A municipality in Chiapas has been described as a “mini-monarchy” where the mayor rules with an iron fist despite the vast majority of the population not recognizing her as the legitimate leader and preventing her from working in municipal headquarters.
Oxchuc is a mountainous, poverty-stricken municipality with a majority Mayan population that has been under the rule of either María Gloria Sánchez or her husband Norberto Santis López for over a decade.
Violence against those who haven’t supported them or the Ecologist Green Party (PVEM) Sánchez currently represents has been a common theme in the municipality for around eight years.
Most recently, 20 families from the community of Stenle’akil abandoned their homes and sought refuge in a DIF family services center after a group of armed men attacked them July 1, damaging their homes and stripping them of their belongings.
The motive appeared to be the victims’ opposition to the mayor.
“We were run out of our homes with shots from firearms, fireworks, slingshots, everything,” recounted one displaced resident, María Gómez while she prepared coffee in a makeshift kitchen in the DIF courtyard.
“All those who did these things are supporters of María Gloria. They harass us because we’re not part of her party or her supporters,” Gómez continued in Tzeltal, her mother tongue.
Photos taken after the attack show several residents of the small community with swollen and bloodied faces.
Sánchez was declared the winner of local elections in November 2015 after previously serving as mayor from 2005 to 2007. But many residents were not happy with the result and have not recognized her as the legitimate mayor.
They formed an opposition group called the Permanent Commission for Peace and Dialogue and then took over municipal headquarters and prevented Sánchez from entering.
In February 2016, Sánchez tendered her resignation as mayor and the opponents’ group subsequently held a plebiscite to replace her.
Óscar Gómez won that vote and the Chiapas Congress recognized the legitimacy of the process, naming him as the new mayor.
In August, however, the state’s electoral authority reversed the decision and restored the position to Sánchez, who claimed that she had been forced to resign by threats against her.
In November, state funds to administer the municipality were redirected to Sánchez.
But Gómez didn’t vacate the municipal offices and to this day continues to carry out many of the functions expected of a mayor while Sánchez works from an alternate office in San Cristóbal de las Casas, about 50 kilometers away.
Gómez claims he has 95% of the population behind him, but says the other 5% have been armed.
“María Gloria has 5% of the people [but] she has armed them. They’re the ones who threaten and attack our people and the ones who went to attack the families in Stenle’akil.”
But officially she is still the mayor and receives 40 million pesos (US $2.2 million) a month from the state, while Gómez doesn’t receive a single centavo.
Jaime Martínez Veloz, a Commissioner for Dialogue with Indigenous Peoples at the Interior Secretariat, warns that there may be more violence to come, attributing it to the entrenchment of power in one family and the political system that allows it to happen.
“She is part of a family that has been governing that municipality. I don’t have anything against her but I see in that a real fact that affects governability. To put it one way, there is a mini-monarchy there and the party system that we have now allows it.”
Sánchez’ husband Norberto Santis López served as mayor both before and after his wife’s first term but was imprisoned from 2005 to 2007 for illicit enrichment, a period coinciding with his wife’s first term as mayor.
Surprisingly, Santis was relected as mayor but state authorities detained him again in November last year after they determined that he had misappropriated a further 13 million pesos in state funds.
Corrupt practices have continued with his wife as mayor, according to one local resident.
“They started to rob the people. Every time that you arrived [to see] the mayor, Norberto Santís, you had to take him a chicken [or] kill a deer so that he would give you some support for a classroom or a road. It’s the same with María Gloria,” claimed Gabriel Méndez, a lawyer and member of the opposition commission.
According to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval), Oxchuc is one of the nation’s most disadvantaged municipalities where 30% of minors suffer from trachoma and 70% of communities lack adequate water, electricity and health services
“They looked after number 1. They stole the town’s money, that’s evident. We don’t have electricity, water [or] basic services,” Méndez asserted.
In an interview with the newspaper Milenio, María Gloria describes the people who have taken over the municipal offices as vandals and activists who would do anything for power.
She says that despite “doing things well” she has made enemies because “people want power” themselves.
Electoral authorities were ordered to review the case in late June but it might be 2018, when disgruntled residents will vote in municipal elections, before any change will be seen.
Meanwhile, the displaced families want to return to their homes but say they are too afraid to do so, feeling threatened and at risk while the current queen still sits on the throne — albeit in exile — of the so-called mini-monarchy of Oxchuc.
Source: Milenio (sp)