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Archive for July 22nd, 2015

15 July 2015


I wake up at 5AM again so that I have enough time to catch Don Armando and possibly go sampling this morning. I reach his house just as six. He is sitting outside on the remnants of an old couch, the cushions all gone, leaving only the metal frame and a few pieces of spare thread. The man sitting next to him wears a white button down and ripped white cotton pants. I introduce myself and the goal of my project. He excuses himself and heads into another room to talk with his wife. I cannot hear the details of their conversation, but it does not inspire me with confidence. I talk with the man in the white. He is Don Galacion, a friend of David’s who grows coffee. Just as I am about to ask him whether I might sample in his plots, Armando returns and agrees to take me to his cacao. “Unfortunately,” he adds, “it will need to be tomorrow. I am the head of the regional cacao growers and I have a meeting with a political candidate today.” So begins a twenty minute monologue about his role as the leader of the cacao growers, his vision for the future, and the importance of cacao in the future of Mexico. His stained t-shirt disguises this politician. Unfortunately, Galacion bows out midway through the speech. Armando suggests that I talk to Don Salvelio about sampling his cacao. I thank him for the suggestion, affirm that we will meet tomorrow, and head over to Salvelio’s house. His wife emerges from his house at the corner of the town square. She notifies me that Salvelio has gone to Comitan. I ask her when he will be back. “Quien sabe? Who knows? Come back later.” I head back to CONAMP dejected by the prospect of another fruitless day. At least I can say that this discomfort is worthwhile when I collect data.

Two CONAMP employees have arrived. Emilio is here to establish a camera trap in the Montes Azules preserve and Angelica is here to teach a children’s workshop about bats. They are extremely pleasant to talk to and we eat lunch together, talking about work. I take a nap in the afternoon. The siesta is an excellent way to waste away the hours during the hottest part of the day. I wake up completely drenched in sweat. I stumble out of my hammock and grab a cold water from the rundown old fridge in the kitchen.   It is gloriously cold as it trickles down my gut, chilling my baking innards. I stop at Salvelio’s house later that evening. I hear the wife talking to someone inside. However, she tells me that, “He has not returned yet. Try again early tomorrow morning.” I get the sense that the man doesn’t want to deal with me. I also make a quick stop at Armando’s again to inquire whether there are any cacao or coffee plantations on the way to his plot, which is almost an hour away. He tells me that most of the coffee and cacao on the ejido are in another direction, so it looks like I’ll only be able to sample his plot tomorrow, which is hardly an efficient use of time. I also ask about going to a communal reserve to sample, but it turns out that it is between 1.5 and 2 hours away, and he has no interest in walking that far so that I can do my research. All this would have been far easier if I had a car. The local drunks seem to hang around the bridge and ask me for change as I walk across. I return to CONAMP unsure of how successful my trip will be. Maybe I will stay an extra day. A strong wind begins to blow as darkness falls. I wonder if this means there will be some rain tonight. I don’t know if the nap I took earlier buoyed my mood, but the prospect of staying here doesn’t seem so daunting. I just want to collect all the data that I can on this trip. I wasn’t expecting the agroforestry plots to be so spread out, which greatly impacts my sampling efficiency. At any rate, I want to leave here by the 18th so I avoid the probable bloqueos on the roads on and immediately after Election Day on the 19th. That doesn’t leave me much time. I sip a mango juice and listen to the wind rustling the banana leaves outside the CONAMP station. Geckos chuckle in the night. The rain starts coming down. I hope it stops before morning.

IMG_8056

My friend took care of some of the insects around my bed

A CONAMP vigilante (night watchman) enters the building to get out of the rain. He is about my age and stops to dry off by the table where I am sitting. We start chatting about our work. Juan has worked as a vigilante for CONAMP for about 3 years. He and 5 other rangers guard this region of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve against poaching, land encroachment, and plant and animal trafficking. This seems to be a Herculean, if not Sisyphean, task given that the preserve is 331,200 hectares in total. The main issue is squatting. New immigrants from Guatemala and elsewhere in Mexico settle in the Reserve and form small communities which can go undetected for long periods of time before they become established. The outer ring of the preserve is open to community management. Many communities, including La Democracia, Chuncerro, Benito Juarez, and Nueva Palestina are technically located within the boundary of the Reserve. Their ejidos have been grandfathered into the management plan for the region and they are allowed to continue to plant their milpas, agroforests, and graze their cattle. The nucleus of the Reserve, however, is off limits and has never been actively managed for resource extraction (as far as we know). This area is incredibly difficult to reach, even for researchers, who need to get special permission from the government to do any kind of research there.

The discussion shifts to politics and the upcoming elections. Juan explains that the Verde (Green) party is currently in control of most of the state government and functionally equivalent to PRI. They run on the same platform much like how many smaller third parties endorse main party candidates in the US. The PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) a centrist party that was developed after the Mexican Revolution of 1920. Ironically, although it holds itself as the party of the revolution (can an institution be revolutionary?), its political stances are chameleon-like. Directly after the revolution, it played to the demands of the campesinos by initializing land reforms. Later, to placate foreign investors who were spooked by the Revolution, the PRI government privatized and expropriated Mexican resources. Over time, PRI became synonymous with corruption and fraud. Each PRI president chose his successor, whose political leanings were a response to the state of the nation. If the campesinos get restless, instate some land reforms or social programs. If the businessmen start crying foul, implement policies of neoliberalisim and privatization. PRI dominated Mexican politics from its inception until the 1994 economic crisis. They took a no-holds-barred approach to elections, and were often accused of bribery, electoral-fraud, and even organizing the assassination of a political opponent. Mario Vargas Llosa said, PRI rule was “a dictadura perfecta (“the perfect dictatorship”). Government seems to be a family matter in Mexico (isn’t it everywhere?) and most of the PRI-Verde candidates are somehow related to the current governor of Chiapas. The municipal elections may go against the Verde party given the growing discontent with governmental inaction and ineptitude. The PRD, the main leftist party which split from the PRI, was gaining fairly widespread support among the smaller pueblos. There were some smaller leftist parties like the Partido de Trabajo (Worker’s Party), but they have largely bowed out of the race in support of PRD. However, in response, new parties (Mover a Chiapas, Chiapas Unido) sprang up. These parties are functionally equivalent as PRI-Verde and many suggest that they were “established” by PRI-Verde itself to fragment the left’s voting bloc. The elections on Sunday are going to be contentious, says Juan. Many towns will establish bloqueos to ensure that the candidates do not deliver materials to bribe voters in smaller rural communities. Juan is not altogether certain about the outcome, but believes that it will not be in the interest of poor rural smallholders. “The government is in control. All of these parties are two sides of the same coin, but many people don’t recognize this. If anybody does speak out, the government will deal with them. They will give them a new car and a new house and tell them to shut up. Or, if that doesn’t work, they will deal with the threat in a more covert but direct manner, with a bullet. We haven’t had much drug violence here on the border, but it’s easy to justify a state killing if they “find” a connection to El Narco. I don’t think we’ll have another ’94 (Zapatista Uprising). Many people have been placated. Their situation is bad, but the government has built a new road, has connected some new power lines, and that is enough for most people. They aren’t really united anymore. They don’t see that nothing will change in the long-term even though a few things have improved in the short-term.

Frog trying to escape the rain

Frog trying to escape the rain

The rain finally lets up for a moment, so Juan says goodbye and hops on his motorcycle to go home. I head to bed.

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