ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN REFORMA, MEXICO
TRANSLATED BY rosalva bermudez-ballin FOR NUEVO AMANECER PRESS
Reforma, Wednesday, June 17, 1998
Carlos Fuentes/ The Siege of Chiapas
Translated by Rosalva Bermudez-Ballin
"We have gathered here, because this is the place where, for thousands
of years, the indigenous paths of the Chiapas Highlands have crossed. This
is where part of its tradition lives, this is where its problems are sorted
out and this is a refuge for men and cultures. This place has seen the
suffering of indigenous people for centuries. It has seen them walk in
search of survival or justice for their reasons. It has seen them share
their efforts with their blood brothers. Here, men [sic] dared to live
like men [sic]."
These words were not Marcos', nor Saramago's, nor Fernando Benitez's. They
were pronounced by Luis Donaldo Colosio in the Chiapan town of La Ventana,
on March 3, 1990, that is, almost exactly four years before another celebrated
speech by the ever remembered and loved Sonoran politician, at the National
Encounter of Indigenous Towns.
Is the substitute governor Roberto Albores capable of repeating Colosio's
words without turning red? Could the Chiapan Priistas, the landowners,
and the crop razers who keep that entity of the Federation as a reserve
for economic exploitation and political submission repeat them without cynicism?
Would, President Ernesto Zedillo, and the Secretary of the Interior Francisco
Labastida, and the Secretary of National Defense, General Enrique Cervantes
Aguirre, please, memorize them?
A rich state full of poor citizens.
Chiapas gives Mexico, energy, oil, coffee, forests. What does it receive
in return? How does the richness of a state that could be one of the most
prosperous in the country be translated?
Phillipe Aghion and Beatriz Armendariz, from the University College of London,
provided me the following data. The GNP in Mexico is12,263 pesos. Nuevo
Leon's is 21,289 pesos. Chiapas' is a little over 8,000 pesos.
Chiapas has the highest infant mortality rate in the country: eighty five
infants out of a thousand births die. In Chiapas there is one doctor for
every thousand inhabitants.
Malnutrition reaches seventy percent of the population. Brutality and injustice
affects thirty percent of children under the age of fifteen, in contrast
to five and a half percent of all the illiterate people in the rest of the
The distribution of income is the most unjust in the country. Brutality
of treatment, injustice and exaction are the daily bread--the only one that
is theirs--for the indigenous people who, before Colosio, asked not just
for health, education and credit, bilingual education, ownership over their
natural resources in indigenous territories and their own authority, but
also for the liberation of jailed indigenous people who are constantly harassed
for no reason. And something else: they asked us, the ladinos, the white
and the mestizos, to please, "direct yourselves to us."
From Chinameca to La Union
In turn, time and time again, the Mexican powers have not talked to the
indigenous and peasant population. They have directed the bullets, against
Zapata at Chinamece, against Jaramillo at Xochicalco, against the anonymous
people at Acteal, and now against the supposed delinquents at El Bosque,
Union Progreso and Chavajeval. To believe that some shots in the mountains
can gather up a thousand soldiers instantly to kill a fistful of people
who have no roof, land, or shoes, is a mockery as monstrous as calling the
dead "delinquents". That is what they called
Zapata during his time (read the newspapers from the year1919).
"What we are going to regulate--Colosio said in 1990-, what we are
going to regulate immediately is the right of the indigenous people to be
heard, and be heard in their own language, so that their forms of justice,
medicine and protection of the environment be known; so that their proposals
for what they understand to be well-being and better forms of democracy
Chiapas, in a state of siege.
President Ernesto Zedillo has repeatedly declined the use of force in Chiapas.
Repeatedly, the Secretary of the Interior, Francisco Labastida has talked
about implementing a peaceful and prosperous strategy for Chiapas. Obviously,
Albores, the governor of Chiapas, has heard neither the President nor the
Secretary. Time and time again, his protection is quickly given to the
Priista groups and denied to the autonomous or Zapatista peoples. Surely,
the governor finds his support, more than in the Central government, in
the local forces, in his alliance to the Chiapan oligarchy with the PRI
and in the alliance of both to the paramilitary groups.
The question that remains is this: Who has ordered the Mexican military
to move? The only one who has the power to do it is the Supreme Chief, the
President of the Republic.
Chiapas is internally in a state of siege by all these powers and contradictions
of power. The governor does not want witnesses. The federal government,
apparently, does not either.
But a Chiapas with no witnesses means the death of Chiapas, extermination
without impunity. Neither Hitler was able to tolerate witnesses in Auschwitz,
nor Stalin at the Gulag, nor Pinochet in Chile. But a Chiapas without
witnesses, a Chiapas handed out to official impunity and to the death of
the poor, means something else: it means the danger of protest uprisings
in the countryside and in the cieties; it means the very serious interruption,
if not the death, of democratic transition in Mexico.
