||Report on Chiapas by the Human Bean Company - 1/6/98
Companeras y companeros,
Although I understand that there is much BIG media coverage of recent events here in Chiapas, I thought my friends and neighbors at home might be interested in an "on the ground " report.
I've been in Chiapas since early December, starting out in San Cristobal, from where I now write this. From the 12th through the 26th, I went to a community in the lowlands as a human rights observer. My stay there was very peaceful, although this community is one of 5 "Aguascalientes" (hot water), or centers of civilian Zapatista activity. On Christmas Eve, 3 new campementistas brought the horrifying news of the massacre of 21 women (4 of them pregnant), 15 children (1 infant), and 9 men. These people were among the thousands (one figure I've heard is 8,800, another was 15,000) of the displaced in the highlands not far from San Cristobal. This attack was the first of its kind in the highlands, although terrorism by paramilitary groups has been not uncommon in the northern zone since the Zapatista uprising of 1 Jan, 1994. These facts are available to you in the major media, including the internet.
However, there are some false impressions being given, and these I would like to address here:
1) "The attack was a family feud that got out of hand."
Is it possible to trivialize such an event? Certainly, feuds and quarrels have existed in communities in the highlands for generations (no different from communities anywhere). But, the great majority of displacements have occurred since 1994, and the displaced, while not all Zapatista in their sympathies, are NOT aligned with the ruling PRI. The same is true of victims of other massacres.
2) "There are no paramilitary troops operating in Chiapas."
The attackers were well armed, uniformed, and trained. This was evident in the military tactics used in the slaughter. It was planned. This suggests that the federal army not only knew of their existence, but knew of their plan as well. One must ask: Who trained them, anyway?
3) "This is a religious conflict."
Nope. Both sides are Catholic.
4) "Public Security forces knew nothing of the attack."
They were stationed within earshot of the gun fire AND had been warned by a fleeing survivor. Still they did NOTHING.
5)"The perpetrators are under arrest and will be tried."
Yes, the men who pulled triggers, who slit open the bellies of pregnant women with machetes, who hunted down the wounded to be sure they were dead are being held. But, what about the "intellectual authors" of the crime?
6) "President Zedillo knew nothing of the plans."
Perhaps not. Then again, might he not delegate responsibility..might he not look the other way..might he not tacitly condone this expeditious if unsavory method of dealing with the pesky rebels who have the temerity to demand their rights under the constitution? And to give the lie to his pronouncements that Mexico is now a "first world" country?
When I said "on the ground", folks, I meant it..as in "in the mud." Here's my story:
Over the 1st of Jan holiday, I travelled to Oventic, another of the 5 centers of Zapatista support, about an hour and a half drive up into the mountains from San Cristobal. With an altitude of 6,300 feet, SC can be cold and raw on a grey damp day. Oventic was much worse. I had gone to meet up with a "Caravan of Hope", made up of of Chicanos and gringoes, Mexican artists and human rights workers, travelling in 4 school buses. The main project of the caravan was to continue work on the construction af a secondary school to serve students of the entire Zapatista territory. And, of course, to party or to mourn with the brave and desperate people who had so recently suffered such a devastating blow to their hope and confidence. Before my trip, I had an intellectual understanding of the conditions in which the "desplacados" were living. Now I have a body and heart and soul understanding. Let me start with body. It=A5s cold...way cold. The hard ground is coverd with slick mud..some places its just mud. The air is thick with mist..not rain exactly, but an atmosphere completely permeated with moisture. It is impossible to see very far, sometimes no more than 50 feet. The acccomodations have thick tar paper rooves, thatched sides, dirt floors. Cooking is done at open wood fires under a roof on poles, no walls, mud mud mud under foot.
That's at Oventic, folks, which is a "conference center." The displaced have NONE of this. No roof, no walls, no fire wood, no pots to cook in, no food to cook, no blankets, no plastic tarps, no shoes.
