Destruction of Lands, Deliberate Fires

Primero de Enero Autonomous Municipality, Chiapas.
May 3.

Aside from the daily patrols through the community of Patria Nueva (in which between 200 and 300 soldiers participate, and even armored tanks), two other threats have materialized here, in the form of cows and fire.  Not because cows and fire are intrinsically “bad,” but because, in the specific context of the Autonomous Municipality, the proliferation of cattle, and the deliberately set fires in April and May, represent an attack against the campesinos in resistance, destruction of their fields and forests.

According to autonomous authorities, members of the Regional Coffee Producers Organization of Ocosingo (Orcao) are continuously invading and destroying Primero de Enero’s recovered lands.  They are introducing the new cattle into the fields and, apparently, setting fires in order to destroy the forests and cultivated lands in order to eventually turn them into pasture.  The operation seems innocent and simple:  the government provides cows, and the recipients need someplace to put them.

Under these conditions, the friction is continuing between EZLN support bases and members of Orcao, which reached a critical point a month ago with injuries and “detainees” on both sides.

In a conversation with La Jornada, members of the Primero de Enero Autonomous Municipality described the events:  “This April three times the cattle arrived for Orcao.  They delivered 20 cows in the community of Ojo de Agua, and they put them on recovered lands that we are working.”

According to the autonomous authority, this “is of concern, because if we want to take their cows out, they are going to accuse us of provocation.”

Something similar took place in the Corazón de María ejido, where the new cattle also invaded recovered lands.  “Zapatista support base compañeros have fields between Ojo de Agua and Corazón de María, and the Orcao people now want to take them away from them.”

On March 28, a problem arose between zapatistas and Orcao over the cutting down of fencing here in Patria Nueva, over the delivery of cattle to the coffee producers organization.  On April 20 “28 more cattle arrived at the same place, and they were waiting for them, since they had already put up the fencing.  It is worrisome because we have seen how they behave…they are invading our field with their animals,” he noted.

As has been documented, the friction between the Autonomous Municipalities in the Ocosingo-Altamirano region and members of organizations which are close to the current chiapaneco government is owing to differences over methods of ownership and the use of lands which were “recovered” in 1994, following the zapatista uprising.  According to estimates from the state government and from independent bodies, conflicts of this type are currently going on in fifty communities, in eight Autonomous Municipalities.

While the municipalities in rebellion continue to consider the lands to be collective, the Orcao, and other independent organizations, which had participated in this concept, appear to have changed.  Now that they are with the government, they are seeking individual title to the lands, so that they can implement economic programs being offered by the State.

Autonomous authorities added that “they are burning part of our territory.  We suspect the Orcao, because they want to put in pasture lands.”

In the mountains which surround Patria Nueva, dense clouds of smoke rise up during the day, and at night it looks like a necklace of fires.  “Since the drought is very severe, the fires are easily set.”

Concerning the military pressure, the Autonomous Council denounces:  “Beginning on April 28, the patrols increased.  Up to 200 to 200 soldiers pass by every day.  They go from Ocosingo to we don’t know if it’s Yajalón or Palenque (to the north).”  The convoy is accompanied by a state Public Security detachment.

“Today a lot of soldiers passed through, with tanks, and they stopped and turned around right here in front, as if they were looking for something,” said the man who was conducting the conversation, aided by notes he was carrying in a small school notebook.  It was, he explained, “the words of the agreement which the Autonomous Council reached.”

Ocosingo municipal police are constantly keeping the community of Patria Nueva under surveillance.  “They are parking right there,” as one of the autonomous representatives pointed towards the international highway, less than 100 meters from the “big house” of the finca, which today serves as a school and headquarters for the Autonomous Municipality.  “They don’t want to leave us in peace,” he concluded. 

Moisés Gandhi, Chiapas.
May 2.

The dry season has brought more fires than usual this season, which is making communities in the area suspect that they are deliberate disasters.  While making his way here, this correspondent crossed by a place, close to La Florida bridge, that had been razed.  “It took us two days to put it out,” commented a man at the entrance to this community.

Military movements, however, have been intensifying since the end of April, in the direction of the cities of Ocosingo and Altamirano, both some 20 kilometers from Moisés Gandhi and the Cuxuljá crossroads.

The representatives of the Ernesto Che Guevara Autonomous Municipality, whose municipal seat is here, spoke to La Jornada:  “We don’t know who is setting the fires, nor what their purpose is.  Could it be that they want to send us here and there, putting out fires?  Because that is what this municipality has been doing.”

The spokesperson for the Autonomous Council said:  “We have seen mountains on fire where there are no fields.  A few days ago I myself saw a plane pass over the mountain there, and 15 minutes later smoke started to rise up from the fire that had started.”  The indigenous did not believe that it was a coincidence:  “The fire seemed to be on purpose.”

The fire in La Florida, and another along the boundary line with the community of Abasolo, were also set in order to affect the lands of the municipality in rebellion.  “We have been seeing fires everywhere that are not burnings [controlled fires set to clear fields].  It’s happening like it did in 1998,” noted the zapatista spokesperson, referring to the great counterinsurgency campaign of that year, which included the largest forest and selva fires in a long time in Chiapas, especially in the conflict zone.

The Air is Cloudy…

“Look at the smoke,” he indicated to the reporter.  The air was “cloudy” with smoke, something which is, in any event, usual at this time of the year.  In the campesinos’ judgment, the layer of smoke is thicker this year.  The sun is filtered, and it looks like an orange disc, seen through dark glasses (which are given to be called, precisely, smoked).

As to the military movements, the autonomous spokesperson said:  “Recently 17 federal Army trucks passed by from San Cristóbal to Ocosingo.  And 25 tanks.”  The zapatista civilians do not believe that this has to do with troop rotations.  They note that something similar was reported by the Miguel Hidalgo Autonomous Municipality:  80 trucks with troops entered from San Cristóbal going to Comitán.

“In none of these instances have we seen the same number returning.  More than a troop replacement, it looks as if they are increasing the number of soldiers in these territories,” he added.

The authorities of the 17 de Noviembre and Primero de Enero Autonomous Municipalities, in this same area, have also mentioned intense patrols by military and Public Security vehicles, which cover the routes from Altamirano-San Cristóbal and Altamirano-Ocosingo on a daily basis, some of them crossing by the communities of Primero de Enero which are close to the federal highway.

The campesinos of the zapatista 17 de Noviembre municipality insist, in a similar fashion to the people of Moisés Gandhi, that they can very easily those identify disasters which are caused by carelessness or negligence, close to lands which have been burned for planting, and which ones could only have been set intentionally and illegally.  And these former ones are proliferating for the first time in four years.

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