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Hope grows for justice and peaceful solutions in Mexico

Bishop Ruiz is appointed as mediator in Chiapas

December 28, 1994

By Yolanda Reynolds

La Oferta Newspaper.

With the unresolved problems in Chiapas and other southern Mexican states, an erupting volcano and the unrelenting fiscal pressure which has forced the government to abandon its questionable support of the peso; Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, the new president of Mexico, may well wish that a recount would declare someone else the winner of last August’s national elections.

In Chiapas, the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) was able to evade the Mexican military blockade in a threatened but surprise takeover of a number of municipalities outside of the EZLN controlled area in the Lancandon Forest.

The Zapatistas, who are greatly outnumbered by the Mexican forces in Chiapas, say that they were welcomed in these towns by the local residents. This is a claim that likely has validity since the Zapatistas are not only outnumbered but are heavily outgunned by the army as well.

According to a recent report from Chiapas following the August elections, the government has sent an additional 50,000 troops to that state to seal of the Zapatistas from the rest of Chiapas.

This same report indicated that, “low flying planes buzz hamlets under EZLN control, that there are forced evictions of peasants who have reclaimed land,” and that the “torturing and jailing of indigenous peasant leaders and activists” continues.

The social unrest in Chiapas has alerted not only Mexican leaders but the rest of the world, to the depth of the discontent of many Mexicans with the problems they face.

It was uncertain how the new President would respond to the latest actions of the Zapatistas, who had threatened action if the “PRI government” insisted upon installing Eduardo Robledo Rincón as Governor of the state. Many Chiapanecos believe that Robledo Rincón was not the winner in the recent election. There are claims of outright fraud and manipulation of the vote in that state.

According to reports on the election in Chiapas, the military personnel now stationed in Chiapas, were allowed to vote in local elections. The soldiers, now numbering many thousands, critics say, voted for the controlling PRI candidate, Robledo Rincón.

Last month there was a report from the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center that the “Public Security (State Police) fired upon 200 members of the State Council of Indigenous and Campesino Organization (CEOIC) as they blocked a road between two largely indigenous populated towns Comitán and Tzimol in Chiapas. “Four protesters were seriously injured,” they report. The CEOIC was protesting Robledo’s claim to the governorship.

One third of the population of Chiapas is indigenous and they are the very poorest residents of the state.

Widespread fraud was reported in the neighboring state of Tabasco. According to a Reuter news report fifteen people were arrested on charges of manipulating the vote there. In that state, there were protests as well and as reports of gunfire used against those protesting.

In Tabasco, it is reported that the PRD, an opposition party, whose presidential candidate was Cuauhtemoc Cárdenas Solórzano has been gaining support in protesting the “arbitrary decisions by the government petroleum company that has damaged the environment,” and by also reporting “links between state officials as well as a major banking fraud scandal” in that state.

Though the Mexican military resistance, able to quickly retake the 38 towns that had been claimed by the Zapatistas, who did not put up military resistance. President Zedillo has accepted the conditions demanded by the Zapatistas in order for peace talks to take place.

Both the Zapatistas and the official government expressed a desire for a peaceful resolution to the problems in Chiapas. For days, the tension has been high and ominous as some official spoke persons have attempted to blame the Zapatistas for the devaluation of the peso. These claims were seemingly made in an attempt to discredit the Zapatistas among the general Mexican population as well as those in the international community who had made investments in Mexico. (Note, that the financial experts discount this claim).

The FZLN had demanded that the government recognize the “CONAI, the indigenous local body proposed by Bishop Samuel Ruiz to mediate the conflict) as the representative of the peaceful effort of the civil society and a neutral body in the conflict.”

They also want an official recognition of “the social forces which are organized behind Cuauthemoc Cardenas and the National Democratic Convention as the peaceful, civic and honest opposition.”

The EZLN further states that conditions for the truce include: “the satisfactory solution for the post-electoral conflicts in the states of Veracruz, Chiapas, and Tabasco. And recognition of the democratic transitional government in the state of Chiapas.”

