Indigenous Maya peasants in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas are marching cross-country to oppose violence by the local narco gangs and the corruption of local authorities that protect them.
The “pilgrimage” left the rural town of Simojovel some 15,000 strong at the end of March and is now arriving at the state capital Tuxtla Gutiérrez, about 240 kilometers away through rugged country. The march was organized by the Catholic pacifist group Pueblo Creyente (Faithful People) with the support of the local diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas in response to a wave of narco-violence in Simojovel.
Pueblo Creyente said the narco-political establishment waged a campaign of threats and harassment against Simojovel’s parish priest, Marcelo Pérez, after he led protests against the violence and corruption. Local politicians Ramiro Gómez Domínguez, a pre-candidate for mayor, and Juan Gómez Domínguez, a candidate for state legislature—both with the notoriously corrupt Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)—are reportedly responsible for the threats. In November, Gómez Domingo filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General of the Republic against Father Pérez, accusing the priest of destabilizing the region. Pueblo Creyente called the charge a reprisal for an October pilgrimage protesting organized crime in the municipality.
In its call for the latest pilgrimage, Pueblo Creyente said, “The town of Simojovel has no safe drinking water, the health center is in pitiful condition, but the cantinas, prostitution centers, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, sex trade, corruption etc. are increasing. The worst thing is that some PRI political leaders are the ones that are promoting these acts that keep the people hostage.
“Simojovel is a reflection of what is happening throughout the country,” the statement continued. “Institutionalized corruption is governing the country, therefore all people must rise up and organize to defend life [and] the future of our children.”
Unfortunately, there’s no lack of evidence that these issues are relevant across Mexico.
Journalist Laura Castellanos recently exposed new evidence that federal police carried out a massacre of civilians on Jan. 6 at Apatzingán, Michoacán. Her findings from the investigation were published in the news magazine Proceso and on the Aristegui Noticias website. The first shooting took place during a public protest against the disbanding of an anti-narco rural militia in front of Apatzingán city hall; a second came six hours later when officers fired at a dozen civilian vehicles chasing a police convoy. Authorities said nine were killed in the cross-fire and that the dead were members of the Los Viagras narco-gang.
The new investigation, based on months of interviews with witnesses and survivors (mostly anonymous, for obvious reasons), found that the death toll was actually 16, with civilians executed at close range by federal police. As officers opened fire on the protesters, they reportedly shouted “Kill them like dogs!” Federal authorities are now investigating the new claims.
On April 18, gun battles left three dead in the northern border town of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, after authorities captured a leader of the Gulf Cartel, identified only by his nom de guerre, “El Gafe” (The Jinxed). Officials said parts of the city were blocked with burning vehicles as gunmen attacked federal police forces.
On May 2, authorities said gunmen from the New Generation narco-gang engaged in shoot-outs with federal police and army troops around the western Jalisco state—leaving seven dead and forcing a military helicopter to make an emergency landing when it came under fire. Three soldiers were said to be among the dead. Gunmen set fire to cars, buses, banks and gasoline stations in response to the federal forces’ “Operation Jalisco.” The operation to break up the New Generation gang was ordered after 15 state police officers were killed April 7 in an ambush of their convoy on the main highway to Guadalajara.