Tri-National Friendship Delegation report
by Tom Hansen, Aug 5, 1998
On July 2, 1998, eighty-six members of the Tri-National Friendship Delegation arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico's southern-most state of Chiapas. The Mexico Solidarity Network, a coalition of 58 organizations from the United States and Canada, organized the delegation.
The delegation included ten Native Americans from the United States and Canada. Representatives from the religious community included a Catholic priest, two Sisters of St. Francis, the director of the Strategic Pastoral Action Network, and two members of the Michigan Faith and Resistance Peace Teams. Four Canadian delegates came from Montreal and British Columbia. Also included were two Professors from Northwestern University; a professor from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa; a professor from Princeton; a father-daughter-son team from Boulder, Colorado; a representative of Doctors for Global Health from Syracuse, NY,; and a doctor from Berkeley, California. US delegates haled from 23 states, including AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC,
IL, KY, LA, MA, MD, MI, MO, NC, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, SD, TX, VA and WI. The delegation spent one week in Chiapas.
Visas and travel by foreigners in Mexico
The delegation abided strictly by Mexican immigration laws, paying particularly close attention to article 33 of the Mexican Constitution which prohibits foreign involvement in Mexico's internal politics. As a friendship delegation that traveled to various indigenous communities at their invitation, the delegates utilized tourist visas,
which allow participation in cultural and educational exchanges.
The delegation arrived in Mexico during a government campaign against foreigners in Chiapas. This campaign began shortly after the December 22, 1997, massacre of 45 indigenous peasants by paramilitaries in the town of Acteal. PRI officials and police were implicated in the massacre. Rather than deal effectively with the paramilitaries, the Zedillo administration blamed the presence of foreign human rights observers for the problems in Chiapas.
Since January of 1998, about 150 foreign nationals have been expelled from Mexico, including at least seven from the US, and the Mexican government has tightened restrictions on visitors who are involved in human rights or humanitarian aid work. Human rights observers are required to provide copies of previously published human
rights reports, be members of recognized human rights organizations with a history of at least five years, and provide a detailed itinerary of planned meetings including the names of intended interviewees. Human rights observers must request special FM-3 visas to enter Mexico 60 days in advance of their trip and are allowed to spend only ten days in the country in groups no larger than ten people.
As of this writing, the Mexican Assembly of Deputies has not approved the use of FM-3 visas for human rights work. According to instructions published by Mexican Consulates throughout the US, the FM-3 visa is "a 365 days (sic) multiple entry visa for business or technical support." Nevertheless, the Mexican government demands that foreigners involved in human rights work apply for FM-3 visas. In recent months many established human rights workers have been denied visas, including Ted Lewis of Global Exchange, Tom Hansen of the Mexico Solidarity Network and dozens more. In some cases FM-3 visas are issued 24 hours or less before the intended departure date, allowing the Mexican government to claim that the visas are being issued but effectively preventing the recipient from traveling to Mexico. The Mexican government uses FM-3 visas to drastically reduce access by foreign human rights observers to Chiapas, with the intention of hiding human rights abuses from world opinion.
Expulsions of foreigners continues. Two weeks after the completion of the Tri-National Friendship Delegation, Mexican authorities deported US national Peter Brown, a 56-year-old school teacher from San Diego. He was expelled for helping to build a school in an indigenous community, an act which the Zedillo administration found in violation of the Mexican constitution.
Delegates visited 34 indigenous communities
The delegation divided into ten groups. At the invitation of indigenous peoples throughout the state of Chiapas, delegates visited 34 communities in 14 Municipios (the rough equivalent of counties): Moises Gandi, Colonia Virginia, Morelia, San Pedro Guerrero, Jalisco, 10 de Abril, Nueva Esperanza, La Garrucha, Patihuitz, San Antonio de las Delicias, Palenque, Roberto Barrios, Nueva Merida, Nicolas Ruiz, Navil, Chilon, Bachajon, Taniperla, Simojovel, Santa Rosalina de Comitan, Albores de Zapata, Seis de Marzo, Chicomuselo, San Jose, Oventic, San Antonio el Brillante, El Bosque, Union Progreso, Polhó, Acteal, Tzajalchen, Tinitaria, Chihuahua, and La Realidad. Delegates were able to visit each of the communities on their itinerary; however, after receiving
threats from PRI affiliated villagers in Taniperla, delegates decided not to spend the night, as planned, in the community.
In addition, delegates visited Cerro Hueco, the state prison in Tuxtla Gutierrez. The delegation was not allowed access to Cerro Hueco. Prison officials stated that foreigners were not allowed in the prison, although three days previous a delegation of five US citizens led by Congressmen Gutirrez and Rush were able to visit the prison.
Chiapas is the southern-most state of Mexico, bordering Guatemala on the south. The population is about 3.25 million, with about 800,000 Indians. It is widely considered the poorest state in Mexico. Eight of ten indigenous families do not have electricity and 92% do not have running water. The illiteracy rate in Chiapas is three times higher than the rest of Mexico for children age fifteen. Most indigenous families are subsistence farmers. The principal crops are corn and beans, with coffee the major cash crop. The four principal indigenous groups are Mayan descendants: Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal and Chol. The communities visited by the delegation are located in the eastern and southern parts of Chiapas: the Altos (Highlands), the Selva (jungle), and the border area.
On January 1, 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) occupied several dozen major towns throughout the state of Chiapas. Fighting between the EZLN and the Mexican army lasted, in most cases, less than three days. A series of discussions ensued leading toward negotiations between the government and the EZLN.
In February of 1995, the army invaded Chiapas, setting up more than 60 military encampments throughout the state. Over half of the entire national army is stationed in Chiapas, about 70,000 troops, and the ratio of civilians to troops in some parts of the countryside is as low as eight to one.
In mid 1995, the government passed the "Law for Peace in Chiapas," which recognized the EZLN as a "non-conformist group" and acknowledged that just causes led to the uprising. That law (still in force today) suspended all penal procedures and military operations against the EZLN, and mandated confidence-building measures to advance the peace process. This provided the conditions for serious peace talks, which began in the summer of 1995 at San Andres Larrainzar.
In February of 1996, the government and EZLN signed agreements on indigenous culture and autonomy. This was envisioned by both sides to be the first in a series of six steps that would result in a comprehensive peace. Almost immediately, the Zedillo administration refused to implement the accords. Since then, the peace process has been
stalled, with the government calling for re-negotiation of the accords and the EZLN calling for implementation of the already signed accords.
