Tuesday, February 1, 2011

In Defense of the Land: Xayakalan, Michocán

Compañero Trompas as part of an indigenous land seizure in Mexico! This interview with members of the Independent Media Center Collective, is a inspirational tale of how to reclaim a better world. The Insurgent stands in Solidarity with the populations seeking self determination and all movements in defense of the land.

"The historic recovery of indigenous lands in the Sierra nahua of the state of Michocán, Mexico on June 29, 2009 and describes the current situation in the new community of Xayakalan.

The recovery of 1,300 hectares of Nahua lands in Xayakalan, Santa María Ostula, on June 29, 2009 was one of the most amazing things that’s happened in Mexico in the last few years. How did the people do it? Last week I had a chance to find out more about that.

As soon as I got to Xayakalan with two friends last week, the head of security didn’t take long to verify that we were trustworthy and show us a palm-branch shelter where we could camp.

“How’s everything going out here?”

“Well, here we are. You can see with your own eyes. We’ve been here for a year and a half and nobody’s left. And nobody´s going to move us out of here”.

C: Compañero, what led all of you to recover the lands?

T: Some of us were longing to do it for years and some had tried through the courts with the support of politicians, but it didn’t work. The political parties have used all kinds of dirty tricks. I don’t know how those things work from the inside, but I’ve seen the injustices they’ve committed.

C: What about the government?

T: The government has done things that have been impossible to set right as of now. It’s like they dirtied the water, all of it, and now they want us to clean it up. We have the primordial land title. But a hundred years ago the government gave part of our communal lands to five small property owners, and then in 1967 it gave them an ejido. We have our documents, but they’ve written over them. The small property owners are sure to have influential friends. We don’t. Our best friend is the land title. When we came here on June 29th, nobody lived here yet. We’d tried to do it, but the government is really clever. One of their agents said, “I’ll deal with everything. You should go ahead and leave. I’ll work things out”. So we left. And what did they work out? Nothing. We’re of no importance whatsoever to the government. Not the least bit. Even now we still haven’t recovered all our lands. We lack 800 meters. And we’re going to have to fight with the government about it. We don’t receive any support from them. We don’t even ask the government to come here to put in streets. No. We’re autonomous.

C: How many hectares did you recover? At first it was reported that there were 700 and then 1,300.

T: We recovered 1,300 hectares. The engineers made a mistake in the measurements. At first they said “there are 700 hectares.” But we said to the lawyer, “No, he’s wrong to say 700 hectares. There are 800 meters alone from here to there that we haven’t yet recovered. No, we recovered much more land. So they measured again and it turned out that there were 1,300 hectares. But we don’t want measurements. What we want is recognition of the land boundaries. Because the primordial title says exactly where they are. So we came here on June 29th and some people had questions about exactly where we had come to, but it was clear to us. We already knew. Our grandparents and parents had told us where the boundary is. So for us there was no doubt about it. We’ve always known.

C: What was the situation in 2009?

T: In 2009 there were a lot of land pressures. Hotel owners, drug traffickers and mining interests all wanted the lands, and they still want them. There were a lot of business interests. The politicians of different parties have fed off of these lands. They’re friends of the supposed property owners. Friends of local freeloaders. Maybe they gave them a piece of cheese. Or maybe it was 10 or 20 pesos. Or more [laughter]. In 2009 there was nowhere left for us to work around here. We had some small plots of land and a lot of people wanted more plots, but there was no more land available. All this was going on before 2009. Around 2003, the small property owners of La Placita had put up “no trespassing” banners saying that we, the indigenous of Ostula, would be dead if we set foot on their land. Then in 2009, they were dividing the land up into lots and selling the lots. That’s when we couldn’t wait any longer.

C: How did you organize the land recovery? Pedro tell us that you personally went to all the villages to convince people to join in. There are a lot of them ¿aren’t there?

T: Yes, there are 22, all part of Ostula, where around 7,000 people live. Yes, it’s true, I went to all the villages. I didn’t always go alone. It was a lot of work, but it’s been worth it. We had to talk about what was going on and what we needed to do. What did I say to them? Well, maybe I gave an example: Supposing I’m here and somebody comes from Colima or Manzanillo or Uruápan and says, “Hey comrade, you know what? I like it here. You’d better get going because I like your house. I like where you’re living.” “Oh yeah? They’re going to run me off just like that? And I’m not going to do anything about it? I’ll just leave? If they said that to you, would you just leave? No. Am I right? Well listen, the same thing is going on. We’re taking back what’s ours.”

“So when we didn’t have any more land to work, I said: ‘Let’s go over there.’ And that’s the way we did it, going from village to village. Some said: ‘Yeah, you’re right’. Others said, ‘No way. They’ll kill us’. Other said: ‘That’s what we’ll do’. So then for three months we held General Assemblies. And that’s where we decided to do it. But the whole thing took more than a year.”

