Mexican State Plays Ethnic Divide-and-Rule in the Chiapas Rainforest

by Bill Weinberg, WW4 REPORT

When Mexico’s President Vicente Fox was elected six years ago, he pledged he would end the long-simmering Chiapas revolt “in fifteen minutes.” Now, as his successor Felipe Calderon prepares to take office, new social crises are emerging all over the country—from the challenge to Calderon’s election as fraudulent by the left opposition, to the dilemma of Oaxaca, where an occupation of the state capital by federal police has failed to quell a civil rebellion. And Chiapas remains as divided as it was in 2000, with much of the mountains and jungles under the real control of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), the indigenous Maya rebels whose brief 1994 armed uprising was a catalyst to the international anti-globalization movement.

The Zapatistas’ charismatic Subcommander Marcos is now on a national tour of the country in a bid to unite the various social struggles around a radical left program. But on Nov. 13, with Marcos far away on the other side of the country in Zacatecas, a new and horrific outbreak of violence was reported from the Chiapas lowland rainforest known as the Lacandon Selva which is the rebels’ primary stronghold.

At first it seemed to be the latest in a long series of paramilitary attacks against the Zapatistas. These attacks were at their worst in the late ’90s, and have abated somewhat since the 2000 elections broke up the entrenched machine of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had ruled Mexico for 70 years. Despite these lawless attacks on their supporters in the Selva and Highlands of Chiapas, the EZLN have refrained from taking up arms again ever since the Jan. 12, 1994 ceasefire that paved the way for a dialogue with the government. The government continues to stall on the Zapatistas’ minimum demand for laying down arms—constitutional changes instating local territorial autonomy for Mexico’s indigenous peoples. But the Zapatistas’ refusal to return to armed struggle despite both intransigence and provocation has allowed the rebels to maintain the moral high ground in the eyes of Mexican and international civil society. Therefore, hardliners in the government, who would like to crush the movement with armed force, have been effectively restrained. The rebels’ zones of control are tolerated, and provide a working model of the kind of indigenous self-government that their proposed constitutional changes would instate nationwide.

But this claim to the moral high ground, which has proved the Zapatistas’ most potent weapon, now faces a potential threat. In the aftermath of the Nov. 13 violence, it has become clear that it had a strong dimension of ethnic rivalry between Maya groups in the Selva which have been pitted against each other by an adroit government strategy. Since then, reports have mounted that up to 300 members of the Hach Winik people—popularly known as the Lacandon Maya—have fled their jungle settlements, saying they fear Zapatista reprisals.

Until now, the approximately 20,000 displaced persons in Chiapas have all been Zapatista supporters forced from their homes by government-backed paramilitaries. For the first time, allegations are being raised of indigenous Maya people fleeing feared Zapatista attack. The Zapatistas have been implicated in no attacks on the Lacandons or any other civilians, and these fears appear to be manipulated, the result of a propaganda campaign. But 300 indigenous persons displaced from their homes is not a matter to be dismissed. Failure to confront this situation could impact the direction of all Mexico, as the country confronts multiple converging crises, and the EZLN (as their name implies) still make a claim to the national stage.

Attack on Viejo Velasco

The attack came at dawn, at the settlement of Viejo Velasco, situated just within the borders of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, the UN-recognized protected zone that sequesters the Selva’s last shrinking remnants of intact ancient rainforest, in the valley of the Rio Usumacinta that forms the Guatemalan border. Initial reports claimed 14 dead; the number has since been estimated at four, with three others still missing. At least one rape was reported as well.

The Chiapas state government said in a news release quoted in an Associated Press account that “a group of Lacandon (Indians) entered the land at Viejo Velasco with the aim of evicting a group of squatters, who resisted, and they clashed with fists, stones and some firearms.”

A communique from the NGO Maderas del Pueblo, which supports local development initiatives by pro-Zapatista communities in the rainforest, read: “At dawn on Nov. 13, in the northeast portion of the so-called Zona Lacandona (within the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve) an armed aggression was carried out, perpetrated by tens of colonists [subcomuneros] from Nueva Palestina and Frontera Corozal—members of the so-called ‘Lacandon Community’—against the Tzeltal and Chol families at the settlement Viejo Velasco Suarez.”

The reference to the “so-called ‘Lacandon Community'” seems an implicit attempt to deny that the Lacandon Maya are truly indigenous. In fact, how long the Hach Winik have inhabited the Chiapas rainforest is contested by anthropologists, but they were certainly there for centuries before the Highland Maya groups began to arrive over the past three generations—mostly Tzeltals and Chols, with smaller numbers of Tzotzils and Tojolabals. It is these more recent settlers, pushed from their ancestral territories in the Highlands by the Chiapas cattle lords, who today make up the Zapatista support base.

Additionally, it is highly uncertain that the attackers were in fact Hach Winik. Most reports have indicated that the attackers, like the victims, were Tzeltals and Chols—but from communities whose lands, like those of the Hach Winik, have been legally titled by the government, and have therefore perceived the rebel Zapatistas as a threat. The principal Hach Winik settlements are Lacanja Chansayab and Naha. Nueva Palestina and Frontera Corozal are much more recent settlements, established in the 1970s by Highland Maya colonists. They can be considered part of the “Lacandon Community” only in the sense that their lands were titled in the same process that demarcated and legalized the Hach Winik lands.

A Nov. 17 account from the online Narco News service likewise reported that the attackers came from Nueva Palestina, and also pointed to likely government complicity in the assault: “The first wave, of 40 attackers, came dressed as civilians armed with machete swords and sticks, shouting insults at the families of Viejo Velasco. The paramilitary nature of the attackers is underscored by the fact that they were followed by a larger second wave of two hundred attackers: many dressed in official police uniforms, others in black uniforms, they carried firearms exclusively allowed the Armed Forces and police agencies (semi-automatic M-16 and R-15 weapons, .22 caliber rifles plus shotguns). The attackers came from the nearby community of Nueva Palestina, at around 6 a.m. on Monday. Immediately after the initial attack, an unidentified helicopter flew overhead, circling the community. It was not until 10 a.m. that other helicopters, one from the [presumably, state] Attorney General’s office and three from the state police, landed in the community.”

A Nov. 14 bulletin from the Fray Bartoleme de Las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba), the respected Chiapas rights watchdog founded by the local Catholic diocese, also blamed the attack on presumed comuneros from Palestina, and stated that the Viejo Velasco residents returned fire. It said the dead were from both sides, and that there was an “undetermined number” of wounded.

Frayba called the incident a “premeditated attack” which may signal a resurgence of army-backed paramilitary violence as a “counterinsurgency strategy against the EZLN.” The bulletin stated that Viejo Velasco residents have named the group behind the attack as the deceptively-dubbed Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (OPDDIC), led by Pedro Chulin Jimenez, a former PRI state deputy who was also named as leader of the paramilitary Indigenous Revolutionary Anti-Zapatista Movement (MIRA), a group which attacked Zapatista communities in the region in the late ’90s.

But accounts persisted of Lacandon involvement in the attack on Viejo Velasco. The Mexico City daily El Universal reported Nov. 16 that some 400 state police agents have been dispatched to the Lacandon Selva. Agents of the State Fiscalia General (FGE) landed in two helicopters at the Hach Winik village of Lacanja Chansayab, where they reportedly confirmed that three residents of Viejo Velasco were being held there as “hostages.” However, Amnesty International’s alert on the attack, issued Nov. 18, said the hostages were being held in Nueva Palestina—not Lacanja Chansayab. Frayba also stated that the hostages were likely being held at Nueva Palestina.

El Universal also reported Nov. 16 claims by Chiapas state prosecutor Mariano Herran Salvatti that the attack was retaliation for the kidnapping of five Lacandon men by the campesino organization Xinich (Chol Maya for “ants”), which was said to have a base of support in Viejo Velasco. The five men were later liberated.

The Chiapas newspaper EsteSur of Nov. 17 cited a public letter signed by several organizations, including the Frayba Human Rights Center and Xinich, which quoted an anonymous telephone message apparently left by a survivor of the Viejo Velasco attack. The message claimed that Lacandons from Nuevo Palestina had donned military fatigues and joined the assault on the community. But there are few Hach Winik in Palestina, and it is unclear how the men would have been recognized as Lacandons if they were in military gear rather than group’s traditional white tunics.

Xinich also issued a statement denying involvement in the incident at all, and asserting that the targeted residents at Viejo Velasco were followers of the EZLN. Xinich is generally sympathetic to the EZLN, but is a civil organization and not integrated into the Zapatistas’ rebel government or militia.

“We do not clarify this to appear cowardly or afraid of the issue, but so that the truth will be known,” said the Xinich statement, charging that for state and federal authorities “it is easier to cast the blame on the first fool they can find, than to recognize their own incapacity to govern and find solutions to the social problems at the root [of the violence].”

They stated that “every time [the authorities] do not want to confront a large organization called the EZLN, they prefer to attack a small organization like Xinich. To our understanding, señor governor, señor prosecutor, señor secretary of Agrarian Reform, this is not dignified or honest. Nor is it courageous… Our dignified and honest response to these accusations…is that we, as an organization, have no responsibility in the bloody acts at Viejo Velasco, neither as aggressors nor as direct victims. The attacked are our indigenous brothers, but, as an organization, they are support bases of the EZLN, and the aggressors, it is clear, were from Palestina or the Lacandon Community.”

In a Nov. 21 communique, the EZLN General Command, in turn, likewise denied involvement in the incident, refuting claims that the victims were Zapatistas. “The indigenous who were confronted, the dead and the wounded, ARE NOT MEMBERS OF THE EZLN SUPPORT BASE, NOR DO THEY BELONG TO ANY OF THE ZAPATISTA CIVIL OR MLITARY STRUCTURES. When members of the EZLN are attacked, the EZLN says so clearly, and presents the evidence as to the causes of the aggression and who is responsible.” (Capitals in original.)

More attacks threatened

Ten days after the attack the OPDDIC issued a letter demanding the EZLN dismantle its system of rebel government in the Lacandon Selva, with a barely-veiled threat of new confrontations if this fails to happen. In a letter addressed to Subcommander Marcos, President Fox and Chiapas Gov. Pablo Salazar, OPDDIC accused the Zapatista Good Government Juntas of provoking “grave social destabilization” in the municipalities of Altamirano, Ocosingo, Chilon, Sitala and Tumbala. These “official” municipalities overlap with the Zapatista “autonomous municipalities” overseen by the Good Government Juntas based in Morelia (in the “official” municipality of Altamirano) and La Garrucha (“officially” in Ocosingo). The letter accused the Zapatista Juntas of “protecting delinquent groups.”

The letter denied that OPDICC is a paramilitary group, but stated: “We demand the immediate dis-occupation of the lands that have been occupied by the EZLN support bases, located in the municipalities of Altamirano, Ocosingo, Chilon, Tumbala and Sitala; if this is not done, the ejiditarios [collective farmers] will take the necessary measures to re-occupy their lands to which they have legal right.”

Zapatista reprisals?

By Nov. 20, reports were appearing in the Mexican national press that up to 300 Lacandons had fled their communities for fear of Zapatista retaliation for the Viejo Velasco attack. The national daily Milenio quoted Jorge Vecellio, director of the Na Bolom Cultural Association, a group based in the Highland city of San Cristobal de Las Casas which advocates for the land rights and cultural survival of the Hach Winik. Vecellio said some 50 Lacandons had arrived at Na Bolom since the Viejo Velasco attack, fearing for their lives if they stayed in the jungle.

“You don’t know if there are more displaced or if in the following hours they will continue arriving in search of refuge,” Vecellio said. “What worries us is that at the moment we don’t have clothes or shelter [for the displaced]; we also need medicine for colds and diarrhea.”

Milenio also quoted two Lacandon elders who had taken refuge at Na Bolom, Kayum Yuk Naash and Mariano Lagum Chambor, who said that the Hach Winik communities of Lacanja Chansayab, Naha, Metzabok, San Javier and Barrio Betel were all being abandoned. “The people are in panic, and for this reason they are fleeing,” they said. In addition to seeking refuge in San Cristobal, others had headed for Villahermosa and Tenosique, across the state line in Tabasco to the north.

Milenio reported that state police were seeking more Lacandons in churches, shelters and economical guest-houses where they presumably could have taken refuge. The representative of UNICEF in Mexico, Olivier Degreef, also spoke with the Lacandons sheltering at Na Bolom, to determine the need for international aid for the displaced children.

Roots of the Conflict

The government’s divide-and-rule strategy—pitting the Lacandon Maya against the Highland Maya colonists in the rainforest who support the Zapatistas—is finally, it seems, bearing grim fruit. The Viejo Velasco attack does bear a clear resemblance to the paramilitary violence which has long been endemic in the Chiapas Highlands and in Las Cañadas, the canyonlands leading down to the Selva. But the involvement—real or perceived—of the Hach Winik is a significant difference. Agrarian conflict in the Highlands is largely between small peasant communities and the big ranchers of the oligarchy or the caciques (regional bosses) that control indigenous lands through patronage and terror. In the Selva, the conflict is between indigenous groups who have overlapping land titles due to the government’s policy of settling landless peasants from the Highlands in the rainforest—then granting title to their new lands to the Lacandons when the colonists proved dangerously uncontrollable.

Colonization of the Selva by Highland campesinos displaced from their traditional lands by the cattle barons began spontaneously in the 1950s. It was then embraced officially by the Mexican government in the ’60s and ’70s as a sort of political safety valve, relieving social and land pressures in the Highlands. As Highland campesinos broke from the PRI-controlled agrarian reform bureaucracy, formed their own independent organizations and started to invade and occupy the vacant lands of the cattle oligarchy, the government encouraged this surplus population to instead relocate into the jungle, then considered an expendable wasteland.

But these relocated campesinos, left to their own devices on this wild frontier, formed their own de facto local governments, based on the same independent peasant organizations whose power the relocation policy had been a strategy to undercut. By the early ’80s, there were rumors that the colonists in the Selva were forming a guerilla army.

