Request for urgent action on Chiapas
from Mexico Solidarity Network, Sep 8, 1999
Two weeks ago the Mexico Solidarity Network issued a call for emergency action around unfolding events in Chiapas. Since then, the situation has deteriorated significantly. Yesterday AP reported one person killed and 21 injured, many severely, by police in Palenque. The community of Amador Hernandez remains a virtual military encampment, encircled with barbed wire. Ejido Morelia, one of the principal centers of indigenous resistance, reported PRI-inspired attacks on international human rights observers.
These events demand our immediate attention. The Mexico Solidarity Network calls for:
MEXPAZ REPORT:Chiapas - Alarming Tension
War seems to be close again in Chiapas. Because of the construction of a road through the community of Amador Herna'ndez (municipality of Ocosingo), soldiers and indians confronted for several days until, finally, the government decided to suspend the construction and promised to study alternatives for its route, although it did not retire the army. These days were of extreme tension. Military mobilization -by land and by air- was intensified, there were confrontations, injured, demonstrations against the road construction and militarization. Emilio Rabasa, the government's "coordinator for dialogue and negotiation", who has coordinated neither dialogue nor negotiation since he occupies the post, declared he could not understand that the indians refused the progress this road would bring them, and that the army did not provoke tension in Chiapas but rather protected communities that had asked for help against zapatist menaces. The government's bad faith is evident in these words, and even though the suspension of this road construction -one of many that have been built in Chiapas in the last years to facilitate army movements and besiege the zapatists- momentarily relieved the tension, there is no sign at all for even the beginning of a solution to the conflict.
Even though this was the severest center of violence, it wasn't the only one during the past month. Aggressions were denounced in Montes Azules (an area very close to Amador Herna'ndez; the pretext for the presence of no less than 6 000 soldiers was reforestation), in Nuevo Mamo'n and Zaragoza, in Aguascalientes, San Jose' la Nueva Esperanza, Las Margaritas, La Realidad, etc.
The state governor, Albores Guille'n, took special care to aggravate the tense climate of these days. His accusations against students "manipulating indians" (they had participated in a meeting to discuss the defense of Mexican historical patrimony and from there were called to assist to Amador Herna'ndez as observers), inviting them to leave the state because they do not "belong" to Chiapas, plus censorship of radio stations, the prohibition for certain numbers of the national newspaper La Jornada to be sold in the state, etc., are dictatorial attitudes that even in Chiapas, in the last years, had not taken place so blatantly.
Feeling strong because of the governor's attitude, the mayor of San Cristo'bal de las Casas overbid him, declaring Ofelia Medina (a well-known actress who has spoken up for the indigenous peoples ever since the zapatista upraise) "persona non grata" and, last but not least, "declaring war" on foreigners for manipulating indians.
The harassment of pro-zapatist communities and the militarization that is growing with no end are constant elements ever since the conflict started in 1994. However, during the last year and in the context of municipal boundary redefinitions (a project started by the state government to divide municipalities in the zapatist area), the aggressions against the zapatist "autonomous municipalities" (which are in fact almost nonexistent now) and any community that is supposed to be pro-zapatist has come once and again to the point of making war imminent.
The persistence and aggravation of the "desplazados" (people who have fled their communities for fear of their lives) must also be mentioned. The report "Displaced population in Chiapas", by sociologists One'cimo Hidalgoand Gustavo Castro, speaks of 21 159 persons (4 063 families). The studymentions four stages of indigenous displacement since 1994. It describes the families' situation as worse than that of Guatemalan refugees, their despair and in some case their return home without any guarantee for their security. The report also details the economic consequences (particularly in agriculture), the origin, political tendency and religious affiliation of the displaced as well as the link of this problem with the remunicipalization project. The report, described in the weekly Proceso (nº 1189, 15.8.99), is essential in the present situation: while the government constantly declares everything is fine and the army has all the excuses on its side, the displaced are silent witnesses of indigenous suffering in Chiapas, the insupportable tension brought about by the army, the fear people live in.
Unfortunately, in the context of the presidential elections (which will take place next summer), no solution is visible for the displaced nor for the Chiapas situation in general. The federal government sometimes gives the impression of wanting to "gain time" in order to hand over power without having "dirtied its hands". The renewed military action in Amador Herna'ndez, however, makes us fear that on the contrary, the government might want to "solve" the Chiapas problem, be it violently, before its term is over. As to the local government, which constantly aggravates the existing tension, one interpretation could be that its actions coincide with federal government policy. Another is that it fears the government's party (PRI) will lose the presidential elections and thus the local government will no longer receive the tacit support it now has, thus feeling that it's time is running out and wanting to "solve" the problem by itself before the elections. Whatever the case may be, the danger of war in Chiapas is closer than ever.
LETTER FROM MEXICAN NGO's:To national and international civil society
To national and international human rights organizations
Since August 14, the Mexican army has sent 10,000 soldiers into new camps in the Lacandon Jungle. For the first time since 1994, the army has penetrated the Montes Azules biosphere where the general command of the EZLN is presumed to live. Approximately thirty communities in the region are in a virtual state of siege. Army troops attacked the inhabitants of Amador Hernandez in the municipality of Ocosingo with US-made tear gas, wounding several indigenous men and women. Access to the community has been obstructed, even for the people who live there. The army has taken possession of lands near the community and has surrounded them with barbed wire. The community is being terrorized by constant airplane and helicopter flights over the area and by the presence of Public Security forces.