The communities in which they have taken refuge have nothing to spare...NOTHING. There is no way to get out of the mud, no way to dry out, no way to get warm. I lived my gringa version of this for 2 days, with down vest and sleeping bag, therma rest, boots and sox (which were completely soaked within 12 hours and stayed that way) and it was TOUGH.
The celebration was subdued, even tense. Many of the indigenous people left early on the 1st, the rest were gone by evening. This fiesta usually lasts 3 days. Around 6 am on the 1st, the caravaners were told to get up on the road, because the federal army was close by and there might be trouble. The caravan had created an obvious presence...2 days before, they had delivered 2 tons of aid to Polho, the commjunity to which the survivors of the Acteal massacre had fled, and had taken testimonies from them (I have read them and they are harrowing). They also gave press conferences there and backed the army out. But at dawn on the 1st, the trouble did not come. There were activities during the day, including some theatre pieces by the contingent from Mexico City and some terrific marimba music played by 3 masked Zapatistas. And there was dancing.. Indigenas, women, Chicanos, kids, Mexicans, men, gringos all together. The caravaners had an evening meal and were discussing future ways to help and the possibility of a march through SC the next day, when a journalist arrived from La Realiad, another of the Aguascalientes, to say that the army had been approaching and was threatening to invade all the Aguascalientes. She had come to warn us. Immediately after her announcement, one of the commanders of the FZLN (the Zapatista National Liberation Front or the frente) told us that the federales were very near and that we needed to evacuuate. We were to pack waht we could carry easily since we would have to travel fast. Within 20 minutes we were gathered in the meeting hall and divided into men's and women's groups. We waited for and hour or two, resting, dozing, while various radio reports came in. Then came our signal and we were off into the cold obscurity of the foggy night, holding a rope so as not to get lost, silent, using flashlights intermittently and dimmed by our hands. We made our way along the paved road for perhaps half an hour during which time a few indigenous women with babies and bundles joined us. Then we dropped the ropes and started straight up the hill side on a mud trail. It was tough going..slipping and sliding on frozen feet, going blindly in fear. There was an elderly Mexican woman with us I'd guess 70 or 75 years old, walking with a cane, accompanied by 2 men, her belongings carried by the frente
Another woman passed out and had to be revived and then to wait to walk on at the end of the line (probably 160 of us). Some of us sank up to our knees in mud, some had to have their packs carried. After another hour and a half, we came to a small settlement of mud houses.
We rested briefly. No one knew if we would need to go on or have to spend the night huddled together outside under our plastic tarps. As it turned out, several households took us in. 36 women piled into a mud walled, dirt floored house where we shared what body heat we had and slept as best we could. The women and children on the 2 wooden beds in the corners blinked at us and accepted our presence wordlessly. I feel great gratitude for their generosity and for a still night under a roof out of the weather. In the morning, radio contact let us know it was safe to return. We left behind our cans of tuna and other food and whatever clothes and supplies we could do without. Our return was orderly and quiet, too, although suffused with a relief that bordered on joy.
The frente commanders were magnificent. I felt protected, cared for, confident in their decisions. I don't know that they saved my life, or my health, or my passport, but I know that they would have.
The leaders' hands were mutilated ..2 fingers missing on one hand, a thumb and finger on the other. Rumor has it that he was once part of the Zapatista army, was captured and tortured for months. Now his activities are with the frente. His military training and that of the others remains, however. These guys know the mountains and they know leadership. They have great presence. They are my heroes.
We were able to return to SC that day, passing a military reten on the way. They did not stop us. I left the caravan to their march and thawed out at a friendly hotel.
The next day, I heard that the military had occupied La Realidad that morning. I've since heard that indigenous people there have been tortured as they are questioned as to the whereabouts of Marcos. And this morning, Morelia, an Aguascalientes, was invaded.
