Court Order Threatens Freedom of Former Mazatec Political Prisoner

Cover photo: Protest demanding freedom for Miguel Peralta. September 2019. Photo: Daliri Oropeza

The ruling on an appeal filed by the legal defense team of the former Mazatec political prisoner, Miguel Peralta, seeking to overturn his conviction, has once again put his freedom at risk. A member of the community assembly of Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón, Oaxaca, Peralta is one of 35 assembly members who have been persecuted, accused of the homicide of Manuel Zepeda Lagunas, and the attempted homicide of his sister, Elisa Zepeda, both members of the same Mazatec community.

The root of what Peralta’s lawyer argues is criminalization, are the violent events which took place in December of 2014, when the community assembly was attacked by an armed group. Community members clarify that the armed group was beneath the command of the Zepeda cacique family.

Members of the community assembly explain that since 2010, when Elisa’s father, Manuel Zepeda Cortés, became municipal president, he began a campaign of repression against the community organization in order to consolidate his power in the Mazatec community.

Roberto López, member of the collective Los Otros Abogadoz, and Peralta’s lawyer, says that while the assembly gathered in the center of town for the election of municipal authorities that winter of 2014, shots were fired at the assembly from the municipal building, where Elisa and Manuel Zepeda had previously installed themselves.

Protest for the freedom of Miguel Peralta in 2019

The attack left people with gunshot wounds, provoking the death of Elisa’s brother, Manuel Zepeda Lagunas. Manuel had been detained by inhabitants of Eloxochitlán while wielding a weapon designated exclusively for military use, and was being turned over to the authorities. “Unfortunately for them, he died. In that moment, instead of turning him over to the authorities, these inhabitants of Eloxochitlán were accused of being responsible for the homicide,” says the lawyer.

According to his legal defense, although Peralta was in Mexico City on the day of the events, he was accused of homicide, arbitrarily detained, and transferred to Oaxaca. Peralta was in prison for more than four years until October 2019, when he was freed.

However, his sentence of freedom was overturned in March of 2022. After an appeal filed by the accusing party, a new arrest warrant was issued against him to serve a sentence of fifty years in prison. Against that, Peralta’s legal defense team filed an appeal for due process violations and the fabrication of evidence.

On August 17, a federal collegiate tribunal ruled on the appeal, which Roberto López argues exacerbates the legal situation of the former political prisoner. “They turned us back seven years in time,” explains the lawyer. He specifies that the process was returned to the stage before the sentencing, to the presentation of evidence and cross-examinations.  

“They returned the legal process to where the other prisoners currently stand (in reference to the other political prisoners of Eloxochitlán), those who have not received a conviction or a sentence…because the magistrates didn’t seriously study the issue, they only dealt with a superficial issue (redoing the testimonies). While they disguise this as addressing a due process violation, in reality, the intention is to continue giving control of the process to Elisa,” says Peralta’s lawyer.

López asserts that throughout the legal process, Manuel and Elisa Zepeda have used a strategy of delay, managing the conflict and maintaining “hostage” the other prisoners from the events of 2014.

The danger, the lawyer accentuates, is that in order to return to that part of the process, Peralta would have to face detention. “What this means is a setback of at least seven years of my legal process, and the continued insistence on my imprisonment,” claimed the Mazatec through a letter shared last week. For this reason, the legal defense filed another appeal for a review of the most recent resolution, with the intention of having the Supreme Court resolve the appeal, which could happen in the next four to five months.

Below, we share extracts from a conversation we had with Roberto López, who warns that the persecution against Peralta is intensifying.

Avispa Midia (AM): With the recent resolution, which part of the process is being reinstated?

Roberto López (RL): The resolution returned us to the cross-examination stage…a part of the process where they refused to attend. If they do not appear, we will have to wait until they do so, in order for them to give their testimonies and be cross-examined. The conclusions will then be presented, the final hearing will take place, and a new sentence will be issued. I am not exaggerating when I say that this ruling turns us back approximately seven years in time. They continue to control the conflict. With this resolution, the collegiate tribunal gives Elisa the power to continue controlling the process.

The events took place on December 14, 2014. To begin presenting evidence, one of the first hearings didn’t take place until January 30, 2017. Manuel and Vicente Zepeda were present only because they had a hearing as defendants for acts that the community assembly had denounced, injuries and torture, taken up by the public prosecutor’s office.

Armed group led by Manuel Zepeda taking the municipal building in Eloxochitlán on November 17, 2014.

Elisa was counseled and her lawyers recommended that she not present herself at the court to give her testimony. The court was never willing to fine or arrest her for not appearing. The court never did anything. Finally, on September 30, 2017, her and three other witnesses presented themselves to give their testimonies.

AM: What are the principal contradictions in the testimonies that were not taken up in the most recent resolution?

RL: When we presented the appeal in 2022, we highlighted the testimonies against Miguel, which are an essential part of the process. The testimony of Elisa Zepeda, of her father, and of the seven witnesses who accuse Miguel. That is the fundamental part that must be questioned. In fact, these testimonies were already put in doubt during the process. In emphasizing the contradictions in these testimonies, other codefendants of Miguel have been freed.

