<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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The Zapatistas Reject the War on Drugs

Mexican Police and Army Grow and Smuggle Marijuana, While the Indigenous Rebels Don’t Touch Drugs or Alcohol


By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Narco News South American Bureau Chief

May 8, 2004

La Realidad, Chiapas, Mexico: The “fight against narco-trafficking” and the “low-intensity war” – imposed by the U.S. and executed by the Mexican government – are not only rejected, but also resisted in all the autonomous municipalities in the state of Chiapas that support the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials).

On January 13, 1999, in the indigenous community of Aldama, in the municipality of Chenalhó, troops from the Mexican Army attacked men, women, children and elderly EZLN supporters.

The Mexican government, unable to halt the advance of the Zapatista autonomous municipalities, resorted to the old trick of linking the rebels to the “war on drugs.”

In a communiqué dated January of that year, the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee and the EZLN said that the Chiapas state government

follows in the footsteps of the Southern Cone dictatorships, presenting an initiative to grant amnesty to criminal soldiers and paramilitaries, and to give a legal basis to the new offensive against Zapatista communities. The Army hides its brutality behind the fragile pretext of fighting drug trafficking, when they are the principal drug producers here and major beneficiaries of the trafficking.

In Aldama, the Army found fields of marijuana, which belonged to non-Zapatista indigenous people working with soldiers and police officers.

The above communiqué, signed by Subcomandante Marcos, added that

despite the fact that the military command of General Jorge Isaac Jiménez Garcia denied that the marijuana fields belong to EZLN sympathizers, the federal government has orchestrated a slander campaign in the media; they hoped to present the Zapatistas as involved in narco-trafficking. Again they lie.

The EZLN calls on the national and international public to not be fooled. The Zapatistas are not nor do we deal with drug traffickers. The government does.

The attempts to link the rebel movement with drug trafficking did not end there – it is a continuing tactic in the “low-intensity war.” On March 24 of this year, Mexican Senator Rutilio Cruz Escandón, from the center-left Party of the Democratic Reovlution (PRD) told the media that the government must be careful in how it deals with information on the EZLN and illicit crops in their zones of influence, as such statements could generate greater conflict with the armed group.

“I think it is false to say that the EZLN is cultivating narcotics,” Cruz told the daily newspaper Reforma. “I believe that it is a publicity campaign from the federal government to insult, discredit, and falsely link the EZLN [to drugs]. I think that is wrong. It is a very dangerous attitude and behavior for the federal government, using these kinds of propaganda weapons. The Fox administration is throwing fuel on the flames and could provoke a great fire that harms the entire country politically.”

One day earlier, the same newspaper reported “on average, troops from the Mexican Army have entered Zapatista territory every two days to destroy crops of marijuana and opium poppy, which have increased considerably in the last year.”

According to Mexcan Defense Department statistics, 18 hectares (44 acres) of poppy and 20 hectares (49 acres) of marijuana were destroyed on communal lands in the towns of Aldama, Magdalenas, Santiago El Pinar and Chanal, located in northern Chiapas and in the central highlands.

These reports added that marijuana has been found growing in Chiapas since 1996, mostly in the northern regions, eastern jungles, and along the Guatemalan border. However, starting in 1998 small poppy plantations began to appear as well.

Despite these accusations, no one has ever been able to directly link a single Zapatista with drug trafficking.

No Drugs, No Alcohol


The sign at the entrance to the town of La Realidad.
Photo: Alex Contreras Baspineiro, D.R. 2004
At the entrance to this village in the heart of the Lacandon jungle is a large sign that says, “La Realidad, Zapatista community, introduction of alcoholic beverages, drugs, and other illicit items prohibited.”

A town where alcohol consumption is prohibited? Simply put, yes. The autonomous rebel towns are an example for the world in that respect, too.

“Before, many indigenous families had problems as a result of alcohol consumption, and that is not good,” said Brian, minister of justice for this town’s Good Government Council. “Also, we live in a permanent state of war, and alcohol can make you talk too much. That is not good either.”

Banning alcohol and drug consumption was not imposed on the Zapatista territories; rather, doing so was a collective decision. Zapatista revolutionary laws are passed in assemblies of men and women, youths and elderly, who do not impose nor obey the laws of the federal government.

The rebel communities are in a permanent state of war. For that reason, they devote themselves to maintaining their safety, order, and discipline – in short, to their survival.

