Indigenous Chiapans Insist They Are in Prison For Belonging to the EZLN

  • When they gave their statements they said they were tortured by plainclothes police
  • They oppose neo-liberal projects that try to turn their lands into a new Cancun

by Hermann Bellinghausen, La Jornada
Translated by Kristin Bricker

El Amate, Chiapas.  May 6 - "I have been detained because I belong to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation" (EZLN), Miguel Vazquez Moreno declared today when he gave his testimony in the second criminal court in the State Center for Social Rehabilitation of Convicts (CERSS in its Spanish initials) number 14, El Amate, where none of the officials and employees, of course, are wearing face masks.  Nor do they seem aware that there is a national and state health emergency.

In contrast to his first "statement" given under coercion in pre-charge detention, Vazquez Moreno is assisted by an interpreter who speaks his language, or at least a variation of his dialect (the interpreter the authorities have provided is from Cancuc, while the eight detained men from San Sebastian Bachajon speak the tzeltal dialect of Chilon).  But, at least they understand each other, and that is enough.

From behind the railing he declares himself innocent of the charges against him, and requests that he be freed for lack of evidence to proceed with a trial.  And he introduces himself in this manner: "I am from the ejido San Sebastian Bachajon and I belong to the support bases of the EZLN, an organization that defends its right to exercise autonomy and self-determination as indigenous peoples, its right to territory and natural resources."

The state and federal governments "want to impose neo-liberal economic projects in our autonomous territory; as indigenous people, the land is our life, from her we eat, we work, our children grow up there, and it is something holy.  This is why we believe that the land cannot be sold, rather, it is worked and looked after," he adds.

"Our territory is rich in water, animals, natural resources."  The state government, led by Gov. Juan Sabines Guerrero, and the federal government led by President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa have publicly said "that they want to make a 'Chiapan Cancun,' but stripping us of our life, which is the land, just so that foreign and national companies can make themselves richer, as well as the government officials who benefit from these projects."

Amongst said economic projects, he says, is the Palenque Integrally Planned Highway (CIPP), "which they want to cross our autonomous territory without respecting our rights; they want to impose these projects on the indigenous peoples without caring about what we have to say about it, and with discrimination they want to take away our lands for tourist purposes and only to benefit the business owners and the state and federal government, pushing us aside because to them we make those eco-tourism centers look bad.  We are natives, descendants of the peoples who have lived in these lands since before any 'official government' existed."

He says he was detained this past April 18 in the Agua Azul crossing, together with two other companions, without any justification, by various agents from the State Preventive Police, who later transferred him to Tuxtla Gutierrez, "where a couple of plainclothes police told me that I was a robber and that I had to sign some papers.  I didn't know what the papers said."

Said "papers" are a ministerial statement that the Special Prosecutor Against Organized Crime has exhibited as evidence against him before the judge, which is why Vazquez Moreno refuses to ratify any part of the ministerial statement, given that he never had a clear understanding of their contents.

The other six detainees, all adherents to the Zapatistas' Other Campaign, all gave similar statements before the judge.  In some cases they were subjected to torture in order to incriminate themselves.

Translator's note: Despite the men's insistence that they did not understand the confessions that they had signed and that some of them had been forced to sign the confessions under torture, the judge charged the men with organized crime and other related charges.  The men are now being held in the infamous El Amate prison awaiting trial.


chiapan incarceration

This sounds like the American indian wars of the 19th century. Our answer to the problem was to set aside reservations and special rights for the indigenous populations of our country. Your legislatures may want to consider this option.

The problem.

There were no American Indian wars. "The problem" for the invading colonizers was that indigenous people already lived on the land they wished to steal. The European invaders killed more than 90% of them in outright genocide for the purpose of stealing their land and resources. A war of aggression, invading a country whose people have never done anything to you, is genocide, a crime against humanity, not a war. The remnants were removed to reservations where their treatment was so bad that Adolf Hitler himself modeled his concentrations camps after it. As for American Indian rights, every treaty ever made with them was broken by our government. To this very day they have no rights that the white man is bound to respect and rapes and murders of American Indians by whites on reservations usually go unprosecuted.