We did an analysis of what Elisa Zepeda and the witnesses first said to the public prosecutor, and what they said in the hearings before the court. They were different things, contradictory statements.

There was a witness, Eleazar Hernández Ordaz, an old man, who in the legal file accuses Miguel. His testimony is a carbon copy of the testimony given by Manuel Zepeda, the father of Elisa. In court, when it was his turn to give his testimony, he explained that he never gave the aforementioned testimony. They show him the testimony. “Is this your signature?” “Yes, that is my signature, but I don’t remember.” Fernando Ramírez Carrera, another witness, says that he never gave any testimony. His signature appears, but he says he never gave testimony to the public prosecutor.

Elisa’s uncle, Vicente Zepeda, says that throughout that day’s events, he was with Elisa. She gives extensive testimony with many details. Details that Vicente doesn’t give. And when he is questioned in the hearing, seeing that there were many things in her testimony that he had not mentioned, he says, “I saw them when they entered, but they hit me on the head, and I lost consciousness. I fainted and I don’t remember anything else,” so as to not contradict Elisa’s testimony.

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Everyone will maintain the same testimonies and we will go to sentencing. This will not change the resolution to come. When Elisa reiterates the accusation, her witnesses will obviously say that they recognize Peralta, that they saw him in the location of the acts, and that will lead to a conviction. That, in turn, will again lead us to an appeal.  

AM: What elements do you consider to be decisive in the recent ruling on the appeal?

RL: The events took place in 2014. From there, Elisa began to construct a discourse of victimhood. She approaches some human rights organizations and they support her as a defender of women’s rights. Like that she moves her way up to municipal presidency of Eloxochitlán. She is president for one year, before she renounces her position in order to run for local representative of the 64th legislature of the State Congress. She wins with the political party MORENA. During her three years as local representative, she is named president of the Permanent Commission of Justice of the State of Oaxaca. This means that she is in charge of naming judges, magistrates, local prosecutors. She begins to have relations with people from the state prosecutor’s office, those who prosecute, and people from judicial power, those who sentence. From my perspective she weaves together these networks and alliances.

All this makes possible that in 2022, Miguel’s sentence of freedom is overturned. There have already been many resolutions freeing other prisoners of Eloxochitlán and very few of those resolutions of freedom have been overturned. Miguel’s was overturned. For me, this is a consequence of her position of political power, maintaining alliances with those who hold judicial power.

Then comes Salomón Jara’s campaign for governor. She joins his team and is named Secretary of Women, a secretary in the government of Salomón Jara. From that position, she continues utilizing the resources she has, continues utilizing her political power, to influence the situation.

For us, she influenced the resolution of the collegiate circuit tribunal which ruled on Miguel’s appeal. It was there because the appeal sought his freedom for all the violations, for all the precedent. And no, on the contrary, they turn us back seven years in the process. With that, we know that this is more than legal, it is political. Elisa Zepeda has utilized the death of her brother to maintain power, to climb the political ladder. She doesn’t want her discourse to collapse because if it does, it will show that everything she has constructed, her entire political trajectory, was a lie.

From that position of power, she is confronting the prisoners of Eloxochitlán. Those who are still in prison, and those being persecuted, as is the case of Miguel…she continues with this thirst for revenge against the prisoners, because if they are all released, her discourse collapses.

AM: What is the response to the recent ruling?

RL: We analyzed it and we said no, this is a set-up. They want Miguel to return to prison under the pretext that they are reinstating the process so that he can be cross-examined alongside Elisa. That resolution doesn’t help us. Thus, we have sought that the Supreme Court review the ruling on the appeal. Let the justices determine if that appeal was properly ruled upon, and if the resolution is correct.

We want the Supreme Court to review the resolution to the appeal and rule on the fundamental violations that exist in this process. Among them are false accusations of Elisa and her witnesses, accusations that have already been questioned, and have already been put in doubt. There are resolutions which released other codefendants. There are resolutions, including in the chambers of the Supreme Court of the State of Oaxaca, also of district courts, where they say that the testimonies of Elisa and her witnesses are not credible. There are contradictions, there are inconsistencies, and we want the Supreme Court to not evade their responsibility. The issue of these political prisoners is a significant issue for society. We cannot allow that by means of political power, a person is influencing the legal process, falsely accusing those who oppose the cacique project of her family.

With the contradictions of the witnesses and the delay in the legal process, we have a lot of partisanship to face in the courts. Adding to the contradictions, are the judges, the court clerks, the public prosecutor, who in the nine years of this process, has been the same. Judges have been changed, court clerks have been changed, but the public prosecutor, who began the process, continues there because they are a key figure for Elisa Zepeda, for Manuel Zepeda.

It is very important for society that the Supreme Court review this appeal. If the Supreme Court rejects us, we would be practically proving that access to justice in this country continues to not exist. Because in the end, the pathway to justice would be closed off. They need to take up their responsibility, to demonstrate the independence between judicial and government power. We have faced an unequal process, with many irregularities, partisanship, and many contradictions in the testimonies of the witnesses. More than being legal, this conflict is political, and it is being managed by Elisa Zepeda in the manner that she pleases. Nine years and there is no sentence for anybody. Nearly nine years of this legal process without a sentence. I think that is significant, and whatever honest, impartial judge who observes that would have to order their release.  

