Fears, rumour, lies and repression
In the last months of 2009, the fierce repression of communities and targeted individuals by the state and federal forces, the army and paramilitary groups has increased and extended. These actions are now not only targeting Zapatista communities, Other Campaign adherents and human rights defenders, but now also campesino groups not involved with the Other Campaign. False rumours and press releases appeared predicting an uprising in 2010 and describing finds of stores of arms.
In Venustiano Carranza municipality a ‘subversive network’ was supposedly identified, focussed on the parish priest, Jesus Landin. Three leaders of the campesino group OCEZ-RC (Emiliano Zapata Campesino Organisation – Carranza Region) were imprisoned, one of them, Jose Manuel Hernandez Martinez, known as Chema, also being accused of being the leader of the EPR (Popular Revolutionary Army) in Chiapas. Diego Cadenas of Frayba, already a victim of attack, was also included in this allegation. Members of OCEZ-RC occupied the UN offices in San Cristobal, and set up a protest camp outside the cathedral.
The prisoners have now been released, and the protests ended. Juan Sabines Guerrero, PRD governor of Chiapas, who has become a master of disinformation (see later), stated that in Chiapas “there is rule of law, but this does not mean that the State is an oppressor, on the contrary, this government is eager to defuse the situation. I do not hold political prisoners, currently no one can call themselves a political prisoner in Chiapas; we want to be sure that no-one is being persecuted, that there is the social responsibility necessary to build a climate of lasting social peace.” (!!!)
Luis Hernandez Navarro wrote in La Jornada: “The federal and Chiapas governments have launched a major offensive of disinformation against rebels, human rights groups and dissident social movements in the state.
The current government communication strategy falls within the arena of netwar. According to analysts at the RAND, ‘Netwar refers to information-related conflict, at a high level, between nations or societies. It means trying to alter, damage or modify what a target population knows or thinks it knows about itself and the world around them’. This is precisely what the Mexican government has done over recent weeks in the southern state. The list of provocations is enormous: arrest and murder of social opposition, promotion of a whispering campaign by announcing a new armed uprising, the attempt to defame the Zapatistas by falsely reporting a request for financial support from the councils of good government to Congress, the release of paramilitaries responsible for the massacre of Acteal, and the increased military presence. All this mounted on a media campaign to hide the facts, despite the evidence.”
Fears and expectations of 2010
From TIME magazine, 2009: “Forget 2012. As far as many Mexicans are concerned, the ancient Maya were being generous: the sky’s actually going to fall next year. Why? Because it’s 2010, Mexico‘s bicentennial, and Mexican history has an eerie way of repeating itself. Mexico’s 1910 centennial, after all, saw the start of the bloody, decade-long Mexican Revolution, which killed more than a million people. And that cataclysm was precisely a century after the start of Mexico’s bloody, decade-long War of Independence in 1810. As a result, there’s been no shortage of talk lately about possible unrest, especially in the form of armed rebel groups, erupting south of the border in 2010…. The country is reeling from the worst criminal violence in its history and one of its hardest economic slumps. ‘We are very near a social crisis,’ Jose Narro, the director of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City, said recently. ‘The conditions are there.’
Mexican insurrections often do coincide with important dates. Most recently, Zapatista guerrillas in the poor southern state of Chiapas started a revolt on Jan. 1, 1994, the day the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect. A big fear now is that Mexico’s drug cartels, responsible for almost 15,000 killings this decade, are lending their resources and firepower to emerging guerrilla groups. If so, their plan may be to sow bicentennial terror and turn Mexicans against President Felipe Calderon’s drug-war offensive…. Authorities say they have seized arsenals of large guns and grenades, allegedly being sent from the Zetas a vicious drug gang, to Jose Manuel Hernandez, a purported leader of the rebel group called the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR). The EPR in recent years has claimed responsibility for attacks on Mexican oil infrastructure, including the bombing of six pipelines in 2007.
