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GJEP’s Short Video on REDD in Chiapas Chosen for Native Spirit Film Festival

We’re proud to announce that the short documentary video Global Justice Ecology Project produced this past Spring, Amador Hernandez, Chiapas: Starved of Medical Services for REDD+, (watch film below) is being shown this week in London as part of Native Spirit Film Festival. The festival is a season of films, performances and workshops celebrating the cultures of Indigenous Peoples across the Earth, founded and counselled by Indigenous people, as a platform to promote the voices of Indigenous cultures and the protection of their rights.

According to the festival’s program, which you can download here, the themes for this year are “defending culture in the face of modern development, responding to climate change, reconnecting with the land, the power of storytelling, cultural identity, guidance from the Elders and voices of youth, and finding a sense of belonging within the community.”

While our entry in the festival is a humble ten-minute documentary, the process of producing this short video, we think, was exemplary.

Komen Ilel's Fuyumi Labra (left) and Angél Galán (forefront) with GJEP's Communication Director,Jeff Conant (right) relax in Amador Hernandez before they begin a documentary overflight of the Lacandon jungle. photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

When Orin Langelle and I traveled to Chiapas this past March to investigate the emerging impacts of REDD+, we met with a small film collective, Komen Ilel. Two members of Komen Ilel, Angél Galán and Fuyumi Labra, excited about our project, volunteered to accompany us on a trek into the jungle. Because of the nature of our visit to the remote community of Amador Hernández, even as we began our two-day trek, there was no certainty that Angél and Fuyumi would be allowed to film. Indeed, due to a long history of outsiders taking disrespectful advantage of the villagers, there was no certainty that our colleagues, or their cameras, would be allowed to even set foot in the village.

After a ten-hour drive from San Cristóbal de las Casas to the military-occupied village of San Quintín, where the road ends at the border of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, our small crew was met by representatives from Amador Hernández. They took us to a nearby village to spend the night before traveling further into the jungle.

There, we spoke, formally at first, and then with more ease. Our goal, we said, was to interview the villagers about any concerns they might have about REDD+ as it was manifesting there in the Lacandon jungle. The young man speaking for the village said that their concern, above all, was to let the world know of a particular injustice they were suffering: a year previous to our visit, the government had cancelled all medical service to the village. Several children and elders had died as a direct consequence.

After some length of discussion, it became clear that the two concerns were one: the negation of medical services appeared to be part of the government’s strategy to pressure Amador Hernández to negotiate for relocation, in large part due to the need to demarcate the borders of the Montes Azules Reserve for a forest-carbon inventory.

With this revelation, we asked the village representative: could we bring our film crew and capture some interviews on film. Our documentary work, we said, might help the village to demand restoration of its right to health, and to its territory. He agreed that this was a good idea, but whether we would be permitted to film was a question for the village assembly.

The next morning we hiked fifteen kilometers, through the Lacandon’s black, boot-sucking mud, and arrived at the village by afternoon. After darkness fell, an assembly was called, and we – Orin, Angel, Fuyumi, and myself – were invited to attend, and to speak. To the forty or fifty Tseltal Mayan campesinos gathered in the dusty half-light of a bare solar-powered bulb we presented ourselves and declared our intentions. Our words, translated into Tseltal, were batted around the assembly, fed into the age-old process of lajan laja, or consensus-building.

Finally, the assembly decided that, yes, we could conduct our interviews, and yes, we could film anything we wanted. The only condition on their part was that, aside from whatever other material we would produce, we make sure that their primary concern – the withdrawal of medical services – be addressed, so the world would know.

It is to Angel and Fuyumi’s credit that the short video they produced for GJEP does precisely what the Amador Hernández community assembly requested – it tells the story of the withdrawal of health services, while making it clear that this concern is directly linked to government efforts to remove the village due to the demands of impending carbon deals.

We are extremely pleased and proud to have had this short video chosen as a selection in this year’s Native Spirit Film Festival.

— Jeff Conant, for GJEP

Amador Hernandez, Chiapas: Starved of Medical Services for REDD+

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Filed under Biodiversity, Carbon Trading, Chiapas, Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, Latin America-Caribbean

Do Trees Grow on Money?

 A UN-Backed Plan to Address Climate Change by Slowing Deforestation Sounds Like a Good Idea. Unless You Live in the Forest

Note: Global Justice Ecology Project Comunications Director Jeff Conant and Co-Director/ Strategist Orin Langelle traveled to the community of Amador Hernandez in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas, Mexico in March of this year.  While there, residents were interviewed about their opinions regarding use of forests as carbon offsets, and about the threats of relocation the community was facing due to plans to “protect” the forest and sell its carbon to California companies as offsets.  A statement was recently released by the communities of the region of Amador Hernandez condemning REDD+ (the scheme to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).  You can read that statement here.

Cross-Posted from the Autumn 2011 edition of Earth Island Journal

BY JEFF CONANT (Communications Director for Global Justice Ecology Project)

In Mayan cosmology, the ceiba tree, with its elephantine, silver-grey trunk that towers above the jungle, is the tree of life, shoring up the corners of the sky and sending its roots deep into the underworld. In the centuries following the conquest of the New World, Mayans by the thousands were forced to work in monterias, or timber camps, and the ancestral role of the ceiba as a bridge between the world above and the world below gave way to the board-feet of timber the trees surrendered when felled. The ensuing rush for sugar, for rubber, for minerals, and for cattle left the jungles of Mesoamerica reduced to a fraction of their original area and devastated the peoples who once thrived there.

Today, another vision is shaping the jungles of southern Mexico: The idea that protecting forests is central to the struggle against global warming.

aerial photo of a tree plantation
photo of two women conversing

photos courtesy Orin Langelle  

Under REDD, “forests” may also mean plantations.

Tropical deforestation and forest degradation contribute between 12 and 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, as some 13 million hectares of forest are lost annually. The Lacandon Jungle on the border of Chiapas and Guatemala is a case in point: Only about 10 percent of the jungle remains intact. Saving forested areas like the Lacandon is key to reducing the impacts of runaway climate change.

Past efforts to reduce deforestation, like setting up protected areas or promoting sustainable land-use practices, have had limited success. That’s because the drivers of deforestation – agriculture, mining, fossil fuel extraction, paper demand – offer rich financial rewards. But what if forests were more valuable left standing than cut down?

A new policy mechanism is being developed to do just that. Dubbed REDD, for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, the mechanism (along with a list of spin-offs such as REDD+ and REDD++) is backed by major multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank. Support for REDD spans the spectrum of green groups, from market-minded conservation NGOs likeEnvironmental Defense and Conservation International to more capital-skeptic outfits like Greenpeace.

At a high-level event during COP16, the UN climate summit last year in Cancún, Mexico, pilot REDD projects were hailed by heads of state and a gamut of global figures including primatologist Jane Goodall, Walmart CEO Sam Walton, and billionaire philanthropist George Soros. The World Bank’s Robert Zoellick called REDD “the best chance, perhaps the last chance, to save the world’s forests.” Zoellick admitted that the policy still has some kinks, but closed his remarks to great applause with one of the mantras of the summit: “Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

After the applause died down, Linda Adams, the head of California EPA, took the stage and announced that, as one of his last acts in office, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had signed a carbon trading agreement, predicated on a REDD scheme, with the state of Chiapas. Adams called the plan “a way for California to help the developing world by investing in forests.”

“Saving our forests is good not only for the atmosphere,” she said. “It’s also good for Indigenous Peoples.” Chiapas Governor Juan Sabines, on hand to promote his state’s comprehensive Climate Change Action Program, nodded in vigorous agreement.

But as official delegates applauded REDD in Cancún’s plenary halls, grassroots activists in the streets were staging protests against the policy. Benign as it may appear, what outsiders see as forest protection many locals see as the potential loss of their homes. REDD is fiercely contested by many human rights advocates and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, who see in it the continuation of colonial resource extraction at best, and at worst perhaps the largest land grab in history.

Tom Goldtooth, Director of the North America-based Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), has called REDD “a violation of the sacred, and the commodification of life.” Goldtooth warns that the policy won’t actually reduce emissions, that it is already violating communities’ rights, and that it relies too much on the market. IEN, along with the Global Forest CoalitionWorld Rainforest MovementFriends of the Earth International, and La Via Campesina, the world’s largest federation of peasant farmers, came away from Cancún charging that the UN, in promoting REDD, had become “the World Trade Organization of the Sky.”

“When a natural function like forest respiration becomes a product with a price, it’s easy to see who’s going to end up with control of the forests.”

The REDD scheme unfolding in Chiapas offers a particularly compelling test for this controversial idea. Home to most of Mexico’s tropical trees, a third of its mammal species, and half of its bird and butterfly species, the Lacandon is also, famously, home to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, the insurgent rebel group that rose up in 1994 to demand that Indigenous Peoples be allowed to control their own territories. That struggle, and the Mexican government’s response, has engendered paramilitary massacres, years of counterinsurgency, and tens of thousands of displaced people – and it can be traced, in part, to a decades-old agreement that took as its pretext the protection of the Lacandon. The region’s rich biodiversity, open conflicts over land tenure, and the potential investment from California make Lacandon a fascinating test case – or an instructive cautionary tale – of what REDD may bring.

