Voices from the Field: Puebla’s Campesinos Resisting the Theft of Their Land

campesinos working in agricultural fieldsThe campesinos of the Texmelucan valley in Puebla, Mexico, depend on the land for their livelihood. Their cultures and identities spring from these rich volcanic soils in the foothills of mount Popcatepetl and mount Izatacihutl. Yet, this all could be lost with the construction of a new highway that threatens to forcibly displace them from their land.

On August 10, members of the Peoples Front in Defense of the Land and Water (FPDTA – the Spanish acronym) joined more than 10,000 supporters in a demonstration in the capital city of Puebla. Protesters were calling for Governor Rafael Moreno Valle to end to the repression of the movement, and for the freedom of their imprisoned leaders who have been incarcerated on questionable charges since April.

The campesinos of Texmeulucan valley have organized to challenge the construction of the Western Arch highway, which is commonly referred to as “the project of death.” Since 2012, the FPDTA has worked to unite the 19 communities that are impacted by the construction of the highway project, as well as connect with communities affected by other mega-projects in Tlaxcala, Puebla, and Morelos.

The 26-mile highway is being constructed in order to cut down transit through the state of Puebla. Yet the construction comes at a high social cost. It directly affects 1,200 collective farms (ejidos) and small property owners. But the impact goes well beyond just the landowners and ejidos; each one hires between eight and 12 local laborers to assist in the planting, harvesting, and maintaining of the fields.

The leadership of the FPDTA has expressed a willingness to work with the government to find a solution, but both the state government of Puebla and the federal government have shown little interest in the concerns of the campesinos of Puebla.

“We want a plan where the campesinos can stay on their land,” said Izabel Topetón Morelos, one of those affected by the construction of the highway. “But the government has been unwilling to listen and respect the rights of the campesino.”

Despite their willingness to pursue a plan, those affected are still unwilling to give up or sell their land. Many of those affected by the project believe that the government has used underhanded tactics to encourage them to sell their land.

“The government was coming around and telling the campesinos that their neighbors had sold,” said Mario Marin, one of the farmers affected by the development project. “But when we began to organize, we realized that the others were not selling.”

The farmers of the Texmeulucan valley maintain that the region that where the highway is to be built is productive land, with clean and abundant water.

Victor Garcia Rafael is an elderly farmer, and another of many who is affected by the highway. He has worked his small plot in San Martin Texmelucan his entire life. Here he grows spinach, corn, beans, and other fruits and vegetables which will go to the markets of Mexico City. His land lies in the path of the highway. He is concerned with what the highway will mean for the men who help him with the harvest, and for himself.

“What will they do?” asks Garcia Rafael, motioning to the eight men currently assisting him with the harvest. “There are no jobs for them to take other than those in the field. These projects break up the community.” […]

The construction of the Western Arch is accompanied by the construction of a number of projects tied to the energy reforms of President Enrique Peña Nieto, which includes a 100-mile natural gas pipeline, called the Morelos Integral Pipeline, that runs from the state of Tlaxcala, through Puebla, and to Morelos.

“This all comes in the wake of the energy reforms of President Enrique Peña Nieto, which was supposed to ‘save Mexico,’” said Omar Cordero Garcia, son of one of the imprisoned leaders of the Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra y Agua, in an email. “But rather, the reforms destroy the environment, and deprives the poor of their land in order to sell Mexico’s energy resources. We are struggling to defend our natural resources, and our way of life.”

In this sense, the struggle of the campesinos of Puebla is one that is over the control of resources.

“These lands belong to the people who work them,” said Raul Rodriguez de la Fuente, FPDTA’s lawyer. “It is all about natural resources, and the taking of resources. These lands have been in these families for generations.”

In fact, the construction of mega-projects in Puebla has required the breaking of the traditional laws (usos y costumbres) that govern resource distribution. These projects take away the communities democratic management of land and water. And the expansions of mega projects in Puebla create a situation where, according to Rodriguez de la Fuente says, “only the government and business benefits.”

