San Miguel Indigenes Confront the “New Conquest”

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

Eight pesos per square meter was the offer from the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes, SCT (Federal Department of Communication and Transport) to the indigenes (native population) in the zone the government was planning to use for construction of a freeway called Autopista Bicentenario. “Fifteen pesos was the highest offer,” said Guillermo Ramírez, a representative of the ejidatarios—holders of a share in common lands—of the community.

“The representative of the SCT told us that the land is the property of the nation and also that the freeway would be constructed even if we did not want it. The person who held the meeting said that if we resisted, we probably would not be paid and our lands would be expropriated.” For that reason, according to Ramírez, the indigenous people felt forced to sign an agreement to sell their land at the final price. “We could not take the risk of getting nothing,” he said. According to the ejidatario, these people have heard from their

neighbors that in places such as Taboada, owners have sold their land at a price of 400 pesos per square meter.

The Cruz del Palmar

Cruz del Palmar is one of 27 indigenous communities of San Miguel de Allende. It has 710 hectares and is the most populated, with 1,500 inhabitants, according to Magdaleno Ramírez, president of the State Council of Indigenous Communities, who also assures that the Otomi have inhabited the area since time immemorial. They decided to occupy the zone because it had fertile land, and they could live from agriculture, hunting, and fishing in the San Damian-San Marcos and the Laja rivers. In the area, the natives constructed ceremonial centers, such as the archaeological zone of the Solitude and many others currently covered by the soil and weeds. This heritage, he remarked, could be affected by the construction of the new freeway.

City historian Graciela Cruz told Atención that Cruz del Palmar is a very important zone for San Miguel. It has been proven that the watersheds of the Laja River have been inhabited from before the conquest until current times. Cruz commented that three micro-regions existed: El Llanito in Dolores Hidalgo; Atotonilco, which was a center for communities, such as Las Cañadas, Montecillo de la Milpa, Montecillo de Nieto and La Petaca, among many others; and Cruz del Palmar, a land that was later granted to those Otomís who participated with the Spanish in the conquest. Part of the land was also distributed among some Spaniards.

Cruz del Palmar has a connection with the mountains, the water, the ancestors, the sun—to which their chapels point—and the Otomí god, “The Old Father.” Cruz also commented that the communities of the three micro-regions are also connected; therefore, their territory is integral. The natives cannot conceive of its disintegration. Everything is connected: the paths, the main plaza, the churches, the bridges, and the coecillos—archeological zones covered by weeds—and connected to their pre-Hispanic past. For the indigenous people, their territory explains their human existence. Cruz also said there should not be a border between these communities that have been connected for centuries through different processes. She stated it would block their natural communication, adding, “The Otomis have fought permanently for their territory.”

“This is the new conquest; they want to exterminate us,” said Magdaleno Ramírez

The freeway

In December 2010, the state government and SCT agreed to accept bids for construction of the Autopista Bicentenario at an estimated cost of 2.5 billion pesos. In the same month, former governor Juan Manuel Oliva Ramírez announced that the new road would have a two-line extension of 80 kilometers. The road would start in Silao, pass through Guanajuato and connect with the road to Juventino Rosas. Later it would pass through el Xoconoxtle to finish in San Miguel de Allende near Taboada.

Oliva Ramírez also commented that the road would strengthen the industrial corridor and improve the “Golden Triangle” of tourism, made up of Dolores, San Miguel, and Guanajuato.

In 2012, social activists published a letter to alert governmental authorities and the general public interested in the tangible and intangible heritage of San Miguel “about the destructive impact that the tentative drawing of the road could cause on the social, cultural, and natural heritage of the watersheds of the San Damián-San Marcos and Laja rivers.” Those involved noted that in the possible zone of impact, the first agricultural societies of the area had emerged “with their cosmic observations, myths, and ancient rituals projected in their archeological sites. Old haciendas would also be affected, processional paths, Indian’s chapels, calvaries, natural springs, royal paths, bridges, and wetlands, which are shelters for the migratory route of the American Mycteria—a kind of heron—now at risk of extinction.

Despite social activism, on July 2, 2013, the SCT launched a call for bids for the construction of the road. The result would be published on September 17, 2013. The construction, according to the call would start in January 2014, and the road should be operating in January 2016. Nevertheless, last July 22 Magdaleno Ramírez filed a protective action against the plans for the road. Two months later, a federal judge commanded the temporary suspension of the plans.

Last update

Recently in an interview, Governor Márquez said that the state government is very committed to the construction of the road and is fighting for it. He says it is a great opportunity for access without impacting the indigenous communities. The plan was changed, but the inhabitants of the affected communities are urging the government to use the first plan, which impacts the zone less and goes through el Xoconoxtle, near Dolores Hidalgo.

Márquez assured that if the freeway is not constructed in the future, “there must be other interests,” and those against the construction “will be judged by history.” The freeway, remarked Miguel Márquez, is very important for the future development of Silao, San Miguel, and Guanajuato. According to Márquez, he has told Magdaleno Ramírez that the government will construct a tourist center where the inhabitants of the communities will be allowed to sell their arts and crafts, and the road will also be a great opportunity for the future development of these communities. Governor Márquez assured him that there are thousands of people who want the road to be constructed.

After Marquez’s statements, Magdaleno Ramírez reiterated to Atención that the indigenous people are not against the road construction, but only the plan because although it was modified and does not impact a ceremonial center in Cruz del Palmar, the destructive impact on the territory has not been solved. He highlighted that they support regional development, but he also made it clear that this route would not be advantageous to the indigenous communities. He said the freeway does not include accesses or exits in the indigenous territory, so locals would not benefit from it.

“History may judge me, but it can absolve me, too,” charged Magdaleno Ramírez. He said that the touristic space that the government proposed for sale of their arts and crafts is not useful because his people “are not artisans, but farmers.”

In a letter sent to a state newspaper that published Marquez’s statement, Magdaleno, supported by social activists and the inhabitants of the 27 indigenous communities of San Miguel, writes that the construction of the road has not been blocked by them, but by a federal judge. Ramírez also made it clear that the authorities have not fulfilled the requirements of the SEMARNAT (Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources), above all, those related to the presence of erionite, which is linked to cancer deaths in the community of Tierra Blanca de Abajo, in the San Damian River.

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