In the context of Plan Mexico, the US government’s material support for Mexican president Felipe Calderón’s deadly war on drugs which has already claimed over 4,100 lives, it’s worth taking a look at where all that new military hardware will go in the south. Despite having never caught a Zapatista with a single bag of pot (or a bottle of beer, for that matter), the government continues to use the war on drugs as an excuse to terrorize Zapatista communities.
The New Government Provocation Against Zapatismo
by Luis Hernández Navarro
La Jornada, June 10, 2008
translation by Kristin Bricker
Since the January 1994 insurrection, various administrations have wanted to associate the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN in its Spanish initials) with drug trafficking. They’ve never been able to demonstrate such a link, but they try time and time again.
This past June 4 the tired old story played out again. Only this time the threat is greater than in the past. On that date over 200 agents from the federal Army, the Attorney General’s office, and state and municipal police, with their faces painted, entered the Zapatista territory of La Garrucha with the pretext of looking for marijuana plants. Hundreds of residents from the Hermenegildo Galeana and San Alejando communities fended them off with machetes, clubs, and slingshots.
Zapatista communities prohibit the cultivation, trafficking, and consumption of drugs. It’s not even permitted to drink or sell alcohol there. This isn’t a new fact. The rebel commanders have made this law public since the beginning of the armed uprising. The measure remains in effect under the civil authorities who have been put in charge of the autonomous municipalities and the good government councils. The same can’t be said for the PRIista [translator's note: members of the Institutional Revolution Party which ruled Mexico with an iron fist for over 70 years] communities, where illegal drugs are grown in collusion with the police.
In a communique directed at then-president Ernesto Zedillo, dated February 10, 1995, one day after the military offensive that tried to detain, by means of treachery, Subcomandante Marcos, the insurgents stated: “we want to tell you the truth, if it’s what you don’t know: the criminals, terrorists, drug traffickers are you, they are the same people who make up your cabinet, they are your very own soldiers who traffic drugs, who force the indigenous peasants to plant marijuana and other narcotics. You haven’t realized this, Mr. Zedillo? Yes, we Zapatistas, because we live amongst the people, are the same people who have fought against the planting of drugs, against the drug trafficking that your very own soldiers do and have done within the territories we’ve controlled.”
Unfounded, the accusation has been repeated year after year. In 2004, the newspaper Reforma published the news that “on average, every two days members of the Mexican Army enter Zapatista territory in order to destroy marijuana and poppy fields which in the past year have considerably increased in number.” Days afterwards, Gen. Jorge Isaac Jiménez García, commander of military operations in the zone, denied that the marijuana fields belonged to EZLN sympathizers.
The police-military provocation this past June 4 against the rebels is not an isolated incident. It forms part of and endless aggression. The government harassment against the insurgents has been constant since the arrival of Gov. Juan Sabines in 2006.
Various peasant groups close to the state government try to take possession of the lands that Zapatista support bases have occupied and worked since 1994. Paramilitary groups such as the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Peasant Rights (OPDDIC) harass the autonomous municipalities. The Army has established new positions, made its presence felt in the region, and carried out unusual movements of a clearly intimidating character.
Jaime Martínez Veloz, representative of the Chiapas government on the Commission for Peace and Reconciliation (Cocopa), has explained very clearly the agrarian dimension of the current anti-Zapatista offensive. “The Mexican government,” he said to the International Civil Commission for the Observation of Human Rights (CCIODH in its Spanish initials), “I am convinced that in the attitude of trying to confront the EZLN with peasants and indigenous people in the zone, gave land titles to people in need of land, but it entitled them as ejidatarios [trans. note: communal land owners] of the same lands that the Zapatistas occupied. It made them ejidatarios, and obviously it creates a conflict. In the same area there’s those who occupy the land and those who have a title to it. This was already happening in the first years, ’95, ’96… and the repercussions of that, well, now they’re surfacing.”
Curiously, those responsible for agrarian, rural, and tourist policy in Juan Sabines’ government are people like Jorge Constantino Kanter, representative of the plantation owners and ranchers affected by the Zapatista eruption, or Roberto Albores Gleason, son of ex-governor Roberto Albores, who committed countless human rights violations.
The June 4 operation was carried out in the place were just a short while before Subcomandante Marcos was. By the looks of it, his presence in La Garrucha worried the governmental authorities. The spokesperson of the rebel group hasn’t appeared before the public for months, and his silence makes the intelligence services nervous. But the red flags that warn of the increasing governmental intolerance when faced with the peaceful civil initiative of the rebels have been raised for some time. En route to the first Continental Gathering of the Peoples of America [sic: Indigenous Peoples of America] in Vicam, Sonora, from October 11-14, 2007, police and military checkpoints detained a convoy that was transporting the Zapatista delegates, forcing the indigenous commanders who were going to attend the event to return to Chiapas.
An opinion poll recently carried out by Felipe Calderón’s administration demonstrates that, in addition to the broad public support for the anti-drug campaign, despite the passing years, 26 percent of those surveyed support the Zapatistas. This is not a negligible percentage under the current circumstances.
The new governmental effort to make out the EZLN to be an accomplice in organized crime attempts to take advantage of the wave of anti-narco sentiment in order to try to erode the current positive opinion of the rebels and deal it a repressive blow. A resolute blow with a long history. Does the federal government really lack unresolved conflicts so much that it needs to enflame one that it hasn’t been able to resolve for years?