(en) Pentaon documents on EZLN

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Tue, 20 May 1997 16:32:09 +0000

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Proceso, May 11

97 Pentagon Documents, Declassified, regarding the conflict in Chiapas

Washington knew about the Zapatista guerrillas almost a half a year before NAFTA began

Pascal Beltran del Rio

Washington, DC-The US military intelligence services knew of the existence of the Chiapas guerrillas, including their name, almost exactly, at least a half a year before the uprising on January 1, 1994.

Since the taking of San Cristobal de las Casas and other municipal seats in Chiapas, by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, the Defense Department has followed closely the development of the armed conflict in this state, as well as its repercussions in other parts of Mexico, Guatemala and even in Europe.

This information is included in a hundred documents, recently declassified , and written by analysts with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). The Pentagon made the 97 documents public, many of them extremely censored, in response to a Freedom of Information request from the non- profit National Security Archive.

The documents, which partially of the timeframe between January 1992 and September 1996, also mention the activities of other guerrilla organizations, as well as the operational capacities and tactics of the Mexican Armed Forces.

The anonymous analysts who wrote the documents, the majority of which are cables sent to Washington from the capital cities of Mexico and Guatemala touch on many themes in their commentaries: the personality of Marcos, the tensions between the Army and civilian authority, the role of the border between Mexico and Guatemala in the conflict in Chiapas, the characteristics of the principal Mexican newspapers, the murder of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the demonstrations of support for the Zapatistas, the displacements which the armed confrontation created, the history of the EZLN, the profound significance of the guerrilla uprisings in Mexico, the damages to tourism-

In many of the documents there is detailed information about the movement of soldiers and insurgents, during the most - times of the conflict in Chiapas. Although many paragraphs in the documents have been blacked out, it can be deduced that the Pentagon had strong first hand sources of information in the area, which allowed it to calculate the number of men involved in the actions and to know the exact locations of the movements.

Even if the Pentagon kept secret the identity of many of its sources by means of blacking out information or using pseudonyms, it is clear from the documents that part of the information comes directly from the National Defense Secretary. However the cables or 'intelligence reports' also include reports that appeared in Mexican newspapers.

These newspapers were qualified by their ideological and political position and by the quality of their reporting. For example, according to the Pentagon, Reforma is a 'relatively objective' newspaper, La Jornada is ' of a leftist persuasion', and in Excelsior 'sympathies for the Mexican government dominate'.

The declassified documents of which 27 were in the category of 'secret' and the rest were 'confidential', and they provide various revelations.

Among them are: that the so-called Rainbow Taskforce, a special body of the Mexican Army to combat the Zapatistas, existed at least since August 1994, more than a year before the press began to report about it; that the military high command of Mexico and Guatemala held intense logistical exchanges between January 1994 and September 1995, and that 'no indications exist' of institutional ties between the EZLN and the recently demobilized National Guatemalan Revolutionary Unit (URNG).

In conclusion, the Pentagon appears to have been very aware of the theme of the guerrillas in Mexico, which Presidents Bill Clinton and Ernesto Zedillo did not touch on during their meeting last week.

*Since before the uprising*

On June 9, 1993, a cable of the Defense Department reproduced a note that appeared in page 9 of section A of the daily newspaper El Nacional. The report included statements from Senator Antonio Melgar Aranda, then president of the Southern Border Commission of the Senate. According to the cable, which was 4 pages long, Melgar proposed that the Army increase its vigilance in the municipality of Ocosingo, in order to prevent Guatemalan guerrillas from conducting actions in Mexican territory.

The text added: 'If combating guerrillas is the traditional role of the Army, the public requests for intervention are unusual-The statements by= Melgar are well synchronized. He appears to have chosen to give the PRI's public support to the Army in this case, in which discrepancies have emerged amongst the military, indigenous groups, and civilian and human rights organizations regarding the conduct of a mission in Chiapas during the past two weeks'.

The analysts refer to a military operation that was carried out after a confrontation between guerrilla army members and the soldiers, in the collective farm of Patate Viejo, at the end of May 1993, after the discovery of a training camp.

The document which has the notation C/NF (Confidential/ don't give to foreigners) states: Guatemala has confirmed that - the leadership of the URNG has been 'in contact with' a Mexican guerrilla group in the area. This Mexican guerrilla group has been identified tentatively as the Zapatista Front of National Liberation (FZLN)'.

