Ilan shalif (gshalif@netvision.net.il)
Sun, 16 Nov 1997 23:55:51 +0200

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LA OPINION BULLETIN No. 80 published by CIACH, A.C. Centro de Informacion y Analisis de Chiapas CHIAPAS, MEXICO 12 November 1997


The attempt on the lives of Bishops Samuel Ruiz and Raul Vera in the Northern Area of Chiapas, and the attempted murder last week of Mrs. Luz Maria Ruiz, the former’s sister, in the offices of the Diocesan Curia in San Cristobal de las Casas, have unleashed fierce debate within Chiapas and Mexico. In addition, international concern over the safety of the Bishops and the violent situation permeating the Northern Area of Chiapas has the federal government worried. This week we take a look at the context and the debate of the past few days.


The head of CONAI and bishop of San Cristobal, Samuel Ruiz, stated that the attempted murder of his sister was linked to the attempt on his life a few days before. Bishop Raul Vera, coadjutor bishop of the same diocese, declared that Samuel Ruiz’s life is presently in danger. Other prelates in Mexico, approximately 300 bishops of the U.S. Catholic Conference, and other ecclesiastic and ecumenical bodies throughout the world have come out in support and solidarity of Ruiz and Vera, and the San Cristobal Diocese.

While relatives of Mrs. Ruiz’s assailant seek to have him released, and judicial authorities refuse to acknowledge that this may have been an attempted murder, the Diocese has filed a charge against some journalists and local newspapers, which have carried out a months-old "defamation campaign" against the Bishops and the Diocese. This legal action unleashed strong responses from the press, especially the Chiapas newspaper "Cuarto Poder".


Conrado de la Cruz Jimenez, publisher of Cuarto Poder, filed a suit against Bishop Ruiz for slander. The suit seeks redress for the Bishop’s statement that Cuarto Poder printed an article claiming that Ruiz had paid his sister’s assailant. Mr. De la Cruz vehemently denied the charge and claimed that Ruiz’s declaration had spotted the newspaper’s reputation. De la Cruz also sent an open letter of protest to the Mexico City newspaper La Jornada, which picked up and published Ruiz’s statement, but which has also published stories on alleged irregularities and collusion of Cuarto Poder with the Chiapas government.

Columnists of Cuarto Poder waited little to join the fray and continued their avalanche of criticism against Bishop Ruiz and the Diocese. The newspaper has claimed that the San Cristobal Bishops are responsible for the violence, of having destabilization plans, for commandeering armed catechists, and of being guilty of the bloodshed, murders, evictions, arms trafficking, etc., within various regions of Chiapas.


Five Nobel Peace Prize recipients, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Desmond Tutu, Oscar Arias, Tenzin Gyatso and Rigoberta Menchu, expressed their solidarity with Bishops Ruiz and Vera, and it was revealed that at least some of them may soon travel to Chiapas. Also, ecclesiastic organizations, international funding agencies, and world solidarity organizations have come out in solidarity and have called for an end to the violence in Chiapas, while pointing out that without signed agreements and demilitarization, no peace is possible in the troubled state.


Joaquin Coldwell, head of the government’s delegation for negotiations with the EZLN, and the government itself, made surprising declarations regarding the events of the past few days, which we can summarize as follows:

1. Indigenous autonomy will not bring on "balkanization" of the country. (Yet this has been the government’s main reason for refusing to accept the COCOPA’s ** legislative proposal, which, if approved, would have implemented the agreements already signed on Indigenous Rights and Culture at Table 1 of the negotiations, suspended since February 1996).

**See end of article for an explanation of common initials.

2. The government should fulfill the San Andres Accords "with no haggling". (Yet up to now the government has insisted on re-negotiating what has already been signed). 3. All of Subcommander Marcos’s demands are negotiable, can be channeled through institutions, and in no way are a threat to the integrity of the country. (Yet the government had insistently accused the EZLN of being intransigent, of attempting to undermine Mexico’s unity, etc.). 4. Both negotiating parties have certain bugaboos, but it is untrue that the government wants to annihilate the EZLN, and that the EZLN’s proposal regarding autonomies are tantamount to the balkanization of Mexico. 5. Negotiations should resume as soon as possible. 6. Should present tendencies continue in Chiapas, the state will teeter into full-blown violence and become ungovernable. 7. A new state policy is necessary to prevent conflict. 8. It is necessary to rekindle a process of national reconciliation. 9. In light of local troubles, the EZLN’s weakness as an interlocutor places the peace process at risk, since without it there would be no collective interlocutor, but rather separate and unorganized groups. 10. A change of attitude among the negotiating parties is required: truth, sincerity, frankness, trust, good will, transparency, etc. should reign.


