Bishop Ruiz Calls for New Meetings on Chiapas
June 20, 2000

"To rechannel the process of a peaceful solution for Chiapas, it is necessary to rediagnose the conflict - to initiate another mediation between the participants and renew a formal dialogue," said Samuel Ruiz, Bishop Emeritus of San Cristóbal, before an audience gathered for the Colloquy for The Construction of the Peace, Teachings for the New Millennium. Participating were students and professors mixed with former guerrillas chiefs and military of other continental armed conflicts. The itinerant Prelate placed emphasis on what has been the irreversible achievement of this experience in Mexico: "The Indian is already the subject of their (Mexican National) history, and although they have begun to speak, they have not been heard."

With a different, though slightly opposing perspective, Jorge Castañeda, advisor for presidential challenger, Vicente Fox, also emphasized the necessity of a new round of mediation talks, although he underlined that it must be international.

PRD member, Juan Guerra, former member of the first COCOPA, pointed out that in a recent document released this week by official delegate for the dialogue in Chiapas, Emilio Rabasa, "It openly states, for the first time, that the government of Ernesto Zedillo never, in fact, had any intention of fulfilling the Agreement of San Andrés, when he states that in his analysis, for Congress to approve the COCOPA proposal "would be equivalent to an unconditional surrender in the face of an armed group."

Supplementing the panel of speakers, the representative for PRI candidate, Labastida, Marco Antonio Bernal, indicated that any dialogue "will be under other circumstances, at another moment and using other instruments." But he denied that the government had discarded and annulled the previous mediation, saying that "the EZLN was the first to step aside."

The Colloquy, organized by seven Mexican State Universities, this morning was immersed in the topic of the Mediative Methods and the Role of International Organizations and Foreign Government Participation in the Peace Process in the Latin American Conflicts.

Before that, they heard of the dialog processs from the mouths of former enemies: from Guatemala two old enemies related their experiences: the Commander-in-Chief of Guatemala's Armed Forces during the final five Years of conflict, Otto Molina Pérez and the guerilla commander, Gaspar Ilom; from El Salvador, the former guerilla, Nidia Marín. They spoke of their experiences. From Colombia, two opposing and strident positions met: Marco de León Calarca, spokesman for FARC and a guerrilla for 36 years, has had at least 10 thousand men under his Command; and the current Deputy and former Chief of the M-19, Antonio Navarro Wolf, with another demobilized Commander, Carlos Franco, of the Popular Liberation Army.

Finally, they entered into the highly technical and diplomatic themes of understanding how the UN has played a role as mediator in El Salvador and Guatemala. They spoke of the risks inherent in not posing viable and credible negotiations and of how, in the aforementioned countries, they passed from the concept of foreign intervention to that of international mediation as well as something still more complex: the task of peace keeping.

The speaker was Catalonian Jesús Rodés, now a professor in his native Barcelona, (? but until you grieve 15 days ago,) wearing the Blue Beret of the UN Peacekeeping Contingent (MINUGUA) in Guatemala.

A commotion stirred when, hindered by the cluster of reporters and photographers, Samuel Ruiz entered the room to applause.

The attention of the diplomats from Managua evaporated, "We have collided with the Church , Sancho", Rodés quipped from the microphone. (referring to a line from Cervantes' Don Quijote)

The atmosphere of concern in the participants in this session about the peace in Chiapas and Mexico was palpable.

Ruiz and Garcia shared the table with two old main characters of the frustrated negociation of the agreements of San Andrés, PRI Marco Antonio Bernal and PRD Juan Guerra, former member of COCOPA. With Jorge G. Castañeda, author of an editorial hit, The Unarmed Utopia, on Latin America's increasing armament and which shed some light on the Zapatista uprising.

Although robbed of the duties of his former mediator role, the former Bishop of San Cristobal, Chiapas noted, "As I am not seeking a position in the government, nor as Cardinal, I can speak frankly."

Remarking on the Nature of the Zapatista uprising of 1994 as well as the rebellious movements of the previous decades in Central America, he said, "This is an uprising of Indians and does not seek the taking of political power."

Regarding the negociation process as a privileged witness, he said that it was not "only a political game", and that the government's behavior was ambiguous, because, while on one hand appearing sincere at the negotiation table, on the other hand the army took another road and never considered negotiating its positions.

In his turn, Jorge Castañeda recalled that the armed conflicts of El Salvador and Nicaragua were solved in negociation processes, because the Sandinista Front and the Farabundo Martí had the certainty, in their time, that both parties had to negotiate.

"Regarding the Chiapas process, I don't know if the EZLN had the option of having to negotiate or not. On the part of the government, I am certain that at no time did they have the intention of resolving it at the negociation table. And that determination has repaid them well. They have not paid any political price for it."

On the other hand, he indicated that a new and credible negotiation is necessary, he declared, "I don't see anything that would not be in any case, international."

"To consider that for years, in the corridors and councils of those interested in the topic, have insisted on this possibility," and then ended up mentioning the former Costa Rican President and Nobel Prize winner, Oscar Aryans; although none of the Mexicans at the table accepted the challenge offered by Castañeda.

And for the participants, mainly for the EZLN; added Castañeda, the only possible option would be an "imperfect and inadequate alternative."

Meanwhile, the government could continue without reaching any agreements with the EZLN and maintain the status quo without paying political costs. "It has demonstrated that they can do it. They have gone six years without peace in Chiapas and nothing happens. Sadly enough for those who live in Chiapas."

To conclude, former COCOPA member, Juan Guerra, criticized the government delegate's latest report: "Their figures on how they have improved the security and how education has grown in Chiapas are made-up and false. If it was true, Chiapas would not be one of the poorest states, but the most developed." He commented that Rabasa is trying to justify the scholarship benefits that he has received since 1998, as delegate of a nonexistent organization.

Conflict in Chiapas: Understanding the Modern Mayan World
by Worth H. Weller, Ben Weller (Photographer), Julia Weller (Photographer)
$16.95, Paperback, March 1, 2000
Rebellion in Chiapas : An Historical Reader
by John Womack (Editor)
$14.36, Paperback , March 1999
Voices from Exile : Violence and Survival in Modern Maya History
by Victor Montejo
$18.17, Hardcover, October 1999
©Copyright 1997-2000 Jeeni Criscenzo