(en) Who are the "paramilitaries"? (in Chiapas) Jornada,Dec 23

Ilan shalif (gshalif@netvision.net.il)
Sat, 27 Dec 1997 23:36:58 +0200

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This posting has been forwarded to you as a service of Accion Zapatista de Austin.

NB:This is the first effort that I have seen to analyse the paramilitary who carried out the massacre in Acteal and have been responsible for so much violence in recent years. The argument made is that most of the young men who make up these forces are unemployed, landless marginals to their villages. They have clearly been made so by the neoliberal policies which have destroyed the local economies and denied adequate ejidal land to the villages. This is not surprising; similar forces have been a work in many countries over many years. Marx analysed a somewhat similar mobilization by the French government against the Parisian working class in 1848. The Shah used Iranian peasants as foils pre 1978. The US used the marginalized tribes against the Vietnamese, etc. The availability of such paramilitary forces from INSIDE the communities goes hand in glove with the economic policies of counterinsurgency. It is a particularly violent form of divide and conquer. And, as the authors show, these violent tools of the Mexican state are then used to reinforce the economic warfare against rebellious communities as well as to murder people outright. Hopefully, the publication of this piece will bring more information and analysis to light about this dimension of the so-called "low intensity" war in Chiapas.


---------- Forwarded message ---------- Date: Fri, 26 Dec 1997 13:56:00 -0800 (PST) From: Sid Shniad <shniad@sfu.ca> Reply-To: pen-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu To: LABOR-L <labor-l@yorku.ca>, Progressive Economists' Network <pen-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu> Subject: Who are the "paramilitaries"? (fwd)

La Jornada Tuesday, Dec. 23, 1997

by Andres Aubry and Angelica Inda translated by Duane Ediger

Who are the "paramilitaries"?

The conflict in Chiapas has given anthropologists a new task: to identify a new societal subject, the protagonist of violence, which arose first in Chiapas' northern zone, then spread to the highlands and canyonlands. A methodical inventory found different levels of "paramilitary" activity among five of Chiapas' nine indigenous ethnic groups: the Chol, Tzotzil, Tzeltal, with some activity among the Tojolabal, and timid beginnings among the Zoque.. In Chenalho alone, 17 townships are affected: one-third of the villages and half the population. The scope of the phenomenon, as well as its ravages and number of victims, point to its need for study under disciplined methods.

By historical precedent, they were called first pistoleros (gunmen) or guardias blancas (white guards), for the wounds they have wrought in the collective memory of Chiapas. Though these are still present, the media began calling some paramilitaries to differentiate them from the former (agents from outside the communities, whereas the newer paramilitaries came from within them), because they act in an ambiguous and undeclared relation with the police, military and government, and they intervene with their own arms.

Despite repeated shows of proof to the contrary, the state has denied the existence of paramilitaries, arguing that some local congress people and public opinion shapers refused to believe. For lack of a better term, and out of respect for the authorities, we will continue to name them after the fashion of the media, but in quotation marks.

Who are the "paramilitaries"? They appear almost exclusively among young people frustrated by rural authorities. In the 17 townships of the municipality of Chenalho in which we were able to document the existence of 246 of them, rural inertia combined with population growth provides neither land nor work, not even farm work, to the young people who reach the age of membership in an ejido. (An ejido is a communally held and worked parcel of land; it also refers to the land holders.) Married and the heads of their households, they find themselves in the same situation as their parents: unable to find work, surviving by miracle or by stealing land and harvests. Obligated to live as delinquents, they not only lack a subsistence, but also have no reason to attend the assemblies and for that reason they are excluded from decisions made by the ejido which considers them pariahs. First conclusion: these criminals are products of the system and of their economic, agrarian and labor options.

Immediately "paramilitarization" offers them a way out and prestige. The way out is first the heavy war tax they levy (25 pesos, or US$3, biweekly per permanent adult, or a one-time payment of 375 pesos, or US$47, per person for those who don't pay the 25 pesos biweekly), which gives them an income; secondly, the booty of animals, harvested crops and domestic goods (including automobiles); these in turn legitimize the humiliating theft of corn, coffee and poultry. The weapons--and these are not light arms--bring prestige and confer upon them power and status unlike they or their landless parents have ever known.

Because they have led an itinerant life looking for work, and have not been ejido members, they never had the civic education afforded through periodic assemblies in which the collective destinies of villages, townships and municipalities are decided, and they escaped all communal responsibility.

For this reason, the "paramilitaries" have no social or political project. They make no proclamations; they simply impose themselves. The only masters they have had are the monitors of their military training, a condition they must meet in order to acquire the arms they carry.

Their mentors, whether in encampments or on patrols, conduct themselves in a way very similar to the Kaibiles of Guatemala. They can be seen at their checkpoints, clearly affected by drug use. Their way of talking and carrying themselves betrays the fascistic nature of their formation.

What is their aim? Why do they operate only within the close boundaries of the zone of influence within which they enjoy perfect impunity? The reason is strategic, and they themselves are probably unaware of it, for they would not exist were it not for the manipulation of a hidden Director. The villages that fill the local news form a wedge between the four contiguous municipalities of Chenalho, Pantelho, Cancuc and Tenajapa. The warning signs that mark the training area of the group MIRA reveal the same tactical option: these "paramilitaries" are based at the convergence of the four municipalities of Huixtan, Chanal, Oxchuc, and Cancuc, anticipating an eventual bridge to the paramilitaries of Chenalho.

The commanders of the Paz y Justicia group, near El Limar, control the five Chol Indian municipalities and the entrances to Amatan, Huitiupan, Simojovel, El Bosque, and Chilon (via the Chinchulines of Bachajon). Taken together, they dominate the public policy space in nearly all of the municipalities administered by SEAPI (State Secretariat for Attention to Indigenous Peoples). The objective of all of them is to dismantle any and all--unarmed--opposition bases of support.

After the military offensive of February 9, 1995, one of the military tactics denounced by the observer missions was the destruction of productive installations, crops and even farm implements to take away the dissidents' future. The "paramilitary" tactics employed in Chenalho are the same. The operations began when the coffee was near ready to harvest, in a year when the price was high. Like flies shooed away, productive farmers were expelled en masse. Like undesirables getting the rug pulled out from under them, the indigenous of Chiapas' are robbed of their future. ____________________________ Andres Aubry and Angelica Inda are sociologists and historians living in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

Duane Ediger is a resident of Dallas and a frequent traveler to Mexico <duane.ediger@internetmci.com> --- from list aut-op-sy@lists.village.virginia.edu ---

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