Chiapas Update January 2003

Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2003 09:39:37 -0800 (PST)

  1. Ninth Anniversary of Zapatista Uprising Marked by Biggest Mobilization So Far
  2. Evictions in Montes Azules Bioreserve - Action Alert! & Resistance to Plan Puebla-Panama
  3. Latest Zapatista prisoners communiqué
  4. Marcos communiqués on the Basque conflict & proposed European march
  5. UK Zapatista solidarity network

A downloadable print version of this update will shortly be available from our website

1. Ninth Anniversary of Zapatista Uprising Marked by Biggest Mobilization So Far

Defying their critics who charge they are divided and disintegrating, the Zapatistas mobilised their forces on the 1st January 2003, mustering the largest and most militant demonstration seen in San Cristobal since the armed uprising 9 years ago. As many as 20,000 masked militants of the EZLN descended on the town from all corners of Chiapas armed with machetes and lighting huge bonfires around the central plaza and surrounding streets. There were no injuries, and little damage to property, but the feisty rebels demonstrated in no uncertain terms that, on the 9th anniversary of the uprising they are still organised, still militant and still enraged.

"I am very proud we have peace in Mexico, with Marcos, with the Zapatistas," said Mexican President Vicente Fox a few weeks ago, while visiting Europe. "Fox says we have peace in Chiapas, that there is no conflict," said Comandante David from the podium. "Is the conflict settled in Chiapas?" he asked. "NOOOO!" was the emphatic reply from the multitude, banging their machetes and sticks, holding up burning torches, as the black smoke from the multiple bonfires engulfed the town centre. The masked insurgents packed the expansive centre plaza and still thousands more were left chanting in the surround streets.

The mood was combatitive and the chants, banners and speeches from the stage were uncompromising - "Fox Is The Same As Zedillo", "PAN Equals PRI", "No Evictions >From Montes Azules!", "Globalize Rebellion And Dignity!". The rebellion in Argentina was lauded, the self-determination of Venezuela defended, and the terrorism of Bush and Bin Laden condemned. "We came to say that here we are still, stronger than ever and we resist," said Comandante Mister. "In the face of a globalization of death imposed by the powerful, we proclaim a globalization of freedom..."

This was the first public mass mobilization of the Zapatista Comandancia and rank-and-file in almost 2 years. The last Zapatista event was the hugely popular Caravan to the Capital in March of 2001, bringing out Mexicans in their hundreds of thousands in support of Indigenous demands, as Subcomandante Marcos and 24 EZLN comandantes journeyed up to Mexico City.

In response to the political stagnation after the march, Comandante Esther directed "a few words" to Mr. Vicente Fox: "I just say to you that the people are disenchanted with the your deceipt." Comandantes David and Tacho blasted all of Mexico's political parties for adopting a version of the indigenous rights and culture law that significantly watered-down the level of autonomy legally possible for indigenous peoples. They also disparaged the social programs the federal government is conducting in Chiapas. Comandante Fidelia directed her message to the "exploited, scorned and violated" women of Chiapas and Mexico.

The mobilisation sent a clear message which comandantes David and Omar made explicit around midnight: "We came to tell you that we are here and we continue alive. We have not surrendered. We are not disunited nor fighting. Why would we have to fight among ourselves if we still have those who fight us?" As the constitutional path - marked by betrayal, seems exhausted and the enemy takes a more global face, the Zapatistas appear to be changing their tactical direction, renewing the spirit of resistance and pursuing a more confrontational strategy. The Zapatistas have returned from their forays into national Constitutional reform to once more address the needs and demands of their base constituency.

From the stage, Comandante Brus Li (no, really) commanded the cadre to build bigger bonfires to warm the cool night air. "This struggle has hardly begun. Let the fires shine bright so that the people can see how we have maintained our rebellion! ".

