Reforma, Wednesday, June 17, 1998

Carlos Fuentes/ The Siege of Chiapas
Translated by Rosalva Bermudez-Ballin

"We have gathered here, because this is the place where, for thousands of years, the indigenous paths of the Chiapas Highlands have crossed. This is where part of its tradition lives, this is where its problems are sorted out and this is a refuge for men and cultures.  This place has seen the suffering of indigenous people for centuries.  It has seen them walk in search of survival or justice for their reasons. It has seen them share their efforts with their blood brothers.  Here, men [sic] dared to live like men [sic]."

These words were not Marcos', nor Saramago's, nor Fernando Benitez's. They were pronounced by Luis Donaldo Colosio in the Chiapan town of La Ventana, on March 3, 1990, that is, almost exactly four years before another celebrated speech by the ever remembered and loved Sonoran politician, at the National Encounter of Indigenous Towns.

Is the substitute governor Roberto Albores capable of repeating Colosio's words without turning red?  Could the Chiapan Priistas, the landowners, and the crop razers who keep that entity of the Federation as a reserve for economic exploitation and political submission repeat them without cynicism?

Would, President Ernesto Zedillo, and the Secretary of the Interior Francisco Labastida, and the Secretary of National Defense, General Enrique Cervantes Aguirre, please, memorize them?

A rich state full of poor citizens.

Chiapas gives Mexico, energy, oil, coffee, forests. What does it receive in return? How does the richness of a state that could be one of the most prosperous in the country be translated?

Phillipe Aghion and Beatriz Armendariz, from the University College of London,  provided me the following data.  The GNP in Mexico is12,263 pesos.  Nuevo Leon's is 21,289 pesos.  Chiapas' is a little over 8,000 pesos.

Chiapas has the highest infant mortality rate in the country: eighty five infants out of a thousand births die.  In Chiapas there is one doctor for every thousand inhabitants. Malnutrition reaches seventy percent of the population. Brutality and injustice affects thirty percent of children under the age of fifteen, in contrast to five and a half percent of all the illiterate people in the rest of the country.

The distribution of income is the most unjust in the country.  Brutality of treatment, injustice and exaction are the daily bread--the only one that is theirs--for the indigenous people who, before Colosio, asked not just for health, education and credit, bilingual education, ownership over their natural resources in indigenous territories and their own authority, but also for the liberation of jailed indigenous people who are constantly harassed for no reason.  And something else: they asked us, the ladinos, the white and the mestizos, to please, "direct
yourselves to us."

From Chinameca to La Union

In turn, time and time again, the Mexican powers have not talked to the indigenous and peasant population. They have directed the bullets, against Zapata at Chinamece, against Jaramillo at Xochicalco, against the anonymous people at Acteal, and now against the supposed delinquents at El Bosque, Union Progreso and Chavajeval.  To believe that some shots in the mountains can gather up a thousand soldiers instantly to kill a fistful of people who have no roof, land, or shoes, is a mockery as monstrous as calling the dead "delinquents". That is what they called Zapata during his time (read the newspapers from the year1919).

"What we are going to regulate--Colosio said in 1990-, what we are going to regulate immediately is the right of the indigenous people to be heard, and be heard in their own language, so that their forms of justice, medicine and protection of the environment be known; so that their proposals for what they understand to be well-being and better forms of democracy be heard".

Chiapas, in a state of siege.

President Ernesto Zedillo has repeatedly declined the use of force in Chiapas.  Repeatedly, the Secretary of the Interior, Francisco Labastida has talked about implementing a peaceful and prosperous strategy for Chiapas.

Obviously, Albores, the governor of Chiapas, has heard neither the President nor the Secretary.  Time and time again, his protection is quickly given to the Priista groups and denied to the autonomous or Zapatista peoples. Surely, the governor finds his support, more than in the Central government, in the local forces, in his alliance to the Chiapan oligarchy with the PRI and in the alliance of both to the paramilitary groups.

The question that remains is this: Who has ordered the Mexican military to move? The only one who has the power to do it is the Supreme Chief, the President of the Republic.

Chiapas is internally in a state of siege by all these powers and contradictions of power.  The governor does not want witnesses.  The federal government, apparently, does not either.

But a Chiapas with no witnesses means the death of Chiapas, extermination without impunity.  Neither Hitler was able to tolerate witnesses in Auschwitz, nor  Stalin at the Gulag, nor Pinochet in Chile.  But a Chiapas without witnesses, a Chiapas handed out to official impunity and to the death of the poor, means something else: it means the danger of protest uprisings in the countryside and in the cieties; it means the very serious interruption, if not the death, of democratic transition in Mexico.

