On September 13 the Indigenous people of Mezcala, in western Mexico, will find out if a court rules in their favor after 19 years struggling against a Guillermo Moreno Ibarra, who they say illegally occupied the forest of El Pandillo mountain.
The community of Mezcala said they are “hoping to get justice after 19 years,” during which they have been repressed, arrested and made the victims of “many other insults.”
“We also want to point out that using the rights granted to him by the agrarian law, after the sentence against him was used, the businessman is considered an owner of the common land by succession, and now he’s using that to be judged as a member of the community and not as an invader,” said the community in a public statement.
The people of Mezcala demanded the tribunal for special protection of their lands on the grounds of Mexico’s constitution and Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.
Moreno Ibarra, who owns other residential compounds in the area, seized about 10 hectares of communal and forest lands in the area using a front man.
“The invader fenced El Pandillo and therefore the assembly called him for a meeting at the communal properties office, but he didn’t go,” Rocio Moreno, a community leader and member of the Zapatista-backed Indigenous Government Council, told Desinformemonos. “The community then started a trial against the businessman for the restitution of the communal lands and the front man, who was part of the community.”
The trial started in 1999 and has experienced several setbacks. In 2014 a court ruled in favor of the community, but the businessman issued an appeal to review the case. A court again ruled in favor of the community.
Mezcala is a small community of about 5,000 inhabitants; the last remaining on the lakeside of Chapala, the biggest lake in Mexico. They are of Indigenous Coca origin and maintain their traditions, holidays, political organization and territory, but not their language – the reason the state of Jalisco refuses to recognize them as an Indigenous community.
The surroundings of Mezcala, of communal property, and Lake Chapala have been the target of large-scale real estate development for decades, with people from the United States or other parts of Mexico looking for an idyllic place to spend their retirement years at the expense of locals.
It’s estimated Lake Chapala is one of the places in Mexico, along with San Miguel de Allende, with the highest concentration of U.S. immigrants.
The land seized by Moreno Ibarra is guarded by a group of 16 heavilly armed people with their faces covered. Rocio Moreno says intimidation and impunity have forced many in the community to abandon the fight to recover their lands, but many also remain.
What’s at stake is not only the land, but also “community life and the links built in many years; there’s no other way to be autonomous but conserving the territory,” said Rocio Moreno.
The decision is due to be announced Thursday.