Zapatista Report

First presented as a speech at the Indigenous Struggles panel at the Second National Conference on Mexico-U.S. Relations, Mexico Solidarity Network

by Mercedes Osun, translated by Irlandesa

Z magazine, December 1999


The causes that led to the Zapatista uprising-poverty, hunger, diseases, a lack of services, injustice and racism against the indigenous communities-have not, in any way, been resolved. The economic, political, and social conditions have been made worse by the government's failure to carry out the accords signed between the EZLN and the federal government, and which were synthesized by a legislative commission (the COCOPA). But those conditions have also been exacerbated by the positioning of more and more tens of thousands of military and police personnel from various forces, as well as by systematic attacks by paramilitary groups against the indigenous communities, destroying the material conditions of life and the community fabric and feeling of these Indian peoples.

Meanwhile, there has been much and varied academic and journalistic research that has corroborated and clarified the suspicion regarding the extraordinary strategic importance of the material wealth of the Selva Lacandona: issues such as oil, biodiversity (more and more involved with genetic engineering and its various bio-piracy activities), water (which serves not only for hydroelectric use, but also for irrigating high consumption forestry plantations, such as eucalyptus, and bamboo for paper production), minerals, plantations, archeological ruins (now in the process of being privatized), the eco-tourism of the Mayan Route, and, of course, drug trafficking.

Such varied uses of the land, within the context of NAFTA, allows one to foresee the convocation of a multitude of businesses and capital interested in new methods of looting the natural and historical resources there, as a new means of acquiring extraordinary profits. It has been denounced in many media how the 1992 amendment of Article 27 of the Mexican Political Constitution-regarding campesino ownership of land-had to do with agricultural integration into the North American market. This integration is sacrificing not only the cultivation of our traditional products (maize, beans, etc.), but also, and above all, the 1,000-year-old continuation of Mexican campesinos on their farming lands. In the case of Chiapas, however, the pressure on land ownership is not coming just from the aggressive and implacable North American agricultural companies, but also from the various capital tied to the oil, hydroelectricity, paper, pharmaceutical, and hotel industries, as well as from genetic sequencing companies, seed producers. All equally interested in various forms of privatization of the strategic resources there.

The ruination of Mexican farmers is leading, throughout the country, to the accelerated abandonment of their lands and their forced migration to big cities or to the United States. As is the case in Chiapas, the possibility of the exploitation of strategic resources lead to their privatization, and it can be expected that these changes will unavoidably lead to the massive expulsion of hundreds of thousands of campesinos.

The military, police, and paramilitary deployment above and around the strategic resources of the Selva, even in areas where there is little or no population present, is the unlucky signal of a coming war of expulsions and extermination. In this regard, let us look at the most recent incidents.

Recent events

San Manuel: Since March 29, there have been simulations of weapons turn-ins in this municipality by para- militaries and PRIs from the area, as if they were Zapatistas. In June, the soldiers set up a camp at the entrance to La Trinidad ejido, impeding access to the community's health center. Everyone traveling through that area is being searched and harassed by this detachment. There have been various denunciations by communities in the region asking for the Army's withdrawal from that town.

Ricardo Flores Magon: On July 22, 5,000 military troops entered this area, setting up new camps and checkpoints in the communities, offering to replant the area with mahogany and cedar. In the communities where they were accepted, they have reforested even the plots (beginning with the PRI communities, and then moving to the other Zapatista communities). They subsequently entered other areas, reforesting without the consent of the communities. In the Viejo Velazco Suarez ejido, Senor Pedro Lopez Hernandez, 75, was detained on July 21, and his whereabouts is still unknown. It is in this area where children are being given money in order to obtain information, and for them to bring in their sisters to work as prostitutes. Soldiers and their prostitutes are | going to the springs there to bathe, | leaving trash, contaminating the | rivers, etc., which the communities l use for drinking water.

San Pedro de Michoacan: The community of La Realidad is located in this important municipality. Since May, defoliants have been applied as part of a program for controlling the Moscamed Mediterranean mosquito, which is being carried out as part of an agreement between Mexico and Guatemala. It is an extremely aggressive defoliant that pollutes the entire environment, affecting the communities' primary crops, such as maize, beans, coffee and fruits, as well as also contaminating the springs. The chemical being applied affects the skin and causes headaches and vomiting. A generalized poisoning can lead to death. Residents of this municipality have denounced that the persons carrying out this program are foreigners, as they were in 1995.

