February 15, 1995
By Yolanda Reynolds
“War has begun on Mexican soil” say leaders of the New York Committee for Democracy in Mexico/USA.
Slowly, more information is being heard regarding Mexican military action in Chiapas against the EZLN (the Zapatista National Liberation Army). Besides an invasion by the military into a Zapatista cease ﬁre zone, there are unconﬁrmed reports that there are indiscriminate air strikes an bombing taking place in the Lacandon jungle, the stronghold and refuge of the Zapatistas.
The government has also issued orders for the immediate arrest of the FZLN leadership. The most noted among the leaders are Subcomandante Marcos and Comandante Ramona.
According to a New York Committee spokesperson Zedillo has asked for the arrest of 2.734 people throughout Mexico.
Last week, President Zedillo indicated that the government now had the identities of the EZLN leadership.
Who they were, in particular Subcomandante Marcos, has been a topic of interest both here and in Mexico. The membership of the EZLN have made their trademark to be wearing of a ski mask to protect their identities.
Marcos has been identiﬁed, by the government, as Rafael Sebastian Guillen Vicente. Other comandantes are said to be FernandoYafez, Jorge Elorreaga Berdegue, Jorge Santiago Santiago and Silvia Santiago.
“It’s interesting that the Mexican government knows who Marcos and the other Zapatistas are, when after almost a year, they do not know who killed the presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio,” says San Josean Ben Garza.
Zedillo has also asked for the arrest of Amado Avendaño, the PRD contender for the governor of Chiapas in the last election. Although there were charges of fraud and irregularities the PRI candidate was seated.
After protests and demonstrations in Chiapas over the election, Avendano ended up establishing a separate Governor’s office in Chiapas. Avendano a popular and respected newspaper publisher, based in San Cristobal de Las Casas, has long been a critic of the Mexican government’s treatment and neglected of the indigenous communities in Mexico.
The Indian people of Mexico are among the very poorest residents in that country of many poor, where it is estimated that 60% of the population live below the poverty line. The average earnings of many of Mexico’s people stand at around $3 U.S. per day.
Ivonne Gonzales, an attorney and a Californian with close family ties in Mexico says that she does not trust Zedillo. Gonzales explains that, before Zedillo was elected and again shortly afterward, he said that he wanted a peaceful and political solution to the dispute between the Zapatistas and the PRI controlled government.
Gonzales adds that Zedillo had also promised that there would be a negotiated solution in Chiapas and Tabasco. They are two states where opposition PRD candidates were “expected to be elected as governors last fall, but upon official count of the votes were the losers. After heating protests from within Zedillo’s own political party, the PRI, he abandoned his promise.
Previous president Salinas was forced to reverse a number of ofﬁcial election results due to fraud while he was in ofﬁce.
Government spokespersons, Bishop Ruiz of Chiapas and representatives of the various indigenous communities in Chiapas had been engaged in discussions in the State’s capitol in hopes of ﬁnding political and peaceful solutions to the problems in Chiapas.
There have been concerns expressed by some in San Jose that the Bishop himself might be arrested since there have been some claims made in the media that the Bishop maybe more than a mediator and they have heard of the long arrest list.
The Bishop had been accepted as a mediator by both parties in this serious dispute, partly because indigenous spokespersons said that they trusted Ruiz and would not accept anyone else to mediate the delicate situation.
San Jose Mexican Consul, Sr. Arturo Balderas, says that Bishop Ruiz has not been arrested and has returned to San Cristobal de Las Casas after a quick ﬂight to church headquarters in Mexico City last week.
Balderas adds that reports that there is indiscriminate aerial bombings in the Lancandon forest “are false”.
Regarding limited media coverage of the military action in Chiapas, Balderas says the military does not want newspersons in danger. He said people should remember what happened during the Warn the Middle East and the imposition of U.S. government restrictions on the activities of the media.
Balderas explained that newspersons would be in danger, not only by Mexican military action but from the Zapatistas, neither of whom would be able to distinguish a newsperson from the general population.
The National Commission for Democracy in Mexico/USA asserts that Zedillo’s “call for the immediate arrest of Marcos and other EZLN leaders is a belligerent act and in violation of the Geneva Convention, and international law,” They add that, such is “a treacherous declaration of war by the PRI government on the People of Mexico.”
