Chiapas (fwd)

Norman Buchignani (buchignani@HG.ULETH.CA)
Fri, 24 Feb 1995 07:24:33 MST

I am sending this on in view of the interest in the Mexican
situation at the moment. Post it to 'Forced Migration' if you
see fit. Apologies if you already have it.

Stephen Power (JRSuk)
>From Mon Feb 20 00:50:10 1995
FEBRUARY 19, 1995

I. Some comments about the presidential decision to order
the detention of the EZLN leadership

In our previous JRS Newsletter No. 14 (December 1994) we
called your attention about the ambiguous language of
President Zedillo in regards the Chiapas conflict: in
words, the government favored a political solution, but in
deeds the government opted for a military solution to the
armed conflict. The detention orders against the leaders of
the EZLN leaders issued by President Zedillo last February
9, together with his call for a political solution to the
conflict are one more sign of the ambiguity of his
language. It is much clearer now, however, that this
presidential decision is nothing else than a legal disguise
for a war declaration and for the unilateral rupture of the
cease fire.

The government was not able to find another way than this
manipulation to maintain its position (which dates from
January 1994) that the EZLN is not to be recognized as a
belligerent force. The military option has been President
Zedillo4s decision ever since he assumed the presidency. He
was forced to wait a while to act accordingly, however, due
to the economic crisis caused by the sudden peso
devaluation and due to strong international and national
pressure. Now that the most delicate moment of the economic
crisis seems to have passed, the EZLN faces a total
offensive by the Mexican army diguised as a judicial
action, dirty war in the electronic media and a military
siege at the Guatemalan border. The denouncements made by
the EZLN of bombings, machine-gunning, illegal detentions,
torturing and other human rights violations committed by
the Mexican army against the civil population have caused
severe further damage to the Zedillo government4s already
battered credibility. The government, however,
categorically denies these denouncements and at least until
February 15, has impeded the press to enter the area now
occupied by the army.

The massive and repeated demonstrations in several cities
of the country held in the past week (the most numerous for
at least the last six years) show that Mexican society does
not agree with the President4s offensive against the EZLN,
and that he is exposing the country to the considerable
risk of generalized confrontations.

Until February 15, the EZLN has withdrawn its troops in
order to avoid military confrontations with the Mexican
army, and is still willing to come to a negotiated
solution. President Zedillo also sustains to be willing to
reach a negotiated solution, but actions of the government
and the Mexican army leave no doubt that they initiated
last February 9 a total attack against the EZLN. Below, we
suggest some indications of this ambiguity taken from the
words of the President and the actions of the government
and the army:
1) The Zapatistas suddenly stopped being called
protestors and were converted into delinquents subject
to penal actions of the judicial powers;
2) The Zapatista leadership suddenly did not represent
anymore an indigenous and popular movement struggling for
social justice, but was changed into an ultraleftist
guerrillo focus;
3) The Zapatista controlled (and as such offically
recognized) zones disappeared once their principal enclaves
in the municipalities of Ocosingo, Las Margaritas and
Altamirano were taken and sieged by the Mexican army;
4) The free zones disappeared when the army expulsed the
Red Cross from these zones, which has left the civil
population completely at the mercy of the army;
5) The militarization of virtually all Chiapas state with
several tens of thousands of soldiers;
6) The closing of the military siege, with the deployment
of 8.000 Guatemalan soldiers at the Guatemalan side of the
border, in the areas neighboring the conflict zone;
7) The refusal of the Mexican army to allow the press to
enter the conflict zone;
8) The witch-hunting disguised as judicial action against
presumed sympathizers of the EZLN among people of the
Catholic Church as also among people working in Non
Governmental Organizations;
9) The extensive publicity and desinformation campaign
released by the government in order to gain the favour of
the public opinion; and
10) The publicity campaign attempting to de-legitimize
voices supporting a negotiated solution, such as Don Samuel
Ruiz Garcia, bishop of the Sna Cristobal de las Casas
diocese and the CONAI (the National Intermediation

Today, the information we have had access to is
insufficient to disembowel the causes that led to the
military option taken by President Zedillo4s government. To
get a notion, however, of the dimensions of the problem,
may be it helps to list some factors that have doubtlessly
influenced when he took his decision.

