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Five hundred years of struggle and hope

Theme III. El Indiano, Spain July 26 - August 3, 1997

by Guillermo Michel Grupo Rosario Castellanos Mexico


Throughout this paper I intend to show that the more than 500 years struggle of the Mexican Indians, not only constitutes a paradigm of today's battles against neo-liberalism, but is also part of it, since the Indians are us and their dignity -in whose defense they took up arms in Chiapas- is also the reason of our existence. Consequently we shall have to discover that "peace means respect for Indian rights" This peace, however, is systematically threatened by the low intensity war that Mexico is experiencing.

Paper presented at the II Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and against Neo-liberalism Theme III. El Indiano, Spain July 26 - August 3, 1997

Five hundred years of struggle and hope

Guillermo Michel

Come to be born with me, brother Give me your hand from the profound zone of your disseminated pain. You shall not return from the rocks' depths You shall not return from subterranean time Your hardened voice shall not return Your pierced through eyes shall not return....

Give me the silence, the water, the hope. Pablo Neruda

Invisible presence of a bleeding wound And with the Indians, what now? Once and once again in recent years we have asked ourselves this lacerating question. And today, we should ask it once again, not without tears in our eyes and our heart a weeping sea. The question itself places us afar, it makes us distant. They, the Indians, are not us. It is they who are strange, they who are the strangers... A latent racism, invisible and frequently unconscious, has marked our relationship to them throughout the centuries. We have ignored our Indian roots, the scent of our Indian blood, even the color of our skin. They, on the contrary, have lived over 500 years of resistance. They have resisted, among other things, social exclusion, hostility, aggression and social rejection; they have resisted the slow genocide and the chronic malnutrition that makes them even more vulnerable to disease. They have resisted merciless exploitation, misery, the pillage of their lands and riches. They have resisted the attempt at dispossessing them of their culture, the "Indian" policies directed to undermine their customs, their language and their traditions, in actions justified by the "need" to "castillianize" them, to "civilize them", to make of them people "of reason". They have resisted mockery, disdain and indifference, first from the Spanish conquerors, then from the criollos and mestizos, now from the urban white. And yet, after over five hundred years of resistance they are still here, among us. They had to take up arms so that we could see their Face, a covered face, yes, a face somehow disfigured, but, ultimately, their Face. Nevertheless, we still cannot see it clearly, it seems to us as if it were submerged in a fog, as a phantasmagoric presence. In fact, our not seeing their face takes such dimensions, that we do not see them when we look at ourselves in the mirror and we do not see ourselves in the mirror of us that is them turned into street peddlers, tamemes, loaders, peons, gardeners or the perpetually unemployed. They continue to be strange, strangers, "distant neighbors". This insoluble difference that nevertheless shows our essential unity and equality -so much more equal when most different- is what neoliberalism denies and ignores, capable only, at its best, of seeing in every one of you/we/them an object of exploitation, that can be discarded, thrown to the social garbage can, to the ignominy of misery, to the shame of unemployment. For this reason it refuses to believe that the rebellious Indians -tzotziles, tojolabales, tzeltales and choles- took up arms to defend something so intangible that we have forgotten to defend it with the same passion, with the same "tender fury": their dignity. Their dignity that is also ours, and our dignity that is also theirs, since "behind us, there are you", as Major Ana Maria expressed at the opening of the I Encounter For Humanity and Against Neoliberalism:

"Behind our black face, behind our armed voice, behind our unnamable name, behind the us that you see, behind (all this) are you, behind are the same simple and ordinary men and women repeated in every race, painted in all the colors, speaking all the languages and living in all the places" "The same forgotten women and men

the same excluded ones
the same untolerated ones
the same persecuted ones.

We are the same you. Behind us are you" ("Cronicas Intergalacticas": 25).

This acknowledgment of our common humanity, of our same struggle against the power of money, so dear to the neo-liberal modernity, is what has allowed their invisible presence to become more present, more ours. And even more, when through the words of the same Major Ana Maria we hear:

"Behind our masks is the face of every excluded woman. Of all the forgotten Indians. Of all homosexuals. Of all the despised youth. Of all beaten migrants. Of all humiliated workers. Of all who are dead from oblivion. Of all the simple and ordinary men and women that do not count, who are not seen, who are not named, who have no tomorrow" (Ibid: 25-26).

