Estacion Libre Report
Estacion Libre Report
EstaciÃ³n Libre and Project 169 denounce the recent rise in violence in the state of Chiapas. This latest situation does not amount to a series of simple coincidences but rather a concerted and systematic effort by Mexico's state and federal governments to undermine the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and open the way for the implementation of neoliberal projects in Southern Mexico.
Pablo Salazar's Human Rights Record
Since Pablo Salazar's inauguration as governor of Chiapas in December, 2000, and despite his media efforts to make the world believe otherwise, his administration has been systematically violating the human rights of campesino and indigenous communities throughout the state. These violations became evident as early as February 6th, 2001 when State Public Security forces arbitrarily detained over 200 indigenous campesinos from the Region of Ixtapa after they had declared themselves an "Autonomous Municipality." Many of these arbitrary detentions lasted for months and 16 of the original Ixtapa detainees, who now make up the political prisoner group La Voz de La Dignidad Rebelde, remain imprisoned in Cerro Hueco (the state's central prison located in Tuxtla GutiÃ©rrez).
If doubts remained about the authoritarian nature of Salazar's administration after these events, they were put to rest soon thereafter. On July 27th, 2001 over 500 State Public Security forces, in conjunction with elements from the Mexican Army, invaded the town of Marques de Comillas, Ejido Barrio San Jose, with 5 helicopters and 16 military vehicles. As a result, 63 indigenous campesinos were detained, including 6 Zapatista bases of support, 14 adolescents, and one frail elderly man.
One week later Pablo Salazar fast tracked changes to the Chiapas Penal Code to permit State Judicial Police (PJGE) to tap phones and view bank accounts and real estate dealings of anyone under suspicion of belonging to a criminal group.
More recently, on March 8th of this year, in line with WTO preoccupation over the enforcement of copyrights, Salazar ordered hundreds of State Public Security forces into the markets of San Cristobal de las Casas to apprehend vendors of pirated compact discs. Not surprisingly, Public Security used brutal force against the indigenous vendors and arbitrarily detained over 50 of them.
The Latest Human Rights Violations: A Shift in Strategy
For over a year, the actions of the state government have made it clear that there would be no substantial change under the administration of Salazar with regard to the general observance of (or lack thereof) and respect for human rights in Chiapas. However, in the last few months it has become obvious that the government has shifted its strategy to efforts intended to directly undermine Zapatista communities and those who participate in their legal defense.
This latest wave of human rights violations began on January 16th in the community of "Egipto" where 2 Zapatista sympathizers were detained, beaten, and falsely accused of participating in a car jacking by members and authorities of the PRI. The next day similar actions were repeated in the community of "San Juan" where 3 other Zapatista sympathizers were also detained for the same crime. That same day these 5 Zapatista sympathizers, all from the Autonomous Municipality of Ricardo Flores MagÃ³n, were transferred to the Public Ministry's office in Palenque where they were tortured by state agents. Following their torture they were transferred to Tuxtla GutiÃ©rrez where they were held "incomunicado" from their families and human rights defender for over 7 days.
The illegal and political nature of these detentions and the total misuse of "house arrest" articles of the Chiapan Penal Code enabled Pablo Salazar's government to hold these men for over sixty days without ever presenting charges against them. Meanwhile, government officials constantly impeded their legal defense and never gave them a chance to present their case in court. Despite the fact that the Chiapas Community Defenders Network, Amnesty International, and the World Organization against Torture denounced these actions, no prosecutorial action has been taken for the torture and illegal detentions that occurred in this case. Meanwhile, the Community Defender handling this case, Francisco Cruz PÃ©rez, has received a growing number of threats against his well being.
The state government's attacks became more vehement the day after Human Rights Attorney and Chiapas Community Defenders Network advisor, Miguel Angel de Los Santos, stated that the above mentioned five men are just 5 of 21 new Zapatista political prisoners. After this statement, Pablo Salazar launched a media attack on the integrity of not only De Los Santos, but the entire Chiapas Community Defenders Network (at least one comment per day for over a week). The attacks by the state government are extremely dangerous given that these defenders already operate under tremendous personal risk, as evidenced by the fact that RamÃ³n PeÃ±ate DÃaz, Francisco Cruz PÃ©rez, and Miguel Angel de Los Santos of the Defenders Network have been forced to petition the Interamerican Comission for special protection. Attacks against human rights defenders, and specifically De Los Santos is nothing new, as shown by the recorded threats against him featured in the movie "A Place Called Chiapas."
