Blase Bonpane


very short notice, the Director of Pastors for Peace, Tom Hansen, asked me to

lead a delegation to the peace talks at San Andres Larrainzar in the state of

Chiapas, Mexico. Picture an indigenous village in the highlands of Chiapas where

clouds float in at any moment and obscure the verdant landscape. Here live the

Tzotzil (Bat People). With weeks of planning and following up on the meetings of

the month of April, 1995, the latest session began on May 12th. What we saw was

a model for international conflict resolution. Through the unrelenting efforts

of the Mexican non-governmental network of human rights and the persistent

effort of Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, a complex and effective system for the

dialogue of adversaries was developed.


one. These are the Mexican Military Police. Actually members of the Mexican

Army, these troops have arrived according to the agreement armed only with riot

sticks. Everyone is aware that the back-up forces of the Mexican Army are not

far from this village in the surrounding mountains. These troops are ready at a

moments notice to storm the peace talks "if necessary." Approximately

50,000 troops of the Mexican Army are now in Chiapas.


two. Representatives approved by the National Commission of Mediation (Comision

Nacional de Intermediacion) known as CONAI. The president of this commission is

Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia of San Cristobal de las Casas. This inner circle is

made up of Mexican human rights networks, and international visitors seeking a

peaceful resolution to the conflict. Inside of this circle, and in sync with it

is a belt of indigenous people from the surrounding villages. These groups are

also under the umbrella of CONAI. Together they represent The Peace Circle of

Civil Society (Cinturon de Paz; Sociedad Civil).


three. This is the Mexican Red Cross and it borders the building where the talks

are to take place. Participants in the three circles are on duty for

approximately four hours at a time followed by a rest period.


between the Military Police circle and circle two is a huge stage which is

available to 250 journalists eager for a story. Intermingled with the

journalists are the "journalists" of the Mexican Secret Police who are

eagerly taking moving and still pictures of everyone present. With everyone in

place and hours of waiting, the International Red Cross four wheel drive

vehicles spattered with mud arrive with the players in this dangerous dialogue

for peace. Circle two had been instructed to avoid cheering and slogans…but

there was some cheering even from the journalists when the Zapatista Commanders

descended from the vehicles in their indigenous garb, multi- ribboned hats and

black ski masks. There were no cheers for Marco Antonio Bernal Gutierrez who led

the delegation representing the government of Mexico.


the smiles and handshakes and an effort to project informality there remained in

San Andres Larrainzar an obvious fear of treachery. Why? It is a matter of

history. Mexican Emperor Iturbide took the state of Chiapas from Guatemala by

force in 1823. By 1867 the indigenous people of Chiapas revolted under the

direction of Pedro Diaz Cuscat who heard the stones talking and giving counsel

to disobey the Ladinos (Mestizos) and to take back all of the lands stolen by

the hacienda owners. Just as the indigenous warriors were in a position to

capture San Cristobal de las Casas they entered into a dialogue with the

government of Mexico. The peace talks of 1869 were followed by the capture an

execution of the leaders and everything went back to "normal". Then

there is the ghost of Emiliano Zapata. The new Mexican ten peso bill is

emblazoned with Zapata’s piercing stare. It was Zapata who developed the Plan de

Ayala which evolved into Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917. But

Zapata’s plans for the peasants of Morelos were a threat to the urban based

Mexican Federales and the hacienda owners who wanted certain political changes

(one term, no reeelection) without an economic restructuring of Mexico. Zapata

was asked to come to dinner for peace talks with Colonel Jesus Guajardo.

Guajardo’s troops sounded the honor call on the arrival of General Zapata, they

presented arms and shot him to death on April 10, 1919. The opportunist

President Venustiano Carranza promoted Jesus Guajardo to the rank of brigadier

general and paid him 50,000 pesos for the assassination.


the spirit of Carranza, President Salinas abrogated section 27 of the Mexican

Constitution in 1992. Sub-Commander Marcos and his advisers are very conscious

of this history of treachery. With this in mind Marcos explained that he would

not arrive at San Andres Larrainzar. He knew that the Mexican power structure

still thought they could eliminate the leader and end the movement.