In this way, the tzotzil, tzeltal, tojolabal and chol Indians take upon themselves everyone's battles. In doing so, making our demands become their demands ancestral and present, the question: what with the Indians? should rather be turned into: what with us? Because their face is also our face and our face is theirs. Therefore, the important issue does not concern either the restoration of Indian policies so that they can become like us, nor the need to return to what Aguirre Beltran called "regions for refuge" so that we become like them. It concerns the creation of a network of struggles, a network where their presence is effective, tangible, fraternal, and solidary. Above all, it concerns the launching of a common struggle with them, to make their dignity shine in a country and a world where liberty, justice and democracy do not have to be seized from power through fire and blood, in daily fights leaving victims by the thousands, but can be the expression of our own life, to make reality be what the voice of the mountain spoke, "... saying that true men and women would live free when they become the all promised by the five pointed star. When the five peoples become one in the star. When the five parts of man who is world find each other and find the other. When the all that are five find their place and the place of the other" (Ibid: 27)

To fulfill the prophetic voice of the mountain, the diversity of roads of each and every one of us shall have to converge into a single ample path, where the struggle that the Indians have launched in our name, defending peace with dignity for all, becomes our struggle too.

"Zapata lives... the struggle continues"

The images of the Indians, especially the photographs, appearing in several media since the onset of the rebellion for dignity and peace, cannot be more eloquent. In those days of January 1994, bloodied, shot down bodies, with eyes lost in the void, inert, massacred. The sequences transmitted by TV, direct and live, set before our eyes the facts of war... And what with the Indians?, we start to ask ourselves. Who is, who are, behind them? Bah! exclaimed some with disdain, do you really think that they are truly Indians?

In those days, for those who ignored the Votan-Zapata myth, it seemed impossible that those Indians, always depicted as submissive, condescending and even servile, were now exclaiming Enough! (Ya basta!) at the top of their voice. And were facing the Mexican army, with their weapons so poor and scarce, asking for the resignation of the president-usurper, invoking article 39 to apply and implement a legality based in our Constitution (EZLN, 1994:34). The First Declaration of the Sierra Lacandona contained their first demands for the respect of their secularly denied rights. The basic rights. They do not want yachts nor mansions in Dublin or New York, nor thousands of steer. They ask for the essential. "Dictators -they say- have for a very long time been applying a genocidal and undeclared war against our peoples; for this reason we ask for your decided participation in the support of this plan of the Mexican people fighting for work, land, housing, food, health, education, independence, liberty, democracy, justice and peace..." (Ibid: 35)

Three and a half years later, the same political system has not only refused to accept that zapatistas have the right to live, but even their promises and commitments signed by their representatives have been violated by them, a fact which states that the Zapatistas' opponents only make false promises. And if we need to find motives for indignation, it suffices to take a quick look at what is going on today in the North of Chiapas, in the Loxichas, Oaxaca, and in La Monta~a, Guerrero, to realize what has been happening in recent months, and confirm that the true criminals -the genocidal groups, the white guards, the military and paramilitary groups, their advisors and their bosses-, harass, threaten, displace, dispossess, murder... and still remain unpunished. So, what with the Indians? What with us?

Let us examine briefly only a few facts which occurred during the last days of May, and were published in "La Jornada":

May 24: "Intensified terror in Oaxaca..., 62 Oaxacan Indians have been detained to date and two more have been sacrificed... Since the guerrilla appeared in Oaxaca -added the article- the citizens' human and constitutional rights have been suspended and there has been a constant and brutal repression imposed upon the Indians of the Loxicha region by the "caciques" or political bosses, who are unconditionally allied to the PRI (the official Institutionalized Revolution Party), with the help of the white guards, the army and the police. " In the meantime, surrounded by the military, San Pedro de Michoacan, Chiapas, changes authorities". They are standing, resisting.