THE CRISIS. The internal struggle going on within the PRI,
that broke out with the issue of presidential succession
reached its extremes with the political killings and has
not come to an end yet. Despite the cabinet changes yet
made, Zedillo4s group has not yet achieved to get rid of
the entire Salinista inheritance. The re-opened judical
processes in the cases of Colosio, Cardinal Posadas and
Ruiz Massieu, we think, are merely the legal side of the
dirty war that is still being fought on the corridors
inside the PRI and inside the current governmental team.
The war now undertaken against the EZLN, will in the best
case only mean a postponement or a negotiated cease fire of
this confrontation between PRI-members. In the worst case,
it means the predominance of the PRI hard-liners in their
party (whose alliance with the army should not be excluded
from the possibilities).

ELECTIONS. The other side of the political crisis is to be
found in the electoral sphere. Together with the internal
crisis of the PRI, the electoral fraud of the past
presidential elections and the unresolved electoral
conflicts in the states of Chiapas, Tabasco and Veracruz,
have contributed to the legitimacy-, credibility- and
governability-crisis of the current government. Apart from
having lost the governorship in Jalisco state to the PAN
and from the very recent fall of Eduardo Robledo (the
disputed PRI candidate that was unsuccesfully imposed by
force as governor of Chiapas state after overtly fraudulous
elections), in the near future the PRI faces the risk of
losing the governorships in the states of Guanajuato,
Yucatan, Baja California and Michoacan, and if nobody
resolves the crisis, also in Tabasco state. The political
pact signed between PRI, PAN, PRD and PT in order to come
to efinitive electoral reforms was put into brackets the
moment President Zedillo saw himself unable -as was agreed
he would do- to resolve the postelectoral conflicts in
Tabasco and Chiapas state. In regards Tabasco state, there
President Zedillo encountered and lost from the PRI section
that toughly resists internal reforms, a section that was
able to show its subordintion to the federal executive

So, faced with the impossibility to meet one of the
conditions for dialogue (the solution of the post electoral
problems in Tabasco, Vercruz and Chiapas), President
Zedillo decided to close the ranks of the PRI and launch
himself against the EZLN. It seems that the Zedillo
government evaluates that under these circumstances it
would be very hard to negotiate and to accomplish
agreements, in regards the political demands of the EZLN.

THE ECONOMIC CRISIS. Facing the possibility of losing the
presidential elections of 1994, the Salinas administration
decided to postpone the devaluation of the peso, with the
consequences we now all know: a devaluation of between 40
and 60 %, an inflation rate of 20-30 %, an economic growth
rate far below the expectations created at the end of the
Salinas government, a decrease without precedent of the
purchasing power of the peso together with an inflationary
tendency that does not seem to reach its limit, subjection
of Mexican economic policies and other fields of political
decision-making competing to the state4s sovereignty to the
government of the United States, an increase of 51 billion
dollars to the external debt -an issue the government keeps
denying-, economic recession, the collapse of small and
middle size industry, booming unemployment figures and the
virtual complete incapacity to attend the social demands of
50% of the population getting poorer day by day.

For the same reasons, we can say now with hindsight,
Salinas decided in favor of the cease fire with the
Zapatistas; but in fact, he never even considered a
negotiated outcome to the Chiapas conflict. Likewise,
facing the current economic crisis, it seems that the
Zedillo administration is also considering the
impossibility of a negotiated solution and of responding to
the social and economic demands of the indigenous people
organized in the EZLN. On the contrary, President Zedillo
seems to think that social discontent will increase to the
extent the economic crisis deepens (which has not reached
its zenith yet), and therefore, together with those who
detain the forces, he decided to attack the most dangerous
expression of social discontent: the EZLN.

