Célia em Movimento

an E-CHANGER volunteer for 7 years, celia worked until june 2007 for the 'gender sector' of the MST/BA - the rural landless workers movement in the northeastern brazilian state of bahia. from then until june 2010 she worked at the international secretariat of the world march of women in são paulo. although she is no longer a volunteer, she still works in brazil with the WMW and E-CHANGER and will therefore continue to share her professional and personal experiences... enjoy!

05 January 2008

Chiapas in Conflict

For 14 years, the indigenous Zapatista communities and the ZLNA have resisted the violence of the Mexican State. After the original 1994 uprising, the civil population was subjected to bombing raids, massacres, torture and ‘disappearances’ on the part of the Mexican Federal and Chiapas armies, extreme violence that was only reduced after huge demonstrations and solidarity around the world put pressure on the government.

Since then the Zapatistas have tried and retried to find a pacific solution (including declaring a cease-fire on the 12th January 1994 that they have never broken) to guarantee the rights and protection of the Indigenous population, but on every occasion they have been betrayed by the government – 3 different administrations. During the first round of dialogue between the ZNLA and the State (in 1994), instead of sending their negotiators as agreed, the Federal government went against their word and sent 40,000 troops to try to capture the rebel commanders. They failed. In 1996, after a huge Encounter of over 6000 people representing the whole of Mexico organised by the Zapatistas, the government was forced to come to the negotiating table but after months of negotiating the ‘San Andrés Agreement’ (that granted autonomy and special rights to the Indigenous of Mexico). The then President Ernesto Zedillo and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), however, ignored the agreements (the Interior Minister calling Sub-commander Marcos to explain that he had drunk too much at the time he signed the Agreement and that it was no longer approved by the Mexican government) and instead increased military presence with the political support of the other important political parties.

And so began the low-intensity war that the government has waged against the population of Chiapas ever since. With the intention of destroying the community organisation of the indigenous peoples and crushing support for the ZNLA, the Mexican army have also trained and financed paramilitary groups of coerced rural workers to invade Zapatista land, threaten and carry out violence, persecution and torture and violate basic human rights.

The State claims, via the general media, that the conflict is ethnic – indigenous against indigenous – that it is not they who are responsible for the violence in the region, and that they want to continue the dialogue with the Zapatistas. When Vicente Fox began his term as President in 2000, for example, he fulfilled 2 of the conditions imposed by the Zapatistas in order to restart negotiations: he withdrew certain military bases and released many of the indigenous political prisoners. But instead of sending the ‘San Andrés Agreement’ to be voted in as law by Congress, an adapted law was approved, one that is empty of the political contents of the original Agreement. Another betrayal.

The current situation in Chiapas is critical. While the administration of the new, fraudulently elected President Felipe Caldarón brutally represses civil society demonstrations around the country (Atenco, Oaxaca…), in Chiapas the number of Federal soldiers has been doubled and paramilitary groups are ever more numerous and violent, acting with total impunity. Rural indigenous workers are being thrown off their land and autonomous authorities are threatened, while the government uses every means available to divide indigenous communities and create ethnic conflict, including giving Certificates of Ownership of indigenous community land to enemies of the Zapatistas, and making large sums of money available to families and communities (for the building of schools, etc) that declare themselves against the ZNLA.

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