Torture, Forced Displacement, Arbitrary Arrests and Violations of Right to Land: The Cocktail of Violence that Beseiges Chiapas

An extensive and documented study by the Fray Bartolome de las Casas Center for Human Rights Points to ¨Systematic Violations of Human Rights¨

Elements of the National Guard and the Mexican Army during a surveillance operation in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas State, in June 2022. Photo: NAYELI CRUZ

Chiapas is a powder keg besieged by “notable interactions between organized crime, armed groups and evident links with governments and companies”, concludes a documented and extensive report presented Tuesday by the Fray Bartolome de las Casas Center for Human Rights (Frayba). The consequences of this interaction between crime, authorities and the private sector translates into “systematic violations of human rights.” Frayba also accuses the Mexican State of being “ignorant, permissive, and acquiescent in the face of the current generalized violence”, which has exacerbated existing problems such as forced displacement, arbitrary arrests, torture, attacks on human rights defenders, and journalists or violations of the right to land that “configure scenarios for new forms of counterinsurgency.”

Chiapas is going through a serious crisis of violence. Even San Cristobal de Las Casas, the administrative and tourist capital of the State, which seemed to have been free for years from the context that threatens the rest of the region and the country, is recently experiencing a new scenario that has broken the mirage of peace in which it lived. Shootings, kidnappings, attacks of different all types, take place systematically in a territory traversed “in an inhuman way” by an “insolent violence against society that disturbs the structures of the original peoples and disrupts all relations of the good coexistence between the peoples in general”, says Frayba.

The report claims that the situation that the State is going through is leading to a progressive “community fragmentation due to the presence of a diversification of armed groups, which also brings with it a breakdown of the life projects of those who integrate them; psychosocial impacts that victimize and revictimize the population; impacts on the right to housing, comprehensive health, education, as well as a life in peace and free from violence; also in the means of economic subsistence, and in the social reproduction of life.For the human rights center, “violence is a mechanism of terror used against the population”, in addition to “a fertile field for economic control through legal and illegal businesses in a framework of complicity and acquiescence of the authorities in all the levels.

This weekend, in the Jacinto Canek Caracol, an autonomous community of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in San Cristobal de las Casas, more than 700 people gathered at an event organized by the National Indigenous Congress. It was the last stop for El Sur Resiste, a caravan that has traveled through Chiapas, Tabasco, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo to denounce the dispossession of their lands, the militarization and inequality that come hand in hand with the megaprojects that the Government is executing in the region, such as the Mayan Train or the Trans-Isthmic Corridor. The Frayba report supports their statements: “The State is crossed by geopolitical interests and the infrastructure for its development, such as tourism projects, mining, and geostrategic resources of natural goods.” To achieve their objectives, the authorities resort to “the creation and administration of tensions and conflicts based on economic waste and the imposition of new forms of community organization through social programs” such as Sembrando Vida, a government initiative that seeks to cover the basic food needs through agriculture. In practice, according to Frayba, programs such as this one, the Mayan Train or the Corridor “serve to deepen dispossession through the implementation of projects in towns and communities that consolidate territorial corporatism and strain community structures to the point of generating conflicts that allow their administration and territorial control based on fragmentation and violence.

Militarization and containment of migrants

The context of Chiapas is also one of “a process of deepening militarization that has been consolidated as a State policy.” As it passed through the region, El Sur Resiste identified 147 military camps located in the vicinity of autonomous communities of the EZLN. In addition, the presence of the Army and the National Guard in the territory is constant as a retaining wall for migratory processes from Central and South America. This causes huge bottlenecks in cities like Tapachula, denounced by human rights organizations as an open-air jail for migrants.

The situation has worsened in recent days with the announcement of the end of Title 42, the controversial measure imposed by the United States during the Government of Donald Trump that allowed migrants who crossed the US border to be deported on the spot. With the end of the health emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic on May 11th, the Mexican authorities foresee a sharp increase in the traffic of people trying to reach the north. The first effects are already being felt these days on the southern border of the country, where the migratory flow has increased, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis and overcrowding that already existed due to the Mexican military containment.

The conclusions of the report also focus on the forced displacement of entire communities in Chiapas, “one of the harshest phenomena in the State, occurring permanently since 1994.” On January 1st of that year, the EZLN took up arms against the government of Carlos Salinas de Gortari to put an end to the conditions of misery and exploitation that the indigenous peoples of Mexico suffered —and continue to suffer. Hand in hand with that insurrection came “actions of counterinsurgent political violence” that have intensified in recent times, in addition to “generalized violence that equally impacts peoples and communities.” For Frayba, this “constitutes irreversible damage, which, due to its permanence over time and the psychosocial implications, are comparable to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, within an environment of torture.”

With all this context, defenders of the land, human rights and communicators who denounce these practices, live in a situation of extreme vulnerability. “It becomes a risky activity.” As a solution, Frayba is committed to fixing its gaze on the example and “the resistance of the peoples” that “generate alternatives for struggle and autonomy.” “They are the ones who in their walk have refined their positions for social transformation.” “Strengthen and promote organizational processes to generate peace alternatives and dismantle violence in communities, in towns that are threatened today and in the reconstitution of communities and towns that generate their own life horizons”, the report states.

Original article by Alejandro Santos Cid at
Translated by Schools for Chiapas.

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