U.S. power feeds Mexico's war on the poor
Ernesto Longa, Gainesville Committee for Democracy in Mexico
To understand U.S. military involvement in Mexico, it is instructive to look at the underlying economic trends which led to the Zapatista insurgency on January 1, 1994. Doing this, we learn about the natural resources of the region and are able to develop a sense of their strategic importance in supplying first world economic needs. This article will highlight some basic points that illustrate the build-up of U.S.-based corporate economic power and U.S./Mexican government political cooperation that has led to the current 'low-intensity' war going on in southern Mexico.
Ejido, or communal land, is the traditional form of land-holding among indigenous Mexicans, and its legalization was one of the principal goals of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Article 27 of the 1917 constitution provided that any group of 20 or more citizens could claim, at no cost, contiguous plots of land held by the state or by large private landholders, on the condition that they themselves worked the land.
In 1993, in an effort to appease Mexico's foreign investors, Article 27 was struck from the constitution. This made all comunally held lands available for private takeover. Then on January 1, 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented. The local markets could now be saturated with cheap goods from North American agri-business. As they are accustomed to a subsistence agricultural economy, the indigenous people of southern Mexico possess no capital. Thrown into the "free market," they are being forced to "compete" in order to retain control of their lands. Meanwhile, big business, domestic and foreign, moves in on the southern Mexican frontier with all the aid the government can muster at its disposal. So much for "free" trade. As early as 1993, the Mexican government and major international forestry companies were already laying plans for the development of a Mexican forestry industry. Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gotari promised to "create the political conditions to establish immense plantations for rapid growth" (Viviana, EF! Journal 3/97). "In 1993 a company then called Interfin presented a project to plant eucalyptus on a surface of 300,000 hectares in Tabasco, Chiapas, and Campeche. In 1994, the same company (now called Pulsar) established agreements to sell all the wood that it could extract from the southeast to International Paper." (Aviles, La Jornada 2/15/97) . In November of 1996, an agreement was made between Hydro-Quebec International and the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission for the development of natural gas resources including a major gas deposit near Ocosingo, Chiapas (Viviana).
Recently, Mexico's state-owned oil company (PEMEX) together with several U.S. companies (SPE, SPEE and NSAI) discovered that Chiapas sits on the second largest oil reserve in the Western Hemisphere. (Libertad, May 6, 1998) In Chiapas, there are already 86 PEMEX oil fields in operation.
All the above-mentioned projects were arranged without consulting the communities that would be affected, nor was the issue raised in negotiations with the EZLN (the Zapatistas), despite the fact that the land of some of their supporting communities would be involved. Eight PEMEX oil sites, which are unexplored, are located on communally held lands currently under Zapatista control. (Viviana)
Despite all this natural wealth (oil, timber, hydro-electricity, land and labor) 1/3 of all Chiapan houses have no electricity, 1/2 of the people have no potable water, and 2/3 have no sewage systems. 54% of the Chiapan population is malnourished (Subcomandante Marcos, "Shadows of Tender Fury"). With the privatization of the region's vital resources, it stands to reason that things will only get worse.
The indigenous people of the region, Mayan Indians from a number of different culture-groups, make up the majority of the population in the most impoverished areas of Chiapas. They are the ones who have historically borne the brunt of the region's economic woes. As the EZLN has pointed out time and again in its communiques to the Mexican government, the Mexican people, and the people of the world, the poor and indigenous of Chiapas have been left with few options under the current regime: starvation, migration, or collective resistance. Many have chosen resistance, attempting to secure a land base and political autonomy simply to survive. The indigenous people of southern Mexico have found themselves on a front line against trans-national corporations hell-bent on gaining control of Third World natural resources to fuel their profit-making machines.
The Economic Reality
The Mexican bailout of 1995 was a $50 billion bailout, the largest bailout in history. It was done with the assistance of the U.S. treasury and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In order to qualify for the money, the Mexican government was forced to make further concessions to foreign capital. Telecommunications, transportation and previously protected energy industries and contracts were opened to foreign investment. (Libertad, May 5, 1998)
At the time of the bailout, Chase Bank, a principle backer, sent a memo to President Ernesto Zedillo that declared, "The government will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate effective control of the national territory and security policy." About a week after this memo came out, the Mexican federal army did in fact launch a military offensive against the EZLN and Zapatista-sympathetic autonomous communities, its first since the initial conflict in January 1994. Since then, the Mexican federal army has remained in the region and continues to gradually intensify the conflict in order to demonstrate "effective control of the national territory." These demonstrations include: harassment and rape of women, crop eradication, raids, arrests, and false imprisonment of suspected Zapatistas, and, as we saw in Acteal, in December 1997, the massacre of women and children already displaced from their villages by military conflict. "This memo articulates the real object of U.S. military and economic aid to Mexico: maintenance of political stability no matter the severity of the methods or threat to Mexico's sovereignty so that investor confidence in profitability can be virtually guaranteed" (S. Brian Willson , "Slippery Slope" 3/97).