Militarization in Mexico Intensifies During Current Administration

The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has drastically intensified militarization in Mexico, solidifying the concentration of civilian activities in military hands.

This is the analysis offered in the investigation carried out by the non-governmental organization, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), based on public government data and requests for access to public information. The results were presented this month of September in the report, Militarized Transformation: Human Rights and Democratic Controls in a Context of Increasing Militarization in Mexico.

According to the report, the government of López Obrador has achieved what his predecessors didn’t: approving laws and norms institutionalizing militarization. In 2017, the then president, Enrique Peña Nieto, approved the Law of Interior Security, which was overturned in its totality by the Supreme Court in 2018 for seeking to normalize the use of armed forces in civilian matters.

For his part, López Obrador passed a constitutional reform in March of 2019. Among other things, this reform gave the military the power to carry out policing tasks until 2024, if the president deems it necessary.

In 2020, the Mexican president published a new presidential decree ordering the participation of armed forces in tasks of public security. So far, the Supreme Court has validated the agreement citing the fifth transitory article of the constitutional reform of 2019. In 2022, via another constitutional reform, the provision of armed forces in policing activities was extended into 2028. In other words, whoever succeeds López Obrador in power, will be able to use armed forces in civil and administrative spheres.

With the constitutional reform of March of 2019, and the subsequent approval of the National Guard Law in May of that same year, the National Guard was created as a new federal security force, replacing the now defunct federal police, trained and equipped by the United States.

Although Article 21 of the constitution says that the National Guard is “a police institution of civilian character,” linked to the Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection (SSPC), in practice it is a force whose formation, command structure, territorial deployment, and institutional identity are fundamentally military.

According to the investigation, official documents reveal that the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) assumed the operating coordination of the National Guard beginning in October of 2020.

To solidify the identity of the National Guard as a military force, López Obrador reformed the National Guard Law in September of 2022 to grant operating and administrative control of the National Guard to SEDENA. It is important to mention that this reform figures into changes already planned by this institution in a broader scheme of internal restructuring released in 2021.

In April 2023, the Supreme Court overturned the National Guard reform for violating the text of the constitution, which states that the National Guard is to be a civilian force. However, the Supreme Court authorized a time period until January of 2024 for the fulfillment of the resolution. If the Supreme Court’s order isn’t fulfilled in this time period, the National Guard would presumably remain under the de facto coordination of SEDENA.

Military Recognizes the President’s Achievements

The report mentions the account of the Secretariat of National Defense, General Luis Cresencio Sandoval, which illustrates how the proposals for changes to the armed forces were taken up by the current federal administration:

“(In previous administrations) they never gave us what we always asked for, what both General Galván as well as General Cienfuegos had asked for. In this administration it happened very easily because the president understood perfectly well what the necessity was in order to not expose ourselves and to have the legal capacity to act. Besides, it was achieved very easily, not with a law but with a transitory article, we achieved what we couldn’t do for so many years…”.


The report shows that the deployment of militarized and military forces remains at historic levels. The First Semiannual Report of the Permanent Armed Forces in Tasks of Public Security, presented by the armed forces and the Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection (SSPC) in May of 2023, reports the deployment of 79,399 “permanent armed forces distributed throughout national territory for tasks of public security.” Of those, 59,217 correspond to the Army, and 20,182 to the Navy.

If the deployment of federal forces related to other tasks is added to the count, according to the federal government’s monthly security report, in the period between May 30 and June 12, 2023, 109,281 members of the National Guard and 145,995 members of the armed forces were deployed, adding up to a total of 255,276 elements assigned to SEDENA.

According to the report, the militarization of policing is also happening through the naming of military commanders in security institutions at the state and local levels. López Obrador has publicly recommended governors to consult with SEDENA and SEMAR before naming the heads of state public security offices, “so that they have honest, upright, I repeat, incorruptible people.”


The federal government has also assigned a growing list of other civilian tasks to the armed forces, through a series of administration and legislative actions and reforms.

These tasks include the construction of megaprojects, or the management of companies in charge of them, like the Maya Train, the Interoceanic Corridor, and airports. There are also plans to soon begin to operate a military airline. Military institutions also control ports and customs.

The study warns that while their powers and authority are growing, the armed forces do not have effective civilian controls over their actions. Furthermore, Mexico continues experiencing historic levels of violence, the vast majority of crimes going unpunished.

Oaxaca: Communities Denounce Collusion between Agrarian Ombudsman and Mining Project

Cover Photo: Mining tailings from the company Minera Cuzcatlán in San José del Progreso. Photo: Santiago Navarro F

Indigenous Zapotec communities surrounding the gold and silver mining project of Minera Cuzcatlán, a subsidiary of the Canadian corporation, Fortuna Silver Mines, in San José del Progreso, Oaxaca, have condemned intensifying harassment from the mining company. The communities of Magdalena Ocotlán, Monte del Toro, San Martín de los Cansecos, San Matías Chilazoa, Los Ocotes and el Vergel denounced that they are being pressured to accept the expansion of the mining project, which has been in operation since 2011. The communities form part of the organization, Frente No a la Mineria.