May 25: Blood in La Monta~a: "The military and the ERP (Revolutionary Army of People) clash in Guerrero. Two dead on each side." According to the official bulletin, the military were ambushed... The persecution against the ("alleged") aggressors started immediately.

From Tepic, Nayarit, the FAC-MLN (Ample Front for the Construction of the National Liberation Movement) denounced that at the same time that "the federal government intensifies the militarization in states such as Guerrero, Chiapas, Hidalgo, Veracruz and Oaxaca, the number of white guards and paramilitary groups is increasing and with them assassinations, disappearances and imprisonment... At present in Mexico there are over 200 political prisoners ... and in places like Chiapas and las Huastecas (in Veracruz, Hidalgo and San Luis Potosi) on the one hand the number of military is growing and, on the other, caciques and large landowners are being protected, through an increase of the number of their white guards and paramilitary forces."

May 26: El Financiero informs that since yesterday, the SEDENA (Defense Ministry) has ordered a massive army mobilization in Guerrero. It is estimated that there are some 45 thousand soldiers searching for alleged or true ERP members. Nevertheless, many of those captured, tortured, hounded and disappeared are quite frequently the region's social leaders or poorest peasants ... "La Jornada" in turn informs that "PRI sympathizers kidnapped three tzotzil Indians of the Puebla settlement and threatened to murder them ... by orders of Chenalho's municipal major."

May 27: During the International Congress on Indian Rights, Rodolfo Stavenhagen denounced the persistent selective repression against Indians. From Polho, Chenalho, Chiapas, Ïthe municipal, autonomous council of this place informed that a civilian Zapatista died and two more were wounded by bullets when ambushed by militant priistas (members of the official party) at the community of Union Yeshemel...

Furthermore, hundreds of Indians (tzotziles), belonging to the EZLN base of support, had to leave their locations because of priista threats..."

May 28: "New EPR attack in Atoyac, Guerrero. Five dead. The victims: three military and two "aggressors". Six villages surrounded by the military... People of the area informed hearing a shootout, and shortly thereafter they were surrounded by military forces which had mobilized around at least six communities. Two military planes and an armed helicopter overflew the area in search of the attackers, without results... At the Sierra of Guerrero, there is a persistent whispering: "we are at wari. "In Polho, Chiapas, the autonomous Municipal Council stated with certainty: "last Saturday's shootout (May 24) was provoked by priista sympathizers to justify the entrance of army and police forces, intending to gain terrain to more effectively surround the Zapatistas and to force them to give up arms and vote for the PRI".

Several NGOs (Non-Government-Organizations) denounced that in Guerrero and Chihuahua freedom of expression , travel, gathering and, especially, freedom of the press rights are being violated : "These are actions violating Mexican Constitutional Rights."

* May 29: "Emergency security plan in Guerrero: More military and federal police arrived. Vigilance over strategic points. In Atoyac, the army traces the EPR command by means of air and land surveillance, elite batallions, light tanks and other armed vehicles in the area. The military siege of communities continues" (state of siege?)... And, more to the north, a new increase of the police corps is announced with the presence of the Beta group that shall operate in Mexicali, starting next August. This new group will serve, it is stated, "as migrant protection."

May 30: Troops from Acapulco and Atoyac extend their siege to the Filo Mayor region: the rounds of military vehicles carrying dozens of soldiers surprised the communities of Rincon de las Parotas, San Andres, Santiago de la Union and San Vicente de Benitez".

In the meantime, Tepetixtla and Atoyac peasants declared themselves in peaceful civil resistance, due to the prevailing climate of insecurity and the support to caciques and white guards which is increasingly fostering violence: "there have been more than 30 people assassinated, besides the 17 from Aguas Blancas..."

And from the capital city, during the International Congress of Indian Rights, Luis Fernando Sarango, Quechua leader, warns that "The lack of respect for Indian rights is a time bomb: The Indian people (of this continent) call for a new time of refoundation, of reconstitution of the State..."

