On the morning of Tuesday 1st September about 150 members of the paramilitary groups Aric Official, Aric Historical and OPDDIC from Santo Tomas attacked a group of Zapatista support bases who were working in White House predio, in a community recently established on lands they have been working for the last 12 years, within the autonomous municipality of San Manuel, caracol La Garrucha. In the clash a member of Aric-Union of Unions was killed, and more than 20 people were wounded, most Zapatistas. Seven Zapatistas were captured, imprisoned and tortured in Santo Tomas. During their detention they were forced to sign documents of indictment, and were savagely tortured. One man was suspended from a tree with the aim of hanging him, and another had his testicles cut off.
The lands were reclaimed by the Zapatistas in 1994. The support bases who live there have been harassed by members of these organisations since July. They have established a civil peace camp there to monitor and prevent these attacks. This is the first time that they have been attacked by such a large number of people, bearing machetes, sticks and firearms. Evicting people from their land, injuring, stealing, or killing livestock, and kidnapping, beating and torturing Zapatista support bases are practices whose sole intention is to provoke and create sources of conflict and remove them from their lands.
A statement by the Council of Good Governement of La Garrucha, Carocole III about this incident can be found at http://chiapas.indymedia.org/
SAN MANUEL ZAPATISTAS ATTACKED by ARMED PRI MEMBERS
An attack by Aric-Official and Aric-UU left 1 member of Aric-UU dead, 8 Zapatistas injured, 8 Aric members injured and 7 Zapatistas taken prisoner. Those Zapatistas prisoners were taken to Santo Tomás ejido and tortured for 36 hours until government officials and human rights defenders arrived. One man is in such serious condition that the Good Government Junta in La Garrucha told La Jornada’s reporter they don’t know whether he will live. The prisoners were placed in deep mud holes during pouring rain, stuck with machetes, tied to orange bushes, had tubes placed in their throats, doused with cold water, made to sign declarations while blindfolded, forced to run without shoes and psychologically tortured by threats to cut off their testicles. One man had rope burns around his neck where they placed a noose and said they were going to hang him.
This incident occurred in the valley of the Jataté River, in what is known as the Las Tazas Canyon, in the Lacandón Jungle of Chiapas, Mexico. The Zapatista name for the region is the Municipio Autónomo Rebelde Zapatista de San Manuel (San Manuel County). It is also known in some books written in Spanish as Avellanal, the name of a nearby ejido.
On September 1, approximately 60 Zapatistas were working a plot of land called Casa Blanca, next to the Santo Tomás Ejido. They were attacked by a group of 150 PRI members, which included the two Aric factions and members of the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (Opddic, its initials in Spanish), also affiliated with the PRI. Zapatistas in the La Tazas Canyon, and elsewhere in Chiapas, refer to the Opddic as a paramilitary group. The gang of PRI groups had machetes, clubs and guns for weapons, the guns allegedly supplied by the Opddic members. The Zapatistas were unarmed. The group of attackers closed off the way out of Casa Blanca so that the outnumbered Zapatistas had to pass through them to get away.
Casa Blanca is land recuperated by the Zapatistas as a result of the 1994 Uprising. Consistent with the EZLN’s directive to occupy recuperated land, the Zapatistas of the Las Tazas Canyon have worked the Casa Blanca land since September 1997. Aric members from Santo Tomás now say that the owner sold this piece of land to the government in 1993 and, therefore, it was not land recuperated by the Zapatistas. Consequently, members of Aric from Santo Tomás claim the land as theirs. The Zapatistas say that such a sale never took place and have worked the land for 12 years. Reading between the lines of newspaper reports on this situation, one gets the impression that although civilian Zapatista bases worked the land, they did not construct houses and live on it. The provocations occurred after the Zapatistas completed land measurements and began to construct their houses on the land.
The Rural Association of Collective Interest (Aric, its initials in Spanish) is a campesino (peasant) organization in the Jungle region. Many of those who organized the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in its growth period were Aric members. The organization was weakened when its members who also belonged to the EZLN left the organization to prepare for war (around 1992). Since the 1994 Zapatista Uprising, Aric has split into various factions: Aric-Official, Aric-UU (or historic), Aric-PAN and ARIC-Democratic and Independent (Aric-ID), among others. Aric-Official and Aric-UU are affiliated with the PRI political party and are not sympathetic to the EZLN, although they may occasionally share a common interest. They are pro-government, but not paramilitary. Aric-ID is a mix of folks; many sympathetic to the EZLN’s goals and some belonging to the EZLN’s Other Campaign.
There are several aspects to this attack worth pointing out. First, there had been unarmed provocations by the Aric-Official and the Aric-UU members from Santo Tomás prior to September 1 without serious injury. The two PRI groups had warned the government that they were going to evict the Zapatistas. The San Manuel Zapatistas sent their unarmed civilian guards to provide some security for those in Casa Blanca. The use of these guards had proven effective in 3 communities under siege: 24 de Diciembre, Bolón Ajaw and Agua Clara. The addition of Opddic members who were not from Santo Tomás and the Opddic’s provision of guns to Aric members was the first time the civilian guards have faced an armed attack and a serious escalation of hostilities. Secondly, the government knows whether or not it bought the land in 1993 and could have resolved the dispute as soon as the differences arose. However, it chose to let the communities confront one another until someone died. Finally, the role of the local Chiapas media emerged once again as a purveyor of propaganda.
San Manuel is the Chiapas Support Committee’s (CSC) partner Zapatista County. The CSC established the relationship with San Manuel in October 2002, just 2 months after a large paramilitary attack by the Opddic on another San Manuel community, Nuevo Guadalupe Quexil, in a different part of San Manuel. Some 200 armed Opddic members attacked the small village of Quexil, but were, rather amazingly, driven away by unarmed Zapatistas. Several Zapatistas were shot and severely injured and required hospitalization. At that time the International Committee of the Red Cross still had a clinic in the canyons region and its fully equipped ambulance came to the scene and gave emergency care to the severely injured.
That was our introduction to both San Manuel and the Opddic. Since then, the Opddic has continued its threats and aggressions, including death threats to some of the people with whom we work. Opddic members pal around with local government officials and police, as well as numerous federal army soldiers who are stationed throughout this region. According to La Jornada and local press, the Opddic is sometimes uncomfortable for the state government, but at other times useful, like in San Sebastián Bachajón. Its members form part of the base of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) that governed Mexico for more than 70 years.
The September 1 armed attack follows on the heels of the July 21 attack on Mitzitón campesinos belonging to the EZLN’s Other Campaign by members of the Army of God. One Other Campaign member died in that attack and 5 were injured.
Mary Ann Tenuto Sánchez
Chiapas Support Committee
Thanks to J.D.