There is NO excuse for this. There is no excuse for the army's presence in Acteal, where they have set up camp by the only water tap, so that people are prevented from drawing water. Another unfortunate possible result of all the military activity may be that the borders of Chiapas will be closed to foreigners as "unsafe for travel". Then there will be no one to observe and to carry word out about future atrocities.
Folks, while you sit reading this, people not much different than you and me, people with children and families and friends for whom they want to provide, are huddled in the mud, mourning their dead, hoping they'll survive the next night, the next attack. I can walk away, you can put down this paper and have a nice hot cup of coffee, probably grown here. These people, not so very differnt from you and me, can't do this. I urge you, even at the cost of some inconvenience to yourself, to contact the Mexican Embassy, your state representatives, your president and tell them that the slaughter, torture, and displacement of innocent people is ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE. The militarization of Chiapas and governmental support for paramilitaries is unacceptable. Tell them that you will withdraw all your support (your purchases, your tourism, your votes) unless it ends NOW. Do this NOW before it gets worse. The Peace and Justice Center should be able to help you with addresses and phone numbers.
The Human Bean Company
218 S. Broadway
Denver, CO 80209
phone/fax (303) 871 9464
Subject: Report on Chiapas by the Human Bean Company
Date: Tuesday, January 06, 1998 6:44 AM
This report was prepared in order to elaborate on the attempt by the Human
Bean Company to engage in fair trade with the indigenous peoples of Chiapas
and the events and consequences of doing so.
by Kerry Appel, Director
January 6, 1998
The drive to Chiapas was more than difficult. We had left Denver on December 15th, stopped in Guadalajara to videotape a friends wedding, and arrived at the state of Oaxaca on December 22, 1997. We had experienced many breakdowns in my 1971 Volkswagen bus nicknamed the "Relampago Rojo" or "Red Lightning" and now we had to deal with the hurricane damaged roads in Oaxaca. Almost every bridge was destroyed and we had to take detours around all of them as well as around the long stretches of highway that were washed out.
**** December 22, 1997, Acteal, Chiapas, a Tzotzil Indian village where the coffee for the Human Bean Company is grown, "...as women and children fled down the steep mountain path towards the valley, armed men shot them from behind...Some who reached the underbrush by the river below were discovered by the assassins when the babies cries gave them away...The assassins cut open the stomach of a young pregnant woman, tore her unborn baby out and cut it up. A baby less that one year old survived because her mother covered her with her own body and received all the bullets. One baby was shot in the head at close range...It was not possible to identify the bodies torn to pieces by machetes. The Red Cross found many of the bodies hacked in pieces and thrown in the underbrush in an attempt to hide the immensity of the crime..."
"...The massacre went on for almost five hours on that black December 22,
1997 while dozens of armed civil guards stood on the road above and did
nothing...there are still three people missing from the group of 300
refugees that were attacked by men in black, with red masks...A physician
in one hospital in San Cristobal de las Casas said he had never seen such
big bullet holes. "They looked as though something had exploded inside the
body". "Anti personnel" bullets were found at the scene that do explode on
impact. The guns have been identified as M 16s, used exclusively by the
Mexican Army." (The text in quotes above was written by Maria .
Her last name is blacked out to protect her from the Mexican government)
Note: Don't those M 16s come from the United States? Aren't they supposed
to be used to fight drug trafficking?
We made it through Oaxaca in spite of the breakdowns and the damaged roads
and arrived in Chiapas on December 23rd where the motor on the Relampago
Rojo gave up the ghost. It died in a little Tzotzil village only 15 miles
from our destination of San Cristobal de las Casas. It was nighttime and
we had little choice but to make a deal with a Tzotzil mechanic to replace
the engine. We left the bus there and continued the next day, Christmas
Eve, into San Cristobal where we heard the news. Forty five of our coffee
producers had been massacred and as many as 5,000 were refugees in the
Tzotzil community of Polho.
