Zapatista tour advances; Mexican government claims “end” to Chiapas conflict

The Zapatista “Other Campaign” continues to advance through central Mexico. On March 20 in the Jalisco city of El Salto, Subcommander Marcos convened the first National Worker Encuentro, attended by dissidents from Mexico’s official labor unions and what they called “neocharrismo“—including leaders of a recent strike at the local Euzkadi tire plant. (Charro is popular slang for Mexico’s corrupt labor bosses.) Marcos called for a new labor opposition to Mexico’s government, and to whichever party is elected in July’s presidential race. (APRO, March 20)

In a meeting in Irapuato, Guanajuato, with members of the National Union of Popular and Independent Left Organizations (UCOPI), Marcos attacked the recent Chapultepec Pact on economic reform (signed last year by Mexico’s top political and industrial leaders), saying it will “convert the Mexican state into a police state” and “mean the end of our sovereignty.” (La Jornada, March 15)

Marcos also met with Huichol indigenous leaders at the village of Bajio del Tule in Jalisco’s remote Sierra Norte. Said Maurilio de la Cruz Avila, representing the Council of Elders of San Sebastian Teponahuxtla: “We thank the land; it sustains us. For this we are in struggle. We will not sell our mother. Not one of the Wixaritari [Huichol] brothers would think of selling one piece of earth. This is the struggle against the government and the invader.” (La Jornada, March 19)

Marcos tied the struggle for indigenous autonomy to the wider struggle for social change in Mexico: “It is not possible to extend the autonomy of the indigenous peoples beyond what has been acheived without a radical transformation of the system… If we leave things going the way they are, we will all be destroyed, individually or as a group, as long as we are separated.” (La Jornada, March 18)

Meanwhile, Mexico’s Government Secretariat declared an official end to the conflict in Chiapas. Government minister Carlos Abascal formally announced that “free movement” had been restored throughout Chiapas, which has been divided into zones under government or rebel control since the 1994 rebellion by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). Abascal described the Zapatistas’ new move towards a mainstream “political terrain” as a “positive development.” (World Market Analysis, March 17)

Speaking in the central square of Aguascalientes city March 16, Marcos contested this claim. He denied that the government has ceased its “vigilance” over the Zapatista communities or that the “gray zone” of contested territory has disappeared. “The Federal Army continues to invade indigenous communities, and not only Zapatistas, but throughout Chiapas,” said the rebel leader. (La Jornada, March 17)

Harassment of Zapatista supportrs and rights workers continues to be reported from San Cristobal de Las Casas, the main town in the Chiapas highlands. On March 16, the home of Norma Medina, local director of the Catholic relief organization Caritas, and her husband, David Mendez, a member of the Fray Bartolome de Las Casas Human Rights Center, was borken into. The couple said only a computer was taken, and that other objects of value were left, although scattered around the premesis—including their childrens’ clothes and toys. (La Jornada, March 17)

Onesimo Hidalgo of the San Cristobal-based Chiapas Economic-Political Investigative Center for Community Action (CIEPAC) was interviewed by Proceso magazine March 20 on his new book, Tras los pasos de una guerra inconclusa: 12 años de militarizaciĂłn en Chiapas (Through the Steps of an Inconclusive War: 12 Years of Militarization in Chiapas), the fruit of years of close work with Chiapas indigenous communities. Hidalgo claims that the federal government, which was ostensibly taken unawares by the 1994 revolt, knew of the existence of the Zapatistas at least since 1988, when an army patrol discovered a guerilla training camp (with “shell casings and shot-up trees”) near Taniperlas, in what is now the Zapatista Autonomous Municipality of Ricardo Flores Magon, in Las Cañadas region. There has been widespread suspicion that the Mexican government kept quiet on the growing threat of instability in the south of the country in order to get NAFTA passed.

As for the Zapatistas’ current stance, Hidalgo agrees that the current shift to a civil and political strategy is significant. “This is not to say that they don’t have arms and will not defend themselves. For the EZLN, arms are a mechanism of self-defense, but the logic of the insurgent group is to impact the political life of the country, and try to change it,” he said. (APRO, March 20)

All sources from the Chiapas95 archive.

See our last post on Mexico and the Zapatista tour.

