Diana Manzo/Pedro Matías
Nothing will ever be the same again. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is going to end up becoming Mexico’s second border. It is going to end up like Ciudad Juarez, full of maquiladoras, factories, exploiting cheap labor to benefit large companies, protested Juana Ramirez Villegas, an Ayuuk indigenous woman.
She said that along with the other details about President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, he imposed the Inter-Oceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to offer their land and territory to the large neo-colonialist capitals.
And while the neo-Porfirian president claims that his megaproject will bring economic development and will be a trigger for regional progress, he announced the bidding process to build the Development Poles for Wellbeing, as well as tax incentives or subsidies to transnational companies, and what it has provoked is militarization, the violation of human rights, inter-community conflicts by destroying the community fabric, assassinations, dispossession and the arrival of organized crime groups.
The Binnizáa community agent of Puente Madera, David López Salazar, emphasized the other facts that the president refuses to listen to:
“Ten years ago I was thanking God because here (in the Isthmus) we did not see the violence and insecurity that they suffered in the north of the country or that which forced Dr. (Jose Manuel) Mireles to create self-defense groups against organized crime. That came to my mind and I thanked God because in my community we did not see any of that and one feels happy with the security of living in peace.”
In the presence of the Civil Observation Mission in which 23 national and international civil society organizations participated and which visited Puente Madera, López Salazar confided that since López Obrador decided to impose the Inter-Oceanic Corridor in 2019 “everything has changed, the violence in the Isthmus region has already overtaken us. In Juchitán, Tehuantepec and Salina Cruz we see things that were not seen before. Crime has already overtaken the federal government in this region.”
And he warned:
“If we as an indigenous community do not defend our rights, here there will be an inter-oceanic corridor that will bring about the loss of identity with the increase of organized crime, migrants and pollution.”
On March 14, 2021 the nightmare for Puente Madera began. In the rush to impose the approval of the Industrial Park, the then municipal president of San Blás Atempa and current Secretary of Administration, Antonino Morales Toledo, simulated a supposed assembly of community members where they falsified 80% of the voting roll, in which they included deceased people, for which they filed a legal action of nullity (159/2021) before the Agrarian Tribunal of Tuxtepec and which to this day has not resolved anything.
The same happened with the consultation of the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples, where five people from Puente Madera raised their hands and, with this, the government began to divide this community, militarized the region and has criminalized its opponents, as is happening in Puente Madera, where 17 community members, among them elderly women, have warrants for their arrest.
The State’s response was not long in coming: “I was arrested by the state authorities on January 17 with the arrival of the Oaxacan spring of Governor Salomón Jara Cruz, who ordered my arrest, and I was sent to trial, but this does not extinguish the struggle of Puente Madera. A lot has been achieved, such as the protection of the cancellation of the plan and the development pole project.”
After two years and four months, the Seventh District Court with residence in Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, decreed the outright suspension for the federal government to abstain from installing the Development Pole in El Pitayal until the injunction lawsuit number 314/2023-IV-B, filed by the community of Puente Madera, is resolved.
“(…) The suspension is granted ex officio and in principle to the effect that the authorities responsible for the declaration of the Development Pole for Wellbeing, San Bas Atempa, refrain from totally or partially depriving the property, possession, or enjoyment of their agrarian rights from the community called Puente Madera, located in the mentioned municipality, until such time as a resolution is issued in the present amparo (injunction) trial.”
In response, the contentious executive director of the Inter-Oceanic Corridor, Julio Francisco Rosas Jimenez, announced the compliance with the suspension decreed on June 6, 2023, stating that “this decentralized public organism of the federal government will abstain from carrying out legal acts related to the Declaration of merit, until such time as the amparo trial is settled.”
Both the indigenous Ayuuk of Mogoñé Viejo, belonging to San Juan Guichicovi, and the Binnizáa of Puente Madera, belonging to San Blas Atempa, have been criminally denounced with at least 33 investigative files for the crime of attacks on general transportation routes, the former for blocking the railroad tracks of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec Railroad, and the latter for blocking the Pan-American Highway.
During July 25, 26 and 27, the observation mission documented serious human rights violations in the context of the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus megaproject.