While the negotiations proceeded, the Zedillo administration followed a parallel strategy of civilian-targeted warfare (also known as low intensity warfare). This has been especially apparent since December 22, 1997, when paramilitaries working with police and PRI officials massacred 45 Indians in the town of Acteal. Today there are at least 12 identifiable paramilitary organizations active in Chiapas. Their activities and the actions of the army have created 19,000 internally displaced indigenous refugees.
As of this writing, the peace talks remain stalled, and civilian-targeted warfare appears to be the principal strategy of the Zedillo administration.
Each sub-delegation included at least one Mexican national and at least two fluent Spanish speakers. Each sub-delegation prepared a report on their visits, and the following is a compilation of these reports. All of the reports are based on eye-witness testimony from members of the delegation or testimony taken from members of the communities. All quotations cited below are from indigenous people who, for reasons of personal security,
declined to be identified. In some cases, names have been changed to protect identities.
1) The Mexican army is waging civilian-targeted warfare (also known as low intensity warfare) directed against civilian indigenous communities. The military has destroyed houses, churches and community buildings, confiscated medical supplies, burned crops and forests, frightened farmers into abandoning their fields, introduced
prostitution into the communities, and generally terrorized indigenous communities that identify themselves
as Zapatista sympathizers. The military often occupies land adjacent to communities identified as sympathetic to the Zapatistas, and uses this close proximity to terrorize the communities. There is a constant military presence in and around these communities.
- The Mexican army is waging civilian-targeted warfare (also known as low intensity warfare) directed against civilian indigenous communities. The military has destroyed houses, churches and community buildings, confiscated medical supplies, burned crops and forests, frightened farmers into abandoning their fields, introduced
prostitution into the communities, and generally terrorized indigenous communities that identify themselves as Zapatista sympathizers. The military often occupies land adjacent to communities identified as sympathetic to the Zapatistas, and uses this close proximity to terrorize the communities. There is a constant military presence in and around these communities.
- The Mexican army often assumes roles that are reserved under Mexican law for immigration officials. Military personnel often staff road blocks and demand identification in direct violation of Mexican laws.
- Local PRI authorities and paramilitaries work closely with military forces to terrorize communities that identify themselves as Zapatista sympathizers.
- United States supplied military equipment is used extensively by the Mexican military.
- There is widespread fear in indigenous communities resulting in severe psychological problems.
- There is a lack of confidence in the government in most indigenous communities.
- Malnutrition and accompanying health problems are widespread. Food supplies are dwindling rapidly and are not expected to be replenished until at least February of 1999. Access to potable water is a serious problem that contributes to a generally deteriorating health profile.
- Education is a priority among indigenous families, especially for young people. There are more educational opportunities for youth in communities that support the ruling PRI party.
- The Mexican government rewards indigenous supporters of the ruling PRI party with food, supplies, schools, etc., and punishes others by withholding these supplies. The government actively encourages divisions in many communities.
a) In 1998, the army has invaded dozens of communities, often destroying homes and crops, and beating civilians:
b) Military encampments are located adjacent to or in close proximity to all of the communities visited by the delegation. Military presence in the communities is constant:
- San Pedro Guerrero - When 100 fully-armed, combat ready soldiers entered the community around 2pm on January 9, this was not their first visit, although it was the first time they destroyed property, possessions, and physically harmed the people. On previous occasions, the army had entered without warning, fully armed and combat ready, intimidating and terrorizing by their presence and the potential of great danger. This time, however, it did much more than intimidate. It destroyed the house of our host. It also destroyed the interior of the small church and the health clinic. Most of the men had gone to the surrounding fields, leaving the women alone. Someone, wearing a ski mask, pointed out the house of the leader to the soldiers. "The bad government keeps bothering us with the army. On January 9 the army came to our village and tore my house apart, tore it down, threw everything all over the place. All we are asking for is justice, and the military brings us prostitution." They began to beat the women with clubs, taking whatever they wanted, throwing everything else about. Somehow, finding strength from somewhere, the women grabbed sticks, anything they could get their hands on, and started
fighting back. They eventually drove the army out to the next community, a PRI community.
- 10 de Abril - When on April 13 the army invaded this unified community of about 150 families, they were confronted by the women of the community. Standing in lines at the gates with their children, they blocked the entrance from the fully armed, terrifying soldiers. Tear gas canisters thrown behind the lines finally broke the barrier, women and children gasping in great breaths of gas, becoming sick, falling to the ground. Entering 10 de Abril that day, the soldiers found and expelled the peace camp observers. They robbed the village of precious tools and equipment. Men were beaten and houses were ransacked. It was the same horrifying story told again. Later in the day we talked to a young women with two children whose husband had been severely beaten by the military and who was still having trouble with his lungs as a result of exposure to the tear gas. Many children continue to suffer from the gas.
- Nicolas Ruiz - A group of campesinos arrived to talk to us, sitting in a circle in a large room, about 20 men and women. They talked about events of June 3 and surrounding events when military and judicial police attacked townspeople. During this meeting with the campesinos, a 2 1/2 ton truck of military troops passed by the house every 10 minutes or so, about 14 passes. Before the meeting, one man showed us two spent tear gas canisters used on June 3 [one whose markings were illegible, the other with these markings: 560 CS, Long Range Projectile, 150 years, Chemical Irritating Agent, To be used by law enforcement and correction personnel in riot control tactics, Hazard Class 1.4G, Manufactured at Federal Laboratories, Saltsburg, Pennsylvania, Can cause illness and death]. The group described the fear of the children, the resulting illness, said two babies almost died, spoke of an old man who had a heart attack, a grandmother with heart problems. They felt PRI group in town [a decided minority - large majority are PRD] were warned in advance, no ill effects suffered.
The group used the words "aviones" and "helicopteros" to describe the way the canisters were launched from the sky: three methods, from the sky, tossed by hand, propelled by launchers. They said part of the PRD group had guarded the entrances to the town, saw lights from army trucks in early warning on June 3, made an announcement that people should gather at the park. Graciela, who staffed the town's phone, and the seniors stayed in their homes. Graciela, a leader of the women, was beaten by soldiers because she tried to call out of the town for help. Tear gas rained on everyone, in houses and in the park and streets: 167 were arrested for disobedience and resisting arrest. There were tanks at the two entrances of the village. Land titles of the homes of 19 people were stolen, people who are still under arrest orders. The troops were there from 5:30 a.m. through the afternoon.
