On September 2, 1996 the EZLN released a communique which stated that it would no longer participate in the Dialogues of San Andres (which began in October of 1995) until the federal government of Mexico met five specific conditions. It was clear by this communique that the Zapatistas had lost confidence in the federal government to act: "papers guarantee nothing, and they do not translate into solutions for the grave situation of the indigenous communities if they are not accompanied by concrete actions."

The conditions put forth in this communique set in motion a critical and substantive process which would for the first time convert "words" into actions and laws. Meeting the five conditions would demonstrate both the will and the ability of the federal government to implement the accords which had been reached through the earlier dialogues. If the government failed to address and comply with these conditions, the Zapatistas, the nation, and the world would clearly see that the Zedillo government was merely using the dialogues to stall and defuse the momentum created by the Zapatistas in their struggle to define and secure essential indigenous rights.

During the past three months the Zapatistas have meet with COCOPA [Comision de Concordia y Pacification - the federal government's negotiating delegation comprised of representatives from each of Mexico's major political parties], and with CONAI [Commission Nacional de Intermediation headed by Bishop Samuel Ruiz] to discuss and resolve the five conditions. The specific conditions include: the release of presumed Zapatista sympathizers form jail; create a governmental delegation which has the capacity to make decisions and the political will to negotiate respectively; the enactment of laws which incorporate the agreements on indigenous rights reached through the prior Dialogues; to install a verification commission to oversee the implementation of the accords; end the climate of military and police persecution and eliminate the "white guards."

Although the talks remain closed to the public and the press, a number of specific measures have been addressed and discussed through news conferences and communiques. The first round of talks (16 - 24 October ) concluded with an announcement which stated that when they would return to San Cristobal on 5 November at which time they would install the Comision de Verification y Seguimiento [the verification commission] - one of the five conditions of the Zapatistas would be met.

During this period leading up to the installation of this Commission, the newspapers carried a number of articles which discussed the possible make-up of the commission - the Zapatistas were entirely open about their selection, listing their designated members in a communique dated 24 October, while the federal government remained silent, refusing to make any list public prior to the planned installation.

On the day the installation was to take place, COCOPA was forced to announce that the government had failed to complete their list and the installation had to be postponed - confidence in the governments level of commitment to the peace process was once again placed in doubt. Two days late the government was ready and the Commission was finally installed.

The installation took place in the Teatro Zebadua in San Cristobal, about six blocks from The Carmen (an ex-convent, now a cultural center, located about three blocks south of the zocalo in the center of the city) where the Zapatista delegation was housed and where most joint meetings and discussions occur. The use of Red Cross vehicles to transport the Zapatistas from location to location is standard in order to provide the highest level of security, and the press was waiting at the Theater for the arrival of the vans when someone called out: "they're coming on foot." The press burst into a mad rush to met up with the procession near the Cathedral. This was an unprecedented event which surprised and excited all those who happened to be in the vicinity, including the press.


This "walk" through the center of San Cristobal by the Zapatistas took place in the midst of a heightened level of threats and intimidation within the city against those working with the peace process. Just days before the Zapatistas returned for this round of discussions the office of CONPAZ [Coordinadora de Organismos no Gubernamentales por la Paz] was broken into, equipment was destroyed, a small fire was set, and graffiti was spray painted on the walls calling for the death of the Zapatistas. This break-in was followed by death-threats naming each person working at CONPAZ "Everyone is going to die, one by one and where you fear most, the children... (this taken from a recorded telephone message which CONPAZ played during a press conference following the breakin)."

These were not merely idle words; the administrator of CONPAZ, Javier Lopez Montoya, and his family were actually forced from their home, beaten and molested, and left in the street of a town miles from the city.

During the press conferences held by CONPAZ they demanded a thorough investigation into this and other acts of intimidation which continue to be carried out by the "white guards" - a paramilitary group generally associated with the wealthy land owners and the ruling PRI party which manages to act with impunity throughout the region. [As stated in their communique of 2 September, the elimination of the "white guards" is one of the five conditions which the federal government must meet before the Zapatistas will return to the Dialogues of San Andres.]

The walk by the Zapatistas, understood within this context, was clearly an act of defiance against the intimidation from the "white guards."


The next condition to be addressed would be the writing of specific laws to implement the prior accords of San Andres. COCOPA brought a working list of proposed new laws and changes to the constitution which were to have incorporated the meaning and intent of the agreements reached nearly a year ago following the first Dialogue of San Andres regarding indigenous rights and culture. The COCOPA delegation met regularly with the Zapatistas, both in San Cristobal and in La Realidad (the Zapatista base community in the Lacandon), to negotiate the final language and content of the laws. Since COCOPA also needs to return to the capital to discuss any changes with Zedillo and other heads of government on a regular basis, the negotiating process is greatly slowed and often strained. Clearly, if the Zapatistas were able to negotiate directly with the government this low level mediation with COCOPA would be unnecessary.

Just prior to the first meetings to discuss the proposed new laws another situation occurred on the 9th of November in Laja Tendida, Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas which significantly increased the tension during the meetings and once again brought into serious question the Mexican government's desire and ability to create and sustain a meaningful peace.

Corn growers in this region of Chiapas set up a roadblock to protest against the government's lowering of the price on corn. The government's response was to bring in helicopters from which the demonstrators were tear gased, and then ground troops shot into the crowd, killing three men.

A delegation of Zapatistas, headed by Marcos, meet with a group of the corn growers on the 10th of November to discuss the situation and listen to the request of the growers for assistance in their struggle. At a very emotional news conference held by the Zapatistas the following day, Tacho and David condemned both this most recent act of terror carried out by the government against indigenous farmers in the region and the attacks on the CONPAZ office and staff the week before. They noted that "when we are advancing on the road to peace (the state government) responds with bloody acts in Chiapas which seek to destroy the negations.

During the conference with the press Tacho presented tear gas canisters and bullet shells which were used in the attack on the corn growers and stated "This is how they (the state government) contest the corn growers to change their demands." David went on to say that the peace process could not continue in San Cristobal within this climate of threats and intimidation, "maybe it will be necessary to carry out the talks in another place, because here there is no security, there is no control of the situation ... possibly in the capital, or (in a tone of satire) the white house, or in Europe."

The Zapatistas left San Cristobal on November 15th, planning to return on the 24th to continue the review and revision of the proposed new laws. On the 17th and 18th of November, the Zapatistas held numerous celebrations in over 48 communities to commemorate their founding 13 years ago. Marcos addressed a large gathering in La Realidad stating " Today we are prepared to die and prepared to live. For thirteen years we prepared for war. Today we are ready for war and ready for peace. Were are ready to discuss and to construct..." The government must now demonstrate that they want peace.

Before the Zapatistas returned to San Cristobal COCOPA went to La Realidad to meet with Marcos and the Zapatista delegation - the time frame within which the proposed laws would have to be submitted to the legislature for a vote this session was rapidly shrinking (December 15th would be the last day). The meetings in San Cristobal after the 24th were productive and led to an agreed set of reforms and laws - agreed to by the Zapatistas and COCOPA, but the government still had to review them. The EZLN stated that they were not willing to make any further changes and the agreement must stand as is.

Within hours COCOPA delivered the final set of laws to Zedillo but soon after a stalemate developed. In an unprecedented move, Zedillo sent a letter to Marcos (the first direct communication between Zadillo and Marcos) which has remained secret but which is known to have asked for a delay, during which time the president could further review the proposals. Marcos responded with a letter accepting the presidents request for time but also firmly presenting the doubts of the Zapatistas with respect to the intent and integrity of the president's request. As of this writing we are waiting for a further reply - and action.

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