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Tue, 18 Mar 1997 02:13:14 GMT

*ZAPATISMO NEWS UPDATE* - part II Sender: a-infos-request@tao.ca Precedence: list Reply-To: a-infos-d@tao.ca

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JESUITS, XI'NICH LEADERS ARRESTED, THEN FREED The past week has been one of notable violence in northern Chiapas, leaving several dead, dozens wounded, and dozens more arrested or disappeared. The events began on Friday, March 7th, when members of the state Public Security forces violently expelled 65 families belonging to the indigenous-campesino organization Xi'Nich from their lands near Palenque, which they had occupied peacefully since 1994. During the expulsions, in which helicopters, live ammunition, and tear gas was used, the police robbed more than 5,000 pesos in one community, and 41,000 pesos in another; destroyed homes; and "confiscated" machetes needed in order for the campesinos to work their land. In response to this aggression, more than 500 choles from San Martin Chamizal proceeded to block the highway running past their community to Palenque, in order to stop the police from arresting or kidnapping any of their companeros and taking them to the city. Several hours later, the police arrived, and the members of Xi'Nich who had blocked the highway tried to open up a dialogue. The police responded by way of a helicopter loudspeaker, saying they had arrested no one, and asked the campesinos to form a commission with which they could dialogue. But as the commission was being formed, the police suddenly began to open fire with bullets and tear gas, while charging toward the group, leaving four campesinos injured and, apparently, one policeman dead. Those who took part in the blockade insist that they could not have fired back against the police, since they were not carrying weapons of any kind, and that if any members of the security forces were injured, it was because they were in the line of fire of other police officers. The police, however, described the incident as one of two "unprovoked ambushes" which occurred that afternoon against the security forces, leaving two policemen dead and five injured. The state government of Chiapas claimed on March 8th that all the expulsions carried out on March 7th were of "a peaceful nature", and that the police were in fact "unarmed" as they "peacefully" forced 65 families out of their homes and destroyed their communities, and were later "ambushed with gunshots by members of the Xi'Nich organization while eating their lunch". The following day, the judicial police brutally kidnapped the Jesuit priests Jose Luis Gonzalo Rosas Morales and Geronimo Alberto Hernandez Lopez (Xel) and the Xi'Nich leaders Ramon Parcero Martinez and Francisco Gonzaalez Gutierrez, accusing them of participation in the supposed "ambushes" committed the day before--completely ignoring the fact that none of the four were anywhere near the supposed ambush sites at the time of the events, and that the priests themselves had been in San Cristobal and were only returning to Palenque on the evening of March 8th after having heard about the violent expulsions against the Xi'Nich communities. Both of the detained priests had worked alongside Xi'Nich for years, and Fr. Geronimo Hernandez also served as a member of the advisory team to the EZLN, and is currently a member of the Working Group on Justice and Human Rights of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI). All four were "arrested" by being dragged out of their cars at gunpoint, beaten, and held incommunicado for more than 24 hours before the government finally admitted holding them. The outrageous detentions were immediately denounced as a "provocation" by the Diocese of San Cristobal, the Jesuit Provincial, the Mexican Bishop's Conference, and nearly every human rights organization in the country. But the government did not back down: on March 10th, the priests and the leaders of Xi'Nich were officially charged in Tuxtla Gutierrez with homicide, crimes against peace, delinquent asssociation, and other legal infractions (including, for Geronimo Hernandez, illegal possession of the Star pistol planted on him during his arrest). The defense team, lead by several prominent human rights organizations, then proceeded to file a legal complaint against the district prosecutor's office for the crimes of falsification of evidence, false accusations, illegal detention, and fabrication of crimes. (Note of special interest to those of you who are intrigued by irony and the way history has a tendency of repeating itself in the Mexican Southeast: The prosecutor in this case is named Jorge Enrique Hernandez Aguilar. In 1986, he was a newspaper reporter and an advisor to a group of corn growers facing increasing repression from the state government of General Absalon Castellanos. On May 12th, 1986, the corn growers blockaded several highways, and two days later were "peacefully removed" (according to the government reports), with a toll of several dead and many arrested. A commission was formed by the remaining corn growers to go to Tuxtla Gutierrez and speak with the authorities. One