Simultaneously, there was an outcry from international ecologists as Mexico’s last strip of rainforest disappeared under the assault of the machetes and chainsaws of thousands of peasant colonists. And anthropologists raised urgent concerns that the Hach Winik, numbering only some 500, were being overwhelmed.

In 1971, the Mexican government declared a 640,000-hectare reserve for the Lacandon Maya. In 1975 it was expanded to 662,000 hectares to include the two northern primary Lacandon communities, Naha and Metzabok. The Lacandons needed large areas of rainforest for their traditional way of life-but the government simultaneously signed timber deals with their communities. The Lacandons got a cut, and started buying pick-up trucks and (eventually) diesel generators; government enterprises started taking out the reserve’s last mahogany and cedar stands.

With perhaps 500 Lacandons surrounded by 200,000 Highland Maya settlers, especially to the north and west, this was a recipe for conflict. Thousands of settlers had been rendered squatters on Lacandon Maya land by the stroke of a pen. Protests and negotiations ensued, in which the government agreed to recognize some of their land rights. Ultimately, 15,000 Tzeltals and 10,000 Chols were recognized as co-owners of the reserve. In exchange, however, they were made to concentrate in central communities, and abandon the scattered plots they had carved out of the forest. Some of these new settlements had names like Nueva Palestina and Monte Libano, reflecting the Biblical and prophetic significance the Maya settlers attached to their new frontier homeland. Others had names as coldly bureaucratic as the Luis Echeverria New Population Center (named for the then-president of Mexico). And the vast majority of the settlers in the area were simply disenfranchised, their lands untitled.

In 1978, the federal government declared the Montes Azules reserve, a 331,200-hectare protected area overlapping with both the Lacandon reserve and the settlement area—further complicating the already-confused land tenure situation. Other reserves were later added, protecting the Classical Maya archeological sites of the Selva, most significantly Yaxchilan and Bonampak.

On New Years Day 1994, the rumors of a rebel peasant army in the jungle were dramatically verified as the EZLN marched out of the Selva and briefly seized San Cristobal de Las Casas and three other towns in the Highlands. After 12 days of war, the rebels agreed to a peace dialogue, which was brokered by Don Samuel Ruiz, the bishop of San Cristobal. Years of intermittent and halting dialogue gave birth in 1996 to the San Andres Accords, a package of constitutional reforms calling for autonomous self-government for Mexico’s indigenous peoples. But the government has refused to instate the Accords in their original form, and the Zapatistas have refused to accept revisions which gutted provisions for real territorial control. The stalemate continued.

Barred by the law which established the dialogue from actually attacking the Zapatistas, the government has instead ringed their territory with troops under such pretexts as halting the flow of drug smugglers and illegal migrants through the Selva from Guatemala. It has also paved the Frontier Highway that circles the jungle parallel to the international border, and brought electricity to the “legal” jungle settlements like Nueva Palestina.

The untitled settlements largely came under the control of the EZLN and sympathetic groups like Xinich. The Zapatista “autonomous municipalities” and the “Good Government Juntas” which coordinate them on a regional level formed a working model of indigenous autonomy.

In 1998, a federal initiative called upon Mexico’s thirty-two states to add indigenous autonomy clauses to their constitutions. These measures largely called for carving new municipalities out of indigenous-majority remote areas, and were seen by the Zapatistas and their supporters as a means to undercut the San Andres Accords. Then-Chiapas Gov. Albores GuillĂ©n responded with a remunicipalization plan which bore a superficial resemblance to what the Zapatistas themselves were calling for-but aimed precisely at undercutting the actually existing “autonomous municipalities.” Ocosingo, the state’s biggest municipio, and among the most conflictive, would be carved up into thirteen new municipalities designed to maximize PRI strength. Eleven of the proposed new jurisdictions overlapped with already-declared autonomous municipalities. Nueva Palestina would become one of the new municipal seats, its territory encompassing much the Zapatista autonomous municipality of Ricardo Flores Magon.

In 2002, Conservation International (CI), which helps map and set policy for Montes Azules, was petitioning for the expulsion of the untitled communities from the biosphere reserve. By CI’s count, there are 140 settler communities in the Montes Azules reserve, and 225 within the Lacandon Selva’s protected areas. Of these, 32 are “undocumented”-that is, never had their lands officially titled. Mexico’s federal Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat (SEMARNAT), citing the ongoing destruction of the forest by slash-and-burn agriculture, announced that these 32 untitled communities will have to relocate from the reserve-preferably voluntarily, to be compensated with new lands elsewhere in Chiapas. In December 2002, a detachment of Federal Preventative Police backed up by a helicopter carried out a “voluntary eviction” of one Chol community from the reserve, and federal authorities were said to be negotiating with the evicted families for compensation with new lands.

But the jungle settlers themselves, and the EZLN leadership, charged that the eviction policy masks both a strategy of counterinsurgency and an agenda of corporate exploitation of the rainforest’s oil, timber, hydro-electric and even genetic resources, as well as “eco-tourism” projects—long-standing plans which had all been put on hold with the Zapatista uprising. The Zapatistas and most of the threatened settler communities pledged to resist expulsion. Many developed their own ecological program, abandoning slash-and-burn agriculture in favor of sustainable methods they say protect the forest.

Ethnic Divide-And-Conquer

The Lacandon Maya, a small group known in their own tongue as the Hach Winik, or “Real People,” were living at three small settlements in the Selva for at least centuries before the rainforest was opened to settlement by the Tzeltal, Chol, Tzotzil and Tojolabal Maya groups from the Highalnds. They were never converted to Christianity and were only officially “contacted” in the 1940s. With their long hair, white cotton robes, and “pristine” shamanic hunter-gatherer culture, their preservation became a special cause of ecologists and anthropologists as the Selva started to disappear under the settlement policy of the 1960s and early ’70s.

But as is often the case, the titling of Lacandon lands coincided with a growing assault on their culture. The Lacandon communities are in the low depression of the Rio Usumacinta-what was the most remote part of the forest until Frontier Highway was cut parallel to the river to accommodate oil exploration by the state monopoly Pemex in the 1970s. Many Lacandons from Lacanjá subsequently got jobs as workers at the Pemex test wells. By the end of the 1970s, Lacanjá had been mostly converted to Seventh Day Adventism.

Seeing the colonists who have overwhelmed their lands as a threat, the Lacandons have maintained no contact with the Zapatistas, and the expulsion threat has exacerbated tensions with the settler communities. The settlers call the Lacandons the “Caribes,” and make much of the theory that they were not originally indigenous to the rainforest, but came from Campeche on the Yucatan’s Caribbean coast. Chiapas-based Belgian historian Jan de Vos argues that the original “Lacandons” encountered by the Spanish in the sixteenth century (so named for their island ceremonial center Lacan Tun in Laguna Miramar) were actually a Chol-related group who were completely exterminated in war and deportation. The contemporary Lacandons speak a Yucatecan-related tongue, and are said to have migrated into the rainforest from the Yucatan Peninsula to the north in the eighteenth century.

Read a 2002 statement from Autonomous Municipality Ricardo Flores Magon, protesting the expulsion threat: “No one took us into account, nor did they ask us, in 1972, when the President of the Republic decided to turn our lands over to a handful of Caribe families…”

NGOs working with the threatened communities have also embraced rhetoric alarmingly hostile to the Hach Winik. A Maderas del Pueblo pamphlet entitled “Brief History of the So-Called ‘Lacandon Community'” reads: “The real Lacandons were rebels and warriors who resisted the armed attacks of the Spanish conquistadors, defending their territory and their ceremonial center Lacantun. 1700: The first Caribe Indians arrive in the Lacandon Selva, they come from Campeche and are directly related to the Mayas of the Yucatan Peninsula…. Because the Caribes are few and do not attack the Spanish, they say the Caribes ‘are agreeable and peaceful people.'”

The Hach Winik actually consider themselves to be the direct descendants of the so-called “Classic Maya” whose city-states ruled the rainforest from roughly 300 to 900 CE. The ruins of the Classic Maya cities of Yaxchilan, Bonampak and Palenque are still sacred to the Lacandons, who gather at them in annual pilgrimages. And there are some anthropologists who adhere to the Lacandons’ own version of their history.

OnĂ©simo Hidalgo of the Economic and Political Investigative Center for Community Action (CIEPAC), which works with the threatened jungle communities, believes that the government policy which ostensibly favors the Lacandons is not based on real respect for the group. “For the government, the Lacandons are not human beings,” he says. “They are archeological relics they want to preserve in a museum.”

Jorge Santiago, director of Social-Economic Development of the Indigenous Mexicans (DESMI), which works with Highland Maya communities, believes that the government is using the Lacandons in a strategy which is actually inimical to their true interests: “The ecological project of the Selva communities is in favor of the Lacandons too. The project of the state is against the interests of the Lacandons. It is in the interests of the multinationals. But the project of the state will not work without the cooperation of sectors of the populace.”

Prospects for Peace

In June 2005, the Zapatistas issued their Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Selva, a lengthy communique named for their jungle stronghold, pledging to seek a renewed national presence. In September, following a series of national meetings they hosted for their supporters in settlements in Las Cañadas on the edge of the Selva, the Zapatistas announced a national tour, to be dubbed the “Other Campaign”-a reference to the 2006 presidential race, in which they refused to endorse candidates. After a long period of retrenchment, the Zapatistas were once again aspiring to build a civil revolutionary movement at the national level.

But as the media followed the “Other Campaign” throughout Mexico, the Selva remained as divided as ever. Trying to capitalize on the Zapatistas’ new move towards a political strategy, Luis H. Alvarez, President Fox’s official pointman for the long-moribund Chiapas peace process, toured settlements on the edge of the Selva in July. But in late May, when he showed up un-announced at the settlement of Guadalupe Tepeyac, he was surrounded by masked Zapatista militants and forced to leave.

The Zapatistas continued to protest the militarization of their region. In August (a month before he was killed in a helicopter crash), Mexico’s Public Security secretary, Ramon Martin Huerta, announced new patrols in Chiapas-including the Selva-under the “Mexico Seguro” program, ostensibly to halt the flow of drugs, arms and migrants from across the Guatemalan border. That same month, three were killed and over 20 displaced in a land dispute between the Tzeltal Maya settlements of El Chamizal and Laguna Semental on the edge of the Selva.

With thousands still internally displaced by threats and violence from paramilitary groups in Chiapas, the United Nations Development Program began appealing to the Mexican government for cooperation in international programs to aid refugees. This would be the first UN program for Mexican refugees (or “displaced persons” as internal refugees are officially dubbed).

Plans to renew oil exploration in Chiapas also remain controversial. Also in August 2005, Pemex acceded to the demands of Gov. Pablo Salazar and shut the oil well at Santa Cruz, in the northwest of the state. Salazar’s demand came in response to safety concerns following a wave of industrial accidents at Pemex sites in the neighboring states of Tabasco and Veracruz. Mexico’s energy secretary, Fernando Elizondo, blasted Salazar’s action, saying there was “no justification for a state authority to intervene in this fashion.”

Against this backdrop, there are mixed signals on whether the Montes Azules crisis will be resolved peacefully. In January 2004, Federal Navy troops and state police agents were mobilized to forcibly evict indigenous families from the community of Nuevo San Rafael in the biosphere reserve. Twenty-three houses were burned down in the operation, according to the Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center. The troops were officially led by the Federal Prosecutor for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA). Nuevo San Rafael was made up of Chol Maya who had moved to the rainforest after being displaced years earlier from their traditional lands at El Calvario, Sabanilla municipality, by big landlords.

The following month, Luis Gabriel Sanchez, head of the Chiapas legislature’s Ecological Commission, called for the deportation of dozens of foreigners who live in Zapatista-loyal areas inside the Montes Azules reserve and provide moral and logistical support to the rebel communities. Sanchez said foreigners providing assistance to the rebels were violating their tourist visas, and asked the Immigration Institute to intervene. Sanchez, of the Ecological Green Party, echoed concerns previously raised by officials in the Chiapas delegation of PROFEPA.

The first sign of compromise came in October 2004, when a Zapatista communique pledged to resist forced evictions-but also said that seven of their settlements had agreed to voluntarily relocate, “with the expressed consent of the inhabitants.” The communities were listed as Primero de Enero, San Isidro, 12 de Diciembre, 8 de Octubre, Santa Cruz, Nuevo Limar and Agua Dulce. In May 2005, another communique stated that the relocation had been completed, and thanked Mexican rights activist Rosario Ibarra for brokering the compromise and arranging non-governmental aid for the transition. The seven communities-some 50 families-accepted new lands at the settlement of San Pedro de Michoacan, just outside the reserve, across the Rio Lacantun. This still, of course, leaves the great majority of cases unresolved.

In December 2004, Hermann Bellinghausen of the national daily La Jornada reported protests from Zapatista communities in the Selva of army road-building operations, including a bridge over the once-remote Rio Lacantun, and new permanent army positions being established in the zone. Two months later, he would report protests over an eco-tourist “Hotel Lacandona” under construction in the rainforest at Ejido Boca de Chajul, on the banks of the Lacantun just outside the reserve.

Another forced eviction took place in February 2005, carried out by federal and state police at the Tzotzil settlement of Sol Paraiso. Four residents-including a youth of 14-were arrested and publicly accused of “ecocide.”

Following an agreement in April 2005, the federal and state governments committed to demarcate and legally recognize the land rights of 28 untitled communities in the Selva, including Viejo Velasco. But this has not happened, and as recently as July 2006, Autonmous Municipality Ricardo Flores Magon authorities wrote in an open letter to the Frayba human rights center that they feared a covert strategy to evict these communities through unaccountable paramilitary action.

In May 2005, just weeks after the agreement was concluded, the commander of the Chiapas 7th Military Region, Juan Morales Fuentes, stated that forest fires then raging across 15,000 hectares of the state were set intentionally, and defined action against environmental destruction as a new military mission.