Resurgent Paramilitary Activity and Recent Attacks on EZLN Bases of Support
Not coincidentally, the number of paramilitary attacks and unfounded legal actions by municipal governments has drastically increased across the state.
Since late February, the Municipality of Tila (a region rife with conflict since Zedilloâ€™s reign) has had a marked increase in paramilitary activity. The municipal judge of Tila arbitrarily issued arrest warrants against 7 EZLN support bases, accusing them, without proof, of being leaders of the paramilitary organization Paz y Justicia. In early March, Paz y Justicia members started incessantly threatening Tila EZLN supporters. In the nearby community of Nueva RevoluciÃ³n, a heavily armed group with high caliber weapons has also threatened EZLN supporters.
Paramilitary training has also increased across the Municipality. In Wilis, about 14 people received paramilitary training and in Colonia Ocotal, another group of people did the same. In Nueva Esperanza, a known Paz y Justicia leader started organizing new recruits into paramilitary groups with no repercussions from local police. All this activity has taken place with total impunity despite the fact that numerous human rights organizations have demanded that Pablo Salazar take prosecutorial actions against these paramilitary organizations for the seven years of terror that they have inflicted on this region.
Near San Cristobal de las Casas, the community of MitzitÃ³n has not fared better. On March 4th, PRIISTA evangelicals opened fire on one house and burned down three more. Local press and police failed to investigate the events properly, falsely blaming Zapatista sympathizing communal landholders without proof, thus providing a pretext for dozens of Public Security Police to remain stationed outside their community.
On March 1st, in Salto de Agua, Palenque a group of PRI militants "disappeared" a member of their party, who was found dead three weeks later. Because a PRI member requested assistance from the Judicial Police, the Public Ministry entered the autonomous community with four vehicles to "investigate." The fact that witnesses testified that another Priista was the last person seen with the disappeared man was ignored.
EZLN supporters in Morelia, located in the Autonomous Municipality 17 de Noviembre, are now suffering physical attacks by Priistas. On March 16th, PRI militants told EZLN supporters that they were given video cameras and radio equipment by the Mexican army to monitor their activity. On March 19th, members of the paramilitary group explicitly threatened to kill Zapatista bases of support and foreign human rights observers in the area. That evening uniformed paramilitary members engaged in military exercises while PRI militants "warned" Zapatista women that soldiers were sure to come. One day later, PRI militants and paramilitary members broke a Defenderâ€™s video camera, and injured EZLN supporters and human rights observers with rocks and sticks. Days later, PRI militants severely beat a young man and struck with rocks an elderly woman who was in her own home. No police action against these attacks has been taken.
On March 23, in the nearby community of RancherÃa de Nantze, about 19 Priistas distributed arms and engaged in armed night patrols -- again with total impunity.
One day later, in the community of Javier LÃ³pez located in the Autonomous Municipality of Francisco GÃ³mez, as part of their stated intention to take away the communal lands worked by EZLN supporters in the community, ORCAO members physically attacked EZLN supporters, fiercely wounding a woman with an ax. They later brought in more members to intimidate EZLN bases of support; once again with total impunity.
Increased Police and Military Activity
In addition to the marked increase in paramilitary activity, the Federal Army -- under the command of President Vicente Fox â€“ with various Federal, Preventive, Judicial and State police, has recently moved in to occupy a number of communities in Zapatista territory.
On March 1, 2002 in the community of Jolnixtie, Municipality of Tila, 120 elements of the Federal Army, with 4 convoys and one hummer vehicle, occupied the streets and interrogated locals as to the whereabouts of other communities, their distances from Jolnixtie, and the activities of local campesinos. Since then, the army, with elements of the Federal Judicial and state Police, has carried out patrols in the community every couple of days. They continue to occupy the schools in Jolnixtie and Emiliano Zapata.