REDD, in Black and White

REDD works like this: Because trees capture and store CO2, maintaining intact forests is essential to mitigating climate change. REDD proposes that governments, companies, or forest owners in the global South be given financial incentives for keeping their forests standing. REDD was formally taken up by the UN-sponsored climate change talks in Bali in 2007. Since then it has moved rapidly to the forefront of the climate agenda. Norway, its biggest donor, has pledged upwards of $120 million to the UN REDD program, and given $1 billion each to Indonesia and a confederation of Amazonian states to establish the program. In December 2010, REDD was adopted into the UN’s Cancún Agreements, the closest thing to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol.

While paying to preserve forests appears to be a long-overdue gesture of goodwill, it brings up an array of thorny questions. For starters, what is meant by “forests”? Because the UN’s definition is unclear, “forests” under REDD may include monoculture tree plantations or even genetically engineered trees. Since timber, paper, and biofuel plantations are more lucrative than natural forests, REDD could fund the destruction of native forests and their replacement with tree plantations.

Leap of Faith

One reason why REDD appears compelling is that, given the rapacious demand for resources, it is difficult to imagine a counterforce strong enough to halt forest destruction. Another is the deadlock in the UN negotiations. Nations’ resistance to binding emissions reductions makes REDD one of the only games around.

But even such a bastion of market fundamentalism asThe Economist magazine suggests that “REDD may not be possible at all,” due to factors including corruption and the fact that most of those who live in and care for forests do not have legal title to their lands.

Still, if there is an opportunity for business, business will be done. New private carbon-marketing firms are springing up daily to prepare for the windfall from REDD. One such firm is Boston-based Ecologic Development Fund. Ecologic’s director, Sean Paul, has years of experience promoting Payment for Environmental Services projects. Paul appears genuinely devoted to preserving forests; REDD is one way to do this, and Ecologic supports it, including a REDD initiative in the Lacandon. Yet Paul himself is ambivalent: “Part of the challenge of REDD,” Paul says, “is that a lot of people see a gravy train, a gold rush. I see a lot of investors excited at the prospect of carbon trading. But all that excitement is around the trading – it has so little to do with the people, and the forest.”

Pavan Sukhdev, former head of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Economy Initiative, estimates the value of global ecosystem goods at $4.5 trillion per year. “The rewards are very clear,” Sukhdev says.

The problem is how to generate these rewards, literally out of thin air. The offsets-based REDD scheme that is in the pipeline requires a stable and reliable carbon market. And so far there isn’t one.

The US Government Accountability Office reports that carbon offsets are impossible to verify, warning that “it is not possible to ensure that every credit represents a real, measurable, and long-term reduction in emissions.” The US Congress failed to pass a national carbon-trading initiative last July, and the European Carbon Market – the largest in the world – is proving fatally flawed, with uncontrollable price volatility and regulations that seem to incentivize more climate pollution, not less. After European emissions rose to unprecedented levels in 2010, Friends of the Earth-Europe called the system “an abject failure.”

But in business, failure can be generative: Billions have been made through ventures that failed, such as subprime mortgages and derivatives. For the believers, faith in the market remains strong. At a Carbon Expo in Barcelona this summer, representatives of Point Carbon, a global firm that provides technical support for business, wore buttons that read, “I can’t help it – I still believe in markets.”—JC

Beyond the ecological concerns, REDD is proving exceedingly elusive to put into practice. One fundamental question is: Where will the money come from? At present, there is no “compliance market” for REDD – meaning it is not yet part of any mandated legislative effort to reduce emissions. Of numerous government-sponsored REDD projects worldwide, the agreement between California and Chiapas, expected to come on line by 2015, is the most advanced.

The most likely source of funding for REDD is a combination of private investment and multilateral funds, boosted by a huge dose of carbon offsets from industry in wealthy nations. An offset-based REDD will allow those who protect forests to earn carbon credits – financial rewards based on the amount of CO2 a forest can store and a market-derived price per ton of CO2. Governments (or NGOs, or local communities) that protect forests can then trade these credits to industrial polluters for revenue that, in theory, provides incentive not to cut down trees.

But if the money comes from carbon offsets, as the UN and the California protocol propose, this means that even if deforestation is reduced, industrial emissions – the main driver of climate change – will not be.

The offsets component brings REDD strong support from the fossil fuel industry. BP (yes, that BP) recently became the first company to join the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, which will allow the company to offset its emissions. REDD’s market-share potential has also attracted the financial services industry – Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley – the same Wall Street speculators that threw the global banking systems into a tailspin.

The whole idea is based on the notion of “Payment for Environmental Services.” To the market-minded, this is a pioneering method for quantifying the worth of ecosystems, thus incentivizing their preservation. Many in the global South, however, see it as the rationale for a wholesale privatization of territories and natural resources. Gustavo Castro of the Chiapas-based NGO Otros Mundos says, “When a natural function like forest respiration becomes a product with a price, it’s easy to see who’s going to end up with control of the forests.”

That is, the people who have the cash to put up the protection money.

REDD Alert in Chiapas

Amador Hernández is a village of about 1,500 Tzeltal Mayan peasant farmers set deep inside the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in the Lacandon Jungle. Three months after the Cancún talks, as darkness fell over the village assembly hall there, a few dozen villagers gathered in the dusty glare of a single solar-powered lightbulb to talk about the climate policies that were lapping at the edges of their territory like the first ripples of an oncoming flood. One villager, Santiago Martinez, explained REDD to the assembly in broad strokes: “REDD is a program the government is promoting to do what they call ‘capturing carbon,’ and conserving the jungle,” he said. “From what we’ve heard, it’s a global program led by rich people, businessmen, Europeans.”

Martinez was opposed to the program; among the reasons was concern that it would require abandoning their lands and traditional farming methods. The worries were fueled by recent government messages warning that a team would come through the village shortly to measure property lines and evict any ‘irregular settlers.”

The villagers clearly perceived this as the legacy of a land tenure arrangement that has been at the heart of conflicts in the Lacandon for decades. In 1971, the Mexican government ceded over a 1.5 million acres to the Lacandon tribe – one of the six Indigenous groups in Chiapas – which at the time consisted of only 66 families. Seven years later, the government created the 800,000-acre Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, overlapping the Lacandon territory. In order to give the first chunk of territory to the Lacandones, and to protect the second as a reserve, 2,000 Tzeltal and Ch’ol families – 26 villages – were moved. Among the displaced were some families who later came to form Amador Hernández.

The resulting tension between the Lacandones and the rest of the region’s Indigenous groups led to the formation of several peasant farmer organizations demanding redress; some of these groups later coalesced into the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. The militant response made it impossible for the Mexican government to draw solid boundaries around the land in question. Now, with the promise of financing under REDD, the government is making a renewed attempt to get the boundaries drawn, to expel anyone without land title, and to inventory the Montes Azules Reserve to quantify, and then bring to market, the area’s carbon storage potential.

Earlier this year, the Chiapas government began distributing 2,000 pesos a month (roughly $200) to each Lacandon landholder. The payments were authorized, according to a government statement, “to allow the completion of the forest inventory so that [the Lacandon community] can access federal and international funds, as well as complement these funds with projects such as agricultural conversion outside the Reserve with species such as oil palm and rubber.” In the abstract, the money is incentivizing forest protection. But in the words of the villagers of Amador Hernández, the purpose of the payments is “to guard the border against their neighbors – that is, us.”

The most publicized aspects of REDD in Chiapas are the payments to the Lacandones and a program to train them as “environmental police.” As a Lacandon man named Chankayun said, “Yes, there are other poor Indigenous communities living in our territory, and I hope we can come to a peaceful agreement for them to find another place to live.” Governor Sabines speaks openly about the need to resettle jungle communities, and makes regular visits to the Lacandon to distribute funds and good will. “The jungle can’t wait,” he said in June. “Of 179 ‘irregular’ settlements within the jungle’s protected area, most have been removed and only eleven remain. Of these, some are Zapatistas. We hope they leave voluntarily, but if they want to stay, they stay.”

But what Governor Sabines describes as voluntary resettlement takes on a darker shade from the viewpoint of those with no land rights. At the village assembly in Amador Hernández, villagers stood up one by one to denounce what they perceived as a land grab. A year before, the villagers said, all government medical services, including vaccinations, had been cut off; several elderly people and children died due to lack of medical attention. This neglect, they believed, was due to their refusal to capitulate to the demands of REDD. “They’re attacking our health as a way of getting access to our land,” Martinez said.

The case of Amador Hernández appears extreme, but it’s hardly unique. As preparations for REDD are laid around the world, Indigenous communities in other countries – Ecuador, Peru, Congo – are saying, with increasing urgency, that forest protection without land rights represents a direct threat to their ways of life.

The Price of an Arm and a Leg?

A cornerstone of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a provision called Free, Prior, and Informed Consent. FPIC, as it is known, offers a theoretical bulwark against human rights abuses by declaring that Indigenous Peoples must have a say in projects that affect them. It is central to debates over REDD. Some argue that REDD can work as long as it includes FPIC safeguards. But FPIC is nonbinding, and as the case of Amador Hernández shows, it rarely works.

In Chiapas, where the Zapatista movement rose up in arms precisely because Indigenous voices had been disregarded for five centuries, “informed consent” has never been a consideration. Gustavo Castro says: “There’s a lot of talk in the government’s documents, in the REDD scheme, of the need for consultation. But there haven’t been any consultations, and I don’t believe there will be.”

photo of a girl carrying a package in a field
photo of a man and a boy

photos courtesy Orin Langelle   

What outsiders see as forest protection many locals see as loss of their homes.

