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H Bellinghausen La Jornada 3.12.04, trans. Edinburgh-Chiapas Solidarity Group | 13.12.2004 00:23 | Ecology | Globalisation | Zapatista | World

Work is being carried out in the biosphere reserve of Montes Azules to plunder its riches. The Mexican government say it is to protect the rainforest but the Zapatistas say they are attacking the forest by building bridges.

Article written for La Jornada, Mexico by Hermann Bellinghausen : translated by Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group, Scotland

Mexico City 3rd December 2004

The indigenous people ask, ‘Why is the government investing millions by building roads for a few communities who suffer a constant threat from the government of being evicted for affecting the biosphere?’

Amatitlan Chiapas 2 December 2004: A large bridge is being built from here to Montes Azules, the biosphere reserve which the state and district governments say they are protecting ... and this is being done with less publicity you’d think would be due to a project costing millions.

This huge engineering project will allow high tonnage vehicles to cross the River Lacantun. It will be 158.33 metres long and, via a road also under construction, will unite diverse riverside communities inside the protected area - all official communities.

One difference between this and other road and bridge investments which are being given lots of publicity by the state government is that in the face of public opinion, publicity for this project is being kept to a minimum.

According to workers who are building the bridge over the river, a road is planned to go through Montes Azules to the far north of the reserve, “ Up beside Benemerito de Las Americas”.

Details of the Work

A construction technician also said that they are building a bridge at the other side. The worker says he works for the Dept of Works of Chiapas although he is wearing a uniform of a Pemex worker with the company logo (Pemex is the Mexican oil company).

This would mean a second bridge over the River Lacanja which borders the other end of Montes Azules... and it would be bigger since the river there is wider.

A camp with engineers, technicians and bricklayers occupies the riverside at Amatitlan. There are huge mechanical diggers, mixers and cranes circling huge steel girders. There are also workshops, an office, a diner which will feed 20-30 people at a time, dormitories and huge sheds with oil and petrol. The bridge already one third completed, will arise out of the camp. They are now waiting for a huge column of concrete to sink into the Lacantun river and another column on the opposite bank.

According to the people of Amatitlan, 8 kilometres from the frontier highway, and the people of Maravilla Tenejapa, the bridge is being built to give vehicle access to a series of villages inside and on the outskirts of the biosphere reserve which is the legal property of the Lacandon communities. These villages are Democracia, Plan de Rio Azul, Vicente Guerrero, Nuevo Sabanilla, Lindavista, Nueva Esperanza and Nueva Argentina. This last village has once before been emptied by the state government but the villagers returned, unhappy with what the authorities gave them ‘in exchange’.

In Amatitlan there is a state army base and the river is patrolled by Army troops. The village is part of the new Maravilla Tenejapa municipality, created by the last PRI governor with the aim counter-insurgency and controlling the area. The municipality’s principal township is today situated in a huge military barracks. At the same time, the former governor of Chiapas, Roberto Albores and the state army promoted in 1998 the creation of another two frontier municipalities: Marques de Comillas and Benemerito de las Americas, to the north-east of the Lacandon rainforest. These three places surround the coveted, presumed virgin, rainforest.

Stripping the rainforest and building roads

According to the zapatista autonomous municipal council of Libertad do Los Pueblos Mayas, what the government is trying to do is ‘to strip the rainforest of its resources and put in roads so that its companies can get into Montes Azules’.

The zapatista municipal authorities pose the question, “Why would the government carry out such a huge project costing millions in order to give a road to some few communities they are not interested in? What they are planning is to open Montes Azules to the outside world.’

The impact of the new bridge instigated by the Chiapas government cannot be underestimated and especially if it is true that they are planning to build a road through Montes Azules to its furthest corners.

Indigenous people in the zone think that the real route planned for the new road is to go through the reserve and reach at least Lake Miramar, and to connect in nearby San Quintin with the roads to Ocosingo and to Las Margaritas.

You can’t help but wonder what is happening. On the one hand the government authorities affirm their decision to remove indigenous villages from Montes Azules but on the other hand they are creating an infrastructure that could destroy the riches that they say they want to conserve for “humanity”.

All along the border ecotourist centres are sprouting up. These centres are openly encouraged by the government so that the ‘legal’ population can devote themselves to the presumed needs of hordes of international tourists who will come to visit this remote and beautiful region. The Government believe it is the spilling of foreign currency that will stop indigenous poverty and also stop them being peasants (campesinos).

Names like Sueno Prometido, Las Nubes and Loma Bonita adorn the new landing stages and administrative businesses for indigenous and campesino people on the Santo Domingo, Lacantun and Lacanja rivers. If the promised influx is similar to the numbers that habitually reach the neighbouring Lagos de Montebello area, the people lending the money for these ventures can settle for sitting and waiting and becoming bored, amid a flowering of “tourist services”.

Also in order to “protect” it safely, the authorities have converted the natural parrot sanctuary known as Las Guacamayas into an ecotourist centre. They have also done this with the old biological station at Chajul and Lake Lacanja and they are planning to do the same with other riverside places on the Usumacinta valley.

H Bellinghausen La Jornada 3.12.04, trans. Edinburgh-Chiapas Solidarity Group
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