Furthermore, on March 30th in the community of Nueva Esperanza, in the Autonomous Municipality of Vicente Guerrero, 10 elements of state Public Security police entered the community intimidating locals and threatening to return with additional forces.
The intensity of all of thes attacks on indigenous communities in the state has suspiciously risen after Pablo Salazarâ€™s public assault on the Chiapas Community Defenders Network. The fact that every incident of paramilitary activity has been permitted by local and state authorities, despite frequent denunciations by the Community Defenders Network, while local governments have unquestioningly utilized false claims to issue arrest warrants against EZLN bases of support, attests to a collaborative effort on the part of paramilitary groups, anti-Zapatista government officials, and elements of the police and military, to support Pablo Salazarâ€™s shift in strategy.
Indigenous Removal from the Montes Azules Bioreserve: "Chronicle of a Disaster Foretold"
In addition to these attacks across the state of Chiapas, the state and federal governments have renewed their plan (reiterated as recently as April 4th by the Coordinator of Montes Azules Bioreserve, Alejandro Lopez Portillo, and quoted in "El Diario de Chiapas.") to displace over 1,500 indigenous Chol, Tojolobal, Tseltal, and Tzotzil families from the Montes Azules Bioreserve. As a result, the communities in the Autonomous Municipality of Ricardo Flores Magon (situated in the bioreserve) have denounced constant overflights, incursions, and convoys of the Mexican army and Federal Preventive Police in the bioreserve and their communities.
In 1972, then president Luis Echeverria ceded some 614,000 hectares of the Lacandon jungle to a small group of Carib Indians from Campeche (who have since then gone by the name of the Lacandons). This cession of lands was made to the "Lacandons" despite the fact that numerous competing claims to land in the region had previously been filed by other indigenous groups (with larger populations).
On September 12th, 2001 the "Lacandons" held a large press conference in which, with the help of photos provided by Conservation International (an "environmental" organization that receives financial support from McDonalds, Pulsar Group, Ford and Intel, amongst other corporations), they demanded the immediate and permanent removal of 16 neighboring indigenous communities. The government has now used these demands as a pretext to renew their efforts to dislodge the indigenous people from the Lacandon Jungle and open this region for massive bio-prospecting projects and foreign investment, much of which would take place under Plan Puebla Panama (see next section).
The Mexican government has used the issue of Montes Azules as a major opportunity to directly attack the EZLN, whose communities of support make up more than 17 of the 35 communities cited for removal. The displacement of these communities would symbolize the direct victory of neoliberal governance over indigenous autonomy. It would also provide the Mexican Army with the very real strategic advantage of controlling the northern entrance into the Lacandon Jungle.
For these reasons the large majority of indigenous communities within the Montes Azules Bioreserve have and will continue to refuse to leave their lands. Thus, the insistence by the state and federal governments on removal and their recent escalation of actions in furtherance of this end has set up an explosive situation which has the potential of direct confrontation between thousands of indigenous inhabitants of the Lacandon Jungle and the Mexican Army.
Plan Puebla Panama
The plans for the exploitation of the Lacandon Jungle do not exist in a vacuum; they have become an integral part of the Mexican Governments strategy to implement their neoliberal megaproject called the "Plan Puebla Panama." President Vicente Fox has already made several declarations that he is willing to disregard the indigenous movements of southern Mexico in order to implement his "Plan." On June 14, 2001, he stated "The Plan Puebla Panama is a thousand times more important than Zapatismo, or any indigenous community in Chiapas."
Although the Plan Puebla Panama has thousands of small projects planned throughout North and Central America, the sum whole of this "Plan" will have the effect of denying the indigenous inhabitants of Southern Mexico their rights as indigenous peoples. That is, the construction of numerous hydroelectric dams (42 within the conflict zone alone), roads, gold and uranium mines, platforms for petroleum extraction, African palm and eucalyptus plantations, licensing for multinational corporations to engage in bioprospecting and tree felling, will not respect the rights of indigenous peoples to have their traditional lands demarcated, to control and protect their "territories," to decide the future of their own development, and to be consulted in regards to any government program that may directly affect them (all of these rights are guaranteed by International Labour Organizations' Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, to which Mexico is a signatory).
