The death toll among Tzotzil people displaced by a longstanding territorial dispute in the mountains of Chiapas has risen to eight, while an agrarian court ruled yesterday in favor of the municipality of Chenalhó, home to the alleged aggressors in the conflict.
Four children and four elderly people have now died in camps set up by more than 5,000 people who were forced to flee their homes in the municipality of Chalchihuitán due to the threat of violence from armed men trying to reclaim the disputed land.
The state government has opened an investigation into the deaths, which are all believed to have been caused by hunger and exposure to cold weather.
An elderly woman who passed away Tuesday in the town of Pom was buried yesterday. She was one of two senior citizens who died this week due to sleeping outdoors and being exposed to cold temperatures, parish priest Sebastián López said.
The Catholic Church and the Frayba Human Rights Center warned last month that a humanitarian crisis was under way but road blockades set up by citizens of Chenalhó have made getting aid to the displaced people difficult and also prevented the sick from accessing hospital care.
The Catholic Church in San Cristóbal de las Casas warned that there was an “atmosphere of terror” in the region that could become more deadly than the Acteal massacre of 1997, when 45 people were killed.
But the ruling handed down by the Unitary Agrarian Tribunal yesterday, which returned 365 hectares of disputed land to Chenalhó, gives some hope that peace will now be restored to the region and the displaced persons will be able to leave the makeshift camps.
For more than 40 years, the two municipalities have intermittently clashed over a contested boundary area, with violence flaring up again just under two months ago and leaving one man dead.
Following the decision yesterday, authorities from both municipalities ratified a peace agreement first signed in 2015, effectively committing to respect the latest ruling.
State authorities explained that the decision came with 15 million pesos (US $787,000) compensation for Chalchihuitán, an undertaking to build 300 new homes for people who lived in the disputed area and a pledge to implement projects to benefit all residents of the municipality.
Chalchihuitán citizens will meet today to discuss and analyze the ruling, a residents’ spokesman said.
In accordance with the decision, the federal Secretariat of Agrarian Development and Urban Planning (Sedatu) will be responsible for marking the new municipal boundaries.
The state government has deployed police and civil protection personnel among other authorities to oversee its implementation and will also seek the support of the United Nations (UN).
Chenalhó Mayor Rosa Pérez — whom displaced residents have accused of buying weapons for the armed men responsible for the violence that caused them to flee — said the ruling represented a win for her municipality. The roadblocks have been lifted in response to the decision.
However, one representative from Chalchihuitán said the ruling would only be recognized if a presidential resolution from 1975, favoring the municipality, was also respected.
Source: El Universal (sp)