SEMARNAT, the federal environmental secretariat, insisted the relocation of the remaining communities from Montes Azules would be completed shortly, and that it would be done peacefully.


Throughout the rainforest regions of Latin America, the indigenous peoples of the forest have been pushed to cultural and even physical extermination by the onslaught of colonization and deforestation. Sometimes, revolutionary movements have been paradoxically turned against indigenous rainforest peoples. In the 1980s, the Sandinista revolutionaries in Nicaragua made clumsy attempts to “nationalize” the lowland rainforests in the east of the country—which was seen a threat and an encroachment on local autonomy by the region’s Miskito and Mayangna indigenous peoples. This resulted in a Miskito front opening in the CIA-backed counter-revolutionary guerilla army seeking to destabilize the revolutionary regime—bringing about, in turn, the painful reality of a Sandinista counter-insurgency war against indigenous peoples.

More recently, and in a very different social context, US imperialism (for its own purposes) has posed as the protector of the national ambitions of the Kosovar Albanians. This caused many on the international left to rally around the fascistic regime of Serbia’s late strongman Slobodan Milosevic, and to embrace his perverse ethnic demonization. For too many supposedly progressive commentators, its seems the Albanians as an ethnicity were agents of imperialism, and Serb aggression against them implicitly legitimized.

The level of violence in the Lacandon Selva does not begin to approach that of Miskitia in the ’80s or Kosova in the ’90s. But imperfect parallels to these scenarios can be seen at work in the Chiapas rainforest today—at least in terms of the propaganda being employed. The legitimate fears of the Lacandons are being exploited and manipulated by the Mexican state, in ways which are ultimately inimical to their own interests.

The EZLN’s autonomy program is explicitly “pluri-ethnic.” The dilemma of the Hach Winik pose the greatest challenge yet to this ethic of radical multiculturalism. If the Zapatistas are going to maintain their voice of conscience on Mexico’s national stage, they will have to maintain vigilance against an ethnic conflict erupting on their own turf—the jungle frontier which they have posed as a liberated territory. At this critical moment, as Mexico lurches deeper into crisis, the costs in the balance may be higher than ever.



Fray Bartoleme de Las Casas Human Rights Center

Maderas del Pueblo

Na Bolom Cultural Association

Hach Winik Home Page

See also:

“Biodiversity Inc.: Mexico tries a new tactic against Chiapas rebels: conservation,”
by Bill Weinberg, In These Times, Aug. 21, 2003

From our weblog:

“Chiapas: more attacks threatened against Zapatista communities,”
WW4 REPORT, Nov. 24, 2006


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution



A Model for the Korean Peninsula?

by Rene Wadlow, Toward Freedom

With a political sky darkened by the nuclear weapon test of North Korea and the growing tensions over the nuclear program of Iran, a ray of sunlight comes from Central Asia. On September 8, 2006, the five states of Central Asia—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan—signed the treaty establishing a nuclear-weapon free zone which can serve as a model for a nuclear-weapon free Korean Peninsula. The treaty aims at reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation and nuclear-armed terrorism. The treaty bans the production, acquisition, deployment of nuclear weapons and their components as well as nuclear explosives. Importantly, the treaty bans the hosting or transport of nuclear weapons as both Russia and the USA have established military airbases in Central Asia where nuclear weapons could have been placed in times of crisis in Asia.

The treaty was signed at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, which was the main testing site for Soviet nuclear tests. Between 1949 and 1989, some 500 nuclear tests took place at Semipalatinsk leaving a heritage of radioactivity and health problems. A non-governmental organization called Nevada-Semipalatinsk was formed in the 1980s—made up of persons in the US and the USSR who had lived in the nuclear-weapon test areas—both to work to abolish nuclear weapons and to take responsibility for the medical consequences of the tests. Thus Rusten Tursunbaev, vice president of Nevada-Semipalatinsk, could say, “The signing of the agreement on a nuclear-weapon free zone in Central Asia is a remarkable, unbelievable moment and event—not just for Central Asia, but for the whole world.”

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Uzbek President Islam Karimov, the two Central Asian states to have peaceful nuclear-power programs, have been advocating for such a nuclear-weapon free zone for a number of years, especially during meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which celebrated its 10th anniversary in July 2006. However, Turkmenistan, with a largely isolationist foreign policy, is not a member of the SCO and needed to be brought into the nuclear weapons treaty for it to be meaningful. The representatives of the Mongolian government have welcomed the nuclear-weapon free zone as an important confidence-building measure and may join the zone at a later date.

The concept of nuclear-free zones has been an important one in disarmament and regional conflict reduction efforts. A nuclear-weapon free zone was first suggested by the Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rapacki at the United Nations General Assembly in October 1957—just a year after the crushing of the uprising in Hungary. The crushing of the Hungarian revolt by Soviet troops and the unrest among Polish workers that broke out at the same time showed that the East-West equilibrium in Central Europe was unstable—with both the Soviet Union and the USA in possession of nuclear weapons, and perhaps a willingness to use them if the political situation got out of control. The Rapacki Plan, as it became known, called for the de-nuclearization of East and West Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The Plan went through several variants, including its extension to cover the reduction of armed forces and armaments, and as a preliminary step, a freeze of nuclear weapons in the area. The Rapacki Plan was opposed by the NATO powers, in part because it recognized the legitimacy of the East German state. It was not until 1970 and the start of the 1975 Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe that serious negotiations on troop levels and weapons in Europe began. While the Rapacki Plan never led to negotiations on nuclear policies in Europe, it had the merit of re-starting East-West discussions which were then at a low point.

The first nuclear-weapon free zone to be negotiated—the Treaty of Tlatelolco—was a direct aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. It is hard to know how close to a nuclear exchange the US and the USSR came in the Cuban crisis. It was close enough so that Latin American leaders were moved to action. While Latin America was not an area in which the potential for military confrontation was as stark as in Europe, the Cuban missile crisis was a warning that you did not need to have standing armies facing each other for there to be danger.

Mexico under the leadership of Ambassador Alfonso Garcia-Robles at the UN began immediately to call for a denuclearization of Latin America. There were a series of conferences held, and in February 1967 the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America was signed at Tlatelolco, Mexico. For a major arms control treaty, Tlateloco was negotiated in a short time, due to the fear inspired by the Cuban missile crisis but also to the energy and persistence of Garcia-Robles and the expert advice of William Epstein, then the UN’s director of disarmament affairs. The Treaty established a permanent and effective system of control which contains a number of novel and pioneering elements as well as a body to supervise implementation.

It is an unfortunate aspect of world politics that constructive, institution-building action is usually undertaken only because of a crisis. Although a Central Asian nuclear-weapon free zone was discussed at the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union and the agreement of Kazakhstan to yield the 1,400 nuclear warheads that had been stationed on its territory by the Soviet military, it is only as the North Korean nuclear-weapon program became a serious factor of Asian politics that the Central Asian nuclear-free zone was finalized.

Since the North Korean nuclear test has become a concern of the whole world community, we must look to Central Asian leadership to show the way in developing structures for a nuclear-weapon free Korean Peninsula.


Rene Wadlow is the editor of the online journal of world politics Transnational Perspectives and the representative to the United Nations of the Association of World Citizens.

This story originally appeared Oct. 31 in Toward Freedom,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/limit,12/l imitstart,12/

From our weblog:

“Method to North Korea’s nuclear madness?”
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 18, 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution



International Complicity in Morocco’s Repression

by Simon Cunich, Green Left Weekly

On October 31, Morocco’s allies on the United Nations Security Council-including France, the United States and Britain—blocked a motion to condemn human rights abuses against the people of occupied Western Sahara.

Despite reports of Morocco’s escalating repression of the Saharawi independence movement, the resolution passed by the Security Council merely extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), a 15-year-old “peacekeeping” mission that has failed to facilitate a referendum on self determination.

Earlier that month, Moroccan officials rejected as “biased” and “completely erroneous” a report from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that revealed the use of torture and violent repression against pro-independence demonstrations and activists. According to Afrol News, the report exposed the regular denial of rights to a fair trial, freedom of expression and freedom of association in Western Sahara.

On October 30, 80 people were apprehended by Moroccan police at a ceremony in El-Ayoun marking the anniversary of the death of Hambi Lembarki. Lembarki was an activist beaten to death by police during a pro-independence demonstration last year. His death is among the few incidents of repression that have reached the courts.

On October 24 the Switzerland-based Association for a Free and Fair Referendum in Western Sahara reported: “The repression seems to be principally directed against young people, of which a great number have been arrested, stripped and beaten, violated with various instruments, forced to swallow diverse substances, subjected to injections with unknown products and to diverse forms of torture.”

Kamal Fadel, the representative in Australia of the Saharawi Popular Liberation Front (Polisario), spoke to Green Left Weekly following the Security Council’s refusal to take a stand against Morocco’s human rights abuses. He said that the council “had in front of it a report that stated clearly that there is a problem with human rights abuses in the occupied territories of Western Sahara. France objected to any mention of the human rights situation in the Security Council resolution.

“There has been an increase in action by the people of Western Sahara. The current uprising has continued for over a year now, during which time there has been an increase of vocal disagreement with the presence of Morocco in Western Sahara. The response from Morocco has been very harsh—using torture, imprisonment and kidnappings to repress the uprising.”

No referendum on independence

The extension of MINURSO’s mandate was welcomed by Washington, which has backed Morocco’s occupation of the mineral-rich territory since its 1975 invasion. According to an Oct. 31 Washington Post article, William Brencick, a senior US diplomat, said: “The United States remains concerned that the Western Sahara conflict has impeded regional integration and development for the last 30 years. A lasting resolution is now long overdue.”

However, Brencick’s comments in favor of an “autonomy proposal” indicate support only for a “resolution” in Morocco’s interests. The “autonomy proposal” is a referendum model proposed by Morocco that would include an option of regional autonomy for Western Sahara, but would deny a vote on independence for what it calls its “southern provinces”.

Morocco welcomed the extension of the MINURSO, confident it will remain powerless to force a referendum that could lead to Saharawi independence. In a statement reported in Johannesburg’s Sunday Times on Nov. 2, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs “hailed” the resolution, saying it “completely reinforces the approach supported by Morocco for a lasting political solution.”

Since Morocco and Polisario agreed to a ceasefire in 1991, the Moroccan government has prevented a referendum (a condition of the ceasefire) from taking place by obstructing the updating of the electoral roll, and has continued to deny a vote on independence.

Commenting on Morocco’s referendum model, Fadel said: “In our view a solution that does not involve a democratic and fair referendum will not be a solution at all—it will be a fake solution. A referendum that does not offer a chance for self-determination will not succeed because it will not be accepted by the Saharawi people or the Polisario Front as their legitimate representative.

“Our only demand is that the people of Western Sahara are given a chance to exercise their legitimate right to a referendum that contains the option of independence. We do not object to the referendum including an option of Western Saharan integration into Morocco.

“This is a compromise we are making. But [Morocco] is adamant in its intransigent position as it fears a democratic solution which will likely to culminate in independence for Western Sahara.”

According to a Nov. 6 Reuters report, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, in an attempt to build support for his country’s anti-democratic position, argued that an independent Western Sahara would harbor terrorists: “This dreadful hypothesis would transform the North African region into a dirty marsh and den of terrorist gangs and criminal bandits smuggling human beings and arms.”

“These are the hazards Morocco is striving to prevent by proposing autonomy within the framework of a great drive of democracy Morocco has embraced,” he added.

Western complicity

While independence is not on the agenda of Morocco or its allies, there is support among the Western powers for “progress” towards some form of resolution during the current six-month term of MINURSO. According to Yahia Zoubir, author of The United States and the North African Imbroglio (Mediterranean Politics, July 2005), the Western Saraha question is seen by the US as an obstacle to establishing a regional trade bloc that includes Morocco and Algeria and developing North African unity in the “war on terror”.

Algeria has been a longstanding ally of the Polisario front, providing refuge to Saharawis who have fled Morocco’s invasion, and financial support to the independence movement. Camps in southern Algeria are home to more than 160,000 displaced Saharawis and are the base for Western Sahara’s “government in exile”, the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

On the other side of the conflict, the US has been a longstanding ally of Morocco. Between 1950 and 1998, Morocco received more US aid than any other Arab or African country, except for Egypt, receiving more than one-fifth of all US aid to Africa. Without US counterinsurgency support, Polisario would likely have succeeded in forcing out Western Sahara’s occupiers.

In 1981, the armed movement had liberated the vast majority of Western Sahara and had forced out Mauritanian forces that had participated in the 1975 invasion. But within six years, Morocco had re-conquered almost the entire country, following a boost in military aid from the Reagan administration. Using a US-designed 1,500-kilometer sand wall, lined with an estimated 3 million landmines, Moroccan forces managed to isolate Polisario to a third of Western Sahara, along its eastern border.

Similar support for Morocco has been provided by European powers, such as France, throughout the occupation. On October 10, the European Parliament voted on a agreement with Morocco that will allow European boats to fish in the occupied territorial waters of Western Sahara.

As well as Morocco’s plundering of Western Sahara’s large phosphate resources, plans are underway to extract oil and natural gas from offshore reserves, with the Moroccan government granting US corporation Kerr-McGee exploration rights in 2001 to 27 million acres of offshore territory. International solidarity campaigns have in recent years forced other companies to withdraw from similar contracts.

Roots of the struggle

The invasion of Western Sahara by Morocco and neighboring Mauritania took place as Spain was moving to end its 90-year occupation, which had been weakened by a growing independence movement. In 1975, the International Court of Justice rejected Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara. At the same time, Morocco and Mauritania signed a secret agreement with Spain for a handover of the territory.

Morocco’s King Hassan II, who was facing a domestic crisis at the time, ordered the “green march,” a contingent of 350,000 civilians backed up by military troops aimed at seizing Western Sahara. The corporate media portrayed the events as a crusade by an oppressed nation against the Franco government, turning a blind eye to demonstrations of thousands of Saharawis against the Moroccan-Mauritanian takeover.

