The Government’s Mask Comes Off In Chiapas

Two years ago, just after Vicente Fox’s election ended the PRI’s 71-year long dictatorship over Mexico and just before Pablo Salazar’s election as governor of Chiapas raised such high hopes of change, there was a literacy class in the Tzotzil, Abeja refugee community of X’oyep in the Altos.

The teachers, young urban university students from northern Mexico had given their students the assignment of writing a single page composition, on any topic they chose.

There were around twenty students in the class. The first, a young man, stood up and began to read. His story was a simple one, of how he and his family were forced to flee their homes when the paramilitaries arrived to threaten them. How they lost all their possessions when they fled in terror. The next student in turn read a story of his own family’s flight from their community. At the end of an hour every single student had told a story of paramilitary terror and of becoming a refugee.

The violence was all supposed to end with Fox’s and Salazar’s accession to power. Talks between the new government and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or EZLN, were to resume. In December 2000 the EZLN gave the government three clear conditions for dialogue: evacuation of several (symbolic) military posts; release of all the Zapatista political prisoners; and the passage of the Law for the Protection of Indigenous Rights and Culture, the Cocopa Law that had been agreed upon in 1996.

The law was gutted and then passed in 2001. Most of the prisoners had been released by May 2002– but not all. And now the military, and paramilitaries, are in the middle of a big offensive against the Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities.

It started July 31, with a shooting attack by paramilitaries in Ricardo Flores Magon that left several wounded. On August 7 in 17 Noviembre two paramilitaries assassinated Jose Lopez Santiz. The killers on the run and the authorities helped in a cover-up. On August 19 four more Zapatistas were wounded and three kidnapped in San Manuel municipality. Two of the kidnapped escaped, the third was taken to the prosecutor’s office in Ocosingo, jailed, then returned to the prosecutor’s office. Two more autonomous authorities from Ricardo Flores Magon were murdered in a school on August 25. A third was murdered on the 26th in Olga Isabel Autonomous Municipality. Connections between the paramilitaries and the military are open and blatant, with paramilitaries supplied by the military and escaping with impunity after their crimes.

The Mexican Army, meanwhile, arrived in the municipalities in force on August 26 to Ricardo Flores Magon, San Manuel, and other areas around Ocosingo. At least several hundred soldiers, with over a hundred vehicles, including tanks and artillery, are occupying this part of the state in what one human rights group called

“the first mobilization of such great magnitude since President Vicente Fox announced the withdrawal of the military from the camps at Amador Hernndez, La Garrucha, Guadalupe Tepeyac, Cuxulj, Roberto Barrios, Oventic and La Realidad in December of 2000, when he took office.” (Fray Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada Human Rights Committee, quoted in La Jornada August 26)

It’s enough to make one wonder who’s really wearing the mask. If the Zapatistas, as they say, cover their faces to be seen, what of President Fox and the powers behind him to the North? Their faces are all over the media, but the dirty killings from which they stand to gain are not stopped or even fully investigated.

In March 2001, the Zapatistas drew hundreds of thousands to the zocalo in Mexico City after a country-wide mobilization and caravan to the capital. Their purpose was to press for the passage of the Cocopa law. They demonstrated that they were so popular in Mexico and the world that the government had to dance to their tune– for a while.

But the government had its own plan, to pass an indigenous counter-reform law and call it a reform law. To promise something new and deliver the same bitter dish Latin America’s people have always been served: political violence and economic plunder. Carlos Fazio from La Jornada thinks the two are related even more directly than one might think:

“This is not some conspiracy theory. The facts are there. The indigenous and electricity counter-reforms are part of the same package, which also includes a counterinsurgency logistical-police-military repositioning in the Tehuantepec/Caadas (Chiapas) isthmus corridor within the framework of the PPP [Plan Puebla-Panama]. This was designed well in advance, and in stealth, in order to be able to take preventive actions and/or lightning-type surgical strikes, as the situation requires.”


Plan Puebla-Panama is full of mega-projects to fill the southeast with dams and turn the indigenous into maquila workers. The indigenous have their own plans, for the recovery of their land, culture, and autonomy. The government, meanwhile, seems to have decided that it no longer needs to pretend to be interested in peace but can instead watch while paramilitaries and the army pound the Zapatistas again.

In 1999 the EZLN wrote a communiqu, talking about former Mexican President Zedillo’s government’s ‘new strategy’ against them: “There is nothing new about it, nor is it a strategy, it is the same stupid pounding that assumes that those who have known how to resist for 500 years, will not be able to do so for a year and a half.”

It seems that less has changed in 3 years than was promised. This is unfortunate, because if the Puebla-Panama Planners succeeded in destroying the dignified, honourable resistance of the Zapatistas, they wouldn’t be left with no resistance, but with resistance that wasn’t so honourable. Two days after 9/11, Adolfo Gilly wrote in La Jornada:

“Seven years ago, in the Mexican south, the zapatista rebellion leveled a warning. They have not wanted to listen to it, they closed paths off to them, they mocked their ability to make politics and their will to preserve rights, peace, life. More than once Marcos told them that, after and beyond them, would come those from society’s cellar, the faceless and nameless storm of the humiliated, the affronted, those who have always been treated like dirt by governments and officials, by the rich and the masters”


The “rich and the masters” are betting that the people of the world are no longer watching Chiapas, that since the EZLN comandancia left Mexico City the friends of the zapatistas have lost interest. The people can, and should, prove them wrong.

Justin Podur maintains ZNet’s Chiapas Watch section (www.zmag.org/chiapas1/index.htm).

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