Nearly a week ago, as we traveled to this town in the Zapatistas’ own municipal buses, two army tanks accompanied us for a large part of the trip, while two trucks full of soldiers watched us from the opposite direction. Was this provocation, control, or intimidation?


In La Realidad, almost every building bears images of the Zapatistas.
Photo: Alex Contreras Baspineiro, D.R. 2004
Military vehicles do not approach the town of La Realidad, but can be found at military camps only a few miles away.

The Zapatistas’ faces – when not covered by their traditional ski masks or bandanas -– are very serious. They speak very little, but enough. They are an army too, but one of liberation rather than imposition.

“Alcohol consumption,” added Nayely, secretary of health for the La Realidad’s “Towards Hope” Good Government council, “is not good for one’s health, and just wastes money.”

In an interview with the members of this town’s Good Government Council, they told us that enacting the ban on alcohol was a difficult process. There were cases, usually involving youth, of people not complying, discovered by a neighbor or reported by their own relatives. The control is strict.

Leading by Obeying

The community punishes those who break the EZLN’s laws, usually with a period of forced labor. It depends on the crime.

The punishments, they told us, can include cutting enough wood every day to fill a truck, clearing paths with machetes, or building latrines. It all depends on the on the needs and decisions of the community. There are no jails or corporal punishments in the Zapatista justice system. Rather, there are moral sanctions that the community agrees upon together.

Every autonomous municipality has its own authorities that administer justice. The will of the Mexican State holds no sway here. The secretaries of justice, without any grand process, gather together the people involved in a case, listen to each party’s testimony, consult the Good Government Council, and issue a ruling.

Those who are punished either comply with the law from then on, or permanently leave the community.

Good Government Council member Maximiliano said that for more than a year, there has not been a single case of people drinking alcohol – let alone drug trafficking – in La Realidad. “That is good,” he said, “because it means that now we are all being more conscious.”

None of the little stores in this village sell alcoholic beverages, and the vehicles patrolling the region control this meticulously.

The caracol of La Realidad is the seat of “good government” for the communities of Tierra y Libertad, General Emiliano Zapata, San Pedro de Michoacan and Libertad de los Pueblos Maya. In these towns, as in all those in the autonomous municipalities controlled by the five caracoles, the bans on drugs and alcohol are enforced.

In times when the military has passed through Zapatista territory, there have been many known cases of drug smuggling, even planting of illicit crops – mainly marijuana.

A Disciplined Life

The Zapatistas who live in a geographic region considered part of the “ecological patrimony of Mexico” consider themselves “loyal guardians of humanity.”

The autonomous territory of the EZLN is unmatched for its richness in forests, oil, gas, water and biodiversity. There are many unspoiled areas that the indigenous Tojolabal people work to conserve.

A Zapatista town is a model of hard work, health and discipline. The children help in the work of the family, and one can often see them in the river, washing cloths and playing in the water. Most of the young people head to the soccer field after a day of farming; after that to the river and then to rest.

The women work from four in the morning in their humble houses, the men head out at the same hour to work in the cornfields, cut wood, or work in the mountains.

A week ago, in Oventik, a Zapatista named Isaías told us that in these towns, cases of robbery, assault or rape are virtually unknown.

Indiscriminate clearing of trees and plants is also prohibited in Zapatista communities, as is killing endangered animals and leaving trash on the ground.

Poor as they are, the indigenous here separate their organic and inorganic trash, build ecologically safe latrines, and post signs explaining these rules throughout their villages.

Using chemicals in agriculture is also prohibited. All corn, bean, coffee and cacao production is organic and natural.

La Realidad, with a population no greater than 800, is well ordered, quiet, and peaceful. Here, the Zapatistas are building an autonomous town on the principles of democracy, liberty, and equality for all.

The men, women, children and elderly of the EZLN have been at war for more than 10 years now, and organizing for more than 20. Nearly everyone says that things are better here than before.

Winning their autonomy was a difficult process for the Zapatistas. First, they got rid of the local political bosses, and broke their towns’ ties with the government. They then began to design a new society, with its own education and healthcare system, cooperative-based economy, communal work, impressive communications systems; all with a great deal of international support. In short, they did it with solidarity and dignity.

Living in this town in the Lacondon jungle, we could see that the Zapatistas’ daily struggle against the Mexican government and neoliberalism, and in defense of humanity, is real. One can feel it, touch it, breath it… it is so true, and so profound.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America