Cartels Arrive in the Lacandón: “It is the Worst Time in the jungle” Residents Sayy.

Drug planes land in the Lacandon jungle.

Ángeles Mariscal

They take over airstrips in the area.

Chiapas. In the Lacandon Jungle, located on the border between Mexico and Guatemala, the population built airstrips since the 1970’s, to be able to fly their sick people out of the area without having to walk for several days through the mountains of thick vegetation; now, drug cartels are taking over the airstrips and entire villages.

This region was populated by indigenous people fleeing from the semi-slavery they lived in the large coffee and cattle ranches, by landless peasants from other states of the country, and by Lacandon people from the Caribbean.

They went into the jungle because it was a place where the farmers could not reach them, and because this was the only place where the government could provide them with land to plant; there were more than 957 thousand hectares of fertile and inhospitable land crossed by turquoise rivers.

Juan López arrived as a child in the jungle in mid-1985. There he grew up and raised his own family. In the village they established, two of his children died of curable diseases, while they experienced -for decades- threats of eviction from environmental authorities exerted on their village, accusing them of impacting the ecosystem.

But we have never experienced what we are experiencing now. This is the worst time in the jungle,” he said when he arrived at the municipal capital of Ocosingo in mid-2022, accompanied by his entire family. He is one of the hundreds of displaced people who, little by little, are escaping from the Lacandon.

The reason is that his community, which he asks not to be named for fear of being found and killed, was taken over by a group of people who arrived, first to offer to rent the use of the airstrip on a monthly basis, and then, heavily armed, to expel them from the place.

“Only a few stayed -of the villagers- those who are okay with what is happening there. The rest of us escaped by walking through the mountains, some went to their relatives, others are renting… and we can’t even complain, because they already killed two from my community,” he explained on that occasion; he asked not to make his testimony public until there were better conditions for security.

Map showing population centers and the Lacandon region

Aircrafts with Drugs on Airstrips

On the morning of March 20, the president of Mexico arrived in Chiapas and, in the press conference he gives every morning, he acknowledged the problems experienced in the Lacandon jungle region, due to the presence of drug cartels.

From December 2018 to date, the federal government has detained 30 aircraft carrying drugs on Chiapas soil ; but this figure, is only 56 percent of the “aerial alerts” that the National Secretariat of Defense (Sedena) has had in the Chiapas territory located on the border of Mexico with Guatemala, among these places, the Lacandon Jungle.

According to the report given by Luis Cresencio Sandoval, head of the Sedena (Secretariat of National Defense), they have destroyed three airstrips, and have seized marijuana, cocaine, more than 30 thousand ampoules of fentanyl; in addition to weapons, grenades and other equipment used by organized crime groups operating in the area.

In his turn, Andrés Manuel López Obrador acknowledged that the cartels are having a strong impact on the population of the Lacandon jungle, which they dominate in order to use the airstrips that the population has been using as a means of transportation for decades.

When asked, he said that he knows of a person who was murdered this year because he opposed the use of his community’s runway. “Indeed, it is a family in the Lacandon, near Bonampak. There are clandestine airstrips there run by one of the cartels. They are landing planes with drugs.”

He said that according to Sedena reports, the drug traffickers have agreements “with some people, not all the people. Either because they are handing out gifts or money, or because they are threatening.”

He even acknowledged that drug traffickers and some villagers have confronted the army so that drug seizures cannot be conducted.

“I take this opportunity to call on the people of Corozal (one of the largest communities in the Lacandona) and the entire region (…) there is going to be more vigilance and we are already reinforcing the entire area so that these cases do not occur,” said the president.

This article was published in Chiapas Paralelo on March 20th, 2023. English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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