On November 10, 1993 a week before the Free Trade Agreement was approved in the US House of Representatives and 51 days before the uprising in Chiapas, the analysts of the DIA sent a 'secret' cable to Washington, in which it reported that 'the Zapatista Front of National Liberation (FZLN) currently operates in the border area of Chiapas, Mexico, and the western part of the Peten Department of Guatemala'. The source, whose identity is censured in the document, added that the 'FZLN' had the support of the URNG.

The possibility of a collaboration between the Zapatistas and the Guatemalan guerrilla groups, particularly the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP) became a theme of interest for the Pentagon, according to the documents reviewed by Proceso. Throughout 1994 and 1995 various sources suggested and even confirmed such collaboration. However, the US analysts came to a different conclusion.

The first military intelligence report about the combat in Chiapas amongst the 97 documents that were declassified had a date of January 5, 1994. The text read: 'In this fifth day of armed conflict in the state of Chiapas, some armored units have been seen. Until now, there only have been seen troops and aerial units in confrontations with the rebel forces of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation'.

After various lines that were censured, the cable continues: 'The deployment of the armored units could have greater psychological value than practical worth, since they are wheeled, not of -, and they lack the capacity to handle rough terrain. The most likely scenario is that the objective of their presence be to demonstrate the solid force and absolute commitment of the government to contain this uprising as quickly as possible'.

A cable dated the following day reported on meetings between military chiefs from Mexico and Guatemala, prior to the uprising. The report, more than half of which was censored, is titled 'Attitudes of the Guatemalan Army regarding the uprising in Chiapas'. The text stated that , in a meeting whose date was not mentioned or was blacked out, the Guatemalan military leaders tried in vain to convince their counterparts that the URNG, the Farabundo Marti Front of National Liberation (FMLN), and the ETA were 'cooperating in some way with an insurgency group in Mexico'.

The cable pointed out: 'No direct evidence exists that there are explicit ties between the URNG and the EZLN...Given the political risks involved in materially helping the EZLN...it is not credible that the URNG was giving arms to the EZLN, although the EZLN could have received some political or military training from members of the URNG in or around the Guatemalan refugee camps (in Chiapas).'

The Defense Department maintained this point of view. A confidential report, written 20 months ago, commented: 'There is not much evidence of ties between the URNG and the EZLN'.

Where the Pentagon did indeed find collaboration is between the Armies of Mexico and Guatemala. A secret cable, dated January 7 1994 , described a meeting between General Miguel Angel Godinez, head of the VII Military Region, and the head of the Greater State of the Guatemalan Army, Jose Luis Quilo Ayuso (a hard-line military man, who just a few days later, was removed from this position by the then President Ramiro de Leon Carpio).

According to the cable, 'the purpose of the meeting (words blacked out) was to exchange information about their respect insurgencies (words blacked out). The Guatemalan delegation was informed of Mexican suspicions regarding the possibility that EZLN members were trying to find refuge in the region of Playa Grande (words blacked out). This could lead to a reinforcement of the border by the Guatemalan Army.'

A secret report, written a year later, showed the fruits of the military collaboration. 'The Air Force is patrolling the border with Mexico, within the boundaries of the Quiche and Huehuetenango departments, by means of small fixed wing planes', said the cable, dated February 13, 1995. It added: 'The Guatemalan Army also has plans, in coordination with the Mexican Army, to put troops on its side of the border'.

Part of the interaction between the two armies consisted in the training of Mexican soldiers in the school of the Kaibils, the elite corps of the Guatemalan Armed Forces.

'The units of the Guatemalan Army stationed along the Mexican border in the Peten Department have an excellent relation, with the development of regular reciprocal visits among the diverse border camps', stated a cable, dated March 19, 1995.

Another secret report, dated three months earlier, commented: 'The Guatemalan Army has received new requests for information and assistance, from the Mexican Army, in order to confront the continued insurgency of the EZLN'. According to the cable, Guatemala made available to Mexico 'special forces and advisors from the Air Force in order to train Mexican personnel'.

Another cable, sent January 20, 1994, gave more information. Despite having several parts deleted, it stated that the Guatemalan army was virtually demobilized since the 'coup' of the ex-president Jorge Serrano Elias, on May 23, 1993, when the Mexican government suggested that the border be better monitored.

It said: 'A new factor that could influence a decision by the Guatemalan Army in terms of launching a great offensive (against the URNG) is the risk that the EZLN represents in Chiapas'.

