Friday, June 24, 2011

In Cherán “we got fed up with keeping our heads down”

Friday, June 24 2011 Infoshop News

Gloria Muñoz Ramírez, La Jornada
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Spanish original:
Translated by Scott Campbell

Cherán, Michoacán, May 27. In the face of government indifference and/or
complicity, close to 20,000 community members have organized themselves
for the past 42 days against illegal loggers who are supported by gangs
linked to organized crime. Patrols, barricades of sandbags, trunks and
stones at all the points of entry and 179 permanent bonfires in the four
neighborhoods, have been in place since April 15.

Since then, the population has armed itself with sticks, rocks, machetes,
pickaxes, shovels and anything they could, in order to confront those who
“for the past three years have devastated the community’s forests, with
the protection of armed groups and even the government, which has done
nothing to stop them,” said one of the thousands of community members who
guard the barricade which covers the path to Paracho.

Far removed from their everyday life, the women, men, children and elders
of this town on the Purépecha plateau live in a permanent tension around
the barricades, guarding the entryways so that no unknown person passes
through. Dawn yesterday brought the news that armed men in tens of SUVs
were getting ready in Paracho. It was a false alarm, but the patrols were
reinforced, “just in case.”

At two in the morning, one of the guards assures that: “although we don’t
sleep, we don’t lose strength. The government must attend to our demands:
security and justice, an end to the devastation and punishment for those
responsible so that we may live in peace.”
The government’s response hasn’t arrived, while the harassment and the
threats have intensified. On May 22, “community member Miguel Ángel Gembe
was kidnapped in Paracho.” Three days later he was able to escape “by a
miracle” and returned to the community visibly beaten. It was confirmed
then that which was suspected, that his kidnapping was due to his
participation in the current mobilizations, as he shared that his captors
interrogated him about the names of those who head the movement, warning
him that “they’re all on the list.” As a result, the community members
hold the state and federal governments responsible for whatever may happen
to Miguel Ángel and the rest of the population.

It all began on April 15, when an event stretched their patience to the
limit: “The illegal loggers entered La Cofradía spring, which supplies the
entire community. A group of community members confronted them and kicked
them out and since then we’ve been demanding justice,” says another of the
indigenous from Cherán. Not one gives their name or shows their face, as a
security measure against the permanent threats.

In this town, says another of the interviewees, “it comes together - all
the injustices, the impunity, the complicity of organized crime with the
governments, the indifference and evasion of the authorities, the ambition
of the powerful…And also the organization of the people, who are angry,
the defense of territory, the uniting of the women, the men, the children
and the elders, all together to stop the logging of our hills, the
kidnappings, the murders and the disappearances. Here, we are also fed up
and we’ve gone into action alone to defend ourselves and to do what the
government doesn’t want to do.”

A group of women from the neighboring community of Cheranastico approach
one of the bonfires in the lower neighborhood (ketzikua). In Purépecha
they communicate with the women on guard and prepare enormous pots of
coffee, beans and potatoes with eggs. They talk amongst themselves and
later one translates: “She says that they are suffering in their town
also, that they are cutting down the forests, that they are very afraid.
She says – the translator continues – that in their community they can’t
go out to plant or let their animals out because they are stolen. She says
that they are not free.”

The women, as in all popular struggles, take a leading role. They are
strong and although they admit to being tired, they stand guard and make
the food; they organize the cleaning, the supplies and the daily chores.
With white hair, a blue scarf and weatherbeaten hands, one of them replies
to her anguished neighbors that they shouldn’t be afraid, that they should
organize themselves as they’ve done in Cherán, that only then can they put
an end to the injustice.

“Here you are united,” responds the elderly woman from Cheranastico, “but
my town hasn’t had the courage because it’s small and they, the bad ones,
are many and they’re armed.”

“Here,” says another woman at one of the bonfires in the Paricutín
neighborhood, “what we want is peace and freedom. If we don’t defend our
forests, there won’t even be one piece of firewood to leave for our
children; there will be nothing left for them.”

Resistance against the clandestine logging, although scattered, began in
2008 when devastation in the Pacuacaracua hill increased. As of now, they
report, more than 80 percent of the forest (more than 15,000 hectares) has
been completed destroyed through acts accompanied by the “sowing of fear,”
as the illegal loggers, from the towns of Capacuaro, Tanaco, Rancho
Casimiro, San Lorenzo, Huecato, Rancho Morelos and Rancho Seco, savage the
community with high caliber weapons.

Before rising up, they state, they knocked on all the institutional doors:
“We went to PROFEPA, to SEMARNAT, to everywhere and no one paid us any
mind. We also filed reports of the kidnappings, extortions and threats,
and similarly they didn’t investigate anything. As a result they stretched
our patience to the limit. We got fed up with keeping our heads down, as
we saw nothing but hundreds of trucks filled with our trees and we didn’t
say anything out of pure fear. But not anymore.”

Cherán has 27,000 hectares of communal territory, of which 20,000 are
wooded; of these, 80 percent have been burned and logged (totally
destroyed), and the other 20 percent has also been logged, but still
hasn’t been burned.

A trip through the San Miguel hill allows one to see the devastated area.
Hundreds of trunks lie in the paths. “It’s that the loggers only take the
thick, lower parts, the rest they leave strewn around here,” explains one
of the members of the traditional patrols, who is now in charge of

The roads into the forests are also under guard. Trunks and sandbags
impede the path of the trucks, although, they say, “they still enter
through other areas, because they’re not going to give up this business
from which they get so much money.” How much? “Well, just do an
accounting. Organized crime charges each truck 1,000 pesos for protection.
Around 180 trucks left daily loaded with wood, which generated 180,000
pesos just for protection.

The big business, they explain, “is headed by a man known as El Güero.
It’s a double business, as he sends workers to cut the trees and then they
take them to his sawmills. But when other illegal loggers want to enter,
he sells them protection so that they can remove the wood. As for us,
well, we just watched, cowering, while all this happened.”

In these six weeks, the life of the community has completely changed: Now
the municipal president doesn’t operate out of the government palace and
the installations are practically in the hands of the community members.
There are no classes in the elementary school or middle school, nor in the
high school or in the Pedagogical University. A “dry law” is in place and
they can’t ingest or sell alcoholic beverages; vehicular traffic ends at
eight at night and 24 hour security is maintained throughout the municipal

At the same time, the youth have taken charge of the cleaning and have
organized a “good image” commission, which during these days is cleaning
the streets with paint donated by businesses. They have also organized
general cleaning brigades in which the whole populous participates, and in
the streets, patios or under tarps the teachers in the community have
organized classes.

In one of the improvised classrooms, Arly, a seven-year-old, says, “The
bonfires are so that the bad guys who are taking our trees don’t get in.
Without trees we are not going to have water and because of that there are
bonfires, so that they don’t take away the forest.” And also, adds Karen,
11 years old, “we organized ourselves so that they don’t come to kill us.
Now they are upset because they don’t come in; so they are angrier and
because of that we have to be careful.”

As of now, in each neighborhood they have organized commissions for
security, cleaning, good image, health, education, supplies, agricultural
production and media. With all this, explains one community member,
“through action, the traditional organization of the people is being

Meanwhile, the government’s response doesn’t arrive. They’ve gone to the
state and federal governments. At the Interior Ministry, they say, “they
ask that first we demobilize, that we deactivate our organization. And
they don’t give answers. We think that they don’t have the ability to
confront truly organized crime. We have given them names and places where
they can be found, but as of now they don’t do anything.”

Originally published:

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