Military harassment – the danger of confrontation.
In line with the increase in military operations and human rights violations throughout the country, the Mexican army is intensifying the systematic strategy of low intensity warfare it operates within the Zapatista zone. In many regions, the army operates daily patrols, with incursions into isolated indigenous communities by military vehicles carrying soldiers bearing high-calibre weapons, combined with helicopter overflights. These incursions represent deliberate provocation. For example, during May 2008, Mexican troops entered communities in at least four regions of Chiapas. One of these was San Jeronimo Tulija, where a convoy of eleven military trucks was accompanied by 300 Mexican Federal agents and state Preventive Police, while helicopters flew overhead. The troops surrounded the area, entered houses and uttered threats.
Capise is a San Cristobal-based NGO which monitors military and paramilitary activity in Chiapas. It reports that within the 56 permanent large military camps in the indigenous zone, 90% of the military troops are now composed of elite Special Forces, supported by and supporting six paramilitary groups sponsored by Juan Sabines, governor of Chiapas, and together representing “a comprehensive project against indigenous self-determination”.
Paramilitary activity and the land
The government of Chiapas has re-activated and armed paramilitary groups, which masquerade as rural indigenous rights organisations. These groups invade communities, often accompanied by state police and helicopters, and attack women and children, burn houses, steal animals and building materials and destroy corn crops. They threaten to return to evict the community, often giving a date, and generally physically and psychologically harass and frighten the members of the community. Because these paramilitaries are also indigenous, the impression is given of inter-community conflicts.
In 1994, in many areas, the Zapatistas ‘recuperated’, and became collective owners of, the fields they once worked as slaves, and which they now work together for themselves. The government is now giving titles to these reclaimed lands to the paramilitary groups, with the direct aim of provoking conflict. Capise calculate that 917 families, living on 13,234 hectares of land, are at direct risk of dispossession and eviction.
The intention is clearly to deprive the movement of its base, roots and meaning by evicting its grassroots communities from their land. Along with the privatisation of oil, electricity, and what few natural resources remain, everything in Mexico is now up for sale. The only non-privatised land remaining is indigenous territory, and these are the lands which have the most natural resources, so are potentially the most ‘profitable’.
Use of social programmes for counterinsurgency
Another incentive offered to indigenous communities to encourage them to attack the Zapatistas, is federal and state government aid programmes. In many communities there are both Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas, so this is another way of promoting confrontations and clashes. Conflicts are also promoted over supplies of water and electricity, with Zapatistas being denied the use of these services. For example, a group of small communities in the Zinacantan area have been deprived of the use of their only spring since 2002, and have to bring in water with great difficulty from elsewhere.
The Zapatistas refuse all government aid, and they refuse at all cost to leave their lands. “We spilled our blood for the land, not for a government handout”.
The Plan Puebla Panama: privatisation and infrastructure.
The Plan Puebla Panama is a development programme in Southern Mexico and Central America focussing on infrastructure megaprojects. It is designed to attract private national and transnational investment to the area and is aimed at transforming a peasant economy into a neoliberal capitalist system.
In Chiapas one of the aims of the PPP is to wipe out the Zapatista movement; another is to privatise and exploit the rich natural resources of the area under the smokescreen of environmental protection. This plan includes the damming of rivers for hydro-electric schemes, and the construction of mega-highways. By paving the roads into the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve the government both opened the area to capitalist exploitation, and facilitated the quick movement of troops into Zapatista areas, increasing the military siege of this zone.
Much of central Chiapas is also threatened by mining concessions for a variety of precious metals. Cruzton is a pro-Zapatista community of 44 families, where, in April 2008, 500 Chiapas police kicked in doors and broke into houses, detaining and taking away six men. This police harassment has continued ever since and the community have not been allowed, until they took them back recently, to farm their corn and bean fields; the aim appears to be to enable gold exploration in the area by Canadian mining companies.
The other side of ecotourism
One of the main areas of conflict between paramilitary groups and Zapatista base communities has been in the area of the planned ‘tourist corridor’ known as ‘the Palenque-Agua Azul integrally planned centre’. This development involves the construction of the San Cristobal-Palenque highway, a new airport at Palenque, and a vast ‘eco-archaeological’ tourist resort with rooms for over 7000 tourists, commercial zones, a golf course and a ‘nature theme park’. This theme park lies largely within EZLN recuperated territory, where the Zapatistas are doing their best to protect the natural environment. Communities in the area, such as Bolon Ajaw, are under continual attack from paramilitary groups, and civil society organisations have urged tourists to boycott visits to the Agua Azul waterfalls until these attacks stop. (see ‘protest at airports’ later)
The ‘war on drugs’
It is well-known that the Zapatistas do not allow the cultivation, use or possession of drugs or alcohol in their territory. However, the government is taking advantage of the current situation in Mexico to send the army into Zapatista territory on the pretext of looking for drugs, to harass, intimidate and provoke. In June, a convoy of 200 Mexican army troops in tanks and trucks, accompanied by local and state police, attempted to enter the Caracol of La Garrucha, and two neighbouring communities, saying they were ‘looking for drugs’. In each community the residents came out and turned them away, and eventually they left, ‘promising’ to return.
These acts of severe provocation also form part of a government campaign to take advantage of the current national resentment against narco-trafficking and organised crime to reduce public support for the Zapatistas by linking the movement to these activities, and are one example of the repressive use of the war on drugs by Mexico’s security forces.