(adapted from articles by Ramor Ryan, Herman Bellinghausen and others with thanks)

2. Montes Azules evictions: ACTION ALERT & resistance to Plan Puebla-Panama

Tension has been mounting throughout December 2002 in the Montes Azules Biosphere, Mexico's most important nature reserve, as evictions of indigenous families from one settlement began and more were threatened. According to Chiapas human rights groups, soldiers have been stationed in the area, apparently waiting government orders to eject nine Indian communities, some of them Zapatista, from land they have occupied over the last 10 years.

"Soldiers are occupying key locations, going on patrols and making surveillance flights over the communities in question," Patricia Gomez, spokeswoman for the Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center "Conducting police and military action will once again put at risk the peace of the region and the country, unleashing consequences that no one can predict," another activist warned in a press statement signed by several local NGOs.

The first eviction took place on Thursday, December 19th in a tiny hamlet called Arroyo San Pablo (aka Lucio Cabanas). Press reports state that the environmental prosecutor from Profepa went into the community with arrest warrants in hand and offered the residents a choice between going to a shelter in Comitan or going to prison. They chose the shelter.

The eviction of Zapatista communities is unlikely to be as straightforward. Marcos states in a communiqué on December 29th 2002: "We have spoken with the representatives of those Zapatista villages and with the authorities of the Autonomous Municipalities to which they belong. They have communicated to us their decision to stay there, even at the cost of their own lives, as long as the Zapatista demands are not met. We have replied to them that we completely support them. And so it is good that everyone know in advance: in the case of the Zapatista villages, there will be no "peaceful dislocation." See for updates and calls for action.

These evictions are being taken under the false pretext of carrying out policies to protect the environment, and put the entire burden of ecological devastation in the area on the indigenous communities for their use of slash and burn agriculture. "These people have deforested part of the zone and are gravely violating the law," says Jaime Alejo Castillo, a spokesman for the Environment Secretariat (Semarnat). "They could be subject to penal action. We can't allow any more settlements (in the reserve)."

If the Mexican authorities are keen to find a genuine solution, they would do better to explore the factors that have pushed so many people to settle there in the first place such as the need for land and displacement by paramilitaries, and to target their actions against the powerful national and international economic interests which aim to exploit the abundant resources in the Biosphere. As we have outlined in previous updates, Montes Azules is rich in timber, water and petroleum and has sparked the interest of pharmaceutical researchers with its vast array of plant and animal species. While in the 1960s timber and petroleum were the main attraction for investors, today biodiversity and hydroelectric power are the zone's principal eye-catchers.

The evictions in the Reserve are part of a wider wave of dislocations that are inevitable if the projects outlined in the Plan Puebla-Panama are developed. Opposition is strengthening across Southern Mexico by communities likely to be affected by the massive infrastructure plans. On October 12th 2002, the indigenous day of resistance to the Conquest, protests took place across the country. In the state of Oaxaca, Mixtec, Chontal and Zapotec indigenous groups demonstrated against the proposed superhighway that would run from the southern city of Oaxaca to the Pacific Coast, and the construction of a hydroelectric dam in Oaxaca state.

In Chiapas, main highways were blocked as well as the entrance to the military base Rancho Nuevo, about 10 kilometers south of San Cristobal de las Casas, in protest against the Puebla-Panama Plan, the proposed Free-Trade Area of the Americas and the government's free-market policies. The biggest demonstration took place in Mexico City, where at least 10,000 turned out.

CIEPAC have recently produced a summary report of the companies and institutions mentioned in connection with the Plan Puebla Panama. These include all the usual suspects on the Planning Commission: the World Bank, IMF, Inter American Development Bank, European Union and USAID, as well as the UK's Department for International Development (DFID). Over a hundred companies are mentioned, among them: EXXON, Shell, Mobil, and Dow Chemicals for oil exploration; Boise Cascade, Smurfit and International Paper for forests and new plantations; Hyundai and Samsung for ports; and Monsanto, Sandoz and Pulsar Group for "genetic materials".

See for more details.

The next WTO Ministerial will take place from September 10th - 15th , 2003 in Cancun, Mexico, the luxury tourist resort in the Yucatan peninsula. See the People's Global Action website for more info.