of those named to the commission was the reporter, Hernandez Aguilar. On the way to Tuxtla, however, their vehicles were intercepted by the Judicial Police, and after being beaten and held incommunicado, Hernandez Aguilar found himself facing charges of armed robbery and delinquent association, among others. The gun planted on him in order to prove the state's case, according to press reports from the day and brought back to light by Chiapas historian Antonio Garcia de Leon, was "a .38 Star pistol, serial number S735977, with its respective loader and two useful cartridges." Today, Enrique Hernandez Aguilar is no longer in prison, and is in fact the district prosecutor who has filed charges against the two Jesuit priests and the leaders of Xi'Nich. On March 10th, Hernandez Aguilar declared to the press that Fr. Jeronimo Alberto Hernandez Lopez would be charged with the illegal possession of a firearm: "a .38 Star pistol, serial number S735977, with its respective loader and two useful cartridges...." 11 years later, history repeats itself....) As the federal government refused to intervene, and the state government of Julio Cesar Ruiz Ferro promised to use "all the weight of the law" against the priests and campesino leaders, the condemnation of the government's actions from within Mexican society continued to mount. The Diocese of San Cristobal (under the provisional leadership of Bishop Raul Vera Lopez while Bishop Samuel Ruiz is in Europe) declared that the arrests signified a worsening of the "low-intensity war" against the social and pastoral work of the Church in Chiapas. Gonzalo Ituarte, technical secretary of the National Intermediating Commission (Conai), suggested that the arrests were a direct attack on the the Conai and the peace process itself. The Mexican Bishop's Conference declared that the Chiapas authorities had "violated the fundamental rights and the physical integrity of those arrested, and furthermore broke constitutional laws and legal proceedings in the process," and warned that there would be a "national mobilization" if the priests were not freed. On March 11th, the Comandanta Ramona of the EZLN spoke at a rally attended by 10,000 students on the grounds of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City, and demanded the release of the four prisoners in Chiapas. On March 12th, thousands of indigenous Catholics from 25 municipalities in Chiapas held a "pilgrimage" through Yajalon and Tila in order to demand not only the liberation of the priests and leaders of Xi'Nich, but also to demand the return of Fathers Loren Riebe, Jorge Baron, and Rodolfo Izal, who were expelled from the country by Mexican authorities in the summer of 1995 after having been accused of "subversive" pastoral work in Chiapas. On the morning of March 13th, Geronimo Hernandez, Gonzalo Rosas, Ramon Parcero, and Francisco Gutierrez were all released unconditionally by a judge in Tuxtla Gutierrez, citing the failure of the prosecutor's office to provide the court with sufficient evidence to hold them accountable for participation in the supposed ambush of March 7th. The decision was hailed by human rights organizations, NGOs, and the Catholic Church as "an act of justice"; the liberated priests, for their part, declared following their release that "there will not be peace in Chiapas or in Mexico as long as the agrarian problems, the social discrimination, and the perverse use of the law, remain unresolved." Both priests said that they will continue working alongside the poor and indigenous peoples of Chiapas, and that their brutal detentions last week will not slow down the social and pastoral work of the Diocese of San Cristobal. _________________________________________________________________ MORE VIOLENCE ROCKS NORTH CHIAPAS Just as the country was starting to calm down from the tension produced by the arrests of priests and indigenous leaders in Chiapas last week, it woke up on March 15th to the news of even more violence in the north of Chiapas. On Friday, March 14th, fighting broke out in the small community of San Pedro Nichtalucum, in the northern municipality of El Bosque. As of this writing, the reports of exactly what happened are unclear, and contradictory. The only full story of events which has been published so far is that of the police--whose stories, as one can guess having read the previous article--aren't always trustworthy. In any case, the following is what we know so far; more information will be posted on this web site as it becomes available. The municipality of El Bosque--like many regions of Chiapas--had been the site of post-electoral conflicts between the PRD and PRI parties since 1995. According to police reports, on Thursday, March 13th, members of the the Union of Indigenous Communities of the North of Chiapas (Uncizon)--an organization whose members tend to support the EZLN and/or the PRD--took over the offices of a rural government agency in San Pedro, demanding to know where the government resources allocated to the community were actually going. They held four local PRI authorities as prisoners inside. In retaliation, a group of priistas from San Pedro