Peace Action Delegation
to Chiapas: 6 - 13 March 1999
Report and Photos by Tamar Gabelnick
Peace Action led a ten-person delegation
to Chiapas from 6-13 March 1999 to look into the impact of U.S.
arms, military aid, and training on the region of the 1994 Zapatista
uprising. The group was based in San Cristóbal de las
Casas, the former capital of the state of Chiapas. We took a
one day-trip to Actéal, scene of the December 1997 massacre
of 45 peasants, and a two-day trip to La Realidad, one of the
Zapatista headquarters, or aguascalientes. The Peace Action
delegation was led on site by Global
Exchange (GX), an American non-governmental organization
(NGO) which hosts delegations and conducts independent research
in an effort to educate the international community about the
situation in Chiapas.
Saturday, 6 March 1999
Upon arriving at the airport of Tuxtla
Gutiérrez, capital of the state of Chiapas, most of our
group was asked to present our passports. Our names and passport
numbers were duly noted by an immigration officer in this tiny
airport. We then took a two-hour bus ride to San Cristóbal,
passing by gorgeous scenery as we climbed up to 3,000 meters.
Houses along the side of the road were usually made of wood,
with corrugated tin roofs. Agriculture continued even on steep
hills, mostly corn or coffee, with banana trees dotting the landscape.
It became clear as we moved east that the best land for farming
was in the wealthier coastal area in the west, whereas the small,
steep plots in the central highlands could only be used for sustenance
Upon arriving in San Cristóbal,
we settled into our colorful hotel and then toured around town
until dinner. I discovered that the area still attracted many
tourists, though its reputation as a "dangerous" area
meant that only a few adventurous Americans were there along
with many more Europeans, who either had better information about
the true security picture in the region or were not as easily
dissuaded as their American counterparts. In fact, I never felt
in danger during the trip; on the contrary, I found it an exceptionally
hospitable place (at least on the surface). Even the soldiers
who drove through the city in military trucks, the heavily armed
guards who protected the banks, and the soldiers who later stopped
our vans as we left the San Cristóbal region were all
good-natured and unthreatening (especially as our group was made
up of non-indigenous Mexicans and American "tourists.")
Tourism does live on in Chiapas. In fact,
the government tolerates the sale of a certain degree of Zapatista
paraphernalia soldier dolls, t-shirts, keychains, even
literature -- because this too is part of the tourist attraction
to the region. San Cristóbal is a beautiful city, its
bright colors are kept clean by the pure air and the heavy rains.
The relative wealth of some of the city's residents is apparent
in the number and high quality of the shops, the clean streets,
and the preserved architecture. Yet social stratification was
readily apparent: one mural advertising a car wash in town showed
a dark-skinned employee working up a sweat while the fair-skinned
and well-dressed owner welcomed people into his establishment.
Many of the indigenous poor were apparently
forced out of town when the main market was moved to the town
outskirts. A small produce market remains, as does an area where
indigenous women can sell weavings and other crafts to tourists.
Other, poorer women and children peddle a small bundles of handicrafts
that they carry around to the tourist spots: the main square
(el zocalo), the cathedral (a yellow and ochre-painted building
in the town center), and the area near the craft market. The
colorful cloths and rugs the indigenous people sell can be bought
cheaply and bargained down to almost nothing as the women try
desperately to make a living. Bargainers beware: these women
will agree to go below their own costs just to get some cash.
They deservebut will rarely receivethe price westerners
would pay in expensive stores for "authentic handweaved
fabrics" back home.
Sunday, March 7
Global Exchange gave us an orientation
in the afternoon because most of the groups we planned to visit
were not available to meet on Sunday. The head of the local office
of Global Exchange our group leader and interpreter spoke to
us about the groups we were going to meet and our planned day
trips. They spent a lot of time emphasizing that we faced risks
by going on the trips to indigenous communities. The Mexican
government was cracking down on foreign human rights monitors
and had made a few deportations earlier in the year. The government
had understood that foreign visitors were able to do significant
damage by reporting to the outside world that all was not well
in Chiapas. That the so-called internal conflicts within indigenous
communities were not simply the continuation of long-standing
disputes, but the direct result of a central plan to exacerbate
intra-communal tensions and turn them into violent confrontations.
The villagers who had long profited economically and politically
from an association with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary
Party (PRI) resented the uprising of fellow peasants who opposed
such corrupt relationships. The Zapatista revolution in January
1994 led to the creation of autonomous municipalities, parallel
local governments led by the Zapatista members rather than the
"PRIstas." The new municipal leaders made ripe targets
for a new government policy of "irregular warfare"
(described in more detail below). Paramilitary groups made up
of loyal PRI villagers were armed and encouraged to use force
to defend their privileges.
These tactics were a perversion of lessons
the U.S. government took from Vietnam and passed on to Mexican
military officers in U.S. training programs: rather than fighting
expensive, controversial wars in distant lands, the U.S. military
began arming and training local soldiers to fight for themselves.
Beginning in 1995, the Mexican government realized it had lost
the political battle over Chiapas and decided to launch a military
confrontation with the EZLN (the Spanish acronym for the Zapatista
army). Using the strategies learned in the U.S., the Mexican
government shifted most of the burden of fighting the Zapatistas
and their indigenous supporters from the Mexican military to
local paramilitary groups. Mexican soldierssome of them
retiredarmed and trained PRI-allied villagers to threaten,
attack and kill local opponents.
The PRI also engaged in tactics to fuel
animosity within indigenous communities, such as granting both
groups the same valuable tract of land and letting them fight
it out. Violence escalated rapidly, and many deaths by paramilitary
troops were recorded in 1997. The attacks in the municipality
of Chenalhó culminated in a bloody massacre
in December 1997, when 45 unarmed men, women, and children
in the village of Actéal were killed by a government-backed
paramilitary group ironically called "Paz y Justicia"
("Peace and Justice"). The slaughter took place over
a period of several hours while those who tried to escape were
hunted down, and the police who were stationed within earshot
and were alerted by survivors did not intervene.
Global Exchange was planning to take us
to Actéal on Tuesday, but wanted to make sure we were
prepared for possible problems with the immigration and military
officials stationed throughout the Chiapas countryside. During
the January 1999 delegations trip to Actéal, three
people were ordered to have an interview with the Immigration
department in San Cristóbal. While they were not deported,
they had to endure an intimidating interrogation. Global Exchange
was also not clear how technologically advanced the Mexican immigration
authorities were. They would certainly note all of our passport
numbers and names, but no one knew whether those names would
be available to immigration officers at the post on the way to
La Realidad, destination of our second day trip and the largest
EZLN headquarters. On tourist visas, we could plead innocent
at the first stop since "real" tourists did pass by
to buy indigenous handicrafts or visit the beautiful countryside.
