Mexican government backs out of peace, attacks rebels
San Andres Accords
In February 1996, after six months of negotiations, the first accords between the federal government and the EZLN were reached, regarding the first issue on the agenda of dialogue: "Indigenous Rights and Culture." During the negotiations the EZLN (Zapatistas) succeeded in demonstrating that the indigenous problem was not a local (confined to Chiapas) but a national problem by opening up the negotiations to representatives of the 56 indigenous peoples of Mexico, allowing their opinions and demands on indigenous rights and culture to be heard.
In the ten months that followed, the government did nothing towards fulfilling the accords they had agreed to. In September 1996 the EZLN decided to suspend the dialogue. Next the Commission on Concordance and Pacification (COCOPA), a body supporting the peace process and consisting of legislators from all four parties represented in the Mexican congress, launched a legal initiative for constitutional reforms in order to carry out the San Andres Accords. COCOPA finally drafted and submitted a proposal to the two negotiating parties. The EZLN accepted, believing the document represented a way for the federal government to fulfill its promises regarding the inclusion of indigenous rights and culture in the Mexican constitution. The federal government however, waited over two weeks to respond to the COCOPA's proposal, ultimately producing a counter-proposal that seemed to indicate a desire to renegotiate the terms they had already agreed to abide by.
In a Communique of January 13 Marcos said "The fundamental element of the government's proposal implies three basic things: 1. It refuses to carry out the accords... 2. It refuses to recognize that the indigenous people's struggle must be recognized at the national level...3. ...[That they are] once again looking for a military solution.
March to Mexico City
On September 8th, 1997, in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas 1,111 Zapatista representatives began a march to Mexico City in order to demand the fulfillment of the San Andres Accords and the demilitarization of indigenous communities. Arriving in Mexico City on the 12th, 18-year-old Claribel, the keynote speaker, delivered a message from the EZLN to a crowd estimated at 75,000 to 200,000. "We have arrived here and we are not alone. With us at our side, come thousands of indigenous peoples from many parts of Mexico. Our voice, and theirs, is the same voice clamoring for justice, clamoring for freedom, and demanding democracy.
"If Zedillo has a word, then he should honor it and allow the law to recognize our rights as indigenous peoples. If Zedillo lacks such words of honor, then he should make war on us and fill with bullets that which he cannot fill with excuses. If he is not going to make war, then we demand that he withdraw the soldiers that have been placed in our communities...While the federal soldiers persecute us, who are Mexicans, those who are governing are selling our country to foreign capital. National armies exist to defend the people, not to help with the sale of our national sovereignty."
Increased Violence in Chiapas
On September 18 a wave of violence began in the community of Los Chorros, located in the Chenalho municipality in Northern Chiapas. Militants of the ruling PRI nearly beat to death a 16-year-old Tzotzil Zapatista supporter and burned down the homes of 60 other families. Approximately 150 civilian Zapatistas were then forced to abandon their community.
Also during the month of September, just 5 kilometers from La Realidad, Chiapas, a new army base was constructed. It currently houses over 500 soldiers. Those who pass by the encampment have been told that the soldiers are there "to take La Realidad".
As of late October attacks and counter attacks between PRI-backed paramilitary squads and Zapatista sympathizers continued, forcing more than 800 people to abandon their homes in Chenalho. Several communities in Chenalho are currently surrounded and/or occupied by public security police. The main access roads into and around the highlands are being openly patrolled by armed PRI militants.
On November 4 Bishop Samuel Ruiz and Raul Vera of San Critobal were ambushed on a country road in the state of Chiapas, along with a group of 60 who were following in two open bed trucks behind the vehicles used by the bishops. Three were injured in the attack. Bishops Ruiz and Vera have repeatedly spoken out against the aggressions of paramilitary groups, who with the protection of the state and local authorities have been carrying out activities against Zapatista and PRD supporters. (Press release from Diocese of San Cristobal)
U.S Military Involvement
"The Mexican army recently incorporated 1,800 elite soldiers trained by the Pentagon into its ranks between 1996 and 1997. The soldiers have been given instruction on "rapid assault" operations, communications, intelligence, and piloting of UH-1H helicopters, all under the guise of the "fight against drug trafficking". The Pentagon training for the Special Forces teams--known by their Spanish acronym GAFE (Special Forces Mobile Air Groups)--is expected to continue at least until 1999; 1,500 more soldiers are reported to be currently undergoing training for incorporation into the specialized army next year." (FZLN News Update Sept. 21st to Oct. 20th, 1997)
"....[W]e, the Zapatistas, know how to fight with honor and courage, because we have a very powerful weapon... This weapon is called dignity. With this weapon, no one, nothing, can defeat us. They can kill us or imprison us. But they can never defeat us. They will never make us surrender."
Despite the growing paramilitary activities, the Zapatistas continue to organize locally, nationally, and internationally. This summer they sent representatives to Spain to participate in the 2nd Intercontinental Gathering Against Neo Liberalism and for Humanity attended by 4,000 delegates from 50 countries. In September they attended the founding congress of the FZLN (Frente Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional) in Mexico City, joining Non Governmental Organizations from throughout Mexico committed to developing a "civil society" that stands for democracy, liberty and justice for the Mexican people.
Most impressive are their local initiatives for indigenous autonomy. The Zapatistas now have 40 operating rebel municipalities in the state of Chiapas as well as various integrated autonomous zones. On September 28, an autonomous municipality was proclaimed and named "Ernesto Che Guevara". During the inauguration ceremonies, the new "rebel authorities" pledged to continue to promote the concept and practice of autonomy "until our oppressed peoples are truly free, and owners of their history."
Much of the information in this article was taken from the Zapatismo News Page at http://www.ezln.org/
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