The atmosphere in Puebla for activists has become increasingly tense. Supporters and leaders of the movement have faced intimidation and repression for their resistance to the development projects that they refer to as “projects of death.”

Abraham Cordero Calderón, the Secretary of the Campesino Front in San Martin Texmelucan, was arrested without charges in April 2014, along with the two other leaders of the movement, Juan Carlos Flores Solís and Enedina Rosas Vélez.

Obdulia García Galicia, Cordero Calderón’s wife, has continued to participate in the movement to defend her husbands land. The stress of his imprisonment has taken a toll on their family economically. Despite the difficulty and fear that comes with fighting for his liberation, she expresses being thankful for the support of the others in the movement.

The repression has impacted more than just those who are directly affected by the development projects such as the Western Arch and the pipeline. Academics from the Autonomous University of Puebla (BUAP) and environmentalists, who have spoken out against the projects, have been targeted as well.

Armed gunmen dressed as campesinos showed up at the house of sociology and sustainable development professor Ricardo Pérez Avilés at the (BUAP) after he spoke out against the projects. The gunmen were unable to locate the professor, but the threats against Pérez Avilés still persist, and the professor has since gone into hiding.

Support for the resistance has come from around the globe. Intellectuals and social organizations issued a letter to the governments of Puebla and Morelos denouncing the repression against those resisting the Western Arch highway project and Morelos pipe line soon after the arrest of the leaders. MIT Linguistics professor emeritus Noam Chomsky and Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano were among those who signed the letter calling for the release of the leaders of the FPDTA, and demanding that the Mexican government ends the “projects of death.”

“Hereby we urge the governments of Rafael Moreno Valle in Puebla and Graco Ramirez in Morelos, to give freedom to detainees, to cease intimidating measures against social activists and academics,” the letter stated. “And the cancellation of mining, hydropower, highway projects, pipelines called rightly ‘death projects’ for affecting the lives and health of hundreds of thousands.”

Furthermore, Puebla’s draconian “Bullet Law,” which allows police to use deadly force against resisting protesters, hangs over the movement. But despite the repression and potential for deadly force, the campesinos of Puebla will continue their resistance.

“We are not afraid,” said Topetón Morales. “We are united.”

Read full article at: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/mexico-archives-79/5007-voices-from-the-field-pueblas-campesinos-resisting-the-theft-of-their-land

Communal Lands: Theater of Operations for Counterinsurgency

(by Renata Bessi & Santiago Navarro F. via El Enemigo Comun)

Juchitán Oaxaca: Zapotec Indians show solidarity with resistance to building one of the largest wind farms in Latin America, despite death threats from paramilitary groups paid by companies and protected by the government. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)
Juchitán Oaxaca: Zapotec Indians show solidarity with resistance to building one of the largest wind farms in Latin America, despite death threats from paramilitary groups paid by companies and protected by the government. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

“In 2006, a team of geographers from the University of Kansas carried out a series of mapping projects of communal lands in southern Mexico’s Northern Sierra Mountains. Coordinated by Peter Herlihy and Geoffrey B. Demarest, a US lieutenant colonel, the objective was to achieve strategic military and geopolitical goals of particular interest for the United States. The objective was to incorporate indigenous territories into the transnational corporate model of private property, either by force or through agreements. Demarest’s essential argument is that peace cannot exist without private property.

“The Bowman Expeditions are taking places with the counterinsurgency logic of the United States, and we reported them in 2009. These expeditions were part of research regarding the geographic information that indigenous communities in the Sierra Juarez possess. The researchers hid the fact that they were being financed by the Pentagon. And we believe that this research was a type of pilot project to practice how they would undertake research in other parts of the world in relation to indigenous towns and their communal lands,” said Aldo Gonzales Rojas in an interview with Truthout. A director for the Secretary of Indigenous Affairs in the state of Oaxaca, Rojas ensures that indigenous laws are being instituted and applied correctly in the state.