During their visit, they confirmed the intimidation by the Navy in the “Tierra y Libertad” encampment in Mogoñé Viejo; the conflict originated by the Development Pole in Santa María Mixtequilla; the dispossessions led by Anastasio Gutiérrez and his brother in Santa Cruz Tagolaba; and the criminalization of the resistance of the community members of Puente Madera who oppose the industrial park in their territory.
A report by the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA), in the voice of Xavier Martinez, reveals that with the imposition of the presidential megaproject called the Interoceanic Corridor, collective and individual aggressions against communities and defenders of territory and human rights have increased, with 31 cases documented in the last 10 months.
He detailed that between October 2022 and July 2023, 31 events of aggressions have been registered, mainly against Mixe and Zapotec indigenous people, of which 21 cases were due to intimidation, harassment and threats.
In addition, 11 were cases of physical and psychological violence and forced evictions; three homicides of defenders; 43 cases of criminal complaints against local authorities and community defenders of the territory and two cases of defamation through public media.
26 PESOS PER SQUARE METER PAID FOR LAND FOR THE INDUSTRIAL PARK.
In the municipality of Mixtequilla the complaint is not against the megaproject, they demand that the millions that the federal government paid for their land for the Development Pole be distributed throughout the community.
“That’s why we don’t believe them that now there will be an industrial park here in Mixtequilla, because they have never delivered,” said Teresa Vasquez Orozco, traditional cook and member of the Peaceful Civil Resistance and Mixtequillense Communal Members.
Dark-skinned with black hair, Teresa, is 54 years old. She works with 12 other women are in charge of preparing the food and while they order everything to serve, they talk about their struggle, which they consider legitimate and dignified.
“Here we were taught to fight as a collective, but we see that this is impossible now. They paid a lot of money, but we know already that it will remain there, those lands now belong to the government, and we are left with nothing, they say it is for an industrial park, that it is progress, but they always lie to us, in the end nothing will be built,” she emphasized.
It is noon, and it is hot. Teresa and a hundred other people are gathered under a chicozapote tree in the Casa Comunal, which has been occupied since April by members of this resistance group.
This independent collective demands that the president of the communal farmers of Mixtequilla, Eduardo Desales, distribute the 132 million pesos paid by the federal government for the expropriation of the 502 hectares of agrarian and common use lands, where one of the 5 industrial poles of Oaxaca of the Inter-Oceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec will be built.
“Imagine, the land that the federal government bought here in Mixtequilla they paid us 26 pesos per square meter, less than a kilogram of tortilla. That’s what they call progress?” stressed a tall, thin man with a mustache by the name of Ricardo Vargas.
Izamar Pacheco, 30 years old, also took the microphone and spoke: “We are not here for the money, this resistance is not for the money, but we are thinking about what we are going to leave to our children, these lands belonged to our grandparents, which had been passed down from generation to generation, and now they have sold them without taking the whole community into account, they do not want to share them with us, only them, the land owners.”
The demand of this group, who 3 months ago activated a resistance in Mixtequilla, is that the payment in millions for the 502 hectares, be shared for the 4 thousand inhabitants and not only for the 800 communal members, as they are considering.
“What we want is that the resource for the payment of the common use lands be shared among us too, the civil society, and not only among the landholders, and that has been the conflict, we also see that 26 pesos per square meter is a mockery, we demand that President López Obrador reconsider this payment, we sent him a letter to tell him that we want a dialogue, but there is a refusal on his part.”
The discontented land holders of Mixtequilla also spoke and pointed out that the arrival of this work has caused conflict among the inhabitants, to the point that they no longer speak to each other, criticize each other, and criminalize the struggle, which has created strong conflicts among neighbors and even family members.
It is not the first time that a project arrives to this municipality. With the inauguration of the Benito Juárez dam in 1961 in Jalapa del Marqués, which forced this community to live a forced displacement in exchange for “progress”, in Mixtequilla, a pipeline network was installed that crosses the agrarian lands destined for the Antonio Dovalí Jaime Refinery in Salina Cruz, Oaxaca.
“Here we have an irrigation network, but many times we have to demand it, to mobilize so that they comply with us, we know that they chose Mixtequilla not for nothing, but because the industrial park is going to need water, and lots of it, so what will happen to us, to the people, the greedy people of the community do not see that, they only want their money and that’s it,” they denounced.
