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Land defenders caravan to Mexico City to defend Chimalapas
Indigenous  communities in Oaxaca decry government neglect in protecting biodiversity hotspot
By Diana Manzo Posted in Activism, Forests, Mexico on June 29, 2023
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Editor’s note: Last year we featured a two-part series by award-winning Zapotec journalist Diana Manzo about Indigenous community forestry initiatives to defend the biodiversity hotspot that is the Chimalapas forest reserve against illegal logging, mining, territorial invasion and other threats. The situation has continued to deteriorate and the government has failed to respond to community demands. 

Two weeks ago, community members staged a four-day roadblock to pressure the government to act to stop the illegal activities in the zone, as had been promised. Officials agreed to a meeting in the territory last week, but failed to show up. Shortly after, the communities announced that they would caravan to Mexico City to demand government action. That caravan begins today.

At the same time, land defenders fight the threats to the communal territory of Los Chimalapas and the entire bioregion posed by the Interoceanic Corridor, which the federal government intends to impose on the entire isthmus region of Oaxaca. In that context, the National Committee for the Defense and Conservation of Los Chimalapas is inviting the public to a National Assembly in Mexico City in order to share and update information on the Supreme Court Judgment and on the Interoceanic Corridor.

The assembly will be held on Sunday, July 2, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the geodesic auditorium of the Huerto Roma Verde (Jalapa Street # 234, corner with Coahuila, Colonia Roma Sur). The event will be broadcast live on Facebook at and on YouTube at LosTejemedios.

Diana Manzo has been reporting from the Chimalapas territory. An earlier version of this report was previously published in Spanish in Istmo Press. All photos are by Diana.

SANTA MARIA CHIMALAPA, Oaxaca – Citing the neglect of the federal and Oaxacan authorities in the defense of the indigenous Zoque territory, community members and their agrarian and local authorities are launching a motorized caravan to Mexico City today, June 30, to demand compliance with agreements regarding the defense of their territory.

Last week, the representatives of the federal, state government, as well as the agrarian attorney and the Secretary of Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development (Sedatu), failed to show up for a communal assembly that was planned to be held in the Zoque municipality of Santa María Chimalapa, as they had agreed to in a signed document after four days of road blockades.

“We are very upset with the authorities; we believed them, and they lied to us. Now we are going to undertake this caravan for the defense of the Zoque territory,” said Raúl Sánchez Domínguez, commissioner of San Miguel Chimalapas. “We feel the abandonment of the government; it is not supporting us. Our territory is under threat not only from Chiapas invaders, but also loggers and also armed people who have already displaced community members from the area.” 

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Zoque community members on the day of the working group meeting, witnessing the agreements that the authorities broke by not showing up for the meeting.

In November 2021, after nine years of a constitutional controversy trial and after more than 70 years of invasion, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation determined that the 162,000 hectares of forests and jungles in the eastern zone of Los Chimalapas are located in Oaxaca and not in Chiapas, but to date progress is slow and minimal.

Local and agrarian representatives, including Ceyla Cruz Gutiérrez and Abel Antonio Guzmán, municipal presidents of San Miguel and Santa María Chimalapas, as well as the commissioners of Santa María and San Miguel Chimalapas, Vidal López Hernández and Vicente Contreras Pérez, demanded legal certainty and said they regretted that the authorities had not respected the agreements.

The public lands commissioner of Santa María Chimalapa, Vidal López Hernández, stressed that the fight is for their forest and that they will not let the lands recovered as a result of the controversy remain with the ejidatarios and people of Chiapas.

The motorized caravan is a new strategy of struggle undertaken by the Zoque peoples for the defense of their lands, who say that all they want is for there to be protection and to comply with the resolution issued by the Supreme Court, because otherwise otherwise they will evict the Chiapas invaders from their lands.

“In the minutes that we signed last Thursday in the middle of a road blockade with the presence of Oaxaca and federal authorities, it was agreed to set up a roundtable in Santa María Chimalapa, and on Monday the Secretary of Government suddenly called us telling us that we go to the capital of Oaxaca to see about all the logistics,” said Santa María Chimalapa President Abel Antonio Guzmán. “That is absurd and a mockery by the secretary, Jesús Romero, who once again lied to us.”

The territory of the Chimalapas, made up of Santa María and San Miguel, has been recognized for having the largest extension of well-preserved humid forests and mesophilic forests in all of Mesoamerica, making it the bioregion with the greatest biological diversity and generator of the greatest amount of ecosystem services; its importance has been highlighted since 2005 by international conservation organizations, such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

“It is urgent that the governments recognize us. This process has been delayed, we Chimalapans are ancestral owners of our communal territory, which is why we demand the immediate total annulment of all presidential resolutions, demarcation certificates and plans of all the ejidos and people that invade our communal territory,” declared Sanchez Dominguez in full assembly.

Agrarian authorities from San Miguel and Santa María Chimalapas and municipalities signed a document with state and federal officials, where they agreed to work groups to attend to the defense of the Chimalapas forest. But on the day of the meeting, the officials didn’t show up.

As special guests were the members of the National Committee of the Chimalapas, headed by Miguel Ángel García Aguirre, who decried the deception and mockery of the federal and Oaxacan authorities, for which they have organized the caravan to exhaust other alternatives before evicting the residents of Chiapas who have been living on the Chimalapas territories.

The disappointed community members stressed that it is a shame that the Oaxaca authorities, as well as representatives of the federal government, fail to comply and are not interested in saving the lands of one of the most important natural lungs in all of Mexico. 

“We demand a response from the authorities. It is not possible that for the umpteenth time they leave these peoples standing, who are only asking for respect for their lands, because they are theirs,” stressed Angélico Solano, commissioner of the community of Benito Juárez, a town of San Miguel Chimalapas. “They have waited 10 years for a response and the authorities have already determined that the lands belong to them, to the Chimalapas people and not to Chiapas, so the only thing that matters is that they comply with the agreements, and that’s it.”

This story originally appeared in Istmo Press and is translated and updated by Tracy L. Barnett with the author’s permission.

For more information: cell/WhatsApp +52 55 2080 0690 y +52 55 7424 1877. E-mail [email protected]

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