Conflicts & War

Thousands of Mexican indigenous people flee homes for fear of armed attacks

By Mitzi Mayauel Fuentes Gomez

Aldama, Mexico, Nov 5 (EFE) – More than 3,000 members of Tzotzil indigenous communities in this small southern Mexican municipality have fled their homes in recent days due to recurrent gunshot attacks by paramilitary gangs and authorities’ failure to address the problem, which stems from a decades-old land dispute.

The inhabitants of Aldama, located in the southeastern state of Chiapas, say 10 Tzotzil communities there have been the target of attacks by groups of armed civilians based in the neighboring municipality of Chenalho.

The violent incidents have forced hundreds of families to flee, according to a woman who identified herself as Cecilia and spoke on behalf of around 100 indigenous residents and displaced people from Aldama.

The local residents say the situation is intolerable because the shootings endanger the safety of women, children and elderly people in those mountainous communities located about an hour and a half from Chiapas’ capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez.

The problem dates back about 45 years and stems from a land dispute between the inhabitants of Aldama and Santa Martha (also known as Manuel Utrilla), a town in Chenalho.

Both sides in the dispute assert ancestral claims to the lands in question.

The conflict reached a boiling point in 2016 when seven families were violently driven from their lands by residents of Santa Martha.

Since then, a paramilitary group has operated in the area and repeatedly harassed and attacked Aldama’s residents on the roads, according to the Chiapas-based Fray Bartolome de Las Casas Center for Human Rights.

Local residents say more than 200 attacks have been carried out in recent years against Xuxch’en, Coco’, Tabac, San Pedro Cotzilnam, Yeton, Chivit and other small communities in Aldama city, the municipal seat.

The aggressions have continued even after a peace deal was signed on Nov. 26, 2020, and reparations were made for damage suffered by victims of in both Santa Martha and Aldama.

“There are shootings every day, in the morning, afternoon and night. There’s no let-up for the people of Aldama,” Luis, a resident of Chivit, told Efe.

Lucia said while holding her baby in her arms in the patio of a neighbor’s house that she fled her home on Wednesday night with her two children and four other families.

“It’s terrifying to walk through the coffee plantations afraid a bullet will hit us. We leave with nothing,” she told Efe in Tzotzil, a Maya language spoken in Chiapas.

She added that she’s “sick with nerves” and afraid that her husband or children will be wounded when they leave home to harvest coffee beans.

Lucia has taken refuge in the home of a neighbor named Luis but says she is still in danger because that residence is located less than a mile from her own home.

Another woman, Andrea, is living just 100 meters from where Lucia is taking refuge. A native of Chivit, she belongs to a large family of 40 people.

“We want to leave now because of the shootings, but we still don’t know where to go. We’re six families with lots of young boys and girls and that worries us because they go out to play and the bullets even reach us here,” she told Efe while weaving with a waist loom.

A group of journalists – including Efe reporters – recently visited the site of the attacks to get a first-hand look at the situation facing these displaced indigenous people.

But when trying to advance along a dirt road toward one of the Tzotzil communities they were kept at bay by gunshots, none of which caused any injuries.

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