Zapatistas begin national tour; violence continues in Chiapas

The "Other Campaign," a tour of Mexico by leaders of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), set off from the Chiapas village of La Garrucha on New Years Day—the anniversary of the Zapatistas' 1994 uprising. Rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos, at the head of a procession of hundreds of Zapatista rebels (masked but unarmed), departed from the village on a black motorcycle with a Mexican flag tied to the back. (Xinhua, Jan. 2)

Marcos—who is adopting the more civilian-sounding title "Delegate Zero" for the tour—has promised to build a national civil left movement that will "shake this country up from below" on the tour that will visit all Mexico's 31 states. "A step forward in the struggle is only possible if we unite with other sectors of society," the EZLN's General Command said in a statement announcing the tour. "We have to unite with laborers, teachers, students and all the workers in the city and countryside."

The procession of pick-up trucks and buses first headed for San Cristobal de Las Casas, the principal city of the Chiapas Highlands.

Many speculate that Marcos, identified by Mexican authorities in 1995 as former university professor Rafael Sebastian Guillen, may use the Zapatista tour to come out from clandestinity. Earlier this year, President Vicente Fox floated the idea of granting Marcos a pardon.

"Eleven years is long time to be behind a ski mask," said Miguel Alvarez, head of Serapaz, a non-governmental organization that helped broker negotiations between the government and the Zapatistas. "Perhaps he wants to come up for some air." (AP, Jan. 1)

In November, APRO, news service of the respected national weekly Proceso, reported that the presumed father of Subcommander Marcos, Alfonso Guillen Guillen, had died at the age of 81 in Tamaulipas state. (APRO, Nov. 14 via Chiapas95)

Also in November, the Zapatista National Liberation Front (FZLN), civilian counterpart of the armed group, officially "returned" the name to the EZLN at the rebel army's request. (APRO, Nov. 24 via Chiapas95) Marcos announced that the rebels' political wing will be dissolved and replaced by a new civil organization. The new organization will "not fight for power but will build a new way of doing politics," he said. "It will be pacific, anti-capitalist and leftist." (El Universal, Nov. 24 via Chiapas95)

The bishop of the diocesis of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Felipe Arizmendi, hailed the rebels' new campaign as an important step on "the path of the…consolidation of peace" in Chiapas. (La Jornada, Dec. 28 via Chiapas95)

A security cordon accompanying the Zapatista caravan is made up of citizen volunteers from NGOs. (APRO, Dec. 28 via Chiapas95) The NGOs are demanding the government guarantee the safety of the Other Campaign. (La Jornada, Dec. 28 via Chiapas95) Marcos also called on Mexico's other guerilla groups to respect "La Otra" (as the Other Campaign is colloquially known), and guarantee safe passage through their zones. (El Universal, Dec. 28 via Chiapas95)

La Cronica newspaper, citing government intelligence reports, said that Marcos plans to use the Other Campaign (thusly named in reference to the presidential campaign now underway) to complete the transformation of the EZLN into a national civil political organization. La Cronica said Mexico's CISEN spy agency sees the Zapatista movement as having lost grassroots support in Chiapas. The EZLN's political goal in 2006 will be to "reposition itself in Mexico as the only genuine leftist option," the newspaper said, referring to the contents of a supposed CISEN document. The Mexican left is today dominated by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which the Zapatistas have recently disavowed as corrupt and undemocratic. The PRD and smaller left parties form a coalition that supports the presidential candidacy of former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the front-runner to succeed the conservative Fox, who is barred from seeking a second term. (El Universal, Dec. 27 via Chiapas95)

In a peace gesture, the federal Secretariat of Public Security announced in mid-December that 296 indigenous prisoners had been released from the nation's prisons. Liberation of political prisoners is a key unresolved peace demand of the EZLN. (APRO, Dec. 15 via Chiapas95)

Chiapas still in crisis

Despite such good-faith measures, a re-escalation of the military presence was reported in the Zapatista zones just as the Other Campaign was launched. The Zapatista Good Government Junta "Hacia la Esperanza" (the regional rebel body for much of the Lacandon rainforest) announced that new army patrols and overflights were reported in the communities of Amador Hernandez, Tierra y Libertad and Laguna Miramar. (La Jornada, Dec. 28 via Chiapas95)

Many Zapatista communities remain hard-hit by October's Hurricane Stan, which devastated much of Central America and southern Mexico. Even as the Zapatisa rebels were heading north on the Other Campaign, a group of indigenous Zapotec leaders from Oaxaca's Ranchu Gubiña Council of Elders were sending shipments of their local maize crop to stricken Zapatista settlements in Chiapas as a gesture of solidarity. (La Jornada, Dec. 23 via Chiapas95)

