Indigenous Coffee Farmers in Danger

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The situation remains dire in the Zapatista areas in Chiapas, Mexico, where our coffee cooperative Yachil Xojobal Chulchán is located. After a serious fungal infestation on the coffee plantations, they are now besieged by paramilitaries. Merely leaving one’s home is considered dangerous.

Indigenous coffee farmers in the Chiapas highlands

The indigenous coffee farmers in the Chiapas highlands fear for their lives.

Guest post byCafé RebelDía

It could have been a good year for our friends. A serious fungal disease called coffee rust had ravaged large parts of Central America in 2014, causing harvest losses of more than 50 percent. But it had been defeated, and for the first time, the farming women brought the usual amount of coffee home from the fields. But that could once again become the exception, as the people in the Zapatista areas are facing a very different threat since the beginning of the year: the paramilitary.

Past events are vital in understanding the present. At the end of 2017, the first paramilitary attacks on the indigenous population in Chalchuhuitàn took place. Some 7,000 indigenous farming families were forcibly evicted from their villages shortly thereafter. A conflict had also been brewing in the Aldama region in the Chiapas highlands. Things heated up in spring 2018 before erupting in violence in January of this year.

The Police Fled in Fear

Since then, the people of Aldama have been the target of shots from across the valley. Even a police station built specifically to protect them could not repel the danger. The police had to barricade themselves in the station with sandbags. They ultimately fled, fearing for their own lives.

The residents of Aldama are also very scared. To set foot outside one’s house is to risk being hit by a bullet. People can no longer gather firewood or till their fields. Gone is their main source of income: coffee.

And this is just the beginning. Many people in Aldama are self-sufficient, yet they can no longer go to the fields. Now they are running out of food. The Mexican government is trying to improve the situation with humanitarian aid, but what the residents get simply isn’t enough to feed a family.

Farmer Paralyzed After Being Shot

Some coffee farmers risked leaving their homes anyway. Some of them suffered serious gunshot wounds, including one who is now paralyzed. In the hospital, the doctors wanted to send the man straight home. Nothing could be done, they told him. When he insisted, a neurologist said that he would be able to walk again with the help of surgery and rehab, but no one will pay for the operation and the follow-up treatment.

For a farmer, not being able to get up or move one’s arms is like a death sentence.

There are also children among the injured. Some people died from their injuries, and over 200 families were forcibly displaced in Aldama. We are very concerned about our coffee farmers and their families.

Government-Armed Paramilitaries

Unfortunately, there is no hope in sight, not even under the newly incumbent Mexican president. He is leaving the people out to dry, thus reinforcing fears that he–the much celebrated first left-wing president of Mexico–will further militarise the indigenous areas. Indeed, the paramilitaries are armed by the government and their actions go unpunished.

This is compounded by the targeted weakening of civil organizations that oppose the mega-projects backed by the president. In many places, these mega-projects result in the expropriation and displacement of the local population as well as touristic and economic exploitation.

The Zapatistas have declared war on this strategy. In a statement made in mid-August, they announced the establishment of seven new administrative centres, the expansion of autonomous areas and various events. Under the motto "We break the siege," they started a civil offensive to defend their country and bolster its resistance to the mega-projects.

During our last visit, the members of our Yachil cooperative expressed fears that the government would dismantle these autonomous structures through various means. The coffee cooperatives are a key pillar of indigenous autonomy. International solidarity is still very important for the Zapatistas!

More about the Zapatistas rebellion in Mexico

Bis an die Zähne mit Requisiten bewaffnet – WOZ article from 2013 about how the rebellion and how it came to be (in German)

"Wir sind die Generation 94" – WOZ article from 2013 about the solidarity movement in Switzerland (in German)

Chronologie des Widerstandes – Timeline on the solidarity group’s website (in German)

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