On Sunday 28th February, a major conflict took place in the Chiapan community of Mitziton, when around one hundred members of the evangelical ‘Army of God’ widely seen as a paramilitary group, attacked Other Campaign supporters in the community. Over 200 police attended, in ten police lorries, and the road between San Cristobal and Comitan was closed for many hours. Each side took three members of the other side hostage, and several people received bullet wounds from the guns of the Army of God or were beaten up. Huge fires were lit, and ambulances were prevented from getting in to treat the wounded.
A statement from the community assembly tells how Other Campaign adherents were tied to poles blindfolded and left like this for twelve hours, they were brutally beaten and tortured while they poured gasoline over them, saying ‘we are going to burn you alive’. Agents of the State Preventive Police were already in place, but when they heard the shots did nothing. They only approached when the aggression was over. Government officials who were present did nothing, only gave statements to the press to confuse people.
The incidents were grossly misrepresented in much of the press, despite the presence of human rights observers to monitor the situation. What had happened was presented solely as a conflict over timber, as it was precipitated by one of the evangelicals illegally cutting down five trees. He did this without gaining the permission of the community authorities, necessary because trees are protected in Mitziton.
What the press did not say was that this action was clearly one of deliberate provocation, intended to incite violence and division, and to weaken and discredit the community assembly which represents the majority of the population. Nor did they say that the paramilitary groups have the full support and protection of the state government to attack with impunity. Finally, they presented the events as a mere inter-religious conflict, rather than a symptom of the struggle by many indigenous groups to prevent the loss of their lands to the San Cristobal – Palenque highway, which in Mitziton would destroy 40 hectares of pine and oak forest, 10 hectares of community farmland, and two wells. Finally, they failed to indicate that this attack demonstrates once again the government’s intention to put an end to all the political and social struggles and movements connected in any way to the Zapatista movement and its sympathisers.
IMPORTANT ISSUES ARISING
– The spreading of disinformation and lies by the media, at the behest of all three tiers of government. ‘They represent us as savage Indians’.
– The determination by the state authorities to push ahead with their planned tourism and infrastructure developments whatever the cost, and hence the use of any means necessary to destroy opposition to their plans.
– The increasing use of paramilitary groups, often disguised as evangelical organisations, as instruments of counterinsurgency, to repress, intimidate, torture, threaten, injure and attack social movements, especially those connected in any way with the Zapatistas.
– This is the second time this year when members of paramilitary groups appear to have deliberately shot members of their own side in an attempt to give the impression that Zapatistas or Other Campaign adherents are using guns. This would give the Mexican army a pretext to attack and destroy Zapatista communities the undoubted aim.
– Despite the horrific number of killings currently taking place on a daily basis in Mexico related to the ‘drug wars’, despite the carnage that is Ciudad Juarez and the explosion in organised crime, there are more federal troops in Chiapas now than in any other state in Mexico.
– This is not the end of the story. We are asked to write letters of support, and remain vigilant.