San Sebastian Bachajón

San Sebastián Bachajón in Defence of Their Territory

San Sebastián Bachajón Ejido Owners Renew the Legal Struggle in Defence of Their Territory

 ** They have been to the Federal Judiciary Council and a UN agency 

By: Hermann Bellinghausen, 28th May 2013 

Chiapas Tourism Development Aimed at US Market


by Mary Ann Tenuto                                                                           

Ecotourism Advances in the Chiapas Jungle, Subjecting the Indigenous Population

 ** They expel from the market those who express criticisms or oppose this practice through resistance

photo of Misol-ha Waterfall, located in the ejido San Miguel, in the north of Chiapas, by José Carlo González (archive)


By: Hermann Bellinghausen

Mexico: Paradise in dispute

September 30, 2011 12:01 am


Rainy season: a view of the cascades, looking out from Agua Azul towards the planned resort site (obscured by forest)

At 10am the tropical sun still has not fully warmed the streets of Agua Azul, a village cut out of the Lacandon rainforest in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Palm and banana trees line the way into the centre of town. The streets are quiet.

Agua Azul is close to the Mayan city of Palenque, which flourished in the seventh century before being abandoned, its temples swallowed by the forest. While its indigenous inhabitants speak the Tzeltal Mayan language, the dialect used to inscribe hieroglyphs on Palenque’s royal tombs is still recognisable to their Chol-speaking neighbours.

Agua Azul and the San Sebastián Bachajón ejido (collectively owned land) that surrounds it could be any of a hundred other settlements in Chiapas’s rural outback. What makes Agua Azul different is the beauty of the local river whose turquoise waters cascade over waterfalls.

The quietness of the village is deceptive: the community is split in a violent dispute that has already cost one life and led to more than 100 arrests. At the heart of the conflict is a plan is to build an exclusive luxury retreat on the ejido lands.

On one side is the government, backed by the ejido authorities, who see the income and jobs that tourism development will bring. They say care has been taken to consult and ensure the whole community benefits. But some ejido residents tell a different story. They insist on their right to a future that respects their own way of life, and claim intimidation, violence and blatant abuse of the legal system are being deployed to take over their land.

For wealthy Mexicans and foreigners looking for something exotic, a resort in Agua Azul would be perfect. Spirited into the wilderness by helicopter, visitors would find luxurious but eco-friendly cabins next to thunderous waterfalls, while pristine forests around teem with rare wildlife kept at a short but safe distance.

In spite of the unrelenting drug war, southern Mexico remains relatively stable and attracts millions of tourists every year. For Chiapas’s government, Agua Azul is a central project in a wider strategy to open up the state’s indigenous areas. It looks to the development of Cancún and the Yucatán peninsula as a model.

There is much at stake. When the US tourism consultants who helped develop the state’s tourism strategy say that Agua Azul has the potential to create one of the most outstanding resort experiences in the western hemisphere, they may not be exaggerating.

Tourism experts have identified several possibilities for the new resort, including what they call a world-class boutique hotel and a lodge retreat, along with a bar and restaurant looking directly out on to the cascades. But they also say that acquiring the surrounding lands is vital to provide space for the resort and to maintain the views.

While the official ejido leadership wants to co-operate with the government, a substantial faction is implacably opposed. They know the resort can only be built on their lands, and they are not prepared to go quietly.

I sit down to talk to community members opposed to the resort plans. Two of them, Juan Aguilar and Domingo Gomez, have just been released after spending nearly six months in prison along with three others on charges including murder and attempted murder. Aguilar, in his early 30s, speaks confidently; Gomez is older, more subdued. He says he hardly speaks any Spanish.

Every time I ask a question, the group confers in Tzeltal, then one of them answers. Aguilar explains what tourism development means.

“The bad government thinks it’s going to get a lot of money out of here with the tourist centre,” he says. “But if that happens, they aren’t going to be letting ejido members in. That’s what happens in Cancún – the people aren’t allowed in because it’s for tourists. That’s not going to happen here. We’re ready to defend our land.” When asked if this includes armed struggle, he shakes his head. “None of us have guns,” he says.

But will the project not bring jobs? “I’m not a driver,” he says. “Who’s going to give me a driver’s job? What about the people who operate the diggers and other machinery? We don’t know how to do that. The government will bring in other workers.”

If Chiapas is known for something other than lost Mayan cities in the jungle, it is the Zapatista uprising. Launched on the day in 1994 that Mexico joined the North American Free Trade Agreement, it brought fame to Subcomandante Marcos, its eloquent, balaclava-clad spokesman. The rebellion was quickly subdued, but “autonomous municipalities” sprang up in the rebel areas and remain self-governing today. Seventeen years on, the military encampments and roadblocks across the region are a testament to the rawness of rural politics and the Zapatistas’ continuing appeal. The ejidatarios I sit down with are members of The Other Campaign, an affiliated group.

From the outset, the Zapatistas’ opposition to Mexico’s embrace of globalisation is clear. My informants tell me the story of the ejido and of an adjoining piece of “recovered land” that was occupied after 1994. “There was a latifundista [big landowner] there, it was just for the rich; 1,000ha with nothing but bloody cattle. But before the cattle came, our grandfathers worked there – working for nothing but their food, like stable hands.