Since then, the government has promoted Moroccan settlement in Western Sahara by providing subsidies on goods, services and incomes. Despite this, a large proportion of the Moroccan population in the region is some 140,000 occupying troops.

Saharawi struggle to continue

When UN secretary-general Kofi Annan told Polisario on October 18 that they should drop their demand for a referendum with independence as an option and reopen negotiations with Morocco, Boukhari Ahmed, the representative of the Polisario Front to the UN, responded in an interview with the Sahara Press Service, saying that “it is necessary now, not to resume negotiations, but to implement the signed accords”.

SADR President Mohamed Abdelaziz said on November 4: “Meanwhile, we will continue the intifada in the occupied territories and create pressures on the Moroccan government to compel it to respect the fundamental freedoms in the zones of the territory it occupies, without abandoning the possibility of resuming war once all efforts failed.”

Commenting on the possibility of renewed armed struggle by Polisario, Fadel said, “I think all options for winning independence remain on the table. There has been a ceasefire since 1991, but it was a ceasefire based on the promise of a referendum for self-determination in [January] 1992.”

Fadel pointed out that the Saharawi people have made a series of compromises, but Morocco, backed by powerful world leaders, has been unwilling to reciprocate: “In the past, France, in the name of human rights, backed calls for the release of Moroccan prisoners by the Polisario. We have cooperated and respected the call by freeing the Moroccan prisoners of war. But despite this our country continues to suffer from repression by Moroccan forces, including the repression of peaceful demonstrations. But that has not stopped or deterred the Saharawi people, who have shown great courage in their defiance to the occupiers.”

“If UN efforts fail, the people of Western Sahara will have all options available; continued uprising in the occupied territory and other means [may be] possible. This is the legitimate right of the people of Western Sahara to seek their rights by whatever means they choose.”


This story first appeared in Australia’s Green Left Weekly, Nov. 22, 2006.

See also:

“Palestine in the Sahara:
North Africa’s Forgotten Occupied Territory”
by Bill Weinberg
WW 4 REPORT #127, November 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Dissected Nations Oppose Wall and Militarization

by Brenda Norrell, IRC Americas Program

Indigenous peoples at the Border Summit of the Americas on Tohono O’odham tribal land opposed the construction of a border wall, which will dissect indigenous communities on ancestral lands split by the U.S.-Mexico border. They also issued a strong statement against the ongoing militarization of their homelands.

During the Border Summit, held Sept. 29-Oct. 1, organized by Tohono O’odham Mike Flores and facilitated by the International Indian Treaty Council and the American Indian Movement, indigenous peoples unanimously opposed the Secure Fence Act, passed by the Senate. The wall will divide the ancestral lands of many Indian nations, including the Kumeyaay in California, Cocopah and Tohono O’odham in Arizona, and the Kickapoo in Texas. The wall is expected to be completed by May 2008.

Describing it as “psychological oppression and terrorism,” the participants representing many tribes from the United States and Mexico also called for a halt to the militarization of their ancestral homelands and sacred places along the border.

Key Challenges

The border wall divides ancestral lands, separates indigenous people from sacred places, and denies them the right to pass freely within their traditional lands. Heavy militarization of the border has led to desecration of the lands, harassment of indigenous members, and even death.

In violation of international treaties, indigenous nations were not consulted prior to the application of anti-immigrant measures on their land such as Operation Hold the Line and Operation Gatekeeper.

The Tohono O’odham tribal government has supported the U.S. government in denying immigrant rights and the rights of tribal members to aid immigrants. Tohono O’odham offered testimony on how their human rights are violated by the Border Patrol, immigration agents, and more recently the National Guard. The Tohono O’odham’s tribal land of 2.8 million acres is located on the Arizona border and traditional lands span the border into the northern Mexico state of Sonora.

Members of the Tohono O’odham Nation said the proposed border wall would be a barrier to traditional routes of passage for ceremonies and traditional practices. The wall would interfere with traditional ways for O’odham members living on both sides of the border who cross routinely for ceremonial, cultural, family, and health reasons. One Tohono O’odham father said increased border security has already made it impossible for his children to ride the bus to school because of harassment by border agents.

Bill Means of the International Indian Treaty Council noted that the U.S. government plans to build the southern border wall in violation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, environmental laws, and other federal laws.

“This is a violation of indigenous peoples’ human rights and a violation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples now being considered by the United Nations General Assembly,” Means asserted, noting that in 2005, Homeland Security waived all federal laws, including environmental laws, to complete the border fence in Southern California.

During the testimony, several indigenous representatives said the militarization and occupation of indigenous lands are in direct violation of indigenous peoples’ rights to economic, political, social, and cultural control of their lands.

One participant, Tohono O’odham Mike Wilson, also stated that his Nation has had no say in the state and federal programs implemented on its lands. He said he asked former Tohono O’odham Chairman Edward Manuel whether the Tohono O’Odham Legislative Council was consulted before the United States’ Operation Gatekeeper or Operation Hold the Line were launched. Those two operations forced migrants onto tribal land, where they often died in the desert.

According to Wilson, Chairman Manuel confirmed that the Tohono O’odham were never consulted.

Cross-border Indigenous Activism

Indian nations are now uniting to take action in defense of ancestral lands, burial sites, and the environment. Earlier, the Kumeyaay opposed the first phase of the border wall and said its construction would allow the U.S. government to “plow through” the burial places of their ancestors in Southern California. Members of the Kumeyaay Nation supported the Tohono O’odham in resisting the latest phase of wall-building.

Among those attending with a new vision of indigenous border solidarity was Mark Maracle, Mohawk, representing the Women Title Holders. Maracle presented Flores with two flags of solidarity and spoke of the need for unified action at the northern and southern borders.

He presented a statement of the Women Title Holders that said that native people can freely exercise their right to free transit at the northern border as established under the 1794 Jay Treaty. The statement read that under the treaty, as well as the colonial-era Two Row Wampum Agreement, members of the Haudenosaunee/Six Nations Iroquois people “at all times we are free to pass and repass by land or inland navigation [or by air] onto our territories, that we are free to carry on trade and commerce with each other, that we shall not pay any duty or import whatever, that we are free to hunt and fish anywhere on our vast territory, and that we shall have free passage over all toll roads and bridges.”

Native Nations Against the Wall

During the summit, Tohono O’odham described how Border Patrol intrude into the homes of elderly O’odham without permission, hold people at gunpoint and ask for papers, and throw garbage in sacred sites on their patrols. Tohono O’odham described harassment by Border Patrol, including being tailgated in the vehicles, spotlighted in their homes, and held at gunpoint while being asked for papers on tribal land.

“As far as I am concerned the United States Border Patrol is an occupying army. If we were truly a sovereign nation, we would not have an occupying army on sovereign land,” Wilson stated. He pointed out that the Border Patrol’s “occupying army” has a military camp two miles north of the international border on Tohono O’odham tribal land in Arizona.

Wilson said O’odham, too, are migrants and most have moved about looking for work during their lives. Many of those dying in the desert are indigenous peoples, from Chiapas, Guatemala, Honduras, and other countries in Central and South America. “Where is our moral outrage?” Wilson asked the gathering. “We collectively in the social justice community turn away and let our brothers and sisters die.”

Summit participants pointed out that the Tohono O’odham Nation law criminalizes transporting migrants, including a fine for the first offense and jail time for second offense. Means pointed out that in the event that a migrant was dying in the desert, an O’odham on tribal land would be charged with a crime for transporting the migrant to a hospital.

Angelita Ramon, Tohono O’odham, described how her son, 18-year-old Bennett Patricio, Jr., was run over and killed by the Border Patrol on April 9, 2001 in a deserted area of tribal land. Ramon, and Patricio’s stepfather Irvin Ramon, said they believe Patricio witnessed a possibly illicit transfer of items by Border Patrol agents and was intentionally run over. The family’s case against the Border Patrol is proceeding on federal appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

“I’m here to let everyone know about the Border Patrol and how they killed my son,” Angelita told the summit. She said the truth of what happened that night has still not been revealed.

Jimbo Simmons, member of the International Indian Treaty Council, said, “The Border Patrol is a death squad. They are operating like they do in Central and South America, because no one can hold them accountable.”

Manny Pino of Acoma Pueblo said indigenous people all along the border are affected by the militarization. “As indigenous people, we didn’t draw lines on the land,” Pino told the summit. “It was all our Earth Mother.”

Pino said the militarization of the border and the manipulation of truth follows in the pattern of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, which established systems of government that were “shoved down the throats” of Indian people.

Now, Pino said, the U.S. government is telling the Tohono O’odham Nation that if the tribe does not allow the military on their lands, their federal funding will be cut off.

Pino added that nationwide, some American Indian people are being caught up in racist attitudes toward migrants. This reflects a tactic that the U.S. government has long used to divide the people, he noted, citing the example of the so-called Navajo and Hopi land dispute.

He said that it is important for Indian people to recognize the real enemy. “It is George Bush, Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, and the people who want to tap our phone lines,” Pino concluded.

Reflecting the comments of many in the border area, Pino said a border wall would not stop the people from coming across. “The ‘Tortilla Curtain’ will be torn. The real challenge for indigenous peoples is to ‘decolonize’ the mind.”

One Man Makes a Difference

The Baboquivari District on Tohono O’odham lands has one of the highest rates of migrant deaths on the border. Mike Wilson, Tohono O’odham, has challenged the Tohono O’odham Nation to become “morally responsible,’ and take actions to prevent deaths on tribal lands.

Wilson began to put out water for migrants when they started to die in terrifying numbers in 2001. Since then, between 240 and 250 migrants have lost their lives each year in the Sonoran Desert. Of those, 70 to 90 have died on O’Odham lands. “Let me be very, very clear, in what I’m trying to do,” he said. “No one deserves to die in the Sonora Desert for want of a cup of water.”

Wilson does volunteer work with Humane Borders away from tribal land, but his actions on tribal land are as an individual. The Tohono O’odham tribal government has halted humanitarian groups from coming onto tribal land to render aid, he said. He urged that the tribal government be held accountable for its callous inaction. “We who were once oppressed, are ever increasingly becoming the oppressor.”

The Tohono O’odham tribal Attorney General’s Office and Superintendent of Public Safety earlier told Wilson to stop maintaining the water stations for migrants. Both offices threatened him with banishment as a tribal member. However, when asked about the banishment, Chairman Manuel responded, “You are O’odham, no one can banish you.”

Wilson appears in the film, Crossing Arizona, shown at the Border Summit, which includes his work of putting out water in gallon jugs and barrels on a weekly basis at stations in the desert. Wilson said he told one man in the desert that if he continued north, he would likely be dead within a few hours. The man said he would rather die in the desert than return to Mexico and watch his wife, who needs surgery, and his children, starve to death.

The reasons for Wilson’s actions go beyond altruism and touch on his fundamental beliefs and the experiences that led him to his activism. Over the past five years, he has witnessed migrants dying of thirst on tribal land, including a seven-year-old girl with blood in her urine who barely survived.

“All human life is sacred. When it comes to people dying in the desert, we are all equal.” When one undercover detective asked him whose authority he was acting in his efforts to save migrants’ lives, Wilson replied, “The man upstairs.”

Threats to a Traditional Way of Life

The impact of the border wall and militarization on indigenous communities were not the only threats that were denounced at the Summit. Pointing out that the fragile desert ecosystem and all of its creatures will be affected, Maracle said, “The environmentalists should be up in arms.”

Representatives of the Tarahumara people of northern Mexico also spoke out against the devastating effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Urging a halt to trade policies that are leading to unemployment throughout the Americas, the summit called for nullification of NAFTA.

The Border Summit also opposed propositions then pending in Arizona, including Prop 103 (English-only), Prop. 200 (voter identification), and Prop 300 (proof of citizenship for services).

The Border Summit called for removal of the existing Border Patrol detention center for migrants on Tohono O’odham tribal land near San Miguel, AZ. Tohono O’odham described how Border Patrol agents occupied sacred sites, including Baboquivari Peaks, the origin place of the Creator I’itoi.

Michelle Cook, Navajo law student, noted that the protection of burial places is vital. “If there are ancestral remains, they have to stop development. They have to repatriate those remains. However, it is the native peoples’ responsibility to make them accountable. We have to go out there and watch them to make the accountable.”

At the conclusion of the Border Summit, Jose Garcia, lieutenant governor of the O’odham in Mexico, said the most important aspect of the gathering was bringing O’odham people together with other indigenous peoples from both sides of the border to work to resolve issues. “It brought us together in unity.”

The testimony was aired live on radio in the Tucson area and on the Internet, with listeners responding around the world—including e-mails of appreciation from listeners in Alaska, the Dominican Republic, and Europe. The audio file archives will be available online at Earth Cycles.


Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 23 years, working as a staff reporter for Navajo Times and Indian Country Today and as an AP correspondent during the 18 years she lived on the Navajo Nation. She is currently a freelance writer based in Tucson and a contributor to the IRC Americas Program.

This story first appeared Oct. 31 on the International Relations Center Americas Program website


Earthcycles (audio link)

Humane Borders
Mike Wilson
740 E. Speedway Blvd.
Tucson, AZ 85719
(520) 628-7753

International Indian Treaty Council
Tony Gonzales or Jimbo Simmons
2390 Mission St # 301
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 641-4482

Mohawk Nation News

From our weblog:

“Subcommander Marcos crosses into USA!”
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 24, 2006

“Bush signs border fence bill”
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 27, 2006

“Voters (mostly) reject anti-immigration campaigns”
WW4 REPORT, Nov. 10, 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution



from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

The Bolivian government of President Evo Morales Ayma met on Nov. 25 with right-wing opposition forces to try to resolve a political crisis that came to a head when the rightwing Democratic and Social Power (Podemos) party withdrew its 13 members from the 27-seat Senate on Nov. 22, leaving the body without a quorum to act. The lone senator from the right-wing National Unity party also withdrew. Podemos also pulled its members out of the Chamber of Deputies, but the party’s representation there was too small to affect the quorum.

