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Majo Siscar / Translation: Blanca G. Bertolaza
  • The neighbors of Chachapa have been fighting for 60 years against rigged contracts, pressures and harassment from chieftains and the government which have ripped them off almost 5,000 acres.
  • In this time 13 villagers who fought for their land have been murdered
  • Now, three years after the last expropriation, they have united again to defend what belongs to them

Throughout his life, Cándido Trujillo has seen how Chachapa’s communal land has shrunk due to pressure and harassment. M.S.

Cándido Trujillo lives off and for animals. Now he only has about sixty left including goats, cows, horses and even a donkey. But before he had about 200. There is no land left to herd them. His village, San Salvador Chachapa, which belongs to the township of Amozoc, has lost more than 6,000 acres of communal land since he was young.

“Before I had to buy very little food, just some during the dry season, that was all. But now, since I can’t sow pastures and have less land, it doesn’t add up anymore”, tells Trujillo, resigned. He is one of the few villagers who still live exclusively off the land in his community. Now to defend his way of life he has built himself a small house in one of the few plots of land they have left that is under the threat of expropriation.

Honorina Martínez and another villager prepare food in the land they are trying to hold on to. M.S.

San Salvador Chachapa, a community of Nahuatl origin, is located in the suburbs of Puebla, one of the main industrial cities around Mexico City, and not only has it been absorbed by the urban stain, but it has also suffered in the last century a long process of land dispossession supported by the government. The conflict goes back to the 40s, when Cándido had no conscience yet. His town had about 6,200 acres of communal land, as a result of a royal grant, which was ratified by the agrarian reform that took place during the Mexican Revolution, whose biggest achievement was the legal recognition of the farmers’ communal lands. But in the 40s, a wealthy German man, Ernerst Feldmann settled in the village and with permission from the authorities, built a ranch in Chachapa’s lands. “The mayor said the town didn’t need them and offered them to the Feldmanns, and even though he didn’t have money to pay for them, he told him to just take them”, another one of the town elders tells Periodismo Humano. However, the locals did not agree and initiated criminal proceedings that ended up in the Supreme Court, which in 1949 ratified the land’s communal property. Nevertheless, the court judgment had no effect and the Feldmanns kept gradually taking hold of more and more land.

In the 60s, as the community grew, the neighbors needed more land to sow and grow their cattle and they began to organize themselves to recover their land. It was a time of national political restlessness and many workers from Puebla’s new industrial areas joined Chachapa’s fight. Honorina Martínez recalls how they arrived in buses paid for the University of Puebla to support the town. “We came with miss Genoveva –an Independent Farm and Field Workers Federation leader- who helped everyone who needed her. ‘We have to unite against the rich’, she said”, Martínez says with a smile. They got so involved that finally she and her husband ended up moving to Chachapa and now she is an active part of the community. Between the 60s and the 80s, the peasants became more radical, to the point that they took over Feldmann’s ranch and confronted the Army with sticks. They paid a high price for their audacity. Paramilitary groups and the authorities murdered 13 people and jailed 13 others. Until in 1986 they were forced to negotiate, or they would send leader Genoveva Sánchez to prison. That year Chachapa gave up 1640 more acres to the Government, supposedly for a natural reservation, in exchange for some infrastructures in the town center, a few water wells, and pavement of the roads. And above all, in exchange for remaining silent and quitting their demands. Although that was not part of the contract, repression and concessions had an effect and the town was demobilized. Since then the Government has gradually been expropriating more land, sometimes to build roads, others for oil pipelines and Mexican Petroleum –the oil state corporation- plants, others for urban development. The last time, in 2008, they ripped them off 84 more acres without warning. They just moved over the fence that separates their land from the Natura Reserve.

Now they have barely more than 370 acres left.

“We neglected the lands that were farther off and because of that neglect this foreigner took hold of them, but to do so he

Sign that points the way towards the Police Academy financed by the US on communal land. M.S.

had the protection of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) –which ruled over Mexico for more than 80 years- which handled all levels of government and supported it. So, even though the town fought back, they always used the Army and the police to suppress it. The government has abused us and we want that to be cleared up. We want change, support for the peasants”, explains passionately to Periodismo Humano José Agustín Maquino, one of the young people in the community who is promoting the new protests. The villagers of Chachapa have had enough, especially seeing how the government has made a profit off the land it expropriated under pressure. In the 1640 acres they gave up and that now make up the Flor del Bosque State Park they inaugurated in May a police academy financed by the Mérida Initiative, a security treaty signed by the US and Mexico in 2008, with the excuse of fighting drug trafficking. The Mexican government has already received around $1400 million in military equipment, technology and advice in anti-terrorist combat techniques, which imply the presence of US agents on Mexican soil.

Besides, the Park increased the value of the land the Feldmann family already had leased, which has been used to build a luxury residential compound next to the Reserve. “Haras, Ciudad Ecológica” is a luxury housing development where plots of land can be bought to build single-family homes from 300 yd2 at $25,000 to $800,000 for 25-acre equestrian estates. On its corporate website, the compound boasts about the good conservation of this land, “thanks to the Feldmann family undertaking the difficult task of preserving one of the biggest forest areas in the metropolitan Ciudad de Puebla area, more than 80 years ago”. And they built a memorial bridge in the compound for them.

The Police Academy seen from Chachapa’s lands. M.S.

The truth is that the only building conditions the compound sets to qualify as “eco-friendly” is to build a septic tank and to use certain materials. Because of this, Chachapa’s outrage has grown. “The academy and the shooting range are already in place, what was supposed to be a reserve is a residential compound valued in thousands of dollars, and what about us?”, another villager says.

Equestrian estates used by Haras Ciudad Ecológica residential compound to advertise itself

“They have committed irregularities, strictly for their own benefit, with the excuse that our documents are false, but we are going to keep fighting”, underlines Maquino. That is why they have asked Spain for a certified copy of the original Royal Charter. And they are pressuring through the legal system to sit down and talk to the State government, which, for the first time in a century, changed its political sign this year. “If we had that charter we would be able to regain what the

José Agustín Maquino shows the documents that prove the communal property of 6,177 acres to the town of Chachapa. M.S.

government has taken from us, or if not to receive a compensation, or land elsewhere, so the villagers can be indemnified in some way”, explains Maquino, who is in charge of dealing with the lawyers. But for now they have 370 acres left that they are not willing to lose. That is why this summer they began building homes in their own pasture lands, because Mexican law gives land ownership to those who inhabit it, after they have stayed there for a certain amount of time. “Either we start defending what we have left, or they take it away too”, sums up Maquino. Even though the shacks spread, few people live there on a day to day basis. Cándido Trujillo is one of them, since there he has his animals at hand. “I’m great here, the animals are loose, the cornfields close, and I get by well”, he tells us with a smile that lights up his face. Maybe if they had done this before, two of his four children who emigrated to the United States looking for work, would not have gone away.

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