“Later on, there wasn’t enough land for the children of the Bachajón ejidatarios. The cattle were eating everything while we were starving. When the movement took off in 1994, they moved there. The landlord ran away.”

The 100-mile drive back from Agua Azul takes four hours, along roads that wind up and down the forested valleys. As the road climbs gradually upwards, rainforest gives way to pine.

A Tzeltal-Spanish translator inadvertently gives me an insight into how many indigenous people in Chiapas experience the expansion of the market into their semi-subsistence economy. “It can be hard to translate between the two languages,” she says. “Take a word like capitalism – there’s nothing comparable in Tzeltal. I just say ‘the big rich ones’, [los grandes ricos], and people understand.”

Earlier this year, the struggle at Bachajón took a bloody turn. On February 2, the ejido authorities and their supporters arrived to seize control of the toll booth that controls entry to Agua Azul, evicting members of The Other Campaign who were administering it.

Later that day, a pro-government supporter was shot dead and another severely wounded. The next morning, as The Other Campaign members gathered close to the main highway, state and federal police moved in, arresting 117. Three days later, the Chiapas authorities called a conference, saying there was a need to avoid further bloodshed. The government says it has worked hard to resolve the dispute over the toll booth, but the oppositionists in Bachajón refused to take part in talks.

A few days later, most of the detainees were released, but 10 were charged with offences including murder and attempted murder. Five tested positive on firearms tests, and the charges were backed up with the testimonies of several witnesses. The accused denied the charges, saying that it was the ejido authorities’ side that had opened fire.

Of the 10 detainees, five were freed two months later. Then, in July, the public prosecutor dropped the charges against four of the remaining prisoners. The last, a minor with learning disabilities, was put under the care of the state. With their release, no one is now charged with the February killing.

I talk to Ricardo Lagunes, who works for the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center, about the case in the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. He speaks passionately about what he says were violations of due process – charges that the government denies. “They arrested 117 people on the day,” says Lagunes. “Many don’t speak Spanish. They manipulated their testimonies, didn’t let them use interpreters, or, where they did, they didn’t let them read what they had to sign.”

He continues: “When the public prosecutor suddenly withdrew the charges, he made no reference to the witness statements against the five remaining detainees. The order to free the prisoners was as arbitrary as the act of detaining them ... The judicial system was neither independent nor impartial; instead, it placed itself at the disposal of the government.”

Aguilar says that when The Other Campaign members were in prison, government representatives offered to set them free if they agreed to sign an agreement relinquishing control of the toll booth.

For its part, the government insists it complied with the law throughout the judicial process. Its press department stresses that Juan Sabines Guerrero, the governor, has repeatedly called for the dispute to be resolved peacefully. “We are the defenders of the indigenous people’s cause, their autonomy and self-determination. It is because of this that we are calling for dialogue in each community,” he said just after the February violence.

For the moment, Agua Azul is calm. The government has built a new toll booth and a police barracks, but there are no signs of imminent resort development.

For many, eco-tourism implies a kind of harmony between tourism and the environment. But given the competing visions of Agua Azul’s future, it seems wealthy foreigners and Mexico’s rich are unlikely to find their version of nirvana soon.

The 'Cataratas de Agua Azul' are found in the Mexican state of Chiapas. They are located 69 kilometers from Palenque on the road that runs from San Christobal de las Casas.

photo: David Tuggy

Jubilation at the release of the remaining 4 political prisoners of San Sebastián Bachajón

The Movement for Justice in El Barrio, New York, La Otra Campaña would like to share with everyone the great news about the release of social activists who endured unjust convictions imposed out of pure revenge by the misrule of repressive Governor Juan Sabines (PRD ) and repressive PAN President Felipe Calderon, just because they resisted and defended their land and autonomy as indigenous peoples.

They had to endure five months of unjust imprisonment.

Video messages from San Sebastian Bachajon

The residents of community San Sebastian Bachajon send us these video messages to tell their story.


The community has controlled the toll booth at the entrance to the Agua Azul Waterfalls for decades, but recently local police and paramilitaries have made threats against this community on a daily basis. A roadblock at the site and international solidarity campaign have resisted some of the repression, but harrassment and violence continues. Cuurrently 5 community members are unlawfully detained. The community demands their immediate release and that justice be done in their community.


Video message 06 March 2011


Segundo Mensaje de San Sebastian Bachajon (video message 01 April 2011)


Tercer Mensaje de San Sebastián Bachajón(video message 24 April 2011)

Community's Response to 2nd Call for 5 days of Action

san sebastian bachajon ejido, adherents to the other campaign of the sixth declaracion of the lacandon jungle.

Letter from the Bachajon 5

Cerezo Núm. 17

Playas de Catazaja, Chiapas.

26 de abril 2011.

Collection of signatures: Worldwide Declaration in Support of the Indigenous Tseltal Peoples of Bachajón, Chiapas

Collection of signatures: Worldwide Declaration in Support of the
Indigenous Tseltal Peoples of San Sebastián Bachajón, Chiapas,
Adherents of The Other Campaign

Within the context of the “5 MORE Days of Worldwide Action for the
Bachajón 5” campaign, which will take place from the 24 to the 28 of
April, the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center and
Movement for Justice in El Barrio, The Other Campaign New York, have
written the following declaration with the goal of collecting
signatures of support. We ask that you please send the signatures,


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