According to researcher and anthropologist Gilberto López y Rivas, “The agents on the expeditions consider the types of communal property in these lands, both collective and autonomous, to be an obstacle for the development plans currently being very aggressively executed, where there is capital from mining companies, pharmaceuticals, energy companies, among others,” he told Truthout. This is despite the fact that these communal lands in Mexico, for example, were recognized after the Mexican Revolution in 1910 and are lands that indigenous communities have possessed since time immemorial.

In Oaxaca, a caravan of activists arrives to support those resisting the construction of the wind farm, in the face of more than 500 policemen attempting to take control of the territory. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)
In Oaxaca, a caravan of activists arrives to support those resisting the construction of the wind farm, in the face of more than 500 policemen attempting to take control of the territory. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Geographer and University of Colorado professor Joe Bryan, affirmed in an interview with Truthout, that, as a point of reference in this offensive against communal lands, the Southern Command of the United States military, one of the 10 command units belonging to the US military that are deployed across the world, covers the area from South America, Central America, to the Caribbean. “They have turned their gaze to see that there is no state presence and an absence of private property. They are looking for communal areas and present these areas as belonging to drug trafficking and organized crime groups. In this way the Southern Command is looking to become a partner with the governments and nonprofit organizations in Latin America, and with this in mind, for example, that operation called Continuous Mission – that promotes health services to communities – [is] another way of occupying territories and of counterinsurgency.”

As the ideologue of these expeditions, Demarest considers collective land ownership to be the birthplace of delinquency and insurgency, and thus believes that collective property must be destroyed. He graduated from the School of the Americas, which is under the administration of the US Army and was founded in 1946 in Panama, with the objective of training Latin American soldiers in war and counterinsurgency tactics. In recent years, graduates from the School of the Americas have participated in assassinations in Colombia, formed part of the drug trafficking organization The Zetas, in Mexico, and were involved in the coup in Honduras in 2009, as was demonstrated by activists through a School of the Americas Watch lawsuit against the Department of Defense in February 2013. “Demarest is one of the coordinators of these expeditions. He was trained in the School of the Americas, later served as military attaché for the United States Embassy in Guatemala in 1988 and 1991, where a counterinsurgency project was implemented that caused terrible massacres of indigenous populations,” says López. […]

In Oaxaca, a police officer takes pictures, attempting to document the presence of activists in Oaxaca’s Triqui indigenous region. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)
In Oaxaca, a police officer takes pictures, attempting to document the presence of activists in Oaxaca’s Triqui indigenous region. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)


Read the full article “Communal Lands: Theater of Operations for Counterinsurgency” at El Enemigo Comun

Death of a Zapatista: neoliberalism’s assault on indigenous autonomy

Compañero Galeano sitting on a tree
Compañero Galeano

(via libcom.org)

“On Friday May 2, 2014 an Indigenous Zapatista teacher, Jose Luis Solís López – known by his name ‘in the struggle’ as ‘Compañero Galeano’ – was ambushed and murdered. He was beaten with rocks and clubs, hacked with a machete, shot in the leg and chest, and as he lay on the ground gasping for air – he was executed by a final bullet to the head. The reason he was subjected to this callous violence varies depending upon what account is heard or read. But in truth, he was assassinated because he was Indigenous, because he was a teacher, because he was humble, and more specifically – because he was a Zapatista. And in a contemporary global system of neoliberal production and colonial governance, people like Galeano are deemed to be threats – threats that need to be killed in cold blood and suffer brutal deaths.” […]

The primary reason that Galeano and the other Zapatistas were targeted is because they are living a life of decolonial, anti-capitalist, collective resistance. A life that focuses on mutual aid, equitable gender relations, autonomous education, horizontal decision-making, and in addition, a life of shared laughter, dancing, and caring for one another. And during a time in which unimpeded capitalistic production, the rampant extraction of natural resources, the attainment of individual status, and unequal systems of patriarchal governance continue to be enabled and rewarded, living a life that rejects those things is something that hierarchical power sees fit to punish.

