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CSC Delegations to Chiapas:



Introduction to
the Zapatistas

New Commons: Working Class Strategies and the Zapatistas

San Manuel Celebrates Warehouse Opening

Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle

Plan Puebla-Panama

Brief Background on Chiapas


The Zapatista Uprising

About CSC


Special Communique from the EZLN - on the death of Archbishop Samuel Ruiz in Chiapas, 1/26/2011. click for more
Bulletin - Follow-up to "Epilogue of a Disappearance" from the December 2010 Monthly News Summary: While the Zapatistas were peacefully celebrating the 17th anniversary of their 1994 Uprising, a New Years surprise appeared on the web pages of various Spanish language newspapers in Mexico and around the world. click for more
You can view the slides from our presentation at the workshop, "Megaprojects and the Militarization of Mexico" held during the U.S. Social Forum in detroit, June 24, 2010 (jointly with the Beehive Collective and the Latin America Solidarity Coalition). For more background on the events depicted in the slides, see the June 2010 issue of Chiapas Update.
Photo of Tony Gonzalez and Clyde Bettencuort at the CSC Annual Celebration 11/09

Direct Democracy and Health Care in Zapatista Land

Interview with Hugo Blanco (10/09)

San Manuel Pharmacy Warehouse Project

Francisco Gómez Clinic: Human Right's Promoters

Zapatistas Construct Another World (8/04)

Good Government Alternative (12/03)

Zapatistas Retake the Political Stage in Mexico (9/03)

The Rancho Esmeralda Mystery (8/03)

20,000 campesinos in San Cristobal for Zapatista anniversary (1/03)

Paramilitary Attack in Ocosingo (8/02)

Court Upholds "Cocopa Light" (9/02)

Elected Authorities murdered in Ricardo Flores Magon (8/02)

Murder in Olga Isabel (8/02)

Worsening situation of internally displaced Chiapas refugees (9/01)

Land Conflicts with Orcao (1/02)

Mexican Human Rights Lawyer Is Killed (10/01)

CNC Activity (10/01)

A Visit to San Manuel

A Oxaca is Not Alone


Chiapas: The New
Face of War

The San Manuel Pharmacy Warehouse Project

Spanish and Maya Language Center, Oventic

Bay Area Latin American Solidarity Coalition

Introduction to Mexico & The Zapatistas

Radio Zapatista

IMC Chiapas

La Jornada

Lucha Indigena

Chiapas 95

Third World Traveler

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Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle
Part One

I. What We Are.
�What We Are� begins with a summary of why the EZLN rose up in arms eleven and one-half years ago, saying �Ya Basta!� Written in the �voice� of the indigenous campesinos in Chiapas, they say: �...we grew tired of exploitation by the powerful, and then we organized to defend ourselves and to fight for justice.� They speak of the government sending the Army, bombs, bullets and planning to kill them all; of their escape and resistance. They speak of the �people� of Mexico who went into the streets to stop the bombs and bullets and telling them to dialogue and put aside their weapons. These were the people they have come to call �civil societies.� So, they dialogued and reached an agreement with the bad government people called the San Andrés Accords. They speak of the Army attack in February, 1995 and the Acteal Massacre; the intercontinental �encuentros� (gatherings); the march of the 1,111 to Mexico City in 1997; the Consulta (vote) in 1999 and the �march for indigenous dignity� in 2001. They conclude this part by speaking of the government's failure to comply with its word and its outright betrayal and of the good people they have met during the last eleven and one-half years.

II. Where We Are Now.

�Where We Are Now� summarizes what the Zapatistas have done since 2001. In this part they talk about constructing autonomy and improving their own internal organization; basically, the changes announced in 2003 with the birth of the Caracoles and Good Government Juntas. They speak of the increased separation of the political-military arm from the autonomous and democratic aspects of organization in the Zapatista communities, of �governing by obeying,� of the accomplishments of the Juntas, and conclude by saying that they have come as far as they can alone. They now believe that they must join with �workers, campesinos, students, teachers, employees, the workers of the city and countryside.�


III. How We See The World.

Attention all you anti-capitalists out there! You will love �How We See The World.� It is a scathing indictment of global capitalism's exploitation of everyone and everything around the globe. Here is a clear and concise easily understood explanation of the evils of the capitalist system. I recommend that you read PART TWO even if you do not read the others. You can find it in either English or Spanish (as you can all 3 parts) at:

IV. How We See Our Country Which Is Mexico

Here, the Zapatistas apply their analysis of capitalism to Mexico and explain how it has hurt their homeland. They also observe, however, that there are many in their country who do not surrender to capitalist globalization; rather, they resist and rebel.


V. What We Want To Do.

The Zapatistas say they want to support all those who are fighting and resisting in the world. After acknowledging the many resistances to neoliberal privatization in Latin America, the EZLN makes a clear statement of what they want to do:

�What we want to do in Mexico is to make an agreement with people and organizations just of the Left, because we believe that it is in the political left where the idea of resisting neoliberal globalization is, and of making a country where there will be justice, democracy and liberty for everyone. Not as it is right now, where there is justice only for the rich, there is liberty only for their big businesses, and there is democracy only for painting walls with election propaganda. And because we believe that it is only from the Left that a plan of struggle can emerge, so that our homeland, which is Mexico, does not die.�

They hope to develop a �National Program of Struggle� among the people and organizations of the Left to save Mexico from the neoliberal politicians.

