Analysis of the History of the Situation in Chiapas

The following is an important analysis and presentation of the history behind the current violence in Chiapas. It is notable in that it presents the cooperative economic and political associations of the Indigenous people, and the Indigenous Autonomy movement, and NOT the Zapatis, as the true principal target of the Mexican government and the paramilitaries.

For Luisa Campuzano, They, with a View of the Counterrevolution
Anna Maria Garza, Rosalva Aida Hernandez. Translated by Rosalva Bermudez-Ballin

San Pedro Chenalho is not an isolated case, but part of a larger strategy that affects the Chol, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Tojabal and the mestizo population in Chiapas. In each case, various inter and intracommunitarian differences have been manipulated as a part of counterinsurgency project to diminish Zapatismo's social base. But, besides understanding the origin and the outcome of this tragic episode from a historical perspective, in order to understand that this violence is not "natural among the natives", we must also incorporate the gender perspective in order to understand the fury against women as an essential and specific aspect of the context of this war.

It is not an accident that the majority of the people killed on the 22nd of December in Acteal were women, nor is it an accident that sexual violation was used constantly by paramilitary groups in order to spread terror in the communities that sympathize with the EZLN, because--as it was noticed before and after the killing--the participation of women and their important role as Zapatista resistance have disrupted the old communitarian power structure. [Image (which can be seen in in the internet, translator's note)] Among the historical characteristics that distinguish San Pedro, Chenalho, is to have been the most politicized and the less traditionalist of all of the Highlands during the cardenismo years, when efforts were made to limit the old power of local landholders to transform their estates into communal properties and ejidos. It is during this time that a type of symbiosis between the indigenous elite and the party, which was to become the contemporary PRI, was established.

In the fifties, with the arrival of indigenismo to Chiapas, this indigenous elite leaned to the side of a new "class" formed by promoters and bilingual teachers. Together with the persecution of independent groups and the control over the municipal power, the present day cacicazgos were consolidated. Chenalho is also a pioneer insofar as the introduction of oppositional parties, particularly the first Socialist Workers Party, later the Cardenista Front of National Reconstruction, now the "Cardenist". Under this influence, workers' unions were born: Union de Uniones and the coffee growers communities Majomut, who have representation in almost half of the municipality. But the corruption of the representatives caused a massive exodus. Some migrate to SOCAMA, which is related to the PRI, and others go to the Indigenous Organization of the Chiapas Highlands (ORIACH), which is closer to the PRD.

With the Zapatista uprising this changes radically again, and in the 1996 elections, Amado Avendao, under the PRD registry, has a sweeping victory and leaves the railroad party with an insignificant representation.

Post 1994: The Booming of Autonomy
Many of the clues that help us understand the fury behind the Acteal killings, and the governmental distortions in search of partial and cosmetic solutions to the San Pedrans' conflict can be found in the existence of the autonomous municipality of Polho.

Ever since the 1994 uprising, the priista authorities in 26 chiapan town halls have been removed from office by the townspeople. Since 1996, 19 autonomous municipalities have emerged, among them the one in San Pedro Chenalho.

This municipality was created in April 1996, when Javier Ruiz Hernandez, a PRD representative was elected president by 33 communities and neighborhoods in the municipality, through an internal community assembly election, which is the normative traditional system. This normative system is in force since the decade of the thirties, when a candidate of the only party was first elected in the assembly. The ballot box process became just a form of ratification. The autonomous President, Javier Hernandez, was elected in this manner and the seat of government was placed in Polho, before the formal elections controlled by the PRI took place. This is the justification used by the electoral authorities for not recognizing the municipality that declared itself autonomous. What would have happened had the state authorities recognized the municipal government that emerged from the assembly, and had they not imposed their PRI candidate?

It is impossible to conjecture. What is factual is that the Acteal massacre was one more in a series of aggressions to the communities located within the territory that encompasses the autonomous municipality of Polho. Independently of the fact that these attacks may be considered as provocations so that the bases of support of the EZLN break the truce that was declared within the frame of the Law of Dialogue and Conciliation, they also constitute a direct attack to the intentions of establishing autonomous regions.

The animosity to autonomous projects that might be able to show viability is evident in the series of events following the Acteal massacre. After the 22nd of December, the Mexican army, for no apparent reason, entered other autonomous municipalities: Amparo Agua Tinta, the autonomous municipality of San Pedro Michoacan, Las Margaritas; Morelia, head of the autonomous municipality17 de noviembre in Altamirano; Galeana, head of the autonomous municipality Francisco Gomez, Ocosingo. Official Declarations as well as those by the most conservative sector of the chiapan Catholic Church, represented by the bishop of Tapachula, Felipe Arizmendi, pointed to the autonomous councils as responsible for the divisions in the communities. They have asked for the disappearance of what they call "parallel governments."

It is not surprising that the federal government took advantage of the opportunity to attack the autonomic projects if we take into consideration that the demand for autonomy was the medullar point to the governmental rejection of the San Andres Accords. After the unilateral rejection, on the part of president Zedillo to the COCOPA proposal, there was a strong and well-articulated campaign of disinformation surrounding the issue of autonomy. This campaign continued and continues to date while in many indigenous communities autonomy was applied in deeds (and not theory, translator's addition).

Why kill the Abejas?
Many communication media presented the massacred population of Acteal as a base of support of the Zapatistas. In fact, the majority belonged to the Abejas organization, which defined itself from its foundation, as a section of civil society. They have maintained their autonomy in regards to the EZLN leadership and have defined their communities as neutral territory. This organization was founded two years before the Zapatista uprising, and played an important role in what called itself civil pacifist resistence, as they responded to many of the calls for mobilization by the EZLN. As the relations between the priistas and the Zapatistas polarized, the Abejas were pressured to define themselves in one or the other way, which turned them into a group vulnerable to paramilitary attacks. Likewise, their closeness to the San Cristobal Diocese turned them into an indirect medium by which to attack bishop Samuel Ruiz and his pastoral group.

The participation of women in the political arena, and the appearance of new organizing spaces for them has become a symbol of the threat that the "traditional power structures" must face if the Zapatista struggle advances. In many communities women meetings are perceived as "synonymous to Zapatista", for this reason they have been the object of harassment by local groups of power. The immediate response to the founding of the Abejas was the riotous rape in December, 1992 of the three wives of the founders of the group. From then on, the aggressions against women are constant. In 1997, several of them were kidnapped and forced to cook for the paramilitary groups, under the threat of killing their children if they refused to do it or if they tried to escape. During the Acteal killing, the murderers yelled: "kill the seed". By killing the women, they are trying to destroy the symbol of resistence.

Non Profit organization translating and distributing information in support of the work in defense of human rights. General Director: Roger Maldonado-Mexico Assistant Director: Susana Saravia (Anibarro) Director Spain: Darrin Wood

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