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February 28, 2003
Today, Friday, the 28th of February the American-owned ecoturistic hotel, Rancho Esmeralda, in Ocosingo, Chiapas, Mexico was invaded and taken by the Zapatista neighbors of Nuevo Jerusalen and the Autonomous Municipality "Primero de Enero". At 7AM about 100 men, armed with machetes began to gather at the ranch entrance. The two employees who were on the ranch, Vicente Sanchez Lopez and Ruben Cruz Kanter, contacted the owners warned them that an invasion appeared imminent. The owners immediately informed the authorities including the offices of Public Security, the Gobernacion Delegate in Ocosingo, the state Secretary of Government and the office of the Governor.
At about 8:30 the police arrived at the entrance to the Tonina ruins where the walking path that accesses Rancho Esmeralda begins. But they could not enter the ranch without an order from the state Secretary of Government, Emilio Zebadua, who was not available. Representatives from the Gobernacion Delegation and the Secretary of Pueblos Indigenous also arrived but were unable to enter the ranch which was by now surrounded by Zapatistas.
The owners of Rancho Esmeralda informed both local and state authorities of the threat of invasion for the first time on the 13th of December, 2002 after they had been called to a meeting by the community Nuevo Jerusalen. At this meeting the owners were informed that road access to the tourism center was closed to all guests, visitors and suppliers of Rancho Esmeralda. The Zapatistas also demanded the title to the ranch. In the two and a half months since the owners have been struggling to find a peaceful solution to this problem in the face of further threats and harassment. On January 29th the Zapatistas closed the road to Rancho Esmeralda totally and put a lock on the illegal gate they had installed on the Carretera San Juanito, the public road of 36 years that accesses Rancho Esmeralda.
That evening when the owner, Glen Wersch, returned from town he was attacked by a mob of Zapatistas hurling rocks and trying to stop his vehicle and grab him. The next day an employee of the ranch, Ernesto Cruz Kanter, was kidnapped by the Zapatistas, held hostage for six hours, beaten and released with a written note directed to the owner that said, "we are not playing games, we don't want you here, if you don't understand next time it will be worse". With these acts of violence and threats of more the ranch was completely closed to tourism. On the 29th of January Ellen Jones, the wife of Glen Wersch and co-owner of Rancho Esmeralda, filed charges against Nuevo Jerusalen for the kidnapping of Ernesto Cruz and for threats of invasion.
The owners and employees of Rancho Esmeralda have maintained possession of the ranch throughout the month of February until today when the Zapatistas invaded and took the ranch. The employees were under instruction not to resist in the event that an invasion should take place. The Zapatistas demanded the keys to the buildings and the employees delivered the keys that they had in their possession to the invaders. The Zapatistas inspected each building, together with the two employees, and filmed every building with a video camera. Finally, the two employees were allowed to leave the ranch with their personal belongings but none of the things that remained belonging to the ranch.
The Mexican authorities have been fully informed of the threatened invasion of Rancho Esmeralda for over two months. Criminal charges of kidnapping and threats of invasion had been filed for a full month. There has been ample opportunity to avoid the invasion of the tourist guest ranch but the state government chose to do nothing. In fact, just 10 days ago, at a meeting in his office in the state capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez, the state Secretary of Government, Emilio Zebadua, told the owners of Rancho Esmeralda clearly that the state of Chiapas would definitely not take any action to remove the illegal gate on the San Juanito road or send in any police to protect the ranch.
The owners, Glen Wersch and Ellen Jones remain in Ocosingo struggling to find a solution to this crisis. Today they filed charges against the community for invasion of the ranch. "We were forced from our home, our tourism business has been ruined and now our ranch has been taken", said Ellen Jones, "This has been a robbery in plain daylight with threats in writing for two months". This did not have to happen. We will seek justice."
Canadian and French kayakers headed for the Jataté River on January 22nd, 2003
at the Rancho Esmeralda (Glen, the owner, on the left)
Kayak Yukon design and
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