The opposition is upset over three main issues: the voting rules of the Constituent Assembly, which is writing a new constitution for Bolivia; changes to the agrarian law that will allow the redistribution of idle farmland to landless campesinos; and the Morales administration’s efforts to exert control over departmental government finances and to retain the power to remove governors who are deemed incompetent or corrupt. The ruling Movement to Socialism (MAS), which has a simple majority in the Constituent Assembly, voted on Nov. 17 to allow approval of new constitutional clauses with a simple majority, instead of a two-thirds vote.

The governors of six of Bolivia’s nine departments—Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, Pando and La Paz—broke off relations with the Morales administration on Nov. 18 over the Constituent Assembly voting rules and the departmental control issue. The departmental governors were elected by popular vote for the first time last December; in the past they were appointed by the president.

Morales, before setting off on a working trip to the Netherlands, urged the right-wing sectors to dialogue “without conditions and impositions.” “We are from a culture of dialogue, and we’ll always be open to it, but there can’t be dialogue to constitutionalize the country’s latifundio,” said Morales, referring to wealthy people who own large tracts of land.

Some 100 members of National Unity, the party headed by cement magnate Samuel Doria Medina, have been holding hunger strike pickets against the government since Nov. 16. The pickets began in Sucre, where the Constituent Assembly is meeting, and spread to La Paz, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and Potosi. They were joined on Nov. 24 by 15 women from the Santa Cruz Civic Committee and 30 members of the Departmental Workers Central labor federation. On Nov. 24, students in Santa Cruz threw rocks at Morales’ vehicle. (La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26; Adital, Nov. 23; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Nov. 20, 21, 22 from AP, Nov. 25 from EFE)

The Agricultural Chamber of the East (CAO), which represents powerful farmers in Santa Cruz, mobilized its forces in a 28-kilometer march from Warnes to the city of Santa Cruz on Nov. 21 to oppose the Morales government’s land reform. La Jornada reported that about 5,000 people marched. According to AP, private television networks covering the march from helicopters calculated the turnout at 15,000, while the CAO estimated it was 100,000. (LJ, Nov. 22; ENH, Nov. 22 from AP)

Meanwhile, thousands of indigenous, campesino and settler groups are marching to La Paz in defense of the government’s agrarian reform plan. Some 1,500 people started the march in Santa Cruz on Oct. 31; by Nov. 17 there were three columns of marchers from around the country, including campesinos from the north of La Paz department and indigenous people from Chuquisaca and Potosi. A fourth column joined the march on Nov. 21; the marchers now number some 3,000, according to La Jornada. The marchers are demanding that the Senate approve the new agrarian law, which was approved by the Chamber of Deputies on Nov. 15 and is now pending in the Senate. (La Epoca, Bolivia, Nov. 17; LJ, Nov. 17, 22; Adital, Nov. 23)

The first three columns of the march, due to reach the capital on Nov. 27, plan to push the issue there despite the Senate blockade: “If the senators don’t want to work, we’re going to demand their immediate resignation,” they insist. (LJ, Nov. 26) “We have no choice; we’re going to shut the Parliament,” warned Anselmo Martinez, who is leading one of the columns of indigenous marchers from the Andean region. (ENH, Nov. 23 from AP) On Nov. 21, the Six Federations of the Chapare, a union alliance representing campesino growers in Cochabamba department, met with Morales and declared a “state of emergency” in their sector to defend his agrarian reform program against the opposition. (LJ, Nov. 22)

Senator Walter Guiteras of the Podemos party said negotiations with Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera over the agrarian reform law can only work if the issue is resolved quickly. Once the marchers reach La Paz, “the decisions will no longer be in the hands of the representatives of the political parties or in the groups that are marching, but rather in the regions, in the civic committees and the departments,” Guiteras warned. (LJ, Nov. 26) Morales blasted opposition politicians for defending their own large landholdings, pointing out that Guiteras’ family owns 49,051 hectares of land in Beni department, of which 2,911 hectares belong to Guiteras personally. (LJ, Nov. 24)

Oil contracts renegotiated

On Nov. 23, the Chamber of Deputies approved 44 contracts which the government signed last October with 10 transnational oil companies. The contracts were renegotiated following the May 1 nationalization of Bolivia’s oil resources. The Chamber of Deputies sent the contracts to the Senate, where their review is now being held up by the Podemos boycott. (ENH, Nov. 23 from AP; LJ, Nov. 23, 24)

One of the 44 renegotiated contracts is with the Spanish-Argentine oil company YPF, which has finally settled a dispute with the Guarani indigenous tribe in Tarija department. In an agreement due to be signed on Dec. 12, the company pledged $13.5 million over the next 20 years for public works favoring the 4,000 Guarani people on whose land the company has been exploiting major gas reserves. The company will fund agricultural and livestock projects designed and implemented by the indigenous people, as well as programs to combat high dropout rates among indigenous students.

Guarani council member Teofilo Murillo told AP that the $13.5 million “doesn’t compensate for the enormous damage to the environment” in the region surrounding the Margarita gasfield. “We were never consulted,” said Murillo. “The company snuck in quietly, carried out the work and left enormous environmental and social damages.” The Guarani people say the region’s water sources have been polluted; they were seeking $25 million in compensation. The company claims that in the 10 years it has been operating in Tarija’s Itika Guasu region, it has carried out a number of public works—but it declined to give specifics.

On Nov. 11, nearly a thousand Guarani people camped out in protest at the edge of the Margarita gasfield, and threatened to seize the company’s facilities if Repsol didn’t meet their demands. (ENH, Nov. 23 from AP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 26


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

“Bolivia: Whither Nationalization?”
by Gretchen Gordon, Upside Down World
WW4 RPEORT #127, November 2006

WW4 REPORT #125, September 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On Oct. 23, after a weekend of intense negotiations, the Achuar indigenous nation reached an agreement with the Peruvian government and the Argentine oil company Pluspetrol, bringing an end to a nearly two-week blockade of oil facilities in the Peruvian Amazon. More than 800 Achuar elders, women and children took part in the blockade, shutting down power to most of the area’s oil facilities and blocking access to the region by road, river and air. The Achuar took the radical actions to protest the devastating impact of oil contamination in their territory after two years of failed talks with Peruvian government officials. They ended their blockade and returned to their homes on Oct. 24.

“We have achieved 98% of our demands, and won recognition of our rights,” said Andres Sandi, President of the Federation of Native Communities of the Corrientes River (FECONACO). “This victory is the result of the strength of our people, who came together and pressured hard and would not abandon our demands.”

The agreement signed Oct. 23 requires the company to speed up the safe processing of waste waters; build a new hospital and fund healthcare services for the Achuar; and provide a year of emergency food supplies to affected communities. The pact also mandates that 5% of the oil royalties currently granted to Loreto region must go for Achuar community development. In addition, the agreement formally acknowledges the Achuar’s declaration that they oppose new oil concessions in their territories and request cancellation of contracts for blocks 104 and 106.

For 30 years, the oil company has been discharging more than one million barrels a day of untreated toxic waste directly into the rainforest. As a result the Achuar have unsafe levels of a range of toxins, including lead and cadmium, in their bodies. The toxic dumping has also poisoned the fish and game in the area which the Achuar traditionally eat to survive. (Amazon Watch, Oct. 24)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 29


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #126, October 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution



from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

On Nov. 3, environmentalists in the cities of Gualeguaychu and Colon in the eastern Argentine province of Entre Rios blocked the border bridges leading to Uruguay to protest continuing efforts to build a paper pulp mill in Fray Bentos, on the Uruguayan shore of the river that divides the two countries. The protesters in Gualeguaychu built a wall of brick and cement on national highway 136, 15 kilometers from the border bridge, to symbolize the hard position taken by the Finnish company Botnia and by the governments and international institutions in refusing to halt construction of the pulp mill. Environmentalists say the project will contaminate the river and the surrounding ecosystem and destroy the livelihoods of local residents. (La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 4, 5; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Nov. 4 from AP) The Spanish company Ence has already backtracked in its plans to build a similar pulp mill along the river.

The action was timed to coincide with the Nov. 3 inauguration of the 16th Iberoamerican Summit in Montevideo, where the Spanish government tried to initiate a dialogue between Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez and Argentine president Nestor Kirchner; the two leaders’ relations have been significantly chilled by the paper mill conflict. In Gualeguaychu, two protesters dressed up as Vazquez and Kirchner cut the tape to inaugurate the symbolic wall. Later in the evening, several assembly members from Gualeguaychu spoke on the radio, inviting the heads of state from the summit to attend “a meeting that’s more fun, and with faces that are less sad, on the banks of the Uruguay river, where there are still birds and life.”

Hundreds of local residents came on Nov. 4 to see the symbolic wall and support the anti-pulp mill protests. The protesters expected to end their blockade and take down the wall after the summit ended on Nov. 4, but they said they would keep carrying out actions until they get results. (LJ, Nov. 4, 5)

In Montevideo, some 400 activists from leftist and grassroots groups took part in a Nov. 3 mobilization against the summit. They marched to the “security zone” and faced off against a heavy contingent of riot police. There were only a few minor incidents. (Uruguay Indymedia, Nov. 4; LJ, Nov. 4)

The 22 participating countries closed the Iberoamerican Summit on Nov. 4 with the approval of a 45-point consensus statement protesting both the US embargo against Cuba and a new US law—signed by President George W. Bush on Oct. 26—which authorizes construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border. “We consider the building of walls to be a practice incompatible with relations of friendship and cooperation among states,” read the statement. “We believe that the construction of walls doesn’t stop undocumented migration, the flow of migrants or the trafficking of people; it incites discrimination and xenophobia and favors the emergence of groups of traffickers who put people in greater danger.” (LJ, Nov. 5)

Argentine foreign minister Jorge Taiana spoke at the summit about his country’s “Great Homeland” program, which allows any citizens of the expanded Mercosur trade area to regularize their immigration status in Argentina simply by showing proof of their nationality. They are then eligible for the same benefits and rights as Argentines. The expanded Mercosur area includes Argentina, Brasil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. (LJ, Nov. 4)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 5


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #126, October 2006

More Uruguay protests:

WW4 REPORT #119, March 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Interventionist Legacy Behind Zulia Separatist Movement

by Nikolas Kozloff, WW4 REPORT

With the Venezuelan presidential election fast approaching on December 3, political tensions have reached a new high. Recently, the Venezuelan Attorney General initiated an investigation to determine whether a right-wing organization called Rumbo Propio (“Our Own Path”), which has placed banners in Zulia state advocating for regional separatism, is guilty of treason. Zulia, located in the westernmost area of the country, is home to much of the country’s oil industry. Maracaibo, the Zulia state capital, is the second largest city in Venezuela.

President Hugo Chavez has accused his opponent in the presidential election, Manuel Rosales, the Zulia governor, of fostering a separatist movement, “together with Mr. Danger”—a reference to US President George W. Bush. Ever since Chavez returned to power after a brief coup in 2002, the United States has channeled millions of dollars to Venezuelan organizations, many of which are highly critical of the regime.

The United States, according to Chavez, is encouraging such unrest so as to benefit from the state’s significant oil resources; Rosales denies the allegations. The Attorney General has stated that he has no evidence linking the US to a secessionist plot. However, he claims that the US Ambassador, William Brownfield, had a close relationship to Rosales and has frequently traveled to Zulia.

In light of the fiery accusations, it is instructive to revisit some of the murky history of US involvement in the region—and the long legacy of shadowy machinations by US oil companies in Zulia.

The United States and Zulia Secessionism in World War I

In 1908, the US helped to support a military coup d’etat in Venezuela launched by Juan Vicente Gomez. Gomez’s primary goal was to establish a strong, centralized state. To achieve this, he would have to head off secessionist sentiment in Zulia. Shortly after Gomez’s seizure of power, in fact, a former senator and diplomat from Zulia declared that his native state should have the right to select its own people for state government.

Initially, Gomez was cautious, preferring to appoint “sons of the soil” to Zulia’s government. Gomez could ill afford political problems in the west. Measuring 63,100 square kilometers, with 178,388 inhabitants in 1908, Zulia was not only large in terms of sheer land mass, but also economically important. When Gomez took power, Zulia had the most substantial budget of any Venezuelan state. The largest city, Maracaibo, had a population of about 39,000 at the turn of the century.

During the First World War, the petroleum industry was just getting underway in Lake Maracaibo. Zulianos, who had long clamored for greater autonomy, now used Gomez’s sympathy for Germany in World War I to justify greater independence from state control. The regime acted promptly to repress prominent citizens in Maracaibo who sought to rid themselves of military rule.

As the war in Europe degenerated into endless stalemate on the western front, Gomez chose to sympathize with Germany. “As a military man,” writes Stephen Rabe in The Road To OPEC, United States Relations With Venezuela, 1919-1976, “Gomez respected Germany’s military efficiency and prowess and approved of the position that its army achieved in German political life.” Gomez openly displayed his allegiance by wearing a Prussian-style uniform, suppressing pro-Allied newspapers, and incarcerating journalists who were sympathetic to the allied cause. In a slap in the face to the US, Gomez kept Venezuela neutral in the war even after the US entered the conflict in 1917 on the side of the Allies and German defeat looked more likely.

Gomez’s position incensed the Woodrow Wilson administration, which reminded the Venezuelan leader of his manipulation of the constitution, and even went so far as to claim that Gomez ruled through “a policy of terrorism.” In late 1917, the State Department considered its options regarding the Gomez problem. Quietly, US diplomats consulted with Venezuelan exiles, who recommended covertly arming anti-Gomez exiles. Apparently, like his predecessor Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson favored intervention in Venezuela. In early 1918, he queried his secretary of state, Robert Lansing, whether “this scoundrel” could be overthrown without upsetting peace in Latin America.