Through a communique, the ejido authorities explained that the harassment is being carried out in coordination with the agrarian ombudsman in Miahuatlán. According to the law, agrarian ombudsman must “promote the defense of rights and guarantee the well-being of Indigenous people’s lands.”

One of the strategies of the agrarian institution is to prevent the communities from naming authorities who are against the project. “It benefits them that agrarian communities do not have accredited authorities. Without accreditation there isnt any validity in our appointments,” the agrarian commissioner of the ejido Monte del Toro explained to Avispa Midia, who for security reasons omits his name.

Furthermore, the agrarian ombudsman has purposely generated erroneous documentation in order to delay accreditation processes with the National Agrarian Registry. “When we sent the documents to the Agrarian Registry, they sent them back to us because of the errors. In the case of San Martín de los Cansecos, they delayed the accreditation process of their commissioner for two years,” added the agrarian commissioner.

In Monte del Toro, officials from the agrarian ombudsman are acting to divide the ejido, explained the authority. He admits that there is an agrarian dispute in the community dating back decades where one of the localities wants to separate from the ejido Monte del Toro, which is not accepted by the authorities of the agrarian community.

However, the question has worsened within the context of mining expansion. “The people of this locality have received resources from Cuzcatlán. The company wants to be able to enter the territory. The agrarian ombudsman insists on trying to convince the authorities to make the division,” explained the commissioner.

The agrarian ombudsman has taken other actions considered by the commissioner to be “strategies to divide the community.” For example, the institution has filed documents of ejido members seeking to change the titles of their lands without permission from the agrarian community. “They are stepping over the ejido authorities, which is not correct. We have autonomy over our lands, guaranteed by agrarian law.”

In a communique from the organization, the ejido Monte del Toro sustained that “we will not permit any division. Our grandfathers and grandmothers struggled for the ejido, for which we value the collective spirit of the land, and the care and protection of our territory.”

The company seeks a legal basis to enter the territories, they explained in a communique.

As the exploitation is underground, “we do not know where exactly they are digging, if its beneath Magdalena Ocotlán, Monte del Toro, or San Martín de los Cansecos,” explains the agrarian authority of Monte del Toro.

In 2021, Avispa Midia asked the company where they were advancing with the exploration, but the question was ignored.

According to data solicited by Avispa Midia from the Ministry of Economy, Minera Cuzcatlán has 15 active mining concessions registered in Oaxaca as of 2023. Together, these concessions total approximately 36,000 hectares. One of the concessions, located in the Lote Reducción Unificación Cuzcatlán 4, was updated during this government on May 16 of 2022. It is the company’s largest concession making up more than 10,000 hectares including territories of Magdalena Ocotlán, San Lucas Ocotlán, and San Pedro Taviche.

What “they want is to enter the communities to make air vents to be able to continue working beneath the earth. They want the agrarian communities to authorize their entry. Once the ejido authorizes it, they will buy the land and be able to work,” explains the ejido commissioner.

From San José

The ex-ejido lands commissioner of San Martin de los Cansecos, who also decided to omit his identity for security reasons, explains that the agrarian ombudsman operates on many occasions from San José del Progreso, the location of the mining project, when they should be at the ejido offices. “We know that all the current municipal infrastructure and projects in San José are related to the mining company,” he sustains.

Since 2009, San José del Progreso has not had agrarian representation, like the ejido lands commission, as a result of conflicts generated with the arrival of the mining company. “The agrarian ombudsman, far from resolving the agrarian conflict in San José, promotes visits of other commissioners to the community where the mining project is located,” he told Avispa Midia, the ex-ejido lands commissioner.

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The head of the Miahuatlán agrarian ombudsman, Amauri Fernández Alvarado, in an interview with Avispa Midia, said that it was up to them to provide services of agrarian counsel, “to all agrarian communities in the district of Ejutla and part of the district of Ocotlán, communities around the mine,” he said.

Regarding the denunciations from ejido authorities against the agrarian ombudsman, Alvarado denied all of them. “I do not have anything to do with mining. I don’t work in mining. We do not have contact, none whatsoever, with the people from the mining company. …I am not blocking any community…nor we do we go to the agrarian community saying that they accept or not contracts or jobs with the mining company. My work is to provide counsel that must be correct.”

SEMARNAT’s Deceptions

In December of 2021, the Canadian mining company, Fortuna Silver Mines, from their offices in Canada, announced in a communique that the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) had “authorized a 12-year extension to the environmental impact authorization” of the mine in San José.

The Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources had denied the extension request in July of 2021. The environmental impact assessment presented by the company sought the legalization of the expansion of the mining operations, something which had already been carried out without permission from the environmental secretariat.

“Fortuna appealed…SEMARNAT reevaluated the request and granted the extension…,” the company announced in its press release.

However, Fortuna Silver Mines, from Canada, sustained by means of another communique, published on February 4, 2022, that it had received a notice from SEMARNAT in which the environmental secretariat said that it had committed a typo in the expansion of the mining term in San José. That is to say, the extension would be 2 years and not 12 as stated in the resolution document.

At that time, Avispa Midia obtained the SEMARNAT document (SGPA/DGIRA/DG-06101-21), signed by the General Director of Risk and Impact of the Secretariat (DGIRA), directed to the legal representative of Cuzcatlán, Rocío Martínez Lozano, dated December 14, 2021. This document proves that the agency authorized the extension of the mining company’s work for 12 more years.

