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The EZLN: Mexico's President Zedillo changes his mind

Stan Gotlieb

During the more than three years since the Zapatistas walked out of the jungle, and into history, El Sub has consistently predicted that he will not live to see victory. When I wrote this article, a little over a year into the standoff that the Zapatistas and the military still maintain, it appeared that his prediction would likely come true sooner, rather than later. (The poster, affixed to the fence of the National Cathedral, is a spoof of Zedillo's campaign promise of "a good future for your family". "Mentiroso" means liar; "pinche" is less than polite). Photography by Diana Ricci

It was the 17th of February, 1995. Just the day before, Subcomandante Marcos (El Sub to his pals), a spokesperson for the Central Committee of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) "somewhere in the mountains of Southeastern Chiapas" issued a statement from his hideout (by electronic mail, over the Internet computer network): I am not the guy they say I am. But even more important, I am not dead, in jail, or on the run. Ha ha, you can't catch me, so there!

A week before, Presidente Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon had announced Marcos' identity, ordered his arrest (along with the arrest of other EZLN leaders), and turned the Army and the national police loose to "pacify" the rebellious indigenous peoples.

A week later, Zedillo did the following things: fired the Governor of Chiapas, Eduardo Robledo (an EZLN condition for peace); ordered the Army to withdraw from their advanced positions in the villages and byways of the Lacandon rain forest and its' surrounds and return to defensive positions (another EZLN demand); and declared that any rebel that wished to turn in his weapon and return to civilian life would be given complete amnesty - an offer which no-one has yet accepted. (Later, he offered to let them keep their weapons, provided of course that they registered them with their local constabulary; and still no-one has signed up.)

In the week or so between Zedillo's two "bold moves" in Chiapas (ordering the Army in and ordering the Army to chill out), the following events occurred:

The International Red Cross, Amnesty International, and other observer groups accused the Mexican Army of "genocide", "unprecedented violation of human rights", "torture of innocent women and children" and other acts common to repressive, terroristic regimes of the sort that our government (and those whose interests it serves) favors in Latin America and elsewhere.

The "White Guards" (mercenary gun thugs) hired by the rich landowners kidnaped, tortured and butchered scores of campesinos squatting on disputed land, often with the unofficial help of the State of Chiapas' police force (which assistance was consistently denied by the same Robledo and confirmed by the same observers, see above).

The Mexican peso rebounded from about 5.3 to the dollar to 4.8 (it had been at 3.2 for months), and then slipped to its' worst level yet, 5.4 (in the exchange booths in downtown Oaxaca).

A conservative opposition party, the National Action Party (PAN) swept the new elections in Jalisco (Guadalajara's state), where the ruling Party of the Institutionalized Revolution (PRI) had so obviously and grossly violated the electoral process in August that the result got tossed out: a resounding "no confidence" for el Presidente.

The U.S. bailout of the Mexicans continued to appear more and more like a curse, with the revelation that although the national petroleum conglomerate Pemex -- the last substantial asset still under the nominal control of the Mexican people -- would not be sold, all the profits for the next ten years would be pledged to repay the loans.

One hundred thousand angry citizens jammed the Zocalo (town square) in Mexico City, demanding that Zedillo's (many said Clinton's) war against the indigenous peoples of Chiapas be stopped.

In Oaxaca city, hundreds of demonstrators were dispersed by armed state police, and hunger strikers squatting in front of the federal courthouse were arrested; action that was more or less duplicated in every major city south of Mexico City, as well as in some cities of the north.

It was announced that the chief assistant to Bishop Samuel Ruiz, the "red bishop" (according to the ruling class) of San Cristobal las Casas, Chiapas, and a consistent advocate of peace talks between the government and the EZLN, had been arrested for "sedition" (a capital crime). Others on Ruiz' staff have "disappeared". The government has refused so far to comment on their fate. Many here are predicting that the White Guards will soon send Ruiz to meet his maker in the same way that the death squads in El Salvador did for Oscar Romero. They probably would have done it already if they thought it would prop the peso for another couple of days.

There is no way that a worthless currency can be artificially supported forever. Without the confidence of the population, no money supply is worth anything, and the Mexican people are voting with their black market, where they bid the dollar up ever higher against the peso. (By July, the rate "settled down" to around six pesos to the dollar, but rumors of a further devaluation were rampant, and the National Futures Market was selling January 1996 futures at 7.8 to one.)

Faced with a future that includes inflation and a devaluated peso, the fate of Mexico is uncertain, but it is likely in for a time in which many will suffer greatly. The Mexican population deserves better. Subcomandante Marcos, speaking for the central council of the EZLN, believes that better times can come only through the struggle and sacrifice of the most oppressed: the indigenous peoples. The leaders of the strengthening popular resistance believe that the Clinton administration and the current U.S. Congress will continue to support their oppressors.

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