3. Latest Zapatista prisoners communiqué

There are still five Zapatista political prisoners imprisoned in the states of Tabasco and Queretaro. Angel Concepción Perez Gutierrez and Francisco Perez Vazquez have been sentenced to 25 years, and Carrillo Vazquez Lopez to 9 1/2 years in prison in Tabasco. Sergio Geronimo Sanchez Saenz and Anselmo Robles Sanchez have completed their sentence but are still being held in Queretero prison.

This is the latest communiqué from La Voz de Cerro Hueco in Tabasco:

December 2, 2002

To the Local, National, and International Civil Society:
To the Chiapan, National, and International Press:

We Zapatista political prisoners of La Voz de Cerro Hueco (the Voice of Cerro Hueco) send spirited greetings to all from Tabasco:

We political prisoners from Zapatista support bases continue resisting in prison, as do the comrades of Querétaro. We prisoners in Tabasco are indigenous c'holes from Chiapas that are in a situation of bad conditions. We sleep on the ground and when it rains we are totally flooded with water as is the situation for other people in other parts of the world but in prison it is much worse because we are imprisoned without committing any crime and we continue having to listen to the federal government lie that there are no more Zapatista prisoners, but in Tabasco and Querétaro we are still in prison, resisting.

But in the same way as us, our communities continue to be faced with problems of pursuit and harrassment by the Mexican Army and paramilitaries. Meanwhile Luis H. Alvarez, the so-called Commissioner for Peace continues to divide the indigenous through the municipal presidents of Chiapas and this, which in no way contributes to peace, is done to justify his massive salary and also to continue counterinsurgency efforts. Because he has already forgotten about the three conditions and has done nothing for them we, as Zapatista support bases who are imprisoned, say that he has contributed nothing to the dialogue, it is the government that continually deceives and mocks the indigenous of Mexico and not the indigenous themselves.

We believe that the EZLN has always respected their word and because of this they don't talk anymore as it is better that silence builds the hope of our communities in resistance because the Mexican government doesn't have time to listen, it only has time to put into practice in this country Bush's orders which only make Mexico grow poorer. With more than half of Mexico in poverty what are we the indigenous to say and in addition only for the fact of supporting just causes in poor communities the powerful say that we are or we support terrorists.

However, everyone that is familiar with the Zapatista struggle will not be left deceived because they know that it is a peaceful struggle where our most powerful weapon is reason, because no one can obstruct the recognition we demand of our rights as indigenous communities.

For a Liberty with Justice and Dignity

Angel Concepción Perez Gutierrez
Francisco Perez Vazquez
Carrillo Vazquez Lopez

Sergio Geronimo Sanchez Saenz (Queretaro)
Anselmo Robles Sanchez (Queretaro)

Send letters of support (preferably in Spanish) to:
La Voz de Cerro Hueco,
Av Diego Duguelay 36c,
Barrio El Cerrillo,
San Cristobal de las Casas,
Chiapas, Mexico

4. Marcos communiqués on the Basque conflict & proposed European march

In an unexpected turn of events, the latest communiqués from the pipe-smoking subcomandante have culminated in a proposed debate in the Canary Island of Lanzarote on the future of the Basque conflict with the infamous high court judge Baltazar Garzon, scheduled for April this year.

The Zapatista comandancia broke their long silence in November 2002 when Marcos published a letter attacking the Spanish authorities for seeking to ban Herri Batasuna, the radical Basque political party. Garzon, best known for attempting to try former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, has suspended Batasuna, one of main political parties in the Basque country with elected representatives at different levels, for which Marcos denounced him as a "grotesque clown".

Garzon responded in December by calling Marcos a "sinking ship" and accused him of failing to sympathise with more than 800 victims ETA has killed in pursuit of Basque independence. Garzon also challenged Marcos to a debate on the Basque conflict at a time and place of his choosing. Marcos accepted, though with a series of conditions, and promised to take off his balaclava and show his face in public if he lost the debate. If Garzon loses, he is bound to put all his legal skills into attempting to pass the original Law for Indigenous Rights and Culture in Mexico.

