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Large scale infrastructure and agroindustrial projects are threatening indigenous communities in Chiapas, says the open letter.
A large group of intellectuals, scholars and activists from around the world signed a letter standing with the National Liberation Zapatista Army (EZLN) and against the current “disinformation, lies and smear campaign” directed at them because of their opposition to megaprojects near their autonomous territory.
The Zapatista struggle is “a great example of resistance, dignity and political creativity,” says the open letter, making the federal government responsible of “any aggression” against them by the government or through armed or not armed “civilian” groups, often used as a proxy armies in territorial conflicts in Chiapas, southern Mexico.
“We share the rejection expression by the EZLN to these and other big projects that seriously affect the autonomous territory and the lifestyles of the people,” reads the letter.
The open letter was signed by the likes of Juan Villoro, Raul Zibechi, Ignacio Ramonet, Marcos Roitman, Claudio Lomnitz, Arundhati Roy, Immanuel Wallerstein, Pablo Gonzalez Casanova, Havin Güneser, Michael Löwy, Toni Negri, Bertha Navarro, Cristina Rivera-Garza, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Walter Mignolo, Marcela Turati, Guillermo Espinosa, and many other writers, artists, journalists and rights defenders and organizations.
The group of people and organizations explain their concern for the “Transisthmus Corridor,” an infrastructure project that will connect the Gulf of Mexico with the Pacific for commercial purposes; a million hectares of fruit and wood trees in Chiapas that would replace native "unproductive" forests; and the so-called “Maya Train,” which was recently called “a humiliation and a provocation” by Subcomandante Moises, one of the Zapatistas’ spokespersons, because of its potential effects on the Mayan peoples.
"Through votes, they’re asking for permission to attack us. They’re consulting so they come and face us with that Maya Train crap, but if they provoke us we will defend ourselves. We won’t allow someone to come here and take this rebel territory,” said Moises in autonomous territory marking the 25 anniversary of the Zapatista uprising.
The Maya Train is a large-scale infrastructure project proposed by Lopez Obrador to connect the whole Yucatan Peninsula for tourism, transportation and economic purposes. It’s been strongly criticized by local organizations and welcomed by many others. To continue with it, Lopez Obrador called for a national consultation by late November, with an outcome of 89.9 percent in favor.
According to the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Convention 169, Indigenous peoples should be consulted by governments over any project related to their territory. But Lopez Obrador’s consultation was at a national level, ignoring the established protocol.
“We think it’s very serious that international agreements made by Mexico are being violated like that,” says the letter, asking the people to combat the smear campaign against the Zapatistas and stay alert in case of any aggression against the communities.
The Indigenous National Congress (CNI) and the Indigenous Government Council (CIG), both backed by the EZLN and multiple organizations across the country, made clear their opposition to these and other mining, touristic, agroindustrial and infrastructure projects that threaten indigenous communities and territories.
The Zapatista declarations against the projects earned them a series of critiques from Lopez Obrador’s supporters. Besides racist slurs and calls to confront the Zapatistas militaries, several media outlets reported that the EZLN was an invention of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that ruled Mexico for most of its modern history and against which the indigenous army stood up in arms in the first place.
The Zapatista movement has always been at odds with Lopez Obrador. Since the first time he ran for president in 2006, the EZLN organized an alternative campaign and declared its opposition to the center-left candidate. Now, with its landslide victory in the 2018 elections, the Zapatistas have reiterated their position.