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

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.

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