These complaints and denunciations were presented during the Observation Mission, last July 26, which listened for three hours to each of the people who shared their feelings.
The Observation Mission, is made up of 23 national and international organizations, among them the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA), whose representative Xavier Martinez, shared with them the existence of an international treaty called the “Escazu Agreement,” which has the obligation to provide protection and guarantee security to the people who fight for their territory and environment.
“No one should experience criminalization, intimidation or aggression,” emphasized Martínez, while reiterating that these types of struggles should be carried out collectively and under the monitoring of national and foreign organizations.
In Santa Maria Mixtequilla, the intimidation of the National Guard against the Community Assembly was also documented, as well as several cases of repression against people who have shown resistance to the “Development Pole” that is to be built.
Meanwhile, the members of the Communal Council insist and maintain that the money obtained from the sale of the land -which was 132 million pesos- will be given to the owners and tenants of the land, and the other part, considered as “common use land,” will be distributed among the 800 communal members, not among the community in general.
LANDS FOR THE TRANSISTHMIC TRAIN
In Santo Domingo Tehuantepec, another problem was heard, the dispossession of land, and the presence of criminal groups and violence.
Her sweet voice turns to anger when she talks about her land. Norma Angélica Miranda Reyna, 58 years old, was dispossessed of almost 40 hectares of land in 2009. At the time she thought they were for the personal benefit of brothers Sergio and Anastasio Gutiérrez, who entered her land, doused it with gasoline, set fire to her truck and ran her off.
Fourteen years after that event, the Biinizá (Zapotec) campesina still has not recovered her land and cries because she cannot get used to living in a place far from the countryside and her sheep. “On the ranch we lived very happily, I am not used to the city, but these gentlemen have no scruples and say that I am not the owner.”
She also denounced having been the victim of attempted femicide. “I was with my sister-in-law at the Prosecutor’s Office filing our complaint, when these gentlemen and their followers arrived and sprayed us with gasoline, they wanted to kill us, but nothing happens, they don’t stop them.”
Norma Angélica, with the help of the social group “Sol Rojo” (Red Sun), has filed countless reports with the police and also with the Agrarian Attorney’s Office, but nothing has been done, her lands are still in the hands of the Gutiérrez brothers, who claim to be the leaders of the Santa Cruz Tagolaba Agrarian Commission, without taking into account the annulment lawsuit filed by the majority of the community members before the Agrarian Tribunal.
The lands of Norma Angelica and three other campesinos who, like her, denounced dispossession total around 100 hectares that the Gutierrez brothers intend to sell or negotiate with the government for the installation of drains for the transistmico train.
“What I demand is justice,” emphasized Norma, stressing that the Gutiérrez brothers seem to have a pact with the federal and state governments, since the complaints filed do not seem to matter to them, because they enjoy impunity.
Lilia Juárez Juárez, speaking for her father, emphasizes that the Gutiérrez brothers also dispossessed him of his land and have been left with nothing.
“My father is a campesino, and although these brothers continue to do whatever they want, I am not going to leave, and we are going to recover the land, because we know that they took it from us for their own benefit.”
Erick Sánchez Gutiérrez, communal owner and representative of the community members who are fighting to recover their land, emphasized that in recent years violence has increased in order to benefit the Transistmic Train.
He clarified that although the lands of this agrarian community are not going to be used for any industrial center, they will be used for the installation of drains, containers and stations that will benefit the project.
As a survivor of a murder attempt, Erik recognized that the arrival of the Interoceanic Corridor has provoked dispossession, murder and also constant aggressions.
“Our comrade Jesús Manuel García Martínez, also known as “Chu Pau”, was murdered by a group of armed people, who interrupted his home in Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, and although we have reported it, there is no justice,” he said.
For this crime and attack, the Sol Rojo group led by Elliot Escobar emphasized that the brothers Anastasio and Sergio Gutiérrez García are responsible.
“We hold the mercenary Anastasio Gutiérrez García “Tacho Canasta” and Sergio Gutiérrez García responsible for this attack, as well as for the wave of evictions and growing violence in Santa Cruz Tagolaba,” he said.