But heading in the direction of two highly sensitive destinations
would be enough to tip us off to the police. Again, the worst
that would happen would be deportation, and we were to leave
after La Realidad anyway, but we might not make it to the latter
trip if we had troubles on the former. (In later discussions,
all participants agreed to go to Actéal.)
The GX leader then described our planned
trip to La Realidad, which was especially noteworthy because
we would be able to witness the organization and launch of "La
Consulta," a national referendum on indigenous rights organized
by the EZLN. Five thousand masked but unarmed EZLN delegates
were to travel to communities around Mexico to them four questions
about the rights of indigenous peoples in Mexico and the state
of the peace process. There would be a heavy military presence
in the area of La Realidad since it is one of five EZLN aguascalientes
in Chiapas. Near La Realidad is the town of Guadelupe Tepeyac,
which became a ghost town after the government invaded it and
other Zapatista bases in February 1995. Its residents fled to
the mountains and never returned. After the February military
offensive, many communities spent months in the jungle, and many
died. Those from Guadelupe Tepeyac were in the mountains for
over a year before settling in a community near La Realidad.
Formerly an unusually festive community, Guadelupe Tepeyac is
now a symbol of the Zapatista resistance. There are military
bases at the entrance and exit of the former village, and the
villagers showed their strength by resettling rather than returning
to this intimidating environment.
Part of the militarys strategy is
to prevent foreigners from seeing the region as it really was.
Usually, this meant an intimidating military presence to ward
off foreign human rights monitors and too many tourists. The
government, businesses, and the governor of Chiapas (Roberto
Guiellen) refer to human rights activists as "pernicious
foreigners." These pernicious folks earn their title by
preventing further blatant acts of violence against the indigenous
communities. In preparation for the international press expected
to document La Consulta, however, it was possible that the immigration
and military checkpoints would "disappear" around La
Realidad so as not to give the world the impression that this
was a region of conflict.
After the briefing, some of us dropped
by the Catholic Peace Teams office, where we were told
a little about the military training received by Mexican soldiers.
They told us that one third of the students of the School of
the Americas (SOA) were Mexican, up sharply since 1994. At Fort
Bragg, soldiers learned drug interdiction and psychological warfare
tactics. Drug trafficking is not actually a problem in most Chiapas
villages since indigenous groups fiercely oppose the use of drugs,
but narcotics provide an easy excuse for the military to search
and harass these communities. They also told us that in the Chenalhó
area alone (where Actéal is located), there are 20 military
bases. Of the 18,000-20,000 displaced persons, the highest concentration
is in this area, probably due to the high number of paramilitary
groups. Military promises to provide protection have thus far
been empty. Instead, indigenous people associated with the EZLN
have been targeted for harassment by police. In 1998, 1,000 people
were arrested for association with the EZLN.
In the afternoon, a few of us went to the
Na Bolum museum, which used to be the home of an odd German-origin
couple. Now a Mayan museum, the eccentric indigenous guide told
us about the dinners they had when the mistress sat at the head
of the long, wooden dining room table. Guests from around the
world would have fascinating conversations that could only take
place at this strange crossroads. James Baker and Francois Mitterand
used to meet there annually. On our tour around the gardens,
the guide told us that Mayans wore colorful clothes to protect
themselves from the evil spirits: bracelets and belts were favored
because they covered ones wrists and stomach, the bodys
most vulnerable spots. He explained what all the colors meant:
blue symbolized energy; white stood for purification.
Sunday evening we had a medical briefing
from a Spanish doctor who had just spent a year working in a
hospital in the jungle of eastern Chiapas. He told us that the
infant mortality rate in Chiapas was 60 per 1000 births, or twice
that of the rate for all of Mexico and 10 times as much as that
of Europe. He estimated it to be as high as 100 per 1,000 births
in Lagunas. The mortality rate for mothers was also twice as
high in Chiapas as the Mexican average.
Medical care is "free" for the
poor, but they receive low-quality care and may need prescriptions
that are prohibitively expensive. Many diseases would be treatable
if caught early, but there are few medical facilities in the
countryside. Moreover, government hospitals may provide better
care, but many villagers are wary of them. Women especially have
had bad experiences, as doctors have sometimes implanted contraceptive
devices in their uterus whether the women want them or not. They
often do not tell them afterwards, leaving them to wonder why
they cannot become pregnant.
Most health problems stem from the poor
water supply. In a region with a large amount of annual rainwater,
many communities lack the facilities to properly treat their
drinking water. They have been asking the government for water
purification systems for a long time, but now that the government
is finally beginning to build them, they are rejected by villagers
suspicious of their motives. As well, the systems are often too
complex and maintenance-intensive for these remote communities,
and they fall into disservice after the first problems.
Monday, March 8
Fray Bartolomé Human Rights Center
Our first meeting with a local NGO was
at the Fray Bartolomé Human Rights Center, a civil group
run under diocese auspices. The staff of 30 investigates human
rights abuse reports and publishes reports on the local human
rights situation. They are often the target of government attacks,
discredited by the government in media reports, and have also
been subject to death threats. They aim to dispel the notion
put forward by the government that there is neither a political
problem in Chiapas nor a counter-insurgency program. They also
seek to raise the level of consciousness of the indigenous population
and raise their expectations for a better life. Below is a description
given to us of the economic and political situation in Chiapas.
Outside of Peru, Chiapas is the region
with the largest amount of indigenous rebellions in Latin America.
There have been strong guerrilla movements in Mexico since the
1960s, usually in the form of popular movements with a
small number of armed forces. Mexico reacted to the 1960s
movements with extreme measures, vacating villages and killing
supporters. Over 300 students were killed in student massacres
in 1968. These groups began to move underground to avoid persecution,
but the persecution continues to this day. In the spring of 1996,
for example, six teenagers were killed by PRI supporters and
were not punished for the act.
The uprising in Chiapas stemmed in part
from the glaring inequality between the resources allocated to
this state and those available to others in Mexico. For instance,
Chiapas receives 20% of the countrys rainfall and produces
60% of the hydroelectric power, but has the lowest percentage
of households with electricity in Mexico. After the conflict
erupted, the government did little to correct this disparity,
and even seized on the shortage of resources to promote intra-communal
conflict. In one instance, the government assigned both PRI supporters
and Zapatista sympathizers the rights to gravel pits, which are
highly valued. The ensuing conflict was blamed solely on the
The Mexican governments reaction
to heightened tensions has been to send more security forces.