Minera Cuzcatlán “considers that the notice was erroneously issued by the local office (of Oaxaca) of SEMARNAT,” said the company in its communique.

Minera Cuzcatlán “is working with the authorities to resolve this matter. Likewise, Minera Cuzcatlán has begun a judicial process in federal court to challenge and revoke the typo,” the communique states.

Avispa Midia solicited an interview with SEMARNAT to clarify the issue. The Secretariat ignored the request.

During all this time, the information had remained contradictory. “We were latent. While the company publicly informed that it was 12 more years, SEMARNAT kept telling us that the mining company was leaving, that it would only have two more years in operation,” said the ejido commissioner of Monte del Toro.

The doubt was resolved approximately three months ago. “We went to the offices of SEMARNAT in Mexico City and they told us that it was 12 years. They told us that yes it had been a typo in the permit, but nonetheless the permit was already granted, they had already given it to them,” said the commissioner. “What we want the company and government to know is that we will continue struggling until the end to defend our lands,” added the ejido authority.

Assembly in Defense of Water Demands an End to its Plunder in Mexico

In mid-August, in the original town of San Gregorio Atlapulco, in the Xochimilco district of Mexico City, the Third National Assembly for Water and Life took place. There, the plunder of water, the actors and methods involved in its appropriation, as well as the struggles undertaken by the communities in its defense were central themes.

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The assembly was attended by 834 people from 209 different organizations, collectives, networks, original peoples, Indigenous communities, free media outlets, and individuals from 21 states of Mexico, as well as guests from 9 countries.

Participants pointed out the tactics being used to impose the plunder of water. Among them are the manipulation and division of communities, privatization and commodification, as well as strategies of remunicipalization. Also, the concessions “that privilege private companies and industry, the cooptation of community water committees, and plans and programs of territorial reorganization,” emphasized the statement from the assembly.

Photo: Assembly for water and life

In addition, participants pointed out the various actors who participate in the legitimation of the plunder, among them academics and experts whose discourse is based in concepts like agroecology, environmental conservation, sustainable development, green technologies, and climate justice, “so that the powerful do not get upset, and that they continue providing financing by means of NGO’s and economic stimulus that fragment and divide the communities.”

Wars of Extermination

One of the principle denunciations is the war of extermination against the Zapatista communities in Chiapas, the Nahua community of Ostula in Michoacán, as well as the violence and repression against original peoples of the Valley of Mexico, Tlaxcala, Querétaro, among other geographies.

Through the statement from the event, participants pointed out the violence of paramilitary groups like the Regional Organization of Coffee Growers of Ocosingo (ORCAO), the invasion of governmental programs that cause community destruction and division like “sembrando vida,” the forced displacement of families and entire communities of the Zapatistas Support Bases, as well as the imprisonment of Manuel Gómez Vázquez, and the assassination attempt against Jorge López Santiz, events that have the Zapatista Caracoles in Chiapas on high alert.

They also referred to the disappearance and assassination of the Indigenous Nahua, Lorenzo Froylán de la Cruz Ríos, member of the Communal Guard of Santa María Ostula, in the municipality of Aquila, Michoacán, whose body was found with signs of torture after nine days of his disappearance, at the beginning of August.

“Those materially responsible, who enjoy impunity and complicity from the federal and state governments are members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, along with the narco-government of Michoacán, led by the governor, Alfredo Ramirez Bedolla, who recently proclaimed the community guard to be illegal. This represents a new repressive blow, in addition to the eviction order from the Local Agrarian Court 38, as well as the order military presence in the autonomous territory of Santa María Ostula,” the statement explains.

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Another case mentioned is the community of Calpulalpan, Tlaxcala, where in May of this year, women, children, and elders suffered physical and psychological repression for their struggle in defense of water. They also demanded the liberation of the land defenders, Raymundo Cahuatzi Meléndez and Saúl Rosales Meléndez, from the community of San Pedro Tlalcuapan, Tlaxcala, as well as an end to the water law initiative in Tlaxcala.

They reiterated the demand for an end to the systematic violence in Querétaro against people who defend water, springs, and territory, “as is the case of the community of Escolásticas, who were brutally repressed on June 13. We denounce the intensification of violence following the approval of the law of water service concessions in Querétaro. We demand its repeal and elimination.”

Photo: Assembly for water and life

They denounced that, in the original towns of the valley of Mexico, like Xochimilco, Tláhuac, Milpa Alta, Iztacalco and Coyoacán, there are also experiences of extermination. There, women are affected by the imposition of mega urban, habitational, and commercial complexes, “that steal our water, quintupling our working hours, destroying our knowledge, and taking away our autonomy, causing greater sexual and economic violence against us until culminating in the deplorable increase in femicides of campesino women. However, thanks to the women who struggle and resist, our ancestral feminisms are rising up,” sustained the declaration.

They highlight the cases of gender violence that women from the communities of Xochimilco face on part of the Mayor’s office, “against women traditional authorities of San Gregorio Atlapulco, as well as women of the Autonomous Council of Government in Xochimilco (San Luis Tlaxialtemalco), who have been slandered through social networks, beating us physically, socially, and psychologically, with death threats and incitements to lynching,” they accuse.

