San Cristobal de Las Casas Taken Over for the Second Time by Organized Crime Groups After the Murder of a Merchants’ Leader

Ángeles Mariscal

For more than 8 hours, groups of armed men shot, burned houses and killed at least two people in the city of San Cristobal de Las Casas, the main tourist destination in Chiapas.

These actions were carried out in response to the murder of Geronimo Ruiz, one of the leaders of the Association of Traditional Market Vendors of Chiapas (Almetrach), who was shot by two men on a motorcycle around 11:00 a.m.outside his house in the northern part of the city.

Geronimo Ruiz was the leader of this organization and controlled the Santo Domingo handicrafts market, the most emblematic of the tourist city. His cousin, Narciso Ruiz, the other leader, maintains control of the rest of the public markets where some merchants sell weapons, drugs and pornography featuring indigenous youths.

After the murder, through radio and WhatsApp messages, alleged vendors called for a rally and from then until 10:00 p.m. Monday night, armed men on motorcycles and pickup trucks drove through the streets of the neighborhoods located in the northern part of the city, looking for people who might be linked to the murder.

During this period, residents recorded from their homes the constant detonations of high caliber weapons, chases, burning of homes, the blockade of access roads to the area with burning tires, and the bodies of two people killed by these groups, left lying there all day, due to blockades of the area, some 40 neighborhoods, by armed groups.

The bodies of two victims lay in the street, where they cannot be reached.

In the rest of the city, as soon as the news of the murder became known, businesses closed. In the markets, shopkeepers also began to run for cover. The population of San Cristobal suspended their activities and locked themselves in their homes.

This is the second time organized crime groups have taken control of the city and clashed for several hours, the first being on June 14, 2022.

The local municipal president, Mariano Diaz Ochoa1, was the only government official who agreed to talk about what was happening. He attributed the armed actions to “members and followers” of Geronimo Ruiz.

Later that night, around 10 p.m., in an interview, the mayor acknowledged that the San Cristobal markets have been penetrated by organized crime groups.

“We cannot block out the sun with a finger when we see images on social networks with high-powered weapons used exclusively by the Army, but these are the leaders, remember that they have hundreds of members who only show their faces and many times they are minors, and the ones who start with the weapons are the leaders who are the ones who terrorize the population, shooting in the air. That is why today there are loud and violent detonations. What we really need is the application of the law, if we do not apply the law, these acts like the one that happened today and others that have happened before, will continue to happen in San Cristobal de las Casas.”

Violence has worsened in recent years, not only in San Cristobal but in the rest of the state, where there is a dispute between crime groups for control of territory. But the mayor says that what is happening in this city is an isolated incident.

“Here the indigenous people are more difficult to infiltrate, they are hardened, they are tough, oftentimes they don’t even appreciate life [sic] and that is why they fight, and especially when they are young it is more complicated and more difficult. I feel that these are isolated events, that they fight over the plazas – here the plazas mean the sales on the streets, the parks, the markets. It is fierce and that is the dispute that they bring constantly, and they have always been between gangs and groups of this type, they have never gotten along. They have always fought each other. They have always threatened each other, and there have always been shots fired in the air.”

Around 10:00 p.m. the shooting subsided, personnel from the 31st Military Zone, National Guard and Police entered the disturbed area. So far, these patrols have been maintained in the main streets of this northern area of San Cristobal.

The armed groups retreated. No arrests are known to have been made so far. Classes and non-essential activities in government offices were suspended yesterday and today.

Originally published in Chiapas Paralelo on April 18th, 2023.
English interpretation by Schools for Chiapas.

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  1. Ironically, the mayor of San Cristóbal is known to have connections not only to the assassinated leader of the market vendors, but has personally engaged the motonetos for “tasks” and political support
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