La Reforma, one of Mexico’s leading right wing newspapers closely linked to the Calderon administration, published a series of articles this weekend on the Zapatistas, supposedly based on an 83-page account provided by a former leader in the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). The articles included a photo of a thirty-something, bearded man who the informer claimed was Subcomandante Marcos. The articles also included the military structure of the EZLN, their financial sources, cellular telephone numbers of commanders, and a list of weapons.
From the beginning, the articles rang false. Why would a deserter from the EZLN command structure write an 83 page report and then turn it over to a newspaper? Even the language in the report sounds fabricated. It includes lines like, “The insurgents, known as guerrillas, can be found in the mountains and have high calibre weapons” (Los insurgentes, conocidos como guerrilleros, se encuentran en la montaña y portan armas largas de altos calibers).
The report claims the Juntas de Buen Gobierno receive substantial donations from Pais Vasco (the Basque Country), though even the deserter is dubious in his assertions: “Foreign visitors, Italians and people from Pais Vasco supposedly delivered 150,000 Euros to the Autonomous Consejos. In recent days there are commentaries that they delivered 750,000 and later 350,000 Euros to the Junta de Buen Gobierno en La Garrucha, where the most important encampment of the EZLN is established.” The report claims this is evidence of relations between the EZLN and the ETA, an organization that utilizes terrorism in its struggle for a homeland, despite the fact that the vast majority of residents of Pais Vasco reject the ETA’s violent tactics. Several years ago the Zapatistas offered to act as intermediaries between the ETA and the Spanish government, but the ETA rejected the offer out of hand, demanding that Marcos mind his own business. In any case, the claims sound ludicrous. Who could imagine a delivery of over a million Euros, presumably in cash, to a remote indigenous community in Chiapas?
The report appears to be planted by federal authorities, with several possible goals in mind. First, nearly everyone in Mexico is expecting “something” to happen in 2010, the centennial of the Revolution and the bi-centennial of Independence, under the leadership of the Zapatistas. The Calderon administration may be trying to deflate any new political initiative before it gets going. Second, Calderon may be trying to blur the differences between the EZLN, an army, and the Juntas de Buen Gobierno, civilian authorities. Over the years, the Zapatistas have carefully constructed a distinction between the two entities, in part to protect civilians from the kinds of attacks launched by the army and air force on indigenous communities during the first days of 1994. Third, Calderon may be laying the groundwork for expelling foreign supporters of the civilian Zapatista movement who relate directly with the Juntas de Buen Gobierno. The federal government may even be planning a replay of the 2007-2008 expulsions of foreign human rights observers, leaving hundreds of indigenous communities isolated from the world’s eyes and ears. Fourth, Calderon may be laying the groundwork for increased paramilitary attacks against Zapatista communities. Paramilitary activity has increased dramatically this year, with dozens of attacks against Zapatista communities or groups aligned with the Otra Campana by Opddic and several right wing religious groups aligned with the Chiapas State government, police and local army troops. Fifth, this may be an effort to discredit a movement that has a great deal of moral authority throughout Mexico by linking the Zapatistas with a terrorist organization. Right wing politicians led by the PAN played their expected role in the unfolding drama by demanding an investigation of ETA-Zapatista links. And finally, the Calderon administration may be trying to draw attention away from its failed “war on drugs.” With dozens of assassinations every day, particularly along the northern border, this may be an effort to displace the attention of an increasingly restive public.
It is noteworthy that at least some major Mexican newspapers, including La Jornada, have ignored the reports in La Reforma, apparently finding the claims so dubious as to not be newsworthy.
The Mexico Solidarity Network sees an ominous, if ham-fisted, warning in the Reforma articles. Any intelligent reader can see that the information is based on hearsay and rumour, the kind of “evidence” that historically has the fingerprints of federal intelligence agencies. Whatever the quality of the information, the fact that it was published in one of Mexico’s most widely distributed papers and picked up by media around the world with little skepticism leads us to believe that the Calderon administration may be planning something dramatic.