windows”. The armed violence “increases day by day and the suffering for the communities of Aldama are increasing. They have us surrounded by high-caliber gunfire.”

At 9 p.m. on the 18th, the State Preventative Police, which was installed in the community of Tabak, “fled after the shots they had received all afternoon. They could not do anything to protect the population of Aldama because the armed aggression was intense and they witnessed the aggressions of the paramilitaries of Santa Martha, Chenalhó.”

On the 19th there were at least 27 armed aggressions against communities in Aldama. In Santa Martha, armed groups congregated and shots were fired at Tabak and other villages, whose inhabitants “left their homes to protect the physical security of those living near the borders between Chenalho and Aldama. Detachments of state police and the National Guard went to Santa Martha, but “the armed groups blocked the entrances.”

The people of Magdalena declared, “We are tired of so much aggression and armed attack. We say enough already, and we repeat it over and over again because they are forcing us to defend ourselves, to organize ourselves, because as peoples we are also human beings who want to live and recover our motherland and territory that our ancestors inherited. The time has come to say, up to this point, we have tolerated a lot, we have endured a lot. Because we are not the aggressors, but we are tired of so much aggression from the paramilitary groups. We are not the invaders. We are the internally displaced people, we are the ones who have been deprived of our motherland of 60 hectares.”

The armed groups even entered Yeton shooting, 18 days after a non-aggression agreement was formed. They point out that “the paramilitary group in Santa Martha has already come out in public, as well as what they did to the State Preventive Police.” They disarmed the agents “and those weapons are being used to attack our communities.” Furthermore, “they have been recruiting people from the different communities of Chenalhó, where these paramilitary groups operate.”

“They call themselves victims, when their people attack with high-powered weapons. We repeat again and again, as a people we demand the return of our lands as legitimate ancestral owners.

They demand a halt to the aggressions, “immediate and unconditional freedom” for Cristóbal Santiz Jiménez, and the “immediate cancellation of the arrest warrants for the communal farmers and representatives of Magdalena Aldama.”

This article was originally published in Spanish in La Jornada on Friday, August 21st 2020. https://www.jornada.com.mx/ultimas/politica/2020/08/21/grupos-armados-nos-obligan-a-defendernos-no-permitiremos-mas-agresiones-tzotziles-de-aldama-3513.html This English interpretation has been re-published by Schools for Chiapas.