February Photo of the Month: Campesinos in a milpa–Nuevo San Gregorio (Chiapas, Mexico)

Photo: Langelle/GJEP (2003)


In 2003 groups such as Conservation International supported the Mexican government’s charge that Indigenous communities were destroying the rainforest in the Monte Azules Integral Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, Mexico.  They were calling for the removal of communities such as Nuevo San Gregorio, that are in the rainforest.

Orin Langelle participated in a delegation of journalists for an investigative report into those allegations.

Small communities in the region were cooperating in an important experiment to demonstrate a more sustainable way of living on the land. In 2003, for eight or more years, they had ceased using slash and burn agriculture and ended the use of harmful chemicals.The Indigenous Peoples of the region rejected the idea that the forced relocation of Indigenous Peoples had anything to do with protecting the ecosystem in question, and believed that it was paving the way for Plan Puebla Panama and the Free Trade Area of the Americas.  (Plan Puebla Panama is now being called the Mesoamerica Project.)

Over flights by the delegation over the region verified that any ecological damage done by these communities in the Montes Azules Integral Biosphere Reserve was minimal, especially in comparison to the extensive damage resulting from roads, cattle ranches, logging, military bases and other commercial uses of the land.

And Now:

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, AB32, mandates targeted greenhouse gas reductions, to be achieved in part through offset credits. In November, 2010, then Governor Schwarzenegger signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Chiapas, Mexico and Acre, Brazil, for the world’s first subnational Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) carbon offset partnership. The agreement is being touted in its early stage as a model for global warming legislation and subnational REDD programs worldwide. Yet it brings multiple potential concerns, including a deepening crisis of agrarian landgrabs in Mexico.

Human rights organizations are concerned that the massive planned expansion of agrofuel plantations which will be the principle source of carbon offsets under the program may gravely exacerbate the threat of displacement and human rights abuse in Chiapas, the poorest state in Mexico, already gripped by agrarian and territorial conflict. The state government of Chiapas has announced plans to develop up to 400,000 hectares of industrial biofuel feedstock plantations by the end of 2012. This is closely linked to a an effort known as the “Sustainable Rural Cities Project,” supported by the World Bank, that aims to relocate rural Indigenous populations into centralized, pre-fabricated, peri-urban settlements. The state government says that the motive behind this project is to bring economic development to rural Indigenous people, while also freeing up land for “productive conversion” to plantations; human rights and environmental advocates argue that the project will lead to forced displacement, and environmental and cultural degradation.

Global Justice Ecology Project is monitoring the current situation. Stay tuned for further updates.

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