There is a real war in Chiapas. Timed just after the announcement of U.S.-engineered loans for Mexico, the Mexican army was advancing into the conflict zones. This act ended a cease fire there.
This writer was in Chiapas as an official observer with an international observer group during the period of Feb. 11-25. We saw approximately 3,000 soldiers within the two municipalities (counties) where we concentrated our efforts. We saw cannons, tanks, armored troop carriers and helicopters. Nearly every soldier was in full battle dress - flack jacket, helmet and rifle. During a time when the government was advertising that its soldiers were withdrawing, we witnessed daily advances. In other places our group witnessed bulldozing of new roads into the jungle in order to move the army farther in.
Although President Zedillo says that he wants a negotiated solution, our observations indicate that the real aim is a military solution and an end to peasant demands for equity and justice.
The army is terrorizing the poorest people in Chiapas. We took testimonies from people in many villages attesting to belligerent acts by the military. The army is using such tactics as torture, kidnaping, restriction of travel and prevention of access to food and water by whole villages. Men are afraid to go in their fields to work and women are afraid to gather wood and fetch water. People remember the murders and tortures by the army in January 1994, and are terrified by the Army.
We visited numerous villages from which people had fled at theadvance of the army. La Estrella had been recently, suddenly and completely vacated. Tortillas on the table in one house were still soft. The village had been sacked - doors kicked in, stored food scattered and personal belongings strewn everywhere. Chickens, pigs and turkeys were in the houses eating the remains.
We located the residents from another village who were living in the forest. They were hungry and cold and attested that they had left because of military threat.
Our group took testimony on two torture cases. The people said they had been dragged, strangled, beaten and suffocated in a bag, as well as nearly drowned. In another place, one man was shot while the villagers were fleeing the army. Three others were abducted by the army in a helicopter saying that soldiers had threatened to push them out of the door while in flight if they didn't admit to being Zapatistas.
On February 19 there was an attack on the Cathedral in San Cristobal de Las Casas by ranchers and other members of the Chiapas elite. Ranchers whipped up a crowd with inflammatory speeches for an hour, then proceeded half a block to the Cathedral to throw stones and eggs at it and its defenders, mostly indigenous people. The police watched the speeches and 1 1/2 hours of the attack without interference. The real focus of the attack was Bishop Camuel Ruiz, who has sided with the poor in Chiapas.
In all we found the government to be aggressive and inflaming an already tense situation. Heads of indigenous development groups have been jailed. We feel there is a deliberate attempt to discredit Bishop Ruiz and anyone working for social justice in Chiapas.
On both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border there is widespread belief that the recent package of loans organized by the U.S. is a major cause of the military escalation.
On Jan. 13, a Chase Manhattan Bank newsletter said: "President Zedillo will have to eliminate the Zapatistas in order to demonstrate effective control of the national territory and security policy." Zapatista leader Marcos commented on the loan package saying: "The uprising has boosted the price of Indian blood. Not long ago, it was valued at less than two chickens; now it is the condition for the largest loan of ignominy in history."Tom Moore was an official observer with the International Commission of Observation, coordinated by Pastors for Peace and a coalition of Mexican human rights groups.
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