Their real function, according to our speaker, is to take complete
control of the territory, spy on the EZLN, and surround refugee
camps. The goal of counter-insurgency tactics is to control the
population with little cost, in part by using paramilitary groups.
Paramilitaries mostly join voluntarily, though some people were
forced into fighting the Zapatistas. In 1997, paramilitaries
began collecting money for arms. Those that didnt pay were
beaten in the center of town. PRIistas speaking out against violence
were also killed.
One paramilitary tactic was to shoot into
coffee fields until people fled. The land would either be given
to PRI supporters or burned. For indigenous peoples, land and
the earth defines their lives; taking it away psychologically
destroys them. One third of the diocese (10,000 people) have
been displaced by paramilitaries. According to the speaker, the
tension in the region was again at the level as it was in Actéal
before the massacre.
He also argued that contrary to
U.S. rhetoric there is an inverse correlation between
respect human rights and US military aid. US counter-narcotics
aid is given to military forces who are actually aiding drug
Our next destination was Enlace Civil,
a three-year-old organization that runs community projects in
health, agriculture, education, and communication. It keeps in
close contact with the EZLN and forms a link between indigenous
communities and international civil society. Their presentation
on the history of the conflict in Chiapas, as well as historical
In 1988, a new, economic-driven, era of
Mexican history began and the era of "institutionalized
revolution" ended. In 1917, the Mexican revolution brought
about one of the most progressive constitutions in the hemisphere.
It guaranteed the rights to ejidos (communal land) and
land redistribution until the law was changed for NAFTA in 1992.
Lazano Cardenas, the very popular Mexican
president from 1934-40, was the only Mexican leader who carried
out land reform and redistribution on a large scale. He also
nationalized the oil and railroad industries. His partythe
National Revolutionary Partychanged its name to PRI and
has been in power since. Under Cardenas, the first indigenous
unions formed, the first roads were built, and hospitals were
constructed in indigenous areas in Chiapas. Much of these policies
were reversed after he left, but the National Indigenous Institute
created in those days remains.
The repeal of Article 27 of the Mexican
Constitutionwhich guaranteed the right to communal land
and land reformwas seen by indigenous peoples as an act
of war against them. While their revolution launched in opposition
to this policy can be recognized under international law as legal
belligerent force, the Mexican government only refers to them
The Zapatista revolution began on January
1, 1994, but they only fought two battles. A cease-fire was rapidly
declared by the military because they were unprepared to fight
back, despite the relative weakness of the EZLN. The government
began negotiations with the EZLN, with San Cristobal bishop Samuel
Ruíz as mediator. The government offered 30 elements of
a "peace proposal," but the EZLN eventually rejected
them as "surrender proposals" after consulting with
the Zapatista communities.
In August 1994, 6,000 people from around
Mexico attended a "national democratic convention,"
in Chiapas to dialogue with the EZLN, but it was apparently infiltrated
by government forces. National and state elections scheduled
for August 21, 1994, made this a particularly tumultuous time.
Zedillo became the PRI candidate after the original candidate
was assassinated in March. He ran against the PRD candidate,
who was the son of former Pres. Cardenas. In Chiapas, the opposition
PRD candidate won, but was not recognized by the government.
People reacted with acts of civil disobedience, such as refusing
to pay for government services. They organized themselves under
the AEDPCH, the Democratic state assembly of the people of Chiapas.
The governments reaction to the AEDPCH was to divide it
into camps, creating tensions by giving aid and favors to some
while ignoring others.
The Mexican military received its second
humiliation in December 1994, when the Zapatistas took over 38
municipalities. During 1994, high strategists in the Mexican
government began studying counter-insurgency tactics in Guatemala,
Israel, and the U.S. They used the first year of the conflict
to identify hostile groups, prepare maps, and buy arms. The three
strategies they planned to implement were the creation of internally
displaced persons, the creation of paramilitary groups, and the
destruction of the EZLNs support base. The government began
to implement the plan in February 1995, when President Zedillo
ordered a military offensive in the region to capture EZLN leaders.
In March 1995, a group of high-level members
of Congress formed the COCOPA (Commission for Peace). Also in
March, the Mexican Congress passed the important Law for Dialogue,
Reconciliation, and a Just Peace in Chiapas, which established
that a conflict existed and made it legal for the EZLN to carry
arms. The law was used to bring back the EZLN to the negotiating
table after the February offensive pushed them away.
In the fall of 1995, the negotiators laid
out several areas that needed to be addressed: indigenous rights
and culture, justice and democracy, economic development, and
womens issues. On 16 February 1996, the parties signed
Andrés Accords, covering the first of these areas.
Among other items, the Accords committed the Mexican government
to recognize in national law (i.e., the constitution) the existence
of indigenous peoples and their cultural heritage and rights.
In November 1996, the COCOPA presented a proposal to reform the
laws and constitution, as required in the Accords. The proposal
was to be voted up or down, with no amendments. The EZLN said
it was incomplete, but agreed to it nonetheless. The government
responded with a counter-proposal, ignoring the agreed-upon process
and the outcome of the San Andrés dialogue. The differences
reflected pressure from the international community, as recognizing
the indigenous peoples rights to their own resources would
have conflicted with external demands for these resources.
In September 1997, the EZLN sent 1,100
representatives to Mexico City to witness the formation of the
EZLNs independent political wing (the FZLN). They denounced
the paramilitary groups and human rights violations, but Mexicans
outside the region were skeptical that such violations were occurring
because of the tight control of the media.
There have been 6 governors in 4 years
in Chiapas, none of whom were elected. The governor in December
1997 (at the time of the Actéal massacre) was Guiellen.
In 1998, the government began a dual campaign
of kicking out international observers and launching operations
to dismantle autonomous
municipalities. Between February 1998 and March 1999, 370
foreigners were deported. The harsh repression of autonomous
municipalities was suspended in June 1998 after 10 people were
killed and the EZLN returned fire, for the first time since the
January 1994 cease-fire. In 1998, natural disasters also struck
the region, including an intense drought followed by flooding.
Government emergency response was sorely lacking.
Three government legislative proposals
were introduced in early 1999, showing a desire to continue the
same low-level attacks on the indigenous population. First, a
remunicipalization law would redraw the boundaries of municipalities
to counter the borders of autonomous municipalities. Second,
an amnesty law was passed which allowed "civil armed groups"
(paramilitaries) to hand over their arms and thus receive civil
recognition and immunity. Finally, there would be a new independent
indigenous rights law, essentially replacing the never-implemented
COCOPA proposal. Our speaker concluded that the Mexican government
could either continue this low-level war for a long time, or
it could decide to launch a serious strike against the EZLN.
