Chiapas: “low-intensity warfare” seen

Amid a growing threat of paramilitary violence in Mexico’s conflicted southern state of Chiapas, the indigenous civil organization Las Abejas (The Bees), which was targeted in the December 1997 Acteal massacre, issued a statement urging Gov. Juan Sabines not to release Pedro Chulin, director of the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (OPDDIC). Chulin was arrested with several OPDDIC militants following a March 7 disturbance in Ocosingo. (La Jornada, March 24)

Two French NGOs that monitor Chiapas have issued a joint statement protesting a campaign of “low-intensity warfare” against peasant activists in the state. The statement from, France Amérique Latine (FAL) and the Comité de Solidarité avec les Peuples du Chiapas en Lutte (CSPCL) said that since Novemeber they have observed a “resurgence of violence orchestrated by paramilitary groups against the indigenous communities of Chiapas.” The groups have registered a “multiplication of attacks and threats of expulsion, sometimes affecting entire communities.” They noted that the affected are communities are those on lands occupied by the Zapatista movement since the 1994 Chiapas rebellion. (EFE, March 22)

The Zapatista families of the community Emiliano Zapata, in autonomous municipality Ricardo Flores Magon, have been displaced from their homes and lands since March 3 due to aggressions from the Regional Indigenous Campesino Union (URCI), who “operate openly as a paramilitary group,” according to a statement by the Zapatista Good Government Junta Hacia el Futuro, based at the settlement of La Garrucha. The statement says URCI carries out invasions of Zapatista lands dressed in green uniforms and ski masks, carrying high-powered rifles. (La Jornada, March 22)

The Zapatista autonomous municipality Tierra y Libertad, through a statement issued by the Good Government Junta Hacia la Esperanza at the settlement of La Realidad, dismissed claims of “kidnapping” aired in the Chiapas newspaper Cuarto Poder March 17. The incident apparently involved a road accident in which a transport driver killed a local resident, and was then detained by Zapatista authorities for failing to pay indemnities to the resident’s family, as had been agreed to. The statement noted: “The authorities of the of the official municipality of La Independencia and the family of señor Flavio Jiménez Vazquez have not accused us of kidnapping the said señor.” It also noted that the autonomous municipality involved in the incident was Tierra y Liberated, and not San Pedro de Michoacan, as Cuarto Poder had reported. (La Jornada, March 23; JBG Hacia la Esperanza statement, March 20)

The incident illustrates the dilemmas left by the failure to negotiate an official end to the Zapatista rebellion. The rainforest and highlands of Chiapas effectively have two systems of local government: the “official” municipalities and the Zapatista “autonomous municipalities,” generally carved out of the more remote areas. The “official” status of the “autonomous municipalities” is unclear, as the Mexican constitutional reforms which would have recognized them as self-governing territories were never passed; yet the “Dialogue Law” established for the peace talks more then ten years ago recognizes Zapatista control of these areas, and officially bars government aggression against them. Similarly, lands occupied by the Zapatistas in the 1994 rebellion have remained in rebel hands as a matter of official policy, without legal title having ever been clarified. These lands were previously in the hands of either cattle ranchers or peasant communities loyal to the then-ruling PRI political machine. In either case, the Zapatistas say these lands had been taken from the indigenous inhabitants by force or fraud before 1994, and were therefore “reclaimed” in the rebellion. PRI-aligned groups such as the OPDDIC are now seeking to take these lands back again.

Sources archived at Chiapas95.

See our last posts on Mexico, the Zapatista struggle, the land struggle in Chiapas and the Acteal massacre.