According to news reports on Christmas day, President Zedillo announced that the Government would “accept a commission headed by Roman Catholic Bishop Samuel Ruiz of San Cristóbal de Las Casas as the official mediator between the government and the rebels.”

As of Sunday evening, there had been no reaction to this announcement from EZLN Sub-Comandante Marcos.

Bishop Ruiz had been on a fast to support the initiation of peace talks in order to avoid a resumption of armed conflict between the government and the EZLN.

The unrest in Mexico will make many investors nervous, however, the devaluation of the peso was expected many months ago and did not have much if anything to do with the Zapatistas

The government had been protecting the peso since the early 1980’s in order to encourage investor confidence. Many fund managers and economists contend that in the long run the devaluation is good for Mexico. John Boich, a San Francisco portfolio manager with Montgomery Asset Management was quoted in a New York Times article contending that “the positive effects of the devaluation in terms of economic competitiveness overpower the short term negative.”

The devaluation will create a hardship for some Mexican people but it also make their products less expensive and more attractive for export.

The United States devalued the dollar compared to the Japanese yen in the 1980’s. Japanese investors lost many millions in the real estate investments that they had made here. Japanese goods became more-costly and sales of American autos, which became more affordable to the American consumer than Japanese imports improved.

Though any economists agree that the peso needed to be devaluated there is some criticism. Luis R. Luis, an economist and expert in Mexico is quoted by Tim Golden in a New York Times article as asserting that, “they (the government also needed a plan to support the devaluation and to convince investors that this was for the good of the economy in the long tum.” He adds, “now these guys are going to have a tough task of rebuilding confidence and they don’t have much time.”

The peso before Christmas was valued between 4.7 to 5.1 U.S. Dollar.

Last week this Yucatan group received words of support from the Coordinating Commission for Democracy and Peace of the Yucatan Convention. This group

declared their support of the Zapatistas in their quest for peace, and asked that peace talks be held for a truly peaceful and dignified solution to the conflict. That the solution be democratic, just, and free without hidden traps or deceitful but with concrete actions that will resolve the grave and long-time social, economic, and political problems over which the people of Chiapas have long protested.

Last week this Yucatan group met in an emergency meeting to discuss the options open to them for helping the Zapatistas.

Zedillo faces difficult and complex problems. His challenge is not only due to the unrest that is well documented throughout numerous states of Mexico, but a general problem within the government that has been controlled so long by the PRI party. It is seen as hopelessly corrupt by many of its citizens as well as foreign investors.

These concerns are not being ignored by all of the PRI leadership and membership. It is widely reported that, within the PRI party, is a widening difference of opinion between those who want reform and others, frequently described as the “dinosaurs,” who want to control business as usual and prefer to eliminate their adversaries by force rather than with honest elections or discussions.

Sub-Comandante Marcos, in a communication to all those who have lent moral and substantial support to the EZLN, expresses his heartfelt appreciation for all that they have done. Marcos ponders the value of the years of sacrifice for what they feel is a just cause. They are now surrounded by the superior numbers and the better equipped might of the National Government.

Marcos concludes that is has indeed been worth the sacrifice. He points out that they (Zapatistas) know “where they are going and what awaits them.” Marcos writes on “…someone has to say ‘no,’ to say ‘ya basta’ (enough). Someone has to leave prudence to one side, and give a higher value to the dignity and shame than to life, someone has to…”

In his thank you to those who have helped the ELN he adds, “To those good people, I want to say I hope I hope that you continue to believe, that you not allowed skepticism to bind you to the sweet prison of conformity. Thank you, continue to search, to seek out something in which to believe something for which to fight…”

Dignity, democracy, justice, and liberty are qualities for which people have fought and forsaken their lives in their quest. Hopefully these serious problems can he peacefully resolved in Mexico. Clearly the Zapatistas believe that “Dignity, Democracy, Justice, and Liberty are possible” for them and all of Mexico and perhaps, there is a real possibility for that to happen now with the recent proposal offered by President Zedillo. © La Oferta Newspaper.

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