A sign on the wall showed that there were
5,000 refugees in the Northern zone of Chiapas, 10,500 in the
highlands, 4,500 in the Selva (jungle), and 700 in San Cristóbal.
The poster also stated that there are 34 main paramilitary groups
in Chiapas and 1,100 communities in rebellion.
Tuesday morning, we visited CIEPAC, an
organization that performs research and training on economic
and political issues. It has several analysts who used to work
for the Peace Commission (CONAI). Their presentation follows:
Chiapas is important geographically as
the entrance to Central America. Mexicos national development
plan involves much exploitation of resources in Chiapas. In addition,
when the Panama canal reverts back to Panamanian control, Mexico
will become a more important passageway for products from the
Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. Three important land trade
corridors will be created to help move products across the landmass.
A route from Veracruz to Oaxaca will be the route at the narrowest
point, and Mexico plans to build high-speed roads and new ports
for this route. Drug routes also follow two of these corridors.
Since 1985, Mexico has sent out the military
to occupy these land corridor areas. The military occupation
of the south therefore predates the EZLN and extended down to
the border with Guatemala. Chiapas is a port of entry for drugs
into Mexico from Central America. The military was also concerned
about Guatemalan refugees and revolutionaries moving into Chiapas,
as well as narco-traffickers. From 1982-88, therefore, there
was already a military occupation in Chiapas. The state
governor was an army general, and peaceful popular movements
were repressed, providing the basis for popular support for a
military solution against the state in 1994.
Chiapas has two important ports, which
are connected with a two-lane highway, and one is connected to
a major port in Oaxaca. These ports receive the most investment
from government and private investors from Japan, China, Norway,
and Vietnam aiming to supportamong othersthe seafood,
peanut and eucalyptus tree (for paper-making) industries. Twelve
promising oil wells are being explored, some in the Zapatista
regions, and the cloud forests of Chiapas contain a mineral used
in making computer chips. Most foreign investment is in the coastal
and border regions, and therefore autonomy projects in these
areas (especially in the eastern jungle region) threaten capital
investment projects and natural resource exploitation activities.
Indigenous people are seeking compensation for the resources
which are being removed.
Under current law, the government cannot
occupy communal lands, but it has used the pretext of the EZLN
presence to occupy certain areas, usually coinciding with areas
rich in natural resources. Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution
gave farmers the right to purchase a piece of land if they farmed
it provided for a certain period of time. This type of land reform
put population pressures on the good farmland of western Chiapas
and encouraged many farmers to move to the Lacanonda jungle.
In 1972, under the pretext of returning the jungle to indigenous
groups, a Presidential decree gave back the land from the migrant
indigenous groups to a small group of indigenous people who had
already agreed to sell the land to mahogany lumberers.
In 1992, the Constitution was changed to
eliminate (ejidos) and to end the ban on foreign ownership of
Mexican land. The changes put market pressure on small communal
land owners to sell their plots, though many refused to sell
their land for private industry projects. Paramilitary groups
were therefore recruited to force people from their land so that
it could then be privatized. The first of these groups
Paz et Justicia appeared in February 1995. Paramilitarization
has occurred in strategic locations for natural resource exploitation,
especially in the north, east and southern border areas. They
cut off people from the EZLN, displace the influence of the diocese
among indigenous groups, and help international business investment.
In 1974, an indigenous congress was held
(organized by Fray Bartolomé and Bishop Sam Ruíz)
to help foster a sense of commonality of purpose and the possibility
for indigenous peoples to defend their rights themselves. Yet
barriers were placed at every peaceful step they tried to take
to win their rights. Thus in the 1980s, the Zapatistas began
to organize, and in 1983, six people began the EZLN. By 1990,
there were thousands of Zapatistas, becoming a rival of the diocese
for support of the indigenous base. In May 1993, there was an
encounter between the military and the guerrillas. The army found
a Zapatista training camp with a map of a city. While they tried
to portray the Zapatistas as narco-traffickers, such groups do
not plan for urban takeovers.
In January 1994, the EZLN took over all
municipalities in Chiapas, including San Cristóbal. The
biggest battle was in Ococingo, the only place where the military
was prepared for possible action. By January 12th, both sides
agreed to a cease-fire after tremendous international and domestic
pressure. Mexico wanted to present itself as a first world country,
and declaring a cease-fire helped Salinas maintain Mexicos
international image. In February 1994, the Cathedral peace talks
produced a peace treaty, but in March, the assassination of the
PRI presidential candidate made the Zapatistas fear that they
might suffer the same betrayal as this PRI victim. They therefore
refused to approve the treaty. In August 1994, 5,000 civil society
members gathered in Zapatista aguascalientes. National and state
elections also took place, but were deemed to be a fraud in Chiapas.
Nonetheless, by December 1994, a PRI governor was in Chiapas,
leading indigenous groups to create 34 autonomous municipalities.
Many weapons used by Zapatistas were bought
from Mexican army and police who thought they were selling them
to drug dealers (they often sell guns to narco-traffickers, then
later seize them and sell them again to others. Drug smuggling
is a problem in San Cristóbal and southeastern Chiapas
as the land entry point of drugs from Colombia). Peasants mostly
used their .22 caliber hunting rifles. They also invaded warehouses
and took weapons. Many arms from demobilized soldiers in Guatemala
also fed the market. The Mexican army sometimes goes to Guatemala
to buy arms and then sells them to paramilitary groups (a general
arrested for involvement in the Actéal case described
the gun running route).
According to the presenter, US arms are
not the most important contribution the US makes to the conflict
because Mexico can get arms anywhere. The worst thing the US
does is supply training, military aid, strategy assistance, and
diplomatic support. Mexicans learned from the US Vietnam
experience, in which the US won battles and killed more people
but lost the war because they lost legitimacy. Mexico did not
want to launch a full-scale war because it would also lose politically
at home and abroad. As a crucial ally, the US would not tolerate
massacres or the refugee crisis heavy military attacks would
engender. Instead, Mexico opted for a counter-insurgency strategy
taught to them by the US. The US helped their efforts through
training and provision of satellite photos and intelligence info.
Adoption of the counter-insurgency process allows the US to pretend
that there is no conflict and no major problems in the region.
On the other hand, increased militarization in Chiapasthe
Mexican army has grown from 160,000 to 205,000 troops since 1994--
helps defends the interests of foreign investors.