Discussing the practical aspects of community participation, Castro is dour: “When we talk about consultations, we have to take into account who does it, and what we mean by ‘prior’ and ‘informed.’ What they say to the communities is, ‘We’re protecting the planet, we’re fighting climate change, and we’ll pay you to help.’ So then the consultation consists of one question: ‘Are you with us?’ And the answer you can expect from rural communities is, ‘Of course we are.’”

There’s little doubt that pouring money into rural communities involves serious challenges. As Miguel Angel García, whose NGO Maderas del Pueblo supports ecological projects in the Lacandon, says, “This whole thing is bringing on a terrible cultural transformation. Putting forests, a common good, into the market has the effect of tearing the social fabric and generating economic interests that go directly against the interests and values of the Indigenous peoples. And it’s causing death; not only physical death, but the death of a culture, and of a cosmovision. It’s an ethnocide.”

To be clear: Groups that oppose REDD are not against receiving funds from wealthy nations to maintain forests. The social movements that oppose REDD generally favor the creation of a fund to pay for the resources that industrialized nations have consumed. This is the idea of “climate debt.” Led by Bolivia, a coalition of more than 50 governments has submitted a proposal to the UN demanding that the costs of adapting to the climate crisis be borne by the countries that created the crisis, as a kind of reparations. It’s not that they don’t want payment; it’s that they don’t want payment based on pollution permits and market speculation.

Pablo Solon, until recently Bolivia’s Ambassador to the UN, offers a haunting analogy: “Through REDD they want to put a price on nature. Our point of view is that you can’t do that, and I’ll explain why: In Bolivia, if you lose an arm or a leg, you receive compensation of around $1,000. But can you imagine a situation where you create a market for arms and legs for $1,000 each? Sure, we need the money to pay for the operation. But the intention is not to commodify your arm.”

Solon’s analogy points to the core tension in the REDD scheme: We should protect forests because, like our own limbs, they have intrinsic value.

To think that global policy will ever be guided by the principle of forests’ inherent worth and Indigenous Peoples’ rights is perhaps naïve. But no less naïve, and certainly no less dangerous, is faith that the market, and the industrial society that drives it, can solve the global catastrophe it precipitated.

As global climate negotiations continue to generate friction without momentum, the world’s forests continue to burn in great blazes and to fall before an onslaught of mining, agribusiness, and timber plantations. REDD’s proponents envision a way to buy our way out of the cycle of destruction. And those who have inhabited and protected the world’s forests for millennia – and whose cultures have been devastated by the race to exploit resources – continue to press for a better deal. 7142.jpg

Jeff Conant is author of A Community Guide to Environmental Health and is Communications Director at Global Justice Ecology Project.

For the complete list of articles, photo essays and action alerts from the situation in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas, click here

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Filed under Biodiversity, Carbon Trading, Chiapas, Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America-Caribbean, REDD

Communique from the communities of the Amador Hernandez region, Montes Azules, Lacandon Jungle

A view of the Lacandon jungle from Amador Hernandez. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

Note: GJEP received this communique from COMPITCH (Consejo de Médicos y Parteras Indígenas Tradicionales de Chiapas –Council of Traditional Indigenous Doctors and Midwives from Chiapas).  The communique was translated into English by Trisha Novak.  In March of 2011, GJEP’s Jeff Conant and Orin Langelle went to Amador Hernandez in Chiapas, Mexico to investigate the threatened forced relocation of the community and it’s relation to REDD+ and the California-Chiapas, Mexico-Acre, Brazil climate deal.

Español debajo

The indigenous communities of the Amador Hernandez region, Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, in the Lacandon Jungle communicate the following:

To the people of Mexico, to the people of the world, to the organizations and groups that do not serve the power interests but those of their own people, the lower classes.

On 20 and 21 August, the communities of the region had a forum in the Amador Hernandez common area entitled:  Regional Forum Against the Lacandona Brecha (the official border that would delimit the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve) and the Capitalist Looting of the Lacandon Jungle, and we approved the following:


  1. We reject and will not tire of confirming our rejection of the passing through the Lacandona Brecha next to our lands because it has as its purpose to make available the lands in the [Biosphere Reserve] to the service of the capitalist powers.
  1. The REDD+ project in the Montes Azules Reserve is the new mask, a climate mask, with which the federal government of Felipe Calderon and the Chiapas government of Juan Sabines attempt to cover up the dispossession of the biodiversity of the peoples.
  1. Speaking of climate change, it is clear to us that those who are most responsible are the capitalist enterprises and their governments, just like the federal government of Felipe Calderon and the Chiapas government of Juan Sabines, who have made a pact with the wealthy countries to allow that their greenhouse gas emissions be mitigated by the forests of our people.
  1. We reject all the ways in which the federal and the Chiapas governments and directors of organizations in service to the capitalists, want to dispossess us of our lands and our resources, through programs such as:  REDD+ (in the Montes Azules Reserve), Reconversion Productiva (Productive Restructuring), Pago de Servicios Ambientales (Payment for Environmental Services) and FANAR (Fund for Agricultural Entities without Regularization).

We point out the dual purpose of these programs: to dispossess us, but also to change our culture in order to disorganize us and neutralize our resistance.

  1. We denounce the control that the federal government exercises over the   people which, by decree (1972), it called the Lacandon, and which it has been using to legitimize all the plans for taking the lands and displacement of our peoples.
  1. We reject the projects for tourism by the capitalists or of the federal or Chiapas governments, such as the one that has divided the common lands of Emiliano Zapata in Laguna de Miramar.
  1. We reject monocultures, especially for biofuels and the new peonage that the peasant undergoes on his own land, just as the big landowners imposed in times of the Porfirio dictatorship.
  1. We reject the policy of land seizures promoted by the World Bank, conservationist organizations and their neo-liberal governments like that of Chiapas.
  1. Likewise, we reject the other face of “development:”  mining projects approved for regions that are not important for conservation and transnational exploitation of diversity, as happens in the Municipality of Chicomuselo where the people are resisting.
  1.  We demand agrarian regularization of the communities of Galilea, Benito Juarez Miramar and Chumcerro, located within the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve.

W E   P R O P O S E

To reorganize ourselves and expand at every level our relationships with other peoples and with independent organizations that are not at the service of the powerful in order to build a network of resistance among the peoples.

To develop internal plans in our communities to strengthen the production of our own foods.

To strengthen ourselves in the word of God and the community memory of our grandparents.

Agreement made in Ejido Amador Hernandez, Reserva de Biosfera Montes Azules, Selva Lacandona, Chiapas, Mexico, 21 August 2011


Comunicado de las comunidades de la región Amador Hernández, Montes Azules, Selva Lacandona

Las Comunidades Indígenas de la región Amador Hernández, Reserva de Biosfera Montes Azules, en la Selva Lacandona, comunican lo siguiente:

Al Pueblo de México, a los Pueblos del Mundo, a las Organizaciones y grupos que no sirven a los intereses del poder sino a los de su propia gente, la gente de abajo.

Los días 20 y 21 de agosto, las comunidades de la región celebramos un Foro en el ejido Amador Hernández, denominado: Foro Regional en Contra de la Brecha Lacandona y el Despojo Capitalista de la Selva Lacandona, y aprobamos la siguiente:

 D  E  C  L  A  R  A  C  I  O  N

1. Rechazamos, y no nos cansaremos de ratificarlo, el paso de la brecha Lacandona al lado de nuestras tierras porque tiene como propósito disponer las tierras medidas del lado Lacandón en servicio de las potencias capitalistas.

2. El proyecto REDD+ en la Reserva de Montes Azules es la nueva máscara, máscara climática, con la que el gobierno Federal de Felipe Calderón y el de Chiapas de Juan Sabines pretenden encubrir el despojo de la biodiversidad de los pueblos.

3. Hablando del cambio del clima, para nosotros está claro que los responsables mayores son las empresas capitalistas y sus gobiernos, como el Federal de Felipe Calderón y el de Chiapas de Juan Sabines, que han pactado con los países ricos que sus emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero se mitiguen en los bosques de nuestros pueblos.

4. Rechazamos todas las formas con las que los gobiernos, federal y de Chiapas, y dirigentes de organizaciones, en servicio de los capitalistas, quieren despojarnos de nuestras tierras y de nuestros recursos. Como los programas: REDD+ (en la Reserva de Montes Azules), Reconversión Productiva, Pago de Servicios Ambientales y FANAR. Llamamos a estar pendientes de la doble intención de esos programas: despojarnos pero también cambiar nuestra cultura para desorganizarnos y neutralizar nuestra resistencia.

5. Denunciamos el control que el gobierno federal ejerce sobre el pueblo que por decreto (1972) llamó Lacandón, que ha venido utilizando para legitimar todos los planes de despojo de tierras y desalojos de nuestros pueblos.

6. Rechazamos los proyectos turísticos de los capitalistas o de los gobiernos federal y de Chiapas, como el que ha dividido al ejido Emiliano Zapata en la Laguna de Miramar.

7. Rechazamos los monocultivos, en especial los de agrocombustibles y el nuevo peonaje al que es sometido el campesino en su propia tierra, como los hacendados hacían en tiempos de la dictadura porfirista.

8. Rechazamos la política de acaparamiento de tierras impulsada por el banco mundial, las organizaciones conservacionistas y sus gobiernos neoliberales como el de Chiapas.