- Navil - We first went to the artisans' common house, where events of May 25 were described, when 60 army truckloads of soldiers came up the hill, entered the community and caused great damage.
On June 2, two carloads from Seguridad Publica arrived; six families fled into the mountains.
- In the artisan house, the military cut the electric, stole a TV, stole artisan supplies, dug a hole in the corner where they said they found arms. In this building, they took a young man from the community, put a mask over his head, a gun in his hand, and took photos.
- In the communal kitchen and dining area, the army shattered everything, cut the electric, stole all the food, a refrigerator and destroyed the cooking area.
- Outside, they destroyed the communal garden.
- In the cooperative supply house, the military burned community medicine supplies and other goods inside the building, stole other contents, and left part of the building scorched by fire.
- In the chapel, a large hole was dug in the sacristy. They asked people if they knew Bishop Samuel Ruiz. Also many homes were robbed by the military.
During our visit to Navil on July 7th and 8th, we witnessed the immense destruction of personal and communal property caused by the Mexican Federal army, state police, and PGR on May 25th and June 2nd of 1998. Here is a list of what we witnessed:
- The police went into the chapel and took: the bible, baptismal certificates, the Blessed Sacrament, articles of worship.
- In homes, the judicial police took: money (about 5,000 pesos), personal documents, cooking implements, farming implements, guitars, broke the water tank, dug a hole in the sacristy looking for arms.
The families who fled into the mountains on June 2nd stayed for six (6) days (Tuesday, June 2 through Sunday, June 7). They did not return until they saw the caravans. They reported that, if they had not seen the caravans, they would not have returned. Many women and children fell ill while in the mountains.
- Garden: the army said the community was growing cocaine and marijuana (we saw cilantro) and left the garden in disarray.
- Kitchen: the army broke all the tables, cut down all light installations and electrical wires, broke the door. Now there is no communal place to eat.
- Supplies: the army stole the rice and other staples from the bodega, now empty. The refrigerator was stolen as well.
- Communal Bathroom: the army broke apart the toilet and washroom, loosened boards allegedly to look for arms, stole one of two water tanks and broke the remaining one.
- Medicine: the army took about 1 and 1/2 tons of medicine and burned the rest. Now there is no medicine. In addition to a color television taken from another building, they stole a black-and-white television from the medicine supply room.
- Artesania: all wooden looms and materials were stolen.
- Houses: they were left in complete disarray; property was smashed and electrical installations were broken.
- Comedor: broken plates and wrecked door appeared to be left by the army as testimony in the eating room of the chapel.
- Church: ransacked. The caravans (Mexican civilians from other parts of the country who came to help rebuild the community) that came after the military incursions fixed up the church. The army stole one of the New Testament books in Tzetzal as well as the vestments and sacraments. On June 2nd, when the people left, the state
police stole the Eucharist. In the room adjoining the chapel, they dug a hole (presumably looking for arms) and left the door open.
- Taniperla - Two women and a young man testified as to the events of April 11, 1998. In summary, we were told that: On April 10, 1998, the rebel municipality of Ricardo Flores Magón declared its autonomy. A celebration was held in Taniperla, the cabecera, or administrative center, of the new municipality. The community was attacked early the following morning by police, military and paramilitary forces. In the attack, the combined
forces arrested eight Zapatista supporters, destroyed community buildings and documents, and robbed stores and homes. Eleven international observers were deported. Men from the community were forced to flee to the mountains, leaving behind their families. Immediately thereafter, the military occupied the region and began to harass and intimidate the community. The women were afraid to leave their homes, even to get water. We were
told that all they want is to live in peace, without the military and state police occupying their community.
- Chavajeval - We witnessed an indigenous ceremony to rid the community of the evil spirits
brought by the June 10 invasion by the Mexican military, Judicial Police, Security Police and Guardias Blancas. It was also to serve as a healing process for the families and friends of the men who were murdered by the invaders by restoring good spirit to the area. After the ceremony, which included, speeches, chants, and music, we we're invited to meet with community leaders who witnessed the invasion. The indigenous men in their limited Spanish described in detail the course of events. They were harassed by the Security Police for weeks leading up to the invasion. Their location made it possible to spot the movement of army tanks, trucks and troops as they approached their autonomous community the morning of the attack. A group of women tried to block the entrance but were forced to run when the Mexican military fired tear gas and live ammunition at them. A group of Mexican infantry soldiers chased indigenous men through the woods capturing and killing three. Sixteen men who did not flee from their homes were captured and taken to the Cerro Hueco prison. As of this date, they have not been released. Soldiers destroyed all the personal belongings of the people including clothes. They stole radios, televisions, tape recorders. All of their farm tools were stolen. Their food was eaten and the remaining livestock was killed. All their tortillas were trampled on by soldiers. Money totaling $13,000 pesos were stolen from private homes. Gunfire could be heard until 13:30 in the afternoon.
- Union Progreso - The next day we traveled to the community of Union Progreso, a large collective farm not far from the town of El Bosque, and part of the autonomous municipality of San Juan de la Libertad. Union Progreso was the site of five murders on June 10. The people there who spoke to us vividly described a massive invasion that forced women and children to flee into the mountains for fear of rape. The men were harassed and accused of supporting the Zapatista Army with weapons, bullets and equipment. With this as a justification, they physically tormented the men, ransacked their homes and property and stole their personal belongings. They brought two men from the nearby Los Platanos communities to help single out villagers suspected of murdering Priistas. These men were interrogated and physically abused by the invaders. Some were forced to lay face down on the ground while soldiers walked on them. One man was gagged and bridled like a horse while a soldier mounted him. This pretense let to the abduction of five members of the community. The five were never seen alive again. Their grotesquely mutilated bodies were brought back several days later to the horror of the villagers. One of the corpses was filled with maggots and badly decomposed. This turned out to be yet another form of psychological warfare used by the Mexican government as a form of torture and intimidation that scars the community
- Nueva Esperanza - One day in January, 1,500 fully armed soldiers rammed into the community, complete with assorted tanks, trucks and terrifying weapons. In four days they killed, cooked and ate the 50 hens tended by the women's collective. In four days they killed, cooked and ate all the livestock. They used the church as their kitchen and dining room. They used the kitchen in one of the houses as their latrine. They threw gasoline on the recent, treasured corn harvest, burning it, and with that action assured that each family would go hungry. Then they withdrew after four days the community was left devastated. The people, frightened, stayed in the mountains for a month before coming back. When they finally returned, 22 families left, returning to their original communities, leaving 8 families.
