Operation Against Paramilitaries in Chiapas Raises Questions

[translated by irlandesa]


The detention of members of Peace and Justice on Friday has raised some questions:  Does the state government admit that paramilitary groups exist, or not?  Are these the only ones whose existence is officially recognized?  The rest of them – which have recently caused deaths and injuries in Ocosingo, Altamirano, Chilón and Chenalhó – are they “just fantasy,” like the PRI organization which is being prosecuted today was during the entire Zedillo administration?


Only Chiapas police forces (the State Investigations Agency, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Sector Police) participated in the operation in Miguel Alemán and Tzaquil.  That explains the relative negligence on the part of state officials, who had  no federal back-up, and the minimal number of weapons found in the possession of the detainees.  There was suspicion yesterday in government circles that the paramilitaries had been tipped off.  In any event, they did see them coming.


An assembly was to have been held today in order to restructure the Peace and Justice leadership, in the Montes Azules reception room.  Ever since Thursday, organization delegates had been accusing the government of “trying to control and push around” the assembly, as well as trying to “block” the restructuring of Development, Peace and Justice.  Yesterday’s operation effectively prevented the organization from reorganizing its executive board.


They Exist, They Don’t Exist. 


On the day of the police action in Miguel Alemán and Tzaquil to detain members of the PRI organization Development, Peace and Justice (or what is left of it), the state PRI leader published a text which he authored, entitled “Paramilitaries in Chiapas.”  In it, the tricolor leader, Aquiles Espinosa García, denied any relationship between his party and these kinds of groups.  “Ridiculous conjectures,” is how Espinosa García characterized the accusations which have been leveled against PRI affiliated organizations for the last six years.


Written at least one day prior to the supposedly surprise action by state police in Tila yesterday, Espinosa’s document warned about “the denuncias and accusations” which have been leveled against his political institute, owing to “political and economic interests.”  He also downplayed (using the same tone used by other PRIs in recent weeks) the very existence of armed civilian groups.


“Obviously a history which speaks of low intensity warfare, of displaced, of poor and dignified indigenous militants, is not going to sell by itself, without the presence of wicked paramilitaries, trained, financed and directed by the state,” the PRI leader said ironically, concerning the “invented or recreated history” that they exist.


He admitted, however, that “in some areas of the state there have been manifestations of violence.  There are civilians who are armed because they have had to do so in order to defend themselves in the absence of an authentic state of law.”


He noted:  “Others have armed themselves in order to turn to crime, like Los Aguilares, who have been labeled as paramilitaries when their actions have to do with a gang of assailants.”  On this point he is in agreement with the indigenous population of Chilón, which has been ravaged by that gang.  He merely omits mentioning the protection provided by former Governor Roberto Albores Guillén to Sebastián Aguilar and his henchmen, and the closeness which these assailants have maintained for years with the PRI governments’ security forces.


He believes that it is “completely false” to present alleged “shock groups of our party” as paramilitaries.  The state leader did not miss the contradictions of Governor Pablo Salazar Mendiguchía and other officials.  He recalled that, when Salazar Mendiguchía was a PRI senator and member of the Commission of Concordance and Peace (COCOPA) – and later, as an opposition candidate to the PRI itself – he denounced the existence of these groups.


“Two years after those angry denunciations,” Espinosa said, the current governor has stated that “the paramilitaries do not exist.”  The same thing which the PRIs have maintained.  This Friday, while Aquiles Espinosa’s text was being published, the Chiapas governor was launching a raid on “paramilitaries” in Tila.  Heading the list of the detainees was Sabelino Torres Martínez, former PRI councilor from that Chol municipality.


The Achilles Heel of the PRI


Ever since 1996, assassinations, lootings, rapes, the forced displacement of hundreds of zapatista and PRD families, have all been taking place in the municipalities of Tila, Sabanilla, Salto de Agua and Tumbalá.  In what came to be called the “Chol war” – during which close to 300 indigenous in the Northern region died, according to figures from the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (CDHFBC) – Development, Peace and Justice unleashed the most violent of the counterinsurgency campaigns which have been carried out since 1995 in the mountains of Chiapas.  With almost complete impunity up until now, that “war” claimed more victims than the Acteal massacre.