9. Rechazamos igualmente la otra cara del despojo: los proyectos de Minería, aprobados para regiones no importantes para la conservación y explotación trasnacional de la biodiversidad, como sucede en el municipio de Chicomuselo donde resisten los pueblos.

10. Exijimos la regularización agraria de las comunidades Galilea, Benito Juárez Miramar y Chumcerro, ubicadas dentro de la Reserva de Biosfera Montes Azules.

P  R  O  P  O  N  E  M  O  S

Reorganizarnos y ampliar a todos los niveles nuestras relaciones con otros pueblos y con organizaciones independientes que no sirvan al poder, para constituir una red de resistencia de los pueblos.

Elaborar planes internos en nuestras comunidades para fortalecer la producción de nuestros propios alimentos.

Fortalecernos en la palabra de Dios y en la memoria comunitaria de nuestros abuelos.

Acordado en el Ejido Amador Hernández, Reserva de Biosfera Montes Azules, Selva Lacandona, Chiapas, México, a 21 de agosto del 2011


Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Chiapas, Climate Change, Climate Justice, False Solutions to Climate Change, Food Sovereignty, Greenwashing, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, Latin America-Caribbean, REDD

Apartheid Housing Posed as Solution to Climate Vulnerability in Chiapas

Article by GJEP Communications Director Jeff Conant

All Photos by GJEP Co-Director/Strategist Orin Langelle

Cross-Posted from UpsideDown World Friday, 13 May 2011 12:25

The "Sustainable Rural City" Project of Santiago el Pinar
The “Sustainable Rural City” Project of Santiago el Pinar

Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, with the country’s largest indigenous population, has always been extremely vulnerable to volatile climate events. High levels of hunger and marginalization are exacerbated almost annually by torrential rain and flooding, which can only be expected to get worse as the climate crisis deepens. In 2009, the state launched and began widely publicizing its Climate Change Action Programme (CCAPCH). The plan includes vast biofuel plantations, forest carbon offset projects, and a statewide “productive conversion” initiative to convert subsistence farmers into producers of African palm, Jatropha, and export-oriented crops such as roses, fruits, and coffee.

The plan also includes a program called the Sustainable Rural Cities initiative; under this plan, the state is developing between six and twenty-five prefabricated population centers designed, according to the state’s publicity, to “promote regional development, combat the dispersion and marginalization of local peoples, and play a significant role in making efforts [to develop infrastructure and provide basic services] cost-efficient.”

In a brief interview I conducted at the United Nations Climate Summit in Cancún last December, Chiapas Governor Juan Sabines said that “The Rural Cities program has three objectives: to mitigate poverty, to mitigate the risk of people facing climate-related disasters, and to reduce the threat of global warming. It is based in the Millenium Development Goals of the United Nations, which in Chiapas are obligatory.”

In 2009, Chiapas revised its state constitution to include a commitment to the United Nations Millenium Development Goals, the highly touted set of eight benchmarks for reducing the worst inpacts of poverty worldwide. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) explicitly supports the Rural Cities Initiative; GontránVillalobos Sánchez, in charge of Disaster Preparedness at the UNDP office in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, told me in an interview that the Rural Cities are “a good option. Before anything, the Rural Cities intend to bring together the dispersed population. [They] are also an answer to disasters,” he said. “The challenge is that the people themselves are not accepting the project.”

While state officials and UN officials promote the Rural Cities as a positive response to the climate crisis, even a superficial analysis makes it clear that the program will increase vulnerability, not decrease it. Worse, critics such as the recently disbanded Chiapas think tank Centro de Investigaciones Economicas y Politicas (CIEPAC) suggest that the project is part of a regional integration strategy designed to move rural and indigenous peoples off their lands in order to gain access to strategic resources. In this regard, the Chiapas Climate Change Action Programme appears to be a complex and interwoven set of initiatives that use the climate crisis as a pretext for large-scale economic and territorial restructuring, with the goal of freeing up productive land and destabilizing local resistance. This, critics point out, is tantamount to ethnocide.

In late March of this year, I traveled to the newly inaugurated Rural City of Santiago Del Pinar, with photographer Orin Langelle and Social Psychologist Abraham Rivera Borrego, fomerly of CIEPAC, to see first hand what one of these centers looks like.

Santiago Del Pinar is in the highlands of Chiapas, less than two hours from San Cristóbal de las Casas, just beyond San Andrés Larráinzar (known to the Zapatistas as San Andrés Sacamchen de Los Pobres) and directly contiguous with the community of Oventic, one of the five Zapatista caracoles, or centers of resistance. What we found there was a set of insultingly diminutive pastel-painted ticky-tacky houses made of chipboard, set on stilts on a bald hillside, burning in the open sun; fenced playgrounds of concrete; greenhouses full of pesticide-treated roses; and an angry local official who said that the houses might endure “eight to ten years at most,” and that the floor of his own house “had broken when the children were playing on it.”

In the burning sun on the bald hillside overlooking Santaigo del Pinar, I spoke at length with Abraham Rivera about his view of the Rural Cities program:

Abraham: Santiago del Pinar became a municipality after the dialogues of San Andrés Larráinzar between the government and the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) in 1996. It’s there that they sign the San Andrés Accords [ the 1997 peace agreement that binds the Mexican government to Consitutional reform, later ignored]. So, San Andrés becomes one of the first Zapatista autonomous municipalities. As a counter measure, the state governor at that time, Albores Guillen, in 1999 made a remunicipalization plan, to combat the autonomous municipalities. So, Santiago del Pinar had this objective from the beginning, the disarticulation of the autonomous municipalities. After that time, the town was virtually abandoned for a long time, becoming one of the municipalities with the highest indices of poverty in the state of Chiapas. And now they’ve taken it up again, let’s say, as a model for the resettlement of the population in indigenous territory. The other Rural Cities they’ve begun, as in the case of the first one that was founded, Nuevo Juan de Grijalva, are in campesino territory, not indigenous territory. The defining characteristic of Santiago del Pinar is that it’s in indigenous territory; this aspect gives it a different connotation.

In the first Rural City, Juan de Grijalva, the houses are much bigger, like 60 cubic meters, while here the houses are 30 cubic meters, and rather than walls of brick they’re made of pressboard, this wood conglomerate that is essentially good for nothing; so the houses that the State is giving them have very little useful life. You can see the racism implicit in these new houses, no? There’s a mentality of “they’re indigenous so we’ll give them less and they’ll accept it.”

You can see also that there’s no sense of the indigenous cosmovision, of how to live in a place. For one thing, there are no agricultural plots – absolutely no place to plant. For another, indigenous families tend to be large, so you have eight, nine people and you’re putting them in these little houses, two rooms of 30 cubic meters. In this you see clearly that the architects have no idea, no vision.

Another aspect fundamental to the indigenous culture is cultivating and eating corn, and it’s clear that they’ll have no land to plant corn to eat, nor will they be able to make tortillas in the house, because tortillas are cooked over firewood. If they do this inside, they’ll burn the house down. So, it’s clear to see that there’s a complete dislocation between the imposition of this Rural City and the forms of community life here in the region.

Jeff Conant: What’s behind the design, behind the concept of the Rural City?

Abraham: Making a map of all the Rural Cities that are planned for the State of Chiapas, you discover the elements that go unspoken by the government, and the bigger picture that’s not in the official discourse: basically, in the Northern Zone, where you find Juan de Grijalva, the key element is that they want to clear the territory to advance the mining industry; there have been huge mining concessions authorized in the last two years, without any consultation. So, all the relocation of the people to Juan Grijalva, which the government says was done due to the natural disasters there, well in reality it wasn’t due to that, but to the economic plan, to ensure access to the mineral reserves in the region.

In the case of Santiago del Pinar, the concern is that there are large extensions of territory here, and important natural reserves, so its an area that’s important for the sale of carbon credits. These large areas are to be decreed as reserves, so the carbon they capture can be legally sold to other countries. They’re going to make forest reserves that can be sold to other countries for sequestering carbon.

In the Soconusco, the coastal zone of Chiapas, they plan to build a Rural City, and behind this one is the fact that they are making huge plantations of biofuels there, African palm and Jatropha; seven out of every nine biodiesel plants in Mexico are in Chiapas, and the largest is in the Soconusco, therefore they need to “liberate” huge extensions of land in order to transform it into monoculture plantations and get them producing for agroindustry. So that’s what underlies the Rural City in Soconusco.

In Jaltenango they’re planning another Rural City; there what they plan is to clear the land in El Triunfo, a Reserve almost as large as Montes Azules [the largest of the Protected Natural Areas in Chiapas, in the Lacandon Jungle, and subject to its own problematic climate-mitigation plan]. Just like what’s happened in Montes Azules, the objective is to clear the area to make it useful for bioprospecting and for sales of carbon credits.

These aspects are not in the official discourses. The official discourse only speaks of combatting poverty and the dispersion of the population, but they don’t speak about the most fundamental element, which is the extraction of natural resources from the territories of Chiapas.

JC: It seems to me that there are many similarities with Indian reservations in the U.S. and with what they call Apartheid architecture in South Africa, no?

