Crime Groups Displace Residents of the Lacandon Jungle

By Ángeles Mariscal

On December 16, 2021, the Velasco family was expelled from Nueva Palestina community, the largest in the Lacandon Jungle. The father of the family, Versaín Velasco García, had denounced months before, in front of state authorities, the impact that groups linked to drug, arms and people trafficking are having on the population.

“My father saw it from the standpoint of human rights, he saw it from the point of view of the abuses they were committing, supported by the community authorities. The last thing my father reported was that they arrested some young people and kept them locked up for 12 days, without water or food. After that, they came upon us,” explained Moctezuma Velasco, Versaín’s son, who was 17 years old at the time.

On Wednesday, December 16, 2021, after Versaín returned from the municipal capital of Ocosingo, where he went to file a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office about the case of the detained youths, a group of armed men arrived at his house. He was there with his wife, sons and daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren.

The group of armed men enterred forcefuly; beat them, sexually abused one of the women, shot some of habitants, and left them wounded on the spot. Other members of the family fled to the mountains.

Among the aggressors were people who have the designation of community police officers, explained Isaura Velasco, daughter of Versaín, who was wounded inside the house. “They hit me very hard, shot me and left me there because they left me for dead,” she explained in an interview. “They beat me very hard, they shot me and left me there because they believed I was dead,” she explained in an interview.

Fredy Gómez Santíz, Versaín’s son-in-law, was shot. So far his body has not been located; in this case, the surviving family filed a complaint for the crime of forced disappearance.

In a video recorded by a resident of Nueva Palestina, it can be seen that on the day of the aggression, neighbors approached when they saw the aggression, but when they heard the shots, they dispersed and ran.

34 people displaced from New Palestine

Moctezuma was also injured, his attackers left them (family memebers) lying there and forbade their neighbors to help them. After several hours, “we got up, as best we could, and started looking for some of the women in the family, and my little nephews. The women were locked up in the jail we have inside the community,” the young man narrated.

“We got together and saw that we had to flee the community. A total of 34 people left, including children and adults. We arrived in Ocosingo and there, my father said that we had to denounce what had happened; but when we arrived at the Prosecutor’s Office they set a trap for my father and imprisoned him; they accused him of homicide, they fabricated a crime and now, he is detained in the San Cristóbal de Las Casas prison,” explained Moctezuma.

His sister Isaura Velasco and family member Antonia Aguilar Solorzano were also accused of aggravated robbery with violence; they were imprisoned for a year, until their relese due to lack of evidence.

The family realized that Ocosingo was not a safe place for them either because some of their assailants were transiting there, who – he points out – have ties to municipal authorities and to the Chiapas Justice Prosecutor’s Office. They decided to move to San Cristóbal de Las Casas and seek help from civil society organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights. With their support, and through institutional channels, they denounced the offenses committed against them through institutional channels.

Drugs, weapons, human trafficking in the jungle.

– How did the population begin to get involved with crime groups, what has changed in the jungle?

– They are not the majority of the community, they are only groups of people who have power in the community, who have dedicated themselves to this type of activity. They are dedicated to trafficking immigrants, as well as drug and arms trafficking. They are also in collusion with the very authorities of the community,” explained Moctezuma.

The territory on the border between Mexico and Guatemala has been used for decades by groups that traffic illegal merchandise and smuggle people; but the difference with the current situation, he says, is the acts of violence against the population that does not agree (with these activities); the use of arms, the control of roads and means of communication.

Just last March 21, during their press conference in the capital of Chiapas, President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and the Head general of the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA), Luis Cresencio Sandoval, acknowledged that the presence of organized crime groups has increased in the Lacandon jungle area, where Nueva Palestina town is located.

They detailed that drug cartels have seized airstrips that exist in the area. These trails are used by the local population to get out of isolated communities that would otherwise have to walk long distances through the jungle.

Invisible displacement

Civil society organizations working in the jungle have documented the silent departure of people displaced by the violence perpetrated by organized crime groups. Most of these exits have been done in silence, fearing retaliation.

The Velasco family is one of the few that decided to make it known. So far, they have filed three complaints: one with the Office of the Prosecutor for Indigenous Justice, for attempted homicide, injuries, threats, damages, and the resulting ones; another with the Specialized Unit for the Investigation of the Crime of Torture, for sexual torture; and the third with the Office of the Prosecutor against the Forced Disappearance of Persons and those Committed by Private Individuals – for the forced disappearance of Fredy Gómez Santíz. In none of these cases has criminal action been taken against the probable perpetrators.

They have also petitioned the State Council for Integral Attention to Internal Displacement, but this body has not convened to provide a response. At the international level, on February 1, 2023, the Committee against Forced Disappearance of Persons of the United Nations requested the Mexican State to take Urgent Action 1569/2023 for the forced disappearance of the Mayan Tseltal indigenous Fredy Gómez Sántiz.

This action urges the State to urgently seek and locate Fredy Gómez Sántiz and to protect his life and personal integrity. The family also demands the release of Versaín Velasco, whose hearing to define his legal situation is scheduled for March 28; and asks for his relocation to another region. In the Lacandona Joungle, they left 70 hectares of land that were their family’s patrimony. Now they live as displaced people, crammed into a couple of rooms, without a job that allows them to buy food.

Original article published by Chiapas Pararelo. English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

Grupos del crimen desplazan a pobladores de la Lacandona

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