- Morelia - Army pressure is hard and harassment continues at Morelia. The army has tried at various times to enter the community. On January 3 the army tried to enter, and came back every day for a week, each day finding strong resistance from the women. They stood at the entrance of the community, defending it from the army each day it tried to enter. The women would take turns eating, resting, defending. It was a very difficult time.
- Jalisco - The army entered Jalisco in April and destroyed many homes. When the soldiers realized there were foreign observers there, they stopped. The observers wrote everything down and their document was published in the national and international press. When some of the people in the community went to the Morelia Aguascaliente to take a human rights course they noticed members of the military, dressed in civilian clothes, taking their pictures as they passed through the center of Morelia.
- Moises Gandi - "On January 8, 1998, the federal army entered the community of Moises Gandhi at 6 am and we, the women, saw them entering. We gathered together rapidly. Thankfully, there is a gate at the entrance. We went there together to stop them from advancing further and we told them that we do not need the assassin people of the government. "Get out! Return! We don't want you! We don't need you!" We told them, "You are also poor and that includes your parents. You better return. Enough! Enough! Don't continue any more supporting the interests of your papa, the government. We ask you, why do you bring these weapons? We are not animals! We are indigenous people of Chiapas and we have the right to live!"
2) The Mexican army often assumes roles that are reserved under Mexican law for immigration officials. Military personnel often staff road blocks and demand identification in direct violation of Mexican laws.
- Moises Gandi - Halfway through the sermon, a ripple of outward consciousness passed through the church and the four delegates caught each others' glances acknowledging the sound of a helicopter. We slipped outside to try to photograph it but it was fairly high overhead. Compañeros told us that sometimes they flew very low, buzzing the community. Every morning we were visited by a police helicopter which circled the village, intimidating the local residents. Berto had told us that many people were afraid to go to work in the fields farthest from the town for fear of losing loved ones in a military attack. Beside the daily helicopter flyover, the last most direct violation we heard about at Moises Gandhi occurred on January 8 when the army crept down the road toward the community in tanks. Women from the community stood in the road blocking their entry. During our visit, we saw singular soldiers from the base who frequently take their exercise on the road into Moises. They run in jogging shorts from their base to the front sign of the village and turn back. The military base and its complement of at least fifty soldiers and fifteen or more United States-made Hummers was so close that we could hear music from there at night. We were told that a house of prostitution operates just off the highway behind the base. Probably the most psychologically harrowing aspect of the presence of the army is the fact that the most direct way to pass in and out of Moises Gandhi to the main highway, in fact the only way for vehicles to pass, is through the military base with its checkpoint which straddles the road. Armed soldiers watch everyone as they
go by. They do not stop everyone, but they stop many and they are armed with the capacity to do violence on anyone passing. This creates a very real climate of imprisonment and the daily threat of violence produces a great deal of mental stress for the people of Moises Gandhi. Their fears date back to February 9, 1995 when the Army violently entered communities around Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, and Altamirano.
- Morelia - We asked about the possibility of military incursions, and were told "It is said that Morelia will be the next community to be attacked, it may be our turn now." Indeed, we witnessed overflights by fixed-winged planes at low altitudes and one helicopter at medium altitude while at Morelia. When we asked what might happen now that the army was training military women to face down the community women, we were told, "Whatever happens, our women will be there. But they are very tired because they always have to be on alert." Our host spoke proudly, but the worry was evident. When will they return, what day, what time...
- San Pedro Guerrero - "They bring in their planes and their tanks, harassing us so we'll stop, but we won't. We're not going to go along with it. We aren't afraid. We're demanding dignity for everyone, not just us. The bad government is giving arms to some of us so we'll fight each other, so it can then say it has to intervene. This is their way. The army comes and says, we are here to take care of you, but we don't need them to take care
- La Garrucha - At 2:24pm on July 4, the day we arrived, six military trucks filled with soldiers went by. There were also three overflights that day. On 6/24/98, Day of San Juan, during their fiesta, they heard a gun shot coming from a house. Two people went to investigate, and found that no one was in the house that night. They believe that the military wanted to make it look like the shots came from the house. The soldiers do not respect the land they use, which is part of the community's land. They contaminate the rivers with waste, and throw away their plastics, which the animals eat and die from. When the people asked them not to do things like this to the animals, the soldiers said they don't care. The army does not respect any of the land. It is quiet now because observers are here. When the military cannot find guns on people, they take people, tie them up, plant guns on them and take pictures and videos.
- Patihuitz - Women cannot work because they are afraid to go to the fields. The military harasses them and threatens rape. The people are scared because the army is well armed, while they only have machetes. The army started being based right there on Feb. 11, 1995. Patihuitz has been there for 90 years. Soldiers threw garbage into a hole to draw in animals who could not get out, so they died in there. Also, the barbed wire cuts their paws and they bleed to death. Every night of April 1998, helicopters flew over between 2 and 4 AM for an hour and 1/2 at a time. Now they circle for about 10-20 minutes two or three times a day.
- Roberto Barrios - "The military camp at the opposite side of the river to the ejido entrance, is located on land belonging to a PRI rancher. The Mexican military established the camp there in February, 1996, without his permission, and he wishes the ejido could get the camp moved. In fact the army came looking for a confrontation in Roberto Barrios. They contaminate our river. They kill a dog and throw it in the water we use for
bathing and washing clothes. Sometimes they ask us, 'Where are you from?' Where else could we be from? It is we who should ask them, 'Where are you from?'"
- Nicolas Ruiz - While we were walking the streets a large judicial police truck drove through the town, making its presence felt. Afterward there was a fiesta at Marguerita's house, dancing, bands, which lasted into early morning hours - the army and judicial police passed by the house twice during the fiesta, and four times afterwards during the night. The people said the judicial police makes rounds throughout each day and that the army passes through at least once daily. While we slept, several men from the PRD group guarded us, the combis and the two combi drivers. They told us that the men of the village divided themselves into groups of 50 to guard the town each night, after the June 3 operation.