Additionally, the Zapatistas were subjected to this violent attack because they are exercising sovereignty as Indigenous people in the face of an omniscient neoliberal industrial complex, or more accurately, a sterile system of banal domination driven by individualistic notions of competition, private ownership, and ambition. The Zapatistas thereby continue to be encroached upon by military and state authorities because they collectively choose to rebuke and disregard the abusive structure of negligence that neoliberalism proves to be. And at this given moment, the success of the Zapatistas in contesting and opposing the ideals of neoliberalism has caused reactionary violence on the part of the colonial government.

The responses to the victories of the Zapatistas by those who wield power and privilege have been attempts at dividing Indigenous communities and pitting them against each other. This is done through the distribution of co-optative government ‘assistance’ to anyone who will disrupt the Zapatistas and their struggle. In their steadfast conviction against ever becoming dependent upon official authorities, the Zapatistas wholly refuse to accept any of the hollow amenities the state offers, referring to such superficial ‘aid’ packages as migajas (‘crumbs‘). In addition, the Mexican government also relentlessly endeavours to discipline, humiliate, disappear, and make suffer those Indigenous rebels who have had of the audacity to reject its neoliberal edicts and shallow offerings. Consequently, military encampments and state repression are intensified in the areas where Indigenous communities are based, primarily due to the democratic spaces and international solidarity that the Zapatistas have built.

And while those who profit most off of the spoils of neoliberalism continue to loathe the Zapatistas for their resilience, what proves to be a greater threat to the political and economic powers at be – is the autonomy of the Zapatistas. Autonomy is dangerous because it shows agents of capitalism and administers of colonial domination that they are no longer necessary. Consequently, the liberation that the Zapatistas have fought for and won, along with their ability to create socially just spaces and sustain democracy within their own communities, continues to be subjected to heavy-handed, reactionary aggression by the neoliberal government. This is because neoliberalism, just as ongoing colonialism, fear being exposed – more precisely, they fear being exposed as incompetent, unjust, violent, and ultimately, useless. And this reality – is exactly what the Zapatistas have shown us all.

zapatista families

Read full article here

Breaking the Curse of Forgotten Places: Reflections from the Comunitario Movement in Michoácan, Mexico

Comunitario at barricade in Michoacan, Mexico“The first successful strategy for community based self-defense against the Knights Templar cartel in Michoacán came about on April 15th, 2011 in the indigenous Purépecha community of Cherán, Michoacán. The implications of the success of this original uprising against the Knights Templar and the narco-government are immeasurable; however, what is evident today is that the strategy has spread contagiously throughout the state and has now even inspired non-indigenous mestizo communities to replicate it. Since February of 2013 a variety of communities, both indigenous and mestizo, have risen up in arms, evicted municipal police from their municipalities, have evicted the Knights Templar cartel from their territories, and have begun to engage in self-governing strategies founded upon a consensus-based general assembly model. Most non-indigenous mestizo communities in the state of Michoacán have been known to be racist towards indigenous peoples and communities of the state. To now see these mestizo communities exercise indigenous strategies for community liberation is truly historic and ground breaking. […] “

Read full article at El Enemigo Común.

Deconstructing recent propaganda surrounding “vigilante groups” in Southern Mexico

The corrupt local government was kicked out of the town, and replaced with a traditional indigenous form of communal self-governance, centered around democratic community assemblies.
The corrupt local government of Cheran, Michoacán, was kicked out of the town, and replaced with a traditional indigenous form of communal self-governance, centered around democratic community assemblies.

There is a lot of propaganda in the corporate media right now regarding community self-defense groups (“autodefensas”) in Mexico. Papers such as the LA Times, the Guardian, and Washington Post are calling them “vigilante groups” to give the image of random gangs of people running around with guns and arbitrarily shooting people they don’t like, and is talking about how the government is coming in to “restore peace”.