then kidnapped 12 militants of the Uncizon. At 1:00 am on the 14th, the state judicial police were contacted by the priistas, and asked to intervene on their behalf. The police claim that they arrived at about 11:00 am on March 14th, backed up by 200 elements of the public security forces. They proceeded to "free" the PRI authorities held by the Uncizon, but then arrested the members of the Uncizon being held by the PRI. They further claim that the fighting started when they were "ambushed" by members of the Uncizon while taking those detained out of the area. A battle ensued, in which between 3 and 8 campesinos of the Ucizon were killed, 27 arrested and badly beaten (including some identified by local PRI authorities as "Zapatista leaders"), and at least 6 police wounded. The police called for reinforcements, and about 500 elements of the public security forces arrived over the course of the day, backed up by several convoys of troops of the Mexican Army; but as of the evening of the 14th had still not entered the community. As of this writing (early afternoon of March 15th), the reports are still too contradictory to present a clear picture of what has happened or is happening in the municipality of El Bosque. Wire reports coming in this morning have reported that campesinos who were present during the battle say it was the police who fired first, both by land and by air; that there are four "Zapatistas" dead, and others arrested; that many Zapatista and PRD families have been expelled from the community; and that, simultaneously, the state attorney general's office claims that "nothing is happening in El Bosque, everything is calm". More information will be posted on the FZLN english news page (http://www.peak.org/~joshua/fzln/news.html) as it becomes available. _________________________________________________________________ THOUSANDS OF ZAPATISTA WOMEN DEMONSTRATE ON MARCH 8th March 8th marked another anniversary of International Women's Day, and was commemorated by simultaneous demonstrations of thousands of women across Mexico. In Chiapas, more than 5,000 indigenous women belonging to the support bases of the EZLN marched through San Andres Sacam ch'en de los Pobres (formerly Larrainzar), permament site of the dialogue between the EZLN and the federal government. The women, who arrived from ten different municipalities in Chiapas, demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Mexican army from indigenous communities, affirming that "we, the women and our children, are the ones who suffer most from the low-intensity warfare in Chiapas". The Zapatista women further demanded that the government exchange the tanks, weapons, and helicopters it has deployed in Chiapas, for drinkable water, schools, hospitals, electricity, and roads; and that President Zedillo accept the Cocopa's constitutional reform initiative regarding indigenous rights and culture. Indigenous women carried out other demonstrations in San Cristobal de las Casas (where, among other things, they demanded that the government fulfill the Peking Accords signed by Mexico at the International Women's Conference in China in 1995--accords which, much like the San Andres Accords on indigenous rights and culture, "continue on paper without being carried out, and so nothing has changed"), Ocosingo, Yajalon, and Palenque. In Mexico City, 4,000 people from more than 50 organizations on all sides of the political spectrum--from feminists within the PRI to the FZLN--marched to the Zocalo in support of women's rights and a greater participation of women in the political life of the country. Blanca Nova, of the FZLN, addressed the crowd in order to read a short message from Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos commemorating the occasion: "Thanks to the women. Those always obligated to submission, to silence, and to conformity, those who have broken the double prison that enclosed them and who entered the streets and the countryside, who entered into all the activities of social life, and said: "Here we are, we came to carry the voice of others who, like ourselves, refuse a useless, steril, silent death". The Mexican women so uncomfortable, so bothered, so un-womenly, the Mexican women. The other uncomfortable ones, the other bothered ones, the indigenous Mexicans, we give you our thanks." Nova concluded with a call to "redouble the efforts of all women and men who struggle for democracy, to demand the federal government's unconditional respect for the San Andres Accords, a serious commitment with peace and with the indigenous peoples of Mexico, to take their just demands layed out in the proposal of the COCOPA to the Mexican Constitution". _________________________________________________________________ Primary sources for all news articles: La Jornada, Proceso, El Financiero, and La Cronica. The primary responsibility for the content of this news page lies with its author, Joshua Paulson, and not necessarily with the Special Commission for the Promotion of the FZLN. _________________________________________________________________ Comments: joshua@peak.org



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