Officially considered to be a phenomena separate from the conflict with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), the Peace and Justice campaign was viewed as a religious confrontation between Catholics and Protestants, or as a chain of inter-community “vendettas.”  Emilio Chuayffet, a Secretary of Government during that period, called it “the priest’s war” (in reference to Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, whose “zapatista armies” were supposed to have been responsible for the violence).


Peace and Justice was defended tooth and nail by the governments of Ernesto Zedillo and the interim Chiapas governments of Julio César Ruiz Ferro and Roberto Albores Guillén.


The witnessing of General Mario Renán Castillo – who was the head of the military in the state at that time – of an official ceremony, in which funds were handed over to that organization during its heyday, impacted negatively on his political career.  At the time, however, the incident revealed the closeness and friendship between the armed forces and that civilian group.


Another historic defender of Peace and Justice members was Gustavo Hirales, a member of the government delegation during the San Andrés dialogues.  He always presented them as an “economic organization,” at the same time that the countryside of Tila and Sabanilla were being covered with blood.


The leader of Section 7 of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), Samuel Sánchez Sánchez – who was a PRI Deputy at that time (and, later, a fugitive prisoner of Salazar Mendiguchía’s government) – was one of the founders of Peace and Justice.  Seven years ago, Sanchez noted that the creation of the organization had to do with “the radicalization process in the orientation of zapatista and PRD sympathizers in the ejidos and communities” (see article by Rosa Rojas and Gaspar Morquecho in La Jornada, November 14, 1995).


In its report, “Neither Justice Nor Peace”, from 1966, the CDHFBC noted:  “The group was conceived as part of a counterinsurgency strategy, which was being openly headed by local politicians.”  It also pointed out the close ties between SOCAMA (Campesino Education Solidarity, of the SNTE) and the ranchers of Salto de Agua, Palenque, Playas de Catazajá and the “ranching elite of Tila” and Peace and Development, ever since its beginnings.


These landowners participated in the creation of a ‘cordon sanitaire,’ which protected the large ranches in the north of Chiapas and in southern Tabasco, and they put their white guards at the disposal of the program, which got under way in March of 1995.


The first denuncias of its actions came from the Emiliano Zapata ejido, in Tumbalá, where violence and the fabrication of false charges sent a large number of PRDs and EZLN support bases to jail.  It was just the beginning.


Camps for Refugees


A deluge of Peace and Justice hostilities followed, and they produced dozens of assassinations, violent dislocations in Masojá Shucjá (Tila) and Los Moyos (Sabanilla), the displacement of hundreds of families from various populations, the destruction and occupation of schools and community centers, the closing of Catholic churches, arms trafficking and widespread terror.


Since then, the main paramilitary headquarters of Peace and Justice has been located in El Limar, in the municipality of Tila, where a federal Army Mixed Operations Base, a police barracks, and even a Public Ministry, have all been established.  This Friday’s Chiapas police action did not extend to El Limar, or to other of the group’s bastions.  The group is currently divided into various camps, some of whom have turned PRD and even PAN, or, rather, have distanced themselves from those groups from the original organization which are still armed.


Peace and Justice reached its “military” high point in 1996, maintaining indigenous territories and government funds under its control until the end of 2000.  The paramilitaries dominated the roads form the ejidos of Miguel Alemán and Las Limas, in Tila, Los Moyos in Sabanilla, and the different municipal seats in the Northern region.


That “war” led to the founding of Nueva Revolución, San Marcos, San Rafael and other refugee camps, where thousands of indigenous, mostly EZLN support bases, are still waiting for justice (and the opportunity to return home).


The group of caciques and teachers who brought Peace and Justice to life has been the scourge of the region ever since the early eighties.  The same names are repeated in the numerous incidents of violence over the last 20 years: Wulfrano Torres, Marcos Albino Torres, Sabelino Torres, Samuel Sánchez, Diego Vázquez, Juan Martínez Pérez.  Successive municipal presidents in Tila, Sabanilla, Salto de Agua, Tumbalá, Yajalón and Palenque have all provided Peace and Justice with protection, and the group has always had some federal or state deputy at their disposal, as well as the ranchers’ associations.


In March of 1995, the municipal president of Tila, Jesús Celis Guillén, assassinated young Pascual Sánchez with an R-15.  The municipal crisis which led to the councilor’s downfall marked the beginning of the Chol conflict.  Is it a waste of time to point out that all, absolutely all, of the actors in that escalation (except, following 2000, in disguise) belonged, and do belong, to the PRI?

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