First of all, regarding the term “vigilante”, most of these groups are not random individuals with guns “taking the law into their own hands”. They are well-organized groups of trusted/respected citizens, who have decided that they want the cartels out of town. They have also decided that the police and government are controlled by the cartels, and so they need to go as well. Autodefensas are the result of community members coming together and deciding that they wanted to take their town back from the cartels, and that the only way to do this was to take up arms against them.This movement for self-determination and community self-defense is spreading like wildfire, in dozens of towns across southern Mexico.

Formerly housing the corrupt, cartel-controlled local government, this building has now been converted into a community building.
Formerly housing the corrupt, cartel-controlled local government, this building has now been converted into a community building.

Second, regarding the military coming in to “restore peace” — they are talking about the “peace” of living under constant terror from the cartels controlling these towns, people being tortured and beheaded, laws made by corrupt politicians and cops that work for the cartels. This is what the military is coming in to restore. The drug cartels, the rich, and the Mexican government cannot be considered as separate groups — at the top, you have the same people benefiting from all three. These criminal elites are terrified about what is happening in Michoacán — people taking back community power by force, kicking out the cops and governments that give the cartels/rich their power. This is why there is suddenly this wave of propaganda coming out of the corporate media in both Mexico and the U.S. trying to paint these groups as “vigilantes”. This is why the Mexican government is sending in the military to restore the “order” of their criminal syndicates controlling the towns. When you hear the corporate media say that the Mexican army is coming in to “restore order”, know that this is code for the cartel-dominated army coming in to put the cartels back in charge of these towns, and brutally kill all of the people who tried to take back their own communities.

Please, whenever you see your friends sharing these propaganda articles from the NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, etc. regarding “vigilante groups”, help them understand the reality of the situation. Deconstruct the propaganda for them, and promote the use of the term “community self-defense” instead of the loaded term “vigilante”.

Here is a great documentary (~45 minutes) about the community self-defense groups in the town of Cheran, Michoacán:

On this day in history – December 22, 1997: The Acteal Massacre

On This Day: In 1997 armed paramilitary troops with assault rifles entered and attacked the unarmed Tzotzil Maya village of Acteal in Chiapas, Mexico in what has come to be known as the Acteal Massacre. The Tzotzil were attending a prayer meeting when the troops entered the village and massacred 45 people, including pregnant women and children. The paramilitary troops were retaliating against the Zapatista National Liberation Army, whom the Tzotzil had supported.

Mourners in the aftermath of the 1997 Acteal massacre.

Declassified documents reveal the role of the Mexican government and military in this massacre: The documents describe a clandestine network of “human intelligence teams,” created in mid-1994 with approval from then-President Carlos Salinas, working inside Indian communities to gather intelligence information on Zapatista “sympathizers.” In order to promote anti-Zapatista armed groups, the teams provided “training and protection from arrests by law enforcement agencies and military units patrolling the region.”

(Text from: Indigenous People’s Issues & Resources, Facebook)



Remembering Brad Will in Mexico

From Upside Down World:

“William Bradley Roland, aka Brad Will, an independent journalist from Indymedia New York went to the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca in 2006. Like many other alternative or independent media producers, Will sought to break the media siege that the mass media had created, which downplayed or reduced the number of people mobilized in the more than five month uprising that shook the state in 2006. This uprising saw an actual number of more than two million people with over 3,000 barricades erected. Thus, on October 27, 2006, while conducting his work, a bullet from state-hired thugs, snatched his life.

“We will never forget compañero Brad because he is in our hearts and in our history, like the other 26 compañeros that were murdered by the state.” expressed Mrs. Carmen Martinez, who prepared for a march and rally that is organized annually by the residents and groups in the Calicanto barricade that remembers Brad Will and demands justice for him and the other 26 other protesters that were killed and who have yet to receive justice. […] “

Read the rest of the article at: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/mexico-archives-79/4549-remembering-brad-will-in-mexico