The news that the life of a small town in Chiapas, in southern Mexico was going to change for the better, turned out to be a nightmare for its neighbors.
At least 28 indigenous Tzeltal families from the municipality of Ocosingo reported having been forced to leave their homes after receiving threats from a criminal group.
The reason? Refusing to invest in weapons the money they had won in the famous draw for Mexico’s presidential plane held last year, as they are claiming.
“They say that the money is to buy weapons and we do not agree,” one of the spokesmen for the neighbors told local media during a recent protest.
The “Calvary”, as they define it, began when the preschool José María Morelos y Pavón in the town obtained the number 4344899 for the raffle that put into play the equivalent of the cost of the luxurious aircraft that the president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has tried to sell without success for years.
On September 15, 2020, his “little piece” was the winner of 20 million pesos (about US $ 950,000) and the neighbors received the news with great joy.
However, they assure that shortly after it was made public that they had been winners, they began to receive threats from a local armed group called Los Petules to buy them weapons with the prize won.
High caliber weapons
In March, the parents of the school began working to improve the building with part of the money. The rest, they planned to invest in works to improve the living conditions of the town.
But they denounce that the threats rose in tone and that one of them was even wounded by bullets from men sent by the armed group to agree to their claim.
They claim that the goal of Los Petules is to attack groups from a nearby community and keep hectares of land. When threatened neighbors refused to buy the weapons, they claim that armed men expelled them from their homes.
“We left our community due to threats with high-caliber firearms,” Melecio López, one of its spokesmen, told BBC Mundo.
According to the newspaper El Universal, Los Petules was accused a few days ago by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the National Front of Struggle for Socialism (FNLS) of attacking their bases in the area.
Complaints to authorities
The villagers filed a complaint with the Chiapas Indigenous Prosecutor’s Office and the State Government Secretariat, but they assure that there has been no progress to solve the situation.
BBC Mundo contacted both institutions and they responded that they could not offer information about the case, although the Secretariat confirmed that it was aware of what happened after the neighborhood complaint.
The threats and attacks were on the rise, residents say, forcing at least 28 families to flee the town last month to save their lives.
“We lost more than 250 head of cattle, houses, refrigerators, crops of corn, beans and corral animals and they took away our bank card, losing the right to all government benefits,” said neighbor Marcelo Santiz to the EFE Agency.
The displaced say that until the group is disarmed they will not be able to return to their homes. They have been away from their homes for a month in different places in the area and fear that they could be located.
Therefore, they ask the Chiapas authorities and President López Obrador for help, the main promoter of the lottery draw that they won and ended up turning into a nightmare.
The problems of the draw
The presidential plane raffle was an idea by López Obrador to get rid of the aircraft used by his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, and identified by his government as one of the greatest symbols of luxury and waste of previous executives.
However, given the innumerable obstacles involved in delivering an aircraft of these characteristics to a citizen, it was finally decided to raffle the equivalent in money to the current value of the aircraft: 100 prizes of 20 million pesos each.
Also the solidarity end of the raffle gave a lot to talk about. The proceeds from the sale of tickets were to be used to buy medical equipment for hospitals but, given the sales rate lower than expected, the government decided to buy about a million tickets to distribute among medical centers.
In other words, the government spent its own money so that hospitals could qualify for a prize – financed, on the other hand, also with resources from the Executive – instead of directing that amount to the health sector and not making it depend on chance.
After the symbolic draw, the Mexican presidential plane continues to cause maintenance costs while waiting to find a buyer, something that is made difficult by all the modifications that the aircraft underwent to include luxurious details inside.