The Indigenous Community of Mezcala de la Asunción has won a significant round in a tangled 19-year legal battle to recover communal property overtaken by a powerful Guadalajara businessman.
A ruling issued October 18 by Jalisco’s Third Circuit Administrative Tribunal rejected the amparo (injunction) appeal filed on behalf of Guillermo Moreno Ibarra, the Tapatio mining tycoon who has occupied a 12-hectare parcel of forest land in the mountain range overlooking Mezcala since 1999. An economically challenged town on the north shore of Lake Chapala about 15 kilometers west of the municipal seat, Mezcala is home to just under 1,000 inhabitants.
The terrain in question is situated within the 3,600-hectare polygon recognized under a 1971 presidential decree as indigenous land that pertains to Mezcala’s comuneros, the native populace of Coca Indian descent.
Moreno set stakes on the property, walling it off with electrified wiring and hiring guards to maintain possession, apparently with the intention of building a country home and a sheep farm. He went as far as filing criminal charges against comuneros who challenged his invasion of their territory. Some were even held in jail until their cases were thrown out of court.
Following a series of other maneuvers through legal channels that have consistently favored the rights of the Comunidad Indigena, Moreno made a last ditch effort to keep his grip on the property with a claim of entitlement to comunero status through inheritance. The Comunidad countered with the argument that he had obtained succession rights through devious means by paying off a disloyal comunero who sold them out.
The recent ruling by the Administrative Tribunal agreed that Moreno does not qualify as a legitimate comunero and must be considered a private party, as established in the original restitution suit filed by the Comunidad in 2006 before the federal Agrarian Tribunal. With that, the case will revert to the Agrarian Tribunal for a final decision.
Legal counsel for the comuneros estimates that the process could take six to 12 months, with high expectations that the land will finally be returned to its rightful owners.
Despite occasional internal conflicts, the Comunidad Indígena de Mezcala is recognized as one of the strongest organizations of its type in Mexico, among the few that actively stand up in defense of the country’s surviving ethnic tribes. The core values observed by such groups include self governance without interference from municipal, state and federal authorities, communal property ownership and management and the preservation of native customs.
In related news, the Comunidad Indigena de San Antonio Tlayacapan has also announced a favorable verdict issued by the Agrarian Tribunal that recognizes the boundaries of its communal property, ending a legal dispute with Chapala’s Ejido (farmers’ cooperative) organization dating back to 2011. The case involves the Ejido’s incursion into parts of the 953,000 hectares belonging to San Antonio, as established in a title issued by Mexico’s colonial authorities in 1797.