|Letter to The Economist
Jan 5, 1998
by John W. Warnock
The Economist (Globe and Mail January 5, 1998) is far off the mark on the crisis in Chiapas, Mexico. From the very beginning, President Ernesto Zedillo has rejected a peaceful solution which offered any justice to the poor of that beleaguered state. The original Zapatista uprising was a protest against the harsh policies of neoliberalism and NAFTA. The coffee marketing board had been abolished and prices fell dramatically. Almost all of the programs designed to provide assistance to poor people had been abolished or drastically cut. And NAFTA promised to eliminate state price supports for maize and beans, the basic means of livihood for Mexican peasants.
Since then things have gotten worse. The average Mexican wage is 73 percent lower in real terms than it was ten years ago. In 1987 the minimum wage could purchase 94 percent of the basic consumer basket of goods and services used to measure the poverty rate; today it will buy only 25 percent. On January 1, 1998 the Zedillo administration raised the average minimum wage from U.S.$2.80 to U.S.$3.40 per day. That increase is equivalent to the price of one litre of milk. And the cost of public transportation was raised at the same time. Since the December 1994 devaluation, the government of Mexico has received around $38 billion in bailout money from the U.S. government and the International Monetary Fund. But $40 billion has been given to the major banks to cover their bad loans.
The banks in Mexico are all owned by the very rich. Nothing has gone to the poor. In February 1995, President Zedillo chose to solve the "Chiapas problem" by launching a military attack. He backed down in response to domestic and international criticism. Negotiations began with the Zapatistas, and the San Andreas Accords were signed in February 1996. But President Zedillo has refused to implement them. Last July I toured Chiapas. It is an occupied country. Everywhere there is the Chiapas state security forces in their blue uniforms. It is a state army. There are thousands of federal troops in Chiapas on the order of President Zedillo. Both have been arming, aiding and even directly assisting the paramilitary groups. No federal soldier has ever been charged for rape and murder.
The low intensity war on the poor of Chiapas has always been directed by the federal government. As President Zedillo stated this past December: "I prefer to go into history as a repressor before implementing the [San Andres] agreements with the EZLN."
John W. Warnock