- Taniperla - Our route took us past permanent military installations in Toniná and Ocosingo. The vast, upscale facilities of Cartel 39 abut the ancient Mayan pyramids and burial grounds of the Zona Arquiológica Toniná, a sacred site the indigenous community has claimed as its own. Initial construction followed the 1994 uprising, and significant expansion is underway today.
- La Realidad - Concerning militarization:
- the community is corralled and trapped as it is surrounded by the army
- the community members do not feel that they can safely leave
- those who do leave are carefully searched and/or harassed by the army
- how much work (e.g., tilling of fields) they can accomplish is seriously impeded due the constant military threat
- the military presence is not for their protection, but instead functions to keep them contained and to hold foreigners and other nationals out
- they live with the general expectancy that they will be attacked by the army any day
- we observed the following aerial surveillance:
- July 4th: five (5) helicopter flights at 2:22 pm, 2:26 pm (this one flew extremely low), 2:30 pm, 2:35 pm, and 2:37 pm
- July 5th: two (2) small white planes flew over (one at 9:22 am and another at 11:10 am) and 1 helicopter (at 1:58 am) circled the community four times
- we heard stories about the military incursion of Jan. 3, 1998 when 15 vehicles including tanks entered the community. We saw photographs documenting this event.
- on June 5 at 7:40 pm there were reports that two (2) soldiers had entered the community.
- we were informed that military vehicles drive through the community on a regular basis.
- Oventic - As we concluded the meeting, the droning sound of an airplane could be heard outside. Julio, our guide rushed to check it out, reporting that it was a Security Police plane circling up ahead. A member of our group recognized it as a surveillance plane because of the large square tinted window on the bottom of the fuselage. It made a total of about six passes before disappearing into the horizon.
3) Local PRI authorities and paramilitaries work closely with military forces.
- Moises Gandhi - About one hundred feet from the highway, a few uniformed personnel of the Mexican army, waved our van to stop. Speaking with our Mexican translator seated in the front seat, the soldier in charge asked us where we were coming from, where we were going, and why. Then, they told us to all get out of the van and very briefly searched two of our backpacks. We explained that we were tourists. They allowed us to pass after a detention of approximately fifteen minutes during which time they wrote our names and passport numbers in a notebook. On our way back to the Campamento, the soldiers and several plainclothed, men, all carrying machine guns, formed a double line across the road. One soldier grabbed Adalila's arm and another pushed David in the stomach. They detained us there for about thirty-five minutes. They questioned us, even going so far as to demand our home telephone numbers and place of employment. After writing down all of the information in our passports and tourist visas, they let us pass. Following our visit to Moises Gandhi, five of the group members and attorney Fred Rooney filed a complaint about their intimidation and humiliation by the army on July 6,1998.
- La Garrucha - On the dirt road to La Garrucha, we encountered about 30 soldiers, all in uniform and carrying automatic weapons. Some uniforms were shredded to camouflage with leaves, and some faces were painted very carefully with a few different shades. Our impression was that this was a Special Forces troop. They checked ID's and looked through only a few bags.
- Nicolas Ruiz - During the meeting on July 4, the judicial police arrived along with their regional commanders, checked our documents and asked why we were there. We said we were visiting friends in the communities by invitation.
- Nicolas Ruiz - We returned to Marguerita's house for dinner and to depart. During the meal, armed forces showed up, a group which included: one from Gobernación, one from Tuxtla, judicial police, the military, a PRI leader, one unidentified man, black pants and green windbreaker, who appeared well-trained and took photos of everyone but wouldn't speak to members of our group. Military trucks were at each end of the street, trucks and
jeeps of soldiers were in the park, and soldiers were stationed on foot on the streets, with weapons ready. The unidentified man disappeared after the confrontation, but caught the attention of team members as distinctive. The judicial police commander and military commander carefully examined team members documents, occasionally asking questions which were answered concisely. During this confrontation, women and children surrounded us from the rear - the military and judicial police asked of this group of women and children: "Who knows these people." They replied: "Everyone." The team was asked why we hadn't visited the PRI faction, and the reply was that there was no invitation, that we responded to invitations from friends for the visit and that we were willing to talk to the two sides [an invitation would have sufficed, the troops weren't necessary]. The military escorted the team to the PRI beer warehouse [apparently alcohol use had dropped sharply in the majority community of PRD members] where we met with about 30 people, men and women, [including one unidentified person who took notes and had been with the military and judicial police on the street, also taking notes].
- Chilon, Bachajon - To and from Chilon-Bachajon, the team passed through a military checkpoint - on arrival, the military had just taken a break for some reason, probably lunch - on departure, the military stopped the vehicle briefly and let it pass.
- Real, Monte Líbano - We encountered military check-points at Real and Monte Líbano. In both cases, the military violated Mexican law by requesting and recording information from our travel documents. At Monte Líbano the troops also photographed the group and the vehicle's license plate. While the ostensible purpose of these checkpoints, marked clearly on roadside signs, is to enforce the law of firearms and explosives, no attempt was made to search our vehicle or our bodies for firearms or explosives. We were, however, asked by the military whether we planned to do any type of investigation. Our experience would indicate that the true purpose of these roadblocks is to regulate the movement of Mexicans and foreigners, even though the Mexican constitution guarantees freedom of transit to nationals and visitors alike.
- Taniperla - To visit the priistas, we had to cross a militarized buffer zone. The bases de operaciones mixtas, or mixed operation forces, occupy the community's elementary school and health clinic, which are protected behind rolls of cortina wire. As we approached the priista community we were stopped by three men from the base, one in the green uniform of the federal army, one in the navy blue of the seguridad publica. The third one, wearing shiny black shorts and a tank top, did all the talking, never bothering to identify himself or his affiliation. He tried to convince us that we were unwanted there.
4) United States supplied military equipment is used almost exclusively by the Mexican military.