One and a half years after the election of Pablo Salazar and Vicente Fox, the situation in Chiapas has not fundamentally changed: 1) The San Andres Accords have yet to be respected, 2) The state and federal government continue to detain Zapatista political prisoners, and 3) The federal army continues to maintain 255 military positions within Chiapas. These facts and the consequent violation of human rights should not surprise anyone; they are the only possible result of the unilateral attempt by the federal and state government to impose their neoliberal strategy on the indigenous peoples of Chiapas. Human rights violations in Chiapas will end only when this strategy is defeated and the collective land rights of the indigenous people of Chiapas are truly respected.
Estacion Libre Report: February 5-April 19, 2002
A. Prioritizing Plan Puebla Panama
On June 14, 2001, President Vicente Fox stated "The Plan Puebla Panama is a thousand times more [important] than Zapatismo, or any indigenous community in Chiapas." The Plan Puebla Panama encompasses: the construction of hydroelectric dams (42 within the conflict zone of Chiapas alone), highways, platforms for petroleum extraction, gold and uranium mines; the creation of African palm and eucalyptus plantations; and licensing for multinational corporations to engage in bio-prospecting and tree felling. These projects will not respect the rights of indigenous peoples to control and protect their land, to decide the future of their own development, nor to be consulted about any government program that may affect them (rights which are guaranteed by International Labor Organizations' (ILO) Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, which Mexico signed). Prioritization of this Plan became increasingly apparent in February as World Bank representatives made a historic visit to Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero, claiming to "investigate its economic potential." While denying that the visits were counterinsurgent in nature (given that Mexicoâ€™s main armed movements operate in these three states), representatives made clear that these states were host to "abundant social risk" and that they considered necessary many "reforms â€¦in the behavior of its inhabitants (02/09). " The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) are providing the majority of the loans necessary to fund this $8 billion mega-project.
Meanwhile, Chiapas governor Pablo Salazar met with US President Bush, US Secretary of Commerce and top World Bank executives in Washington DC to effectively express his commitment to social control, promoting Chiapas as "a very secure market for investors (02/11)." In the same vein, the Mexican government budgeted US$900 million for Plan Puebla Panama projects, in addition to another US$4 million loaned by the IDB (03/04).
B. Salazarâ€™s Strategy Shift
In line with the prioritization of the Plan Puebla Panama in recent months, the state government has shifted its strategy in an attempt to directly undermine the EZLN since Zapatista communities have effectively blocked resource extraction projects in Chiapas.
1. Attacks on Indigenous Human Rights Defenders The latest wave of human rights violations began January 16 when state agents arrested and tortured 5 Zapatista sympathizers from the Autonomous Municipality of Ricardo Flores MagÃ³n. After holding them incomunicado from their families and human rights defender for over 7 days, state officials illegally put them under house arrest 60+ days without presenting charges (CCDN denuncia 03/14). [Ironically, Mexico later ratified the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearances with the Organization of American States (OAS) (03/10).]
After a member of the Chiapas Community Defenders Network declared these detainees just 5 of 21 new Zapatista political prisoners, Pablo Salazar launched a prolonged media attack on the integrity of not only that lawyer, but the entire Chiapas Community Defenders Network. These attacks are extremely dangerous given that the defenders already operate under tremendous personal risk, as evidenced by the increased number of death threats received by several Community Defenders.
2. Resurgent Paramilitary Activity and Recent Attacks on EZLN Bases of Support Since late February, the Municipality of Tila (a region rife with conflict since Zedilloâ€™s reign) has seen a marked increase in paramilitary activity. The municipal judge of Tila arbitrarily issued arrest warrants against 7 EZLN support bases, accusing them, without proof, of being leaders of the paramilitary organization Paz y Justicia. In five different communities across the Municipality of Tila, paramilitary organizers started openly training and threatening EZLN bases of support (Denuncia from Tila - 03/18).