The Commission for democracy in Mexico expresses ﬁve major points on behalf of the Zapatistas in their struggle for “democracy, liberty and justice with dignity.” These include a “suspension of President Clinton’s bailout package to Mexico.” (They explain that they are critical of the influence of the Chase Manhattan Bank, the Heritage Foundation, and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) who have “actively been advising on the provisions” of the bailout package).
The Commission endorses the Bishop Ruiz mediated discussion that had been taking place between CONAI (representatives of the interests of the indigenous communities and the EZLN) and the government and ask that they immediately continue.
They support the request of many Chiapanecos that the Mexican Army be withdrawn from their State. The Commission asserts that there are now at least 60,000 soldiers in Chiapas.
They support the Zapatista request that a “provisional government” be established to govern Mexico. The Commission explains that the problem in Mexico is not the Zapatistas but rather it is the existing corrupt federal Mexican government which, they say, “long ago quit serving the needs of the people.”
Finally, they ask that the government cease the “arrest and detention of civilian political opposition leaders and members of nongovernmental organizations.”
According to a 1991 report entitled, “Fragile Stability.” by Andrew Redding and Christopher Whalen for the World Policy Institute in New York, in which they summarize conditions in Mexico under the Salinas time in office. Redding and Wahlen conclude that, “Despite the creation of a government human rights commission… strong pattern of human rights abuses and state – sponsored violence persists.” They add, “Torture is universal; and dozens of journalists… have been murdered since Salinas took office.” They indicate that Amnesty International has declared that, “despite the government’s public prohibition of torture (in Mexico) almost anyone arrested is at risk. “Torture,” they say, “is endemic in Mexico.”
Today, such reports of abuse and torture continue to be documented. According to Carlos Imaz a Stanford University graduate, now in Mexico and active in the PRD (one of the major opposition parties), government ofﬁcials are allowing the detention and abuse of Mexican citizens for hours and days in violation of all acceptable legal processes and without respect of citizens rights.
The next few weeks will likely determine whether Mexico is able to continue in its quest for a true democracy as well as economic stability.
There is speculation that, besides the demands of the monied interests and their concern for profits on their loans to Mexico, the PRI government agreed to demand the surrender of the Zapatistas in order to divert the attention of the Nation and the International community from the loss of the PRI gubernatorial elections in Jalisco to the PAN candidate. PAN is now the major opposition party in Mexico and has been making steady advances among the Mexican electorate in the northern states of Mexico.
Ricardo Garcia, a San Franciscan with close ties to Mexico, says that the PRI has made a major mistake and that, instead of quelling discontent, PRI actions will likely result in more serious civil unrest in all of Mexico.
Since the government order for the arrest of Marcos, many Mexicans say that they are for Marcos. They say “we are all Marcos.”
Upon the government’s recently announced “unmasking” of Marcos, a recent report from Mexico tells that Super Barrio, a popular entertainment ﬁgure who in his act often makes political and social commentaries, remarked than the “only person who has been unmasked is Zedillo.”
Many Mexicans feel betrayed. There have been clips of protests in Mexico City in which once comfortable housewives are taking to the streets along with the masses of very poor people because of the economic hardship they too are undergoing since the recent peso devaluation. They feel they were misled by promises of a bright future by Salinas. Zedillo and other PRI leaders and, worse, kept in the dark until after the November election.
Numerous protests will be taking place in the Bay Area to protest the events in Chiapas and Mexico. It has reported that in a protest at the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City four were arrested including, a 74-year-old woman. One La Jornada photographer (La Jornada is a major highly respected Mexico City daily) was shoved and knocked down by the NY police. The demonstration was covered by all of the major media including Mexican media. Obviously, protest here is not all that acceptable either.
For more information on the situation or to express your concern over events in Mexico contact the Mexican Consulate in San Jose at (408) 294-1954. Ricardo Garcia can be contacted at (415) 321-4191. Ben Garza can be reached at (408) 929-6926
Juan Haro, now living in the East Coast contributed information for this article. © La Oferta Newspaper.