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<nettime> Politico-military "pacification" in Chiapas

[From Le Monde diplomatique <>, 
 info at <>]


                    A CENTRAL AMERICAN CLASSIC

             Politico-military "pacification" in Chiapas

(translated from )

     At first glance, it would be both unjust and almost
     irrelevent to blame the Mexican authorities for the murder
     of 45 inhabitants of the Chiapas village Acteal on 22
     December 1997. As soon as the news broke out, President
     Ernesto Zedillo described the massacre as "cruel, absurd and
     unacceptable". On 3 January 1998 Minister of Interior Emilio
     Chuayffet tendered his resignation, followed on 7 January by
     Julio Cesar Ruiz Ferro, Governor of the State of Chiapas. As
     early as 9 January, 46 people were arrested and charged.
     Among them were the priista (1) mayor of Chenalho, Jacinto
     Arias Cruz (accused of providing the murderers with vehicles
     and weapons), and the director of public security of the
     State of Chiapas. After a swift investigation, 113 people
     were jailed.

     Control of the electorate in the federation's states,
     especially in rural areas, has long been in the hands of
     local oligarchies and casiques. Given the current discourse
     of the central government in support of a more democratic
     political system (witness the victory of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas
     of the Democratic Revolution Party as mayor of Mexico), it
     is hardly surprising to see local oligarchies distancing
     themselves from control from the centre, which they fear
     intends to change the rules of the game that have always
     assured them domination and impunity.

     But there is more to be said. On 26 December 1997 Jorge
     Madrazo, Attorney General of the Republic, went to the scene
     of the crime, expressed his solidarity with the victims and
     offered his explanation of the events. "Since the 1930s acts
     of great violence have been witnessed in the commune of
     Chenalho and other communes of Chiapas and this situation
     has unfortunately never disappeared. These conflicts can be
     labelled as inter-communal in the context of constant
     disputes between local political and economic powers. They
     also stem from the existence of religious diversity and,
     more recently, ideological divisions (2)".

     This is an overly simplistic explanation. Just between
     1982-88, under the governorship of General Castellanos,
     human rights organisations recorded 153 political
     assassinations in Chiapas (inter-communal?), 692 abusive
     incarcerations (disputes?), 503 sequestrations accompanied
     by torture (religious diversity?), 407 expulsions of
     families from their communities, 54 expulsions from
     villages, 12 rapes and 29 attacks against protest movements.

     In 1988 and 1990, the state's penal code was revised,
     penalising various offences said to be "political",
     including the occupation of public roads and public
     buildings and "tumultuous" gatherings, all of which are
     traditional means of expression of peasant populations (3).
     This series of violations of basic rights was not unrelated
     to the January 1994 uprising and was a far cry from the
     usual "local disputes". On 23 January, in Kanasin (Yucatan),
     President Zedillo pledged not to use force to resolve the
     Chiapas conflict. This was all very well. But at the same
     time, the defence minister was sending several military
     detachments to the area to "re-establish a climate of
     security and avoid confrontations between rival groups".

     This is a return to a strategy developed in the 1980s in
     Central America by, among others, the Christian Democrats in
     Salvador: a democratic government "squeezed" between two
     extremes - of the far left and the far right - which did not
     differentiate between an armed social movement (the Frente
     Farabundo Marti de Liberacion Nacional - FMLN) and the death
     squads. And, on the pretext of fighting the death squads, it
     attacked the FMLN. It was no secret that a proliferation of
     paramilitary groups - Peace and Justice, the Chinchulines,
     the Red Mask, the Throat Cutters, the Alliance San Bartolome
     de los llanos, the Mixed Operations Brigades, the Indigenous
     Anti-Zapatista Revolutionary Movement, the Tomas Muntzer
     Community, etc. - were operating in Chiapas, sowing terror
     and  causing massive population displacements, with the
     passive - if not active - complicity of the army and the

     An investigation revealed that former military and police
     personel had trained Red Mask, the group held responsible
     for the Acteal massacre. The arrest on 2 April of General
     Julio Cesar Santiago Diaz (until then in hiding) confirmed
     the involvement of the army at its highest level: the
     general commanded a detachment of 40 troops posted nearby,
     who could have prevented the tragedy, but failed to do so.
     This shows the strategy (and the real responsibility) of the
     authorities: the "militarisation" of a large portion of the
     territory and an appeal, albeit more discreet, to the
     paramilitary (by nature "uncontrollable") to embark on a
     sweeping repression of the whole social movement.

