Chiapas: eco-tourism project divides the community of Jolaco in the Northern Region

In the community of Jolaco, in the municipality of Tila in the North of Chiapas, a struggle is taking place “against capitalism the destroyer of nature and humanity”. Diego Martínez López, a ch`ol catechist and member of the organization of displaced persons, Kichan Kichañob, member of the Other Campaign, is a member of the ejido and owner of a few hectares in the ejido which holds a special treasure: a spring, caves, and a river with beautiful waterfalls. The people of the community have always shared the region and bathed in it. In the heart of the mountain, the beginning of the river is hidden within hundreds of meters of caves and caverns covered in stalactites and stalagmites. There in the deep of the mountain, the community religious authorities meet to pray and burn candles during the drought.

For a long time, people from the city and other communities have come to the waterfalls to bath. Diego had never taken measures against the people who came to visit, although it did bother him when people came and dirtied the stream. However lately, Diego and the organization Kichan have come upon a new problem. In 1998, the government tried to pave a road that crosses Diego’s field of coffee bushes to enter the waterfalls. They promised him 50,000 pesos in order to build the road, and he accepted it. They tore down fruit trees and coffee bushes, but they never paid him back for the damage. Finally the plans for building the road were suspended. Less than a year ago, they returned to build it as part of the eco-tourism project driven by the government. The plan divided the community. Diego and Kichan Kichañob decided not to support the project, while the other part of the community was in favor the construction of the road and the completion of the eco-tourism project on the banks of the river. In addition, the municipal government of Tila stated a plan to allow a bottling company to use the spring.

Diego continues insisting that the waterfalls and the river belong to their ancestors and to their families, as well as the community. He does not want to sell his land and says that he will continue defending his rights. Nevertheless, the other part of the community insists that the waterfall is communal property belonging to the whole community, and because of this they are demanding that the eco-tourism project be accepted. The conflict seems to be threatening the autonomy of the community and the disagreement between the two groups over the future of the waterfall is dividing the community.

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