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How the U.S. helps Mexico eradicate the Zapatista resistance

Stan Gotlieb

It's not a new story: the U.S. government, and the business interests it represents, lend "counterterrorist" or "countersmuggler" aid to a Latin American government, and the "aid", which happens to look a lot like military weapons, gets used to suppress student, peasant, and labor unrest. (Pictured is a pro-Zapatista march going past the Governor's official residence in Oaxaca.) Photography by Diana Ricci

In the second week of February, 1996, completing the circle that they had been slowly drawing to a close around the Zapatista strongholds, the Mexican army opened an encampment in the municipality of Palenque, on the eastern edge of rebel-friendly territory. By the end of March, plans were revealed for building bases next to the rebel headquarters in Realidad, deep in the Lacandon rain forest.

There is a predictable pattern to occupation. First, the troop carrying helicopter gunships come to town. Scores of flack-jacketed, helmeted "anti-riot" experts with automatic weapons "secure" the main accesses to town, and the principal intersections. They are quickly followed by truckloads of soldiers, accompanied by armored personnel carriers and tanks. Overhead, attack helicopters equipped with rocket launchers sweep the skies. The soldiers go through the town house by house, searching for guns, propaganda, and "fugitives". Men are interrogated, if any can be found. By this time, most of the men will have vanished, having learned that "interrogation" often ends up in torture and disappearance.

Once the town has been cleared of "suspicious" men, the army sets up camp. Usually, the encampment is alongside the main access to the town, where they can search every vehicle and interrogate every person who passes through. Slowly the village begins to starve. Without the men to do their share of the work, the crops begin to suffer. There are fewer drivers to bring supplies in and take the produce to market. The doctor, the teacher, the priest, the mechanic: these are usually among the first to feel the harassment of the authorities, and so they are often among those who flee.

Nor is this the worst that will happen. The experience of other villages in the Chiapas highlands has been that should the occupiers decide to leave, they will first destroy every plow, every axe, every tool of production they can find; that they will burn or cut down all the crops; that they will either kill the livestock or simply leave them to die of starvation. Occupation becomes preferable to the end of occupation.

The weapons that the Mexican army uses against its countrymen come from the United States of America. The helicopters, the a.p.c.'s, the tanks, the "humvee" jeeps (lots of humvee jeeps), the automatic weapons, the artillery: almost all from the U.S.A. (there is a significant but small contribution being made by the Israelis). The "anti-insurgency" training that the officer corps receives is provided by the U.S. Army's "School of the Americas" in Fort Bragg North Carolina. The follow-up"assistance" is given by U.S. citizens trained by the U.S. military and, in some cases, still receiving military pay, who come to Mexico as "advisors".

The excuse that the Mexican authorities use to justify the genocides being practiced against the lives and the cultures of native peoples is also manufactured in El Norte: that these troop movements are merely part of the war on drugs, regrettably required because the U.S. is unable to control the demand for drugs at home.

Even if you believe that the U.S. government sincerely desires to reduce drug consumption at home -- a proposition that many would say is given the lie by the refusal of the U.S. government to adequately fund prevention, drug education, social services and intervention programs, while continuing to pour money into proven failures such as drug interdiction, long jail sentences and more prisons -- you have to be pretty naive to believe that the Mexican authorities care about it. Why should they?

Mexico is a third-world country, and the largest reason that the Mexicans have been unable to obtain first world status sits just across the northern border. In the Mexican system of "Macho" there are the screwer, and the screwee. We are the screwer, you better believe it, and NAFTA is the latest and greatest shaft yet. Nobody here really believes that the Gringos want free trade for the benefit of all. Those who say it's true are either benefiting from the rotten deal that the Mexicans are being forced to swallow whole, or crazy.

Take tomatoes, and avocados: embargoed because, in the words of one U.S. senator, "they are just totally superior to ours". A recent cartoon shows a Mexican peon holding a paper labeled "TLC" (the Mexican translation of NAFTA) while a U.S. official holds a similar paper labeled "NAFTA". The caption is "NAFTA is just more powerful than TLC". Another shows two trucks crossing the border into the U.S. One, a ratty old pickup with two crates of tomatoes in the bed, has been pulled over. The other, a semi bulging with bags of cocaine and marijuana, is being waved through.

It's a shuck, folks. There is no war on drugs in Mexico, and the U.S. government knows it. It's just business as usual - keeping the hemisphere safe for big U.S. money interests - and in Mexico there are fires to put out all over the place. The Barzonistas are raising hell over bank foreclosures in the north, the peasants in Guerrero are forming municipal militias to protect their villages from the raids being run by police paramilitary groups, the oil and chemical workers in Tabasco have been BLOCKQUOTEading wells and storage facilities in an attempt to force the state-owned Petroleos Mexicano (Pemex) to stop dumping toxic wastes in their drinking water, the peasants of Chiapas and Oaxaca are organizing to prevent the Zedillo administration from making good on his promises to privatize their communally held land, and the students in Mexico City are demanding that the government honor their constitutional guarantee of a free college education.

Yankee exploiter go home. Take your NAFTA with you. Stop buying drugs and start buying tomatoes. Clean up your own house before you start talking about the dust bunnies under the Mexican bed. If you don't want Mexican drugs stop using so much of them. If you don't want Mexican tomatoes start making "superior" ones yourself. If you really care about "human rights", stop supplying the weapons that make political oppression possible for governments whose attacks on their own people are dictated by the demands of the U.S. government and the "investors" who call the tune.

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Published or Updated on: September 1, 2000 by Stan Gotlieb © 2008
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