“Look, this a paper dated November 16, 2008, signed by 41 people that agreed with the land recovery. Then we gradually added signatures. 60. 100. We reached an agreement on this: We’re not after a bag of money. We’re after our land. We’re going to take back what’s ours. We’re not interested in fighting, but if they want to fight, we’re not going to just sit by and do nothing. But that was the day we started organizing to come here.”

C: How did you organize the community police?

T: We planned the community police a little bit later, because we said to ourselves, “If the municipal president won’t help us, what should we do? He didn’t want to help us. So I said, “How about if we arm around fifty men to be our community police?” When we agreed to do it, we talked to a lawyer and told him, “This is what we want to do and this is the way we want to do it.” “Ah,” he said, “that’s good. The community police is a good thing.” So we armed ourselves. We had agreed on taking charge of the land and then all the villages cooperated to form the community police. We set it up and moved on ahead.

“At first we had 300 people in the community police, all of us together. Coíre was going to send 200 and Pómara was going to cooperate, too, I don’t remember with exactly how many. They’re sister indigenous communities that have supported us from the first.”

C: What kind of support have you had from other groups?

T: Well, when Comandante Marcos passed through here in 2006, his caravan stopped in Ostula and he expressed his support. I wasn’t here, but we’ve always been in contact with them. Then just before and just after the land recovery, the National Indigenous Congress met here. On June 13 and 14, we issued the Ostula Manifesto, which supports the rights of indigenous people to self-defense. Then on August 9, we issued the Xayakalan Statement, where we said that the defense of the territory is the defense of the people and that our right to self-defense is not subject to negotiation. That support was really important because it came from many indigenous peoples and communities. They were here with us.

C: What happened on the 29th?

T: On the 29th we just came in, the police and everybody ––men, women and children––there were around five or six thousand of us from Ostula. When we came in, they fired first. They wounded one of our people and several were wounded on their side. The supposed land owners from La Placita had gotten here first, right over there. Maybe they’d heard about our plans. So I said to our people, “Well, there they are.” Then everyone met and said, “Well, there they are, so let’s go.” “Well, let’s go then.” So we did. They fired. The owners themselves or their gunmen. But it didn’t turn out as they planned. So they turned their cars around and left. They got out. We all came in and took up positions. And here we are.”

“Yes, we had everything planned. Building the houses was part of the plan. We had the materials and everything. We built 20 houses in a week. At the same time, we blockaded the highway for 15 days. A lot of people came from other parts of Michoacán and Colima to help.”

C: What is life like in Xayakalan now?

T: Things are calm, but the conflict still hasn’t been resolved. We have assemblies here. We all give our opinions. This is where we decide what we’re going to do. Here nobody backs down. We’re all down for whatever. We’re not here to fight. No no no no no. But if that’s what they want, what else can we do? Right now there’s a lot of work going on. There’s a lot to do. A lot of people are cooperating. We have nothing, so if we want things to take shape, we have to work, right? We’ve been planting crops and working the land. We’re still building houses. Right now we have 50 and there are 50 more families that want to come here. We’re putting a lot of emphasis on the schools. We want to set up a community radio. I’ve been down to see the compañeros in Radio Ñomndaa in Guerrero three times and we really like what they’re doing. Maybe we’ll be able to do something here like we did in La Ticla. I lived there at the beginning of the ‘60s when the lands were virgin. Some of us didn’t have plots of land and began to work the plots that other people weren’t working. We had to argue about that and demand our right to water, but the lands finally became productive. We’ve been to see both the federal and state governments and have told them that we’re here and that there’s nobody who’s going to move us out. It looks like they got kind of sloppy, ¿don’t you think? It looks like Godoy is trying to hide, too. He hasn’t helped us a bit. But he did want our votes so he could do us more harm than ever. There were elections year before last. We didn’t vote. We’re really stubborn about not voting. What do we stand to gain? So why do it? Now we’re saying we’ll also abstain in the upcoming elections. We’re continuing to demand recognition from the government that the lands are ours and recognition of our community police.

C: What kinds of repression and harassment are you dealing with? There’ve been reports of narco-paramilitary violence against you and of a lot of murders and disappeared peoples.

T: In Xayakalan we haven’t had anybody killed or disappeared, although the death of Diego, one of our teachers, surely had to do with our struggle. He had all the paperwork and supported the land recovery. He started drinking in La Placita and that’s where they lifted him. But that was in 2008 before the land recovery. It’s true that in Ostula there have been many deaths and several people disappeared, but most of them are not related to the struggle for the land. The Commissioner Francisco de Asis Manuel wasn’t appointed by the community. He was appointed by 3 or 4 or 5 people to come here and see that a mine was set up. That was his job. But we don’t want a mine here. Javier Martínez didn’t agree with the land recovery because he was being paid off. He was a politician. He was the Commissioner’s secretary and an official in the municipal presidency. They disappeared him in Aquila. A teacher named Gerardo was also disappeared because he was with him. We are really sorry about the teacher’s disappearance because he wasn’t mixed up in anything."-IndyMediaCntr.

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