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chiapas people

Misunderstood, Excluded and Abused: Who are the indigenous people of the Chiapas?

Pope Francis has spoken out against those who have mistreated and taken advantage of the indigenous population of the Mexican south: the people of the Chiapas, but who are they?


chiapas people

Chiapas is located in south-west Mexico- right a the foot of the country and near the border of Guatemala. It is the eighth-largest state in the country and neighbours the states of Tabasco, Veracruz and Oaxaca.

It has 111 villages, 12 towns and 18 major cities, the largest of which is San Cristobel de las Casas, where the Pope made his speech about the Chiapa

It is home to some notable geographical landmarks, such as the Lacandon Jungle, the beautiful Miramar Lake, the waterfall at Agua Azul and the Tacana Volcano, which is still considered active and a threat to the indigenous populations that reside nearby.


chiapas people

In the history of the indigenous people of Chiapas, there have been three known groups: the Mixes-Zoques, the Mayas and the Chiapa. It’s thought that there are roughly 3.5 million indigenous people in this state, which accounts for 13.5% of Mexico’s entire indigenous population. That makes it the fifth most ‘indianised’ state in the country.

It is thought that most of the indigenous groups in the state descended from the ancient Mayans, and their speaking language has been derived from them. Although the Chiapa people all fight for the same cause, they are split up into several closely related native languages. These include: the Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Ch’ol, Tojolabal, Zoque, Chuj, Kanjobal, Mam and Lacandon. 


chiapas people

Chiapas is Mexico’s poorest state. While widespread poverty is suffered across Latin America, the people of the Chiapas are the ones who are suffering particularly badly with 76% without homes, and the balance of wealth between its indigenous people and the rest of the population is becoming more uneven with every day that passes.

In 1994, the indigenous people of Chiapas revolted as a group known as the Zapatistas rose up against the government after tensions grew when fears emerged that their independence and agriculture felt threatened. The initial uprising was crushed by the government, but has been prolonged for decades, and indigenous groups have rebelled against the Mexican government as recently as 2014.

In some communities, tensions have also been at a high level between Catholics and Protestants. In some residential areas, people who have converted to Protestantism have been expelled from their homes, excluded and had their land taken over. They’ve also been known to have been denied their basic rights to water and electricity.


chiapas people

The indigenous people of Chiapas have been protected by many leading figures throughout their history, but their most well-known and beloved defenders were Samuel Ruiz and Bartolome de las Casas, who were both Bishops in San Cristobel.

Bartolome de la Casas was alive in the 16th century, and was known by his title ‘Protector of the Indians’. He was born in Spain but moved to Mexico and felt strongly opposed to slavery and was soon appointed Bishop of Chiapas, and set out specific laws to protect indigenous people, which outlined that anyone who mistreated them would be ex-communicated from the church.

Samuel Ruiz died as recently as 2011, and was also Bishop in Chiapas. He is held in high regard by people in Chiapas for acting as mediator during the infamous Zapatistas Uprising- attempting to calm the violence and encourage peace talks between the two parties. He was eventually forced to resign in 1998 after accusing the government of ‘simulating’ a peace resolution.

Hope For the Future

While the Chiapas people have certainly had their fair share of suffering, not only in last few decades, but continually over centuries gone, if ever there was someone they needed to vouch for their support, it was Pope Francis.

The Pope is one of the most influential figures on the planet, as well as one of the most respected. Hopefully, now that Pope Francis has spoken out about the terrible manner in which the Chiapas people are being treated, action will now be taken.

The indigenous population can at least rest assure that more awareness to their cause has been raised, as sometimes the only way to send a message is to get the world talking. The revelations made by the Pope were truly shocking and together with other campaigners across the world, there might be optimism that the Southern state of Mexico can find the independence and the freedom that they crave.

Article written by Oli Gamp

being free

Being Free with Tariq Nasir

“LABF will be the beginning of a movement of people who want to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

tariq nasir

Tariq Nasir was born in New York to a Palestinian father and American mother, living in Palestine as a child before fleeing to Jordan as a refugee with his family during the 1967 war. Being free became a very important focus in his life.

After growing up in Jordan, he studied International Business in the U.K. and worked for many years in the financial industry, before making the decision to move into film and live with the purpose he had taught his children about for years – making a positive difference in the world.

That is the main reason he founded the Let’s All Be Free Festival. We spoke to Tariq about freedom and what we can learn from Let’s All Be Free…

What does it mean being free?

In one word it is equality. Being given equal status is an important part of what it means to be free in my opinion. When I was a child I was a witness to war and was made a refugee with my family.

During that period of time I was not given the same rights as others, and was put in a position where I was seen less deserving than the occupiers who had taken our home.

If people are given the same rights, they can then through hard work and education make a life for themselves and their families and feel what it is like to live freely.

Why do we need to be free in our lives?

I would say that we don’t HAVE to be free in our lives, it is up to us to choose how we want to live our lives in the end. I’m just asking for people to be conscious of the decisions they make about how they live their lives.


I think too often people are living unconscious lives and don’t realize they are as free as they think they are. It is my personal opinion that people are much happier when they live free lives to pursue the things that inspire them.

What can we learn from Let’s All Be Free?

We can learn that everyone has a story. A story that can be shared and appreciated by others.

We can learn that it is just as important to listen and hear other people’s stories, as much as it is important for others to hear our stories.

We can learn that great and important things can come from dialogue, and from including a whole community to share in what it means to be free, and what it means to be alive.

We can show others what great potential lies in all of us as humans to do good and constructive things for the world we live in.

In conclusion, why did you found Let’s All Be Free?

My hopes are that Let’s All Be Free will be the beginning of a movement of people who want to make a better life for themselves and their families through constructive means.

Article written by Alex Izquierd

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