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MEXICO: Chiapas and the Zapatistas

The Committee of Indigenous Solidarity (CIS) is "a Washington, D.C. based activist group committed to the ongoing struggles of Indigenous peoples in the Americas. CIS is actively supporting the struggles of the Indigenous peoples of Mexico while simultaneously combating related structures of oppression within our own communities". It reports that the Zapatistas are still active in Chiapas. Hundreds of Indigenous supporters of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) refused to negotiate with government representatives who arrived in Chiapas to try and convince them to move out of a protected ecological reserve. Seventeen families of Zapatista supporters founded the villages of Nuevo San Isidro and Nuevo San Rafael in the heart of the Montes Azules reserve after tensions with local right-wing paramilitary groups forced them to flee their original towns in February. Convoys of federal and state negotiators have traveled to isolated corners of the jungle dozens of times in recent weeks, in an effort to convince residents living in 30 communities within the 815,450-acre (330,000 hectare) reserve to move elsewhere. But when a small group of negotiators arrived to Nuevo San Isidro and Nuevo San Rafael , local leaders refused to speak with them. The negotiators responded by leaving the villages, which are little more than collections of wood and palm-leaf huts built under the jungle canopy. "We will never talk to the government and we are ready, if it becomes necessary, to defend our territory with our blood," said a Zapatista, who spoke on the customary condition of anonymity.

In the Chiapas capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez, Governor. Pablo Salazar stated that "those groups who are resisting, those groups that don't have the legal right to be there, we will eventually begin negotiations so that they will leave (the reserve) voluntarily," Salazar said. Negotiations between government envoys and villagers are complicated because nearly all of the people in the 30 communities are loyal to the Zapatistas, who staged a brief rebellion in the name of Indigenous rights and seized Chiapas' largest city in January 1994. The people of Nuevo San Isidro and Nuevo San Rafael, like villagers in most of the communities in Montes Azules, survive on small tracks of corn, beans and squash and also raise chickens and picks.

More than 800 activists from 24 countries gathered in Chiapas (6/5/03) and listened to speeches criticizing the U.S.-led war in Iraq to inaugurate the first-ever meeting of the Hemispheric Militarization Front. Mexican author Carlos Montemayor, an expert on guerrilla movements and military buildups around the world, called the end of fighting in Iraq "only the beginning" of a campaign for global U.S. military domination. The government of George W. Bush "always comes in the name of democracy, comes to save, civilize and defend the people, to destroy tyrannies in the name of God," Montemayor said. "But these sentiments only serve to further the international militarization the (world's powerful governments) have been preparing for historically." Also attended by 1980 Nobel laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel, the meeting of international non-governmental organizations is meant to protest claims that the world now looks to solve its problems with violence and military invasions, while ignoring peaceful solutions. Ana Esther Cecena, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told the crowd that the governments of Latin America have used the existence of small, isolated guerrilla groups to sponsor military campaigns that would have otherwise been criticized heavily by social groups. She said the Mexican army has been allowed to violate the human rights of thousands of people living in Chiapas under the guise of monitoring the Zapatistas".

Ronald Hilton - 5/12/03