MARCH 2009 CHIAPAS / ZAPATISTA NEWS SUMMARY
*[We're just back from Chiapas and this news summary includes some information we learned on our visit. The volume of news is extremely heavy this month! We'll get a Calendar of Events out to everyone soon. The next 4 weeks or so are very busy ones for the Chiapas Support Committee. We hope you'll join us at one or more of these events.]*
1. International Women's Day Festival in Oventik a Success - In a communiqué dated January 28, 2009, the EZLN announced a Festival on March 7 and 8 to celebrate International Women's Day in honor of Mama Corral, a social activist from Chihuahua and an adherent to the Other Campaign who died recently. Thousands attended the Festival in Oventik. It featured sports (soccer, basketball and volleyball), cultural events, including music for dancing, and political events. The Festival was organized by the EZLN's comandantas. As in the Comandanta Ramona Women's Gathering in La Garrucha, men were only able to participate in a supportive role. This gathering is yet another showing of the EZLN's ability to draw large crowds of supporters to various types of events, demonstrating the advancing cohesion and strength of the Other Campaign with support from the International Campaign.
2. Mullen and Clinton Visit Mexico - At the beginning of March, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Mexico and met with military and intelligence officials there. “I share the serious concern that organized crime and drug trafficking cause you, and I appreciate your vigorous efforts to improve security. More than anything I wish that we might work together to find ways of improving cooperation between the military forces of our neighbors,” Mullen said. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Mexico on March 25 and 26 to talk about drug violence, immigration, and the tanking economies of Mexico and the U.S. Drug violence in Mexico (more than 5,000 Mexicans were killed in drug related violence in 2008) clearly has the U.S. government's attention and both Mullen and Clinton expressed security concerns. Although there were discussions about Plan Mexico, referred to politely by government officials as the “Merida Initiative,” the precise substance of those discussions was not revealed to the public. The U.S. considers Mexico's drug cartels a security threat, both on the U.S. border and throughout the United States in organized crime operations. Two of us were in the Tuxtla Airport during Clinton's speech in Monterrey on March 26. It was broadcast live with simultaneous Spanish translation. Other folks in the cafeteria showed no interest in what she said. President Barack Obama, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder are also scheduled to visit Mexico soon. Hmmm! Some commentators in Mexico wonder if the U.S. Marines will follow.
3. National and International Campaign for Liberty and Justice for Atenco -
Mexico's Supreme Court found “grave human rights violations” during a May 3 and 4 police assault on the town of San Salvador Atenco, but refused to attribute responsibility for them. During the two days of terror, police arrested more than 200 people, sexually assaulted at least 30 women, killed two young people, invaded dozens of homes without warrants, and beat hundreds of people in actions that were broadcast nationally on TV. Among those who remain in prison are 3 of the leaders of the Peoples Front in Defense of Land (FPDT), the militant Atenco organization that prevented the construction of an airport on their farmland. They are sentenced to more than 67 years in prison and are held in a maximum-security prison. The Campaign for Liberty and Justice is headed by Bishop Samuel Ruiz, Bishop Raul Vera, father Miguel Concha and supported by Manu Chao, among many others. The web page (in Spanish) for this important campaign can be found at: <http: www.atencolibertadyjusticia.com
> The campaign includes a large commemoration event in Atenco on the anniversary of the May 3 & 4 police rampage. The Chiapas Support Committee will present videos about Atenco on May 3 in Oakland in support of the political prisoners. More info about our video event will be sent out during April. The FPDT is an important part of the Zapatistas' Other Campaign!
4. PRI Officials Place Garbage Dump Next to a Camp of Displaced Zapatistas - The autonomous Zapatista municipality (county) of San Pedro Polho is located in the Highlands of Chiapas. The name of the official county governing the same territory is Chenalhó. Many thousands of indigenous people in this county were driven into refugee camps of internally displaced people during the latter half of 1997 by unchecked paramilitary violence that culminated in the Acteal Massacre on December 22, 1997. 45 women, men and children were murdered. 6,000 displaced Zapatistas remain in makeshift camps within San Pedro Polho, while the paramilitaries occupy their land. They cannot leave their camps to work due to death threats made by the paramilitaries and, therefore, they have little food. Chenalho County's PRI government has now decided to add to their misery by placing a garbage dump adjacent to one of the refugee camps in Acteal. “Four or five times per day, the trucks from Chenalhó county empty all kinds of waste and dead animals barely 300 meters from the Zapatista camp at Acteal,” La Jornada reported, commenting that this resembled “bacteriological warfare.” Chiapas Support Committee members visited the region's Good Government Junta and also spoke with a Polhó official during a visit to the headquarters of Polho. When asked if the garbage dump was still there, they said: “Yes.” Asked what they were going to do about it, they said they were “still deciding” what to do.
5. Campaign to Free Political Prisoner Alberto Patishtan Gomez - Last month we reported the release of five more political prisoners belonging to Other Campaign organizations in 2 Chiapas prisons. Their release left Alberto Patishtan Gomez the only one of the original group of 2008 hunger strikers who remains in prison. Patishtan Gomez served as spokesperson for the Voice of El Amate. His case is legally more difficult because of the federal charges of which he was convicted. The approximately 49 liberated political prisoners and their families founded an organization called Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices). Voces Inocentes is asking all Other Campaign and International Campaign adherents to take action in support of Patishtan Gomez.
This campaign occurs amid a hunger strike by prisoners from organizations not connected to the Zapatistas or the Other Campaign, a confrontation between prisoners and police, and a sit-in by family members at the state capital demanding freedom for 23 political prisoners.