- Roberto Barrios - They spoke of the assassination of their companion, Trinidad Cruz Perez, critically wounded en route home from the town of Palenque the past March 14 . He suffered a beating and head injury by machete after he was dragged off a bus at Rancho San Miguel Arimatea by five PRI members. He died the next day in the Villahermosa, Tabasco, hospital. Before his burial March 16 a meeting of ejidal authorities and all inhabitants of Roberto Barrios, including representatives of the EZLN, PRI and the organization Xi'Nich decided to expel the two authors of the killing as well as the father of one of them and their respective families. There was no desire for vengeance, but only to curtail further acts of violence that these men were fomenting in the ejido. Even the PRI representatives were in agreement. Denouncements of the death of Trini were made to Enlace Civil, Fray Bartolome de Las Casas Human Rights center, and to public ministry. There were witnesses who went to the court house in Playas Catazaja, and five persons were arrested . A week later three were freed. One was tried, and he'll get off. All five of them will be eventually liberated. They have families and land parcels here and they will return and it will be difficult for the village. The ones who killed were of the paramilitary group Paz y Justicia. PRI authorities were in agreement with the killing. The assassins are free to return to assassinate again, while the innocent will be punished. Authorities promised a pension to Trini's family, but their words are still
unfulfilled. What did happen is that the authorities were changed so that people cannot make further appeals.
- Nuevo Merida - At a general assembly with their ejidal commissioner and municipal agents on January 31, 1997, four persons of the Agua Blanca community were jailed. In their 24 hours in jail, no one was allowed to care for their food or other needs. The guards were armed. According to one version, they were finally freed by companions at daylight on February 2, but that only sharpened the problem. That night and the following night
members of PRI began to shoot in the streets, precisely to instill fear. And so, on February 4, 165 persons (22 families) left, traveling variously through Paraiso, San Antonio, Robert Barrios, and finally settling in Nuevo Merida. They asked to form a section, and made an accord with the new ejido. On December 1 they began to construct homes on a parcel of land adjoining Nuevo Merida, a task they completed on December 12 and the next day they began living there. Then, after being warned by a companion of Agua Blanca on February 24, 1998, they had time only to hide a few clothes before the arrival of 26 public security agents and 10 members of PRI. Both groups were uniformed and armed. The invaders ate some of their food and scattered some on the ground, but otherwise did not damage their houses nor fields. They were fearful to return to the same site, returning to Nuevo Merida for safety. Since about May 28 they are in their present location, renting a parcel of land adjoining Nuevo Merida as their homesite. They are in the process of constructing their chapel, and have a parcel of rented land
from Nuevo Merida to do some planting. Of the 22 families who originally left Agua Blanca, 16 ejidatarios (farmers) still form part of this displaced community. Others have gone elsewhere. The homes they had had in Agua Blanca were of redwood, but they are told that residents of their former community are dismantling them for their own use of materials. A great concern is their ejido land, since the law states that a farmer who does not cultivate his land for a year loses the right to it and it may be distributed to others. (Agua Blanca is about one and one-half hours on foot from Nuevo Merida.) In May a delegation from the displaced went to the capital for a protection order so that, even if the people must live outside their village, they can cultivate their land. But the order for protection keeps getting stopped.
- El Bosque - The next day we drove to El Bosque, where our plans changed due to the ever-changing political climate of the area. According to our guide, the central part of town was occupied by the PRI backed Security Police.
5) There is widespread fear in indigenous communities resulting in psychological problems.
- 10 de Abril - Another man showed us US made RIOT-CS tear gas canisters recovered after the army had withdrawn. "Oh yes," he said, "the army always tries to clean up the evidence. But they left 4 canisters." We sat there, looking at the evidence, contemplating the long reach from the North into one more of these incredibly beautiful communities where, amazingly, people live together in a collective manner outside our experience.
- Nicolas Ruiz - Before the meeting, one man showed us two spent tear gas canisters used on June 3 [one whose markings were illegible, the other with these markings: 560 CS, Long Range Projectile, 150 years, Chemical Irritating Agent, To be used by law enforcement and correction personnel in riot control tactics, Hazard Class 1.4G, Manufactured at Federal Laboratories, Saltsburg, Pennsylvania, Can cause illness and death]. The group described the fear of the children, the resulting illness, said two babies almost died, spoke of an old man who had a heart attack, an abuelita with heart problems.
- Nicolas Ruiz - The next day, July 5, Sunday, we went to the church of San Diego for mass. At least one helicopter passed overhead -- a Huey 212, recognized by a Vietnam veteran from our contingent, Larry Richard. He said the arms from the military and judicial police were AR-15s and modified M-16s, and that modified 6.5 mm ammunition was used.
- Moises Ghandi - During our visit, we saw singular soldiers from the base who frequently take their exercise on the road into Moises. They run in jogging shorts from their base to the front sign of the village and turn back. The military base and its complement of at least fifty soldiers and fifteen or more United States-made Hummers was so close that we could hear music from there at night. We were told that a house of prostitution operates just off the highway behind the base.
6) There is a lack of confidence in the government among most indigenous communities.
- Moises Gandhi - The person appeared nervous to be speaking to such a large group and expressed to us the fears and stress of living surrounded by the military and being threatened on a daily basis with military violence. He said that the community of Moises Gandhi would greatly appreciate an international presence at its entrance to serve as a deterrecommunity. He explained that many of the people would be too afraid to speak to us about the situation in the community for two reasons: first, that some information could unwittingly be detrimental to the community and second, that individuals who might talk to us risked being singled out as Zapatista leaders.
- Jalisco - It took our young guide a quarter hour of gentle urging before the women finally began to speak. When they did it was as though entire lives of emotion began pouring out, tears streaming down their faces as they spoke of their fears, concerns, determination. They spoke of their worry over another army attack, how the stress and pain of having no food for their children was wearing them down, how hunger was tearing at their health and fear at the well-being of their families. The men and women spoke of their fear of leaving the town, of walking to their fields to cultivate their crops. They also spoke of how they understood this was part of their struggle, necessary in order to create a world where their children, and all children, could thrive. First the women spoke, then the men: "We can't buy things we need. We are sick with fear because of the many planes always
flying over our homes. I have pain in my legs, headaches. We are sick from the presence of the military. When our children see the airplanes, they get very scared. We can't go very far away, can't go to work, can't go because we are too afraid. We don't have beans or corn. When the fires came, they burned the corn and now we have no corn and now we won't have any food. We have no medicine, no money to care for our sick children. Still the army comes. We have no money for soap, our children are sick with diarrhea. Our men can't work, they are afraid, they can't leave our community because of the army. Everything is very expensive, beans, corn, flower, and we don't have money to buy even the smallest things we need. We suffer a lot here, we don't have water, we suffer from this.
