Federal Court Orders Investigation into the Effect of the San Cristóbal to Palenque Motorway on the Tzotzil Ejido of Los Llanos in Chiapas
On January 6, 2014, inhabitants of the indigenous Tzotzil Ejido of Los Llanos (in the San Cristóbal de Las Casas municipality of Chiapas) filed a petition of relief against all permits and licences issued by federal, state, and municipal authorities for the construction of the San Cristóbal to Palenque Motorway (which had been given without previous, free, and informed consultation with locals). According to the citizens, the megaproject would put their food sovereignty at risk, while violating their rights to territory, autonomy, freedom from discrimination, and protection of the environment and natural resources (all of which are provided for in the Mexican Constitution and the ILO’s Convention 169, concerning “Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries”).
The aforementioned community specified in their complaint that, on November 16, 2013, San Cristóbal councillor Fidencio Pérez Jiménez had come to Los Llanos to assert (in a threatening manner) that the motorway would pass through the citizens’ common lands whether they liked it or not. If they resisted the project, he had told them, the communal authorities would go to jail and the army would be brought in to facilitate the start of the construction process.
Furthermore, the citizens indicated that, on November 26, 2013, the Secretary General of Government in Chiapas had affirmed in public statements to the local and national media that there would be “no turning back” in the construction of the motorway, in spite of the opposition of local indigenous communities (including that of Los Llanos). With these words, the senior official had sent out a clear message that the indigenous Tzotzil people’s right to consultation had not been (and would not be) guaranteed by his regime.
On January 13, 2014, the petition of relief filed by the inhabitants of Los Llanos was accepted by the Sixth District Court of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, under the case number 16/2014. In turn, the suspension of trade to the community was granted, under the argument that all permits and licences issued by the three levels of government regarding the motorway in question had aimed to dispossess an indigenous community of its common lands. This postponement of business would only be ended upon the resolution of the case.
On August 5, 2014, however, the Sixth District Judge dismissed the case when government authorities suddenly claimed that the motorway’s construction would not affect the Los Llanos Ejido. Effectively, then, the federal judge found the government’s statements valid and claimed that the plaintiffs’ legal interests were not under threat. At the same time, though, this decision came in spite of the fact that reports submitted by the Department of Communication and Transportation had shown that Los Llanos could indeed be affected by the construction of the motorway. And, for precisely this reason, the plaintiffs launched an appeal against the sentence on August 19.
Now, the case was referred to the Fourth Court of Appeals in Tuxtla Gutiérrez under the case number 292/2014. Subsequently, on March 12, 2015, a new sentence was passed, which revoked the judgment of the federal court for having violated procedural laws whilst leaving Los Llanos inhabitants defenceless. Additionally, the court ordered a topographical investigation to determine whether the claims made by the plaintiffs (and the reports of the Department of Communication and Transportation) about the effects of the motorway megaproject on Los Llanos were correct or not.
Finally, on April 7, 2015, the Sixth District Judge complied with the aforementioned decision by ordering a land survey and asking both the plaintiffs and defendants to come to an agreement about which expert they wished to appoint to carry out the investigation. [As of April 20, 2015, the case remains unresolved.]
Translated and adapted by Oso Sabio from a text written by Ricardo Lagunes (“attorney for the communal landowners of San Sebastian Bachajón”)
 For information on similar cases in Chiapas, see https://ososabiouk.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/mexico-indigenous-people-of-chiapas-oppose-megaprojects/