Chiapas Election Analysis

From: Alberto M. Giordano <> To:
Subject: text of our Chiapas post-election analysis

The Day After: August 21, 2000
What does the defeat of the PRI mean for the Peace Process and the Narco Trade?

By Al Giordano
The Narco News Bulletin

One month after the electoral defeat of Mexico's ruling PRI party in on a national scale, the PRI has now been trounced in the conflict-torn state of Chiapas.

It would be naive and oversimplistic, though, to assume that these back-to-back elections will bring peace to Chiapas or end the state's role as a key cocaine trafficking trampoline from South America to US consumers.

The election of Pablo Salazar removes the gang of narco-governor Roberto Albores Guillen from power in a few months. This can only be helpful to the peace process.

But the governor of Chiapas does not have any control over the Mexican Armed Forces, today with 70,000 troops surrounding and harrassing the indigenous communities of the highlands and the jungle.

The earliest signal from Salazar will come after he takes office in his appointments for state attorney general and police agency commanders, and whether he immediately redirects them from harrassing the Zapatistas to disarming the violent paramilitary organizations that are paid by the large landowners and also by the narco, which in many cases are the same individuals.

Also an early indication will come in whether Salazar orders the release of more than 100 Zapatista political prisoners from the Cerro Hueco penitentiary and other state prison facilities.

But beyond these very important moves, Salazar's ability to end the conflict will be limited by the more important role that will be played by the new federal regime.

Everything will depend upon whether the incoming administration of president-elect Vicente Fox, who takes office on December 1, keeps the Fox promise to comply with the San Andre's Peace Accords, signed by the Mexican government and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in 1996.

The war in Chiapas has continued only because the federal government, after signing the treaty, broke it almost immediately, and has continued to place the Zapatista base communities under daily siege of threat, violence, economic pillage and displacement by paramilitaries who act with state-protected impunity.

The administration of PRI President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leo'n signed the peace accords, which guaranteed autonomy for all of Mexico's 56 indigenous ethnic groups.

But after signing the agreement, the government wanted to renegotiate: Of particular concern was that the San Andre's Accords returned control of the land to indigenous communities.

US and foreign investors, as well as top Mexican business magnates, and the Mexican Armed Forces, oppose the return of indigenous lands. They dishonestly equate "autonomy" (in the United States it is called "home rule") with "seccession" in their insincere excuses not to give up on 500 years of colonialism over Chiapas and Indigenous communities in all Ame'rica.

First, because these lands, not only in Chiapas, but throughout the country, sit atop of vast petroleum reserves, as well as mines of gold, silver and other elements.

Second, in the case of the Mexican Armed Forces, its control over key lands in Chiapas -- Mexico's southernmost state with a long jungle border with Guatemala -- have given the Army the largest piece of control over drug trafficking in the region. This was documented in our nine-part series on the drug war in Chiapas.

The Zapatista base communities reject drug and alcohol use or trafficking in their communities.

And thus, the compliance or non-compliance with the San Andre's Peace Accords places hundreds of millions of dollars at stake for vested interests, especially the narco.

Enter Vicente Fox

President-elect Vicente Fox said during his campaign that he would comply with the San Andre's Agreements, and that he could solve the Chiapas problem "in 15 minutes."

Public opinion polls showed that the issue of the San Andre's Peace Accords dwarfed all other policy issues in the breadth of support by all sectors of Mexican society.

Indeed, if come December 1, Congress finally approves the Agreements in the form that they were agreed to, and if Fox signs the legislation, AND if Fox withdraws the armed forces from Chiapas (for this he would not need Congressional approval), there would be, for the first time in six years, grand possibilities for peace.

But since his election, Fox and his supporters have begun to hedge on this promise and to play public relations games that suggest another agenda is underway.

Fox, his aides, and his key allies in the Mexican and US press corps, have begun an all-out campaign to pressure and isolate the Zapatistas, demanding talks before Fox takes office in December.

This is entirely disingenuous. They, and the world, know that the Zapatistas will not come to the bargaining table until the first agreements they negotiated are honored. Why negotiate with a government that has not kept the prior agreement? And why make public calls for talks that the Fox team knows will not happen until deeds are done to keep the past promises of state.