  1. Background on Chapultepec Pact
    From El Universal, Nov. 26, 2005. Note that Rosen sees the pact as a tilt back to the populist model in place for generations under the PRI political machine:

    Parties signing on to Chapultepec accord

    by Fred Rosen

    Last Monday, the multibillionaire entrepreneur Carlos Slim met with the presidential candidates and party leaders of the National Action Party (PAN), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the Green Party, all of whom enthusiastically signed on to Slim’s call for a new economic order: the National Accord for Unity, the State of Law, Investment and Employment, otherwise known as the Chapultepec Pact.

    Felipe CalderĂłn, presidential candidate of the PAN, was the most enthusiastic, saying that his own campaign platform, called “Mexico’s Challenge,” was a virtual extension of Slim’s document, containing exactly the same points.

    Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) leaders did not attend the signing ceremony, announcing cautiously, first that they hadn’t been invited, and later that they couldn’t sign until AndrĂ©s Manuel LĂłpez Obrador had been officially anointed as the party’s presidential candidate. But a few days later they came around, saying, in an unsigned, official communique, that LĂłpez Obrador would sign on after his candidacy became official on December 10 and that, in any case, the party “looked forward to an interchange that would enrich the pact’s framework.”

    The pact was born on September 29, when a group of leading Mexican entrepreneurs and “notables,” convoked by Slim, met in Chapultepec Castle to discuss the needs of the country’s business community and the ways in which those needs coincided with the needs of the nation. At the end of the day, they agreed on the pact: a brief document calling for a privatepublic partnership in support of the rule of law, public security, greater private investment, accelerated economic growth, greater employment and the development of the country’s physical as well as social capital this last understood as inclusive of health, education and housing.

    The pact was at once a statement that profitable private investment must necessarily be the driving force of economic growth, and a recognition that such growth had to be embedded in a legitimate social order, one in which a significant percentage of the population could eat dinner on a daily basis; one that was thought of as “just.”

    The statement is both a sign of continuity and an interesting change in the dominant attitude of Mexico’s big-business class. The continuity is in the expression of the strongly felt belief that what is good for business is good for Mexico; that political parties can disagree about the details of a political-economic agenda but that at the end of the day, legitimate political debate had to be constrained by an agreement about the basics: the maintenance of an appropriate climate for investment.

    BEYOND GLOBALIZATION

    The change (perhaps better understood as a reversion to past attitudes) is in the expression of the need for the existence of a national business class as part of the broader Mexican community, with economic and political demands that ought to be supported and protected.

    This is an attitude that goes back to the “national-popular” relationship between the dominant business classes and an older version of the PRI and is a notable shift from the transnational free-market discourse of recent years. It is the expression of a belief that Mexico needs a national economic strategy that goes beyond the simple immersion of the country in the global economy.

    The pact is obviously a probusiness document, emanating from the most powerful businesspeople of the country, but it is one that has a great deal in common with the anti-freetrade strategies of the MERCOSUR countries who wish to build a protective wall (a porous one, to be sure) around their own economies before going head-to-head with the powerful economies of the North.

    This is not, in other words, a “neoliberal” pact, less for reasons of ideology than perceived self interest. It would not be far off the mark to label it a “Henry Fordist” pact. The pro-capitalist, ultraconservative, anti-union Ford, far from seeking out the cheapest labor markets for the production of his automobiles, paid his workers higher-than-average manufacturing wages so that, he frequently said, they could buy the products of their own labor, thereby supporting the industry.

    HEALTH, EDUCATION

    He also understood the value of investments in health, education and housing in the creation of a more productive labor force. This understanding is quite different from the neoliberal program, always imperfectly followed, which has called for the privatization and deregulation of virtually everything, along with the cutting of public budgets, all-too-often in the areas of health, education and housing.

    Having said that, Ford left no doubt who was in charge of his production process (himself) and who should be in charge of national economic policy (industrialists like himself). The recognition of a minimal level of well-being necessary for the development of a productive economy did not extend to a recognition of a need for broader participation in the decision-making process.

    Granted, we are in a vastly different time and place, but this is an attitude not terribly different from the one expressed in the Pact of Chapultepec. Political democracy, in this vision, becomes the clean, fair and open competition among elites. It is not a call for greater popular participation in the political process. Hence the cautious attitude of at least one wing of the center-left PRD.

    In any case, it is an interesting sign that free-market neoliberalism has failed to live up to the expectations of some of its strongest supporters.