He also denounced that the community member Salvador Pinal Martínez was the victim of persecution. He was arrested and detained in the Tehuantepec jail for almost a year and although he is free today, his legal process continues.
The campesinos assure that they are still fighting and will not stop to recover their land. In the Agrarian Tribunal there are lawsuits awaiting a response, as well as in the Oaxaca Prosecutor’s Office. These cases of dispossession were denounced during the Civil Observation Mission, which they hope will bear fruit, because they emphasized that “the land belongs to those who work it.”
The Observation Mission concluded that in the construction of the CIIT there are violations of the human rights of the inhabitants of these zones and of those who defend the collective rights of the indigenous communities.
Specifically, they referred to their right to information, since the communities claim that they have not had access to all relevant information related to the construction of the megaproject and its effects on their territories; to participation, self-determination, territory, a healthy environment, and cultural identity.
On the contrary, what they observed was the constant and vigilant presence of the armed forces around the Tierra y Libertad camp.
They consider that the deployment of the armed forces and their involvement in the supervision and/or administration of large-scale works – as in the case of the Interoceanic Corridor – is alarming because we observe that, historically, the militarization of territories is not a security strategy that reduces violence.
On the contrary, it is worrying that this presence increases confrontations, harassment, intimidation and other violations of the collective rights of indigenous peoples under international law.
For this reason, it is noteworthy that the armed forces are supervising the works being developed in the Isthmus and also that they are strengthening their presence through the construction of barracks, checkpoints and military bases in indigenous territories.
After concluding the tour and investigation of the Interoceanic Corridor project, they also noted the impunity and lack of access to justice in the region.
For this reason, the observation mission called on the responsible authorities to:
- Recognize and respect the human and collective rights to self-determination, autonomy, territory, participation, free, prior and informed consent and life of indigenous peoples, under the highest standard of protection.
- Guarantee the right to access to justice and stop any and all kinds of threats and aggressions against the indigenous peoples and defenders of Human Rights and nature
- Take the necessary actions to guarantee a secure environment in the context of article 9 of the Escazú Agreement so that they (indigenous campesinos) can do their work
- And provide the indigenous people with necessary, sufficient, complete and culturally appropriate information about the mega project and all of its components such as the pipeline and Poles of Development, so that they can exercise their right to free determination.
Again, Juana Ramirez takes the floor and states that “the worst is that the president of the republic has always had other facts and always will,” however, she clarified that “there can be no development when our rights are being violated.”
Finally, she asked President López Obrador, “What happened to the discourse about poor people first? Because at the moment we poor people are being trampled on.”
Making up the Mission of Observation are the following organizations:
Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental, A.C.Unión de Comunidades Indígenas de la Zona Norte del Istmo (UCIZONI),Front Line Defenders,Brigadas Internacionales de Paz (PBI),Servicios para una Educación Alternativa A.C.,Servicios y Asesoría para la Paz A.C. (SERAPAZ),Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, A.C.,Asamblea de Pueblos Indígenas del Istmo en Defensa de la Tierra y el Territorio (APIIDTT),Resistencia Civil Mixtequillense,Tribunal Internacional de Conciencia de los Pueblos en Movimiento (TICPM), Prevención, Capacitación y Defensa del Migrante, A.C. (PRECADEM), Brigada Humanitaria de Paz Marabunta,Brigada Humanitaria de Paz Marabunta Oaxaca,Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca, A.C. Corriente del Pueblo Sol Rojo,Red Nacional de Organismos Civiles de Derechos Humanos Todos los derechos para todas y todos (Red TDT),Comisión de Coordinación y Seguimiento del Congreso Nacional Indígena/Concejo Indígena de Gobierno,Centro de Información sobre Empresas y Derechos Humanos,Proceso de Articulación de la Sierra Santa Marta,Artículo 19 México,Espacio OSC,Grupo de Trabajo “Fronteras, regionalización y globalización” del Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales (CLACSO) e Indigenous Peoples Rights International IPRI-México
Original text published by Istmo Press on September 3,2023. http://www.istmopress.com.mx/istmo/los-otros-datos-de-corredor-interoceanico-del-istmo-de-tehuantepec/
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.