Fox transition team members have publicly stated that they are already in contact "through channels" with Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos. One even said that it was Marcos who secretly contacted them. The Fox team quickly had to correct its incredible statements and admit that it does not have, and never did have, such communication with Marcos nor with the Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee of the Zapatistas.

Marcos and the Zapatistas have guarded silence. They are waiting for compliance with the San Andre's agreements.

In recent weeks, journalists and "intellectuals" allied with Fox -- many who have always attacked the Zapatistas ever since the indigenous uprising began on January 1, 1994 -- have issued harsh demands that the Zapatistas negotiate with Fox before he takes office.

Many of these "intellectuals" (especially those who haunt the pages of the weekly Proceso magazine) have predicted the "disappearance" of the Zapatista rebel army if the Alliance candidate Pablo Salazar wins in Chiapas.

Salazar just won yesterday's election. But the predictions of the demise of Zapatismo are very premature and constitute either wishful thinking or insincerity on the part of the prognosticators. The use of the word "disappearance" by "intellectuals" Jean Meyer and Carlos Tello in recent days has nefarious connotations, as Rosario Ibarra (whose son was "disappeared" by the Mexican government) pointed out this week in her El Universal column.

Other Fox-allied journalists have suggested that because the Marcos communique' on the presidential elections last June 19 rejected the pro-Fox concept of "the useful vote" and affirmed that the Zapatistas considered Left wing candidate Cuauhte'moc Ca'rdenas as "a member of the Left," that Fox must now rethink his position in favor of the Peace Accords, because "Marcos endorsed Ca'rdenas."

This is not only a distortion of Marcos' statement (translated to English by Narco News), but it also reflects a distinctly PRI attitude to "punish all who did not support us." That attitude marks a very dangerous game for Fox and his troops: he was elected not because he was Vicente Fox. He was elected because he was not the PRI. If he and his supporters continue to act like the PRI with "revenge politics" against Marcos and the Zapatistas, they will only provoke vast sectors of Civil Society, including many who voted for Fox, to take to the streets and reaffirm the support for the Zapatistas and the San Andre's accords. In their efforts to isolate the Zapatistas, they will end up isolating themselves.

We mark a gentler and respectful disagreement with Carlos Rami'rez, friend to Narco News, who in his nationally syndicated column, Indicador Poli'tico, seems to take Fox on his word. He has written that the election of Fox has already answered the Zapatistas' main demand: fall of the Party of the State. And he writes that the Zapatistas must choose whether they will accept their own victory or increase their demands to continue as a belligerent guerrilla force. He takes it as a given that the San Andre's accords will be enacted.

As much as we respect Carlos Rami'rez, we are not as optimistic based on the early signals from Fox during the transition. The question of fine print -- whether the San Andre's agreements will be enacted as signed or whether key points such as autonomous control over land use will be shelved in favor of petroleum, mining, hardwood and other corporate interests -- is yet to be seen.

And the result will not be known, cannot be known, until after December 1.

Rami'rez is enthusiastic about the transition, which he defends on many fronts, and he is one of Mexico's sharpest political observers. He must also know that Fox's words do not impress the Zapatistas. How could they after so many betrayals by politicians of all three of Mexico's major political parties? The Zapatistas are waiting for deeds.

Rami'rez also makes an observation that we do share: that the election of Salazar in Chiapas, a former PRI senator who ran with the support of eight opposition parties including Fox's PAN and the left wing PRD, puts the PRD back into the Chiapas game. And it is entirely likely that through a Salazar state administration, the PRD may try to usurp the singular role of the Zapatistas as the force with whom Fox must negotiate. This would be a grave error by the PRD that, in the end, would serve to divorce it from many of its social bases who are frankly closer to the Zapatistas than to any political party. Nobody can replace the role of the Zapatistas in this process.

Here at The Narco News Bulletin, we are largely dedicated to watching Washington and US economic powers in their continued efforts to use the drug war as a destabilizer of democracy and a pretext for foreign takeover of Mexican and all Ame'rican natural resources.

