Just a year ago, U.S. corporate capital was making rosy promises to all sectors of Mexican society that the North American Free Trade Agreement would bring the country peace and prosperity.
Today, the Mexican economy is in a shambles, the Clinton administration has arranged a $50-billion loan guarantee that further mortgages Mexico's future to the big banks--and now the Mexican Army has fanned out in the impoverished southern state of Chiapas in a dirty war against the immensely popular Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN).
Anger against U.S. domination of Mexico is at an all-time high. It was reflected in a massive march and rally in Mexico City on Feb. 11, that filled the immense central square known as the Zocalo. The speakers, representing a broad range of organizations, denounced the government's war on the peasants and demanded the army withdraw from Chiapas.
U.S.-owned franchises all over Mexico City were spray-painted with slogans like "We are all Marcos" and "International capitalism get out."
President Ernesto Zedillo had announced on Feb. 9 that he was sending in troops to arrest the Zapatista leaders, especially Subcomandante Marcos. Marcos' reply came in a public statement published three days later. It put responsibility for the military attack squarely on the shoulders of U.S. finance capital.
"Mr. Zedillo has begun the payback of the loan," Marcos wrote in the letter dated Feb. 9. "His message is clear: 'Either speak with submission on your knees in front of the supreme government, or with the support of my accomplices in Congress I will annihilate you. ...' The price of the head of the Zapatistas is the only thing that has stayed high in the rise and fall of financial speculation," he added, with characteristic irony.
The Zedillo government says it isn't so. It denies that the sudden and bloody armed assault on peasant villages was dictated by the U.S. bankers and politicians who crafted the bailout. But it faces a major credibility gap.
In fact, the major news services agree with Marcos. The Associated Press reported from Mexico City on Feb. 10 that "Zedillo has been under pressure from Mexicans and investors to end the smoldering, year-old peasant rebellion in the southern state of Chiapas that helped cause chaos in the stock market and sent the peso plunging."
Reuter, the British news agency, wrote from Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Feb. 13: "Analysts were impressed by Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo's aggressive order to arrest several of the Zapatistas' top leaders after finding arm caches which might be used to launch new offensives. However, analysts predicted investors would remain sidelined until the market is convinced the government is capable of restoring order in Chiapas."
The U.S. State Department immediately supported Zedillo's move. In an announcement Feb. 10, spokesperson Christine Shelly somehow managed in the same breath to praise the Mexican president's "commitment to sweeping reforms of the country's electoral and judicial systems."
What these "reforms" are became clear two days later, when the ruling PRI quickly conceded defeat in elections in the Mexican state of Jalisco. The rightist National Action Party (PAN) will take over the governorship there, much to the approval of Washington. In Chiapas, however, the PRI still refuses to recognize the victory last fall of a progressive candidate from the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD).
As of this writing, Chiapas is under siege. Army troops at roadblocks prevent the press from entering the combat areas. The few reporters who are helicoptered in by the military are taken to empty towns, according to Tom Hansen of the Minneapolis office of Pastors for Peace. Hansen arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas with humanitarian aid soon after the offensive began.
Hansen says the area is a war zone, and that many grassroots organizers have been arrested. Others are in hiding.
The National Convention for Democracy in Mexico (CND) reports that the Mexican army is bombing cities and killing men, women and children indiscriminately. It says the hospital of Comitan, Chiapas, has received many dead and injured.
"At Salto de Agua," says the CND, "39 corpses were found--villagers with signs of torture before their death."
The government has issued more than 2,700 arrest warrants giving it legal cover to arrest whoever in Mexico sympathizes with the EZLN. Progressive and grassroots activists have been rounded up in many parts of the country.
The first soldiers sent to Chiapas said they were there to do medical and dental checkups, haircuts and social work.
"But how is it that one of the tools for taking out teeth is a small tank?" one villager asked an Associated Press reporter. The 350 soldiers, who arrived before Zedillo's speech, were in battle gear, supported by armored vehicles mounted with cannon and machine guns.
A Feb. 13 AP dispatch from San Cristobal said that soldiers at roadblocks were preventing food and medical supplies from reaching the impoverished Indian villages. Reporters were also kept out of the area.