As a whole, participants demanded an end to the criminalization against Patricia González Guzmán, President of the Pro-Cemetery Committee of San Gregorio Atlapulco, as well as an end to the plunder of water, land, and territory of all the original peoples of the region, for which they demand the restauration of the natural water cycle in the micro-basin of Tláhuac-Xochimilco, Milpa Alta-Chalco.


They assured that they will continue exercising and strengthening their right to self-determination, the pathway toward autonomy. “The resistance and the rebellions are the tools to recuperate our history, our territory, our mother earth and life. As communities, we will recuperate our cosmovision and spirituality that they have stolen from us. We also ratify that, we will not surrender, we will not sell out, we will not compromise.”

At the end of the Third National Assembly for Water and Life, a series of actions were agreed upon, including a subsequent meeting in Tlaxcala between the months of February and March of 2024. They also called for protests against the National Water Commission on September 25 of this year, as well as participation in the national mobilization against the war on Zapatista communities for October 12.

See the full declaration from the assembly here.

Bacalar: Those Left Behind and Forgotten by the Dispossession of the Maya Train

Cover photo: María Dolores and her husband in their home just a few steps from Section 6 of the Maya Train. Photo: Santiago Navarro F

Founded by Mayas in the year 415 AD in what is now the state of Quintana Roo, the town of Bacalar was one of the primary centers of Maya resistance against Spanish colonization. Today, the monumental ruins of the ancient Maya city of Ichkabal—the oldest known to date of that civilization—and its Lagoon of Seven Colors, attracts tourists from different parts of the world. These visitors use the hotels and restaurants that surround the lagoon, which provide access only to those who consume the different services.

Just a few kilometers from the tourism hype, the Avispa Midia team moved through small openings in the tropical forest which still survives on the edges of the municipality, looking for the pathway of the Maya Train, the principle megaproject of the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. This project “will strengthen the integration of the productive chains in the Yucatán Peninsula,” official government documents argue. It will bring more tourists to the region, regardless of the frequent power outages, the lack of water, and the collapsed drainage systems.

After walking for about fifteen minutes, a large gap appears about 60 meters wide and seemingly infinite in length. On the edges of the gap lies some of the dying vegetation, the rest had already been removed to an unknown location. The gap was filled with a layer of sandy clay packed down multiple times. Everything is ready for the next phase, which is laying down the aggregate, railroad ties, and rails that will carry the train cars across the region.

Machines of military engineers advance on the construction of Section 6 of the Maya Train. Photo: Aldo Santiago

Unexpectedly, along the gap in the tropical forest, appears a humble house blocking the straight line of the forest clearing. The house has survived the coming and going of the heavy machinery that devastated thousands of trees in its path. The house belongs to a 38-year old Maya woman named María Dolores Olvera Chi. There she has lived with her family—her husband and two children—for twelve years.

This family’s resistance is what has kept the house standing. “They want to remove us from our home via threats. People come and threaten us so that we leave. They say that they are going to relocate us, that we should take our most important belongings, and that they are going to remove us,” says María to Avispa Midia. She explains that people belonging to the ejido de Bacalar, and others who haven’t identified themselves, are the ones who are intimidating them.

One day after the Avispa Midia team was with María and her husband, men dressed in military uniforms went to their house threatening them again to leave. However, María affirms that she will defend these lands until the last consequences.

Nonetheless, the megaproject advances rapidly. This region contains Section 6 which is scheduled to be ready for operation at the end of 2023. It is one of the three sections of the Maya Train that are beneath the administration of the Secretary of National Defense (SEDENA).

Section 6 of the Maya Train is 250.84 kilometers long with 4.66 kilometers of track connecting with Section 7, totaling 255.50 kilometers between the cities of Tulum and Chetumal in Quintana Roo. The train line is a double track, considered for mixed traffic, passengers, and cargo. The passenger trains will travel at a maximum velocity of 160 kilometers per hour and the cargo trains at a minimum of 85 kilometers per hour. The train will pass through the towns of Nuevo Progreso, Pedro Antonio Santos, Limones, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, San Isidro de la Laguna, Buenavista, Caan Lumil, Bacalar, Aarón Merino and Cuauhtémoc, which is the priority region of influence of the railway project.

The project covers an area of 3909.53 acres, according to a study carried out by Greenpeace. This doesn’t consider other related projects, such as vehicular crossings, drainage, camps, storage centers, and substations. The Maya Train, in its seven sections, will cover 1,525 kilometers, and will pass through the states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, and Quintana Roo.

“Nobody warned us, nobody notified us about the train project. One day, four months ago, we woke up and saw that there were people knocking down the trees. We approached them to ask why they were knocking down the trees and it was then that the people who were working told us that the train was going to pass through here,” remembers María with great sadness.

Photo: Renata Bessi

One day, without asking for permission, they arrived to move the fence marking the limit of María’s property. “We left to buy some groceries, and when we returned, they had moved the fence, reducing our land. My husband put the fence up again,” explains the Maya woman. Meanwhile, her neighbors have abandoned their land one by one. “Who knows where they went. We don’t know,” added María.