In the community of Morelia, Autonomous Municipality 17 de Noviembre, local priista threats against EZLN supporters intensified and culminated in a confrontation that left Zapatista supporters and foreign human rights observers injured with rocks and sticks (03/20). Days later, PRI militants severely beat a young man and threw rocks at an elderly woman who was in her own home. On March 23, in the nearby community of RancherÃa de Nantze, about 19 Priistas distributed arms and engaged in armed night patrols.
In the Autonomous Municipality of Francisco Gomez, tension has grown for months as state authorities offered land titles to members of the Regional Organization of Coffee Growers of Ocosingo (ORCAO) for communal property worked and owned by Zapatista communities. In the community of Javier LÃ³pez, ORCAO members attacked EZLN supporters, brutally wounding a woman with an ax (03/24). In Primero de Enero, fighting broke out between Zapatistas and the ORCAO after ORCAO members took EZLN supporters hostage, under accusations of cutting a fence that held cattle. In response, autonomous authorities took two ORCAO leaders into custody (03/04). Two days later both parties exchanged detainees, with ORCAO members continuing to threaten the Zapatista community.
In the same Municipality, in Ejido Pena Limonar, 70 members of a priista faction of the National Coordinator of Indigenous People (CNPI) attacked two women, one with a bicycle chain and another with a machete, leaving both injured. They burned down 11 houses belonging to Zapatista supporters, along with their clothes, food, and work tools (April 17). In response, local authorities issued arrest warrants against the Zapatista bases of support.
The intensity of all of these attacks on indigenous communities in the state suspiciously rose after Pablo Salazarâ€™s public assault on the Chiapas Community Defenders Network. The fact that every incident of paramilitary activity has been permitted by local and state authorities, despite frequent denunciations by the Community Defenders Network, and that local governments have unquestioningly utilized false claims to issue arrest warrants against EZLN bases of support, attests to a collaborative effort on the part of paramilitary groups, anti-Zapatista government officials, and elements of the police to support Pablo Salazarâ€™s shift in strategy.
3. Police and Military Troops Mobilize to Displace and Disturb In addition to the marked increase in paramilitary activity, the Federal Army -- under the command of President Vicente Fox â€“ with various Federal, Preventive, Judicial and State police, recently moved in to occupy communities in Zapatista territory.
In Jolnixtie, Municipality of Tila, 120 elements of the Federal Army occupied the streets and interrogated local campesinos about the whereabouts and distances of other communities as well as their activities. Since then the army, with elements of the Federal Judicial and state Police, has patrolled the community every other day and continues to occupy the schools in Jolnixtie and Emiliano Zapata (03/01).
In Nueva Esperanza, Autonomous Municipality of Vicente Guerrero, 10 state Public Security police entered the community intimidating locals and threatening to return with additional forces (03/30).
In addition to these attacks, state and federal governments have renewed their plan (reiterated as recently as April 4 by the Coordinator of the Montes Azules Bioreserve) to displace over 1,500 indigenous Chol, Tojolobal, Tseltal, and Tzotzil families from the Montes Azules Bioreserve. Communities in the Autonomous Municipality of Ricardo Flores Magon (situated in the bioreserve) denounced constant overflights, incursions, and convoys of the Mexican army and Federal Preventive Police into the bio-reserve and their towns (02/23, 03/25).
In 1972, then president Luis Echeverria ceded about 614,000 hectares of the Lacandon jungle to a small group of Carib Indians from Campeche (who have since then gone by the name of the Lacandons). This cession of lands was made to the "Lacandons" despite the fact that numerous competing claims to land in the region had previously been filed by other indigenous groups with larger populations.
On September 12th, 2001 the "Lacandons" held a major press conference in which, with the help of photos provided by Conservation International (an "environmental" organization that receives financial support from Grupo Pulsar, Ford, McDonalds, and Intel), they demanded the immediate and permanent removal of 16 neighboring indigenous communities. The Mexican government has used the issue of Montes Azules as a pretext to directly attack the EZLN (whose communities of support make up more than 17 of the 35 communities cited for removal) so that it can open this region for massive bio-prospecting projects and foreign investment, much of which would take place under Plan Puebla Panama.
