The Wanderings of Orcao

by Raúl Romero

For more than 20 years, the Regional Organization of Coffee Growers of Ocosingo (Orcao) has constantly attacked the EZLN  bases of support communities. In the past three years, the attacks have intensified. The aggressions have been varied: insults, amenazas, beatings, kidnappings, theft, shootings, fires, torture, dispossession of lands, forced displacement… The denunciations by collectives in solidarity with the Zapatista communities are numerous. Human rights organizations have documented the incidents. Journalists and the communication media have covered the facts. Individuals in the academic and artistic worlds have signed letters and appeals for the situation to to be addressed. To this moment, neither the state nor the federal government have done anything to stop the aggressions, even when it is pointed out that Orcao is using public resources, destined for the construction of schools or from the Sembrando Vida program, to buy guns with which to attack the Zapatistas. 

Just this past May 2nd, Orcao stepped up its attacks against the Zapatista support bases that reside in the communities of Emiliano Zapata and La Resistencia, both belonging to Caracol 10, Floreciendo la Semilla Rebelde (Flowering the Rebel Seed), in the official municipality of Ocosingo, Chiapas. According to the Junta de Buen Gobierno, Nuevo Amanecer en Resistencia por la Vida y la Humanidad (New Dawn in Resistance for Life and Humanity) (https://bit.ly/3ylsVq3), the toll of the attacks until now is 83 bases of support forcibly displaced from their homes, 54 from Emiliano Zapata, and 29 from La Resistencia.

Like in previous attacks, Orcao arrived, firing weapons of different calibers at the residents, burned an autonomous school and the garage of one individual EZLN base of support. A Zapatista narrates some of what was experienced in these days: “It brings us great sadness, because we are suffering with the children. Yesterday at 3 o’clock in the afternoon we went out, suffering, walking, enduring hunger, because the day before yesterday, they began to attack at about 8 o’clock at night. We went out to hide, in distress– the children, they were trembling, because we were going to go and hide. They began to shoot high-caliber bullets, shooting bullets close by. It calmed down a little and we were moving, until we reached the school. We stayed there; we were surrounded, but they saw us because there was no vegetation. They began to shoot, and we laid them [the children] down on the ground so that the bullets wouldn’t hit them. We were still surrounded until 3 in the morning. They even told us to retreat, and we did because we didn’t want to have a confrontation and die. That is why we left yesterday–we came walking — enduring hunger and thirst in this heat.”

Orcao, as Luis Hernández Navarra described in these pages,  (https://bit.ly/3P2GDEn) was formed in 1987 from the work of the Catholic church and had an important job in the communities. However, toward the end of the 90’s the state and federal governments, as well as the Army, coopted various leaders of the organization, who were installed as public,municipal, state and federal officials at the same time that governmental support for their followers increased. This was how the organization became a paramilitary one, that is, an armed group trained and equipped; formed, financed, and/or permitted by the State, to carry out repression or counterinsurgency work.

Orcao operates like a paramilitary arm of the State, and additionally, some of its members occupy posts in the governmental structures. This is the case of José Pérez Gómez, who currently is the first alderman of the municipal government of Ocosingo. 

In the multiple denunciations that have been made since more than 10 years ago, the names of Tomás Santis Gómez, Antonio Juárez Cruz, Marcos López Gómez and Juan Gómez stand out, all of them leaders of the organization of coffee growers, who participated once again in the attacks of this past May 2nd.

Paramilitarism, that old strategy of the State to repress and break up independent social organization, has done a great deal of damage in our country. In contemporary Mexico, the memory of the resistances keeps well the names of the Batallón Olimpia, Halcones, Máscara Roja, Los Chinchulines, Paz y Justicia and so many others 1. The mantle of impunity that is maintained in Mexico, that which has protected military and former governors, has also guaranteed that these groups continue operating and are being renewed. Other interests, like those of organized crime, help these groups out, or they make their own, giving rise to the phenomenon of narco-paramilitarism.

In Chiapas, the Zapatista communities have for decades avoided falling into provocation. In that effort for peace, they have lost compañeros like José Luis Solís López, Galeano, assassinated by another paramilitary group 8 years ago, on May 2nd 2014. The Zapatistas continue choosing life and autonomy, even as from above someone imposes war and death on them.

This article was published in La Jornada on May 7th, 2022. https://www.jornada.com.mx/notas/2022/05/07/politica/las-andanzas-de-la-orcao/ English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

Footnotes

  1. These are names of paramilitary groups armed and trained by the State—some dating back to the Guerra Sucia, others  are still in operation today.