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Chiapas: The New Face of the War I

Andrés Aubry / part one

Friday 30 March 2007, by LRAN

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
March 24, 2007
www.jornada.unam.mx/2007/03/24/index.php?section=opinion&article=021a2pol


The new pollution that disturbs what is called the conflict zone is due to old actors
that changed tactics, gave themselves a new face and other names: URCI and Opddic.

Before identifying them and analyzing the worrisome, profound and dangerous
transformation of the Lacandón Jungle’s new panorama, it’s important to traverse the
process from its beginnings to the recent situation revealed by the spate of communiqués
that emanated not from the General Command but from the Good Government Juntas of all
their Caracoles. The current objective of the counterinsurgency presents itself as a
disturbance of the territorial geography, to return to their old owners "the recuperated
lands" or those progressively liberated by the EZLN since the times of their
clandestinity.

Dispute over the "recuperated lands"

Before the conflict broke out, the owners of the Jungle were successively the lumber
camps for looting the forest’s wealth, the chicleros, the unconstitutional large estates
progressively converted into cattle ranches, the drug traffickers and 400 Lacandón
finally "concentrated" by Echeverría in what now is the national Montes Azules Biosphere
Reserve. Between these empires existed wilderness spaces, the national lands, which were
offered to migrations of landless campesinos with the promulgation of "the opening of
the agricultural frontier" by José López Portillo. The EZLN was born in this space in
1983.

In the second half of the six-year term of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the Zapatistas
were already a powerful movement, although clandestine, and towards it converged
thousands of migrants who aspired to make the jungle theirs, cradle of civilization,
forming there new ejidos with cumbersome bureaucratic procedures, never finalized. The
EZLN presented itself as a defensive army, to protect them from the old owners; that is
to say, just as president Lázaro Cárdenas had given weapons to the campesinos to defend
their first ejidos and rural schools a long time ago, so the EZLN progressively cleaned
the jungle of those who had usurped it.

The first to go were the narcos (drug dealers), therefore the police (always present
now) did away with their weapons, offering them without problem to the Zapatistas,
because they confused them with the cattle ranchers’ pistoleros (hired guns), but didn’t
sell them (illegally of course) without prior training of their clients. Thus began a
bad time for the cattle ranchers but also a good one for the campesinos: they were
recuperating land with ejidos in formation until Salinas, in 1992, reforming Article 27
of the Constitution, declared that no longer would land be distributable. Under pressure
from January 1, 1994, the large cattle ranchers also abandoned the Jungle.

Since then, the EZLN initiated its public phase. To create the conditions of the first
peace dialogue, that in the Cathedral, the commissioner Camacho’s diplomacy achieved
creating a "gray zone," without soldiers (grosso modo, that of the former national
lands), in exchange for which the EZLN released former governor Absalón Castellanos
Dominguez. Sub- sequently, the tragic day of February 9, 1995 happened, which endangered
the truce pacted January 12 of the previous year. On March 11, the Law of Dialogue
was promulgated, which made possible another dialogue, that of San Andrés. Camacho’s
gray zone, but without it in that new circumstance, was converted into the space in
which the EZLN, in accordance with the new law, were transforming themselves from an
armed movement into a "political force," with the progressive and peaceful creation of
the Zapatista autonomous municipalities (counties). Starting in 2003, the creation of
the Caracoles gave birth to an enormous peaceful and political effort, fed by
alternative schools and clinics, agroecology programs and a direct (without
intermediaries) promissory alternate economy of organic products.

This ejido space (with presidential resolution favorable but not executed) is that
which the EZLN calls "recuperated lands," not only in its agrarian aspect but also in
terms of social management. Today, with URCI, the Opddic and even finqueros whose old
ownerships were paid a good price by the government, it is once again threatened and, in
spite of the cancellation of the agrarian distribution by Salinas in 1992, is now on the
path to legali- zation through the Agrarian legal office for the benefit of these new
usurpers. What is in play, therefore, is a return of the old prewar owners to the status
quo ante. The victims are not just Zapatistas, but also the rest of the campesinos not
affiliated with the EZLN, also beneficiaries of the plural management of the Caracoles.