The displacement of these communities provide the Mexican Army with the strategic advantage of controlling the northern entrance into the Lacandon Jungle and would symbolize the direct victory of neoliberalism over indigenous autonomy.
C. Three Still Unfulfilled Signs
17 months after the EZLN requested of the Mexican government three signs as proof of its sincerity in seeking dialogue, the signs have yet to be completely fulfilled: 1) liberation of all Zapatista political prisoners, 2) implementation of the San Andres Accords (through the 1996 Cocopa proposal) and 3) demilitarization of 7 key bases in the conflict zone.
1. Number of Zapatista Political Prisoners Rises to 24 EZLN base of support Salvador Lopez Gonzalez was released last month after a judge formally recognized his innocence (03/19). According to the Chiapas Community Defenders Network however, the number of Zapatista political prisoners rose from 9 to 24. The 16 additional prisoners were formally recognized as EZLN prisoners by the autonomous communities from which they came. Furthermore, state authorities issued over 8 arrest warrants against Zapatistas in Tila and the Autonomous Municipality of Francisco Villa.
2. Indigenous Reform Still Under Debate Even though indigenous organizations have filed over 330 legal complaints against the mutilated Indigenous Reform (implemented last August), the Supreme Court of Mexico has yet to rule on the constitutionality of the "reform" and is postponing such ruling until June (04/10). Indigenous organizations pointed out that the current Indigenous Reform not only violates the Constitution of Mexico, Agrarian Law, and international conventions on indigenous rights, but it furthermore facilitates corporate exploitation of indigenous land.
In an attempt to "repair the error of having approved the reform last year," 168 representatives of all political parties (except the PAN) re-introduced to the national Congress, the Cocopa Law -- the same drawn up by the Cocopa based on the Accords signed between the EZLN and the federal government six years before (2/19). Congress has yet to discuss the proposal in session.
3. Mexican Government Still Controls 2 of the 7 Demilitarized Bases One year after Vicente Fox claimed to have demilitarized the 7 key bases in the conflict zone, the government continues to control 2 of the 7 bases: Amador Hernandez, and Rio Euseba. Over one year ago the Department of Agrarian Reform declared that the land fomerly occupied by the military still "belonged" to the military, even though troops had left (03/24/01). In violation of Mexican law and ILO Convention 169, the federal government refuses to return the land to the communities that previously lived on it and furthermore maintains highly unpopular "indigenous development centers" there.
D. Human Rights Observation Visit
The International Civil Commission for the Observation of Human Rights (CCIODH), made up of more than 100 members from 14 countries, made its third visit to Chiapas in early March to follow up on the stateâ€™s human rights record. Before Salazarâ€™s shift in strategy became apparent, the CCIODH reported that abuses against indigenous residents had increased since their last visit. Paramilitary presence and military patrols reportedly continued in numerous zones, most remarkably in the Ocosingo and border regions (03/03).
Government authorities seemed keen on keeping the commission from meeting with political prisoners. Human rights observers who attempted to visit the two Zapatista prisoners in Queretaro were denied entrance to the facility. After the commission spoke with three EZLN political prisoners at the San Cristobal prison, the prisoners were punished with solitary confinement.
The commission also met with state Human Rights Commissioner Pedro Raul Lopez Hernandez, whose house was shot at mid-January after he denounced human rights violations committed by the Salazar administration in Marques de Comillas last August.
To read denuncias from indigenous communities and their Defenders go to: Chiapas Community Defenders Network (CCDN): www.reddedefensores.org Enlace Civil: www.enlacecivil.org.mx
For further information on Plan Puebla Panama: CIEPAC: www.ciepac.org/ppp.htm
Information Sources: denuncias by indigenous communities, reports by the Chiapas Community Defenders Network, Cuarto Poder, El Milenio, La Jornada, AP, Expreso.
Estacion Libre is a people of color organization in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas working to promote Zapatismo inspired community organizing in the US and Canada. We also maintain a permanent working space in San Cristobal, Chiapas for use by activists from communities of color. We can be contacted at: email@example.com