I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas sick in bed. My symptoms were those of
a fever but I believe it was also due to grief and despair.
At this point I'm going to say that I'm going to skip most of the
statistical details of some reports. There are plenty of reports filled
with statistics. I'm also not going to fill this report with references
and sources. You can either believe me or not. The governments and the
mainstream media try to control the flow of all information that you
receive. I don't care about them nor do I care for them. They are
involved in the process of this low intensity war that is being waged
against the indigenous peoples in Chiapas for their own profit motives
**** December 25th, Christmas, Acteal. "When the procession arrived at the
small hamlet of Acteal in the highlands of Chiapas at 8:00 in the morning,
Maya men were digging the first of two 50 foot long graves...The men dug as
other Mayas carried the coffins on their backs from the trucks on the road
down the steep, rough, mountain path , through coffee trees to the area
that was cleared and carefully smoothed to receive the dead with dignity.
They dug as 15 small, white coffins were carefully placed side by side
before Don Samuel (Bishop Samuel Ruiz who was there to bless the bodies).
They dug as 21 more coffins were carried down and placed beside those of
the children, and then 9 more coffins holding the men were placed beside
those of the women..."
"The men dug as the bishop left. They were digging at 12:30 when I climbed
the steep, mountain path to my truck and left with a truck full of Mexican
and foreign supporters of the Mayan struggle for Peace and Justice with
Dignity for all the poor of the world."
"We left the men digging. We left the survivors to their grief. We left
the "People of Corn" to bury their dead according to the ancient Mayan
traditions. We left them to return their dead to the sacred ground, the
same ground that soaked up their blood three days earlier." (Maria
I talked to the president of the indigenous coffee producers of Chenalho
which is the municipality where the massacre occurred. I was told that
there was no coffee available for me to buy. The same Mexican government
backed paramilitary groups that had committed the massacre with the
assistance of the Mexican government were now stealing the coffee of the
dead and the refugees to sell it and buy more guns to use against the
people. The Mexican Public Security Police were protecting the murderers
and the thieves.
We went to Chenlho and were stopped by these same Public Security Police at
a roadblock. When they came to the window of my bus (I had a new engine
now and the Relampago Rojo was alive again) they saw that I was videotaping
them and they hid their faces in shame and waved me on. We continued to
Polho, the site where the refugees from the death squads were. Since the
national and international press was there the Mexican Army and the
Judicial Police and the Public Security Police were using the opportunity
to act as if they were protecting the refugees but when the press wasn't
looking they roamed the refugee camps intimidating the survivors with guns
and dogs. When a woman from the civil society questioned there actions
they struck her with the butt of a gun.
Though the Mexican government could afford the presence of thousands of
soldiers for the press in order to look as if they were trying to protect
the people, they couldn't afford to give the refugees potable water, food
of medicine. Yesterday a baby died there of pneumonia without any medicine
while thousands of soldiers and police stood around with machine guns and
huge banners that claimed that they were doing "social labor".
We went on to Acteal where there was a mass going on for the dead. On the
way to Acteal we passed the coffee processing plant where our coffee for
the Human Bean Company is processed. It was occupied by the Mexican Army.