Unfortunately for Gomez, the deterioration in US-Venezuelan relations threatened to destabilize the political situation in Zulia. Though Gomez’s sympathetic position towards Germany was likely to please the powerful German commercial colony in Maracaibo, the restive city population would shortly appeal to Wilson for help in breaking free from Gomez’s control. In normal times, Gomez could ill afford to allow secessionist movements to flourish, but now with the oil companies in Zulia and revenue increasing from the industry the notion became unthinkable. In 1920 Venezuela settled the last of its external debts, and Gomez could not jeopardize a fall off in further income.

Dr. Pedro Rojas: A Dangerous Enemy

Santos Matute Gomez, the Zulia state governor, prohibited a pro-Allies demonstration in Maracaibo in late 1917. Santos Gomez has been variously described as Gomez’s half-brother or the bastard son of Juan Vicente Gomez’ uncle. The danger for Gomez and his associates was that pro-ally sentiment in the city might lead to U.S. intervention in Zulia. In order to head off further unrest, Gomez and his men would have to keep a watchful eye on prominent dissident voices. Of particular concern to the regime was one Dr. Pedro Rojas.

According to the US consul Emil Sauer, Rojas “is a man of thirty-five, of pure white race, of distinguished parentage, and is highly respected here.” A prominent architect and manufacturer and contractor, Rojas was said to be “very popular among the residents of the city.” Furthermore, Rojas was one of the few Venezuelans in Maracaibo who spoke English well. A potentially dangerous force to be reckoned with, he wrote an article for Panorama, a Maracaibo newspaper, praising the free institutions of the United States and the liberal policies of the US president. Fearing reprisals from the Zulia state secretary, Landaeta Llovera, who had warned the paper to avoid any praise for the US or President Wilson, the editor refused to publish the article. Undeterred, Rojas paid a visit to the US consul in early 1918 and proposed that the US offer nothing less than support for revolution in Maracaibo.

On behalf of the “Pro Patria Bolivare Society,” Rojas wrote in a letter to the consul (in impeccable English) that the Maracaibo revolutionaries sought “to put, in the place of our present system of government which is unconstitutional and rests on military dictatorship, a wholly civilian organization headed by honorable, civilized and unmilitary men. With respect to our foreign policy, we want consistently to abide by the democratic inclinations of our national spirit, which unreservedly brings us to the side of the Allied cause. We are led to them not only by our political and social principles, but also by our economic interests and our commercial ties with the allied nations of Europe, and especially at this time and from now on in an ever higher degree, with the North American nation.”

Rojas went on to complain about Juan Vicente Gomez’s “apparent neutrality which hides a connivance with Germany.” Rojas also complained that the government provided special protection of German interests in Venezuela. In any case, Rojas argued, the Zulia state government had been imposed on the people, and had to be overthrown through a coup d’etat. Once the state authorities were out of the picture, Zulia would rejoin other states which in turn would free themselves of tyranny, and relations with Germany would be broken.

Rojas requested airplanes, ammunition, guns and steamers. Rojas stated: “The national force of militia and police in these parts is so small that it does not reach 200, an in addition the men are suffering vexations and ill-treatment in the barracks and jail, which keeps them in a state of humiliation and disaffection.” The Maracaibo businessman concluded: “P.S. In trusting you with my name, I stake my life, so this confidential statement is for you and your Government under the reservation of honor.”

Rojas Appeals for US Intervention

What is striking is that not only did Rojas run the risk of contacting the US authorities, but also appeared to enjoy significant support. According to the US consul, the “revolutionaries here include a considerable number of the best people of Maracaibo, including over one-half of the State Legislature members, and people of means, some of whom are intimate friends of mine. They claim that over-whelming majority of the best people here sympathize with the revolution, though uninformed of any organized plan.”

These influential citizens of Maracaibo not only supported the overthrow of Gomez, but there appeared to be little stomach in the city for ongoing caudillo rule. For prominent members of the city, revolution was bound to lead to yet more repressive rule, “unless the United States would establish a sort of protectorate, as in Cuba, to keep representative government on its feet.” Faced with the specter of revolt, the US consul noted, “It appears quite certain that the local government here is looking for trouble and is nervous.” The authorities, continued the consul, increased security for Santos Gomez, who was heavily guarded particularly at night.

The US consul himself was surprised by the “extraordinary secrecy” of the conspiracy. “I knew there was a good deal of opposition here to the Government,” he remarked, “but this is the first intimation I have received that a definite plan of revolution was being worked out.” Leaders of the proposed revolution attempted to convince the consul that their efforts would meet with success.

In the first phase of the revolt, the state legislature would denounce the election of Santos M. Gomez as having been made under pressure from the central government “and as therefore void.” Later, the legislature would elect another Zulia state president and organize a government independent of the Gomez regime. “They,” remarked the consul, “say that the capture of Maracaibo, perhaps without bloodshed, is practically assured, the army being almost entirely on the side of the revolutionists.” However, the revolutionaries requested that the United States should prevent Venezuelan Federal warships from entering Lake Maracaibo.

The revolutionaries planned to enlist two thousand men from Maracaibo and five hundred from Coro. Despite this groundswell of support, the US consul was decidedly non-committal in his dealings with the rebels: “I could not see how the United States government could make any promises in advance, because that would be encouraging revolution.” The consul refused to attend a meeting of the revolutionaries. However, he agreed to refer the matter to the State Department.

How might one explain this lack of commitment on the US side? Wilson, after launching the US into the war to supposedly make the world “safe for democracy” now failed to support political forces that wanted to rid Venezuela of dictatorship. Significantly, the State Department’s Division of Latin American Affairs even covered up news of Gomez’s crimes so that Americans would not call for his removal.

In seeking to explain the US response, one scholar, Judith Ewell in her book Venezuela and The United States, takes a cynical view of US foreign policymakers: “Gomez…benefited from Washington’s judgment that the effort to remove him and keep peace over an outraged population would require too great a diversion of military resources.” What is more, in the event that Gomez vanished from the scene, the US would have to contend with a new and unpredictable political milieu dominated by Gomez’s capricious political opponents.

Without any tangible US support, massive anti-Gomez demonstrations in Caracas failed to materialize. “The influenza epidemic,” writes Ewell, “Gomez’s ruthless use of force, the lack of a coherent organized opposition, and the quiescence of the United States allowed Gomez to survive.” In Zulia, the revolutionaries decided to postpone the revolt indefinitely when U.S. assistance was not forthcoming. In Maracaibo, Rojas was arrested and charged with plotting against the government. He was incarcerated in the military prison of San Carlos for six years.

Nevertheless, further unrest suggested that Gomez was not yet out of the woods. In early 1919, Cesar Leon, a retired merchant and writer in Maracaibo, wrote a personal appeal to President Wilson condemning the lack of democratic freedoms in Venezuela.

Oil and the “Filibustering” Conspiracy

In a rejection of Wilsonian internationalism, US voters elected Warren Harding in 1920. On the surface, a less interventionist foreign policy stood to relieve pressure on the Gomez administration. However, Harding attached singular importance to promoting the expansion of US oil interests abroad, and the State Department was riddled with officials compromised by conflicts of interest. For example, William TS Doyle, the resident manager of Shell Oil in 1919-1920, was a former head of the State Department’s Division of Latin American Affairs. Jordan Stabler, another State Department official, went on to work for Gulf Oil. Francis Loomis, a powerful State Department official, later worked for Standard Oil.

In December 1921, Gomez received a shock when he was apprised of a plot for a military invasion of Venezuela. The plan was foiled when the Dutch authorities stopped a ship setting forth from Holland. The ship had been chartered to travel to Venezuela, apparently to engage in a “filibustering expedition.” Another ship was prevented from setting sail from England. Both ships, the British Public Records Office stated, had been funded to the tune of $400,000 by “oil interests of the United States,” which “had been pulling every possible string in order to block the development of the British Concessions which they ultimately hoped to get hold of.” It’s unclear whether the U.S. government had any knowledge of the plot. British reports, based on information supplied by Gomez authorities, stated that “a person named Bollorpholl of New York representing himself to be connected with State Department has handled the money.” Diplomats hinted that Standard Oil, which had been disappointed with legal decisions which favored British companies, “would like to see Gomez’s downfall and may have contributed to this expedition.”

Apparently, oil interests had been conspiring with Venezuelan military officers, such as Gen. Carabana and Gen. Alcantara. (British officials were most likely referring to Francisco Linares Alcantara, son of the Venezuelan president of the same name, who ruled the country in 1877-78.) What is more, the Venezuelan Minister for Foreign Affairs, Esteban Gil Borges, had been “practically in the pockets” of American oil companies. “So far as I understand,” remarked a British diplomat, “the filibustering expedition was arranged by the American Oil Interests with the express object of removing President Gomez and bringing Senor Esteban Gil Borges back into power.” When Gomez was informed of the plot, Borges was removed from his post.

Though the plot hatched by “American oil interests” never came to fruition, the growing oil presence was a concern for Santos Gomez, the Zulia state governor. In 1923, he personally wrote Gomez, warning his chief that oil workers could be subverted by enemies of the regime. Of particular concern to Santos Gomez was the isolated oil field of Mene de Buchivacoa, located across the Zulia border in the state of Falcon. Santos Gomez worried that the area could be an easy target for enemies to the regime, who could land forces there and garner the support of oil workers before the government could respond. “Santos Matute Gomez,” writes historian Sandra Flores, “deplored the absence of authority in an area of such importance and recommended the dispatch of a corps of police.”

Gomez Buys Off Pedro Rojas

Having weathered many secessionist plots, the Venezuelan authorities sought to head off Zulia secession by monitoring the opposition. The new Zulia state governor, Febres Cordero, remarked to Gomez that he had received reports that the popular Pedro Rojas, now free from his jail cell at San Carlos, was using his position as president of a local athletic center for political ends. Febres Cordero stated that it was possible Rojas was trying to found an association of workers. While the governor personally doubted the veracity of the reports, he paid 1,200 bolivares to help the center acquire a new boxing ring, “with the idea”, he wrote, “of putting myself in communication with the members of the club and observe them more closely.”

In a long 1926 telegram, the dictator wrote Febres Cordero “to watch Dr Rojas carefully and to investigate rumors that he was actively engaged in preparing a nucleus of young men and laborers who might be used in the formation of a body of troops in the event civil trouble occurred.” In a more forceful approach, Febres Cordero summoned Rojas personally, so as to speak candidly. Febres Cordero told Rojas point-blank that Gomez had received an anonymous letter, suggesting that Rojas had been instrumental in helping to form an athletic center for young men. Rojas, according to the anonymous letter, sought to become president of the organization in order to train members for military purposes.

Furthermore, Rojas was accused of having trained men employed in his factories, and “was trying by every means to increase his popularity among the Venezuelans and so far succeeded as to be elected the president of the strongest club in Maracaibo (El Club del Comercio) against most active foreign opposition.” Seeking to maintain a public facade of neutrality, Febres Cordero told Rojas bluntly that he had not investigated the charges. While he personally doubted the veracity of the claims, Febres Cordero advised Rojas to meet with Gomez personally.

Rojas, no doubt concerned for his personal security, accepted Febres Cordero’s advice. Traveling to the Venezuelan city of Maracay, he was granted an immediate interview with Gomez himself. One can easily imagine Rojas’ growing discomfort as the dictator personally outlined the charges in more detail. Far from his native Maracaibo and now on Gomez’ home ground, Rojas realized that he would have to soothe Gomez’s suspicions. He reminded Gomez that he had completed a six-year jail sentence at San Carlos. He added that “he had received his lesson?he had not and did not intend to mingle in politics but wanted peace.”

At this point, Gomez slyly answered that he had never believed the charges. However, in an offer of good faith, Gomez offered to award Rojas an engineering position in charge of improving the Maracaibo dock and aqueduct. No doubt feeling relieved, Rojas immediately accepted the position and returned to Maracaibo. Later, the Maracaibo native son was careful to stay in touch with Gomez, writing the dictator in April 1926 concerning preliminary work on the aqueduct. Having Rojas work personally on the project made political sense. In this way, the authorities could keep a careful watch on the respected one-time revolutionary.

Oil, Cocaine and the Lindblad Conspiracy

On the other hand Washington did not seem to pose much of a threat to the regime. The Republican administration of Calvin Coolidge officially espoused a policy of non-intervention in Latin American affairs. In late 1926, Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg personally wrote American oil companies in Venezuela, lobbying managers to restrain abuses of the native workforce.

Nevertheless, Gomez would shortly receive worrying reports suggesting that the US Navy was spying in Zulia. While it’s unclear whether the US military sought to intrigue against state authorities on behalf of the oil companies, Gomez already had sufficient cause for concern. Though the dictator enjoyed a burgeoning alliance with the companies, and the spreading of prosperity from the industry allowed him to secure his position in power, Gomez had strong indications that US companies were plotting against him.

In the summer of 1926, British authorities made reference to a peculiar plot. “Information,” remarked one diplomat, “has been received from a very reliable source, and should therefore be treated with the greatest secrecy, that steps are being taken to foment a revolution in Venezuela during the course of the next few months. It is stated that the funds for a revolution are being supplied by American oil companies with a view to obtaining further concessions and their agent on this side to be Captain Herold LINDBLAD of 20 Craven Hill Gardens, Lancaster Gate.”

The plot, documented in cloak-and-dagger fashion by British authorities, involved a bizarre assortment of shady characters. Central to the effort was David Herold Lindblad, a former commander of the Swedish Navy and acting Norwegian Consul in Trinidad. Lindblad sought to recruit support for the conspiracy in England and Germany. The British authorities noted that Lindblad was married to an English lady in Trinidad, whose mother was related to Gen. Alcantara, of whom Lindblad himself was a close associate. Alcantara, who was resident in Trinidad, had received indications of growing dissension in the Gomez armed forces and hoped to militarily intervene in Venezuela with the idea of becoming president himself.