January 1995 was a watershed in the peace
process as Mexico shifted from negotiations to low-intensity
conflict. Paramilitary groups were trained in the north and Chenalhó
regions. The Mexican military sought out existing community battles
and used the excuse of local conflicts to create a military presence
in these areas. They also exacerbated conflicts by granting the
same land or resources to opposing groups, again in the Chenalhó
and northern regions. For example, in Los Charros, a gravel pit
was given to both PRI and Zapatista supporter communities, and
the two groups fought over it.
Chenalhó has a population of 30,000.
In the 1994 elections, the opposition PRD won, but the elections
were not recognized. In 1995, the Zapatistas called for a boycott
in this strong anti-PRI district, and in the spring of 1996,
the Zapatistas created an autonomous municipality as one of numerous
attempts to implement the stagnant San Andrés accords.
Paramilitary attacks on churches, clergy
and nuns in the north has forced many churches to close. Paramilitaries
also take advantage of the tensions between mostly pro-PRI Protestants
and mostly pro-Zapatistas Catholics to attract more protestants
to their side (most, but not all, paramilitaries are Protestant).
Paramilitaries have also attacked local production and stolen
coffee harvests, which had been enabling indigenous groups to
survive without accepting government assistance. By 1998, there
were 21,159 displaced persons, many resulting from the activities
of paramilitaries in their regions.
Paramilitaries have acted in the north
to free land so that it becomes available for commercial interests.
Most are young men, between 15-25, aided in their recruitment
by the glorification of war and the offer of pornography. Young
men are given money for prostitutes, alcohol and drugs, becoming
indebted to the other soldiers and committed to staying. Some
are motivated by an evangelical opposition to Catholicism, which
they equate with the Catholic church, Zapatistas, communists,
and the feared obligation to share their land and goods.
Training for the military is often done
by retired military officers who join the public security force
and travel around to provide training. Big ranchers also have
a history of keeping and training private armies (called "white
Mexican NGOs would benefit from more information
from the US into Mexico, i.e., on what arms have been sold. As
problems stem from government policy, US groups need to inform
US policymakers about whats really going on in Mexico,
as opposed to what they are told by Mexican officials. Mexican
consulates monitor the press about Mexico worldwide and report
all negative press to Mexico.
Tuesday, 9 March
Day Trip to Actéal
We traveled by bus to Actéal, through
the town of Chenalhó, where we were stopped by immigration
officers carrying FN assault rifles. They claimed to be implementing
the "law against narcotics and firearms." Our guide,
a Mexican woman from Mexico City, told the officers that we were
tourists interested in exploring the area and buying indigenous
crafts. We all pretended not to speak a word of Spanish. They
took our passports and noted down our names, and we wondered
how effective their communications and database systems were.
Would the information collected be available to the officials
who would stop up on our trip to La Realidad on Thursday? Could
we count on them being technologically backward, or would they
surprise us with the efficiency of a determined security system?
The presence of immigration officers along
a small road in the middle of nowhere, Chiapas seemed odd to
all but the locals who had grown accustomed to official interference
in their daily lives. The primary role of the immigration officials
was not to bother the locals, however, but to prevent outsiders
like us from taking too close a look into the repression that
continues in Chiapas. For officials supposedly interested in
stopping the traffic of arms and drugs, they paid scant attention
to our belongings. Instead, they took care to note down our details
in a failed effort to intimidate us.
trucks on the road to Actéal
Shortly down the road, we were stopped
at a military post. Their sign also said they were enforcing
the laws against arms and narcotics, but they asked us for our
passports too. Global Exchange decided to protest the militarys
regular demand for foreigners passports by arguing that
the military had no legal right to ask us for identification
(only immigration officers have this right under Mexican law).
Our guide, Anna, argued heatedly for over 15 minutes with the
military officers, who in turn responded in a fairly respectful
manner. Anna asked them to tell her where in the law they were
given the right to ask for this information. They responded that
the "General" had given them these orders, which they
had to obey. She retorted that they were supposed to be upholding
the law and protecting the population, not spending their time
harassing foreigners. They responded that they needed the information
in case we were killed on our journey!
Entry sign to Actéal "Welcome
to the Bloody Land."
We were hardly at risk from anyone in the
region but the security forces. We were warmly welcomed in Actéal,
where after being offered a drink of coffee, we were invited
to the coffee fields to see the harvesters at work. Under the
shade of the tall coffee bushes, we had a first briefing on the
situation in Actéal. Our host told us that the villagers
had not been cultivating the fields over the past years for fear
of the paramilitaries. With the support of human rights groups
in San Cristóbal and the participation of three groups
of displaced persons living in the area, however, they had decided
to go back to harvesting. The local community leader, a PRI member,
began to accuse human rights advocates of being provocateurs
and supplying arms to the villagers. In response, the Red Cross,
human rights commission, and Las Abejas signed an act of accord
stating they would not provoke problems and would work together
to keep the peace. Paramilitary activities seem to have quieted
down since, and things are now calmer.
House in Actéal
We later hiked the steep slope back up
the village, surrounded by women in the local dress, a white
background with mostly red embroidery. The children were playful;
the boys were hams and the girls camera shy. One boy held a toy
assault rifle. At the top of the hill, we saw some of the buildings
that were hit during the December 1997 massacre. Small bullet
holes punctured the thin wooden board structure, and inside,
signs in English and Spanish told the horrific story and the
complicity of the government in the paramiltarys actions.
The first attacks began in this building where they were distributing
donated clothes to villagers. The other shooting began in the
church, where members of the non-violent Abejas, or "Bees,"
group were conducting a prayer for peace. Paramilitary soldiers
arrived from all sides and started shooting, killing people as
they tried to flee, and hunting them down in their hiding spots.
The event lasted from 11:30 am to 4:00 pm while police within
earshot made no effort to intervene.
The military was scarcely present before
the massacre, but arrived in force afterwards, with 18 military
camps now in the region. Their very presence in the region violates
their human rights, our host argued, but also interferes with
their activities. Soldiers harass women tending the fields and
gathering food, destroy shade trees which provide crucial protection
for their coffee plants, and take intimidating pictures of women,
children, and others as they enter and leave the communities.
