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(en) Of Coffee beans and Military Intimidation

From Mark Connolly <mark_c@geocities.com>
Date Mon, 02 Mar 1998 15:16:51 +0000


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Of Coffee beans and Military Intimidation
                1998 in Diez.

A report from an Irish Observer in the Zapatista
community of Diez de April, Chiapas

"We thought you weren't coming back"
they said as I arrived.

"Where were the Irlandes when the army came?"
Hard question to answer, that one.

So what happened? Basically as was reported on the 
front page of La Jornada- large deployments of troops 
surrounded the community, twice, and the community was 
forced to flee to the mountains for a night. Cattle, 
horses, hens and a large sum of money, over 100,000 
pesos was taken. While the troops did not conduct 
house-to-house searches, nor harm any of the 
inhabitants, the resultant fear and tension has had a 
hard effect on the community. The events of January 
have been superseded by the current climate of 
uncertainty and anxiety. February 9th to 21st the 
community was on red alert and everybody under orders 
not to leave the village. People were glad to have an 
international presence- communities without foreign 
observers in January suffered more violence at the 
hands of the military.

The stress of this latest red alert was everywhere 
apparent in the community, but, as Don A. pointed out, 
" We're not going to leave again. The next time 
they're going to have to kill us"

The next time could have been the evening of Feb. 9th. 
Scouts rushed in to announce the presence of 15 
military troop carriers at the cross-roads, a few 
minutes from the gate of the community. Frantically 
the people mobilised in the pitch black cloudy night. 
Men rushed off into the darkness while the women 
sharpened sticks in the community centre. We the 
international observers grabbed our cameras, tape 
recorders and posted ourselves at the gateway. A few 
tense hours ensued, with messengers coming and going - 
after an hour 10 of the lorries pulled away towards 
town. And at 10pm, the community responsable came to 
inform us that the threat had now passed, the 
remaining 5 troop carriers had returned to town and we 
could all get some rest. The relief all round was 
mighty, as people shared cigarettes and teased the 
foreigners for their panicky reaction!

  Early the next morning, everybody was back 
harvesting the coffee and the previous nights military 
intimidation was shrugged off with a brave face. Don 
E. had his radio on and the news reported that the 
government were making noises about restarting the San 
Andres peace process. "Mentiras!" laughed a couple of 
the older folks and the rest of the people agreed 
whole-hearted." We don't believe one word the 
malgobierno says," asserted L.

  Despite the times, there's a good mood in the 
Cafetal. The harvest is good, and here in this 
plantation where people used to work for about 8 pesos 
a day for the old Patron, the co-operative now reaps 
the benefit of up to 25 pesos a kilo, a few pesos up 
from last year. Everyday for 3 weeks a group of 
between 20 and 40 villagers, male and female, old and 
young, strip the trees bare of the beans, sun shining 
gloriously. It is a very social activity and the low 
murmur of conversation and laughter accompanies the 
industrious pickers. At tranquil times like these, the 
low-intensity war seems a million miles away.

The village has grown, and the 96 households have 
built up a remarkable development in less than 2 
years. Where there was once just cattle-grazing 
pasture, there is now a spacious, well-organised  
self-sufficient community supporting 700 people.

While the coffee co-op, encompassing 36 families, is 
doing well, the cattle and womens' hen co-operatives 
have suffered from the losses in January. The Corn and 
the Honey co-operatives are expected to do well this 
year. "We would be doing all right," explains one of 
the workers, "if they left us in peace".

  But nobody is expecting to be left in peace. The 
most recent political and military developments have 
been very worrying. A nearby community, San M. has 
suffered a split, with up to 30 families breaking off 
to form a pro-government organisation. The explanation 
given by people is that they have been bought off by 
the PRI-istas, and been offered financial incentives. 
At night, gun shots have been heard in the hills 
surrounding the community which people believe are 
these men receiving military training from Army-
sponsored instructors. This nascent para-military 
group, probably part of "Los Punales" a Comitan-area 
based gun-gang, has appeared in much the same manner 
as Paz y Justicia, MIRA, the Chinchulines and other 
para-militaries as part of the government and military 
strategy of arming the anti-zapatista factions at base 
level.

Indeed, the night after 10 families finally returned 
to Nueva Esparanza, the community near the small arms 
find on Jan. 1 who had been holed up in the mountains 
since that time, reports came through of 3 lorry-fulls 
of Pri-istas/ Punales leaving the community of San M. 
late at night heading towards Nueva E. In the end, 
nothing came of it, but the tension in the region, 
once more, was heightened. Meanwhile back in Diez, 2 
relief donations came in from the Diocese - a truck 
load each time of rice, beans, tortilla and other 
essentials. The stuff is unloaded and distributed 
carefully and methodically all night by village 
responsables. Everybody is happy to receive their 
share, much needed after all the disruptions brought 
about by the military manoeuvres. The chrismas lights 
are strung-up and the children play around till late 
at night, as a charitable donation becomes a festival 
of resistance....

People open up more and more to the Irish 
representatives- the fruit of our presence in '97. 
"Come to my house for Pozol" is the demand of the day, 
and stories are shared. "What planet is Ireland on", 
asks one of the village responsables, relating how he 
learned in his few days of schooling a long time ago 
that there were other planets like Saturn and Pluto - 
but on which was Ireland?

"Eh, Planet Earth," I answer, "but it could be another 
planet all right", as I glance around this small dirt-
floor hut, home to a family of 8. The lads have 
finally got their soccer pitch in order, more a slope 
of a hill than a level playing field, but ni modos, it 
may be Mexico and Ireland playing but its not the 
World Cup.

And they've built a fine wooden school overlooking the 
basketball court. Two of the Masters remain, and even 
though they're supposedly Pri-istas, the community is 
glad to have them teaching the kids. " We're trying to 
make companeros of them" joked one of the catechists. 
And when the coffee-harvest was all in, we began work 
on the new mural on the side of the Co-operative 
Store. Soon Emiliano Zapata will be present in the 
community in more than just spirit!

  The war is never far away. Just before returning to 
San Cristobal, where the anti-foreigner witch-hunt is 
reaching fever-pitch in the media, a house is pointed 
out. Thats where the "tout" lived- a young informer 
who left on January 1st when the army came, and with 
him went all the information of village life that will 
be of use to the army and the paramilitaries.

  The atmosphere back in San C. is one of fear as 
roaming civilian-dressed migration officers stop and 
intimidate foreigners. In this contrived xenophobic 
atmosphere, violence against internationals seems 
inevitable, aside from the systematic deportations. 
And while the pro-government radio, newspapers and 
television continue to support the government -line 
that international observers are violating the Mexican 
Constitution (by taking an interest in Human Rights 
and other "crimes"), it seems the whole anti-foreigner 
campaign serves only to draw attention away from the 
continued paramilitary killings in the state, and the 
lack of action on behalf of the state security forces 
to bring the culprits of Acteal and other crimes to 
justice. 
-- 
+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-++-+-+-+-

MEXICO   http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/3102/

International gathering for Humanity and against neoliberalism
    http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/3849/gatherdx.html

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