Native Peoples Face Terror in Chiapas

By GERRY FOLEY

The greatest single outrage of the Mexican government’s “low intensity war” against the native people’s liberation movement came a year ago with the massacre of 45 unarmed pacifist Indians in Acteal, Chiapas, by a paramilitary mercenaries.

Despite the outcry in Mexico and throughout the world against this savage slaughter, the regime has not relented in its campaign of terror against the Indian communities that are trying to organize their own local governments. At the same time, it has multiplied the obstacles to foreign observers coming into the state of Chiapas who could get out the news of what it is doing there.

Virtually on the anniversary of the Acteal massacre, the Chiapas state government, run by the ruling PRI party, threatened an attack on the town of San Juan de la Libertad, Chiapas, where 10 people were killed in an army and police raid last June 10 and the population was driven into the mountains. This town was one of the examples of local self-government that the regime is determined to stamp out.

Once again, in the middle of this December, the people of San Juan de la Libertad were driven into the rain-soaked wooded mountains with only the clothes on their back. In fact, over the past year the Mexican government has continued to build up paramilitary gangs at the same time that it has maintained military and economic pressure against the rebel Indian communities.

“Counter gangs” are in fact one of the features of strategy of “counterinsurgency” warfare theorized by such specialists as British Major Gen. Frank Kitson, a veteran of the British war against guerrillas in Malaya. They have been seen since in virtually every case of social unrest that threatened capitalist or imperialist interests, from the “death squadrons” in several Latin American countries to the “Ninjas” in Indonesia today.

The advantages of using such groups, as Kitson and others have pointed out, are basically two: (1) Such “counter gangs” are not bound by any of the formal legal restrictions that apply to the official forces of the state. (2) Using them makes it possible for the authorities to claim that the conflict is between “uncontrollable” groups in the society and that the police and army are only trying to maintain law and order.

The “counter gang” that carried out the Acteal massacre was a particularly savage one. Twenty-one of those killed were women and 15 were children, some very young. An unborn child was cut from its mother’s womb and hacked to pieces. The slaughter was so bestial that Mexican and world public opinion forced Zedillo to arrest and charge some of the participants.

There can be no doubt, however, that the Mexican government connived in the massacre. Sixty men blazed away with high-powered guns for seven hours, obviously not fearing that the police and the army, thick on the ground in the area, would interfere with them.

It later came out that there were 40 police not 200 meters away from the site of the massacre. Information has also been published in the Mexican press about state financing of the paramilitaries.

In the case of the recent threats against San Juan de la Libertad, it was actually fighting between rival gangs among the paramilitaries that provided the pretext for threats to attack the local population, who protested that they had no part in that conflict.

The Mexican government has been able to maintain its pressure against the Indian rebel movement in the state of Chiapas because of the lack of any strong, well-organized challenge to its reactionary and repressive rule on the national level. However, it has not been able to prevent the spread of the movement for self-rule to Indian communities outside Chiapas.

Despite intimidation from paramilitary gangs and corrupt local political bosses, Indian self-government slates were recently put up in a series of towns in the state of Oaxaca. In one, Mazatlan de las Flores, where some months ago a PRI gang carried out a military occupation, the self-government candidate, Raimundo Rosas Carrizosa, won 2500 votes, or 60 percent, against two PRI slates, which together got about 1500 votes.

The PRI attacks in Mazatlan de las Flores were well publicized. There has been less reporting of the situation in other towns in the area, where PRI intimidation has continued unabated. It is vital that the spotlight of international public attention be kept on the Mexican government’s crimes against the Indian peoples.

In an attempt to do this, many commemorations were held internationally this Dec. 22 to commemorate the Acteal massacre.