The conquistadores are long gone. Suggesting that the Mexican government emulate the genocide of indigenous peoples by the United States government is, at least in my opinion, gratuitously insulting to everyone who cares about human rights, and I don't understand how such a comment was approved.

Indigenous peoples have the right to remain on their land and to maintain their traditional lifestyles, even if it interferes with the plans of genocidal governments and corporations to destroy them and their habitat for profit.

There is already a thriving tourism industry from the United States, where less than 4% of our old growth forests remain intact, and from other ecologically destroyed (developed) countries to Chiapas, because people want to learn about good stewardship of the earth and sustainable lifestyles. But the benefits of that tourist trade goes to the indigenous peoples there directly, rather than to corrupt government officials and foreign investors. We don't need to cut down every remaining tree and to destroy every last remnant of sustainable living in order to build more roads, hotels, and shopping malls, and turn it into a clone of predatory capitalism. In case you haven't noticed, there is a global economic crisis due to reckless capitalist adventurism, and many cloned tourist traps are already sitting half empty.

Enough is enough! Basta! The Mexican government must leave the indigenous peoples of Chiapas in peace. La lucha sigue! Hasta la victoria siempre!

Update on Bachajon case from Chiapas Support Committee

A short except from the Chiapas Support Committee's e-mail newsletter.  It hasn't been posted on their website yet.


1.  Miguel Vazquez Moreno Released from Prison - Miguel Vazquez Moreno, the Zapatista detained by police on April 18, was released from prison on May 15, shortly after the Zapatista Good Government Junta of Morelia completed an investigation into the false allegations against him and took two of the real robbers into custody. The Junta first issued a press release strongly supporting Vazquez Moreno as innocent of the charges of robbing travelers on the Ocosingo-Palenque highway. In another press release it not only repeated its support for Vazquez Moreno and its "arrest" of the two guilty parties, but it also named each member of the gang of thieves responsible for robbing tourists. The Junta went on to name those creating violence throughout its region. Prior to his release, Vazquez Moreno and the other seven detained in last month's police operation were all formally charged and confined in the El Amate prison. At his preliminary hearing Vazquez Moreno stated the following: “I am a native of the San Sebastian Bachajon ejido and I form part of the EZLN's support base, an organization that defends its right to exercise autonomy and self determination as indigenous peoples, its right to territory and to natural resources.” "They [the federal and state governments] want to impose neoliberal economic projects on our autonomous territory. As indigenous people, the land is our life, from there we eat, we work, our children grow and it is something sacred, therefore we consider that the land is not for sale but to work and take care of. Our territory is rich in water, animals and natural resources. They want to make it into a 'Chiapas Cancun,' by plundering the indigenous of our life; that is, the land, just so that foreign and national companies can become richer, as well as the government officials that benefit from these projects.”

2.  Seven Other Campaign Members Are Still Political Prisoners in Chiapas - 7 of the 8 indigenous men detained in last month's police operation near the Agua Azul Cascades remain in the El Amate prison, now formally (and falsely) charged with assaulting and robbing travelers. They are being submitted to extremely harsh treatment while confined. Meanwhile, more facts are known about the state police operation. The police actually stole money and merchandise from the stores they entered, stole money and belongings from the men they detained, destroyed the ticket booth operated by the Other Campaign members of San Sebastian Bachajon and turned over the collection of entry fees at that site to the paramilitary members of the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (Opddic). Police also took over a gravel pit operated by the San Sebastian ejido (collective farm) and turned its operation over to the Opddic members. The state government set up a police encampment on the road inside of San Sebastian and that camp is still there. Both the ticket booth and the gravel pit are important sources of income and their economic importance will increase dramatically if construction begins on a new San Cristobal-Palenque Highway and increased tourism becomes a reality. The Other Campaign is asking for international support for the seven prisoners in whatever form we are most comfortable; for example, getting the word out, letter writing, visiting embassies and consulates, petitions, demonstrations or other imaginative forms of social protest. The Chiapas Support Committee is working on a petition to the president of Mexico and the Governor of Chiapas. We will send it out shortly to this list and ask you all to please sign on. 

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