of the commanders who arrived at the dialogue were indigenous. Marcos also

wanted the world to know that the indigenous commanders could negotiate for

themselves. They did not need him. The model designed by the Zapatistas of 1995

is not the model of Latin America revolutions of the 2Oth century. They do not

seek state power. "We did not come here to ask for the National

Palace", said one indigenous commander, " we came to seek, justice,

democracy and liberty." Even as the dialogues of 1995 took place there were

reports of the Mexican Army advancing in the areas of Guadalupe Tepeyac and

Ocosingo. The night of Sunday, May 14th was one of ominous signs. Thunder,

lightening, wind, rain, fog and clouds struck San Andres Larrainzar. The

Zapatistas were tired of being lectured to by the Mexican government

representatives. The eldest rebel, a woman, Commander Trinidad, accused the

government of lies. Rhetorically the Zapatistas said, "Why are we here? Why

should we continue if you have no substantive offers?" Actually the

Zapatistas had begun the meeting with an audacious statement that they were

stronger than the Mexican government. "The rhythm of the Mexican government

is not our rhythm", said the Zapatista leadership.


singular lightening bolt was created by the General in charge of the Military

Police at about midnight. In an instant the metal detectors were removed and the

Military Police were ordered away from their circle. Everyone knew this was a

signal for the armed troops in the mountains to descend on San Andres Larrainzar.

The indigenous men of circle two sent their wives and children to a safe area

and actually expanded their numbers as some of the other circles began to be

depleted. The indigenous were clearly putting their bodies on the line in

defense of the Zapatistas in the conference hall. The engines of the vehicles of

transport for the government were started and the vehicles were pointed toward

San Cristobal de las Casas. An imminent departure of government representatives

was expected.


Samuel Ruiz Garcia moved from delegation to delegation seeking a continuation of

the faltering dialogue. The Zapatistas took the initiative by saying that they

would respond to the government’s statements at 10:00 AM on Monday morning, May

15th. Reporters asked Marco Antonio Bernal Gutierrez, head of the government

delegation, just who gave the order to the Military Police to take such

precipitous action. Bernal shrugged his shoulders. When the General was

questioned he explained that he had evidence of arms on the compound. None of

the journalists present were able to verify the presence of any arms.


May 15th was a day of substantive communication. The government has proposed a

plan for routes to open space for the EZLN (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion

Nacional) to group its contingents reciprocally and proportionally in defined

communities. The areas identified are principally near Guadalupe Tepeyac and

Ocosingo. The government gave assurance that the Mexican Military would stay a

large distance from these proposed routes. It further stated that the Zapatistas

were neither required to surrender nor put down their arms. The Mexican

Government even conceded to the Zapatistas the maintenance of public order and

security in rebel areas. On their part the Zapatistas responded that they would

consider the offer and return with their reply on June 7th. In a unique model of

substantive democracy, the EZLN will bring this proposal to all of their

communities for consultation.


David offered a formal invitation. "The government is invited to our

indigenous communities to see how we carry on consultation with the people on a

local level. The government is invited to walk in our villages, to talk to our

people, to talk to the women and the children. The government is invited to

observe the life of the poor…see how we eat, see how we sleep. Even if it is

only a brief moment to share the experience. You can accompany us for a time.


final observation by Mr. Bernal of the Mexican government was his desire to

succeed in finding a mechanism to convert the armed Zapatistas into a legal

entity. Our delegation left San Andres Larrainzar understanding why the

audacious Zapatistas said they were more powerful than the Mexican government.

Any effort to eliminate them militarily will trigger a national response from

the Mexican people. A million Mexican died in the Mexican revolution of

1910-1929. It is urgent that the United States not foster any effort for a

military solution to this conflict. The peace process will continue in Mexico if

the treachery of the past is rejected and the root causes of the conflict are



for Peace and the Office of the Americas urge the nomination of Bishop Samuel

Ruiz Garcia for the Nobel Peace Prize. This will enable the Bishop to have a

larger forum to give a voice to the voiceless. Reinstatement of article 27 of

the Mexican Constitution of 1917, recognition of the absolute failure of

neo-liberal economics, the end of murderous structural adjustment policies of

the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are part of the solution.

Back in January of 1994 when we originally visited this war in Mexico we heard

the clear objections to NAFTA. The missing elements in the agreement are accords

on social justice, human rights, the rights of labor and environmental

protection. We do not support war in any form. In our opinion the greatest

achievement of this historic meeting in San Andres Larrainzar is the fact that

it happened. We urge continuation of these dialogues for months, years or

decades if necessary. Let this be the end of 19th century laissez-faire

economics and the beginning of a century of cooperativism. The Tzotzil,

Tojolabal and Tzeltal people of Chiapas in Mexico can show us how to do it.


Leave a comment