The villagers have long protested the presence of the military,
but to no avail. The military pretends to provide social projects
for the local population, supplying some food, medicine, and
recreational activities (such as a new basketball court). Yet
the only people who take advantage of these offerings are paramilitaries,
who do not fear the military. Some paramilitary members also
took part in the massacre or committed other crimes, and therefore
avoid going to their fields for fear of being arrested. They
depend instead on the military to feed them. After the February
1995 offensive, many of the Actéal residents fled for
three months in the mountains. When they came back, they found
that the army had stolen all of the food and destroyed the water
system as well as peoples documentation
Displaced persons live in perpetual fear
of more attacks by the heavily armed military and paramilitary
soldiers. Some of the paramilitaries who took part in the massacres
still walk around free in the region, making the locals fear
that they will commit the same atrocities again. The previous
week, two young paramilitaries were released from prison because
they were minors. They now live in a neighboring village and
have threatened to "finish off" the village.
Two communities of displaced persons continued
to have problems harvesting their coffee in the areas from which
they came because of paramilitary groups. On one occasion, the
displaced persons were escorted back to their fields by the National
Commission for Human Rights and Fray Bartholomé Human
Rights Center. The municipal president assured them that they
could all come in to harvest their fields except for two "provocateurs."
They were also told they would need to request permission to
come back again. Upon the next such visit (without escorts),
they were denied permission to enter. They made a third attempt
to enter, but were met by a group of about 50 men armed with
machetes and sticks, who followed them to the fields. Too scared
to stay, they left without harvesting. They have not returned
because the paramilitaries remain on their land. Besides losing
access to the land which is symbolically precious for
indigenous people they have lost the coffee harvest, which
had been their main source of income.
Our host placed much faith in La Consulta,
which Las Abejas felt would grant them respect for their rights
and end the violence. Las Abejas distinguish themselves from
the Zapatistas because they are purely peaceful, their only weapons
"the words of God" and now the Consulta. While not
entirely naïve about the attention the government would
give to the Consulta, they saw it as a sign that civil society
was doing what the EZLN only had done before, which is to mobilize
the population towards peace and respect for their rights.
The shrine to the Actéal massacre
At the end of our formal presentation,
we were given a tour of the village. We saw the open-air church
where some of the massacre began, and the new brick structure
built over the graves of the 45 massacre victims. Inside, flashing
lights and murals adorned the walls; the last wall was covered
with photos of the victims. Fifteen children and many women (some
pregnant) had been killed, all innocent and peaceful. Forty-five
faces reduced to two-dimensions on the wall of a shrine. The
greatest, but not the last, victims of senseless violence in
this beautiful land.
Without this physical sign of the violence,
an outsider might not know what had happened. The children ran
and played as if they had forgotten what they had suffered. Many
men were busy building a new home for the displaced. The house
was made of wooden boards, cut with machetes by men wearing traditional
white tunics. They too seemed light-hearted, laughing and giggling
at the antics of one who was showing off for their guests.
Sign for Autonomous Municipality of Polho
After leaving Actéal, we tried to
visit the EZLN-run autonomous municipality next door, but were
not allowed in because the leader was not present to grant us
permission. Their camps are clearly marked with EZLN and pictures
of masked soldiers, the flimsy barrier only a symbolic gesture
to keep out the military. But for now, in this community, the
military simply drive by without trying to enter the camp.
Wednesday, 10 March
Wednesday morning we met with Kinal
Anzetic, an NGO that supports indigenous communities through
cooperatives, including a womens cooperative in San Cristóbal.
They explained to us how they help indigenous women earn a respectable
amount for their weavings, as opposed to the independent women
who sell at the markets for cutthroat prices, often earning less
than the costs of materials and production. They teach the womenwho
often have little educationaccounting and general business
skills. The cooperative they assist is one of the few that is
run by indigenous women themselves.
In the afternoon, we visited CIDECI,
a large occupational training center for indigenous workers.
Their goal is to provide holistic training to selected young
men and women so that they can earn a better living in their
communities or in town. They also house over 250 internally displaced
persons from Chenalhó who feel the repression is too strong
to return. The center had many buildings, each for a particular
training course, including electronics, auto repair, woodworking,
farming skills, clothes dyeing, and mass-production cooking.
The organization was mostly funded by foreign foundations and
appeared to be offering a unique opportunity to many indigenous
Wednesday evening we were given a briefing
on the indigenous resistance by Don Andrés, a renowned
journalist and historian. In his effort to educate people about
the events in Chiapas, he has been harassed and his house and
archives robbed. He explained to us the history of the conflict
and three major phases of the negotiations process.
The first phase of negotiations took place
at the Cathedral in San Cristóbal on 21 February 1994
between a presidential delegate, an EZLN delegate, and mediator
Bishop Sam Ruíz. Also present were the Mexican Red cross,
civil society members, unarmed military police, and 400 journalists.
After ten days of negotiations, the groups produced an agreement
and a protocol of about 30 points. The Zapatistas signed the
document, and took them to the communities to be endorsed. But
three weeks later, the PRI presidential candidate was assassinated,
shocking the nation and the EZLN, who felt that if the PRI could
turn on their own like that, they could certainly betray the
Zapatistas. They therefore decided to suspend negotiations.
After Sam Ruíz worked to get the
parties back to the negotiation table, the second phase of negotiations
began in the selva (jungle) in January 1995. This time,
Sam Ruíz mediated between Marcos and his supporters and
the Interior Minister and his supporters. The first meeting only
lasted a few hours, and the next meeting was set for 8 February.
But at the next encounter, the government ambushed Marcos
delegation and took several prisoners, once again betraying the
trust of the EZLN. A military offensive in several communities
With even more difficulty, Sam Ruíz
brought the parties back to the negotiations table in April 1995.
He was helped by a legislative intervention in the process. A
law for dialogue was passed which cut back on the Presidents
power in the negotiations and attempted to limit the risk of
further breakdowns in the talks. This next series of meetings
eventually produced the San Andrés accords, signed on
16 February 1996. Since then, dialogue has not been broken, but
suspended because the government did not comply with the agreement.
Now, said Don Andrés, "dialogue exists, but there
are no meetings; a war exists, but there is no fighting."
After the government failed to translate
the San Andrés accords into law and practice, the EZLN
decided to implement them unilaterally, especially Article 2,
which establishes them as a legitimate group moving from an armed
movement to a civil body. As such, the EZLN has acted as a political
force, calling for a new dialogue with the Mexican people. They
are trying to move the issue from the framework of Chiapas to
a larger, national issue of democracy. They seek a national debate
and among all Mexicans about what they want their society to
look like. The government, on the other hand, insists the problems
are limited to the region and that negotiations should only address
local issues. And while the government failed to live up to its
responsibility under the San Andrés accords, it accuses
the EZLN of being intransigent because it wont return to
the negotiating table.