In summary, we think that the detention order of the
Zapatista leadership is a full and frontal war declaration,
and that there has never been any desire to reach a
negotiated solution to the conflict, neither during the
Salinas administration nor during the current Zedillo
administration. That is how things currently are; even if
national and international pressure would achieve to open a
space for a negotiated way out of the conflict, there are
not many reasons to think optimistically in the consistency
or reliability of a possible future negotiated solution. In
other words: we have very little to expect from the current
government. At the other hand, the EZLN has demonstrated
its willingness to atke the road of the negotiated
solution, while it has shown constantly that it will not
give up or squander its fundamental demands.

II. Possible consequences for the directly affected Mexican

1. To the population displaced at the outbreak of the
conflict in January 1994 (some 20.000 people who sought
refuge in the municipalities and the principal towns
neighboring the conflict area) now another group of
displaced people has to be added: the people fleeing the
military siege and the arrival of the army in the EZLN
controlled zones, who sought refuge in the rainforest. A
considerable share of these people sympathizes with the
EZLN, but there are also many people who simply fled the
Mexican army. One indian said: We asked for health care
and education, and they sent us the army. This population
is in a very dangerous situation, given that the conflict
has not reached its climax as long as the EZLN keeps
withdrawing and does not decide to confront the federal
army. If a dialogue is not agreed upon before the EZLN also
breaks the cease fire, these people run the (high) risk of
becoming the target of the federal army. In fact, the EZLN
has already denounced bombings, machine-gunning and
mistreatment by the federal army against these people.

At the other hand, it has become extremely difficult for
humanitarian aid to reach these people, and this will
remain so as long as the military siege lasts. These people
cannot flee to Guatemala either because the Guatemalan
soldiers maintain the border closed along the conflict
area. It is, however and despite this, not unimaginable
that there will be groups that will reach Guatemalan
territory. Those groups actually suffer the highest risk in
the current schedule of the conflict.

2. The phenomenon of displacement toward non-conflict areas
will increase, and it is expected that they will have to
take shelter in the states of Tabasco, Veracruz, Yucatan,
Quintana Roo, Oaxaca and Guerrero. At the moment, it would
be very difficult to even approach their number, but some
experts mention figures of between 150.000 and 250.000

3. Witch-hunting of political sectors close to the PRD and
to the National Democratic Convention, as also of people
working at ONGs and the Catholic Church has started yet,
with all its features: arbitrary detentions, prefabricated
delicts, housebreaking, torturing, disappearances and other
human rights violations.

III. Possible consequences for the Guatemalan refugees in

1. The effects of the changed situation of the Chiapas
conflict are already being felt in relation to the return
process. After the press release of the Permanent
Commissions in Guatemala during the first week of February
(in which they reaffirm their determination to return to
Guatemala during the first half of 1995), both the Ministry
of Gobernacion as also National Security personnel have
establsihed contact with the Permanent Commissions, and the
NGOs COMADEP and CEMPERAC to express them their concern and
to obtain more information. These signs of pressure by the
official Mexican bodies on the refugees organizations and
on the NGOs working with the refugees indicate that the
pressure will most probably increase.

2. It is to be expected that the Chiapas conflict will
cause major setbacks to the progress of the return process
(for obstacles to free locomotion of the refugees and for
the pressure Gobernacion will exert on the refugees),
precisely in the year (1995) conceived by the CCPP as the
year in which the definitive and final battle in the
struggle for the return of the refugees to Guatemala has to
be fought. We think that the Mexican government would be
seriously contradicting itself if it allows or even
encourages return movements to Guatemala (which would
currently be a strong pressure on the Guatemalan
government), if only some days ago the same Mexican
government asked the Guatemalan government and army to
militarize their border, in order to prevent the Zapatistas
from having an outlet to escape from the (Mexican army)

3. At the other hand, it is also to be expected that the
pressure from the Guatemalan refugees to return in the
pending return movements will enhance. And, that if these
will not advance according to the agreements established in
October 1992, it should be no surprise that there would be
unorganized displacements to Guatemalan territory without
the required conditions. This would most likely occur with
the Guatemalan refugees settled in Chiapas, but it is also
possible that those settled in Campeche and Quintana Roo
would do the same. In this or in any other case and seen
from a strictly legal point of view, the Mexican government
could not impede no Guatemalan citizen to go to his or her
country whenever and however he or she pleases.