May the emissaries of death not deceive themselves: in Mexico, the dead are rising and claim justice all the way from Chinameca to Tlatelolco.

May the intermediaries come, by mule or by plane.

Because of this, it is urgent that abandonment and impunity not be the signs of the violent "pacification" of Chiapas.  How to avoid it? By multiplying the observation and negotiation bodies.

The CONAI has died.  May the COCOPA live.  This, the Pacification and Consent Comission, which was created by law, includes representatives from all the political parties.  It has a legitimate voice which needs to be made heard.

To the Government, that all violent activity in Chiapas stop, including the dismantling of the autonomous municipalities that have been in existence, in some cases, for more than two years. Why muddy things up with blood and confussion? People ask themselves, how did a thousand soldiers turn up instantly to kill six Chiapan indigenous people and there wasn't one damned well-paid cop to protect my life and property in the cities of this country? (Translator's note: Just as I was typing this last sentence, I was interrupted by an email message from my sister in Mexico City telling me that her station wagon was stolen yesterday from ouside her home in Mexico City's Colonia del Valle)

And before the EZLN, why say anything anymore.

Absence of witnesses in Chiaps means the victory of impunity in Chiapas.

It is urgent to smother the local and federal government with observers and intermediaries.

Besides a resurrected COCOPA, the Red Cross and the Conference of Mexican Episcopacy must make themselves present.

Given the flow of displaced people, the presence of the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees, ACNUR or UNHCR, headed by Mary Robinson, is both necessary and legitimate.

The harmful official policy of expulsion of foreign observers, which has damaged the fame of the country and has resurrected the cheapest xenophobic and chauvinistic vocabulary, must be reversed: the government should welcome observers, and it should turn them into witnesses of the governmental effort to negotiate peace in Chiapas, it should see the observers as friends, as protectors of the indigenous people and as de facto allies of the government.

The dangers that a policy of blood and fire in Chiapas represent to Mexico, to the democratic transition and to the diminishing international position of the country, requires, finally, a mixed mediating body, which is both national and international, and who is able to project to the world the negotiating and pacifying will of the whole country and would help the government avoid the increase of expenses in the southern border of the country.

Bernardo Sepulveda, the Chancelor of Contadora is a Mexican mediator with proved credentials in the Central American conflicts, a diplomat with experience and acceptable to both sides, can be a high ranking mediator in this coflict (Translator's note: The Contadora group was created on the 9 of January, 1983 at a conference that took place at the Island of Contadora for the purpose of bringing an end to the civil wars in El Salvador, and Guatemala and the conflict between Nicaragua and the U.S. The group had representatives from Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, and Colombia and their main objective was to try to find solutions through dialogue).

He is not the only man with political and diplomatic experience, Jesus Silva Herzog, former Secretary of the Treasury and ambassador to Washington, or Enrique Gonzalez Pedrero, senator and ex governor of the state of Tabasco, also have the importance and wisdom to assume this role.

But the Mexican mediator will require, nevertheless, international support of the first order.  They can give it to him, as was the case of the so called "friends of the Secretary General of the UN" who were named in an effort to end the war in El Salvador, men like the former president of Spain, Felipe Gonzalez; the Nobel Peace Prize winner and ex president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias; the English political conservative Tristram Garrel-Jones; or the Swedish Socialist diplomat Pierre Schori.  The latter two, of course, are Spanish speakers.

The point is not to make the conflict in Chiapas international, but to resort to international solidarity which can serve us well, additionally, the ever conflictive relationship with the United States and their unrenouncing interventionist vocation in Mexico, as shown in the "Casablanca Operation Sting" makes it impossible to resort to them.

But the other factor for dialogue and negotiation is the EZLN.  Its silence is worrisome, it clouds the situation and postpones compromise. It gives room for innecessary conjectures.  Has Marcos died, is he out of the country, has he been substituted by other Zapatista leaders? The EZLN presents obstacles to the peace process and damages itself if it does not talk before the new situation, if it does not unite its voice to that of the national and international choir that isolates the assassins in Chiapas.

Colosio in Chiapas

"I commit myself to avoid confusion between modernization and the most advanced showings of injustice.  I also commit myself to not confuse the respect of the indigenous cultures with a justification to continue the abandonment.  I commit myself to promote among the Priistas  a reflection about the injustices and offenses. To avoid the simple sharing of blame or innocense and to move on to action.  We will avoid that the various dramas of the indigenous people continue to be tragedies to the Nation."(Luis Donaldo Colosio, speech at La Ventana, Chiapas, March 3, 1990).

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