In Acteal we stood in solidarity with the survivors and we walked around
the site of the massacre. There were still shoes on the ground that had
come of the feet of the people as they were being murdered. There was a
small cave at the head of the ravine where the massacre took place. This
opening to this cave was only about one and a half feet high. I was told
that some women and children had crawled into this cave in terror to escape
the slaughter but that members of the paramilitary group had crawled in
the cave after them and killed them. We walked through a tiny, rough
church which was little more than a shack and counted 22 bullet holes in
This is the "drug war". This is what the arms and weapons that the United
States is supplying to allegedly "fight drugs" is being used for. The only
crime of the dead and the refugees and indigenous people who are being
occupied by 60,000 Mexican Federal Army troops is that they won't give up
their customs and their culture at the orders of the United States and
For nearly four years I have been traveling regularly to Chiapas. I have
been in the sites where this dirty war is being carried out. I have seen
the suffering of the indigenous people there. I have learned from the
dignity and the hope and the determination of the members of the Zapatista
National Liberation Army as they struggle for indigenous rights and
culture, justice, democracy and dignity. I have admired them as I have
watched this small group of poor Mayan people hold up the efforts of the US
and Mexican governments to exterminate them as indigenous peoples. Tens of
thousands of members of international civil society have done what they can
to be in solidarity with the goals and objectives of this small group of
rebels with dignity. I have watched and documented as the indigenous
peoples of Chiapas spoke the truth and always kept their word while the
Mexican and US governments have waged a campaign of lies and deceit and
murder. And I have watched an read the mainstream media of the US and
Mexico as they play their roles in this destruction of indigenous peoples
with their omissions of the truth and their broadcasting and printing of
the lies of the governments and the corporations.
I recall now the statements that have been made to me by members of the
press and the United States government.
Rick Salazar, Channel 4 (at that time in 1994), Denver, Colorado, "I don't
think that our producers would be interested in your footage of Chiapas
Kerry. We have a business relationship with a Mexican government TV
station and we wouldn't want to jeopardize our business relationship."
Kerry, "Are you telling me that the truth of what you show us is influenced
by your business relationships?"
Rick, "I'm afraid so."
Henry Solano, US District Attorney, State of Colorado, (When I asked him if
it was true that the US had required Mexico to change their Constitution to
end the indigenous land system so that US corporations could buy their
land), "Yes, that's true Kerry. We're going to take their land but
they're not making it productive and someone has to make it productive.
But they'll be better of in the long run because we'll build factories and
give them jobs."
What he is referring to is the "Mega-Project of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec"
for one thing. The United States, Europe and Japan have devised a plan to
move the indigenous people and peasants off their land in the south of
Mexico in order to build ports and railroads across the isthmus, kind of
like a Panama Canal. The US has already made deals with the Mexican
government for the oil, uranium, wood, fishing, railroads, ports,
hydro-electricity and the other resources that are currently on Indian land
and had Mexico change their laws to allow these deals to be "legal". In
order for international public opinion to not be negative toward the
corporations they decided to make the Indians "partners". The Indians
would give up their land and rights to the resources and the corporations
would give them jobs in return.
He doesn't understand that indigenous people don't necessarily want to
trade their land and culture for a job in a factory. Besides, nobody asked
them their opinion.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell, American Indian US Senator from Colorado, "As you
know Kerry, I am indigenous myself and I'm doing all that I can for the
indigenous peoples of Chiapas."
When I tried to find out what he was doing his aide told me that Ben was
testifying on committees and panels that dealt with the issue. When I
pressed him for a list of these committees and panels he admitted that
there were none and that Ben wasn't actually doing anything that he knew of
for the indigenous peoples of Chiapas.
Later, Ben's assistant, Rita, asked me why I was picking on Ben. "He
hasn't done anything worse that the rest of the elected officials." (This
in regard to the US exploitation of the indigenous peoples of Chiapas and
the rest of Mexico)
Finally Ben Campbell sent me a letter telling me to stay out of Chiapas and
leave it to the "proper authorities to fix the problem of Mexico's impunity
in regard to human rights violations at the proper time and in the proper
I wonder when it will be the "proper time and manner" for Ben Nighthorse
Campbell. The truth is it will never be the proper time and manner for the
governments or the multi-national corporations to be interested in justice.
It's not their job any more if it ever was. Maximum profit is the only
thing that has validity to them. The blood of the 45 Tzotziles massacred on
December 22, 1998 is on their hands as well as on ours. It is the price
they have to pay for our greed.
This is the racist and arrogant philosophy of "Manifest Destiny".