Abraham: Yes, basically capitalism has always worked by reorganizing or reordering territories, and this is one such reorganization; we’ve seen it time and again throughout our history. In Guatemala we saw it when they built model villages to concentrate the displaced people, we’ve seen it in Africa. Right now there are similar Rural Cities projects in Africa, also under the aegis of the United Nations Millenium Development Goals [the Millenium Villages Project]. It’s the same model, exactly, with the same forced displacement, the same process, the same social face to the discourse. But it’s clear that it’s a totally backwards way of providing services to the population. It’s not allowing the people themselves to decide how they’d advance their development, or even to see what kind of development is in line with their cosmovision. It’s imposed from the outside. So you have a situation where the population that’s receiving these “services,” their culture clashes directly with the architectonic model being imposed on them, as much as with the model of production and the model of social organization.

It’s clear, too, that the principal impact on the families that live in these places is their loss of food sovereignty: this is completely broken because the population no longer eats from what they plant; now they need to seek work, wage labor, and this work is going to be either for tourism or for industrial agriculture. So what’s at the bottom of this is Project Mesoamérica 2011 – a project with enormous ambitions that intends to free up vast extensions of territory between southern Mexico and Colombia, for global economic production.

Colombia’s part of “Proyecto Mesoamérica” is to link it with “Plan IIRSA,” which is the plan for vast regional infrastructure for South America. So, in essence, we’re talking about a strategy of territorial control covering all of Mesoamerica and South America, to permit full exploitation by the market economy.

Young child outside of her pre-fabricated houseYoung child outside of her pre-fabricated house

Another element that we see in Santiago del Pinar is counterinsurgency; remember that this municipality originated as a counterbalance to the Zapatista autonomous municipalities. According to the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center, several people who are going to be resettled here are former paramilitaries who participated in the massacre in Acteal [Note: Acteal, where 47 people were massacred in cold blood by paramilitarias back by the Mexican army in December, 1997, is only a few miles from Santiago del Pinar]. It should be clear that this entire project is developed to be antagonistic to the Zapatista caracoles [centers of resistance and autonomous governance].

Its clear to see when you compare the two kinds of social spaces: in the Zapatista autonomous municipalities, people can live in small, dispersed communities but they have the caracoles, a space to come together and organize; because public space is constructed collectively, just as in autonomous education, in agricultural production, in electricty, in communications, you walk down the streets in one of the caracoles and you see murals everywhere. Then, you come to a Rural City and you see that all of the space is imposed. The streets are named for corporations: in Juan de Grijalva, the streets have names like “Coca Cola” or “Omsa.” So you see that the population doesn’t participate in the creation of this public space, nor in their own education, nor in agricultural production, nor in communication.

So what we see really are great spaces of isolation. One of the things that [Chiapas Governor Juan Sabines] likes to say is that the people who live here are more connected than ever, with internet and everything. But what you see is that the people have no access to computers, and even if they do, they are totally alienated from their reality and their context.

So this is another element: inherent manipulation and racism. They call this social action because they’re giving homes to people, and giving them work, when what the people need is for their indigenous way of life to be respected, and not to have a foreign model of development imposed on them, like Apartheid: a little house with four square walls and an occidental model of development that in many cases clashes directly with the indigenous cosmovision.

Playground enclosed in barbed wire and chain link fencesPlayground enclosed in barbed wire and chain link fences

One of the elements that the UN uses to measure the indicators of poverty is whether people have a cement floor; well, in many communities the people say “we don’t want a cement floor – our mud floor is our way of having direct contact with the earth.” It’s there that we see the great separation, and where we see the free will of the pueblos being violated by the construction of these spaces.

JC: And isn’t it true that the concept of territory and the decentralization of the population is actually central to the Mayan concept of home?

Abraham: Absolutely. The relationship with the environment is crucial. So, to create population centers or nuclei with high density generates problems. For example, for the question of common land, each family, each community, needs a certain number of hectares to satisfy their needs for water, energy, and food. So if they make large communities it begins to cause problems for them. So decentralization is a very important aspect of their vision. They have elements of organization that bind them, but living together in large centers isn’t one of them.

JC: And, the government is carrying out these projects as a solution to the climate crisis?

Abraham: It’s unbelieveable, the capacity of capitalism to absorb everything, every discourse, every concept. Now we’re seeing that it’s absorbed even the concept of respect for nature, and they’ve invented “green capitalism,” and the idea of biofuels to stop burning fossil fuels. But they don’t seem to understand that as long as we don’t change the model, the exploitation of the earth is the same. Its not enough for them that people have their needs met, but they have to make a business of it.

For example: today we have huge areas of arable land no longer devoted to producing food for people, but instead they’re producing food for automobiles, something absolutely counterproductive. The question of clean energy, for example, wind energy, is great, but when it becomes a big business and displaces entire communities and huge tracts of land are devoted to it, now its not addressing a fundamental need, nor is it respecting local development in the region, but it’s become exploitive and damaging to the environment.

So, we say that all of this paraphernalia about climate change is nothing but a lie. The sale of carbon credits is provoking displacement of communities from their homes, so that Japanese or American companies can come later, buy these spaces emptied of people, and continue polluting. It’s a very serious contradiction.

JC: Along with the effort to address climate change goes the concern that poor people are most vulnerable, yet these houses, for example, if a heavy rain comes and brings down the hill, these houses won’t hold up at all.

Abraham: Exactly, its a very wet region, and one of the problems that Chiapas has is precisely that, mudslides with the rain, so its impossible to believe that people would want to live in these houses. It’s clear as day that the goal is economic: the businesses that participate in building these are the same business that have power in the state government, that have relations with the governor and the rest. The last thing they’re interested in is to speak the truth about whether this is an adequate model of construction, or really sustainable. The word sustainable is totally empty of meaning.

JC: And what about land ownership?

Abraham: Well, in the campesino zone (Juan de Grijalva), people are allowed to continue owning their own land. What changes is the way the land is used. Now the land is not collectively worked, for food sovereignty, but rather devoted to what the government cals “productive agricultural conversion:” they’re planting fruit trees that have nothing to do with the ecosystem, but that bring big profits, like lemons and things. And the corn….

JC: For the government, corn isn’t “productive,” right, not “sustainable”?

Abraham: One of the most amazing parts, that the governor mentioned last year as a fundamental element in the construction of the Rural Cities, is the idea that “Corn perpetuates poverty.” Now, corn is a fundamental element of indigenous culture, so this is a direct attack: the criminalization of being indigenous. You’re not poor because you cultivate corn, you’re poor because you’re indigenous; and its your own fault.

This is where we see that what’s being imposed completely ignores the reality of rural life. Another aspect that’s different here in indigenous territory, as opposed to campesino territory, is that the indigenous are obligated to sell their lands. So all these people in all these little houses no longer have land. These houses will last two or three years, and then what? They’ll be without land, living in a refugee camp gone rotten, and they’ll be forced to migrate toward the U.S. and the cities.

JC: And the people that have come to live here, have any come from the nearby refugee camps in Polho, or Acteal [camps that have been occupied by thousands of internally displaced people since the height of the paramilitary attacks on the Zapatistas in the mid-‘nineties]?

Abraham: No, almost all of them come from communities in the region towards Simojovel, indigenous Tzotziles who were obligated to resettle here.

JC: Obligated in what sense? How?

Abraham: Well, we came here to do interviews and collect testimonies with the man in charge of public works for the Rural City, and we have the testimony on video of him saying the people were forced to sell their lands. First they were pressured and then they were offered large sums of money; actually, not large sums, some 200,000 pesos per hectare. Those who wouldn’t sell were pressured harder until they were threatened with having their electricity cut off, which is what assists them in harvesting their beans and their corn, and they were going to leave them without a paved road; so, abandonment by the state is the threat that’s floated to generate pressure and push them off their lands toward where they can get these services.

But they come here and they realize that it’s all a fiction. And this is what you see writ large when you’re in a Rural City. You go around and you see there’s not a single tree, there’s no public space to generate a social life, the streets are open to the fierce sun, there’s no shade, the houses aren’t climate sensitive. Of sustainability this place has absolutely none.

JC: And the carbon credits are already being sold?

Abraham: We spoke with the municipal representative of Jaltenango, which is where they’re going to resettle the people from the jungle of El Triunfo, and he told us, “Look, I’m going to tell you the truth, what we want is to clear out the reserve of El Triunfo, for carbon credits.” Just like that.

JC: Is Conservation International involved? They actually manage that reserve.

In the hothouse growing roses, the sign reads "food security"In the hothouse growing roses, the sign reads “food security”

Abraham: They are. What they want is to empty the reserve of people, because once it’s empty it can be decreed legislativly as a “Nature Reserve.” This, then, becomes eligible for the sale of carbon credits. So, its a whole process, because there are communities disposed to resist and not move. But what they’ve managed to do is to get the communities that live there to destroy their own houses. They arrive and they say “You have to take down your own house, we’re going to resettle you.” The ones that aren’t destroyed are the concrete houses because they’re too difficult to destroy, but with the wooden houses, no problem.

And there you see the frontal assault that the communities are living. On a symbolic level its quite strong, to have to destroy your own house, to be displaced and to have to change your way of life completely, and on top of it they say it’s for your own good, so you get out of poverty.

A lot of people just don’t understand it. “What does that mean, to get out of poverty if I’m still screwed?”

JC: Then, what is poverty?