On Thursday August 19, PRI supporters from Taniperlas detained three members of the Fray Bartolomé Human Rights Center, who were on their way to investigate the arbitrary detention of three people from the community Viejo Velasco. One of the community members, Pedro Gómez Aguilar, has been missing since July 23. The PRI supporters detained the human rights workers for two hours, threatening them and repeating xenophobic rhetoric such as "you are foreigners and are coming to impede the progress of this area," even though the detainees were all Mexican. The PRI members also told the human rights workers that only the Ocosingo municipal authorities could give permission to travel through that area, and if they tried to enter again without authorization they would have to pay the consequences. Finally, the PRI supporters gave them half an hour to leave, threatening that if they did not, members of the community would burn their vehicle.
On August 21, a Mexican doctor and two foreign human rights observers were brutally beaten by a group of PRI supporters who were blocking the road immediately after a military checkpoint in the community of Vicente Guerrero, municipality of Las Margaritas. The PRI supporters sexually assaulted the female doctor. So far, no authority has responded to the formal complaints filed.
The substitute governor of Chiapas, Roberto Albores Guillen, has mounted xenophobic campaign. In an unprecedented act, the xenophobia has even been directed at Mexican citizens, as in the aforementioned cases. Officials have also threatened to expel from Chiapas Mexican actress Ofelia Medina, who is known for her strong work around human rights abuses. The National Institute of Immigration has increased its presence at checkpoints on the roads to indigenous communities and is expelling many foreigners using the so-called "definitive departure order." It is also worrisome that this week Immigration agents have been visiting hotels in San Cristobal, searching for names and room numbers of tourists in order to give them citations.
Army troops have, on many occasions, violated the Mexican Constitution. Examples include violations of the right to free transit, free expression and article 129, which states: "In peace-time, no military authority can carry out functions other than those that have a direct connection to military discipline. There will only be permanent and fixed military commanders in the bases, forts, and military warehouses that are directly dependent on the federal government or in the camps, barracks, and deposits that are established, outside of population centers, to station troops." The army is also violating its own Military Justice Code. No sanctions have been applied by Executive, Legislative or Judicial authorities and no one has been prosecuted for these violations. In fact, these government officials have been co-participants in the unconstitutional operations, maintaining a climate of terror in indigenous communities. At the same time, the state government is agitating PRI militants from indigenous communities to block roads and prevent national and international observation in areas where the most grave injustices have occurred, so no witnesses can attest to these human rights violations.
We respectfully and urgently call for visitors, observers or accompaniers for the above-mentioned indigenous communities, in order to restrain the repressive actions orchestrated by the federal government and carried out by the state government and members of the Mexican National Army.
Experience and history confirm that the presence of observers, both national and international, help to prevent massacres and repression. Moreover, individuals have the right to carry out human rights observation under the UN Convention on Human Rights, which has been signed by Mexico.
CIEPAC, A.C; Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolome de las Casas; SOS Chiapas; Red de Derechos Humanos Todos los Derechos para Todos; Comisión Mexicana para la Defensa y Promoción de Derechos Humanos; Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez; Enlance Civil; Kinal Antzetik; Boletin Resistencia; Junax; Formacion y Capacitacion, A.C.; Coordinadores Regionales de los Altos, Costa y Soconusco; Centro; Frontera Sur y Norte por la Consulta en Chiapas.
SAMPLE DEAR COLLEAGUE LETTERDear Colleague,
I write to inform you of a rapidly deteriorating situation in Chiapas, Mexico, that could result in renewed fighting between Zapatista rebels, and the Mexican military and well-armed paramilitary groups supported by the government. On August 12, paratroopers invaded a small Indian village, Amador Hernandez, located on the edge of the protected Lacandon biosphere. When villagers peacefully protested this armed occupation, they were attacked with tear gas. Eight civilians were seriously injured. The army then constructed a barbed wire fence around the community.
On August 21, paramilitary groups affiliated with the ruling PRI party blockaded the only functioning road into this area of the Lacandon jungle. PRI supporters armed with machetes kidnapped and severely beat a doctor and two international human rights observers who were trying to reach Amador Hernandez.
On August 31, in the Ocosingo area, officials from the Attorney General's office detained and threatened two accredited journalists, confiscating the press credentials of one. On September 7, police killed one person and injured 21, many severely, in the tourist center of Palenque.
These are but a few examples of the daily escalation of tensions in Chiapas. Supporters of the PRI throughout the state appear to be out of control. The governor threatened to arrest university students from Mexico City who were trying to visit Amador Hernandez to show their support for the indigenous people in that community. The mayor of San Cristobal de las Casas, one of the principle cities in Chiapas, gave internationally known actress Ofelia Medina 72 hours to "get out of town" because of her support for the indigenous communities. Immigration authorities have been searching tourist hotels searching for foreigners who might act as the eyes and ears of the world.
The ruling PRI party appears to be condoning a situation in which Indians are persecuted, and peaceful supporters are kidnapped, beaten or arrested. Rather than promoting respect for the law, local and state PRI authorities are encouraging a vigilante mentality that threatens to spiral out of control and destabilize the entire state. Rather than supporting the peace process, as exemplified by the San Andres accords, the PRI appears to be opting for a military solution in Chiapas. The results could be devastating, for hundreds of thousands of Indians who openly align themselves with the Zapatistas, for Mexican citizens throughout the country who support the rule of law, for international investors who count on stability to protect their investments, and for the US which will experience a dramatic increase in undocumented immigration if events spiral out of control in Chiapas.
For more information, contact:
Mexico Solidarity Network
4834 N Springfield
Chicago IL 60625
773-583-7728 or e-mail
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