The Hacia la Esperanza Good Government Junta announced mid-December from its seat at the jungle settlement of La Realidad that Zapatista families left homeless by the hurricane continued to be a grave problem, especially in the Sierra de Chiapas, near the Pacific coast. (La Jornada, Dec 16 via Chiapas95) The Sierra Zapatista community Poblado Che Guevara had been completely destroyed, with the inhabitants taking refuge in the neighboring Zapatista community of Tierra y Libertad. (LJ, Oct. 23 via Chiapas95) Zapatista rebel authorities emphasized that they will accept no government aid. (LJ, Oct. 25 via Chiapas95) An estimated 200,000 were left homeless and at least nine dead in Chiapas in the wake of Stan. (LJ, Oct. 7 via Chiapas95)

Factional violence

Increasingly confused violence continues in Chiapas, with a profusion of factions emerging. In mid-December, the Morelia Good Government Junta, on the edge of the Lacandon rainforest, announced that members of the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (OPDDIC), said to be linked to the PRI political machine (which ruled from 1929 to 2000), had invaded Zapatista lands in the communities of Olga Isabel and 17 de Noviembre. According to Hermann Bellinghausen, Chiapas correspondent for the national daily La Jornada, the OPDDIC militants were joined by members of the Independent Central of Rural Workers and Campesinos (CIOAC), a peasant alliance once tactically allied with the Zapatistas. (La Jornada, Dec. 12 via Chiapas95) CIOAC has recently split, with a breakaway faction accusing the "CIOAC-Official" leadership of corruption. (Heraldo de Chiapas, Dec. 9 via Chiapas95)

Zapatista leaders at Olga Isabel charged that the OPDDIC is actually the new name of the notorious anti-Zapatista paramilitary group Los Chinchulines, which was responsible for a wave of violence and displacements against rebel communities in the 1990s. Pedro Chulin Jimenez, a former PRI state legislator and ex-leader of the Chinchulines, has assembled a group of some 3,000 people to evict the inhabitants of Olga Isabel, local rebel leaders said. (LJ, Nov. 9 via Chiapas95)

In a Nov. 30 statement, the Hacia la Esperanza Junta "energetically" denied accusations from CIOAC leaders that Zapatistas had been involved in the Nov. 24 assassination of six campesinos in Getsemani, Las Margaritas municipality. (LJ, Dec. 1 via Chiapas95) Junta authorities named former PRD legislator Luis Hernandez as falsely implicating Zapatistas in internal CIOAC violence. (APRO, Nov. 29 via Chiapas95) Three men arrested in the murders had no link to the Zapatista movement, the Junta asserted. (APRO, Nov. 28 via Chiapas95)

In the prelude to the killings, some 400 state police were called in to evict 40 peasant squatters from Rancheria El Suspiro in Las Margaritas. (APRO, Nov. 23 via Chiapas95)

Sara Jimenez Pablo, leader of the Revolutionary Indigenous Campesino Movement (MOCRI), another group which has been at odds with the Zapatistas, was arrested Dec. 6 in connection with illegal invasions of the lands of rival peasant communities. (LJ, Dec. 7 via Chiapas95)

On Nov. 2, an unknown armed group ambushed a state police patrol in Montecristo, Huixtla municipality, leaving several officers gravely inured. (APRO, Nov. 2 via Chiapas95)

Attacks on the press

On Nov. 2, the anti-corruption group Probidad publicly condemned the Oct. 27 "temporary detention and interrogation" of Enrique Zamora Cruz, director of the Chiapas daily El Orbe de Tapachula. Cruz, who had been conducting probes into local government scandals, was held by officers of the State Investigation Agency (AEI), allegedly on suspicion of "defamation." (APRO, Nov. 2 via Chiapas95; Oct. 27 via Chiapas95)

On Oct. 21, reporters from the San Cristobal newspaper La Foja Coleta issued a public statement charging that the city's municipal police had received orders to assassinate Concepcion Villafuerte, a prominent local activist, veteran newspaper publisher and widow of Amado Avendaño, one-time civilian leader of the Zapatistas' rebel administration. (See WW4R #99) The statement claimed police officers had been threatened with reprisals from their superiors for revealing the plot to the journalists. The statement demanded immediate federal intervention to guarantee the security of Villafuerte. (APRO, Oct. 21 via Chiapas95)

Don Samuel Ruiz warns of renewed warfare

Bishop emeritus of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Samuel Ruiz Garcia, who brokered the initial peace dialogue with the EZLN in 1994, warned Dec. 4 that continuing misery and repression in Mexico's indigenous communities runs the risk of new armed movements emerging.

In a meeting of Latin American clerics and activists in Morelia, Michoacan, he called on Mexico's next president, "whoever he may be," to attend to the social demands of the nation's indigenous communities.

"The EZLN has arms, but in spite of this, it has not taken guerilla actions; it has…accepted that its demands will be resolved through dialogue," said Ruiz. He added that this signals hope that Mexico's social problems can be addressed through "organized society" rather than armed uprisings. (APRO, Dec. 5 via Chiapas95)

Official webpage of the Other Campaign:

See our last post on Mexico, and on Chiapas.