Abraham: For me, poverty means someone who has been dispossessed. Its not that someone doesn’t work, but that someone has suffered a process of dispossession; the vast majority of indigenous communities here have lived through 500 years of dispossession. Its such a long process that poverty begins to appear natural. It appears as if being born poor is something natural, but its not; rather, its that an entire people has been affected by a process of dispossession in order to facilitate accumulation by other people who are gaining tremendous wealth. The people they take this wealth from are called “the poor.”

But these dispossessed people have a different concept of work, they have different concepts of development, and if they were allowed to determine how to make best use of the territories where they live, the question would be different; so its not about their need to escape from poverty, but rather that that they be allowed to do in their territory what they want, and that nobody should come and impose a model of development that we know doesn’t work, and which, in fact, is what is leading to planetary destruction.

JC: All of this dressed up now as reducing vulnerability to climate change.

Abraham: Exactly – it’s about sustainable development, confronting the vulnerability of climate change. So we speak about this great crisis in the Global North, which is responding to all of this reordering of territory that’s going on in the Global South, to be able to weather the crisis.

On a global level, one third of the world’s natural resources is still healthy, and this third is in the South. So this is becoming a big priority for every nation. The U.S. put in its 2009 National Security Plan the element of securing natural resources. It’s taken as a public fact that you have to be ready to act at any moment of uncertainty, any region could become a priority for the global economy in terms of natural resources, so you have to be prepared to take immediate action. Europe has its immediate action forces, the U.S. has its, so wherever there is a territory in some uncertainty, they can act on it. We begin to see how natural resources are an element of geopolitics, and how territories with great quantities of natural resources become zones of conflict.

JC: I think it was Tom Ridge, the Director of Homeland Security several years ago, who said that the border of the U.S., in terms of natural resource security, is in the south of México.

Abraham: Exactly. The United States depends on 18 minerals for the arms industry that are found in Mesoamerica. The mining concessions here, in El Salvador, Guatemala, México. Its important to them to get their hands on these resources.

Another important element of this city is the speed with which it’s been built. According to testimonies, in April 2010 the local assembly decides to come together, they have a meeting, and they agree that they don’t want the Rural City. At that moment, police arrive and surround the assembly. They bring out teargas, and they disperse the assembly. In less than a week, the machines were working, with no consultation. Since then the assembly hasn’t been allowed to meet again. Meanwhile, the municpal authorities are bought out directly, and they sign the agreement for the construction of the Rural City. It’s difficult to get any testemonies because people are silent, or scared. In Juan de Grijalva, one man began to speak badly about the life there, that the houses were badly built, that there was no work. Well, they published his statements in the state newspaper “El Cuarto Poder.” Two days later we went to interview him and he had completely changed his position. He said, “Today I am totally content, the place is great, the governor is good, etc., etc.” It was clear that something had occurred.

JC: Either a threat or a payoff…?

Abraham: Exactly.


Jeff Conant is a journalist, author of A Poetics of Resistance: The Revolutionary Public Relations of the Zapatista Insurgency, and A Community Guide to Environmental Health, and acts as Communications Director for Global Justice Ecology Project.

Orin Langelle is an award-winning photojournalist and the Co-Director of Global Justice Ecology Project. He is currently compiling a book of his four decades of concerned photography.

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Filed under Carbon Trading, Chiapas, Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Land Grabs, REDD

GJEP Co-directors to Speak at Johnson State College April 26th

Orin Langelle and Anne Petermann, Co-Directors of Global Justice Ecology Project will speak about the work of GJEP at Johnson State College in Johnson, Vermont Tuesday, April 26th at 4pm at the Stearns Performance Space at the Student Center.

Orin will show slides from his recent trip to the village of Amador Hernandez in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas, Mexico.  He will discuss the resistance of Indigenous communities there to false solutions to climate change such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).

Elders in the Village of Amador Hernandez in Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

Anne will additionally speak about the organization’s work with the climate justice movement internationally.

Comments Off on GJEP Co-directors to Speak at Johnson State College April 26th

Filed under Climate Change, Climate Justice, Indigenous Peoples, REDD

Chiapas, Mexico: From Living in the jungle to ‘existing’ in “little houses made of ticky-tacky…”

Photo Essay by Orin Langelle

Selva Lacandona (Lacandon jungle/rainforest)

At the Cancún, Mexico United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) last year, journalist Jeff Conant and I learned that California’s then-Governor Arnold Swarzenegger had penned an agreement with Chiapas, Mexico’s Governor Juan Sabines as well as the head of the province of Acre, Brazil.  This deal would provide carbon offsets from Mexico and Brazil to power polluting industries in California—industries that wanted to comply with the new California climate law (AB32) while continuing business as usual.

The plan was to use forests in the two Latin American countries to supposedly offset the emissions of the California polluters.

Conant and I took an investigative trip to Chiapas in March.  When we arrived, we were invited by the people of Amador Hernandez–an indigenous village based in the Lacandon jungle (Selva Lacandona)–to visit, document and learn of the plans of the government to possibly relocate them from their homes. What we uncovered was another battle in the ongoing war between a simpler or good way of life (buen vivir) vs. the neoliberal development model.

The following photographs were taken in or near the community of Amador Hernandez; during an over flight of the Selva Lacandona and surrounding African palm plantations; and in the “Sustainable Rural City” Santiago el Pinar.

Mist rises near the community of Amador Hernandez in the Lacandon jungle and the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve

Elders of the community

Young girls in the morning

Men on horseback were a common sight in Amador Hernandez. On horseback was one of the few ways to get out of the community by way of a twelve kilometer trek to the nearest village.

Another way out of Amador Hernandez was to walk the twelve kilometers

There are no roads to or from the village

Razor wire embedded in a tree from when the Mexican army had an encampment next to Amador Hernandez in 1999

When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect on 1 January 1994, the Indigenous Peoples of Chiapas staged an uprising.  The EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) denounced NAFTA as a “death sentence” for the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico.

Amador Hernandez, deep in rebel territory, was a hotbed of resistance to the Mexican military’s attempt to crush the Zapatistas.

In the Mexican daily, La Jornada, journalist Hermann Bellinghausen wrote in 1999,  “A detachment of 500 Mexican Army troops, made up of elite troops and Military Police, are keeping the access blocked leading to the road that joins Amador Hernandez with San Quintin, where the chiapaneco government and the soldiers are trying – at all costs – to build a highway.

“Hundreds of tzeltal indigenous from the region have been holding… a protest sit-in at the entrance to the community, which is also the entrance to the vast and splendid Amador Valley,  at the foot of the San Felipe Sierra, in the Montes Azules.”

The people of Amador Hernandez did not let the army go through with their road plan and the army broke its encampment.

Building with Zapatista murals in Amador Hernandez

The uprising continues today and has been an inspiration to millions of people throughout the world.

Life goes on in Amador Hernandez

Men relax after a day’s work

Another view of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve from Amador Hernandez

The struggle continues. Concerned father holding his son in Amador Hernandez, Chiapas, Mexico. Earlier that day (24 March 2011) the boy had had convulsions; by the next day, several others from the community had experienced the same thing. Drinking water from the community supply was suspected. Since last year, Amador Hernandez has been denied medical supplies, and the Mexican government has suspended emergency transport of the gravely ill.

Communiqué from Amador Hernandez, Chiapas:

“We, the residents of the Amador Hernandez region in Chiapas, which forms the core of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, well known for its extraordinary biological richness, and the site of historic resistance by indigenous peoples, denounce that the illegal threats by the bad government to expel us, culturally and physically, from our territories, have moved from words to deeds.

Our opposition to the theft of our territory, as decreed in May 2007; our rejection of the unilateral delimiting of the agrarian border of the Lacandona Community demanded by investors in projects associated with the REDD+ [Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation] Project; our refusal to accept the conservationist programs of “payment for environmental services” and “productive land reconversion,” and our decision to reinitiate a process of self-determined community health based in our traditional medicine, together have aroused the arrogance of the bad government, motivating them to advance a “new” counterinsurgency strategy to undermine our resistance.

It is a strategy that doles out sickness and death, dose by dose.”

Amador Hernandez is a barrier to the Chiapas-California deal.  People ‘are in the way’ and it appears for the deal to go through, they need to be relocated.  The community of Amador Hernandez is refusing.

If people leave Amador Hernandez they say their way of life will be gone forever

They say their traditional way of life will be over

They will not be able to prepare their traditional medicines, which they harvest from the jungle

The government refuses to provide health care, but traditional medicines are still prepared

Woman bringing the prepared traditional medicines to the small clinic of Amador Hernandez

The Lacandon jungle from the air

Many residents of Amador Hernandez feel that in addition to REDD, another reason for potentially relocating them from their village is because the Lacandon jungle is rich in biodiversity which the transnational pharmaceutical companies want to exploit.

The Mayan ruin of Bonampak

African 0il palm plantations

After leaving Amador Hernandez, we flew over the Lacandon jungle and see the dense forest and some Mayan ruins, but when we left the jungle, we were confronted by many African oil palm plantations that the government says are going to be used for agrofuels (biofuels).

The "Sustainable Rural City" Project of Santiago el Pinar

The following week, Jeff Conant and I visited of Santiago el Pinar.  The government of Chiapas has begun developing “Sustainable Rural Cities” like Santiago el Pinar– as places where scattered rural populations can be relocated.  The government claims this enables these populations to have services such as electricity and roads, that they could not have in the rural areas.  We were told by activists, however, that these “Sustainable Rural Cities” are designed to enable the relocation of communities that are based where development projects–such as large-scale hydroelectric dams, agrofuel plantations, mines, etc–are planned.

