<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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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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Violence Returns to Chiapas Communities

In Mexico, An Ambush Leaves 35 Indigenous Zapatista Supporters Wounded in the Town of Zinacantán

By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Narco News South American Bureau Chief

April 22, 2004

San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, México, April 22, 2004: The silence in the community of Zinacantán, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, is more profound than ever these days. On April 10, an ambush left 35 indigenous Tzotzil people injured, and now almost no one feels like talking. People are frightened.

Tzotzil women leaving a meeting of the Supreme Justice Tribunal of Indigenous Peace and Reconciliation
Photo: Alex Contreras Baspineiro, D.R. 2004
Narco News visited this picturesque region today, 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the city of San Christóbal de las Casas. The ambush – which occurred in the village of Pasté, just outside of Zinacantán – not only resulted in many injuries, but demonstrated, once again, the bitterness and racism that one part of the society here feels towards the “Indians” when they try to reclaim their rights, their voice, their lives.

“We need our rights to be respected, we are all equal,” an indigenous man of about thirty-five told us.

Many of the Tzotziles are very reserved people. Most speak Spanish, but when they don’t want to be understood they communicate in their own language. They will draw back, whisper among themselves, smile and observe all that is happening from a safe distance.

On that fateful day less than two weeks ago, a peaceful demonstration of indigenous people who support the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials) was attacked with guns, machetes and clubs.

We must ask, why?

Simply because the people have rejected the ideology of the “leftist” Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which controls the Municipality of Zinacantán. Neither will they support any other political party that won’t join the Zapatista struggle.

The town-by-town tyranny of local party bosses has never really ended in Mexico, and in fact in some cases it is just deepening. The authorities and PRD activists hoped to force the indigenous into obeying the party by cutting their water supplies.

And so when the indigenous tried to peacefully demonstrate their support for the EZLN, they were violently ambushed.

Returning to their Communities

When we visited Zinacantán, the Supreme Justice Tribunal of Indigenous Peace and Reconciliation was meeting. All the representatives at the meeting were speaking Tzotzil.

A boy near the Zinacantán church
Photo: Alex Contreras Baspineiro, D.R. 2004
As the event was ending, an indigenous man told us that although the issue wasn’t addressed specifically, all here support their brothers and sisters in Pasté.

The indigenous here dress very distinctively. The men wear dark pants and multicolored jackets. The women generally wear long black dresses with colored blouses and a sort of shawl covering half their bodies. The Tzotzil of Zinacantán are taught about their traditions from the time they are children.

No one died in the ambush, although early reports had claimed at least one death. There were, however, 35 injuries, some of them very serious. And the violence didn’t end there – the assailants also destroyed several local houses.

More than 400 Zapatista-sympathizing indigenous people have now been displaced, due to fear of continuing aggression. The Tzotzil are now demanding that the authorities guarantee their survival in Pasté.

Although all the eyewitness accounts of the incident have shown that the assailants were PRD party activists, no one from that party’s leadership, nor from the municipal government, wants to make a statement. They, too, prefer silence.

During our visit to Zinacantán, we tried to speak to the municipal authorities, but “nobody knew anything.” Even the indigenous civil servants at the town hall denied that anything had happened concerning Zapatistas.

In a communiqué sent out to the Chiapas media today Zinacantán mayor Martín Sánchez Hernández said that the incident should be cleared up as soon as possible.

“It is good that the national PRD is investigating the events of April 10,” said Sánchez. “We are more concerned than anybody that the truth about these events be known and those responsible punished.”

According to the mayor, there are disputes between the communities of Techbó, Elambó and Pasté over the local water supply. The indigenous say that the problem is not only water, but the constant abuse of the men, women and children of these communities by the local authorities.

Human rights activists in Chiapas warned the mayor two months ago about the possibility of conflicts resulting from the unmet demands of the indigenous. The municipal authorities did nothing.

The Caracol, or Zapatista support base, known as “Resistance and Rebellion for Humanity” and the Good Government Council of the Chiapas highlands known as “Central Heart of the Zapatistas Before the World,” released a communiqué today saying that the people displaced from their communities by the ambush must return to their land. On Sunday, April 25, a caravan of supporters will accompany the men, women, children and elderly forced out of Pasté back to their homes.

“Our comrades from the Municipality of Zinacantán, like all Zapatista communities, fight only for their rights, autonomy, freedom, and justice for all,” read the communiqué. “Fighting for these ideals should not be a crime, although to the bad governments and local bosses it is a crime because it affects their interests and the ambition for power and money.”

International Support

In response to the violence in Zinacantán, Zapatista solidarity groups, trade unions, peasant farmer organizations, human rights organizations, politicians, intellectuals and people from all over the world have all expressed their solidarity and demanded conditions for the return of the 400 displaced people.

The Good Government Council of the Caracol in Oventik asked for members of civil society to accompany the indigenous as they returned to Pasté.

The atmosphere of tension and violence in here has affected the press, as well. Hermann Bellinghausen, a reporter for the daily La Jornada, has been intimidated at his work. Also, curiously, opium poppy plants have been found growing on his patio, an attempt to link him with narco-trafficking.

Organizations from countries all over the world have demanded punishment for those responsible for the violence against the indigenous, and demand justice and the safe return of the displaced people to their communities.

As we were leaving Zinacantán to return to the city of San Cristóbal, a Tzotzil man approached us, closely watching every move we made. Almost whispering, he said to us, “The indigenous have resisted abuse and mistreatment for many years, but now we are going to change the situation.”

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