They work both day and night on the construction of the railway lines. They deforested the entire area. They knocked down everything that was here, scraping the black earth characteristic of the tropical forest, and filling it in with a light-yellow earth, flattening the path. About a kilometer from María’s house is the planned construction of the Bacalar passenger train station.

When María realized the magnitude of the project being developed in front of her house, she immediately went to the offices of the ejido of Bacalar. “We bought ejido lands. We have signed and stamped papers from them (the ejido members). Since we bought directly from them, they have the responsibility to notify us. We have the right to know what was coming,” shares María with anger.

The attempts made by the family for dialogue at the ejido offices have had negative results. “There is no communication. They are closed off to our questions. They aren’t willing to talk with us, they close their doors to us. They give us the run around. They say things, but there is nothing concrete. They treat us with a certain distance,” adds María.

María and her family are not considering leaving their house. “We are firm. We do not want money, nor do we want to go anywhere else. This house is very special to us. We began with nothing. First with the wooden house, then we advanced little by little, struggling. It is very sad to see all of this happening, that suddenly they come and tell you that you have to leave your house.” Furthermore, “they destroyed our trees, they drive away the animals that lived here, like the macaws, the parrots, the deer, and the jaguar.”

Most of the forest that was destroyed is made up of “trees like these,” explains María, pointing to a Ceiba tree that still lives on her patio. It is considered by the Maya people as a divine tree, the tree of life. “It is the tree that connects us to the gods,” she shares with certainty.

Of the 3909.53 acres that make up the project, 92.22% of the land is considered forest. Around 3430 acres are of tropical evergreen forest, 119 acres are tropical lowland evergreen forest, 38 acres are temperate wetlands, and 16.5 acres are mangrove.

What Happened with the Land?

The lands for the project were sold to the federal government by the ejido of Bacalar. They were marked for public utility and expropriated. The decree was published June 26, 2023 in the Official Journal of the Federation, together with four other expropriation decrees in favor of Fonatur Tren Maya SA de CV, affecting lands of five other ejidos in the municipality of Bacalar, and one in the municipality of Othón P. Blanco.

According to the expropriation decree, in a general assembly on July 9, 2022, the 167 ejido members of Bacalar approved to the agreement with Fonatur regarding the common use lands that make up a surface area of around 140 acres.  

On September 14, 2022, Fonatur solicited the expropriation via the Secretariat of Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development (SEDATU) for reasons of public utility.

Members of the Ejido Commission of Bacalar notified them on February 11, 2023 regarding the expropriation request and the area which was to be expropriated. According to the document, they had ten business days to “state what was in their best interests.” During that time frame, there was no complaint regarding the project.

On December 21, 2022, the Institute of Administration and Appraisals of National Assets (INDAABIN) emitted an evaluation determining the total amount of compensation based in its commercial value to be $150, 276, 000 pesos (around 8.8 million dollars).

It Goes Because It Goes

The ejido member Luis Chimal Balam, the agrarian authority who led the negotiations with the federal government, told Avispa Midia that the lands have already been paid for. “They paid us what we asked,” he commented.

Photo: Renata Bessi

Balam remembers that at the beginning of the negotiations, in 2020, the federal government sent several representatives of different governmental institutions to the ejido. “A lieutenant was even sent to the negotiations. He said to us that they were going to deposit money in the bank for the expropriation. They said to us: when you want to collect it, you can, and if you don’t want to collect it, you don’t have to. The train is going to pass through here, because that’s the way it is,” he remembers.

Then, “we told them that they were wrong, that it was not like that, that they were going to give us what we asked for. You aren’t going to humiliate us just because we are humble people. Make no mistake, we told them.”

Negotiations were carried out in four meetings “until an agreement was reached.”

The ejido member admits that the Maya Train “is not going to benefit us. They told us that it was going to provide jobs to the people in the town, but there was nothing.”

No Agreement

One of the points that the ejido members wanted to negotiate was the resolution of litigation related to 910 acres around the Lagoon of Seven Colors.

In 1971, 910 acres of ejido lands surrounding the lagoon were decreed in favor of the state government. The government sold the land “to politicians and government officials,” privatizing a grand part of the shores of the lagoon. The ejido members have filed lawsuits to recuperate the lands, “but they have received negative resolutions.”

Boats on the shores of the Bacalar Lagoon. Photo: Aldo Santiago

The ejido members filed a lawsuit directly to the federal government. “I have dealt with López Obrador personally, I have taken the files so that justice can be served. Up until now, there has been no resolution in our favor,” claims the ejido member.

The Ejido Doesn’t Represent the Maya People

Aldair T’uut’, member of the Múuch’Xíimbal Assembly –, argues that the right to Maya autonomy and self-determination was not respected in the decisions taken by the 167 ejido members.

Photo: Renata Bessi

“They have their role as ejido members, but they do not represent the Maya territory. They left these decisions to a small handful of people when they truly correspond to the entire Maya community,” he said for Avispa Midia.

He maintained that, “we have been here for millennium, before the constitution existed, before the president existed, before Mexico itself exited. Therefore, we are the ones who must decide.”