The CNDH has had little to say on recent affairs in Chiapas, given its concern for international pressure placed on the Mexican government over human rights violations. Tellingly, the head of the CNDH, Mrs. Rocatti, recently sent a single recommendation to the Chiapas governor’s office regarding an unusual and rather unimportant event, which did nothing but contrast the triteness of the matter with the flagrant human rights violations committed by the state government and which have been denounced repeatedly in the press.

Mrs. Rocatti has not only had to field the accusations leveled by French organizations against the Mexican government during President Zedillo’s recent European jaunt, but also those of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the OAS’s Inter American Commission on Human Rights, and other organizations which continue to press the government for stepped up human rights protection. Mrs. Rocatti made a statement that international NGOs are "interventionists" and, because they lack legal status in the country, can say little about the situation in Mexico. At the same time the State Commission on Human Rights (also governmental) continues to press ahead with its legislative proposal designed to control NGO activities within Chiapas.


In its 7 November communique, the EZLN made seven points, which we summarize as follows: 1) It repudiates the violence against the Bishops, catechists and Don Samuel’s sister. 2) It remembers those who have been murdered and the thousands of displaced people in the Northern Area. 3) It expresses solidarity with CONAI and the Diocese. 4) The attacks must be understood as a calculation, made during war, of the political and social costs of a violent solution. The actions should be read as a message from the government: neither dialogue, mediation, nor peace. 5) Joaquin Coldwell’s declarations confirm the government’s strategy of continuing the war, administering the conflict in doses, and presenting the war to public opinion as a conflict among Indians, with internal disputes in the EZLN, disputes between the EZLN and the Diocese of San Cristobal, radicalization of the EZLN’s leadership, lack of control over supporters. All of this may be a prelude to military conflict. 6) "Once again war casts its shadow over Mexico. Those who predict minimal costs are mistaken. Everything will come tumbling down". 7) "We know very well what follows threats against mediation. We are prepared".


The VII Military Region, with headquarters in Tuxtla Gutierrez and jurisdiction over several states, including Chiapas, issued a statement regarding changes: Commander Mario Renan Castillo is to be replaced by Commander Jorge Gomez Salazar, who headed the February 1995 military offensive against the EZLN.

A recent report by Global Exchange reveals that in 19 of Mexico’s 32 states civilian police authorities have been replaced by military authorities. The PRD linked the militarization with the deaths of 565 of its members, murdered in the struggle for democracy, with the highest figures reported in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla and Michoacan.


Campesino organizations in the municipality of Frontera Comalapa, bordering Guatemala, have reported the presence of armed PRI groups, who are taking aim at the autonomous municipality of "Tierra y Libertad", and at the EZLN and its sympathizers. According to news accounts, 3,000 Zapatista sympathizers, members of the FOCIS (Front of Independent Campesino Organization of the Sierra), recently reopened an office in the town of Paso Hondo.

In the Selva region, in the municipality of Ocosingo, campesino organizations denounced the embezzlement of funds from the Secretary of Solidarity (SEDESOL). Concurrently, SEDESOL announced funding of education, infrastructure, health and other activities, but residents of the areas supposedly benefited have denied any knowledge of such funding. Residents also have denounced the use of funds destined for the army in the Canadas area to finance training and arms to the tune of 70 million pesos (US$8.4 million) for the MIRA (Indigenous Revolutionary Antizapatista Movement) paramilitary group. Accusations were also made that the army has control of one of the government’s CAS (Centers for Social Attention) in the region.

Surprisingly a new group, the MPR (Popular Revolutionary Movement) surfaced in the municipality of Motozintla, also on the Guatemalan border. Its program calls for: 1) Establishment of a popular republic 2) Confiscation of properties belonging to imperialists, wealthy capitalist and landowners. 3) Land for those who work it. 4) Equality and regional autonomy for the indigenous people. 5) Equality for women

A statement released by the group also said that the future belongs to the "revolution of new democracy". It rejected elections and "bourgeois exploitation".

Although this appearance of the MRP might well have been overlooked, no such possibility is in store for what undoubtedly will be an increase presence of the federal army, the Public Security Police and paramilitary groups in the region.