     The tragedy of Acteal is only one unfortunate "bungle" which
     came to public attention  both because of its extent and,
     consequently, the reactions it produced - not only
     internationally. Negotiations carried out between the
     Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the
     government had allowed the signing in February 1996 of the
     San Andres Accords. Based on these accords, the Commission
     for Reconciliation and Peace (Cocopa), comprising delegates
     of all parties represented in parliament, presented a bill
     integrating their content into state legislation, which
     would mean a reform of the constitution.

     The minister of the interior, Francisco Labastida Ochoa said
     on 1 March 1998: "If the government signed the San Andres
     Accords, it was obviously to comply with them. The president
     of the republic has on numerous occasions stated that the
     government will stand by its commitment: this is not
     negotiable. Whoever says otherwise would be telling a lie.
     The Cocopa has drawn up a proposal of constitutional reform.
     This project has never been approved by the government. We
     have never committed ourselves in this area. Nothing has
     been signed". In fact, the authorities, alleging that
     indigenous autonomy and its effects would constitute an
     encroachment upon national sovereignty and the unity of
     Mexico, have reneged on their commitments.

     A government bill on constitutional reform presented on 15
     March 1998 by President Zedillo was rejected by the
     Zapatistas and by the main opposition party, the Democratic
     Revolution Party (PDR). The EZLN refuses to renew
     negotiations but the Zapatista social bases are unilaterally
     implementing the Accords by forming 38 autonomous
     municipios. More than the EZLN (which has not fired a single
     shot since January 1994), it is this process of pacific
     social organisation led by the indigenous people that the
     authorities intend to crush. As in Central America, where
     "the guerrilla moves amongst the people as fish in water",
     the objective is to take the water away from the fish. A
     large portion of the rural population of Chiapas now live in
     a state of military occupation. And the paramilitary groups
     have instituted a reign of terror. All the authorities need
     do is to restore the discretion necessary to any campaign
     aimed at regaining control. Since 1996, 4,435 foreigners
     have accessed the conflict zones, most of them members of
     some 200 non-governmental organisations (4).

     What we see here is, more or less, and without any formal
     link, a process successfully applied in Guatemala in the
     early 1990s: the presence of international observers with
     two major missions: to dissuade, by their presence,
     violations of human rights, and to spread information to the
     outside world. In the context of an official campaign
     against foreigners who are being accused of  "manipulating
     the indigenous", some fifteen people were "shown out" of the
     country between 13 and 16 April. A 67 year-old Frenchman,
     Michel Chanteau, priest of Chenalhe for the past 32 years,
     was also expelled, accused of  "pro-Zapatista activism"
     (three other members of the clergy had been similarly

     Repression, isolation and silence: these are the ingredients
     which accompanied the "pacification" campaigns applied in
     Central America not so long ago.

     (1) Member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party which
       has held power for over 60 years.
     (2) Le Mexique aujourd'hui, Information service of the Mexican
       embassy, Paris, no. 68-69, December 1997-January 1998.
     (3) "Rapport Mexique", Federation internationale des ligues
       des  droits de l'homme (FIDH), no 251, February 1998.
     (4) El Pais, February 13 1998.

                                                MAURICE LEMOINE.



    See also :

     * The fourth world war has begun,
        by sub-commandante Marcos, août 1997.

                                On the Web

     * EZLN. -

     * FZLN. -

     * Sipaz. -

     * Tendance floue. -

     * Zapatistas in Cyberspace. -

Le Monde diplomatique. -
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