Experiences like these have happened throughout the Yucatán Peninsula, says T’uut’. “At best, the federal government approaches with its representatives. We know that the state already has experience in corrupting ejido authorities. They are really good at doing that type of thing. So, when they arrive here, they already have a plan in place where they confront and trick the ejido members. Some want to sell the lands, others don’t. They also play off of the necessity and poverty of the communities.”

Photo: Renata Bessi

Meanwhile, María and her family, people who do not figure into the negotiations, will end up being displaced and possibly forgotten by the authorities.

“Dispossession just began, and it’s going to last a long time”: Raúl Zibechi

Translated by Elizabeth L. T. Moore

The dispossession war lived by the peoples of the world has just begun and is going to last a long time. The alarm was sounded by the Uruguayan writer and activist dedicated to working with social movements in Latin America, Raúl Zibechi, during the Encuentro Internacional El Sur Resiste, in the Centro Indígena de Capacitación Integral (Cideci), in Chiapas. “For all [the capital’s] progress, there’s still a lot of land that it doesn’t control, that’s why I say dispossession will go on for a long time.”

In countries where studies have been done about land ownership, he says, it’s been shown that 40%, that’s 4 in every 10 hectares, still are not in the hands of the oligarchy, nor corporations, nor the major capital.

Brazil is one case. Very rigorous analyses exist, he says, that reveal that 40% of land in the country are from agrarian reform, from Black and Indigenous peoples, land that is reserved by the State as natural parks or natural reserves, land of small farmers, along with land where there are traditional fishermen.

There are countries that surpass the 40%. One example is Colombia. “The native peoples have a third of the land recognized by the Constitution, in addition to the land where there are Black communities, the natural reserves. In Colombia it’s probably more than 50%,” he analyzes.

The dispossession wars are integral to capitalism. “Capitalism today can’t live without these wars. Capitalism today can’t act without violence against the communities. It is necessary to dispossess, they have to kill, they have to murder; and, because of this, militarism is here to stay.”

The left had always “mistrusted the military, but now the progressives of Latin America defend the armed forces.”

Mexico is the most brutal example of militarization, he says, when it gives the armed forces responsibility for the construction of major works. And this is happening in Argentina, too. “The Armed Forces couldn’t go out in public because they committed genocide during the dictatorship, and now the progressive government of Argentina demands that eight large extractive companies militarize, something that no government, nor the Right, has been able to do.”

In Colombia, where there’s a new progressivism with the Gustavo Petro government, an alliance has already been made with the United States Armed Forces to “defend” the Amazon.

Drug trafficking today is also systemic, he analyzes. “The time is coming in which drugs and the capital are entangled. Drugs and the State. Drugs and the Armed Forces. At which point it would be very difficult to establish a line, draw a border and say ‘This is drug trafficking , this is the bourgeoisie.”

Therefore the diagnosis of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) of the Cuarta Guerra Mundial, which has been done for more than two decades, “seems to us totally accurate and totally correct; a dispossession war is being lived against the communities to ‘clean’ the territory, and remodel it to the image and likeness of the capital’s interests.”

Maintain the fight

Zibechi has understood his whole life that at the basis of peoples autonomy was communal land. “And, of course, communal land is really important, it’s fundamental for there to be communities in resistance,” he says.

But today he understood, he says, that the basis of communal land and autonomies is the spirituality of the peoples. “Spirituality is what lets us sustain ourselves in the fight for a long time; the main victory is we’ve been here for 500 years. And we may have to endure another 500 (years) more.”

There’s a story that Subcomandante Marcos writes, a dialogue with the old man Antonio, that says the struggle is like a circle. “It starts in one place but never ends. What does this have to do with spirituality? If the struggle never ends, it means that there’s no final objective, the seizure of power. There’s no final victory. There’s no final triumph.”

The idea of a final triumph, he says, is a very Catholic, Christian idea, incorporated into the social fight. “If the fight is a circle that never ends, spirituality is what sustains us for this long time.”

The Internacional Comunista speaks about the last fight. “The last fight is entering the palace, taking power. And it’s considered that taking power is synonymous with doing the revolution. Thanks to the native peoples and thanks to contributions by EZLN, today we know that there’s no last fight, but a circle.”

The writer says it’s necessary to overcome the political calculation idea of cost-benefit, the political pragmatism. “Because if not, we’re always going to be returning to this capitalistic ideology, these capitalistic values, that are central to the rule.”

Zibechi cites as an example the armed conflicts of Guatemala and El Salvador. “We see how on top of the fight of the native peoples a vanguard apparatus was mounted and this vanguard - of white, academic men - acted in a way, as we tend to say, pragmatic. At a certain point, it did a cost-benefit analysis, as capitalism does. And they did it and they negotiated, in a deplorable situation, because nothing changed.”

To overcome the logic of pragmatism, the peoples spirituality is central, he defends. “If we want to be true rebels, fight for true change, we have to overcome this calculated logic, which is always individual.” He goes on: “Spirituality puts us in another place, non-material, profoundly human to be able to go farther than material contradictions.”

Everything “we see today is what comes from a giant storm, which is already underway, a hellish earthquake over us. We can’t construct material barriers against that.”

“We can unite and give a hand and hand ourselves over to life and to Mother Earth, with the hope that she will show us the way.”