In the Altos region, municipality of Chenalho, several sources have stated that the confrontations in the past several weeks have led to 2,700 people being displaced from their communities. Also, two Chamula Indians were murdered by caciques (strongmen) of the Chamula municipality in an attempt to head off any possible peace and reconciliation agreement that might have led to the return of Chamulas, expelled from the municipality. The returnees might have challenged the political and economic interests of those who control land and other activities tied to the PRI.

In the Northern Region, many civic organizations and campesinos have called for an impeachment of state deputy Samuel Sanchez, alleged leader of the Paz y Justicia paramilitary group. The call was timidly echoed by other deputies in the state Congress. Meanwhile, PRI members demanded that PRD sympathizers be expelled from land taken in the municipality of Tila.

In other news from local newspapers, 500 families who belonged to Paz y Justicia left this paramilitary group to join Abu-Xu, a campesino organization which has been accused by the Cuarto Poder newspaper of being the paramilitary group of catechists commandeered by the Diocese of San Cristobal and by Bishop Samuel Ruiz. It was these and other accusations that led the Diocese to sue the newspaper for libel.

And while these conflicts threaten to turn violent, Chiapas Governor Julio Cesar Ruiz Ferro announced the release of 1,200,000 pesos (US$144,578) for 75 "cultural projects" throughout the state. Meanwhile the state Congress’ Health Commission released a statement lamenting the abysmal health conditions found within the indigenous communities in Chiapas.


CONPAZ (Coordination of NGOs for Peace) announced recently that it would be closing its doors at year’s end. Reactions from some political parties, the federal army and others placed emphasis on the internal disputes that led to the decision. Other efforts have seemingly borne more fruit: in the city of Ocosingo on 8-9 November, CORECO (Support Commission for Community Reconciliation), the "All Rights for Everybody" National Network of Human Rights, the Diocese of San Cristobal and CONAI held a meeting with 45 organizations and hundreds of participants from the Selva and Border Areas to reflect on war, its consequences, causes and alternatives. The meeting also sought to favor community reconciliation.


President Zedillo was once again in Chiapas last week to meet Guatemalan President Alvaro Arzu. The meeting led to the following agreements:

1) The Presidents reiterated the commitment to end Guatemalan refugee returns in 1998. 2) They announced the individual return of 6,000 Guatemalans in 1998. 3) Mexico granted credits to Guatemala of US$45.5 million for border development projects and pre-investment studies. 4) The Mexican government will deport six Guatemalan guerrillas presently in its jails. 5) In the municipality of Frontera Comalapa, the Presidents visited the International Research and Agricultural Training Center, an institution partially funded by Grupo Pulsar, a large corporation carrying out programs of genetic improvement, phytopathology, plant mutations, etc.


COCOPA Commission for Concordance and Pacification, a legislative commission CONAI National Mediation Commission CORECO Support Commission for Community Reconciliation PRI Party of the Institutional Revolution PRD Party of the Democratic Revolution


Note: We sincerely appreciate our readers’ suggestions regarding this Bulletin. If you would like to have a map of Chiapas with its municipal and electoral districts, please e-mail a request to CIACH and we will send it to you as "attached mail" in Word for Windows.

INFORMATION: CIACH is a non-governmental organization, created in 1985 with the goal of being an alternative source of training, analysis and investigation for social, campesino and indigenous organizations, NGOs, students and researchers. CIACH also has a newspaper data bank that dates from 1985 to the present, classified by topics pertinent to Chiapas. The Center also undertakes research and analysis regarding current topics in the state, it edits publications and carries out workshops on analysis and on mental health with social organizations. *********************************************************************** Dear Friends: Putting out this Bulletin on a weekly basis generates costs for CIACH. Help us ensure it will continue to reach you by sending your donation to CIACH, checking account no. 1000790-7, branch 437 of BANCOMER in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico. If you make a deposit, please let us know the date and the amount. Thank you very much! ************************************************************************ NOTICE ON REPODUCING THIS BULLETIN This La Opinion Bulletin may be reproduced by other means such as in Internet web pages or in printed matter, as long as the source and our e-mail address are cited. __________________________________________________________ Centro de Información y Análisis de Chiapas, A.C. (CIACH) Flavio A. Paniagua 107 Barrio de Guadalupe 29230 San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, MEXICO

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