Chiapas: Zapatista Encuentro meets on contested turf

Representatives of peasant organizations from across the globe have gathered in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas for the “Encuentro with the Peoples of the World,” hosted by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). Participating groups include Brazil’s Movement of the Landless, Thailand’s Assembly of the Poor and the international NGO Via Campesina. Meetings are being held in the Zapatista “autonomous municipalities” of Oventic, Morelia and La Garrucha, where Comandanta Delia articulated the conditions that led the Zapatistas to take up arms in 1994: “Our grandparents lived in slavery, without salaries. We asked for land, but we were always denied by the evil government. Persecutions, imprisonments, houses burned. There has never been good justice.” (La Jornada, July 25)

Meanwhile, conflicts over political control of lands and communities in Chiapas continue to simmer. Days before the Encuentro opened, an ambulance belonging to the Zapatista Autonomous Health System (SAAZ) was attacked with stones by a group of apparently drunken men who called the driver and crew “Zapatista bandits” when the vehicle broke down while transporting a gravely ill patient from the clinic at Oventic to the hospital at the regional city of San Cristobal de Las Casas. Some of the health workers were pinned down under the car during the attack. A statement from the SAAZ said the assailants were presumably members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). (La Jornada, July 15)

Following a long campaign by the EZLN’s Sixth Commission, a civil support network, the Zapatistas met with a tentative victory July 12 when the Agrarian Tribunal in the state capital Tuxtla Gutierrez issued a ruling dismissing claims to Zapatista-held lands at El Nantze by the PRI-linked Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (OPDDIC). La Jornada’s Hermann Bellinghausen writes that the decision “tacitly recognizes the legitimacy of the autonomous communities and their lands.” (La Jornada, July 13)

Bellinghausen also reported that since the arrest of OPDDIC leader Pedro Chulín Jiménez earlier this year, many of the organization’s adherents have defected to the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). This may loan credence to Zapatista claims that the PRD is coming to mirror the PRI as a corrupt political machine, but also seems to signify a weakening of the most militant anti-Zapatista organization in Chiapas. (La Jornada, July 15)

A San Cristobal-based NGO, the Center for Political, Social and Economic Study and Analysis (CAPISE) issued a document in July entitled “Face of War,” accusing the Mexican federal army of expanding its positions in the Chiapas rainforest over the past year—in a pattern of collaboration with local anti-Zapatista forces. The study charges that “military elements have held meetings and visits with settlements and families opposed to the Zapatistas” in the jungle, “guaranteeing the penetration” of the OPDDIC into the lands of rebel-loyal communities. (La Jornada, July 18)

On July 6, the Fray Bartoleme de Las Casas Human Rights Center announced that its investigators, working with residents of the now-abandoned jungle settlement of Viejo Velasco Suárez, had uncovered the remains of two of the four indigenous campesinos who were presumed killed in the armed attack on the community last November. (La Jornada, July 7) The Fray Bartoleme Center and other rights groups, as well as the Zapatistas, had named the OPDDIC as behind the attack.

Following allegations in the Mexican press, the EZLN also issued a statement earlier this month denying links to the EPR guerillas, who re-emerged with dramatic attacks on pipelines in central Mexico.

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