And we see intense pressures from Washington, Houston and Wall Street, as well as major corporate media like the New York Times, upon Fox that would be very difficult for any Latin Ame'rican leader to resist.

We don't believe that Washington wishes to allow Fox to return control of indigenous lands to Mexico's indigenous people: this would affect US "interests" in those lands adversely, and set an historic precedent for all Ame'rica that will strengthen similar autonomy movements throughout the hemisphere.

Rami'rez has also painted the possible scenario of the "ETA-ization" of the Chiapas conflict (comparing it to the history of the Basque region ETA guerrilla campaign against Spanish rule which has swiftly re-heated in recent months with near daily bombings and assassination attempts). In this scenario, the Chiapas guerrilla campaign would go national and more violent.

Again, perhaps because we are looking from the outside in, we view Spain's president Aznar as primarily responsible -- and indeed, stoking the fires -- of the new wave of violence in the Basque country. Aznar, like Colombian President Pastrana, strongly allied with US policy toward Latin America, is fueling the violence in Basque country so as to have a pretext for a more Franco-style strong-fisted rule of his country: the demonization of the guerrilla and its citizen supporters as a provocation of fascist reaction by the upper and upper-middle classes. Narco News just spent three weeks reporting from within one of the autonomous regions of Spain. We view Aznar's game as an extension of the dictator Franco's. We hope, for the sake of our Ame'rica, it will not be Fox's nor Washington's approach in Mexico.

The ETA-ization of the Chiapas conflict could only happen with Fox's cynical consent and manipulation.

Thus, Fox will define his six-year presidency based on this single issue: Does he comply with the San Andre's Peace Accords, as signed, or not?

Fox and the Narco

There is another spectre looming over the fate of Chiapas and of the Fox presidency: the narco.

Within days of his July 2nd election victory, Fox gave some very worrisome signals on this front.

On Friday, July 7th, as the whole world was lined up to meet with the conquering politician, he did grant a meeting to former US Ambassador James Jones, now a partner in the Washington law-and-lobbying firm of Mannatt-Phelps. The disturbing aspect of Jones' access to Fox is not only based on the fact that Mannatt-Phelps founder, US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Charles Mannatt, is implicated in the narco-money trail in the United States (see our story-of-the-month for May 2000 which was published, in Spanish, in La Crisis).

It is also based on Jones' own activities. Beyond his multi-national role with Mannatt-Phelps, Jones is a director of Transportacio'n Mari'tima Mexicana (TMM), a huge shipping firm, now deep into the railroad industry, which has been implicated by the US Customs service in drug trafficking on multiple occassions. There is much public information that links the notorious Hank family of Mexico to the TMM firm (the firm denies Hank involvement in the present, but has never spoken to the documented role of the Hank family in establishing and building the company). And there is a US Customs report that the former chief of the Jua'rez Cartel, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, was the hidden investor behind Jones' TMM.

In fact, Fox met with Jones throughout the years leading to his candidacy, at least three times in the United States.

That Fox continues to meet with Jones is a disturbing fact that counters Fox's pledges to rid the Mexican state of narco-corruption (pledges made by every PRI candidate in history, too; excuse us if we're not overwhelmed by the promises of politicians).

Then, within hours of his meeting with Jones in Mexico City, Fox headed for his first post-election vacation on the island of Punta Pajaros, property of BANAMEX owner Roberto Herna'ndez Rami'rez: widely viewed across the Yucata'n peninsula as a narco-trafficker. In fact, the common people call his island "The Coca Peninsula." Narco News has published the photos by the daily Por Esto! of the narco-activity in the precise place where Fox was a guest, along with many links to related facts and information.

This, too, concerns us. What message was Fox sending by going to the Coca Peninsula with Herna'ndez? (And, Proceso reports, Zedillo met him there, too.) Six more years of impunity for the narco-banker, who was a prep school buddy of Fox?

Then there is the public game of Fox regarding narco-policy, equally disheartening.