At the same time, political observers like Denise Maerker, a prominent columnist for the Mexico City daily El Universal, fear that provincial governments in places like Chiapas, where the weapons were found, are using 2010 fears as a pretext for cracking down on social activists. ‘They’re drawing questionable links between advocates for the poor and armed groups,’ says Maerker, who adds there’s little evidence that Hernandez is an EPR boss. “
John Ross commented “in Chiapas, mass psychosis that the Zapatistas would rise again on January 1st has reigned for months”. The Mexican Army moved into Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas, with 26 armoured tanks and 600 additional soldiers, to “dissuade” any possible confrontations. However, on January 2nd, many relieved Mexican newspapers reported: “Dawn rose in the mainly indigenous highland region of Chiapas in complete calm. No concentrations of people, pronouncements or meetings were reported, neither was any activity reported anywhere in the indigenous zone.”
Fierce repression continues, often by paramilitary groups. ‘The Army of God’ continues to threaten, attack and injure, while continuing people trafficking with impunity. It has been reported to be linked with the notorious Zetas.
Torture of compas in Zinacantan was denounced by the JBG of Oventic in November. Two support bases were detained for 16 hours without food and water by PRD supporters, who threatened nearby communities. One person was beaten and tied up for 40 hours.
Harrassment of community La Lagunita II: This community’s water supply was cut off, stones were thrown, and several people were injured. This was also the subject of a denouncement from the JBG of Oventic.
Anti-mining activist murdered Mariano Abarco Roblero, an active campaigner against the activities of Canadian-based mining corporation Blackfire Exploration, was gunned down on November 28th. The three men arrested for his killing are all linked to the mining operation in Chicomuselo, Chiapas. Since 1995 foreign, mainly Canadian, but also US-based, mining companies, have bought one million 62,778 hectares of land in Chiapas.
More attacks on human rights defenders: On Dec. 14, 2009, Adolfo Guzmán Ordaz, who works with the organization ‘Enlace Comunicación y Capacitación’ in the city of Comitán de Dominguez, received a death threat at his home that read: “stop or you are going to die.” In the early morning of Nov. 8, 2009 his house was raided by state police wearing civilian clothing and balaclavas and carrying firearms.
Arson Attempt at Kinal Antsetik Centre – On September 26, an unidentified person sprinkled gasoline around the Kinal Antsetik (Land of Women, in Tseltal) installations and lit a fire. The location includes a capacity-building centre and a workshop for indigenous women and the facilities of Jolom Mayaetik (Maya Weavers), a weaving cooperative.
New tactics of counter-insurgency – Juan Sabines and disinformation
‘Is it true the Zapatistas have surrendered?’ Spreading false information: In November 2009, La Jornada published an article, written by Angeles Mariscal, claiming that the Zapatista Juntas of Good Government had requested legal recognition by state and federal authorities, quoting a PAN official saying “state legislators visited the five Juntas to better understand their needs.” The five Juntas immediately published letters disavowing the article and accusing politicians and others of trying to profit from lies. “We don’t need recognition from the bad government which doesn’t represent the people; we are already recognized by our own communities who elect us“. Zapatista authorities have had no formal contact with state or federal officials since the negotiation of the San Andres Accords in 1996. (Please see the earlier reference to LH Navarro’s article)
‘Buying Consciences’ In a press release issued on 28th December the governor of Chiapas, Juan Sabines Guerrero, announced ‘historic investment for the indigenous peoples of Chiapas in 2010’ including 21 roads, 43 electric supplies, 4000 classrooms, 10,000 ecological toilets, all under the scheme ‘Par y Paso’, and a highway between Frailesco and the Sierra and Tuxtla. At the same time he declared that he had decided to ‘suspend’ work on the road between San Cristobal and Palenque, due to ‘unfounded fears’ that people would lose their land. At this point he reached the heights of disinfomation, claiming to be operating according to the principle of ‘the people command and the government obeys’, and promoting the people’s right to self-determination, listening to what the people wanted and working by consensus. Then on the 7th January he followed up with dispensing 1500 ‘Housing Bonds’ worth 90,000 pesos each, (around £4,500) to poor families in the regions of Chamula and Ocosingo.
The return of Cocopa – a new Cocopa Arrives in Chiapas after 15 years
The Mexican Congress has appointed a new Commission of Harmony and Pacification’, as laid out the 1995 law of the same name. Its legal mandate is to mediate between the federal government and the EZLN in a process of dialogue and negotiation to reach peace agreements. The new Cocopa is currently lodged in San Cristobal, trying to make contact with the EZLN. The government failed to implement the first agreement reached with the EZLN, known as the San Andres Accords on Indigenous Rights and Culture. The matter had been consigned to oblivion, but now, it seems, they want to ‘re-activate the dialogue’ after 15 years. There has been no response, comment, or acknowledgement from the EZLN.
