Peter Canby, a senior editor at The New Yorker magazine, recently came up with this particular point of view on San Cristobal de las Casas, check it out…
The New Yorker (Wednesday, January 12th, 2022).- San Cristóbal de las Casas is a profoundly conservative town with a legacy of deep racism toward its indigenous population. Until the nineteen-fifties, the Maya were allowed neither to walk on city sidewalks nor to enter the city alone at night. No paved roads connected the city with the rest of Mexico.
Since then, San Cristóbal has expanded “almost beyond reason,” the long-term resident told me. The city is now a tourist and expatriate destination. Several downtown streets are lined with bars and restaurants and shut off to vehicular traffic. Parts of San Cristóbal look like an upscale mall in Los Angeles. A large house in the town center can sell for half a million dollars.
The Maya, though, remain marginalized. The highlands surrounding San Cristóbal are still filled with milpas, the small, traditional corn, bean, and squash fields that are the defining attribute of traditional Maya life. But a hundred thousand Maya now live around the city in colonias, crowded neighborhoods where extreme poverty is the norm and the demographic skews young and jobless. Eighty percent of colonia residents are Chamulas, the largest Maya group in the San Cristóbal region. Tsotsil—the language of the Chamulas—is the lingua franca.
As the population has grown and the corn-and-bean fields in the Maya highlands have become inadequate to sustain it, Indigenous men have had to supplement their incomes with migratory work, according to “Trapped Between the Lines,” a 2014 paper, by Diane and Jan Rus, in Latin American Perspectives. By the mid-two-thousands, Chiapas had become Mexico’s second-largest exporter of undocumented labor to the United States.
After the 2008 recession and immigration crackdowns by the Obama and Trump Administrations, large numbers of Maya wound up on the margins of cities such as San Cristóbal. The Maya living in San Cristóbal’s colonias scramble for whatever temporary work they can find. “They’re fodder,” an anthropologist told me, “landless, jobless, marginalized, and hopeless.” Many have been hired by organized crime groups, often run by non-Maya. “The criminal business community is flourishing in Mexico.”
Two to three years ago, young Maya residents of the colonias began to form motorbike gangs known as motonetos. The gangs started as self-defense organizations and included both Maya and non-Maya. As they became more prominent, members began to engage in theft, extortion, and other crimes. Eventually, they developed a reputation for what the anthropologist referred to as “shock troops for local narcotraficantes.”
In September, a hundred of the motonetos—many carrying long rifles—flooded the city center, firing fusillades of bullets from automatic weapons in the air. One of the bullets tore through the corrugated roof of an Indigenous family’s home on the edge of town, killing a seven-year-old child.
Nobody I spoke with in San Cristóbal seemed to know what had motivated the mass turnout of motonetos, but it’s difficult to imagine that their show of force didn’t have something to do with narcotics.
A former local journalist told me that cocaine was now plentiful in the city of San Cristobal. You could have a gram—a grapa—sold to you by a narcomenudista, a motorbike delivery man, for the peso equivalent of ten to twenty dollars. When I asked her about the narcotics trade more generally, she, like others I spoke with, asked not to be named. She said that, as a journalist, she had come to prefer life-style stories. “If you report on narcotics,” she told me, “you run a big risk.”
Source: The New Yorker