In order to understand the militarization of the region, it is necessary to understand these economic trends affecting the people of southern Mexico. The trans-national corporate class has succeeded in legalizing its theft of the indigenous people's natural resources and labor while displaying blatant disregard for their basic needs. Currently, the U.S. accounts for more than 60% of foreign investment in Mexico. U.S. capital owns 20% of the Mexican market and 19% of the Mexican foreign debt (Libertad May 5, 1998). Coupled with economic restructuring by foreign (mainly U.S.) corporations, there has been a military restructuring to safeguard these investments. This restructuring has involved the U.S. training and arming of Mexican army personnel.
SOA and Fort Bragg
The School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia has become notorious for its training of Latin American army personnel in counterinsurgency techniques. In 1996, the Pentagon admitted, after nearly fifty years, that training at the SOA included practices such as execution of suspected insurgents, extortion, physical abuse, coercion, and false imprisonment (S.B. Willson). Since the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico has received more counter-insurgency training than any other country in Latin America. Approximately 500 military and police from Mexico studied at the SOA in 1995-1996. At least 13 graduates, who are now top military officials, have played a key role in the conflict in Southern Mexican states (Wkly Am. News Update #416). Gen. Juan Lopez Ortiz (SOA graduate, class of 1980), commanded the 1994 operation in Ocosingo, Chiapas where suspected Zapatistas were rounded up, placed alongside prisoners, and shot in the back of the head in the town's market. Lopez Ortiz remains engaged in the army's operations in Chiapas.
Counter-insurgency techniques are also being taught in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Last year, the U.S. Army Special Forces began a massive training program of Mexican Special Forces (GAFE Airborne Special Forces Groups). Around 3200 Mexican soldiers will receive training by the Green Beret 7th Special forces group (D. Wood, Green Left Wkly Jan 21, 1998). What do the Mexican Special Forces do with this training? In a letter dated April 22, 1998, a Pentagon official informed US congress member Rep. Esteban Torres (D-CA) that the US had trained six of 28 Mexican military personnel (members of a GAFE unit) accused of the torture of 29 youths and the torture death of one in the state of Jalisco (Wkly Am. News Update #440).
U.S. Presence in Mexico
On October 23 1995, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry visited Mexico and attended a ceremony of the Mexican armed forces including 10,000 soldiers and cadets, in order to reiterate U.S. support for a military solution to the growing crisis in Southern Mexico. U.S. military personnel including Major John Kevin Kord, Lt. Col. Alan Hassan Sanchez and Lt. Col. Propp have been identified as being part of covert operating units in Chiapas. Just last month in the state of Chiapas, local residents detained 2 U.S. military officers (Major Thomas Gillen and Sergeant Elisabeth Krug) dressed as civilians. Mexican officers report that the equipment in Gillen and Krug's van included a black box of "significantly similar size to those used for carrying long range satellite communication systems" (Wkly Am. News Update #444). When asked to reveal the contents, they refused and stated they had diplomatic immunity. Additionally, the U.S. army is allegedly acting as intermediary in bringing Argentinean mercenaries to work with paramilitary groups in Chiapas (S.B. Willson). These same Argentines have worked with the CIA in the past, training U.S.-backed death squads in Honduras led by SOA graduate Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez (D. Wood, CAQ Winter 96-97).
FBI and the CIA
The FBI staff in Mexico participates in training Mexicans in the development of common strategies against organized crimes. The FBI currently has 198 agents assigned to Mexico's Southwest border and has requested funds to place 54 more agents and their support personnel on the border. The FBI has 300 agents already at the U.S./ Mexico border (La Jornada May 17, 1996).