The contents of another cable, dated April 1994, speculates that one of the effects of the conflict in Chiapas was the acceleration of the peace process in Guatemala: 'The pressure that the Mexican government is exercising on the URNG to sign a peace accord is tremendous, just as is the pressure that it is applying to impede the URNG's alignment with the EZLN'.

*Step by step*

A demonstration of the details of the Pentagon, in its monitoring of the conflict in Chiapas, is cable #0-2723387, sent January 25, 1994, two weeks after the cease-fire was decreed.

>From a source that is not revealed, the US military analysts
obtained the following account of events:

'The exhaustion of food and gas supplies is occurring in many of the cities affected by the uprising. The city of Yajalon (words deleted) is without gasoline-In Ocosingo-the gas station is only open from noon to 1pm.

'On January 19, 1994, approximately 25-30 members of the military medical staff were seen in the village of Oxchuc (words deleted). The group was in three vehicles. On January 20, 1994 other trucks, approximately 10, of the 5-ton size, were in the village.

'More dead are being taken from tombs in Ocosingo and Tuxtla Gutierrez. It is rumored that some of the dead lost their lives in disputes among rival factions, who are using the conflict as an opportunity to address differences, in the style of the Hatfields and McCoys.'

On January 26, the military analysts commented on the publication, in the Mexican mass media, of a Zapatista manual captured by the Army: 'This insurgency document shows sufficiently that the EZLN is an organized force, which will not lay down its arms after ten years of preparation and whose members are committed in the long term to a change in government.

For those who view this insurgency as a phase that will rapidly pass and be forgotten, these documents serve as a wake up call. Instead of renouncing the struggle, the EZLN is using the cease fire and amnesty and the process of conversations of peace to continue constructing a base of support in the countryside, while the Army is digging its perimeters of protection and while the political players try to demonstrate that they can resolve centuries old problems with a rapid infusion of money. One would expect that this process would function, but the evidence offered in these documents leads to a different conclusion: Mexico is confronting a long-term guerrilla problem, which is seeking to change Mexico fundamentally.'

Dated this same day, another confidential report speaks with great detail about the diverse movements of the EZLN combatants, making reference to the places and number of soldiers. It affirms that the EZLN moves freely in its territory, but lacks the capacity to administer the zones under its influence. In the opinion of the analysts who wrote the document, the Mexican government could use this fact as an argument not to authorize the EZLN as a belligerent force, under the Geneva Conventions.

Throughout 1994 the Pentagon continued receiving punctual information about the development of the conflict. For example, its analysts in Mexico reported that the assassination of Luis Donaldo Colosio was causing 'the peace process to go backwards' (April 7); that the Mexican government was 'exercising its capacities to procure justice' (May 9) ;that the Mexicans were 'contemplating seriously for the first time' the possibility that the PRI could lose a presidential election (June 15); that the Army was 'frustrated by the inactivity of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari against the rebels (July 21); and that the threat of postelectoral violence in Mexico was 'high' (August 19).

And more: that 'before the elections' of August 21, 'the Mexican government distributed large sums of money in public works projects in Chiapas' (August 31); that the Rainbow Taskforce whose name comes from, according to the cables, the blockade surrounding the Zapatista positions, was carrying out activities in Palenque (August 23); that the Mexican Air Force had acquired KA-55 and RC-10 aerial photography equipment (September 15) and spent $6 million in reconditioning a landing strip near Comitan (October 18); and that despite President Ernesto Zedillo taking over the presidency, 'the problems of Chiapas' have not been resolved, as there is 'insufficient land and too many poor campesinos who want land for themselves and their children'.

*Entering the new presidential term, the Pentagon knew ahead of time that the conflict would escalate again*

On December 8 1994 a detailed report of the mobilizations against the seating of Eduardo Robledo Rincon as governor, including the chants that the demonstrators shouted was sent. On December 21, the military intelligence analysts warned that 'hostilities between the EZLN and the Mexican Army are clearly possible'; the one from December 27 estimated the number of EZLN soldiers as 5,000; the December 30 one reported that the ease with which the Zapatistas broke through the blockade by the Mexican Army had 'shamed' the government and military.

When the hostilities were renewed, with the Army's offensive of February 9th, 1995, the US military analysts commented in a cable: 'The Army was frustrated by the cease fire announced on January 12, 1994. The new secretary of Defense, General Enrique Cervantes Aguirre, gave the presentation in the annual March of Loyalty (February 9th 1995)- It is interesting that the capture of arms, the revelation of the greater activity by the EZLN, the announcement of the president of more pressure and action and the military movements occurred, all of them, in the eight hours following this important speech.'