Libertad de los Pueblos Mayas: The Army entered Amador Hernandez on August 11, under the pretext of buying food. On the 12th, around 550 Army, Air Force, and Navy troops arrived in helicopters and by land, and they set up a camp one kilometer from Amador Hernandez, within the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve. After huge protests from the communities and from civil society in solidarity-and after the COCOPA's arrival-the federal government declared the temporary suspension of the building of the San Quintin/Amador Hernandez/Rio Perla/Monte Libano highway.

Tierra y Libertad: On August 25, the Army entered the community of San Jose La Esperanza. Patrols were being carried out on the outskirts of this community. On this day, however, the Army decided to enter the community, and the women blocked the Army's passage while the men were working in the fields. When they heard the women's cries, the men came running to the village with their work machetes in their hands. When the Army saw them they began firing, purportedly into the air, but two campesinos were wounded by gunfire. One of them stands to lose his leg. The Army detained three men and took them to Tuxtla Gutierrez. The men were brutally beaten.

17 de Noviembre Municipality: Early in September in the community of Morelia-which is also one of the five Aguascalientes-a group of PRIs went to the house where national and international human rights observers were staying, giving them 30 minutes to leave the house. They looted the homes of some of the residents in the Autonomous Municipality, and, during the incident, the PRIs detained | six members of that municipality's l Autonomous Council, who were released two days later. Because of this, the community decided to take refuge in the Aguascalientes' facilities, many of whom still remain in the Aguascalientes. Following these incidents, and under the pretext of repairing roads in the village, the PRI municipality of Altamirano sent purportedly technical personnel, who appear, in fact, to be police officers. They seem to be anticipating a military operation there soon.

Imminent Dangers in the Conflict Zone

The federal government, international bodies, and world capital are attacking the lives of the communities. Like the embodiment of death, they are also attacking the survival of the Selva (even against the supposed strategic importance that biodiversity has for cutting edge technologies). One example is the deforestation caused by fires that were started in 1998 in various regions of Los Altos and La Selva, primarily around the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve. These fires were used at that time as an excuse for entering the indigenous communities. In this regard, one should recall the numerous complaints in the national press that accurately denounced how the drought that year was deliberately caused in the Selvas of Chiapas and Oaxaca in order to feed the artificial fires. As we can see today, they also laid the groundwork for reforestation activities of the single crop culture of cedar and mahogany being carried out by the Army this year.

The environmental fakery of the federal and state governments has also been made manifest through the following incidents:

1. The application of strong defoliants (under the pretext of the Moscamed program) during 1995 and 1999 in the San Pedro Michoacan municipality

2. The request by local PRI officials for the opening of roads and the establishment of military camps (among other things under the aegis of the construction companies), which involves

the felling of trees, even in areas of high environmental protection, such as the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve

3. The production of trash and urban consumer waste from tens of thousands of military troops in dozens of camps and detachments in the middle of the Selva (as denounced by the Ricardo Flores Magon Autonomous Municipality)

4. The one-sided planting of forest species that destroys the equilibrium of the complex diversity of species in the Selva, as also denounced by the same municipality

5. Military and paramilitary aggressions against all the Zapatistas communities who, once they have been expelled from their places of origin, find themselves forced to go more and more deeply into the Selva

6. The opening of roads and activities related to oil exploration (explosions, drilling, creation of waste, etc.)

7. The development of eucalyptus plantations, and other species, for the production of paper, rubber, etc., which is continuing the destruction created previously in the region by widespread cattle ranching

8. The introduction of genetically modified organisms, such as the transgenetic maize for cultivation in the regions of the Selva and Los Altos by SAGAR and by national and international companies, or the proposal for the mass cultivation of specialty coffee (also transgenetic), developed by the Mexican multi-national company, Pulsar SA (today renamed Savia)

To all of this must be added the destructive effects which could still be occasioned by the planned oil exploitation there, as well as the building of 43 hydroelectric dams planned by CFE for the Selva Lacandona, and the seven private dams also being proposed by the Mexican Business Council for International Affairs (CEMAI) for the same location (without forgetting that there are 33 other dams proposed by CFE for the rest of the state).