May 31: At the closing of the International Congress of Indian Rights, the OIT (the UN International Labor Organization: ILO) warns that: "The Mexican government must comply with the Pact of San Andres (since) the San Andres Agreements correspond, both in their substance and form, to the contents established by ILO agreement 169...,

( (that establishes): the definition of peoples and the recognition of their autonomy as a constitutional guarantee of these people and their communities, and of the exercise of their right to their free auto-determination in the territories they now occupy..."

Nevertheless, contrary to what could be expected, as denounced by the Human Rights Center Fray Bartolome de las Casas, "the major of Chenalho incites to confrontations among Indians..." The Center also informed that Yashemel priistas -having taken refuge in the Puebla ejido-, "have threatened our 534 comrades that they will not be allowed to return to their community...". To further complicate the situation that prevails in the North of Chiapas, at Venustiano Carranza "four new police posts have been established... Approximately 500 soldiers of the State's Public Security and Judicial Police corps have established themselves permanently (since April 21). This situation has strengthened the paramilitary groups, mainly the one called Fuerzas Armadas del Pueblo".

In the meantime accusations have been pouring in about robberies, torture and abuses perpetrated by the military at Temazcalcingo, municipality of Olinal·. During the last few days, two peasants have disappeared and one more was detained by the army at the Sierra of Atoyac. Furthermore, "many children have been interrogated by the military".

Tree of hope, stand firm

The overwhelming evidence arriving day by day, notwithstanding the information siege and the conspiracy of silence, points to the growing militarization throughout the country. From north to south, from east to west, there is a growing number of military and police force effectives, continuously establishing new posts, subjecting the population to a great many more surveillance points, provoking fear and insecurity, supporting and training paramilitary groups,violating the peoples constitutional guarantees, among others, that of free transit.

Consequently, what has come to be called Ïthe transition to democracy" is no more than a veil of smoke covering up the true nature of a rotten regime which, in order to remain standing, must support itself on bayonets, armed vehicles, helicopters (Huey?) and airplanes.

Paradoxically, instead of attaining the pacification of the areas in conflict, this State the violence promoted by this State terrorism only worsens the prevailing climate of violence.

The account presented here as "a small chronicle of infamy" is no more than a weak reflection of the pain, the oppression, the suffering that is being imposed upon millions of Indians and peasants in Mexico. The 7 day trip (May 24-31) on which the written press -less unfaithful than electronic media- has taken us through some regions, shows us a country where political decadence is truly palpable. We can see that caciquismo, closely linked to white guards and paramilitary groups, is pouring terror, destruction and death under the protection of the army and different police corps.

Thus, we are confronted to what the Human Rights Center Fray Bartolome de las Casas, based on solid documentation, has so precisely called "a low intensity war" (LIW). Their well documented report, titled "Neither Peace nor Justice", proves that what is happening in Chiapas (and in many other parts of the country as we could see in our trip) "corresponds to a global contra-insurgency strategy carried out at different levels: military, economic and psychological, and implemented by means of a low intensity war developed on three fronts: military, social institutions, and public opinion..." (1996:156). It is important to underline that the relevant issue is this global strategy and that the actions and decisions that day by day are being carried out in different areas of the country, should be considered as elements of such a strategy. They are not thoughtless or isolated actions, nor timely responses to unexpected situations. On the contrary, unexpected situations are used to justify the application of this global strategy on different settings and -according to the statements of many who profit from political power- are directed to "re-establish order", meaning the re-establishment of the same structural violence masked as "social peace" and veiling the facts of caciquismo, as well as the spoilage, the repression of those who do not conform, the daily deaths due to hunger or curable diseases, the torture and persecution of social opposition leaders, among many other apparently imperceptible phenomena.

From these conditions, we could very well infer, without fear of error, that civilian authorities are no more than the operators of the tactics and strategies dictated by the military command. And being so, we would be living in conditions similar to those of Peru, where the Fujimori regime is subordinated to the military. In the case of Mexico this cannot be thoroughly demonstrated; nevertheless, a detailed examination of the systematic violations of human rights, not only in Chiapas but in many other states in the country, would make it possible to prove that both, army and police, enjoy the highest degree of impunity and are responsible for the overwhelming majority of victims. Consequently, a low intensity war operates as the global strategy applied throughout the country, considering the three fronts theory as summarized by the "Neither Peace nor Justice" report.

