Chiapas, a paradise for tourism and a well of violence for its inhabitants

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The day after being named a Magical Town by the Ministry of Tourism, a criminal group kidnapped 16 officials in Ocozocoautla. The small town illustrates the contrasts of the region, which is suffering a wave of violence

Ocozocoautla is a small corner of Chiapas distinguished by its impressive waterfalls and its clear water rivers and its walks through the mountains and forests full of biodiversity. A splendid place to spend the holidays based on good food and such exuberant nature that Coita, as they say there, it received the status of Magical Town from the Ministry of Tourism last Monday. The only problem is that the next day, Tuesday, a criminal group kidnapped 16 officials on the road that leads to the city and where organized crime checkpoints are common. While the award puts the town in the crosshair of national and international tourism, the inhabitants of the area have not invited their family and friends to visit them for months because the region is besieged by violence.

Alejandra is the fictitious name of a young woman from Ocozocoautla who now lives forty minutes from there, in Tuxtla. “Wherever she wants you to go, you always have to be careful, leave early and always return before dark,” she says. Before taking a trip, she checks on Facebook that the road she has to go through is not blocked by any organized crime checkpoints. In Coita, the drug traffickers operate freely. “There are almost always confrontations. At the entrances are the large houses of the drug traffickers and the entire area is militarized, but the National Guard does nothing”. Her sister, who is also on the other end of the phone, says that things have only gotten worse in the last year. Last week, personnel from the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel went to his company to ask for “the quota.”

—They want 7,000 pesos a month and if not, they threaten to make you or your family disappear.

“And are you going to pay?”

“Of course, there’s no other way.

The situation that they live in Alejandra’s house is repeated in the rest of the magical towns of Chiapas and in many other tourist enclaves in Mexico. Two months ago, San Cristóbal de las Casas, a Chiapas city characterized by its colonial architecture and millennial history, was the subject of a street shooting after the murder of artisan Jerónimo Ruiz, leader of the Association of Traditional Market Tenants of Chiapas. The escalation of deaths and disappearances suffered by the region and the scant response from the authorities has provoked complaints even from the religious authorities. Bishop Luis Manuel López officiated a mass this Wednesday, when social organizations, families of the disappeared and political prisoners, and people displaced by organized crime, demonstrated against violence.

—The people cannot find an answer, there is a very terrible emptyness of authority, there is a very big vacuum, a lot of pain, the people cannot find where to ask themselves—said the bishop from the pulpit of the church.

A criminal group attacked the police in the Chiapa de Corzo municipality, another magical town in Chiapas, in April. The police officers managed to hide and repel the attack, reports El Heraldo de Chiapas. A new armed group has emerged this week in Pantelhó, a small town in Chiapas. With their faces covered and long weapons slung over their shoulders, they said they had come to restore peace and justice in the territory. And the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) published a report titled Chiapas, a disaster. “The diversification and opacity of armed groups that use violence for social, political, economic, and territorial control marked by impunity fostered by state actors contributes to dispossession, exploitation, and social marginalization” in Chiapas, the report says.

The contrast between the different realities is brutal. The arbitrariness of the bullets and the kidnappings are intermingled on television and on the Internet with the advertisements that promote Chiapas as the earthly paradise. Ernesto López Portillo, coordinator of the Citizen Security Program at the Universidad Iberoamericana, has a somewhat hopeless theory: the problem is that violence does not really stop tourism. “They have nothing to do with it, tourism works even where there is violence. We have to stop thinking that tourismIt only occurs in safe areas. Despite the reports of deaths that arise with each vacation period in the main tourist cities of the country —Acapulco, Cancun, Playa del Carmen— people continue to fill hotels en masse. “Tourism continues to generate money and the State loses the economic incentive to act and stop the violence,” says the expert by phone. “We are learning that it is not necessary to be safe. Criminology had predicted that violence would slow down economic activity, but we are seeing that this is not the case. It is very serious”.

Although this is the reality in the great tourist poles of Mexico, in the less touristy regions, where violence does impact tourism, Alejandra has not been able to show Chiapas to her family and friends for a long time. “Here the narco does what he wants. The towns are left without tourism and the people who lived from it have to move. Even so, they continue to promote Chiapas, but the issues of violence are not touched on, ”says the young woman from her house in Tuxtla. Before there was a kind of unwritten rule that criminals didn’t touch tourists, but not even that anymore. The Chiapas Ministry of Tourism has not wanted to answer questions from this newspaper about the strange dichotomy between trying to make a state the capital of tourism while one of its armed groups, the EZLN, threatens civil war if the attacks do not stop. .

“Since I was a child, I felt proud of my state,” says Alejandra. “It was nice to show off the vegetation, the coffee, what you wanted most was to show people from outside what we had here. Now it is disappointing to know that I cannot invite you because I cannot guarantee that you will be safe. It is very sad, because Chiapas has enormous potential, beautiful beaches. But I have to tell my relatives not to come.”

Source: El Pais