In a letter published on December 9th in the Mexican daily La Jornada, Marcos asked ETA in the name of the Zapatistas to declare a unilateral truce for a period of 177 days, beginning on Dec. 24, 2002. The truce would lead to the peace conference in Lanzarote in order "to give words a chance", Marcos said in his letter. He also responded to the outburst of criticisms against the EZLN calling Marcos an "apologist for terrorism", by restating that "the EZLN has not only not carried out any military action against civilians - you also know that we condemn those types of attacks, which usually claim the greatest number of victims among persons who do not even know what the issue is about."

In a New Year's statement that appeared in a Basque newspaper, ETA praised the Zapatista rebel movement. But it ridiculed the proposed debate with Garzon as a "desperate move" that was little more than a publicity stunt. "It is not our aim to take part in a pantomime or operetta to gain favour with international newspapers...or provide inspiration for the next fashionable T-shirt on the main street of Madrid," said ETA. It also rejected the proposal for a unilateral truce and criticised Marcos for making public his letter without advising the Basque group first.

In the latest in this spate of missives, Marcos retorts that the EZLN has not the means, interest or obligation to consult ETA, or anyone, before speaking, and ironically laments that they will not be able to fund their trip to Europe through the sale of Zapatista T-shirts. He reasserts that the proposal for a gathering of all the political, social and cultural forces which are involved or interested in the problems of the Basque Country is an opportunity to give words, not weapons, a chance.

The EZLN also see this initiative as "the last opportunity for achieving a peaceful, dignified resolution of our demands, which are, as everyone knows, the recognition of indigenous rights and culture," as well as a chance to go beyond the absurd post-September 11th logic of choosing between one terror and another. "Its only purpose is to try and change the warlike logic that abounds throughout the world."

To continue following this dialogue, see latest dates on Chiapas95 archive gopher://

In the meantime, discussions and organising has started among civil society groups in Europe on the proposed European Zapatista march and gathering in Lanzarote from April 3rd - 7th 2003. Much of this is focused around the "Madrid Aguascalientes", an initiative started in October 2002 by groups in Madrid and other parts of Spain, Catalunya and the Basque country. Through workshops, talks and films at different events, thousands of people have been exploring the meaning of "Zapatismo" in a European context, in particular the struggle against war and neoliberalism. On 22nd December 2002, the Madrid Aguascalientes launched a "Manifesto for the Word" - see

As a way of preparing the Lanzarote encounter in April, the Aguascalientes has launched a proposal to European civil society to create "Civil Forums for the Word" wherever possible, with the aim of discussing and debating two questions:

  1. How can we prepare and build the encounter proposed by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) for next April in Lanzarote?
  2. How can we live and construct rebellion at the time of permanent global war without rebellion becoming war?

There will be a meeting in Madrid on the 15th and 16th of February 2003 as a first step to coordinate between the various groups and movements in Europe towards the construction of the encounter with the EZLN next April in Europe.

Email: for more info.

5. UK - Chiapas solidarity network

We have recently been focusing our efforts on developing more of a network of Chiapas solidarity groups and individuals around the UK. More and more people from the UK have been going to Chiapas in recent years and getting involved in solidarity work. The following groups are now active in Bristol and Edinburgh:

Our work has grown according to the needs identified to us by the autonomous municipalities in which we work. At all times, we try to work with people at a community level, rather than with large institutions; to foster self-reliance; to promote local autonomy by leaving skills and materials in the hands of the people in the communities; and to ensure that our projects remain small, and human scale.

All the money we raise goes directly towards project costs, and all of our work is voluntary. We can be contacted by email on:

Or by post: KIPTIK, c/o Chiapaslink, PO 79, 82 Colston Street, Bristol, BS1 5BB, UK.
Our website, currently under construction, is:

Edinburgh-Chiapas Solidarity Group
c/o ACE, 17 W. Montgomery Place

Edinburgh EH7 5HA
Tel: 0131 557 6242

If you would like to get in touch with others in your area and get involved in Zapatista solidarity, drop us a line at

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