We are sick because we have so much fear of the army. Our families lack food. My husband and I are both sick, our whole family is sick from fear."
- Roberto Barrios - "It is difficult for men to go to the field, working all day in fear for the well-being of their families. The village can't be left alone; always someone must be left in charge. At times public security wants to enter. We didn't let the police in after the killing. We must endure and move forward; we can't get worn down."
- Chavajeval - In this community the people have been living in fear, poverty. They are deprived of good nutrition, healthcare and education. They seem to live in uncertainty, not knowing why they were attacked by the government led military troops. Shell shock is a condition of these innocent people. You could see it in the eyes of the elderly, as well as, the children. The unnatural, brutal deaths of their friends and family leaves them scared. Nevertheless, they are trying to restore their community back to normal. A hard task, when they are constantly being harassed by military helicopters, gun-wielding Security Police and paramilitaries.
- Oventic - That experience was very instructive for us, as people wanting to know how the people who live there deal with the presence of some 70,000 troops hostile to indigenous self-determination. The speculation, the incessant work to get good information about who is out on the roads doing what, the questioning of every move you make, the uncertainty of whether you've made a mistake that may come back to haunt someone else days or weeks later . . . these are the hallmarks of the psychological warfare that the Mexican government is waging in Chiapas. They don't have to assault all the people; they don't have to shoot up every community. They just have to do enough to make sure that the threat is real. They don't have to have permanent road-blocks; indeed such things could become too routine. So they move them around, set them up at different times, keep people guessing. Fewer resources are expended that way, and a cheap but effective terror is generated. This ability to exhaust people with the possibility of unwarranted harassment is a formidable obstacle to organizing and just living with a sense of normalcy. It's a bloodless brutality.
7) Malnutrition and accompanying health problems are widespread. Food supplies are dwindling rapidly and are not expected to be replenished until at least February of 1999. Access to potable water is a serious problem that contributes to a generally deteriorating health profile.
- San Pedro Guerrero - "We ask for justice and the bad government says yes, but they don't comply. When they signed the San Andres Accords it seems as though they were drunk because they've turned everything inside out. We kept giving them more time to comply but it didn't happen. We negotiated everything, but now Zedillo wants to renegotiate. Now he's sending the military everywhere. The government has an ear but doesn't
hear us. We're farmers but the bad government treats us like dogs."
- La Realidad - Women reported the need to gather firewood in groups in order to avoid being hassled for information and raped by soldiers. Even men must work in groups because anyone working alone can be questioned by the army and detained on the spot. The key for the women and community has been to organize against such possibilities and to make it more difficult for the army to harass them.
- Jalisco - "The government doesn't have the will to resolve the problem of the land, the government doesn't care to resolve the problems we have. We are fearful when they come because we see what they do. We are Catholics and we go to church and they take us to jail. They have closed the church and we're really afraid they'll take us because we've heard this happens in other communities. The government has tortured and threatened some of us. All of us who are followers of the Church are on a list. I have a lot of fear because they have already taken me to Cerro Huecho prison in Tuxtla. Our government said it was going to comply with the San Andres Accords but it hasn't done that. It has lied. The presence of the army here is really creating a problem with the environment with so much garbage. A lot of times the army says you are Zapatista if you wear a pair of black boots. We need the government to comply with what they agreed to in San Andres about the land. When the army enters the community they never respect human rights. They don't take us into account and the people are afraid. We have made a document on human rights violations. We think this will help us to protect our community. The government is always saying that it is helping us, but it is not. There are so many compas who are fearful, this
comes from one guilty source, the bad government. They don't give what they say they are giving, neither the municipal, state nor federal government."
8) Education is a priority among indigenous families, especially for young people. Educational opportunities for young Indians are mainly found in communities that support the ruling PRI party.
- Moises Gandhi - One of the most serious problems in Moises Gandhi, as in many communities of Chiapas, was the lack of potable water, as the local streams have become polluted. A simple answer to at least this problem lies less than three kilometers up the road in a neighboring community. This community is not an autonomous community, has leadership loyal to the PRI, and has a plentiful supply of water. Leadership of that community are unwilling to allow the extension of the water system to include neighboring Moises Gandhi because, Magdalena explained to us, the government had paid off the neighboring community to not allow them access. Moises Gandhi draws water from one creek which is cleaner than the others and stores it in a large cistern for the population's use. All that they need for potable water is seven meters of pvc pipe and a cooperative agreement with the neighboring community.
- Moises Gandhi - The ongoing drought is making things worse as the corn crop has been seriously affected and the communities ability to feed itself is in jeopardy. The lack of rain forced the community to plant a second crop which may also, without sufficient water, not produce adequately.
- Morelia - Crops in the area have not done well this year. The drought severely wounded the coffee crop, the only crop that can bring cash into the community. "The weather has been beating us. We haven't planted enough corn because the rain fell very late, and now the corn is just beginning. Who knows how this year will go? People haven't planted beans because the rains came too late."
- San Pedro Guerrero - The crops in San Pedro Guerrero are corn, coffee and beans, but as in other communities the crops have suffered this year from drought, army incursions, and fear. While the army came in January, rumors are rampant that it will return and the people are frightened. They haven't planted new crops because of the fear of traveling long distances to cultivate their far-off fields, and leaving their children alone. As a result, the corn harvest won't be big enough this year to feed the community. The people are sick with fear while the military continues buzzing them with low-flying military aircraft.
- Palenque - Though official documentation is lacking, the committee analyzed that the crop loss is 95 per cent; recovery of the land will take 20 years; and there is a connection between the dryness and the fires. Another reason is the low intensity warfare. There is a growing consciousness that the struggle is over the land, which the government wants to control. There is consciousness, then , that the enemy is from the outside, even though it is difficult not to lose focus because of the divisions within the ejidos. The two problems facing the people from July through October are in the areas of conflict and of the economy. There will be famine within the area in three months. Generally, each ejido farmer in Chiapas is allotted about 20 hectares of land, of which some 30 to
40 per cent is cultivable. In Palenque, about four or five powerful families own most of the good land, which is used for grazing. Land invasions by peasant farmers lack official approval and never solved individual problems here as the military drives squatters off. In fact, the government has deceived both sides in these situations, promising that if the invaders pay half the price to the larger landowner, the government would pay the other half, but neither side has gotten paid.