On every house or structure in Sanitago el Pinar, “Son Hechos – No Palabras” is emblazoned.  Roughly meaning that the government is taking action not just talking about it.

The new towns consist of flimsy, rapidly built pre-fabricated structures, about which we heard many complaints

In the hothouse growing roses, the sign reads "food security"

We were told the hothouses were built with food security in mind, but instead we found roses being grown.

Santiago el Pinar comes with a playground enclosed in barbed wire and chain link fences

Young child outside of her pre-fabricated house

The government overseer of Santiago el Pinar

The Government overseer of Santiago el Pinar told us that the day before we arrived, Chiapas Governor Sabines had been there for the official dedication.  He informed Sabines that a few days earlier his children has been playing inside his pre-fabricated home and they fell through the floor.

The real Mexico

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Filed under Chiapas, False Solutions to Climate Change, Greenwashing, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America-Caribbean, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle, REDD

Jeff Conant on KPFK Radio’s Sojourner Truth Program

Each week Global Justice Ecology Project teams up with Margaret Prescod and KPFK Radio’s Sojourner Truth Program to deliver interviews for their weekly segment on the environment with experts from around the world. This week our own Communications Director, Jeff Conant, discussed GJEP’s recent trip to Chiapas, Mexico investigating the California-Chiapas Climate Deal and documenting the impacts of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and other development plans on the Indigenous peoples and jungle of Chiapas.

Click here to listen!

Jeff Conant is a writer, and social justice activist with a focus on international development and ecology. As the coordinator and lead author of A Community Guide to Environmental Health (Hesperian Foundation, 2008), he spent most of a decade collaborating with grassroots development initiatives in many countries to develop popular education materials addressed to the needs of under-resourced communities. As a researcher and independent journalist he has published articles and contributed to reports on water privatization, resource colonization, food sovereignty, ecological sanitation, environmental injustice, climate crisis, and related issues. He won a 2010 Project Censored Award for his coverage of the World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey.

His book, A Poetics of Resistance: the Revolutionary Public Relations of the Zapatista Insurgency (AK Press, 2010) examines the cultural politics of the Zapatista movement of Chiapas, Mexico, focusing on the Zapatistas’ persuasive use of symbolic language and colorful imagery to bring their struggle to the world’s attention.

He is a Fellow with the Oakland Institute, a coordinating committee member of La Red VIDA (the InterAmerican Network for the Defense of the Right to Water), a permaculturalist, and sits on advisory boards of several non-profit organizations. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and daughter.

For more information check out these recent blog posts:

A Broken Bridge to the Jungle: The California-Chiapas Climate Agreement Opens Old Wounds

Medical Services in Amador Hernández, Chiapas Withdrawn in Advance of REDD+

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A Broken Bridge to the Jungle: The California-Chiapas Climate Agreement Opens Old Wounds

By Jeff Conant, Communications Director at Global Justice Ecology Project

Photo: Jeff Conant

When photographer Orin Langelle and I visited Chiapas over the last two weeks of March, signs of conflict and concern were everywhere, amidst a complex web of economic development projects being imposed on campesino and indigenous communities without any semblance of free, prior, and informed consent. Among these projects is a renewed government effort to delimit Natural Protected Areas within the Lacandon Jungle, in order to generate carbon credits to be sold to California companies. This effort, it turns out, coincides with a long history of conflicting interests over land, and counterinsurgency campaigns aimed at the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), as well as other allied or sympathetic indigenous and campesino groups.

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, AB32, mandates targeted Greenhouse Gas reductions statewide. An important component of AB32 is its controversial reliance on market mechanisms, such as cap-and-trade, which will allow California companies to buy offset credits from participating domestic and foreign agencies. The cap and trade provision of AB32 hit a major roadblock a few weeks ago, when the San Francisco Superior Court ruled that the California Air Resources Board violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by not fully evaluating alternatives to the cap-and-trade system in the 2006 law. This is a significant sign of opposition to market-based climate solutions in California; but the local impacts in California are but one side of a global equation.

Bonampak. Photo: Jeff Conant

When Governor Schwarzenegger signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the states of Chiapas, Mexico and Acre, Brazil last November, to establish the world’s first sub national cap and trade agreement to use the emerging mechanism known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), he set in motion a process that critics see as leading to potential land grabs in Chiapas and Acre, as well as continuing industrial contamination in California.

REDD, in Brief

The U.N. defines REDD as “a mechanism to create an incentive for developing countries to protect, better manage and wisely use their forest resources, contributing to the global fight against climate change. REDD strategies aim to make forests more valuable standing than they would be cut down, by creating a financial value for the carbon stored in trees.” On its face, the idea of “reducing emissions from deforestation” sounds good, especially given that 15 to 25 percent of global CO2 emissions are linked to forest loss. But while the major multilateral institutions, including the UN, the World Bank, and many large environmental organizations, support REDD, many forest-dependent communities, environmental justice advocates, Indigenous Peoples organizations, and global South social movements see REDD as a way for industries in the North to continue polluting, and for forest communities in the Global South to be evicted from or denied access to their lands.

A policy brief from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on the application of REDD in Mexico notes that “there are a number of problems for which solutions need to be found if [the REDD] mechanism is to achieve its potential. One of these is linked to local difficulties, both in terms of policy integration and application in communities.” Indeed, that is precisely the concern: while the overall concept may be appealing (assuming that creating a market value for non-market commodities like air, carbon dioxide, and forests is not inherently problematic), its application in real-world communities brings many real-world problems.

Welcome to Zapatista territory. Photo: Jeff Conant

The Tangled History of The Lacandon Community Zone

The Lacandon Jungle is the northernmost intact rainforest in Mesoamerica, sitting in a remote region of Chiapas, directly bordering Guatemala. The region is marked by a long and complex history of conflicts over land rights, including a long history of settlement by migrating indigenous and non-indigenous populations, as well as many cases of indigenous peoples being forcibly removed from territories they see as their home. Key to understanding the conflict in the region, however, is the story of the historic construction known as “the Lacandon Community”.

For centuries following the collapse of classic Mayan civilization around 900 A.D., the Lacandon jungle – a montane rainforest marked by rugged terrain, snaking turquoise rivers and limitless biodiversity – was largely inaccessible, and too remote to draw much attention from the outside. The original inhabitants, relatives of the Chontal Maya, had been responsible for building the great temples of the region, but were virtually wiped out during the first centuries of the conquest. At the end of the 18th-century, however, a group of indigenous Caribes migrated into the Lacandon from Campeche, northeast of Chiapas. In the course of the 20th century, many other people began to settle there, including colonists, encouraged by government programs to open the jungle, and wave after wave of indigenous peoples escaping from the fincas – the large plantations where they’d been held in indentured servitude for generations.

By the late 1960’s, there were an estimated 30,000 people living in isolated settlements in the Lacandon. This population explosion led to land-related conflicts and an increasing pressure on the rainforest. To halt the migration, the government decided in 1971 to declare a large part of the forest (614,000 hectares) a protected area: the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve. As tenants and guardians of the area, they appointed the Caribe tribe, erroneously understood to be the region’s original inhabitants, and now designated, by government fiat, as “Lacandones”. At the time, the Lacandon, neé-Caribe, tribe consisted of sixty-six families. These families, along with a few settlements of Tzeltal and Ch’ol settlers, became the new owners of the territory, officially designated “the Lacandon Community.” In order to designate the Lacandon Community, 2000 Tzeltal and Ch’ol families from 26 communities had to be displaced.

These evictions, and the government programs that followed, led to a state of constant tension between the Lacandon Community and the rest of the region’s inhabitants. Several campesino organizations formed throughout the 1970’s to demand redress; among them was an organization called Quiptic ta lecubtesel, whose rallying cry was “No a la brecha Lacandona!,” or, No to the Lacandon border – a specific reference to efforts to demarcate the disputed territory that had been given to the Lacandon Community.

In Amador Hernandez. Photo: Jeff Conant

It was into this jungle of tensions that several militants from northern Mexico arrived in the early ‘eighties, to begin forming what would become the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). On January 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, an armed insurgency broke out, led by the EZLN. The Zapatista movement, “the first Postmodern revolution,” as it became known, brought the world’s attention to the region, and helped spark what would soon be called the “anti-globalization movement” worldwide.

But, while the Zapatistas gained a lot of attention (waning in recent years) due to their strategic use of symbols and their expert handling of communications, few are aware that the Zapatista organization represents the first and only time that six of the seven ethnic groups in Chiapas (all but the Caribe/Lacandon tribe) have united under a common banner – that of opposition to the “brecha lacandona.” Indeed, as often as the Zapatista story has been told, few people outside of Chiapas are aware that this movement, which seemed to appear as if out of nowhere, grew out of the long history of resistance, but specifically out of the indigenous peasant organization Quiptic ta lecubtesel. In this sense, since the very beginning, the Chiapas conflict has been the result of an arbitrary “forest protection” scheme.

