Thousands of people displaced by violence in the highlands of Chiapas for the past two and a half months have returned home, but for many their homecoming is not a joyful one.
Almost 4,000 indigenous Tzotzil residents of the municipality of Chalchihuitán went back to their communities this week despite there being no assurances that it was safe to do so.
Just over 1,000 more remained in camps because their houses have been destroyed. Others were confronted with the sad reality that it remains too dangerous for them to return to their own homes.
Cristóbal Pérez Pérez, his wife, five children and his daughter-in-law walked along mud-covered paths in the cold mountain air to return to the village of Pom after living in a makeshift camp since October 18.
But the proximity of the family’s home to the disputed boundary area with the neighboring municipality of Chenalhó means that for now they can’t complete the journey.
Instead, they were forced to rent two small earthen-floor rooms made out of wooden boards and sheet metal. The family will use one of the rooms as a kitchen and the other as a very-crowded bedroom.
For more than 40 years, residents of Chalchihuitán and Chenalhó have intermittently clashed over a contested 900-hectare area.
Violence flared up again in October when armed aggressors from Chenalhó — allegedly backed by the mayor — burned down, destroyed and looted homes in the neighboring municipality as they demanded the return of the disputed land.
More than 5,000 people fled their homes fearing for their lives and moved into improvised camps. Several people, including at least four children, died in the camps from hunger and exposure to cold weather.
An agrarian court ruled in favor of Chenalhó last month and authorities from both municipalities ratified a peace agreement, yet the threat to safety remains.
Further complicating the Pérez family’s homecoming is heavy rain that has fallen over the past two days, meaning that muddy paths are impassable and Cristóbal Pérez can’t go out for food.
The family is currently surviving on meager rations of tortillas and beans as they huddle around a fire to keep warm.
Members of the Tzotzil-speaking family told the newspaper El Universal through an interpreter that they won’t have anything to eat in coming weeks and months because they can’t return to their land.
“We won’t be able to plant corn or beans, or cut the coffee to sell it because the armed men are prowling around our land,” Pérez said.
The family of Dionisio Girón is in a similar situation. He, his wife and four minors, including the 15-year-old mother of his son’s newborn baby, are renting a house in C’analumtic because they too can’t return to their own home.
Girón said that his eldest son has left to look for work to support his young wife and baby while the rest of the family remains afraid because they continue to hear gunshots ringing out over the village.
Mariano Pérez Gómez, María Girón and their children were able to return to their home in Pom but they also remain concerned about their safety.
“We’re afraid, we don’t sleep at night, we want to go back to the camp. We’re not happy in my house anymore, nothing is like before, there is [only] fear and pain,” Girón said.
Source: El Universal (sp)