Humanitarian aid has begun arriving in the central highlands of Chiapas for more than 5,000 indigenous Tzotzil people displaced by violence stemming from a longstanding territorial dispute.
Most of the displaced fled their homes in the municipality of Chalchihuitán and are now living in makeshift camps, where many are suffering from illness. At least two women have given birth in the camps while several more are pregnant.
Earlier this week, a human rights organization and the Catholic Church warned that there is a humanitarian crisis under way and called on the United Nations (UN) and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH) to pressure the Mexican government to respond.
The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) made a similar plea, urging all three levels of government to implement measures to guarantee the security of the displaced people.
The head of the Chiapas Civil Protection agency told the newspaper El Universal that state authorities only became aware of the situation on Saturday and acted promptly thereafter.
“We found out about the problem through social media on Saturday. The next day we sent 1,000 food packages and 500 blankets,” Luis Manuel García Moreno said.
A further 3,000 food packages were sent Tuesday along with medical personnel, García added.
However, the delivery of the aid has been delayed because an armed group is blocking the highway leading into the region, forcing authorities to take a different, roundabout route. Camps are also dispersed across the mountainous region, further complicating efforts to reach them.
Authorities are collaborating with a local priest to get the food, medicines and other aid to their final destination and García said the agency was committed to providing assistance for as long as it is required. It also plans to set up an official shelter but says a census of those displaced must be carried out first.
One of the internally displaced persons is 80-year-old Manuela Diaz Luna, who was forced to flee the community of C’analumtic on October 18 when armed men from the neighboring municipality of Chenalhó arrived, claiming that the land was theirs.
As she fled on foot she saw her home go up in flames and heard the shots of their guns. One local farmer was killed.
Since then she has been living exposed to the elements in an improvised camp and like many others, young and old alike, she is both sick and tired. More than anything, she just wants to go home. She’s lost count of how many days she’s been living in an enforced exile. Others in the same situation say it’s been 42.
But according to the Chalchihuitán parish priest, shots can still be heard ringing out from the communities that adjoin the neighboring municipality of Chenalhó so even if she had a house to return to, going home for now remains out of the question.
The displaced accuse Chenalhó Mayor Rosa Pérez of buying weapons and ammunition for the men who have ravaged their local communities.
However, there is some hope that the 40-year-old conflict will be resolved soon.
In a meeting with federal and state authorities Tuesday, Pérez committed to holding talks with the armed men with the view to taking an initial step of reopening access roads to enable aid to flow into the region more easily.
State government General Secretary Juan Carlos Gómez Aranda said that the conflicting parties had agreed to respect the decision of an agricultural tribunal which is set to rule on the boundaries between the two municipalities in early December.
Meanwhile, those displaced continue to endure colder temperatures, illness and the uncertainty of whether the ruling will go in their favor.
Some are relying on their faith to get them through the experience.
One displaced woman, Clara Torres, told El Universal that the residents of Chalchihuitán don’t have guns to protect themselves and the only weapon they have is “the word of God.”
Source: El Universal (sp)