- Roberto Barrios - We looked out on the plank bleachers inserted between the natural rockiness of the area, while leaders spoke of the drought that had affected their lives since the previous year, cutting out the possibility of seed for next year's bean planting. Beans that had been three to five pesos a kilo are now ten or twelve pesos; corn that had been one to two pesos a cuartillo is now two and one-half and will rise to three or four. Though perhaps in the jungle and highlands the fires were purposely started as part of the low intensity warfare, they judged that the fires in their area resulted from fires that went out of control in the slash and burn method of preparing the land for planting. They lost the February bean crop; the corn planted now is doing poorly.
- Navil - We observed hunger and poverty, bad teeth, a women, Juanita, who had no milk to nurse her infant. Community members also said children were unable attend the school below because they were constantly taunted as being "Zapatistas."
9) The Mexican government rewards indigenous supporters of the ruling PRI party with food, supplies, schools, etc., and punishes others by withholding these supplies. The government actively encourages divisions within many of the communities.
- San Pedro Guerrero - "We want our children to study and learn to read, learn to count. I didn't learn, because when I should have gone to school, they didn't take us into account. We need to arm our children with words so they can speak for us. We are blind not knowing how to read. We want our children to learn so we can't be deceived, so they can defend our rights."
- Simojovel - We met with Ysidro, one of the directors of the school, who described the history and current status of the project. He told us that the government was not providing the education the communities requested, instead sending unprofessional teachers who taught only in Spanish. He said that the government system didn't accommodate their reality, such as a fifteen year old, who due to poor nutrition, may be slow in learning and need to remain in primary school. La Escuela Primaria y Secondaria de Resistencia was established in 1985 with the goals of rescuing the indigenous culture and preserving the Tzotzil language and today serves 60 pre-schoolers, 180 primary school students and 20 high school students, offering seven inter-cultural degrees. They also provide adult education to counter the high degree of illiteracy in the community. Long-term plans include the founding of an indigenous-controlled university for the Tzotzil people. The school system, which accepts no financial support from the Mexican government, is based on the educational philosophy of Paolo Friere. The education is free to all students, and the twelve multi-lingual teachers receive no monetary compensation; instead, members of the community provide the educators with all needed goods and services. The schools are part of a regional network of indigenous-led educational institutions, serving 50 Tzotzil, Chol and Tzeltal communities. They decide on programs with other communities, divided into departments by language. Each language has a coordinator, and there is an oversight board that coordinates all the schools in Chiapas. Their programs are designed not only to perpetuate the indigenous customs and languages, but also to create literacy in Spanish and English. These schools are badly in need of financial and material assistance-everything from human resources (specifically English teachers) to tools, school books, and writing supplies. Ysidro complained that while many organizations have promised financial assistance, relatively few have followed through with funding.
- Moises Ghandi - The six-room building was constructed within the last year. First- through sixth-grade students were taught in their native Tzeltal and in Spanish by indigenous teachers who came from outside the community. Berto told us that the teachers are paid by the Mexican government. The new building, basketball court, and adjoining student garden were a great improvement in the lives of the children who no longer had to crowd into the old house they had used previously. The mosquitoes had been a constant bother there and they had no tables or chairs. He pointed out a child care facility nearby for the pre-first grade youth, though he said that the youngest children didn't like to leave their mothers to go there. Berto told us that it was the hope of the community to build more houses around the school and that the community would grow in number in this valley.
More Chiapas articles
- Colonia Virginia - In the neighboring village of Colonia Virginia (PRI community), we found a number of things that were lacking in Moises Gandhi. There was a clean and well-used system of potable water and irrigation drawing from an abundant supply of fresh water. We found a store, a large primary school, and a three room secondary school. Another glaring difference between the neighboring Colonia Virginia which is PRIista and Moises Gandhi was that community's freedom from a military presence.
- Morelia - The government is bringing in many projects to buy people off: giving out goods such as stoves, chickens, and even trucks to those who will accept them. As we were told, if people aren't clear about the issues, they can be deceived through bribery. "According to Zedillo a lot of money is coming to Chiapas, but when it gets here, it's used to divide the communities, not help them. Another election is coming in the fall, and with money some people will go along with the government. Some communities are being bought off, but others won't go long with the bribery."
- Morelia - One of the things that struck us were the attempts by the Zapatistas of Morelia to find a way to avoid confrontations. Today, because so many of the younger Zapatistas have moved on to form new communities, there is a higher percentage of PRI in the community and divisiveness is a serious problem. An example of this is the sale of wood by some PRIistas without first asking permission of the community. "We began to stop the trucks transporting the wood, because we have rules about caring for the forest. The PRI became very angry. They began to beat up our men and women, some having to go to the San Carlos Hospital (in Altamorano). The PRIistas seem to want confrontations and problems, but we don't want that, we know the government is behind this. Those of us who are organized called meetings to talk about how we could avoid confrontations, and we decided that for now the only way to avoid the provocations was to ignore them. It's a very difficult issue for us." When asked about the basketball court in the Aguascaliente, we were told by one of our hosts, smiling, "That's for the kids." He pointed to the opposite hill and continued, "We play basketball with the PRIistas over there." We paused in our discussion, noticing a game in the works. "Yes, we play basketball with the PRIistas. Last week we had a tournament, and we won. We tell the PRIistas they can use the water at the Aguascaliente. Sometimes they come, sometimes they don't." He shrugged his shoulders, again smiling. These were some of the visible attempts we witnessed on the part of the Zapatistas to live together with their neighbors even as the PRIista families receive valuable presents from the government and the Zapatistas refuse them, preferring to build a future without help from the government.
- San Pedro Guerrero - "While this community is united, in others the government gives the PRIistas food and staples. So the PRIistas say, we can't be against the government because it is helping us. Those poor people don't understand they are only getting the crumbs. We are organized because we want to have this blessed earth for all time, in justice and in dignity. We are struggling for this so that our children can have a better life now and in the future. We want people to know how the bad government is treating us. We have no justice, we have no democracy. Instead we have fear and injustice. I really thank you for coming here. We want you to tell our story to others. We want you to tell the truth of our situation. We want our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world to know what's happening to us."
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