‘Foreigners are pressuring us to expel you’

[translated by irlandesa]

It is, beyond all doubt, a gem of nature, a jewel box of marvels.  The deep “reserve” of the Selva Lacandona is at the end of the most extraordinary process of colonization and social organization of the twentieth Mexican century.  For the last few years what has been happening here has also been of national and international importance.  Perhaps because it is the last corner of the patria where everything is still Mexico.  The end of the rainbow.

The indigenous representative of El Suspiro said that the soldiers who are “guarding” the lake, on the opposite shore, are spreading the story that there is gold in the lake.  The man immediately added, in a remarkable association of ideas:

“Let them go and guard the banks in the city.  We don’t need them.”

Here, in the midst of the green void of the Desert of Solitude, there is everything.  Environmental virginity and the urgency to patent and commercialize those vegetable and animal species which remain to be patented (that obsession of global capitalism: at the end of the Linnaean rainbow, the biggest business deal in the world will be found).

Here is social mobilization, the awakening of the Indian people, and war.  On one shore, the soldiers who repeatedly threaten the small community on the opposite shore: Tzotzil, zapatista, in resistance.

Almost mythic in nature, the Dorado of strategic resources chosen by the global empire for locating enclaves which have little or nothing to do with our nation other than its subjection.  But it so happens that this, one of the largest and most generous selvas in the world, has become home to thousands of Mayan families.

At one extreme, south of the green “S” of water sketched by El Suspiro Lake, in the low selvas of the San Felipe sierra, is the yankee’s house, whose owner abandoned it in January of 1994.  All the indigenous know is that it was a “gringo.”  Beginning with the Zedillo offensive of February 1995, the house, with two floors (yes, two), has been used by the military camp command.

The soldiers curiously insist on calling the lake Yanqui, while the indigenous and the maps call it El Suspiro.  In addition, the federal Army and government documents call this small community, at the northeast end of the spiral of water, Semental [“stud”].

“They say that in order to mock us,” the representative of the families of El Suspiro commented to La Jornada.

“We Are Going To Stay Here”

They arrived here during the heat of the insurgent indigenous movement, close to a decade ago.  They had been requesting land for years.  One day they went into the selva, just as their grandparents and parents had done, and they settled along the banks of the lake, in one of the last virgin regions of the Lacandona.  Now that they are threatening to expel them, the residents of El Suspiro, through the voice of their representative, are saying:

“We will not accept their removing us.  We are going to stay here.”

He added:

“We do not know who has bought here, whether it’s Japanese or people from the United States.  The government people tell us that ‘the ones who are against you are from other nations.  They are the ones who are pressuring us to remove you.’  For us, it is all the same.  Before, the government said it was coming to guard what belonged to them, it was what Carabias (Julia Carabias, head of Semarnap during the Zedillo administration) wanted.”

Or that up until 2000 their conflict was with the Mexican government.  Now, out of the mouths of the Fox emissaries, it is “with other nations.”  Who could imagine it!  So secluded, quiet and tiny, and now with international problems.  That has to be why their defense has now also become international.

The representative from El Suspiro, a strong man, middle-aged, with pronounced, severe features, laconic, intelligent, who does not give his name, said that he was a prisoner in the Cerro Hueco jail for three months, because of Albores’ “dismantling” of the Ricardo Flores Magón Autonomous Municipality in 1998.

“”Public Security police, Judicial police and soldiers all came here.  They grabbed us where we were working and they took four of us away, accusing us of having set the fires in the selva, that were never our fault.”

In the city of Palenque, the Public Ministry agent told him when they took him to prison:  “The next time they grab you, they aren’t going to make you a prisoner, they’re going to put a bullet in your head.” And he stressed:

“Even if they kill me, we aren’t going to leave.”

Throughout our chat, in the yard of his house, the man kept gazing in the direction of the lake.  He was surrounded by women of different ages, who did not speak Spanish, just Tzotzil.  He stated categorically:

“The ones who set the fire are free, there, in their houses.  We were not destroying the mountain or mistreating the lakeshore.  We do not raze mountain land, just acahual now.”

Located next to a remote forward position of the armed forces, the overflights by helicopter are continuous above the community and the lake.  While we were in El Suspiro, a helicopter made two turns above the indigenous’ house.

“On May 2, they made four trips.  Sometimes they land in the camp, and others just turn around, as if they were going to come down here in the patio.”

He points towards the dirt yard, encircled by piñales, reeds and orange trees.  A young woman, with a baby in her arms, speaks in Tzotzil.  The man translates:  “The helicopters always pass by here and frighten the children.  They make them cry.”

He reveals that there is a training camp at the soldiers’ base, where PRI campesinos from the powerful community of Palestina, on the outskirts of Montes Azules, go to receive training.  The zapatistas have identified them as paramilitaries for quite some time.

Federal Army patrols have made several incursions into El Suspiro.  At first the paramilitaries from Palestina accompanied the soldiers, “and they told us that this was their doing.”  The indigenous commented that only the soldiers have come the last few times.  The PRI civilians do not leave the camp of the yanqui house.

The Enthusiastic Rower

Florencio took the journalists on a trip around the lake, in an unstable raft made of three logs which were lashed together only enough to keep them from breaking up in the water.  Florencio’s oar consisted of a large spoon-shaped board.  In this vessel, we shortly crossed to the pasture on the opposite shore, where they had a dozen horses.  Not one single cow.  They occasionally fish for “sardines,” but they refrain from swimming because there is an abundance of lizards “with very wide backs.”

