Saturday, July 20, 2024

Over 4,000 residents flee Chiapas town following armed attack

The nearly 4,200 residents who fled their town in Chiapas over the weekend due to an armed attack remain fearful of returning to their homes, despite government efforts to ensure their safety.

Over the weekend, pretty much the entire population of the municipality of Tila — a town less than 50 kilometers from the Palenque archaeological zone — left their homes after an attack by an armed group, the most egregious in what residents say has been continuous terrorizing of their town for months by two criminal groups in a turf war. 

Men in masks armed with rifles confronting residents of the Chiapas town of Tila
Surveillance footage published online captured the arrival of the armed attack’s perpetrators to Tila. (X)

According to the newspaper El Universal, 4,187 people left the town, which is located 1,090 meters above sea level about 230 kilometers from the state capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez. Photos distributed by state authorities showed people fleeing with just purses on their shoulders, or sometimes small backpacks or shoulder bags.

Authorities have set up camps for the displaced, but many, like Julio César Gómez, are reluctant to return despite a plan hatched by authorities on Tuesday. 

“They tell us to return, but who can guarantee that we will be safe?” Gómez said from a sports court turned into a displaced persons’ camp in the nearby city of Yajalon.

“We will not return until we know that when we leave the house, they will not kill us,” said a 60-year-old man who identified himself only as Saúl.

A woman named María said that gangs have been trying to extort people “for months,” and that “anyone who doesn’t pay will be killed.”

“There is no solution in sight,” added Gómez, who said he witnessed armed gangs shooting up the town and burning his relatives’ homes.

Military pickup trucks driving in a convoy down a semi-paved road
The Mexican military arrived in Tila this weekend and eventually decided to evacuate the residents from their town for their safety. (Cuartoscuro)

The Digna Ochoa Human Rights Center has identified the group responsible for the violence as Autónomos, a criminal group linked to drug trafficking.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador described the situation as a conflict among locals, rooted in a longstanding land dispute. He noted that the Mexican army’s arrival over the weekend to help escort people out of town saved many families.

However, the displaced community remains skeptical of the protection offered by the military and National Guard, which ended up in a shootout with the Autónomos on Friday that left one soldier dead and one injured, according to the newspaper El Universal.

During an assembly in Yajalon, residents insisted on concrete guarantees for their safety and justice for those responsible for the violence. They criticized recent negotiations as lacking transparency and called for more effective, long-term security measures.

On June 4, dozens of fully armed people arrived in the Chiapas town by truck and began the attack on Tila, shooting at houses and places of business and burning buildings, witnesses said. Some reports said they were members of the Karma criminal group, which is reportedly in a turf war with the Autónomos group. 

Most people in the town under attack then hid in their homes for three days.

The Tila ejido, collectively owned territory that is part of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), reported that organized crime and political interests, supported by local authorities, were behind the violence. 

The residents have long denounced the alleged impunity enjoyed by the local city council and have called for the restitution of disputed land.

The southern state of Chiapas has a history of conflict and displacement. In 1994, the Zapatista Indigenous rights movement’s uprising and subsequent fighting displaced thousands. The 1997 Acteal massacre also led to mass displacements. 

Recent years have seen a slow but steady expulsion of residents due to land and religious disputes.

Mexico's President Lopez Obrador standing at the National Palace conference room podium
President López Obrador addressed the situation this week at a press conference. He said he has instructed government agencies to form a team to aid those affected. (

The state prosecutor’s office reported arrests in connection with the recent violence, including six individuals caught with weapons. Despite that, the displaced remain wary of returning to what is now a ghost town.

López Obrador expressed regret over the situation and emphasized the need for unity among the town’s residents. He has instructed government agencies to form a team to aid the displaced victims, with several nearby camps providing food and other supplies.

With reports from La Verdad Noticias, La Jornada, Reuters, Associated Press, Animal Politico and El Universal


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