On the military front: "The application of the LIW (low intensity war) has produced the following, in both the military and the external civilian institutions: A. The formation of elite corps. B. Special Commands. C. High performance groups and/or rapid displacement forces... The creation of rapid displacements units, according to Pentagon reports, are already a fact in Mexico and are operating in Chiapas. A secret Pentagon report reveals that the Mexican army acquired Condor spy airplanes to observe and localize enemy troops..." (1996:159)

On the second front -that of civilian auxiliaries- the purpose is to develop "a program of non-military content, such as humanitarian aid, social assistance, etc. An economic project is indispensable to the counter-insurgency scheme. It is part of the strategy of "contention" and "reduction" of the rebels..." (1996:164). The ones supposed to carry out the productive projects to "solve" problems are civilians, and it is civilians who announce "millionaire investments", "national financial programs for development" (whatever that means), "the end of the agrarian development delays", "the reconciliation of the parties in conflict", "the peaceful return of the displaced", and other such niceties.

Finally, on the third front, called of public opinion, the purpose is to disseminate information that is nothing more than deformed, minimized, veiled and manipulated versions of what really occurs. "This LIW front has been acting in Chiapas for some time oscillating between strength and clumsiness. National public opinion is being indiscriminately bombarded with lies mixed with partial truths. The purpose is to harass the public, make them divert their concept of reality and distort the role of the actors that do not participate as allies of the State's strategy" (Ibid:165)

Thus the State succeeds in obtaining the company of the fourth power in its counter-information or manipulative-information battle, violating the constitutional right to information. Nevertheless, in spite of the censorship and restrictions imposed by the LIW's global strategy, a careful reading of the written press (not the electronic media) allows us to visualize processes such as the one revealing itself so clearly in this account. This means that behind the so called transition to democracy or democratization process, what is being implemented throughout the country is a process of growing militarization, parallel to the evident clumsiness at undertaking peaceful solutions to the acute problems that the population is experiencing. Furthermore, the cost of maintaining real occupation armies in Chiapas or Guerrero could partly alleviate the tremendous wants of those who have been or have fallen into the claws of extreme poverty.

The scenario depicted above allows us a glimpse at the dark horizon marking the process of pacification in Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca. The non-compliance of the San Andres Agreements implies, once again, not only the governmentÌs treason and breach of its own word signed on February 16, 1996, but the threat of extermination for rebel Indians, dissident peasants and, in general, all of the country's poor. The Zedillo administration has refused to recommence peace talks, notwithstanding its declarations to the contrary and well ornamented scenario.

Recently, in spite of the IOL (International Organization of Labor) demands for the respect of Indian peoples rights, as according to the commitment accepted by the Mexican government, there is an intensification of the Ïdirty war", perhaps hoping that the EZLN will respond to the systematic provocation. of the paramilitary groups and so justify the genocide before public opinion. For this reason regarding the question: what with the Indians?, we cannot evade our historical responsibility of making genocide impossible. Consequently, here again the second question: what with us? What will we do to accompany the Indians in their fight for their rights, that are also ours? How will we attain the modification of the StateÌs repression policies, and undertake the transition to democracy with justice and liberty? If behind us are you, how can we make visible the Indian Face of all of us, in a country where the Indians have stood up to defend the most valuable good of our bodies, that is, dignity? If we truly believe that peace is the respect of Indian rights, what actions should we undertake to stop the systematic violation of Indian rights? I ask these questions because, evidently, I do not have the answers and maybe we can find them between all of us. That is, at least, my hope.

June, 1997


CDHFBLC . "Neither Peace nor Justice" (General report of the civil war being suffered by the choles of the North of Chiapas are suffering: December 1994 to October 1996). Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolome de las Casas, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, octubre, 1996.

"EZLN. Documentos y comunicados" (1), ERA, Mexico, 1994.

"EZLN. Cronicas Intergalacticas: Memorias del I Encuentro Intercontinental por la Humanidad y Contra el Neo-liberalismo", Edicion privada, Mexico, 1996.

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