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Mexican Army Incursions Threaten Zapatista Jungle Region
A convoy of 200 Mexican Army troops, state and local police, and police from the federal attorney general’s office, snaked their way into the territory of Toward A New Dawn, the Zapatista Caracol in La Garrucha. The June 4 operation stopped just 30 meters from the offices of Path of the Future Good Government Junta, the Zapatista regional government board for the Tzeltal Jungle Zone. Four soldiers got out of one of the trucks at the entrance to La Garrucha and sought to enter the collective milpa (cornfield), as if attempting to flank the community. They were rejected by residents.
Faces now painted black, the convoy next attempted to enter the community of Galeana, in the mountains not far from La Garrucha and were met by its Zapatista men, women and children, armed with only their machetes, sticks, stones and the children’s slingshots. The soldiers alleged that there were marijuana plants in the zone. The Zapatistas denied it and then successfully turned the public security forces away.
The convoy continued down the road through the Patiwitz Canyon and tried to enter San Alejandro, another Zapatista community, with the same “looking for marijuana plants” pretext. Once again, residents turned the soldiers away with machetes, sticks, stones and slingshots. The soldiers said they would be back in 15 days.
La Jornada, Mexico’s progressive daily newspaper, reminds us that La Garrucha is the place where Subcomandante Marcos was most recently seen and that La Garrucha is the only one of the five Caracols (regional headquarters) to still suffer daily military patrols by the Mexican Army. In fact, the entire region governed by La Garrucha’s Junta is heavily militarized. This includes the autonomous municipios (municipalities) of Ricardo Flores Magón, Francisco Gómez, Francisco Villa and San Manuel, the Chiapas Support Committee’s partner municipality.
According to the Center of Political Analysis and Social and Economic Investigations (CAPISE, its initials in Spanish), located in the Chiapas tourist mecca of San Cristóbal de las Casas, the operation set out from the 39th Military Zone, one of five military zones throughout Chiapas. General barracks for the 39th military zone are located just outside the city of Ocosingo and next to the archaeological site of Toniná. Its ominous blackened olive-green fortress can be seen for miles. It sends a message to the area’s original peoples (the Maya): “We are here to control you.”
The June 4 military operation was well-planned and coordinated. It followed similar operations during the past month in other indigenous Chiapas communities and false reports of marijuana and poppy plants broadcast by the local media. To longtime observers of Zapatismo, this represents a somewhat typical counterinsurgency campaign against the Zapatista communities. However, it takes on a special relevance in light of the current context in which it occurs.
First, and most importantly, it is well known that the Zapatistas strictly prohibit the growing, trafficking or consumption of illegal drugs. Some say that the prohibition pre-dates the 1994 Uprising and was designed to insure their clandestine existence and military secrets prior to their public appearance in January 1994. The same prohibition applies to alcohol. The logic of these prohibitions is quite simple: someone whose tongue is loosened by drugs or alcohol might give away strategic security information. The law banning narcotics was made public not long after the creation of the Caracols and the regional Good Government Juntas. It carries a severe penalty: expulsion from the EZLN. The government and the Army know this. Therefore, entering, or attempting to enter, Zapatista communities “looking for drugs” is merely a pretext for intimidating indigenous communities. The attempt to enter a Caracol is a serious provocation against the EZLN.
Secondly, the administration of president Felipe Calderón is waging a “war on drugs” throughout Mexico. Federal security forces (Army and police) have been deployed, allegedly to fight Mexico’s enormously powerful drug cartels. Pitched gun battles have occurred in several major cities between people identified by the press as drug traffickers (or their hired guns) and security forces. At the same time, Mexico wants money from the United States (our tax dollars) to wage this war on drugs . While there is public support in Mexico for these efforts due to the crime and violence generated by the drug cartels, there is also skepticism from social organizations, human rights organisms and civil liberties groups: the security forces double as repressive forces against legitimate social movements, political opposition and inhibit the exercise of free speech.
The recent police-military incursions into indigenous Chiapas communities with the pretext of “looking for drugs” is but one example of the repressive use of the war on drugs by Mexico’s security forces. Other examples can be found in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and impoverished regions throughout Mexico.
President Bush has proposed a billion dollars in military assistance to Mexico for its war on drugs. A bill known as the Merida Initiative, more commonly labeled “Plan Mexico,” after the failed Plan Colombia, is currently winding a twisted path through the two houses of Congress as H.R. 6028. Each house has approved a different version of the bill and lots of political influences are at play: defense contractors; Mexican politicians; and human rights groups to name a few. Much of the money would go to U.S. defense contractors to buy those helicopters that swoop down on protesting communities, like in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, Atenco and many others.