The EZLNs political actions have
included a national convention, where 5-6,000 people from around
the country were convened to learn about the true situation of
the indigenous people in Chiapas and to develop a group consensus
on what to do about it. In August 1995, the EZLN held the first
national consultation with the Mexican people. They asked over
3 million people whether they believed the EZLN should be converted
into a political force and "mandar obeciendo,"
or "obey leading" (as Zapatista leader Marcos describes
his role). The Mexican people responded positively, calling for
the Zapatistas to become a political force. (In contrast, President
Zedillo could only get 300,000 to participate in a national consultation
on economic development.) The Zapatistas then convoked a national
indigenous forum on the reformation on the state. Although only
1,000 people came to the "National Indigenous Congress,"
this was a significant number given they only took a week to
In April 1996, the EZLN arranged a "continental"
meeting of 600 people from North and South America, and in August
1996, an "intergalactic" meeting brought 6,000 people
from around the world. In 1997, 1,111 delegates (from each community
in resistance)took part in a march on Mexico City. In a November
1998 meeting between the EZLN and civil society, it was decided
to launch another national consultation in March 1999. The governments
reaction to these acts was to begin meeting with opposition parties
to discuss political reform, but these meetings only produced
minor reforms in the electoral process.
In 1998, frustrated with the governments
failure to comply with the San Andrés accords, the Zapatistas
decided to implement part of the accords dealing with remunicipalization
by inaugurating many autonomous municipalities. The government
later dismantled many of these municipalities, eventually using
force, including bazookas, mortars, and helicopters. Some Zapatistas
were killed and some imprisoned, but the EZLN did not respond
with force in accordance with the terms of the cease-fire. Such
restraint in the face of government violence, however, cost them
some respect among followers.
In general, the government responded to
the EZLNs political activities with a military approach,
understanding that they had the military advantage while the
Zapatistas maintained a stronger political position. This strategy
became clear in February 1995, when the government launched a
strike on the EZLN the day after the Selva negotiations were
supposed to continue. President Zedillo gave a radio talk stating
that the Zapatistas were misleading the public. The Mexican military
destroyed Guadelupe Tepeyac, while the EZLN refrained from reacting,
costing the government politically. In another political victory
for the Zapatistas, the legislature broke with the government
to pass the law for dialogue in March 1995. This was the first
such break between the legislature and the executive branch and
forced the government to act in a democratic fashion.
The law on dialogue prevented the president
from commanding the army to engage in an all-out war against
the EZLN. The Mexican government therefore turned to the solution
taught them at training schools in the U.S., including the School
of the Americas, Fort Benning, and Fort Bragg: irregularor
"low-intensity"warfare. Mexican military officers
took the U.S. training manuals on low-intensity warfare and changed
them into "irregular warfare." The term irregular is
used in Mexico because the type of warfare taught by the U.S.total
military, social, political, economic, and psychological war
against civiliansis unconstitutional in Mexico. Mexican
officers learned at the SOA to create paramilitary, or armed
civilian groups as part of psychological warfare. The paramilitary
groups are controlled by municipal communities of police and
security forces and managed by inter-departmental structures
in the state, headed by military leaders. Paramilitaries would
therefore have the backing of the state and the municipalities,
but the military could keep a level of plausible deniability
for the violence.
The Mexican Defense Secretariats
military field manual says the paramilitary groups first
task is to spread false news and misleading rumors, divide and
disorganize communities, introduce behavior in communities to
reduce support for the enemy, and cause general confusion with
a strong psychological impact. The goal is to polarize communities,
disintegrating the ejidos and the social fabric so that
the government can blame problems on inter-communal conflicts
while denying its role in creating or exacerbating such conflicts.
The military manuals specify that these activities are not legal,
but states that there is enough political reasons to justify
the means. The military can then go into communities under the
pretense of keeping the peace, pretending to turn from party
to the conflict to neutral mediator.
The paramilitary scenario explains why
there has been no solution in Actéal: to move forward,
the government would have to admit its role in the irregular
warfare process. In the meantime, the people of Actéal
have pledged to keep resisting, working, dreaming and struggling
for their freedom. The March 1999 national consultation is seen
as a form of this type of resistance.
The Mexican military budget has risen in
accordance with the shift in approach to its internal strife.
Before 1994, Mexico had the lowest military budget on the continent;
it is now spending as much on the military as on education. It
is difficult to track what arms are being bought for the counter-insurgency
effort since they are usually procured under the pretense of
counter-narcotics activities and then transferred. Not all Mexican
arms come from the U.S.; tanks come from France, and high-tech
planes are bought from Switzerland. The sophistication of Mexican
arms has increased with the level of military training. Training
therefore becomes a critical element because it allows the military
to increase its capacity to use sophisticated arms, contributing
to a spiral of growing military violence. At the same time, the
training of soldiersespecially special forceswho
are not using their new skills is building up a level of frustration
which could lead to a particularly bloody encounter if these
soldiers are ever directly involved in fighting. As paramilitary
activities increased, reports are rising of chronic soldier desertion
in the selva region.
Thursday, 11 March
Two-day trip to La Realidad
The day started at 3:30 am. We piled into
two large Suburbans and headed off on the eight-hour ride to
La Realidad. The trip was extended by frequent car problems,
including one car that kept overheating and one car that fell
halfway off a small bridge, leaving one side lurching over a
three foot drop into mucky water. Were still not sure how
the driver put the two wheels off the road, waking us up with
a start but injuring no one. Luckily, the middle of nowhere to
us was actually a major thoroughfare for the local population,
and several trucks passed by, asking if we needed help. We were
finally pulled out by attaching a chain to a bus (with passengers
still on board) and gently pulling the car back onto the road.
Im still not sure how we didnt break the axle, but
we took this as a good omen and continued the bumpy ride to La
We passed through immigration while it
was closed, avoiding the feared efficacy of the Mexican communication
system, which might have allowed the officials to match our names
with the list noted on the way to Actéal. We were stopped
at two military checkpoints, informed by the guards that they
were "here to implement the law against drugs and guns."
We all got out of the cars while the soldiers halfheartedly poked
at our bags. They asked for our identification, and again our
guide respectfully refused, telling the guards at both checkpoints
that they did not have the right to ask for our IDs. Perhaps
the guards had more respect for a male interlocutor, perhaps
because he spoke with more confidence, or perhaps they were less
worried about intruders in that region, but both times they let
us go without much debate.
The rest of the trip was uneventful except
for the scenery. We passed from canyons to peaks of the jungle-covered,
razor-sharp hills, passing the occasional small village of wood
and thatched roof houses, women and girls hauling wood on their
backs, and men with machetes and horses or donkeys foraging for
wood or food.