British authorities noted that Alcantara was born into a prominent Venezuelan family and his father was president of Venezuela. Reportedly, he had support not only in Ciudad Bolivar but also in the Orinoco districts, Margarita Island and western Venezuela “where he is in command.” Alcantara was in turn linked to other sources, such as a certain individual described in cryptic manner as “D.” This individual had traveled from New York to the Caribbean and was in communication with Lindblad. Apparently, “D” met with a certain “L” in New Orleans, who had agreed to supply six thousand pounds for purchasing equipment. The 6,000 pounds, noted British authorities, “was to be placed at the disposal of Lindblad for the purchase of a trawler and arms.” Meanwhile, “D would seem to be an intermediary between General Alcantara and certain parties in New York (?Standard Oil?) [sic], who might be interested in financing the plot.”

According to British authorities, there were indications that the plotters had approached Standard Oil, Shell, British Controlled Oilfields, “and some group in Germany,” with the idea of raising financial support for Gen. Alcantara. Of these the only party which agreed to negotiate was Standard Oil, which “did not wish to appear openly in the transaction but agreed to act through an intermediary.” In conversations with British Controlled Oilfields, Lindblad suggested that the company advance 10,000 pounds to charter a ship and purchase arms at Hamburg. If Gen. Alcantara came into power, British Controlled Oilfields would receive a “quid pro quo” in the form of oil concessions.

Alcantara required money to buy one thousand rifles, 30 machine guns and other arms and equipment, and to hire a 200-ton trawler in Germany to transport the weapons to Venezuela. The port of embarkation was Hamburg. According to British intelligence Lindblad was associated with a businessman in the German port city, who had a flourishing trade with South and Central America and who had smuggled cocaine and morphine. Little to his knowledge perhaps, British authorities sent an agent from Scotland Yard to be present at Lindblad’s interview with British Controlled Oilfields in London. The authorities, who remarked that Venezuela had enjoyed stable government under Gomez and that British interests were well treated in the country, promptly passed word of the plot to Gomez directly through British diplomats in Caracas.

Apparently, the plotters grew concerned when it looked like British interests might work against their plans, and Lindblad’s wife warned him: “Be very careful about choosing the crew. Shell might succeed in getting traitors on board by means of much bribery.” When Gomez found out about the plot, Standard Oil grew alarmed and withdrew its support; the conspiracy promptly fell apart when the necessary funds did not materialize. For his part, Lindblad notified his conspirators that he would shortly return to Trinidad from Hamburg. However, word of the conspiracy alerted the authorities to the possibility that disgruntled caudillos could unite with the oil companies to create unrest. According to British authorities, “hopes are?still entertained that when matters have quietened down and President Gomez’s suspicions have been allayed, through the intermediary of ‘L’ the Americans may again be induced to co-operate.”

Gomez Consolidates Power

In the midst of this political intrigue, Gomez acted decisively to appoint a stronger and more competent state governor in Zulia, Vincencio Perez Soto. According to Gomez biographer Brian McBeth, rumors of oil companies sponsoring Zulia secession concerned Gomez and convinced the dictator of the need to appoint a stronger man as state president. What is more, as British authorities put it, “the peace enjoyed for so long by this country has been one imposed by General Gomez, now getting on in years and in uncertain health, and it is doubtful whether it will long survive him.”

Additionally, if Gomez died, then “candidates to the succession will not be wanting,” a British diplomat found. Most worrisome of all, “the prizes of government have increased tenfold in the last few years. The most obvious first step to successful revolution would be to gain control of the oil region with a view to extracting financial support from the oil companies.” Clearly, the oil-rich Zulia region was increasingly critical. By 1928, in fact, Venezuela would become the leading world oil exporter.

In the 1920s, US economic interests in Zulia grew, with American oil companies such as Standard Oil and Gulf joining their British counterparts in the Lake Maracaibo area. Though US diplomats reported that authorities in Caracas were not overly concerned about rumors that Maracaibo would break free of central control, the US consul in Maracaibo, Alexander Sloan, alerted his superiors to widespread disaffection in the city.

Sloan said that Zulia natives as well as Maracaibo residents “do not now and have not for years felt any great affection for the central government.” However, he added that Zulianos believed the economic and natural boundaries of the Maracaibo Lake united the area with the Cucuta district in Colombia and not with Caracas. Likewise, local residents argued that Cucuta was united to Maracaibo by much closer economic bonds than to other districts within Colombia.

Furthermore, reported Sloan, Maracaibo natives suspected that the central government purposefully isolated their city from the rest of the country and from the outside world for fear that an independence movement might arise there. Local residents were also incensed “that although there are many quite capable Maracaiberos [Maracaibo residents], not one has ever been placed in a position of power in the state of Zulia.”

Upon assuming office, Perez Soto set about meeting with oil company officials, including Roy Merritt, a manager at Caribbean Oil Company. Writing later to Gomez, Perez Soto commented that Merritt “had opened up to me too much, showing me that he was alarmed at what he called claims and inconveniences which had been presented against his company, and saying that he sees that these matters could be leading to the same path as the Mexicans in 1911. And these?phrases leave a lot to think about.”

The Mysterious Mission of the USS Niagara

Meanwhile, Perez Soto was confronted with unsettling news. On July 2, 1926 the USS Niagara arrived off the coast of Zulia. The US consul requested that the sailors be allowed to celebrate the 4th of July in Venezuela. When an air officer attached to the Niagara requested permission to fly over Maracaibo in honor of the July 4th, Perez Soto grew suspicious. Reports reached the governor that the real reason for the over flight was to take aerial photographs of the region. Perez Soto barred the disembarking of the Niagara crew and refused to authorize the over-flight.

Kellogg and the State Department’s policy of non-intervention notwithstanding, Perez Soto was concerned. Writing Gomez, the governor related that the US sought to station the Niagara in Venezuelan waters “as a kind of sentinel of North American interests in Venezuela.” Perez Soto was concerned that the Niagara might be a bad omen of things to come, and remarked that “in this same manner the Americans placed battleships in Magdalena Bay in Baja California in 1914.”

Perez Soto then employed his intelligence to obtain detailed reports concerning the activities of US marines from the Niagara on Zapara island, located in the mouth of the Maracaibo Bar. Perez Soto uncovered that the Niagara crew had mounted a wireless radio with a reach of 2,000 miles. Perez Soto was particularly concerned that powerful sectors of Maracaibo society might conspire with the United States to further Zulia secession with the aim of separating the state from the rest of Venezuela.

In an effort to lessen tensions with foreign interests, PĂ©rez Soto assured oil company managers that he was “anxious to discuss their problems with them and to lend them any aid in his power.” Perez Soto sought to assert his authority over the oil companies through diplomatic and legal means. As the US consul put it, Perez Soto and local officials were determined “that conditions such as existed in Tampico [Mexico] are not to be tolerated here, and [they] have become much stricter in enforcing discipline and obedience to the laws.” In a note to Gomez, Perez Soto mused that perhaps the oil companies would put up with legality and honesty—”or maybe not, and they will try to undermine me,” through their representatives in Caracas.

Redrawing the Region’s Borders

Clearly, in many ways Perez Soto had been more a more forceful governor than his predecessors. For Gomez, however, the risk was that the more powerful Perez Soto became, the greater the possibility that the charismatic politician would become a rival in his own right. As Gomez consolidated power, he faced yet further military unrest, and there were ample opportunities for Perez Soto to create intrigue.

As Gomez approached old age, Perez Soto might have wondered about his own future and felt a certain degree of concern. In the first years of Perez Soto’s term in office, the political situation in Venezuela looked increasingly murky, with Gomez’s presidential tenure set to expire in 1929. (Under the Venezuelan constitution, Gomez was allowed to run for another seven year presidential term in 1929. But, in light of student unrest in 1928, he proclaimed he would not run as a candidate. In 1929, the constitution was revised and the position of “Commander in Chief” and President were separated. Congress elected Doctor Juan Baptista Perez as president, who had little influence. Gomez became commander in chief and continued to control real power behind the scenes.)

In July 1928 Col. Jose Maria Fossi, a trusted Gomez subordinate, turned against the dictator, taking the city of La Vela de Coro for a few hours. The military uprising, which called for revolutionaries to be reinforced by 300 Venezuelan and 90 Dominican rebels working in Curacao, was crushed by Gomez’s troops.

McBeth has written that following the assault Perez Soto reorganized his small armory in order to prepare for future attack. However, Fossi later remarked that Perez Soto had approached him and offered him money in exchange for his support in fomenting a separatist movement. The ultimate aim was to form a new republic comprising the Venezuelan states of Zulia, Falcon, and the Catatumbo region of Colombia. The venture, added Fossi, would have the support of the oil companies in Lake Maracaibo.

While such reports must be treated cautiously, Colombian authorities were apparently concerned about a plot and Bogota’s House of Deputies met in secret session to discuss “moves of Yankee agents in the Departments of Santander and Goagira which sought to provoke a separatist movement which, united to Zulia, would form the Republic of Zulia.”

Perez Soto dismissed rumors of his involvement in Zulia secession as “treason against the Fatherland, and an immense dishonor.” However, Perez Soto’s credibility was further damaged when correspondence reached Gomez himself hinting at efforts to involve Perez Soto in Zulia secessionist plots. McBeth writes that “important oilmen with close connections with the State Department had enquired about the suitability of Perez Soto as President of Zulia.”

What might have motivated Perez Soto to become involved? One possibility is that he was worried about the future political climate. In the event that Gomez were to fall or die in office, Perez Soto could face political vendettas or worse. Perhaps Perez Soto, having conducted successful negotiations with the oil companies in 1926, now hoped to cash in on his political capital.

The History in Light of the Current Controversy

At this point it’s unclear how similar Rumbo Propio might be to earlier conspiracies. The evidence is suggestive that in the past prominent political figures allied to the oil companies and the United States sought to foment unrest in Zulia. Today, Chavez hasn’t demonstrated any proof that Rumbo Propio is affiliated with Rosales or the United States.

On the other hand, the group shares Rosales’ and the United States’ contempt for Chavez. Rumbo Propio, led by an economist named Nestor Suarez, is an avowedly right-wing organization opposed to the government’s economic policies. The group seeks to encourage “liberal capitalism” in Zulia.

The question, however, is whether Rumbo Propio is destined to become another historical footnote or to make real political problems for Chavez. When I recently traveled to Maracaibo, I put this question to Umberto Silvio Beltran, Zulia regional coordinator of the Bolivarian Circles, pro-Chavez grassroots groups organized locally throughout the country.

Beltran didn’t deny the existence of real regionalist sentiment in Zulia, but downplayed the notion that the area would break away from Venezuela. “People here consider themselves Venezuelan,” he said.

Nevertheless, with tensions rising in the run-up to the election, one cannot discard the possibility that the United States, or local separatists, might take advantage of the political climate to create unrest. If Chavez is right and the Bush administration is encouraging secession, this cynical American strategy will most likely anger Chavez’s hardened followers in Zulia.

The president’s support in Zulia state is not insignificant, and any U.S. meddling could ratchet up political conflict. According to Beltran, there are approximately 180,000 people involved in the Bolivarian Circles in Zulia. Hopefully, Zulia will not become a political battleground on Election Day and cooler heads will prevail.


Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the U.S. (St. Martin’s Press, 2006)


Rumbo Propio

See also:

“Colombia v. Venezuela: Big Oil’s Secret War?”
by Bill Weinberg
WW4 REPORT #108, April 2005

From our weblog:

“Venezuela: US Naval maneuvers encourage Zulia separatists?”
WW4 REPORT, April 9, 2006


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution



from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

On Nov. 3, environmentalists in the cities of Gualeguaychu and Colon in the eastern Argentine province of Entre Rios blocked the border bridges leading to Uruguay to protest continuing efforts to build a paper pulp mill in Fray Bentos, on the Uruguayan shore of the river that divides the two countries. The protesters in Gualeguaychu built a wall of brick and cement on national highway 136, 15 kilometers from the border bridge, to symbolize the hard position taken by the Finnish company Botnia and by the governments and international institutions in refusing to halt construction of the pulp mill. Environmentalists say the project will contaminate the river and the surrounding ecosystem and destroy the livelihoods of local residents. (La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 4, 5; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Nov. 4 from AP) The Spanish company Ence has already backtracked in its plans to build a similar pulp mill along the river.

The action was timed to coincide with the Nov. 3 inauguration of the 16th Iberoamerican Summit in Montevideo, where the Spanish government tried to initiate a dialogue between Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez and Argentine president Nestor Kirchner; the two leaders’ relations have been significantly chilled by the paper mill conflict. In Gualeguaychu, two protesters dressed up as Vazquez and Kirchner cut the tape to inaugurate the symbolic wall. Later in the evening, several assembly members from Gualeguaychu spoke on the radio, inviting the heads of state from the summit to attend “a meeting that’s more fun, and with faces that are less sad, on the banks of the Uruguay river, where there are still birds and life.”