In the face of this devastation, the (government's) manipulative environmentalism is ironic. It is only being used as an instrument for the expulsion of the indigenous population from the Selva, by reforesting cultivated fields. This implies that those campesinos who want to plant their own lands would be seen as the new enemies of the environment. It is commonplace among many ecologists to lament the population growth of indigenous and campesino populations as a destructive factor in the forests of the world. Nonetheless, those who see things like that are not only ignoring the way in which large genetic engineering multinationals are today seeking alliances with some international environmental organizations (such as Conservation International) in order to privatize the areas of natural protection. They are also forgetting that it is the indigenous cultures that have the greatest cultural wealth for the employment of sustainable technology and conservation of the great Latin American Selvas. From our point of view, these are crucial problems that should be fairly evaluated by truly humanitarian environmental organizations. The survival of thousands of indigenous, as well as the true conservation of the Selva, requires the participation of the international environmental community, to vigorously call on the Mexican government for an immediate halt to the current war it is waging, in both a veiled and an open manner, against the indigenous communities.

A second widespread element, which is present in all the events going on in the current low intensity war in Chiapas, is the systematic destruction of the conditions for the production of the indigenous communities' basic foods. Destruction of the immediate material conditions, as well as those conditions which assure a mid and long range subsistence. Such is the case with the spraying of defoliants that prevent the current cycle of a year's production of maize, beans, squash, coffee plants and their natural shade, bananas, citrus, and other fruits. The reforestation programs, which are absurdly planting trees of precious woods in the campesinos' plots, have a similar effect. In the long term, once the use of transgenetic seed becomes widespread in the area, what campesino in Chiapas is going to be able to buy the technology package of trans-genetic seeds, hormones, and appropriate pesticides? And that is without taking into consideration the total catastrophic effect of introducing these genetically modified organisms into the middle of the Selva, one of the primary regions in the world for the domestication of foods. This warlike aggression against the conditions of agricultural production, and the lack of foods which it artificially creates, is added to the chronic poverty of the place, for the deliberate purpose of defeating the struggles of these communities against hunger. The immense perversity of these actions is reflected in the most recent studies on malnutrition among the population of Chiapas. These studies have confirmed the generalized decrease in stature among all recent newborns. In response to this situation, we are asking you for the physical presence of observers who can bear direct witness to what is going on there, and to, accordingly, take whatever measures you find most suitable.

If one carefully looks at a map of all the military, paramilitary, and anti-environmental activities organized recently in the Selva region, one can ultimately to observe the attempt to try establish an encirclement of infrastructure and of aggressive actions, around the community of La Realidad. This is where the federal Army supposes that the EZLN comandancia is located, and their purpose is to deploy a sudden attack against them, at the same time cutting off supposed evacuation routes of the command. Northeast of La Realidad, residents in the area are reporting the future construction of a highway leading towards the town of Agua Zarca, at the request of residents there. In the same region, they are attempting to develop the construction of a highway from San Quantin to Amador Hernandez (with a possible prior destination at Monte Libano, crossing the entire Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve from south to north).

Southeast of La Realidad, the Army attacked the community of San Jose La Esperanza in an attempt to establish a camp there, which was prevented by resistance from the people.

South of La Realidad a fumigation program is being carried out against the Mediterranean mosquito which serves to apply defoliants that increase the army's visibility in the Selva, at the same time destroying the conditions for growing food in the area. This action is being accompanied by the current construction of a highway from El Eden to Guadalupe los Altos.

Lastly, west of La Realidad, the construction of another highway has also been observed, leading from the community of Vicente Guerrero, and which is assumed will lead to the Aguascalientes of Francisco Gomez (previously La Garrucha).

To these operations should be added the entrance of 5,000 military troops north of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, right at the site that Pemex has called the Region of Ocosingo. As the Ricardo Flores Magon Autonomous Municipality has denounced so well, these new military emplacements are flooding the northeast of the Selva, controlling the border highway that runs parallel with the Usumacinta River. Since these troops are in addition to the numerous detachments already posted in the area where oil and biological reserves intersect, as well as certain bioprospecting facilities belonging to the Pulsar group, one could think that control over this region is important, not only for military reasons, but also, concomitantly, as a defense of wealth that the Mexican government is now seriously at the point of privatizing.

Because of all of this, and of all that was described above, we are reiterating our invitation to visit the conflict region as soon as possible as civil observers, while at the same time mobilizing within your own country, demanding of the various governmental and international bodies the necessary measures for the building of a true circumstance of peace in the region, which will resolve all the injustices and grievances which gave rise to this unhappy conflict.


Mercedes Osuna is director of Enlace Civil, a non-governmental organization based in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas (www.Enlacecivil.Organization mx/ index.htm).

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