For a year, the town of Guadalupe Tepeyac has been under EZLN control. The staff at a large hospital there is openly sympathetic to the liberation army. When the army began its current offensive, some 270 villagers hid inside the hospital. The army finally took the town and the villagers fled on foot for Nuevo Momon, 25 miles away, taking with them whatever they could carry.
A human rights group in Mexico City said seven alleged Zapatista rebels arrested by police were tortured. The Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights said the prisoners were beaten and tortured to extract confessions of rebel links. "This is the beginning of a dirty war," said Mariclare Acosta, director of the commission.
The London-based organization Amnesty International said reports of human rights violations by members of the army were widespread during the beginning of the Chiapas conflict in January 1994. Most victims were impoverished Indian peasants. AI is investigating reports of summary executions, arbitrary arrests and torture during the current military operation.
All over the world, this war is seen as a flagrant assault upon the poor, who had the temerity to stand up and demand land, justice and democracy. While the Mexican government, coached in public relations by U.S. agencies, is trying to demonize Subcomandante Marcos, the EZLN has won widespread support because of its democratic character and the active leadership of grassroots women and men from the indigenous communities.
Last August, thousands flocked to an amphitheater carved out of the Lacandon forest to attend a meeting of the National Democratic Convention. Such a meeting could only happen because of the armed support of the Zapatistas.
The convention came after thousands of clashes between peasants and landowners in Chiapas. There have been some 2,400 land seizures by peasants since the EZLN uprising on Jan. 1, 1994.
The peasants have been hit by a double whammy: an influx of cheap U.S. corn since NAFTA, and now higher prices for fertilizers and farm equipment since the peso devaluation. Many want to return to the Mayan communal ownership of farmland--known as ejidos--that has been undercut by recent pro-big business legislation in Mexico.
Even among the imperialist allies of the U.S. ruling class, there is unhappiness over the Mexican bailout. Germany, Britain and several other imperialist countries abstained in the International Monetary Fund vote to commit $17.8 billion as part of Clinton's $50-billion loan guarantee package. The abstentions, highly unusual at the IMF, were seen as a protest over the extreme arm-twisting carried out by the U.S.
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl even turned up unexpectedly in Washington a few days later. While no reason was given for his visit, he doubtless registered Germany's strong disapproval at being bulldozed by the U.S.
Klaus Friedrich of the Dresdener Bank told the press on Feb. 13 that the U.S. had created tensions with Europe over the IMF vote. "It's not supposed to be an American institution," he said of the IMF. "It's supposed to be a worldwide institution."
In the banking fraternity, that's tantamount to crying bloody murder.
What you don't hear from the international bankers, Federal Reserve Bank Chair Alan Greenspan, the Clinton administration, Congressional Republicans still criticizing the bailout, or the editorials in the commercial press are any words of dismay over the dirty war now launched against the poor of Chiapas. If it works and a better "business climate" results, they'll be quite contented.
However, support for the besieged people of Chiapas is building in the U.S. and elsewhere.
On Feb. 13, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Rev. Lucius Walker of Pastors for Peace, Juan Haro of the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico (U.S.), Martin Sanchez of the National Lawyers Guild, the Rev. Luis Barrios of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights and Teresa Gutierrez of the International Action Center spoke at a news conference in New York condemning the military offensive and calling for the withdrawal of Mexican troops from Chiapas.
Bishop Samuel Ruiz of Chiapas has issued a call for people to come to San Cristobal to witness what is happening there. Pastors for Peace is sending another delegation on Feb. 19.
In New York on Feb. 13, several hundred people demonstrated at the Mexican Consulate and then marched to a branch of Chase Manhattan Bank. Four people, one 74 years old, were arrested after demonstrators went inside to protest that Chase's "highest-level executives asked for drastic measures against the people of Mexico."
According to the investigative weekly Counterpunch, a Jan. 13 memo from the bank's Emerging Markets Group advised the Mexican government to "eliminate the Zapatistas."
More demonstrations are planned in Mexico and various U.S. cities.
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