U.S. military aids Mexico's attacks on Zapatista movement
S. Brian Willson,
Santa Cruz Veterans for Peace
March 1998

The Zapatista uprising in Chiapas on January 1, 1994, the same day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, appeared to take both Mexico and the United States by surprise, but in fact, both governments knew as early as 1992 about the existence of insurgent groups, including the Zapatista army, in southern Mexico. Each government intentionally withheld this information because of fear that if the US Congress knew of Mexican instability from Indigenous insurgencies, ratification of NAFTA would be threatened.

After the 1994 uprising, the US and Mexican governments agreed to the need for counterinsurgency strategies and the Mexican Secretary of National Defense prepared a plan specifically for Chiapas that included training and operating a number of paramilitary groups to "eliminate" and "destroy" the Zapatista insurgency. The Mexican government now acknowledges the existence of a dozen paramilitary groups in Chiapas, armed and operating from rural camps.

In January 1995, the US-based Chase Bank issued its (intended to be secret) memo calling for the "elimination" of the Zapatistas in order to preserve investment confidence in the Mexican economy. By the end of January, President Clinton orchestrated the unprecedented $50 billion bailout (over the objections of Congress) of the collapsed Mexican economy. This suggests that Clinton understood the high political and economic stakes involved, ensuring a healthy Mexican economy for US and other international investors. Investors generally feel threatened by unpredictable forces such as local insurgencies demanding genuine democracy and protected justice.

Recently declassified documents from the US State Department and the Pentagon indicate that the Pentagon urged Mexico to contain (encircle) the Zapatistas militarily while the government negotiated with a Zapatista leadership which, by their design, would be increasingly divided and weakened. The Zapatistas were to be "politically neutralized." The goal was that eventually the worn down Zapatistas would agree to "peace" on the government's terms. In the meantime, the documents reveal that the US would continue to increase armaments and training for the Mexican military, apparently so their forces would be equipped for prolonged jungle warfare, if necessary.

The flow of US military equipment to Mexico had already been increased under the Bush administration and continues to dramatically escalate under Clinton. Many armaments are being sold to Mexico by US commercial arms exporters. Others are being transferred from the Pentagon as excess military equipment. Meetings between the Secretaries of Defense of Mexico and the US culminated in formal agreements providing substantial equipment and stepped-up military, police, intelligence, and counterinsurgency training for the Mexican security forces. The Mexican government has proudly admitted receiving "extensive covert intelligence support and training" to help "shape a network of anti-drug troops around the country".

We now know that the US Special Forces at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina have been training thousands of Mexican soldiers and officers into an elite force of air mobile special forces groups. The training is ostensibly to fight drug trafficking, but prepares them for counterinsurgency operations as well. The Pentagon has given Mexico 73 Huey helicopters to facilitate air assault capabilities specifically for these troops. Elements of these forces are reported operating around various Indigenous communities in Chiapas with night surveillance equipment. They were reported to be in Acteal on Christmas day, just three days after the massacre. A unit of these forces was recently implicated in kidnappings, torture, and a murder in the state of Jalisco.

The CIA is training, equipping, and providing operational support for 90 carefully selected Mexican officers for an elite army intelligence force for special anti-narcotics raids and surveillance. Mexican helicopter pilots are training at Ft. Rucker, Alabama in night vision combat and intelligence operations. Helicopter mechanics are in training at Lackland AFB in Texas. There are more Mexican military officers in training at the infamous School of the Americas (SOA) at Ft. Benning, Georgia, than from any other Latin American country. A number of the hundreds of SOA graduates are known to have been or are currently involved in military operations against Indigenous communities in Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Guerrero.

The DEA has at least four dozen agents working in Mexico. There are an admitted dozen or so FBI agents in southern Mexico training various police and security units in topics such as "fighting drugs", "management of crises and kidnappings," and the "use of necessary force" to protect society. On December 9, 1997, the FBI conducted training for various Chiapan police forces only 13 days prior to the massacre at Acteal.

Recently there have been English-language radio conversations in code recorded in the conflict areas of Chiapas. This raises the question of presence of US personnel, official or unofficial, where the counterinsurgency and military operations have been most intense.

The 1994 Mexican National Defense counterinsurgency plan identifies the Catholic Diocese of San Cristobal as a major cause of the Indigenous uprising. The Indigenous demands for autonomy, the plan warns, endangers social peace and tranquility, and worse, directly threatens the sovereignty, integrity, and independence of Mexico.

Refugees now numbering in the thousands in central and northern Chiapas have all been brutally and systematically expelled from numerous communities sympathetic with the Zapatistas. This is part of the intention of the Mexican military's counterinsurgency plan to destroy the Zapatistas through isolating them and breaking the support relationships with the civilian population.

Recently Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo and his foreign minister Rosario Green, each condemned the presence of "foreigners" in Chiapas, declaring that "internationalization" of the Chiapas conflict threatens Mexico's sovereignty. But under NAFTA economics and the structural adjustments Mexico has agreed to as required by the $50 billion bailout, Mexico has already relinquished her sovereignty. In addition, Mexico has asked for, and the US has provided, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military and intelligence support and training under the pretext of fighting the drug war. Tragically, this support is being used to enhance the systematic campaign of repression, the "low intensity" (read "low visibility") warfare against the Indigenous in southern Mexico. The pretext of fighting drugs is a cruel political and murderous fraud. The Indigenous are not seriously suspected of involvement in any drug operations whatsoever.

Therefore, the US government is apparently masterminding a systematic campaign of repression against Mexico's Indigenous. Protection of the American Way of Life, i.e. "American national security" continues to drive the foreign policy of the United States. Again, we in the US find ourselves in the anguished position of knowing that our government is supporting the elite and privileged at the expense of the vast majority of the (in this case) Mexican people and of her natural resources. Such policy is an assault on our soul and integrity. The importance of citizen-to-citizen participation, crossing borders and interchanging cultures, to establish links and bonds of solidarity promoting genuine justice and providing concrete support cannot be overestimated.

National Veterans for Peace is tentatively planning, with assistance from Global Exchange, to dispatch a veterans-sponsored delegation to southern Mexico, including Chiapas, from April 13-24, 1998. The delegation would gather further evidence about the nature and extent of any US involvement in the repression of Mexico's Indigenous. Contact the local Chiapas/Mexico support group at 336-0367. The Chiapas/Mexico Support group meets Friday, March 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Civic Media Center, 1021 W. Univ. Ave. Fr. Loren Reibe will speak.

previous article [current issue] next article
Search | Archives | Calendar | Directory | About / Subscriptions |

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional eXTReMe Tracker