Unmasking the State. Megaprojects, extractivism, militarization, divisiveness and the peoples’ resistance.

Hybrid and wild cacao pods. Escolapa, Santa María Chimalapa | Photo: Eli Garcia-Padilla

By Gloria Muñoz Ramirez

While the assemblies of the communities that make up the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) prepare to respond to the invitation of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) to travel with them to the five continents, starting in Europe in April of 2021, Carlos González, lawyer of CNI explains that this October 12, in the context of the 528 anniversary of what has been referred to as the “Discovery of America,” numerous indigenous peoples from the country will mobilize to denounce “the policies of war” of the State against the indigenous communities.  

With the current federal government, González warns, the policies of dispossession of  territories and lands of the indigenous communities have deepened. “There is a policy of war by the State against the native peoples which is expressed very clearly in the huge megaprojects, in the decided imposition of the Morelos Integral Project, in spite of the opposition of the people of the region; in the imposition of the Interoceanic Corridor Salina Cruz Coatzacoalcos; and in the imposition of the so-called Mayan Train, to mention three of the huge megaprojects in indigenous areas.”

These three megaprojects, the specialist in agrarian law explains, “are not only aimed at dispossession and converting the populations of the communities into cheap labor for the maquilas that they plan to develop, but also at reordering the borders of North America according to the interests of the United States.” Moreover, he denounces, there is a parallel and silent process of imposing a series of plans and extractive policies like mining, with the current government granting new concessions, and the handing over of national assets, like beaches, mangroves, and lagoons for tourism and real estate purposes.

And simultaneously, González continues, “the privatization of water is increasing, and without water there is no mining, there is not energy policy, there is no gas exploitation and  the great megaprojects, like the Mayan Train or the PIM, are going out of business.”

— What implications does the Water Law have for the communities?The pivotal part, since neoliberalism began to impose transformations and legislative changes with relation to the land and to the natural assets found in it, mainly the water, has been to impose a regimen of concessions or of contracts where on the surface it seems that water is the kind of resource that is in the hands of the nations or of the peoples and the communities, but really this is a lie.

Since 1992, a new national law on water was approved which established that individuals could apply for concessions of water that would grant them a title, which would then enter the market, which makes water a private commodity disguised as a concession; for example, in appearance it continues under the control of the State. The mining works in the same way, through the granting of titles of concession through which individuals are given the power to explore and exploit mining resources that are found in the ground.

In the case of electrical energy, it has been openly privatized for years. Companies have been allowed to produce for themselves, for individuals and to market the surplus. In the case of oil and gas they invented, with the last structural reforms, that oil would not leave the hands of the Nation and as such, there would be no concessions. But they did something worse, they created a system of contracts which are more flexible and appropriate for big oil and foreign industry, in this context of privatization. 

Parallel to what you are explaining, the welfare programs of the government operate with resources for indigenous families. How are these programs being received and how do they affect community life? All of the programs the government applies are individualizes and generate a social corporativism. We already lived through this with Carlos Salinas de Gortary, when he came to power illegitimately through electoral fraud committed against Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and applied the National Solidarity Program (Pronasol).

In the case of AMLO it’s the same.  It has to do with programs of the sort that are listed within the liberal scheme to be granted individually; they are programs that break the collective organization and also have an impact at the communities’ core. 

There are very specific programs, like Sembrando Vida, that are generating an enormous division and breakdown of the social fabric of the communities. Young people or holders of the ejidal or communal rights receive money, and there are others that don’t, and when it comes to defining tasks in the assembly there are conflicts arising that cannot achieve consensus.

— And what role are the Army and the National Guard playing? There is a profound militarization of the communities through the National Guard, which is a body made up of and commanded by the military, most directly by the Army and Navy. The federal executive has issued a series of agreements that gives them the power to intervene in public security from now until 2024.

In the communities we see the presence of these military groups through the rationale of war and invasion. The deployment of the National Guard and active military has been documented in States that have little criminal activity, but that are important due to the presence of the indigenous populations and the projects that they purport to develop, like in Oaxaca or Chiapas.

–There is a presidential discourse about the defense of the cultures of the people and even talk of asking their forgiveness for historical wrongs.  An attack on the territory is an attack on the community as a whole. The culture of the communities is developed in the relationship that they have with their territory, that they have as a community. The policy of dispossession, the imposition of projects, the fact that migration to the cities continues, has notable impacts on the culture.

There has not been a single change to the State’s education policy toward the indigenous peoples. The policy of bilingual education continues, which is one of cultural assimilation and has led to the destruction of languages.

On the other hand, the perspective of the conquest of the indigenous peoples and the demand of an apology on the part of Spain and the King, in the end is a display, a cover-up of the policies that are currently generating war and blood in the indigenous communities. 

— The narco cartels, how do they operate in the communities? There are cartels deeply involved in indigenous territories. You find them throughout the country, but in the indigenous areas they have an important presence, and where they do not, it is at the cost of a permanent and exhausting struggle and organization of the peoples and communities surrounded by the criminals. This is what the federal executive should be attending to, if in fact they are concerned about the grievances suffered by indigenous peoples.

— And the resistance? There is resistance wherever they want to impose projects of mining, energy, gas pipelines. It [the resistance] is considerable amongst zapatistas (people of Emiliano Zapata’s homeland)of Morelos, Puebla, and Tlaxcala that are struggling against the thermoelectric plant of Huexca, the gas pipeline and the water pipeline; in communities of Oaxaca and Veracruz against the Interoceanic Corridor; in the Yucatán Peninsula and in Chiapas against the Mayan Train, and it’s like that in the rest of the country.

But the movement and the indigenous communities for months have been living in isolation with respect to the rest of civil society that before were on the side of the people, and that now are confused by the policies of the “Fourth Transformation.” The idea now is to generate a series of actions to break this isolation and allow the mask of the 4T to be pulled away.

This article was originally published in Spanish in October’s Ojarasca Supplement #282 of La Jornada. https://ojarasca.jornada.com.mx/2020/10/09/para-desenmascarar-al-estado-megaproyectos-extractivismo-militarizacion-divisionismo-y-la-resistencia-de-los-pueblos-2394.html This English interpretation has been re-published by Schools for Chiapas.