Fox has, equal to the PRI government, crusaded publicly against the US certification process of other countries in the drug war. US press reports of this activity neglect to mention that this involves no change from the PRI's own policy. Just a few months ago, Fox's PRI opponent, Francisco Labastida, said of certification, "We don't accept it. We don't ask for it." Labastida, Zedillo, Mexican foreign minister Rosario Green, always crusaded against the certification process. And in recent years, Clinton, Reno, drug czar McCaffrey and other US administration officials have agreed that the certification process should be ended. But the US Congress is not about to cede this power to the White House: it's a cynical political show on both sides of the border.

Fox has also received much press in the US when one of his two transitional aids reponsible for criminal justice issues, Senator Francisco Molina Ruiz, said that Fox would take the Armed Forces out of drug enforcement.

This is a complex issue: In Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero, where the Armed Forces are actively involved in trafficking drugs, this would be a healthy maneuver.

But in the Northern border states, where the Attorney General's office and police agencies manage the drug trade, this move would give a state monopoly to those agencies, free of interference by the Armed Forces, which, in that region, has served as the only balancing force to counter and capture much corrupt drug activity.

And the effect on the Carribean, and the Yucata'n peninsula in particular, where the Armed Forces have been the only official counter-weight to reign in the cocaine trafficking operations on the BANAMEX owner's properties there, remains to be seen.

Beyond that, there is institutional resistance within the Mexican Armed Forces to give up its piece of narco-enforcement and narco-trafficking. Last week, during his speech before the highest ranking leaders of the Mexican Armed Forces, a leading member of the Colegio Militar said that drug enforcement is "a matter of national security" and therefore the military must continue to play its role in enforcing the drug laws. This was a shot across the bow: a warning that the military will not exit from its powerful role in narco-enforcement quietly or easily. Again, this reform would require an act of Congress, where the Armed Forces also has influence. So the Fox transition team is floating trial balloons for publicity purposes, announcing changes it is unlikely to make.

The US press coverage of this statement by a transition aid was so overblown that even a US drug reform internet newsletter reported on August 11th that Fox "wisely" had already taken the military out of drug enforcement (the writer seemed unaware that Fox is not yet president and has thus done nothing. Worse, after informed of the error, no correction was offered in the following week's newsletter). The heavy lifting on covering the drug war in Latin America is again left to Narco News.

How to explain the overly-rosy view of Fox from some quarters? First, within Mexico, people were really tired of the PRI. Thus Fox enjoys much good will for having defeated the PRI and these sorts of political honeymoons are normal in politics, especially before the new president takes the helm and starts enacting policy.

But within the foreign press, something more cynical is at play: it's a game of ideology and vested interest. Because Fox is more neoliberal in his free trade economic vision than even the PRI was in recent years, the applause is unquestioning. The benefit of the doubt offered has been unworthy of serious journalistic practice.

A leading libertarian think tank in Washington even threw its pro-drug policy reform position out the window to declare that the election of Fox was "the best thing" that could happen to Mexico. That Fox, during the campaign, called for "re-penalization" of individual drug use and a Guiliani style policy of "zero tolerance," were conveniently ignored by that think tank. We urge them to do more thinking and less tanking.

Fox is causing an identity crisis in certain narrow sectors -- the most conservative, ideologically -- of the drug policy reform movement which, on the one hand, see the issue only through the lens of "economic libertarianism" (government hands-off of the individual and the multinational corporation alike), and, on the other hand, their pro-capitalist economic stances take priority over the pro-drug reform positions.

We trust that much of this will shake out over time, especially after December 1st. But our experience-formed view about political transitions is that it is a grave error to give a new leader the blind benefit of the doubt simply because he defeated a disgraced old leader. In politics, what works is to keep the pressure up.

And the "focos rojos," the red warning lights, offered by Fox's meeting with former Ambassador Jones, by his vacation on the Cocaine Peninsula of the BANAMEX owner, by the effort of the Fox allies to isolate and "disappear" (their word) the indigenous Zapatista movement, and by the cynical Fox-to-McCaffrey-to-the-US-media PR game played on drug policy reform, do not bode well for the beginning of the Fox presidency.

If we're wron
g in this analysis, we will be the first to say so: but only in response to deeds, not mere words.

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