Thousands of residents from 86 communities in Pantelhó, Chiapas, gathered on Sunday to show their support for a new self-defense force that intends to protect the municipality from organized crime.
The Tzotzil Mayan residents also declared that they don’t recognize the legitimacy of the current and incoming municipal governments and will choose new authorities.
A self-defense group made up of some 100 men armed with assault weapons and machetes was presented on Sunday to the residents of Pantelhó, a municipality in the Altos de Chiapas (highlands) region where several crime groups operate.
Called Autodefensas del Pueblo El Machete, the self-defense force announced its formation on Saturday, saying it would expel sicarios (gunmen), drug traffickers and other members of organized crime from the municipality in order to avoid more deaths of indigenous residents.
The locals offered their support to the group, denounced the presence of organized crime in their communities and expressed their desire to live in peace and freedom, the newspaper Milenio reported.
They blamed a criminal group called Los Herrera for a recent wave of homicides and asserted that it has links to the municipal government. Residents also denounced another armed group called Los Capotes and accused municipal police of constantly harassing them.
Los Ciriles, a group allegedly linked to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, also operates in Pantelhó.
A spokesperson for Pantelhó residents said the “narco-council” has been murdering Tzotzil people for the past two decades, forcing locals to take up arms. He said that sicarios linked to Democratic Revolution Party governments have controlled Pentalhó communities during the past 20 years, a period during which residents say almost 200 indigenous people have been killed.
Many people have been displaced due to the violence, although some returned to their communities this month after federal security forces were deployed.
During a meeting on Sunday, residents called on the Chiapas government to investigate Mayor Delia Janeth Velasco Flores for links to crime and annul the results of the June 6 election at which her husband, Raquel Trujillo Morales, was elected as the new mayor. Trujillo is in cahoots with organized crime and should be jailed, they said.
The residents said they intend to choose their own political representatives who will administer the municipality using a traditional from of government known as usos y costumbres.
The head of the Commission for Dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico attended the meeting and assured residents she would take their concerns to authorities. Josefina Bravo Rangel also said that authorities are committed to bringing peace to Pantelhó, located about 60 kilometers northeast of San Cristóbal de las Casas.
San Cristóbal Bishop Rodrigo Aguilar called on authorities to act to put an end to violence in Pantelhó and neighboring Chenalhó, where armed conflict has also caused large numbers of people to flee.
“… Thousands of people have decided to leave their homes. … There are many women and children among these people, pregnant women have given birth in this situation … of displacement. It appears that some people have returned to their places [of origin], we don’t know how many, but there continues to be thousands of displaced persons,” he said.
With reports from Milenio