6. Resistance to Toll Road to Begin - Last month the Chiapas state government announced that construction of the toll road between San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque would begin soon. Specifically, the government would begin acquiring the right of way to the 8-mile stretch of road between San Cristobal and the Rancho Nuevo military base. The toll road is a key piece in the overall plan to convert the region between Agua Azul and Palenque into a mecca for national and international mega-tourism. While visiting Chiapas, the Chiapas Support Committee learned that resistance to the toll road is also ready to begin. We were told that communities are already preparing the letreros (hand-made signs). Construction of the toll road affects lands in 3 Zapatista Caracols: Oventik, Morelia and Roberto Barrios.
7. Ejido Owners Assert Rights to Famous Tourist Attraction - The ejidal assembly of Adolfo Ruiz Cortines, in Salto de Agua County, Chiapas, neighbors of the Misol-ha Waterfall, announced that they plan to establish a ticket booth at the entrance to the celebrated water spot that attracts thousands of visitors all year. The ejidal assembly, in which harmoniously participate members of different organizations, including EZLN support bases, made the determination in the face of a lack of governmental response to a very old demand with respect to their territorial rights over the road that joins the site with the Ocosingo-Palenque Highway. The Misol-ha Waterfall is one of the tourist attractions encompassed in the tourist mega-project in the region extending from the Agua Azul Cascades to the Palenque Archaeological site. This action occurs within the context of an accord reached by the state government to respect the Zapatista settlement of Bolom Ajaw and the Zapatista nature reserve of Huitepec in exchange for a promise not to take over any more land. Governor Juan Sabines Guerrero promised not to evict any settlements or communities that were occupied before he took office.
8. Eviction Attempt Fails in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas - On March 26, local San Cristobal police attempted to evict indigenous people from land on the northern edge of San Cristobal de las Casas. On March 9, 500 indigenous families took possession of land belonging to the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI, its initials in Spanish) land. The result of the failed eviction was: 15 police agents injured, seven patrol vehicles and several private vehicles damaged, as well as hundreds of makeshift homes destroyed and four people detained by police. The Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) issued a denunciation of the failed eviction, saying: “The municipal council, presided over by Mariano Diaz Ochoa, has been characterized as not seeking dialogue with social groups and organizations in the municipality, provoking confrontation in society, criminalizing social action and realizing acts of discrimination.” Frayba asked for the State Congress to investigate the eviction. The 500 families remain on the land. They are members of Council of Indigenous Representatives of Los Altos of Chiapas (Criach).
Two of us were in a taxi going toward the San Cristobal bus station when we heard sirens and the taxi was stopped while a long line of police vehicles passed in front of us. All we could see was one damaged private vehicle in the middle of the line of police trucks. The taxi driver told us they were coming from the eviction.
9. Good News! OPIM's 4 Political Prisoners Released - On March 19, 4 political prisoners from the Guerrero community of El Camalote were released from prison. All four are members of the Organization of Me'phaa Indigenous Peoples (OPIM, its Spanish acronym). They had been prisoners since April 17, 2008, accused of murdering Alejandro Feliciano García, a Mexican Army informant, in January of last year. Raúl Hernández Abundio, alleged material author of the homicide, remains incarcerated. OPIM is an adherent to the Zapatista Other Campaign. Orlando Manzanarez Lorenzo, one of those released, is the OPIM leader in El Camalote.
10. Another Disappearance in Guerrero - On February 7, 2009, Salvador Nava Torres disappeared at a checkpoint installed by members of the Mexican army's 93rd battalion in the La Montaña Region. Nava's wife, Elvia Franco Mercado, and his sister, Jazmín Nava, denounced in a recent Chilpancingo (the state capital of Guerrero) press conference that the authorities have not reported his whereabouts. Accompanied by Javier Monroy Hernández, coordinator of the Committee of Families and Friends of Kidnapped, Disappeared and Murdered in Guerrero, the women said: “there were witnesses that said Salvador was seen in a military truck and that he had a hood on.” From December of last year to the present, six disappearances occurred in this region.
11. Murder in Morelos Over Water Dispute - Communal authorities reported that Efrain Soberanis Sanchez was murdered by a group of masked men that shot four bullets at him when he was arriving home on Monday night, March 9. He had just been elected as a representative of the Nahua community of Hueyapan to go to the state capital to protest the cutting off of his community's water supply. Hueyapan is one of the indigenous communities belonging to the Communities in Defense of Land, Air and Water, an organization that belongs to the Zapatista Other Campaign. It became known to some of us by means of the documentary film “13 Communities in Defense of Land, Air and Water,” shown at the Latino Film Festival in San Francisco this year and later in Marin County. After failing to attend to the dispute over water for years, the government reconnected the water supply after the murder.
Compiled monthly by the Chiapas Support Committee.
The primary sources for our information are: La Jornada, Enlace Zapatista and the Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center.
We encourage folks to distribute this information widely, but please include our name and contact information in the distribution. Gracias/Thanks.
News Summaries from previous months are posted on our web page:
The Chiapas Support Committee is a grass roots all-volunteer human rights organization in Oakland, California. We work with indigenous and campesino organizations in Mexico. We have an hermanamiento (partnership) with San Manuel autonomous Zapatista municipality. In the Bay Area we provide public information about Chiapas through community events, our newsletter (Chiapas Update), our listserv and website. We organize delegations to Chiapas and also recruit and certify human rights observers and volunteers. We participate in the Other Campaign and the International Campaign. Our contact information is below!
Chiapas Support Committee/Comité de Apoyo a Chiapas
P.O. Box 3421
Oakland, CA 94609
Tel: (510) 654-9587