The Zapatistas have been in silence since the 8th of March 2009. That silence has only been reinforced by statements from ‘the support team to the Sixth Commission of the EZLN’ who denied any direct connection between the EZLN and a national assembly of adherents to the Other Campaign” convened in Mexico City on 26th December.
November 17 was the 26th anniversary of the founding of the Zapatista National Liberation Army. Traditionally, this day is celebrated with festivities in all 5 caracoles. This year, no communiqué was issued and there were no celebrations in the caracoles.
January 1 marked the 16th Anniversary of the 1994 Zapatista Uprising. The five caracoles were closed to both nationals and internationals from December 29 to January 2. They re-opened on January 3. The Zapatistas offered no public explanation of the closures, ‘for the holiday’.
There is a general feeling that ‘something bad’ is going to happen soon. All supporters are asked to remain vigilant, and to keep a close watch on the situation.
Other recent activities
Acteal ‘Forum of Conscience and Hope, building the Other Justice’
On the 21st December, the day before the annual mass, pilgrimage and activities in memory of the Acteal Massacre, which took place on 22nd December 1997, a meeting called by Las Abejas discussed the building of ‘otra justicia’ “to recover our memory, our traditional ways of doing justice, whose aim is not the application of punishment, but the recovery of communal harmony”. The commemoration of the 12th anniversary of the massacre held an extra significance this year, following the liberation of 29 of the paramilitaries imprisoned for commiting multiple murder. The director of Las Abejas said that the survivors were distressed and concerned at the failure of justice, but that “there could be reconciliation and forgiveness if the freed indigenous were prepared to admit responsibility and ask for public pardon, showing that their hearts had changed”. Acteal was officially declared a “Sitio de Conciencia”. (Place of conscience/awareness)
Seminar of Reflection and Analysis in memory of Andres Aubry On December 30th and 31st 2009 and January 1st and 2nd 2010, this well-attended international event took place at Cideci in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. The 4-day gathering coincided with the publication of a book from the gathering 2 years ago in which the EZLN and leading anti-capitalist and anti-systemic thinkers participated. It had been clearly timed to coincide with the 16th anniversary of the Zapatista uprising, and the movement was central to many of the speakers’ contributions. The extraordinary women’s rights activist, Corinne Kumar, in a speech described by Hermann Bellinghausen as ‘shining, luminous’ said that she had come to Chiapas on a pilgrimage, and that she had no doubt that zapatismo is “the most important social and political movement of our times”.
Land Occupations Following local tradition, in the first week of 2010, landless indigenous peoples took back four pieces of land in Chiapas: three in the municipality of Chilon, and one in that of Teopisca. The latter, rancho La Granada, has now been occupied by state police, and its new occupants evicted. Other groups are now trying to follow the example, and tension is rising.
La Jornada Ramona Vive This indigenous women’s health promotion event was held in memory of Comandanta Ramona, on the fourth anniversary of her death, on the 6th and 7th January at Cideci, and on the 8th and 9th in the community of Mitziton. National and international adherents of the Other Campaign offered general and specialised health and dental care to the large number of women who attended. For some of the women in Mitziton, it was the first medical attention they had received in their lives.
Death of Ricardo Robles (Ronco): Ricardo Robles Oyarzun, tireless promoter and defender of Indian rights, died on 9th January 2010. He was an adviser to the Zapatistas during the dialogues in San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas in the 1990s. He wrote recently “The Zapatistas are no longer the only candle still burning. Although governments, and the powers behind them, seek to cover their crimes with silence, darkness and oblivion, the dead continue their work, caring for their struggles, not dying with them. Their protests, their dreams, their beliefs, walk onwards in truth.”
Indigenous have 20 years shorter life expectancy: A report released by the United Nations on 14 January states that life expectancy among indigenous peoples is on average twenty years less than that of non-indigenous. There are around 370 million indigenous peoples, representing 5% of the world population, but they are nearer 40% of the 900 million living in conditions of extreme poverty. “They live with poverty, illiteracy, economic and political exclusion, often without government recognition. They suffer violence, destruction of their culture, theft of their lands, forced displacement, and ‘alarming’ lack of water or sanitation”.