Paramilitary Fiefdoms

[translated by irlandesa]

Sitalá, Chiapas. July 16.

Things are in such a state for the displaced of San Pedro Buena Vista that, when Sebastián Hernández Sánchez went to the judge in Yajalón to demand justice, they almost put him in jail, accused of having “stolen” lands, when he was the one who had been dispossessed. The Public Minister of Bachajón (municipality of Chilón), without taking responsibility for the charges which were filed by the expelled families, has turned the file over to the court in Yajalón.

Municipal authorities in Sitalá, meanwhile, “don’t know anything about the problem,” as a young municipal police officer said today under the council arches. This in spite of the fact that San Pedro Buena Vista is located in Sitalá, less than 30 minutes on foot from this municipal seat.

“The police don’t go to San Pedro because they’re afraid. They know that the paramilitaries are better armed than they are. They have tear gas bombs and rifles,” said a young member of the expelled group of Tzeltal campesinos and EZLN support bases.

Three constitutional municipalities (Yajalón, Chilón and Sitalá) and state Public Security police have been passing the buck, incapable of enforcing the law and standing up to the aggressors. At least one municipality, Chilón, has been accused of protecting the paramilitaries (PRIs and PRDs) who, on May 25, violently expelled the residents of San Pedro. They are now occupying the homes and lands of the zapatistas, who are staying in different homes in Sitalá. Some men have had to leave to seek work as laborers, because they do not have any money or the harvests from their milpas and coffee fields.

The Situation Is Intolerable, Say Displaced

“We can’t put up with the situation any longer,” said Sebastián. “Two of my children are sick, and we don’t have anything to get them better.” While the talk goes on with the spokespersons from San Pedro Buena Vista, a three year old girl, with deep dark circles under her eyes, but animated and alert, never stops coughing.

The aggressors, from four ranches in the municipality of Chilón, were able to make an incursion last week into the municipal seat of Sitalá, to surround the house where some of the families from San Pedro Buena Vista had taken refuge, and to order a “committee” to threaten Sebastian Hernández Sánchez and his family with death “if they don’t go further away, until they disappear,” said Sebastián himself, in imperfect, third-person Spanish. And all of this took place 200 meters from the Public Security barracks and less than 500 meters from the municipal palace.

“That group has gotten confident now,” commented a campesino from the Sitalá ejido. “The ones who are going around armed now are the same ones who stole the lands from our ejido several years ago, and the authorities didn’t dare recover them. They arranged things with them, and we ejiditarios lost 30 hectares.”

An elderly voice arose from among the people who had been listening outside the house where the conversation was taking place: “They were absolutely fully developed coffee fields.” And all the men concurred.

“On that July 4, they told me to join the other side if I didn’t want to die. About 50 of them, armed, surrounded this house, and some of them came inside in order to make threats. A gentleman from the Sitim ranch was the one who made the threats,” related Sebastián Hernández, in one of the brief moments in which he resorted to Spanish. He spent most of the time speaking animatedly in Tzeltal with his wife and with the men who were accompanying him. The paramilitaries from Chilón want him dead and the authorities from Yajalón want him imprisoned. He’s in a difficult position.

“We’re thinking about recovering the lands they took away from us. Whatever happens will be the government’s responsibility, since they don’t want to resolve it properly,” said another man, also representing the displaced.

The small village where they lived has 10 houses, a church and a tiny school. Today, all of it is being occupied by the invaders from Chilón, who allege that the lands of San Pedro Buena Vista belong to them, because their ancestors worked on the finca that had been there. The zapatistas arrived in 1994, recovering 30 hectares which the finquero left so that he could be indemnified by the government.

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