Natalie Long ('12) presents to engaged students and community members.
On Friday, September 14, the Next Gen Committee of the National Lawyers’ Guild hosted a presentation by Natalie Long (’12) on her inspiring human rights work in Chiapas, Mexico. Long’s presentation gave an overview of five cases currently handled by the organization Servicios de Apoyo Intercultural (Intercultural Support Services), a non-profit organization based in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.
Her talk focused primarily on the existing state of impunity in Mexico, which allows for human rights violations in the State of Chiapas. Throughout the evening, Long highlighted case-specific facts to illustrate the collusion between heavy industry, business corporations, and corrupt officials in the Mexican government.
Of particular note were the egregious violations of communities’ rights to health, land, indigenous rights, and the environment. The first case study examined an asphalt plant, currently operating within the city limits of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, which continues to function despite producing atmospheric emissions that include arsenic, benzene, and hydrogen sulfide. These chemicals in turn engulf nearby townspeople in their homes and schools, creating severe respiratory problems and other health conditions.
While discussing Chicomuselo and Frontera Compalapa, which are located close to Mexico’s border with Guatemala, Long highlighted the ongoing problems indigenous populations face due to the threat of mining. As foreign mining companies- particularly Canadian-owned corporations- continue to spread throughout Latin America, so do the threats of water and soil contamination, severe health conditions such as chronic skin diseases and birth disorders, and community divisions. Moreover, when villagers band together to resist the imposition of such projects, it may cost villagers their lives. Such was the case when resistance movement leader Mariano Abarca was assassinated on November 27, 2009, outside his home in the town of Chicomuselo. Despite Mariano Abarca’s sacrifice for his community, Blackfire, the Canadian mining company that owns the mine close to Chicomuselo, is looking to resume its operations in the near future.
Toward the north of Chiapas, the talk focused on the threat of a massive hydroelectric dam projected for the region of Huitiupan. A predominantly indigenous area, the Mayan peasant farmers that inhabit the lands where the dam would be built are concerned for their families, their lands, and their customs and traditions, all which would be harmed or lost were the dam to be built.
The fifth case highlighted during Long’s presentation focused on the three indigenous villages of San Gregorio, Ranchería Corozal, and Salvador Allende, located in the east of Chiapas, inside the Lacandon Jungle. The three communities are facing the threat of displacement by the Mexican government. Originally, in the 1970s, the founders of these villages were sent into the Jungle by the Mexican government to seek lands to occupy. The village founders and their descendants have currently inhabited their lands for nearly 50 years, all the while practicing collective sustainable agricultural techniques.
Now, years later, the government has reversed its position, and wants to forcibly evict these villagers from their lands, claiming their presence is damaging the Jungle. The villagers, however, recognize that the government’s change in position stems directly from government ties with pharmaceutical companies and ecotourism interests, both which wish to conduct business within the Jungle without the presence of the villagers. Hence, the interests represented by these companies have brought about a government stance that threatens the violent displacement of these communities from their homes.
After highlighting some of the measures being taken by
community members in each of the cases to
defend their families and their lands, the talk wrapped up with various invitations to action for audience members. Discussion attendees signed letters supporting the town of the Ribera Cahuare in its struggle against the limestone mine and factory, and the villagers located within the Jungle in their struggle to remain on their lands. These letters will be submitted to the Mexican Consulate here in Chicago, in a move to show international solidarity and concern for the situation of these communities in southern Mexico.
For more information on these cases, you can visit Long’s
blog, located at: http://14pesos.blogspot.com/
Discussion Attendees at the NLG Next Gen Chiapas Discussion.