call it waffling would be an understatement. But whatever you call it, Mexico’s
President Vicente Fox has been changing his position on the Zapatistas at least
every fifteen minutes. Maybe even every five minutes.
campaigned on a platform of bringing peace to Chiapas. One of his first acts as
president was to table a law on indigenous rights in the Congress. He proceeded
to endorse the freeing of 18 of the over-a-hundred Zapatista political prisoners
and close 3 of the 7 military bases the Zapatistas had asked be closed. All of
this looked like he was serious about dialogue and peace.
the 3 signals the Zapatistas wanted were minimal signals for dialogue: these
were 7 bases (of over 200 in the state, the closure of the rest of which the
Zapatistas are willing to negotiate over) freedom for all the Zapatista
political prisoners, and the enactment of the Cocopa law on indigenous rights
and culture. Other things are negotiable. These things aren’t.
why does Fox close 3 bases and say he’s waiting for the Zapatistas to give him
something, then close another one a day after, and then nothing? Why does he
allow some prisoners freedom and then announce firmly that there will be no
more? Why does he allow people in his administration to threaten that the
Zapatistas can be arrested if they go to Mexico City or leave Chiapas [which
they are doing tomorrow, February 25, to arrive in Mexico City to dialogue with
the Congress on March 11]? To say they won’t talk to the Zapatistas if they wear
masks? To say that the Cocopa law is too radical a change– because it allows
for communally held lands, something won in the Mexican Revolution almost a
century ago and only struck down after NAFTA?
latest swing in the anti-Zapatista direction was forbidding the International
Committee of the Red Cross to accompany the Zapatista delegation to Mexico City.
Since the Red Cross was there to ensure the safety of the delegation, Fox’s
refusal could be seen as granting license to paramilitaries and others who have
threatened the comandantes in the past. It could, in other words, be interpreted
as a threat.
isn’t the only swing that’s occurred either. A number of Zapatista communities,
including Polho and Ricardo Flores Magon, have been reporting steady military
and paramilitary activities– troop movements, patrols, threats.
shouldn’t blame the President of Mexico, though. It’s got to be hard to be the
President of a country which, to quote a Mexican saying, is so far from heaven
and so close to the United States. If he’s anything like other world leaders, he
has to be wondering how to please the US. Publicly beating up on indigenous
people doesn’t attract investors (who prefer that beatings be done out of sight
whenever possible). But neither would rolling back all those hard-won investor
rights to Chiapas’– and Mexico’s– wealth. And somehow, the Zapatistas have
managed to make it impossible for the Mexican government and its US patrons to
beat up on them quietly. Which leaves President Fox in a bind.
much peace can he deliver without annoying the right wingers and hardliners in
his own party or the Congress? How much can he antagonize the Zapatistas, fail
to meet their demands, deny justice to indigenous people, without alienating a
Mexican public to whom he promised peace and democratic politics? How many of
the Zapatista demands will he have to meet, and at what cost to his elite
friends in the US who make fortunes from Mexico and don’t want to see those
fortunes lost just so indigenous people can live with dignity?
answer to these questions is: it depends. Fox is no flake. If he’s waffling,
changing sides and positions constantly, it’s because he’s probing to see what
he can get away with. He’s made a lot of promises to a lot of people and he
can’t deliver to everyone. Who he does deliver to depends on who pushes the
hardest. Dissidents know that the right and the US corporations and government
can push pretty hard. The Zapatistas have shown that dissidents can push pretty
hard too. If you’d like to join the push, there’s a standing invitation.
Zapatista caravan of the comandancia leaves San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas,
tomorrow (February 25). It will meet with indigenous organizations all over
Mexico, and go to Mexico City on March 11 where it will stay until the
Zapatistas have had a dialogue with the Congress about the law on indigenous
rights and culture.
Chiapas site http://www.zmag.org/chiapas1/index.htm
you read Spanish, the official site for the caravan is http://www.ezlnaldf.org