*The actors*

Even if it is valid to think that the US Defense Department sympathizes more with the Army and the Mexican government than with the EZLN, the DIA analysts did not avoid weak points and achievements by them, within their intelligence reports.

For example, in a cable sent on January 31, 1994, the analysts commented : 'The EZLN easily won the war of public relations and have made the Army return to its barracks, leaving them with little possibilities of patrolling the land. This has allowed the possibility of the EZLN to control space, both political and military. What began as a victory of public relations is being converted into a control that each day will be more difficult to take from the EZLN'.

Five days later, an intelligence report reported that the Mexican government was distributing food wrongly in Chiapas: 'These foods are of a type that the residents do not need immediately, and as a result, are considered useless by those who receive the aid'.

Reporting on the arrival of Mexican refugees to Guatemalan territory, on February 2, 1994, the analysts pointed out: 'In what should be a strange turn of events, Mexican refugees now are seeking security in Guatemala. This is certainly an embarrassment for the Mexican government'.

Three weeks later, a cable reported the accident that a military Arava plane suffered, in the community of Cuesta de los Llanos, in the hills of Sinaloa. 'The Mexican Army and Air Force whose aerial activities are already overly decimated, by the confrontation with the EZLN, can not afford to lose any of its remaining few planes'.

On October 11, 1994, the military analysts commented: 'Military flyovers are being conducted (words deleted). If this is or isn't a violation of the cease fire by the Mexican government, it doesn't matter. It the EZLN believes that it is, then it is a violation. For this reason the EZLN finally has announced that it has anti-aerial armaments. This was suspected, but had not been proven.' Other cables estimated that the Zapatistas have 'heavy weapons', among them anti aerial missiles with infra- red system, like the SA-7 and SA-14.

Three days after Zedillo became president, a cable confirmed that the problems of Chiapas had not disappeared. In addition, it reported of a meeting of indigenous groups who were not sympathizers of the EZLN in which it was concluded that 'the economic inequalities continue to exist at the same level as before the uprising'.

On December 7, 1994 an intelligence report established that 'the security in the majority of the Mexican ports is poor or non- existent'. It said that , at the beginning of this year, a man tried to blow up a port installation. And it considered it an excellent idea to reinforce the monitoring of the ports with personnel from security forces.

Six weeks after the Mexican government launched the February 1995 operation to try to cut off the head of the EZLN, the military analyst cited a 'source internal to the Defense Secretary' who suggested that 'the tensions will persist because the root cause of the insurgency, the social underdevelopment, has not been attended to adequately by the government'. The source said that the leadership of the EZLN and its network of support was 'growing' and the objective of the Zapatistas 'now was nothing less that gaining total political control of Chiapas'.

Subcomandante Marcos is the subject of various comments in the Pentagon cables, which, like many others, tried to discover the true identity of the guerrilla chief.

On March 7, 1994, the military analysts said: 'The Zapatista movement and the comandante (sic) Marcos is gaining popularity among the Mexican people. What began as purely an indigenous movement, is gaining popularity among other groups that are not satisfied with the Salinas government'.

The following April 5, commenting on an interview with Marcos, included in an independent video, the analysts affirmed: 'This session with Subcomandante Marcos shows his ability to express himself simply, although eloquently. His charisma - is evident in this video'.

Before the Mexican government made public that the name of Marcos was Rafael Guillen, the Pentagon had a story about the supposed participation of Marcos in the international brigades which visited Nicaragua between 1979 and 1990, during the Sandinista regime.

The Defense Department even investigated if Marcos had been born in Nicaragua, according to a cable dated January 31, 1995. However, the same military analysts concluded that this investigation had been like pursuing a 'wild GANSO' , an expression in English that signifies a fruitless search.

After the Mexican government released a photo of Guillen, there were many news reports about the presence of Marcos in Nicaragua in the 80s. On February 22, 1995 in a cable originating from Managua, the DIA analysts reproduced notes regarding this, taken from the Nicaraguan daily newspapers La Prensa, Barricada and La Tribuna.

One of the two 'commentaries' of the military analysts was censured. The other says: 'According to all the versions, there is a strong possibility that Marcos spent some time in Nicaragua. Independent of the type of training that he received or the lack of it, all the information indicates that his connection with Nicaragua was entirely during the Sandinista period and specifically before 1987.:'

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