20 | AGO | 2019
Indigenous community starts legal battle to recover lands at Toluca-Naucalpan highway
The Otomi villagers still use the land to collect mushrooms, quelites, wood, and ocoshal. They even conduct religious ceremonies in the woods - Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

Indigenous community starts legal battle to recover lands at Toluca-Naucalpan highway

26/06/2019
18:44
Newsroom
Mexico City
Al-Dabi Olvera
-A +A
The Otomi community of Huitzizilapan has asked Mexico’s new administration to return their lands

The expropriation decree issued by former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto for the construction of the Toluca-Naucalpan highway, which was awarded to construction contractor Grupo Higa, has officially expired. However, its construction remains in effect.

The Otomi community of Huitzizilapan has asked Mexico’s new administration to return their lands and have initiated a legal process to do so.

The document to expropriate 6-93-87 hectares from the Huitzizilapan forest was issued in 2014 for “public use” and expired on May 29, 2019.

“They said it was for public use, but us, the land owners, can’t even walk through those parts anymore,” stated Abundio Rivera, a representative of the area’s inhabitants.

The Otomi villagers still use the land to collect mushrooms, quelites, wood, and ocoshal. They even conduct religious ceremonies in the woods. However, a four-lane private highway is now being built in front of their traditional places.

The highway is meant to connect the Adolfo López Mateos International Airport in Toluca with the Interlomas and Santa Fe neighborhoods in Mexico City.

According to experts, the design of the Toluca-Naucalpan highway is poorly planned, with cut mountains, landmines, and urban developments amid a cloud of pollution.

“This is why we are asking for a devolution of these lands to our community,” Rivera announced.

According to the State of Mexico’s highway and airports system, the project represents a MXN$8.14 billion investment (USD$425.33 million) and shows a 78% progress.

The communities of Huitzizilapan and Xochicuautla filed an “amparo” appeal before the district judge, through which a suspension of the highway construction was granted on December. According to the community’s lawyer, construction works within the territory of both communities should be stopped until the matter proceeds to final judgment.

In addition to the PRI’s defeat at the federal level, the expiration of the decree opens up the possibility of legal action for the villagers of the mountain, stated the community lawyer Hugo Hernández.

On June 17, land owners, authorities through uses and customs, as well as other institutions representing Huitzizilapan, decided to go on the offensive and file a motion called “request for devolution of territory” before the National Communal Land Trust Fund, led by Samuel Peña Garza, a member of the Ministry for Agrarian, Land, and Urban Development (SEDATU).

“To this day, Mexico’s legal framework does not envisage a procedure to reclaim our rights as an indigenous community in the process of devolution or recovery of expropriated indigenous territory once the deadline for use of soil has expired,” the document states.

The Otomi-Mexica woods are protected by the State of Mexico government. It is also considered a water sanctuary. All of its 6,919 acres surround the west and south of Mexico City. Moreover, it is an important source of water and oxygen for the country’s capital, as well as for the city of Toluca.

The villagers of Huitzizilapan have had their agrarian and indigenous rights violated again and again. Neither the state nor federal governments consulted the villagers in a free, fair, and timely way, according to Hernández.

Now, the villagers will not only demand the return of their land, but also to undo the damage dealt to their territory and their rights since 2007.

This new legal measure will allow the villagers to ring-fence their territory. For this purpose, the local community has launched a campaign called #ElBosqueDeVuelta (#WeWantOurForestBack), through which they will ask for the support of intellectuals, artists, and academics, setting a precedent for the protection of indigenous lands.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador claimed that he would look over the case and work to respond to the requests of the Huitzizilapan community.

“We will look into it to assess their legal situation,” stated the president in a morning press conference.
 

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