Holger Jensen, International editor for the Rocky Mountain News told my
friend Jeff that, "Kerry is crazy. He can't make a difference. Not one US
citizen would pay a dime more for a hamburger to save a million Indians".
Now is the time for us to tell them and to show them that they are wrong.
I don't believe that they are right that people don't care about justice
for indigenous people . I don't believe that people would knowingly accept
the extermination of indigenous peoples. But we are going to find out very
The US government and the corporations are getting impatient to end this
rebellion of indigenous peoples. They feel that they've been successful in
undermining international support for the Mayan people and they've been
working hard for the last two years to make it appear that the rebellion is
just a local conflict. The Mexican army commanders have been traveling to
Ft. Benning, Georgia since 1994 to learn counter-insurgency tactics at the
"School of the Americas" also know as the "School of Assassins".
The tactics learned there are now being used against the people of Chiapas.
The massacre of these 45 unarmed men, women and children is just the
beginning a new level of violence against the civil population.
It is critical for us to make a stand now. This is the end of the second
millennium. This is the beginning of "the next 500 years" for the
indigenous peoples in the Americas. We have all been made to be
participants in "the new Indian wars" by what we buy, or by what we watch
on TV, or by what we say or don't say in regard to these massacres and
other human rights violations. Everything about our current social and
economic and political systems makes us participants in the dirty wars that
the US and other governments wage either by active participation based on
the distorted information presented to us or merely by ignorance of what is
going on and the consequent silence as a result of that ignorance.
I have received a lot of communications from people who are clients of the
Human Bean Company or from people who have seen my documentaries. A lot of
people have said that they agree with my work toward fair trade or human
rights. A lot of people have said that they wish they could do something
to help the indigenous peoples of Chiapas. All of the communications that
I've received have been extremely critical of the US and Mexican
governments actions against the Zapatistas and the indigenous peoples of
Chiapas and Mexico.
You who read this know who you are and how you feel about these issues. I
am addressing myself to you right now. By reading this message to this
point you have been presented with a choice. That is unavoidable now.
Sorry. You an I can either struggle for justice or be part of the
I know that this affects a lot of people deeply and the recent slaughter of
the 45 Mayan peoples by the Mexican government's proxy forces has made you
even more aware of the urgency of this situation. I imagine that some of
you might use that extra dime that Holger Jensen says you won't spend on a
hamburger to make a phone call to the local Mexican Consulate or to the US
government to strongly protest the continued violence with impunity in
Mexico. I imagine that some of you might get together with others and talk
about the issues and then talk to others and still others. I wouldn't be
surprised if some of you organized demonstrations and marches in the
streets. Personally, I wouldn't blame you if you committed acts of civil
disobedience or took over and occupied the offices of elected officials or
of newspapers or television stations. Or maybe someone will call Senator
Ben Nighthorse Campbell and ask him what he is doing or what he is going to
As for me, I'm going to keep doing what I have been doing and that is to
keep buying the coffee and weavings from the indigenous people who are
under siege by soldiers with tanks and guns that originate from my country
and I'm going to continue making documentaries that show what it is that I
see and experience while I'm here in Chiapas.
Right now I'm going to send this message to you and leave the Cyber Cafe
and then I'm going to pick up a few bags of coffee that we were able to
find from some Tzotzil-Tzeltal indigenous producers and then the Reampago
Rojo will start the long trip through the militarized country of Mexico to
bring the coffee back.
That reminds me of an incident that occurred two days ago on the way to
visit friends in Oventic, Chiapas. This is a Tzotzil community in
resistance, as they say here, and the Mexican Army was creeping closer and
closer to Oventic with their roadblocks and their machine guns and their
tanks. We drove up in my bus and the army stopped us.
"Get out of the vehicle", they said, "We're going to search it for guns or
"First let me ask you if that is constitutional." I said, "Do you have
probable cause to think that we're violating the law?"
"Constitutional?" he responded looking irritated, "You're in Mexico now you know."