Military patrol on the road
to La Realidad
Soldier in Armored Personnel Carrier with
.50 calibre machine gun
Soldiers carrying M-16's in a humvee
M-203 automatic grenade launcher atop humvee
Near Guadelupe Tepeyac, we made
way for a caravan of 33 armored personnel carriers, humvees,
and converted trucks, all full of soldiers, many with machine
guns or turrets. We exchanged photo-taking as they passed. Their
job is to drive daily past La Realidad for no purpose but to
show their presence and intimidate the villagers. Usually they
drive by, but sometimes they enter the compound. Guadelupe is
now a military base; no one else dares live there. There is a
large, brand new hospital, which the locals refuse to use because
they dont want to be bribed by government services into
cooperation with the authorities. Sick villagers will travel
hours further along the rough road for medical attention rather
than stop between the two military posts guarding the ghost town
and its hospital.
Sign annoucing the "Consulta"
at the entry to La Realidad
The "guards" at La Realidad let
us in after seeing our passports because our guide has spent
a lot of time with the community and has won their confidence.
But since La Realidad was one of five centers preparing 1,000
delegates for "la Consulta," the community leaders
were too busy to talk to us. So we waited in the village on long
wooden benches in front of "sleeping area" #17, unable
to even see the preparations from afar. We cooled ourselves off
by bathing in the stream (women in the shallow part far from
mens view; men in the deep, lake-like area suitable for
a real bath). We played with the boy children who were bored
by the preparations (the girls were not to be seen for the most
part), observed the women in brightly colored dress who came
and went in groups, and inspected the murals that we were allowed
to see: one of Columbus boat, Marcos, and Zapata, with
sunshine and corn fields on the end. The people were generally
warm, though many looked at us with suspicion. There were 850
residents (not including the Consulta delegates), including many
displaced persons from other communities. They share two latrines
and other rudimentary facilities. Electricity was used sparingly
as part of the "resistance" to any service brought
by the government.
Friday, 12 March
In the morning, 36 humvees and APCs drove
through the village while all foreigners present (including several
Europeans in a "peace camp") lined up along the road
to demonstrate an international presence. They drive by daily,
proceed to the end of the road, camp out for a few hours, and
drive back. Sometimes they get out and do exercises in front
of the villagers. Once they even got out by the EZLN HQ and feigned
an invasion. Huey helicopters also fly over twice a day, sometimes
flying low enough to brush the tree tops. We saw them fly over
several times as the delegates preparing for their departure
were singing the Zapatista anthem at the top of their lungs.
Military/police patrol in
Humvee with FN MAG light machine gun
We waited patiently over two days for an
invitation to witness the preparations for the Consulta and were
beginning to despair that we would have to leave before we were
invited in. (We had to leave that evening to catch our plane
the next morning.) We sat on the benches, looking at the splendid
view of the hills, the women passing by in bright colors. The
kids spent their day asking us, often aggressively, to buy their
hand-embroidered scarves, which all had EZLN or associated themes.
We were told that we would be invited to an EZLN dance after
the preparations were finished; we would then be able to see
the delegates board the buses and make their way off on their
historic journey. Apparently, the preparations were over, but
the buses had not arrived, causing speculation that they were
held up by the military.
Eventually, under a false rumor that we
would be let in, we walked over to the aguascalientesthe
biggest of the five EZLN headquarters. Hundreds of people were
milling about a large courtyard, surrounded by a school, a "library,"
a store, a large stage, and an impromptu shelter with long rows
of benchesall surrounded by a fence and a guard who would
not let us in. They did not want non-EZLN people to see the delegates
without their ski masks, and they did not want to put the masks
on any longer than necessary since they would be keeping them
on until the end of the Consulta (almost 10 days later). We returned
dejectedly to our benches on the other side of the stream to
The need for complete secrecy was striking.
Even though our group leader had a long history with the community,
they did not even trust him to witness the events and would not
accept his word about our good intentions. They were discussing
the key organizational tacticswho would go where, what
to say to the civic groups they met with, how to answer questions
about their own four questionsand thus wanted no outsiders
to get this strategic information. Many of the delegates (half
of which were women) had never left their own communities, let
alone the state of Chiapas. All delegates were from EZLN-supported
communities, thought they were not necessarily members of the
Zapatista supporters were very optimistic
about the Consulta, looking at it as a way to break the current
deadlock in the peace negotiations. So they could afford no compromises
when it came to preserving their security. The government did
not say it would prevent the Consulta, but intimidation tactics
were in force, including plane and helicopter fly-overs. A TV
report the next day said that one government official labeled
the Consulta an "assault." Officially, the government
discounted the importance of the event, but said it would not
try to block it since the delegated were unarmed.
We were finally allowed into the aguascalientes
at 9:00, a half-hour before our scheduled departure. We were
the immediate center of attention, if there could be one in a
group of 1,000 people. Ten tall, white foreigners were a spectacle,
towering over the small, traditionally-dressed group which had
moved on from preparations to the long-awaited dance. Low-key
music was played while couples danced a two-step waltz. Some
people began cheering when we moved onto the dance floor, and
the band welcomed us as "international journalists and students."
After all, our presence was perceived as a deterrent to any military
aggression, providing them with a small measure of comfort. Our
acceptance and inclusion into this dedicated group of indigenous
activists was a moving experience, well worth the 48-hour wait.
A key lesson from the trip was that U.S.
military training is hardly the catalyst for democratization
that the U.S. government makes it out to be. In this case, U.S.
military training undermined the peaceful negotiations process
and provided support instead for a militarized approach to the
conflict. Mexicos movement towards counter-insurgency was
particularly striking in Chiapas because it was not a protracted
military conflict. With one exception, the EZLN respected the
cease-fire, meaning that a violent military approach was unjustified
and actually counter-productive. It put them further from winning
a political war by alienating much of the populace, and put them
on a path of military confrontation, which can only be a long,
drawn-out and costly affair. At a critical juncture in the negotiations
process, the U.S. apparently encouraged the Mexican governmenteither
directly or implicitly through the provision of counter-insurgency
trainingto pursue a military solution to an essentially
Another lesson of the trip was that the
Mexican government is highly sensitive about its international
image. It wants to preserve the idea that Mexico belongs to the
group of democratic, industrialized nations, not the group of
troubled developing states located to its south. As such, Mexico
tries to avoid any press or public attention given to the problem
in Chiapas. The international community can therefore be quite
effective by publicizing the heavy militarization of Chiapas
and the role of the Mexican military in arming and guiding the