Hundreds of local residents came on Nov. 4 to see the symbolic wall and support the anti-pulp mill protests. The protesters expected to end their blockade and take down the wall after the summit ended on Nov. 4, but they said they would keep carrying out actions until they get results. (LJ, Nov. 4, 5)

In Montevideo, some 400 activists from leftist and grassroots groups took part in a Nov. 3 mobilization against the summit. They marched to the “security zone” and faced off against a heavy contingent of riot police. There were only a few minor incidents. (Uruguay Indymedia, Nov. 4; LJ, Nov. 4)

The 22 participating countries closed the Iberoamerican Summit on Nov. 4 with the approval of a 45-point consensus statement protesting both the US embargo against Cuba and a new US law—signed by President George W. Bush on Oct. 26—which authorizes construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border. “We consider the building of walls to be a practice incompatible with relations of friendship and cooperation among states,” read the statement. “We believe that the construction of walls doesn’t stop undocumented migration, the flow of migrants or the trafficking of people; it incites discrimination and xenophobia and favors the emergence of groups of traffickers who put people in greater danger.” (LJ, Nov. 5)

Argentine foreign minister Jorge Taiana spoke at the summit about his country’s “Great Homeland” program, which allows any citizens of the expanded Mercosur trade area to regularize their immigration status in Argentina simply by showing proof of their nationality. They are then eligible for the same benefits and rights as Argentines. The expanded Mercosur area includes Argentina, Brasil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. (LJ, Nov. 4)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 5


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #126, October 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution



from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

Nicaragua: Ortega wins

WIth 91.6% of the ballots counted from Nicaragua’s Nov. 5 elections, former president Daniel Ortega of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) won the presidency with 38.07%, compared to 29% for Eduardo Montealegre of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN). Having won over 35% of the vote and with a more than five point lead over his closest rival, Ortega was able to avoid a second round. Jose Rizo of the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) was in third place with 26.21%; Edmundo Jarquin of the Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS) got 6.44%; and Eden Pastora of Alternative for Change (AC) had 0.27%. The voting broke down to roughly the same percentages in the balloting for National Assembly deputies and representatives to the regional Central American Parliament (PARLACEN).

In the presidential race, the FSLN won in the northern departments of Nueva Segovia, Madriz, Esteli and Matagalpa; in the western departments of Chinandega, Leon, Managua and Carazo; and in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN). The ALN won in the southwestern departments of Masaya, Granada and Rivas; and in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS). The PLC dominated in the central cattle-ranching departments of Chontales and Boaco; the north central department of Jinotega; and the south central department of Rio San Juan. (Resultados Electorales, Nov. 7)

According to the Nicaragua Network in Washington, it is likely that the FSLN will have 37 seats in the National Assembly, one less than it has now; the ALN will have 26, the PLC will have 22 and the MRS will have six. It is not clear whether defeated candidates Montealegre, Rizo, and Jarquin are automatically granted seats in the Assembly or whether only Montealegre gets that privilege. Either way, the Network observes, “it is clear that the FSLN, or even the FSLN in coalition with the MRS, does not have the majority necessary to pass legislation. This means that there will be a strong incentive for the new government to continue the so-called pact with the PLC and its disgraced leader, former president Arnoldo Aleman.”

Ortega is to take office on Jan. 10, 2007, along with his vice president, Jaime Morales Carazo, a former leader of the US-backed right-wing contra movement in the 1980s. (La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 8 from AFP, DPA) In his speeches since the elections, Ortega has insisted that he plans no radical changes and will continue to promote the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), foreign investment and close US ties. (AP, Nov. 10, 12)

On Nov. 11, Ortega said his cabinet ministers will be named by the people; he has asked local representatives to suggest candidates. He vowed that half his top officials would be women, and that he would include people who didn’t vote for him. (AP, Nov. 12)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 12

Nicaragua: abortion law passes

On Oct. 26, Nicaragua’s 93-member National Assembly voted 52-0 in favor of a law criminalizing abortion in all cases. The new law overturns article 165 of the country’s penal code, which for more than a century has allowed abortions up to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape or incest, or where they are necessary to preserve the pregnant woman’s life or health—as long as three doctors verify the medical need and the spouse or a close relative gives legal consent. (Abortions for any other reason have long been punishable with prison sentences of up to six years.) (Adital, Oct. 31; Nicaragua Network Hotline, Nov. 1; Nicaragua News Service, Oct. 24-Nov. 1 from La Prensa, El Nuevo Diario, Radio La Primerisima, TV Channel 8; Reuters, Oct. 27)

The FSLN joined the ruling Liberal Party in approving the bill. Of the FSLN’s 38 deputies, 25 voted for the bill, although some sent their aides to cast the vote rather than do it themselves. The other 13 FSLN deputies stayed away from the session. The FSLN’s support of the bill was seen as an attempt to cater to the Catholic church to win support for FSLN candidate and ex-president Daniel Ortega in the Oct. 5 presidential elections. (Reuters, Oct. 27)

Hundreds of women were vigiling outside as the Assembly debated the measure; as news of the vote broke, the protesters began to chant, “Women killers! Women killers!” Women’s organizations began setting up picket lines at the campaign headquarters of the four parties that approved the measure. The women’s groups also said they would challenge the new law in court.

Health minister Margarita Gurdian complained that the legislators had failed to consult doctors for a medical opinion before changing the law. Some 20 national doctors’ associations joined representatives of the Pan-American Health Organization and the World Health Organization in urging the Assembly to promptly review its decision. The groups predict that the repeal of article 165 will bring a 60% increase in the country’s maternal mortality rate, currently at 83.4 per 100,000 live births.

In the days leading up the vote, a wide range of national and international organizations had spoken out against the repeal of article 165. The organization Save the Children had issued a press release pointing out that Nicaragua has one of the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy in Latin America, and that most pregnant girls have been raped. The Nicaraguan Coordinating Council of Non-governmental Organizations working with Children and Adolescents (Codeni) and the Special Ombudsperson for Children had urged that debate over the measure be postponed until after the Nov. 5 elections. Codeni estimates that 30% of the female victims of sexual violence are children and adolescents, many of whom become pregnant.

“This Assembly has sent women to the guillotine,” said Matilde Jiron, a doctor specializing in reproductive health. Jiron said each year the Health ministry records about 1,000 cases of ectopic or molar pregnancies, in both of which “therapeutic abortion is absolutely necessary to save the mother’s life.” (Adital, Oct. 31; Nicanet Hotline, Nov. 1; NNS, Oct. 24-Nov. 1) The Autonomous Women’s Movement calculates that between 2004 and 2006, some 4,000 women underwent therapeutic abortions in Nicaragua. (La Jornada, Nov. 3)

An article in the Los Angeles Times reported that only 24 legally authorized abortions have been performed in Nicaragua in the last three years. Ipas, a US-based reproductive rights group, estimates that 32,000 illegal abortions are performed in Nicaragua each year, many under unsafe conditions. (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 26) The new law puts Nicaragua alongside nations like Chile and El Salvador in imposing a blanket ban on abortion. (Reuters, Oct. 27)

Three of the four leading presidential candidates supported the new anti-abortion law; only Edmundo Jarquin of the Sandinista Renewal Movement opposed it. (NNS, Oct. 24-Nov. 1)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 5

Guatemala: ex-leaders ordered arrested

On Nov. 6, Guatemala’s Fifth Criminal Sentence Court issued arrest warrants for six former military leaders in response to extradition requests from the National Court of Spain. The Spanish court has charged the six men with genocide, terrorism, torture, murder and illegal detentions during the 1980s, and specifically the burning of the Spanish embassy on Jan. 31, 1980. A group of indigenous activists had occupied the embassy to demand respect for human rights; 39 people died in the blaze.

Those ordered arrested are ex-dictator Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores (1983-1986); retired generals Manuel Benedicto Lucas Garcia (army chief of staff from August 1981 to March 1982) and Angel Anibal Guevara Rodriguez, a former defense minister; former police director Col. German Chupina; and two civilians, former governance minister Donaldo Alvarez Ruiz and former chief of the Police Sixth Command, Pedro Garcia Arredondo. (Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, Nov. 9; Guatemala Hoy, Nov. 7; La Jornada, Nov. 7, 8, both from AFP)

Guevara Rodriguez turned himself in on Nov. 7; security forces arrested Chupina the same day. (LJ, Nov. 8 from AFP) Mejia Victores had not been found as of Nov. 8 and some speculate that he is in the US. (GHRC/USA, Nov. 9)

The Spanish court also sought the extradition of former dictator Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala from late March of 1982 to early August of 1983. But the Guatemalan court declinedto issue an arrest order for Rios Montt, apparently because there was insufficient proof of his responsibility for the embassy deaths. Spanish judge Santiago Pedraz had charged Rios Montt with genocide, noting that the Commission of Historical Clarification had found, in its report on the violence over the 36-year armed conflict, that 69% of all the executions, 41% of the rapes and 45% of the torture incidents took place during Rios Montt’s rule. (GHRC/USA, Nov. 9; GH, Nov. 7; LJ, Nov. 8 from AFP)

When it issued the warrants last July 7, the Spanish court had also sought the arrest of Gen. Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, who died last May in Venezuela. (See WW4 REPORT, May 30, 2006)

Many had hoped that Romeo Lucas Garcia, president of Guatemala from July 1978 to March 1982, would be “symbolically” brought to justice for the massacres that were committed under his rule. (GHRC/USA, Nov. 9)

Benedicto Lucas Garcia, who has been ordered arrested, was chief of staff during the final period of his brother’s rule, and was considered to be one of the key architects of the massacres.

The Mutual Support Group (GAM) reported in a 2000 study, “Massacres in Guatemala, the Screams of an Entire People,” that 1,112 massacres were carried out during the 36-year armed conflict, 1,046 of them (more than 94%) by government forces, including army, police, the paramilitary Civilian Self-Defense Patrols (PACs) and other security forces. The largest number—507 massacres, 49% of the total—took place under the Romeo Lucas Garcia regime. Another 413 of them—40%—were under Rios Montt’s 16-month rule. (GAM statement, Nov. 9 via Adital)

The court’s Nov. 6 decision came after the European Parliament passed a resolution on Oct. 26, backing the Spanish arrest warrants and urging the Guatemalan government to cooperate with the investigations. President Oscar Berger must sign the final extradition order. Rios Montt’s party, the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), wields considerable power in Guatemala and is expected to try to halt the extraditions. (GHRC/USA, Nov. 9)

A group of victims’ families had held a demonstration on Nov. 3 outside the Supreme Court of Justice, asking it to immediately order the arrests of Rios Montt and the others. Members of the Coordinating Committee of Genocide Never Again hung banners bearing photographs of their disappeared loved ones. (La Semana en Guatemala, Oct. 30-Nov. 5)

On Nov. 8, some 100 families and members of the Genocide Never Again group again gathered outside the Supreme Court, saluting the arrest orders but demanding that Rios Montt be arrested too. “Now we have a small opening to send these men, who massacred and disappeared our people, to where they belong,” said Aura Elena Farfan, leader of the Association of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared of Guatemala (FAMDEGUA). Farfan’s brother, Ruben Amilcar, was abducted and disappeared in March 1984 during the military regime headed by Mejia Victores (1982-85). “No injustice lasts 100 years, and no people will endure it,” said Farfan. “Hopefully what is happening today in Guatemala will be an example for the whole world, and all those who commit genocide will be jailed.” (GH, Nov. 9)

On Nov. 10, more than 1,000 people from around the country gathered again under the umbrella of Genocide Never Again to march from Morazan park to the Supreme Court, demanding justice. Eduardo de Leon, director of the Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation, said the Public Ministry had been negligent in allowing Mejia Victores to escape. De Leon said the foundation has already formally asked the Spanish court to reissue the arrest order against Rios Montt. (GH, Nov. 11) Rigoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan indigenous leader and 1992 Nobel Peace laureate, originally filed the charges against the ex-officials in the Spanish court in December 1999; her father was among those killed in the Spanish embassy fire in 1980. (LJ, Nov. 7 from AFP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 12

Guatemala: cops harass student protesters

A group of about 40 Guatemalan students attempted to protest neoliberal economic policies and the privatization of education during the traditional parade in Guatemala City marking Central American Independence Day, Sept. 15. According to Calixto Morales, a member of the National Students Organization of Guatemala (ONEG), when the protesters held up their signs near the reviewing stand, where President Oscar Berger and other officials were located, members of the Education Ministry (MINEDUC) pushed them away. When the students continued to demonstrate in front of the National Palace, police agents followed them, and the number of agents increased once they were away from the parade.

In Isabel La Catolica Park, 15 or more agents surrounded the students and pointed loaded guns at them. Agents hit one student and destroyed his photographic equipment. When a student leader said she would file a complaint, the agents threatened to arrest them for “rebellion.” The students were finally allowed to leave, without their signs, in pairs. (Guatemala Hoy, Sept. 18; ONEG communique on Chiapas Indymedia, Sept. 18)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 24

El Salvador: religious leaders killed

On Nov. 4, Francisco Carrillo and his wife, Jesus Calzada de Carrillo, both Lutheran pastors, human rights advocates, and activists in a local community volunteer rescue program, were shot and killed outside their church in the Salvadoran town of Jayaque, La Libertad. Francisco was locking up after the Friday service when assailants approached on bicycles and shot him, then shot his wife, who was waiting in a nearby car. The Carrillos were known for being vocal community activists and had recently received death threats for their work. The assailants rode away without covering their faces; some witnesses say they were local gang members. There is no known motive for the murder and there was no attempted robbery. The killing of the couple follows a number of similar recent incidents: the killing last July of the elderly parents of FMLN activist Mariposa Manzanares; the murder in August of leftist activist couple Alex Flores Montoya and Mercedes Penate de Flores; and the September murder of progressive Catholic priest Antonio Romero.

The Lutheran church and other members of the Jayaque community are calling for the National Civilian Police (PNC) and the attorney general’s office to investigate the Carrillos’ killings immediately. Given the PNC’s failure to make progress in investigating the other murders, religious and grassroots groups are pushing for results from the police investigation within two weeks. (CISPES El Salvador Update, Nov. 8; Diario Co Latino, El Salvador, Nov. 7)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 12

Honduras: indigenous brothers freed

On Aug. 15, a court in the Honduran city of Santa Rosa de Copan commuted the sentence of Leonardo Miranda, a Lenca indigenous activist from the community of Montana Verde. Miranda was freed from the prison in Gracias three hours later. His brother Marcelino Miranda Espinoza was freed from the same prison in Gracias on July 12 after a court secretary processed his release order. (Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras-COPINH communiques, July 12, Aug. 16, both via Rights Action) The Miranda brothers had been acquitted of murder charges on June 23 by the Supreme Court of Justice. They had been jailed since January 2003. In January 2006, Amnesty International joined an international campaign to win their release.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 3


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #127, November 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution