The homes of 35 families in Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas, were destroyed by armed men last weekend, and three men were murdered in the same municipality.
The violence is linked to a long-running land dispute between one agricultural group called the San Bartolomé de los Llanos Alliance (ASB) and another called the Emiliano Zapata Farmers Organization (OCEZ), also known as Casa del Pueblo.
According to a report by the newspaper El Universal, armed men from the former group arrived in the community of Santa Isabel Las Delicias last Saturday, forcing families to flee to the municipal seat, located about 90 kilometers southeast of state capital Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
Two years ago, the now-displaced families bought 32 hectares of land on which they built homes and planted corn, El Universal said, adding that they didn’t take sides with either of the feuding groups.
Nevertheless, ASB gunmen toppled the walls of their homes, stole domestic appliances, money, tools and farm animals and set several vehicles on fire.
One Santa Isabel Las Delicias resident said the aggressors also used chainsaws to topple trees so they would fall onto the roofs of people’s humble homes.
Ricardo Guillermo Gómez Montoya, a spokesman for the 35 displaced families, said the people who fled Santa Isabel left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. “That’s how we left in order to be able to survive,” he said.
The families are asking for clothing, footwear, medicine and food donations to help them survive while they take refuge in a shelter.
In addition to destroying homes, members of the ASB killed three members of the OCEZ on Saturday and abducted two others, the news magazine Proceso reported.
It said that the five OCEZ members entered a farm that has been controlled by the ASB for several years after it allegedly seized it from its adversary. Three men were shot dead on the property and two others were abducted and taken to an unknown location. The fate of the two kidnapped men is unclear.
The OCEZ said that 21 of its members have been killed over a period of many years but the authorities haven’t captured and punished the murderers.
“On the contrary, the government sends the Red Cross, police, the National Guard and the military to protect and provide support to these murderers,” the group said.
The ASB is also accused of destroying and/or burning some 80 homes in Yaschen de los Pobres, another community in Venustiano Carranza, in April last year.
Violence has also affected Paraíso del Grijalva, a Venustiano Carranza town near the Angostura dam on the Grijalva river.
Local middle school and high school students sent a video message to the newspaper El Heraldo de Chiapas in which they called for the intervention of state and federal authorities to help bring peace to the municipality, where this month’s elections were suspended due to security concerns.
“We’re frightened about what’s happening; we don’t want so much violence. We’re told we’re outsiders, invaders, but it’s not true. Our fathers and grandparents have agricultural certificates from 1965 and 1993 [that prove land ownership]. We also have the right to live and work here,” said a statement read aloud by one of the students.
“… We want the attacks to stop. The intervention of the government with the National Guard is urgent because the Casa del Pueblo [the OCEZ] continues to threaten to come and kill us in our homes,” the teenage girl said.