May the emissaries of death not deceive themselves: in Mexico, the dead
are rising and claim justice all the way from Chinameca to Tlatelolco.
May the intermediaries come, by mule or by plane.
Because of this, it is urgent that abandonment and impunity not be the signs
of the violent "pacification" of Chiapas. How to avoid it? By
multiplying the observation and negotiation bodies.
The CONAI has died. May the COCOPA live. This, the Pacification and Consent
Comission, which was created by law, includes representatives from all the
political parties. It has a legitimate voice which needs to be made heard.
To the Government, that all violent activity in Chiapas stop, including
the dismantling of the autonomous municipalities that have been in existence,
in some cases, for more than two years. Why muddy things up with blood and
confussion? People ask themselves, how did a thousand soldiers turn up instantly
to kill six Chiapan indigenous people and there wasn't one damned well-paid
cop to protect my life and property in the cities of this country? (Translator's
note: Just as I was typing this last sentence, I was interrupted by an email
message from my sister in Mexico City telling me that her station wagon
was stolen yesterday from ouside her home in Mexico City's Colonia del Valle)
And before the EZLN, why say anything anymore.
Absence of witnesses in Chiaps means the victory of impunity in Chiapas.
It is urgent to smother the local and federal government with observers
Besides a resurrected COCOPA, the Red Cross and the Conference of Mexican
Episcopacy must make themselves present.
Given the flow of displaced people, the presence of the United Nations High
Commissioner for refugees, ACNUR or UNHCR, headed by Mary Robinson, is both
necessary and legitimate.
The harmful official policy of expulsion of foreign observers, which has
damaged the fame of the country and has resurrected the cheapest xenophobic
and chauvinistic vocabulary, must be reversed: the government should welcome
observers, and it should turn them into witnesses of the governmental effort
to negotiate peace in Chiapas, it should see the observers as friends, as
protectors of the indigenous people and as de facto allies of the government.
The dangers that a policy of blood and fire in Chiapas represent to Mexico,
to the democratic transition and to the diminishing international position
of the country, requires, finally, a mixed mediating body, which is both
national and international, and who is able to project to the world the
negotiating and pacifying will of the whole country and would help the government
avoid the increase of expenses in the southern border of the country.
Bernardo Sepulveda, the Chancelor of Contadora is a Mexican mediator with
proved credentials in the Central American conflicts, a diplomat with experience
and acceptable to both sides, can be a high ranking mediator in this coflict
(Translator's note: The Contadora group was created on the 9 of January,
1983 at a conference that took place at the Island of Contadora for the
purpose of bringing an end to the civil wars in El Salvador, and Guatemala
and the conflict between Nicaragua and the U.S. The group had representatives
from Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, and Colombia and their main objective was
to try to find solutions through dialogue).
He is not the only man with political and diplomatic experience, Jesus Silva
Herzog, former Secretary of the Treasury and ambassador to Washington, or
Enrique Gonzalez Pedrero, senator and ex governor of the state of Tabasco,
also have the importance and wisdom to assume this role.
But the Mexican mediator will require, nevertheless, international support
of the first order. They can give it to him, as was the case of the so
called "friends of the Secretary General of the UN" who were named
in an effort to end the war in El Salvador, men like the former president
of Spain, Felipe Gonzalez; the Nobel Peace Prize winner and ex president
of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias; the English political conservative Tristram
Garrel-Jones; or the Swedish Socialist diplomat Pierre Schori. The latter
two, of course, are Spanish speakers.
The point is not to make the conflict in Chiapas international, but to resort
to international solidarity which can serve us well, additionally, the ever
conflictive relationship with the United States and their unrenouncing interventionist
vocation in Mexico, as shown in the "Casablanca Operation Sting"
makes it impossible to resort to them.
But the other factor for dialogue and negotiation is the EZLN. Its silence
is worrisome, it clouds the situation and postpones compromise. It gives
room for innecessary conjectures. Has Marcos died, is he out of the country,
has he been substituted by other Zapatista leaders? The EZLN presents obstacles
to the peace process and damages itself if it does not talk before the new
situation, if it does not unite its voice to that of the national and international
choir that isolates the assassins in Chiapas.
Colosio in Chiapas
"I commit myself to avoid confusion between modernization and the most
advanced showings of injustice. I also commit myself to not confuse the
respect of the indigenous cultures with a justification to continue the
abandonment. I commit myself to promote among the Priistas a reflection
about the injustices and offenses. To avoid the simple sharing of blame
or innocense and to move on to action. We will avoid that the various dramas
of the indigenous people continue to be tragedies to the Nation."(Luis
Donaldo Colosio, speech at La Ventana, Chiapas, March 3, 1990).
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