4. It is also foreseeable that the socioeconomic and
security crisis will increase in the refugees communities
neighboring the conflict areas. The people there have lived
now for more than a year in these conditions, deprived of
the possibility to look for work and income elsewhere and
almost completely dependent of the aid that COMAR could
give. The threat of the armed confrontation in Chiapas will
close the access of NGOs, UNHCR and COMAR to these people
completely; in the best case, the access will be
permanently full of obstacles.

5. Particularly the non recognized and dispersed refugees
find themselves again in a highly vulnerable position, due
to the conflict situation that has militarized almost the
entire Guatemalan border as also due to the ever mor
restrictive and vigilating migration policies of the
Mexican government at the southern border.

IV. Recommendation to the International Community and to
the Agencies.

A) In regards the Chiapas armed conflict:

1. Insist in a negotiated solution to the armed conflict in
Chiapas mediated by the CONAI (National Intermediation
Commission) chaired by bishop Don Samuel Ruiz Garcia.

2. Demand the cease fire from the Mexican government and
army and respect to human rights for the entire civilian

3. Demand from the Mexican government the reestablishment
of the free zones and that the International Red Cross be
allowed in these free zones to protect and give
humanitarian attention to the civilian population.

4. The EZLN meets all criteria to be recognized as a
belligerent force according to international law.
Therefore, urge that the Geneva Conventions and their
Additional Protocols be accomplished in case of any action
undertaken by the Mexican government to members of the EZLN
and non combattant civilians, including that theier
physicial and mental well-being be respected.

5. Urge for the mission of a special UN delegate to
document the numerous human rights violations committed by
the Mexican army and the Federal Attorneys Office in
Chiapas and in the rest of the country.
-Special delegate for Human Rights
United Nations Human Rights Center
Fax (41 22) 917 01 23

6. Insist with the Second Indigenous Peoples Assembly for
Peace from the UNESCO, convened these days in Paris, to
send a delegation to Chiapas state to watch the respect to
the human rights of the indigenous people.
Fax: (331) 45 46 49 99 and 45 67 40 21

7. Insist with the government of yout country to make an
appeal for peace and for a political way out of the
conflict in Chiapas.

8. Promote the sending of international observants
delegations, composed of representative members of NGOs,
Human Rights Centers, Church and government institutions of
your respective countries.

9. Demand the Mexican government to respect the individual
guarantees and the respect for human rights of all Mexicans
members of NGOs, church institutions and social
organizations that have insisted in Peace and in
reinstallation of the political dialogue between the
government and the EZLN.

10. Urge the Mexican government to set up a schedule for
humanitarian aid to the displaced people by the war in

B) In regards the Guatemalan refugees and their return

1. Urge the Mexican government to respect the rights of the
refugees to return to their country whenever and however
they decide, because their refugee status does not void
their Guatemalan nationality nor their right to return to
their country.

2. Demand the Mexican government, COMAR and UNHCR to
respect the free exercize of the activities of their
organizations and of the CCPP, ARDIGUA and the organized
return groups in the preparation of these returns.

3. Demand from UNHCR Mexico, the Minister of Gobernacion
(whose name is Esteban Moctezuma Barragan) and COMAR that
the refugees settled in Chiapas be protected and receive

4. Urge UNHCR Guatemala to be present, to monitor,to draft
an emergency plan and to be alert at the border, in regards
the possible affluence of non organized returning refugees
to Guatemala and to be alert to the threat the Guatemalan
army means to these people.

Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon
President of Mexico
Fax (525) 515 47 83

Esteban Moctezuma Barragan
Secretario de Gobernacion
fax (525) 546 73 88

UNHCR Mexico
Fax (525) 280 21 33

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