Similarities to Colombia : the threat from the United States
This year the United States government, under the Merida Initiative (better known as Plan Mexico), authorised $1.6 billion for funding the Mexican military over the next four years, to ‘fight drug traffic, combat terrorism and enforce US security concerns’. This means the Mexican military are now driven by the needs of the US government. In Colombia, equipment and training for fighting drugs have long been used to suppress social activists and to attack insurgent groups. The Colombian government and army have very close ties with paramilitary groups, supplying them with arms and training funded by the US. Now in Mexico they are trying to include the EZLN in this category of ‘bad people’ – terrorists and drug-traffickers.
It seems the Mexican government have initiated a media campaign to deceive and confuse public opinion. With the exception of La Jornada, there has been virtual silence in the Mexican media and civil society concerning the militarisation and constant attacks on Zapatista communities. It is this isolation which now makes the movement so vulnerable.
Active non-violence, vulnerability and isolation
The aim of the creation of paramilitary groups, the land evictions and the social programmes is to destroy Zapatista autonomy by creating an artificial social conflict, so that the government forces can come in to ‘restore peace’. So far, the movement has had twelve days of Fire, and nearly fifteen years of the Word. While the Zapatistas have never given up their arms, they have not responded to attacks with violence, they have respected the ceasefire treaty, and they have taken preventive measures, involving surveillance and unarmed resistance. As part of their belief in a world where all worlds fit, they have constantly sought the peaceful way, and this is one aspect of the inspiration so many people have gained from them. They are now, however, more vulnerable than they have ever been, which is why we are now issuing this call for support.
The Other Campaign
In 2005 the Zapatistas released the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, in which they explained their view of the world and how they now intended to reach out to the Other, to join with, listen to and learn from all the persecuted groups ‘from below and to the left’ who did not belong to any political party, and to see how all could work together to find ‘another way of doing politics’. This truly radical proposal met, from the beginning, with vicious repression, directed at all groups who had ‘adhered’ to the Other Campaign. Since President Calderon took power in 2006 this repression has intensified, now more than ever.
The original plan was for Zapatistas to travel throughout Mexico to meet and listen to the stories of ‘the simple and humble people who struggle’. This plan had to be put on hold following the appalling acts of repression perpetrated in Atenco in May 2006. Starting again in October 2006, it had to be suspended once more in September 2007, as a result of the evictions, attacks, invasions, persecutions and threats suffered by the Zapatista communities, which Capise and others believe represents the government’s response to the organisation of the Other Campaign throughout Mexico.
In December 2007, the EZLN announced a period of silence and withdrawal from outside events, because “those of us who have made war know how to recognize the paths by which it is prepared and brought near. The signs of war on the horizon are clear. War, like fear, also has a smell. And now we are starting to breathe its foul stench in our lands."
The next steps: dignity and rage
In September 2008, the EZLN broke this silence, calling for a renewal of the campaign for liberty and justice for Atenco, in particular for the political prisoners who had just received truly vicious sentences. Then they announced the ‘first global festival of dignity and rage: another world, another path, below and to the left’, to be held to mark their 25th anniversary, and that of fifteen years of the ‘war against oblivion’, during which time “it has been our goal to be a bridge on which the many rebellions of the world can walk back and forth”.
“Here below, we are left with nothing. Except rage. And dignity...We must listen to each other then, learn to know each other... So that our dignity takes root again and births another world”.
A lesson for humanity
The Zapatista movement, a unique example of autonomy and principled resistance, of egalitarian collective decision-making, of respect for difference, has been an inspiration to people throughout the world who struggle for democracy, liberty and justice. In a greedy and competitive world, obsessed with war, consumption and the plundering and devastation of the planet, the Zapatistas offer a rare light of hope, that there is another way, it doesn’t have to be like this.
It is essential that we join together to find ways to stop this campaign to destroy the Zapatista communities. Experienced observers are stressing that the need for action now is urgent, that we cannot let the movement be destroyed. “And we have to hurry, because time is running out”.
On 22 August groups involved in the UK Zapatista Solidarity Network organised protests at Edinburgh and Bournemouth airports in solidarity with the Zapatista communities - we want to be able to organise actions on a much wider scale, could you and your group/friends discuss if you could participate in such actions in future ? If interested contact us via Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group
Send messages of protest to:
THE PRESIDENT OF MEXICO Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa
Presidente de la República
Residencia Oficial de los Pinos Casa Miguel Alemán
Col. San Miguel Chapultepec, C.P. 11850, DISTRITO
FEDERAL, México ( Fax: +52 (55) 52772376)
THE GOVERNOR OF CHIAPAS Lic. Juan José Sabines Guerrero
Gobernador Constitucional del Estado de Chiapas
Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Chiapas
Av. Central y Primera Oriente, Colonia Centro, C.P. 29009
Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, México
firstname.lastname@example.org (Fax: +52 961 6188088)
THE MEXICAN AMBASSADOR IN THE UK Juan José Bremer de Martino
Mexican Embassy 16 St. George Street London W1S 1FD
Tel: 020 7499 8586 http://www.sre.gob.mx/reinounido/and
For more information:
UK Zapatista Solidarity Network. http://ukzapatistas.wordpress.com
Edinburgh-Chiapas Solidarity Group. www.edinchiapas.org.uk