Police carried out an early morning operation today directed at adherents to the Zapatistas' Other Campaign, detaining three men whose whereabouts remain unknown. The Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center ("Frayba") is currently attempting to locate the three men, José Lázaro López López, Robeto López López, and Manuel Gómez, all adherents to the Other Campaign, but has thus far been unsuccessful. The men were last seen in police custody during the raid. It is also unknown what charges the government will bring against the men.
Approximately 500 police raided Cruzton in the Venustiana Carranza municipality in Los Altos at approximately 5am this morning. The Other Campaign in San Cristobal de las Casas reports that armed police kicked down doors and leveled residents' houses during the raid.
While the reasons for the raid and the charges against the detained men remain unknown, it appears as though the police operation was related to a land dispute within the community. Residents report that the police were directed by civilians, presumably members of the Emiliano Zapata Peasant Organization (OCEZ-CMPA in its Spanish initials) who claim to be the legitimate owners of land the Other Campaign adherents claim as their own. The OCEZ is a peasant organization that has existed in Chiapas for over forty years. Throughout its history of advocating for peasant land rights, it has maintained a contentious and at times hostile relationship with the government. However, members report divisions in the organization, with some members choosing to work with the government, while others continue to reject government aid.
Despite having arrest warrants for several residents of the autonomous territory in Cruzton, police had promised to not take any action against the community until negotiations with the government over disputed land in the community were settled. Negotiations were still ongoing at the time of the raid.
The Cruzton Community Committee Against Repression, adherents to the Other Campaign, released the following communique last year which explains the history of the land dispute that presumably led to the police raid:
To adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle;Originally published in Narco News.
To the Sixth Commission;
To National and International Civil Society in solidarity with the Peoples in Defense of their land and territory;
To the alternative media;
The Cruzton Community Committee Against Repression, adherents to The Other Campaign, contact you to make an urgent call. We find ourselves at great risk of being repressed by the present Chiapas state government, headed by Juan Sabines Guerrero from the PRD [Party of the Democratic Revolution]. For this reason we tell you:
Many years ago when we were younger, we, habitants of the Cruzton Community, worked on the Mispia Estate, known by the name "Nazaret," whose owner was Mr. José Villafuerte Mijangos. Our parents were indentured servants on this ranch and, in fact, many of us were born on that Estate. As you all know because the story has been told before, on these estates the indentured servants were exploited. We all worked for very low salaries and the estate owner enslaved us.
The estate owner, instead of granting us the labor rights we deserved in 1988, opted to donate 308 hectares to us by means of a public deed dated August 24, 1988, officiated by Sofia Rabasa Esquinca, who was the Joint Judge of the First Instance of the Judicial and Freedom district at that time, where he donated in a pure, simple manner a free deed of co-ownership in 20 equal parts to 20 of us who were his indentured servants, and now inhabitants of the Cruzton community. He even physically handed over the land himself. Together we went around visiting the boundary stones of the land he donated to us. Under his instruction we tilled said land, and since then we've possessed and worked these lands as their owners.
In 1994, a group of people from the Teopisca municipality and from the Nuevo Leon Ejido, trying to pass themselves off as Zapatista brothers, invaded our land. However, we investigated and we were informed directly by the Good Government Council of the Los Altos zone located in Oventic that the invaders have never been and are not Zapatistas. Since then, we've been peacefully talking and searching for a solution with the government authorities, first in the State House and then with the local office in Venustiano Carranza, who up until now haven't really paid attention to us.
On May 5, 2007, the community's General Assembly agreed to take back our lands, so we did so that same day, and since then we've once again kept it in our legitimate possession. Our community has agreed to not vacate our lands.
Demonstrating our good faith effort to resolve the problem and because we're sure we're right, on June 5, 2007, the governmental authorities paid a visit to our recuperated land to survey the land. We're sure of our possession, because before the deed was made, we accompanied the engineers and the estate owner during the measurement of the land's boundaries, and we know very well where it belongs to us. The result of the survey was that, according to the government engineers, that land that the estate owner handed over to us doesn't correspond with what's in the deeds and that the land that does belong to us is over on Mispia Hill. Being that it's on a hill it's impossible to farm there and it's difficult to access. But then, how is it that all these years we've been paying property tax? How is it that the government tells us now that our lands are on the Hill? We received our land directly from the hands of the estate owner.
The government authorities say that the government bought our lands in order to hand them over as an extension of the San José Cerro Grande Ejido, and that the owners are the same people who live in Nuevo León Ejido and in the Teopisca municipal capital, and that their documents have more value because they obtained them through the PROCEDE program. But we say that the lands are legitimately ours and we haven't sold them to anybody.
We feel as though the estate owner cheated us and cheated the government by selling our land twice, or maybe the government thought about it long and hard and as it has done in other occasions is doing all this so that peasant brothers fight amongst ourselves.
As we've already said, we are ready to defend that which is ours. It doesn't matter what the papers or the maps say since we directly received the land and we've worked it as its owners for 12 years. And moreover, we consider it our right for having been exploited by the estate owner when we worked for him as indentured servants.
Faced with the constant threats of eviction that we've been receiving which say that the state government and the district attorney have already ordered the eviction operation, and given that we're adherents to The Other Campaign, we've named our Committee Against Repression pending the outcomes of this problem. We've stepped up when the government has looked to dialog with us.
Recently we were informed that if we don't voluntarily leave our lands, the government will take it upon itself to evict us with police and they will send us all to jail. There are already warrants for our arrest, and the first ones to go will be those of us on the Committee Against Repression who have represented the community before the government in the negotiations that have happened to look for a solution to this problem.
We also believe that the problem lies with the authorities for not investigating if the lands which were turned into ejidos overnight by means of PROCEDE did or didn't have an owner, and for this reason what the government should do is recognize us as the owners that we are and pay for another piece of land for the affected members of the San José Cerro Grande ejido.
For all of the above reasons we are contacting you, compañeros and compañeras of The Other Campaign, to request your solidarity and accompaniment in our struggle, requesting that a commission visits us soon in our community and there we can discuss the subject further.
Cruzton Community Committee Against Repression
Cruzton, Chiapas, Mexico; June 26, 2007.