Residents of a Chiapas municipality that has been plagued by political unrest for years have kidnapped at least 15 employees of government institutions and transnational corporations.
Among the workers taken hostage were employees of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), Coca-Cola and Pepsico.
The kidnapping occurred in San Juan Chamula, located about 10 kilometers north of San Cristóbal de las Casas. The kidnappers also took vehicles belonging to the institutions.
Two of the employees being held, both wearing shirts bearing CFE logos, appeared this week in a video posted online in which they addressed state authorities and asked them to give in to the residents’ demand to liberate a jailed politician in exchange for the employees’ release.
“We as citizens are not to blame for the situation that is happening, and our families are worried,” one of the two men said on the video.
“The people are threatening us that they will take other measures if their mayor, Juan Shilón de la Cruz, is not freed soon,” said the other. “So to avoid any violence toward us, we also demand that [Shilón] be released so that they will let us leave. Otherwise, we are going to remain here.”
Since 2018, San Juan Chamula has seen opposition to the administration of Mayor Ponciano Gómez and the municipal council, all of whom belong to the Morena party. On Tuesday, supporters of Shilón congregated at Gómez’s home where they fired weapons at it before setting it on fire.
The kidnappers want to see Shilón and a municipal council of their choosing running the municipality instead of the current administration. In March, hundreds of his supporters, who are Mayan indigenous Tzotzil, marched into the municipal palace and held a traditional ceremony in which Tzotzil leaders handed Shilón a ceremonial staff and declared him the true mayor.
Shilón’s supporters claim that Mayor Gómez is corrupt and that since being elected in July 2018 he has diverted at least 45 million pesos (US $2.2 million pesos at today’s exchange rate) in municipal funds, while governing from a house in San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Shilón, affiliated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party, has been in the custody of state authorities since September 9 when he was accused of aggravated robbery and sedition after he and his supporters temporarily took over San Juan Chamula’s municipal palace in August.
This is not the first time Shilón has been arrested nor that his followers have reacted to his arrest by engaging in kidnapping: after he was arrested in September 2019 on sedition charges his supporters kidnapped some Chamula government officials and their families until Shilón was released.
He and his supporters have also been accused of repeated acts of vandalism and violent confrontations throughout 2019 and 2020, including incidents in which the municipal palace and the DIF family services building were set on fire.