In November 1996, a U.S. health volunteer was present in Oaxaca City where residents of Los Loxicha, Oaxaca gathered to distribute leaflets explaining a series of repressive actions carried out against them by the Mexican police and army, and various paramilitary forces. The leaflet identified the latest "incursion" against them as having occurred on Nov. 7 when men identified as U.S. FBI agents participated as advisors in a terror campaign against their communities. The leaflet describes a series of violent arrests, searches without warrants, torture and beatings of suspects, presence of police and goon squads wearing ski masks, disappearances and murders, robberies committed by police, threats of death by shooting, use of attack dogs, and the menacing use of low flying helicopters. A reign of terror is portrayed wherein physical and psychological repression are used by Mexican military and security forces with the advice of FBI agents. (S.B. Willson).
Mexico City's CIA station is the largest in Latin America. In addition to field agents, the CIA, working with other intelligence operatives, utilizes radar stations and fly over satellite intelligence. The CIA fields a substantial, expanding network of agents and covert operatives in Southeastern Chiapas. (S.B. Willson)
Solidarity (Passion and Compassion)
In order to demonstrate our solidarity towards the indigenous people of Southern Mexico, we must actively work to close the School of Americas and bring to an end U.S. military training of Mexican army personnel at all military bases in the U.S. Brian Willson of Veterans for Peace reports that Mexican army personnel are currently being trained at 17 different locations in the U.S. One of these is in Pensacola. We should also follow the lead of Berkeley social justice activists who were able to get the city of Berkeley to pass a resolution calling on the U.S. government to end its military involvement in Mexico.
Most importantly, however, we must fight for social justice in our own community. Transnational corporate tyranny is devastating the people of Southern Mexico, but the devastation resulting from their quest for super profits is not confined to the 'third world.' The U.S. is currently undergoing its own form of structural adjustment. In order to contribute to the struggle against transnational corporate tyranny, we must identify its unique economic and political manifestations in our own community and develop collective resistance to oppose it.
Due to the consolidation of power by transnational corporations, wages in the U.S., over the last three decades, have been falling. Job insecurity has grown, as more and more people find themselves working for temporary labor agencies without any benefits. Partnership between the State and big business has virtually destroyed workers' rights to organize. Therefore, we must support the efforts of organized labor to make work available to everyone who wants a job, for those jobs to pay living wages, and for a health care system that puts people before profits.
While our community's social services are stripped down and people grow more and more economically depressed, the budget for the police increases. In this context, poverty becomes a crime and consequently, incarceration rates are skyrocketing. This militarization of our community is to keep us intimidated and disorganized. It's time that we formed a CopWatch organization to monitor the police and record testimonies of people threatened, harassed, and beaten by the police for the simple reasons of being black and/or poor.
Anyone who followed the county hearings concerning Florida Rock Industry's proposal to build a cement plant learned first hand that "dollarocracy," not democracy, prevails in Alachua County. We must continue the fight against the cement plant, performing civil disobedience at the construction site if necessary. It is never too late to work for the termination of that insidious tire burning incinerator. Its air and water pollution will effect our community for generations to come.
Students should fight against the increased privatization of their campus. As corporations begin to fill in the financial gap left by the federal government's budget cuts to education, students should know who invests what at their school and how the corporate bottom line is affecting an institutional restructuring on campus. It may even be discovered that investors at UF are directly contributing to the human rights atrocities in Mexico.
We must take advantage of our local, non-corporate, non-profit media outlets. such as: the Iguana, Civic Media Center (CMC), and Free Radio Gainesville (FRG). In North America, propaganda serves the same function as the gun in a totalitarian country. The alternative media were organized to serve the informational and cultural needs of our community not being satisfied by the corporate media outlets. Only by creating a front in our own community against the manifestations of government corruption and corporate power do we show true solidarity.
The Gainesville Committee for Democracy in Mexico meets every Tuesday at 6:30pm at the Civic Media Center. Currently we are organizing a month of actions to start September 15th. For info see the Iguana calendar or call Melissa at 381-8958.
"Slippery Slope: U.S. Military Moves Into Mexico" by S. Brian Willson at http://www.nonviolence.org/slipperyslope
Earth First Journal at http://www.envirolink.org/orgs/ef
Covert Action Quarterly at http://Mediafilter.org/MFF/CAQ_Contents.htm
Green Left Weekly at http://www.peg.apc.org/~greenleft
Weekly Americas News Update at http://www.neravt.com/left
Libertad, paper of the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico at http://www.peacenet.org/ncdm/libertad.htm
La Jornada at http://unam.netgate.net/jornada
Shadows of Tender Fury: The Letters and Communiques of Subcommandante Marcos and the EZLN can be found at the CMC library.
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