Slowly, skirting the small islands of rocks which are visited by eagles, aquatic birds and large swifts with unsheathed claws, he led us to the center of the lake in order to show us the military base, which cannot be seen from the community.  The roof of the yanqui’s house, high and silver-plated, shone in the sun, and it was surrounded by wooden edifices and leveled fields.

“The soldiers are there because they want to remove us.  But we are here, working.  We are not going to leave,” Florencio said, smiling.

The sylvan gondolier spoke emotionally about the lake.  He pondered the birds, which abound in number and variety.  “There is no need to kill them,” he said, before commenting that, like all the indigenous in the selva and mountains of Chiapas, he hunts tepezcuintle [a rodent], a common and plebian animal, but whose meat is much appreciated.

“We didn’t know what the biosphere was until we found out because of the threats.”

His ancestors left Simojovel.  Ensconced in a Tzeltal region, Florencio has become trilingual:

“We talk for a bit in Tzeltal, then in Tzotzil, and then in Spanish for awhile.”

At top speed now, he confessed that he would like to learn English “so that I could speak in other languages.”  And he lamented the contamination caused by the soldiers.  “Shoes reach our shore, lots of balls, soap wrappers, pen boxes, oil tanks, filth and things which bring disease to us.”

The Last Colonists of the Selva

Regardless of the outcome of their situation, possibly the last colonists of the Selva Lacandona are in places like the zapatista town of Seis de Octubre.  Fifty indigenous families, by establishing themselves between the communities of Santa Rita and San Antonio Escobar, all within the Biosphere Reserve, are once again repeating the Mayan odyssey of the moving milpa, appropriating a vastness which has been denied them time and again.

Many of these families had lived in San Antonio Miramar and were expelled by the PRIs, who were opposed to the regulations of the Ricardo Flores Magón Autonomous Municipality for stopping the looting and destruction of the selva.  San Antonio Miramar razed a vast grazing field in Ojos Azules, and it has had a sawmill for illegal trafficking in caoba and other woods.

The little ones who are playing and blackening their hands in a smoldering plot in Seis de Octubre, innocent as they appear and undoubtedly are, are living on the edge, in resistance, by a thread.  The government is telling their parents that they must go.  That these lands do not belong to them.  That they have another owner.

The municipality in rebellion has forbidden the communities in Montes Azules, regularized or not, from razing mountain land, and they are only allowed to do milpa burnings in acahuales (areas of secondary growth).  In all the villages visited by La Jornada, with the exception of San Antonio, the campesinos stated that their burnings are in acahual, very limited, and there have been no fires.

While it has not been an especially serious season for fires for the time being, there are currently two in the northern part of Montes Azules.  One, which originated between Palestina and Chamizal, is threatening to come close to El Suspiro Lake.  The other, which is impacting on a pine forest, in the San Felipe sierra heights, made rapid progress this weekend,  and originated in the Coatzacoalcos ejido.

All three cases involved PRI communities.  One of the members of the Autonomous Council said last night that “the ones from Coatzacoalcos don’t care, they put up their firebreak badly.”  If the fire isn’t stopped, the zapatista indigenous, those from ARIC-Independent and from other communities, will find themselves forced to fight them.

In recent days there was another fire in El Limonar, a large one, but it was controlled.  Now there is the threat that the ejido authorities, who mostly belong to ARIC-Independent, could be detained.  The autonomous members see another danger there:  that the government will set off a chain of apprehensions against community authorities, using the fires as a pretext and, where possible, based on criminal charges (the Lacandón ingredient).

Voices of the Lake

She is an old woman.  Almost toothless, which deforms her face.  But as soon as she begins to speak, she can be seen to be as beautiful as no other.  Her face is perfect.  She recollects at length, in Tzotzil, the incursions by the federal Army into the village.  Her voice is high-pitched, dramatic and calm.

The representative from El Suspiro translates immediately.  The last “visit” from the soldiers was on January 8 of this year, at seven in the evening.  They came on foot, walking around the lake.  At the time, the denunciation was published.  That the soldiers asked about the men.  That they told them that they were going to expel them on orders from the government.  That, yes, they were going to pay them for the fruit that they had been stealing from the campesinos this entire time of lacustrine propinquity.

Offended, the women responded:  “What we want we have here.  We do not want your money.”  The military patrol remained in the village for close to an hour, and the soldiers were saying that they would return.

The campesinos of El Suspiro, a forbidden land, coveted by transnationals and “nations,” where Profepa emissaries also came once to demand that they leave, admit that they have between seven and eight hectares of milpa and some seven thousand coffee shrubs.

“What we want is for the soldiers to go,” insisted the representative of the residents of El Suspiro.

He and his people know that they are on ground zero of the war, in the most distant and narrow extreme of a thread that continues unbroken.  Tense, on alert, and without resting, the thread of resistance is running up against conservation interests here (some sensible, others with unspoken self-interests), as well as the accumulated blunders of six administrations (from Echeverría to our times) and the imperial avarice that does not want gold, nor does it want silver.  It wants to break the piñata.  At the end of the rainbow, where everything begins.

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