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Beyond the narcos (4): the disappearance of indigenous activism

The forced disappearance of activists belonging to the Tzeltal community in Chiapas shows how narco-narratives are used to hide cases of political repression during the War on Drugs


beyond narcos chiapas mexico indige pixabayMarcella Via


The Tzeltal are an ancient Maya sub-group located in the highlands of Chiapas State. Traditionally, Tzeltal people are farmers.

They trade their craft products and surplus produce throughout the region through a system of periodic markets, which link them to the wider Mexican economic system. Tzeltal people are also dependent on working for wages to provide for their families. The case of forced disappearance of indigenous activists from the Tzeltal community of Chiapas is pivotal to understanding the dynamics of political repression taking place within the War on Drugs.

The case is essential to understand that the context of the War on Drugs is used by state authorities to legitimise the repression of state opponents and ethnic minorities that are extraneous to the narrative built around the conflict.

Almost ten years before the start of the war, members of indigenous communities in the south of the country were constructed as potential enemies by state authorities.

Consequently, indigenous people have increasingly become a target of violence both from the police and the military.

beyond narcos chiapas mexico indige pixabay 2This trend has been reinforced during the War on Drugs as members of the Tzeltal community have been disappeared by the police force, reaching 150 cases in 2016, as explained by the “Inter Press Service” (IPS). Maximiliano Gordillo Martínez is one among many Tzeltal people who have been disappeared by the police. Gordillo Martínez disappeared after being accused of migrant trafficking from Central America.

Another case that is important to consider is that of Fidencio Gómez Sántiz, a political activist of the Frente Nacional de Lucha por el Socialismo (FNLS). Gómez Sántiz received several  threats because of his engagement with campaigns against extrajudicial executions.

With regard to the disappearance of Gómez Sántiz, local newspapers reported the protests taking place in order to start investigations around the case, but have not provided information about the details of the disappearance itself. Additionally, while newspapers blame the group Los Petules for the ocurrence, the FNLS made a video making a direct link between the criminal organisation and local state authorities.

In relation to the disappearance of Gordillo Martínez, newspapers followed the position of the state authorities by stating that he was a Guatemalan migrant who got detained because of his immigration status.

However, a report from Daniela Pastrana from 2016 clarifies that the young man provided the police with documented evidence of his Mexican nationality before being detained.

While there isn’t a proper social movement related to the cases of forced disappearance across the Tzeltal community, members of the FNLS were already giving support to political activities related to the issue of forced disappearance in Mexico. They also raised awareness about the issue through social mobilisation.

beyond narcos chiapas mexico indigena pixabayThe FNLS has been able to mobilise both through collective actions such as street occupation, and also by creating a dialogue with international institutions and national organisations such as Hasta Encontrarlos (Until they are found). Most importantly, the members of the organisation identify the violation of Human Rights as a clear sign of political repression by local state authorities, such as the governor of Chiapas, Velasco Coello, against their political opponents.

Therefore, the actions undertaken by the FNLS shed light on cases of political repression towards indigenous communities because of their political identity.

By raising awareness about their condition, the movement has been able to move away from the narrative built around the War on Drugs, as well as the condition of subordination affecting marginalised indigenous communities.

(Photos: Pixabay)


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