The Narco-State of Chiapas Part VII in a series
The Narco News Bulletin
The Colonel and
OVENTIC SAKAMCH'EN DE LOS POBRES,
SAN ANDRÉS LARRAINZAR, CHIAPAS, MEXICO:
The Colonel and his troops were not smiling when the cameras
surprised them. Not at all.
They were caught chest high in marijuana
plants on this May 9, 1996.
A federal soldier approached the videographer
who had arrived with nearby townspeople, placing his hand over
the camera's lens. All of this was preserved on video.
A public relations disaster was underway.
Colonel Ernesto Lerín told his
troops to back off the group of reporters. He suddenly offered
a big smile and announced: "This is exclusively a campaign
by the Seventh Military Command against narco-trafficking,"
were his first words. "Exclusively!"
Well then why was the soldier trying to
block the photographer from documenting this supposed public
Colonel Lerín showed great imagination
under fire: "How good that you are here!" he beamed,
smiling like a politician. "Comrades of the press: tell
all the news," he says, touching the leaves of a meter-high
marijuana plant. "This is the reality. Truly, in
the state of Chiapas, and above all in this area, and in the
Canyons region, yes, there exists marijuana!"
The Colonel and his troops ought to know.
They had controlled these hills since January. When they arrived
they said they were looking for marijuana, accusing the Zapatistas,
who have many bases of support in this highlands region, of planting
and harvesting the drug. But they had no success: four months
of searches by thousands of soldiers, and this was only the second
garden "discovered" in the region.
The Colonel continued his impromptu press
conference, explaining that the plants are a month, maybe a month-and-a-half
old: "The area here is very fertile, so they can grow rapidly."
He estimates the size of the crop at about 2,000 plants. "There
are four-hundred square meters and five plants per meter,"
Three weeks prior the military had announced
the find of the first pot field. The Zapatistas accused the soldiers
of planting the marijuana.
"How is it possible that in four
months of searching they have never found marijuana here? Yet
in these days they found it?" asks Insurgent Capitán
Noe of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. On April 15,
1996 Noe looked directly toward a video camera through his black
ski-mask, reacting to the first announcement by the military
-- after 100 days of trampsing through the hills with the pretext
of looking for marijuana -- that marijuana had been found near
Zapatista terrain. In fact, it was closer to the military base.
"They want a justification to persecute
us," said Noe. "But we can say, without a doubt, that
it is the same Army, the same Public Security and Judicial police,
who planted the marijuana. We deny that we are the ones who plant,
traffic and consume this type of drug. We don't do it. We completely
prohibit it. We have a law. A person is sanctioned and punished
for doing these things."
"With the excuse of looking for marijuana
the federales surrounded the hill," explained Insurgent
Capitán Guillermo of the the Zapatistas. He appears in
a documentary made by the local Catholic diocese's human rights
organization in Chiapas, titled "Contra-Insurgencía"
"Normally, 500 or 600 soldiers are
passing by here each day. It's worrisome. We can't work in the
fields. The men of the community almost aren't working. The Army
is operating there. If we enter the territory of the Mexican
Army it is considered a provocation on our part. They have tanks
and armored cars. They're everywhere," explained Guillermo.
"I want to make it clear that this
is the same Mexican Army that plants and consumes the marijuana,"
he said. "At times they pay peasant farmers who don't have
any money to go and plant it on Zapatista land. They've already
put it there so they can have an excuse to be here."
As the war of words over these two marijuana
fields -- and the public debate over which side of the conflict
planted them -- escalated, events took a surprising turn. A week
later, in nearby San Pedro Nichatalucum, the government was caught
red-handed with an illicit green thumb...
State Police Station
from Part VIII:
arrival of the 4,000 indigenous marchers, "the security
forces left their posts.... During these events and to everyone's
surprise, a small marijuana plantation was found on the roof
of one of the houses occuped by the security agents. This discovery
was witnessed by representatives of the Government director's
office, the press, and members of various non-governmental organizations."
report by the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights
Center, November 1997