While Zapatista communities, like peasant farmers throughout the world, practice a form of swidden agriculture based on opening productive spaces in the forest to plant maize and beans,  they have, since the beginning of their uprising, maintained a strong stance on protecting the jungle from neoliberal development—especially cattle ranching, illegal logging of precious hardwoods like mahogany, expansion of military installations, and exploitation of the eight unexplored oil reserves in the jungle. Perhaps more to the point, the history of Chiapas, like the history of most of the “New World,” is built on successive waves of resource extraction: hardwoods, medicines, and rubber, followed by sugar, coffee, cattle, and petroleum – all of which have done immeasurable damage to the jungle ecosystem. The cheap labor force that allowed this exploitation to occur was provided, in Chiapas, by Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Ch’ol, and Tojolabal indigenous people who were virtually enslaved for centuries to work as peones on the haciendas and latifundios that formed the basis of the New World economy. The communities that make up most of the Zapatista support base, and most of the population of the jungle region of Chiapas – those who are today being expelled yet again from the only lands available to them – are the direct descendents of these enslaved people.

Photo: Jeff Conant

The Lacandon Today

In the forty years since the Lacandon Community was established, the Mexican government has been unable to demarcate the Lacandon Border, despite many attempts. Many of these attempts have involved military efforts by the government of Chiapas to remove settlers, and specifically Zapatista-aligned communities, from the territory of the Lacandon Community and the Montes Azules Reserve. On October 18, 2000, then-President Zedillo expropriated 3.5 hectares of the ejido Amador Hernández, a Zapatista-aligned community located precisely on the border of the Reserve, to build new military installations. On July, 4, 2004, the government moved families from the community of San Francisco El Caracol, in the Montes Azules Reserve, to a “new population center” called Santa Martha, in the municipality of Marqués de Comillas. On January 23, 2005, 160 Tzeltal families were displaced from Montes Azules to the pre-planned community of Nuevo Montes Azules, near Palenque. On November 13, 2006, hundreds of armed peasants from the Lacandon Community reportedly attacked seventeen families living in the village of Viejo Velasco Suárez, leaving 4 people dead (including a pregnant woman) and 4 people disappeared, in what entered local mythology as the Massacre of Viejo Velasco. On August 18, 2007, a joint police and military operation evicted 39 families from the communities of Buen Samaritano and San Manuel, also in Montes Azules.

Now, with the promise of financing under REDD, work is underway again to delineate the “brecha lacandona”. While there are many other potential sites for REDD-related projects throughout Chiapas and throughout Mexico, all worth keeping a close eye on, the historic tensions in the Lacandon region make the reopening of la brecha lacandona a case of particular concern.

As I traveled with my colleague Orin Langelle throughout the region over the past two weeks, signs of la brecha were legion. On March 19, Juan Francisco Leo Durán, a federal government topographer with the Secretary of Agrarian Reform working at the archeological zone of Bonampak, told me that the demarcation was nearing completion, with all but 80 kilometers left to delineate.

A Lacandon jungle reserve. Photo: Jeff Conant

“That 80 km,” he said, “lies in the region of the cañadas, where the EZLN communities are.”

The next day, on March 20, the Governor of Chiapas, Juan Sabines, paid a high profile visit to Frontera Corazal, a population center of the Lacandon Community, to deliver the first REDD payment of 2000 pesos to each landholder, and to stage a photo opp. Mexican newspaper La Jornada reported that this was the first visit of a governor to the community of eleven thousand people, mostly indigenous Ch’oles, since Sabines’s father, a former governor, paid a visit in 1980. In the La Jornada article, based on a press release from the State government, Governor Sabines is quoted as saying, “After thirty years, we are here to respond to the needs of Frontera Corozal, and we are doing it by way of this program, REDD +, that we have initiated in the seven reserves of the Lacandon jungle.”

“Before eleven thousand inhabitants,” the article says, “Juan Sabines Guerrero made it clear that payment for environmental services is a project in support of life, and that their children and their grandchildren will thank them, because from this they will live; they’ll receive money to care for the forest.”

The article concludes, “The State government authorized a monthly payment; however, this is merely to allow the completion of the forest inventory so that [members of the Lacandon Community] can access federal and international funds, as well as complement these funds with projects like agricultural conversion outside the reserve with species such as oil palm and rubber.”

While the members of the Lacandon Community are the beneficiaries of both the monthly REDD payment and access to vast territory, such benefits come at a high cost. In the words of Miguel Angél García, Coordinator of the  Chiapan NGO Maderas del Pueblo, “Of all the ethnic groups in Chiapas, the one that has suffered the greatest abuse of their rights are the Lacandones; they’ve been robbed of their history, of their identity, and of their dignity, and they’ve been turned into walking folkloric entities. There’s nothing worse than that.”

Further, García explains, the monthly payments for forest protection go to only about 600 landholders; as the next generation comes up with no possibility of planting to feed their families, and with no options for employment besides tourism and managing plantations of African palm, what it means for the Lacandon culture is all too clear.

In Amador Hernandez. Photo: Jeff Conant

Amador Hernández: A Village on the Edge

On March 23, I traveled with photographer Orin Langelle and two local videographers to Amador Hernández, a village of about 1500 people that lies on the border of the Lacandon Community – and the site of the previously mentioned expropriation of land, as well as a site of intense military interest during the hot years of the Zapatista uprising in the late ‘nineties. On arrival, we learned that the community had received a government advisory just a few days previous, announcing that a demarcation team would come through soon. Residents of Amador Hernández told me that their best planting land lay within the Lacandon Community, and that without it they would be unable to grow enough food to support themselves. They also said that, a year earlier, all medical services, including vaccinations, had been cut off to the community, in what they believed was an attempt to force them to move or negotiate. Several elderly people and children had died due to lack of medical attention. It turned out that this village, and a few small outlying settlements, were the only communities left that had not capitulated to the brecha Lacandona.

At the same time, those communities that had negotiated for resettlement, were beginning to protest that the terms of their resettlement were hostile and abusive. The day before we arrived in Amador Hernández, on March 22, the residents of Nuevo Montes Azules issued a public denouncement condemning the conditions of their resettlement. In their statement, they say:

“On February 4, 2005, seven communities that were located in the Lacandon Jungle, in the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, were relocated in the municipality of Palenque. We accepted the offer of relocation due to the fact that, in the process of negotiations, the government of the state of Chiapas assured us that the lands we would be given were in perfect state, that our land title was assured, that the houses were well-constructed, that our electricity would be subsidized, that we would receive good educational and health services, potable drinking water, and modern systems of sewage and drainage. They offered us a dream, but they gave us a nightmare. As we were moved to the new location, we were threatened that if we returned to our former home in the jungle, we would be arrested and taken to jail; those who refused to leave were forcibly removed.”

The denuncia goes on to describe the living conditions in Nuevo Montes Azules: “We live in utter abandonment, with grave health problems and insecurity. Our houses are too small for our families, they have no foundations, the roofs are badly built, and the walls are collapsing due to the poor construction. When there is wind, our houses tremble.” The water and sanitation systems have failed, there are neither medicines nor medical personnel in the health center, and the land is too compacted to grow anything. When it rains, the land floods, and further deteriorates the houses.

To the residents of Amador Hernández, resisting the brecha Lacandona means refusing to accept the nightmare of Nuevo Montes Azules.

African palm plantation, Marques de Comillas, Chiapas. Photo: Jeff Conant

The Broader Context of Economic Development in Chiapas

Many NGOs in Chiapas support REDD, while many more criticize and resist the program. Of those who support it, with whom I was able to talk, there was agreement that any REDD program would have to be developed slowly, with community engagement and participation.

“There is no REDD project currently in operation in Chiapas,” a representative of the Mexican NGO Pronatura told me. The Chiapas office of Conservation International, on the other hand, said they are working on REDD-related project in the southern Sierra Madre, in the coffee-rich areas around the National Park El Triunfo, which the global conservation group manages. When asked about the government REDD program, those I spoke with generally refused to comment, or indicated that the government was moving ahead with its own REDD program, and that this would surely be a topic for discussion in upcoming meetings.

Whatever the case with REDD itself – which, even its proponents agree, is a vanishingly complex set of policy initiatives that must be handled with great care – delineating forest reserves in Chiapas in order to place them into the carbon market is pouring salt in old wounds. Further, the growth of carbon-sequestration projects in Chiapas can only be understood as part of a massive wave of economic development that is sweeping the state and the region, accompanied by displacement, conflict, and deepening marginalization.

Among these intertwined developments are the rapid expansion of African palm and Jatropha plantations for biofuel production (Governor Sabines made the first biofuel-powered flight from Mexico City to Chiapas on Friday, April 1), numerous dams and mining concessions, and the dubious resettlement centers known as “sustainable rural cities”.  These so-called sustainable cities include sixteen pre-fabricated housing developments planned precisely at the locations of strategic resource extraction and land conversion (with the sad case of Nuevo Montes Azules considered to be the first trial effort, followed by two more UN-backed efforts, Nuevo Juan Grijalva and Santiago El Pinar). Also under development is an effort to further exploit the Mayan history of the state for tourism; a superhighway under construction designed to link major tourist centers and Mayan archeological zones has led to violent conflicts in the communities of Mitzitón and Bachajón, where several people have been killed and hundreds arrested for attempting to block the development. All of these development projects run roughshod over autonomous indigenous territories.

"Rural city: Santiago El Pinar" Photo: Jeff Conant

Two decades after the Zapatistas put Chiapas on the global map of resistance, the region is again coming to represent all of the conflicts and tensions of arbitrary economic development. Such development – turning land, life, and livelihoods into market commodities for the benefit of global elites – continues to be antithetical to the needs and desires, indeed, to the cosmovision, of most of the residents of this, Mexico’s poorest and most indigenous state.

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