International Companies Have Taken Over More Than 36 Thousand Hectares in Chiapas

Mayan communities in Chiapas denounce oil palm taking away their water and lands.

*Slowly but persistently, international oil companies have taken over more than 36,000 hectares of land in Chiapas, now planted with oil palm.

By Yessica Morales

Claudia Ramos Guillen, member of Agua y Vida, Mujeres, Derechos y Ambiente A. C. (Water and Life Women, Rights and Environment) disclosed that in Chiapas the data around oil palm is unclear — in terms of official data– but these plantations represent 70% of the oil palm planted in Mexico, especially that which is exported to the central region, in order to refine the oils.

Ramos Guillen explained that these plantations began in the 1940s, with seed brought from Costa Rica, and this expansion was gradual, however, around 2006-2007 there was a boom, especially in the northern zone in the municipalities of Benemérito de las Américas and Palenque, which is linked to Campeche, Tabasco, Veracruz and the Guatemalan Petén.

 “A more regional view of the processes of expansion of this monoculture and overall what is happening in these territories and to the bodies of women in the face of the expansion of violent extractive processess, of dispossession from the territories, of extraction of water and common natural goods in our state,” Ramos Guillen added.

She pointed out that there is a presence of oil palm in the La Encrucijada zone and in Palenque National Park, where there is talk of deforestation processes, which is contradictory because, being Natural Protected Areas (NPA), they have a conservation policy.

That is, on the one hand, there is a policy of expansion of monoculture or cattle ranching, and on the other hand, the PNAs function as control strategies and tell people how they are going to manage and exercise environmental policy in the country associated with palm cultivation.

She emphasized the use of the technological package, especially glyphosate and all the fertilizers, which generate soils with greater salinization and contamination of water sources, and which not only desiccate the plantations, but also the water to process the oil and the plantation itself is not allowed to seep through the root system of the plant that is planted in large tracts of monoculture.

She emphasized that in Chiapas there are eleven oil processors, the modus operandi of the companies is to have about three processing plants in the areas of interest –north and south of the state–, which are linked to processes of expansion and acquisition of small producers, from whom they buy and lease land.

Meeting “Women for food sovereignty, health and the defense of territories: weaving alternatives to oil palm expansion in Southeast Mexico.” Photo: Aldo Santiago López.

This generates great pressure on the supply areas of crops and staple foods such as traditional corn, corn, and beans, as it directly affects women’s strategies for the conservation and care of life.

Ramos Guillen added that these projects are very close to places where raw materials are extracted, such as the “special economic zones” and the Mayan Train, which only serves to exacerbate the extraction model in the territories.

With regard to the Sembrando Vida Program, she mentioned that the strategy of how to move from a monoculture palm plantation to a rubber plantation is not clear, issues that could be discussed about where the rural policy is going and in what terms she supports it.

The question would be: Do we want to move from one monoculture to another? The effects on the territories and the bodies of women remind us of a phrase shared by Miranda of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH): For large companies we have never ceased to be a banana republic, said Ramos Guillen.

She elaborated that they use this strong phrase because it forces them to analyze all the effects that the plantations have on the territories, the bodies of women, and what it means in terms of dispossession of common natural goods, loss of food sovereignty, knowledge, conflicts over water, and damage to health and the environment.

In addition to the above, there is the dumping of waste from processing plants into water sources near the communities, the processes of militarization, paramilitarization and the associations with organized crime that leads to more violence and plunder against women’s bodies — all of which which are a function of the patriarchal system.

She pointed out that many rights are violated, such as the right to information, the right to consultation, the right to a healthy environment, the right to self-determination and the right to territory.

Likewise, the community assemblies are represented by men, where women cannot decide. They often mention that “they make the decision in the family,” but in reality the word, tenure and decisions are in the hands of the men.

Thousands of hectares planted with oil palm. Photo: Aldo Santiago López.

Finally, she pointed out that the expansion of oil palm monoculture cannot be thought of as a single plantation, but rather as part of a corridor that represents geostrategic and geopolitical interests in the southeastern part of Mexico and is part of a Mesoamerican block with Guatemala and Honduras.

This is because we tend to only analyze the blocks when the cumulative effects of, for example, soil erosion or the effect of violence in our territory are quite strong, especially if we talk about the part of Honduras where the processes of violence and displacement of populations linked to processes of land dispossession are more evident, concluded Ramos Guillen.

This article was published in Chiapas Paralelo on June 15th 2021. This English interpretation has been shared with Schools for Chiapas by Chiapas Support Committee.