VI. How We Are Going To Do It.

In this final part of the Sixth Declaration, the EZLN maintains its commitment to an �offensive ceasefire,� not to establish any secret relations with political-military organizations in Mexico or anywhere else in the world, and to defend, support and obey the communities of which it is composed.

In the world...
1. Forge new relationships with those who are resisting and struggling against neoliberalism and for humanity.
2. Send material such as food and handicrafts to those brothers and sisters from all over the world.
3. Hold another intercontinental encuentro in maybe December or January.

In Mexico...
1. Fight for all the exploited and dispossessed of Mexico, including migrants to the United States.
2. Build an anti-capitalist program.
3. Build another way of doing politics in Mexico.
4. Make a new Constitution, new laws which take into account the demands of the Mexican people which are: housing, land, food, work, health, education, information, culture, independence, democracy, justice, liberty and peace. A new Constitution which defends the weak in the face of the powerful.

THEREFORE, the EZLN will send a delegation of its leadership throughout national territory to where they are expressly invited and they will make alliances with non-electoral organizations and movements specifically defining themselves as being of the Left, not imposed or negotiated from above but FROM BELOW AND FOR BELOW - to build an alternative to neoliberalism, a Left alternative for Mexico.


Update: March 27, 2005.

International Women's Day in Chiapas:
a report from the Chiapas Support Committee's March delegation.

From March 3 to 12, 2005 the Chiapas Support Committee's sixth annual March delegation toured Chiapas communities and visited nonprofit organizations working in the state's indigenous communities. We visited the Caracols located in Oventic and La Garrucha, and the autonomous municipalities (counties) of San Pedro Polhó and San Manuel, our sister municipality. We had briefings from Enlace Civil, Ciepac and La Red de Defensores Comunitarios de Derechos Humanos. We thank the Juntas de Buen Gobierno (Good Government Juntas) in both Oventic and La Garrucha for welcoming us to their respective territories, as well as San Manuel and San Pedro Polho. We likewise thank Enlace Civil, Ciepac and La Red de Defensores for their excellent briefings. Finally, our thanks to Dona Rosita for her hospitality and to OTEZ for safe and friendly transportation. The information in this Update is compiled from a synthesis of what we learned during our visits and briefings, as well as from articles in the Chiapas press.

I. San Pedro Polhó - Polhó is an autonomous municipal headquarters in the Chiapas Highlands (in the official municipality of Chenalhó) which continues to house between 5,000 and 6,000 internally displaced refugees who fled from paramilitary violence in the Chiapas highlands during 1997. This violence culminated in the massacre of 45 women, men and children in the nearby village of Acteal on December 22, 1997. We met with several members of the autonomous council who gave delegates a good summary of the history of that paramilitary violence and informed all of us that the current paramilitary group surrounding them is composed of "Presbyterian members of the PRI" (the political party which held power for more than 70 years).
Due to this paramilitary activity the refugees are not able to return to their lands to plant and harvest
crops. Consequently, a massive food shortage has existed for seven years. The International Commission of the Red Cross assisted with both food and medicine until December of 2003 when it left for Iraq. Since then, Polhó has depended on national and international civil society, as well as the few lands which can safely be farmed, for its survival. The exit of the Red Cross has also left Polhó without enough medicine for a population vulnerable to disease because of malnutrition.
Councilmembers denounced one of the state's local newspapers, Cuarto Poder, for saying that all the displaced had returned to their communities of origen. They felt that such propaganda was an added insult to their already precarious existence.
We received a supplement to the history told by the autonomous council members
in the far-away autonomous municipality of San Manuel, which is now home to some who fled the Highlands as refugees. One of them told us of the paramilitary attack on Acteal. He ended by saying that if he had not been a Zapatista, he would have been killed during the attack. (We have been told on more than one occasion from more than one source that the paramilitaries massacred Las Abejas because they were unable to get at the Zapatista support bases living there.)
Anyone wishing to help Polhó can contact the Chiapas Support Committee at: We continue to support the Polhó refugees and their woman's weaving cooperative.

II. International Women's Day in La Garrucha - As we were eating breakfast in an Ocosingo restaurant, a car drove by announcing a Zapatista Fiesta over a loud speaker. A few hours later, we arrived in the community of La Garrucha, where one of the five Zapatista Caracols is located. During our meeting with the Good Government Junta, we quickly learned that the Junta was indeed sponsoring a big party to celebrate International Women's Day on March 8.
We also listened to members of the Junta as they first reported that the entire region was calm and then lamented the fact that the indigenous communities within their region were divided. They attributed this division to the government's low-intensity war against the Zapatistas (which includes propaganda campaigns and economic assistance programs to buy off families and whole communities). This was the first time that we had heard this political message from the Junta, which I interpretaed as one of seeking a reunification of the indigenous communities within its region.
On March 7, trucks filled with campesinos began to arrive from the four municipalities in this Tzeltal Jungle Region: Francisco Gómez, San Manuel, Ricardo Flores Magón and Francisco Villa. Covered stages for the two bands were constructed on either side of the central plaza. Soon there were plastic tents sheltering families, basketball games and bonfires for cooking. A cow was butchered and being prepared. The peace camp was full.
The two bands began to play on the afternoon of the 7th; corridos, cumbias and merengue. The rain began to fall as both male and female insurgentes mingled with civilian support bases. Dancing began in the evening. The rain began to fall harder and continued through-out the night, as did the music.
By morning on the 8th, there were thousands of Zapatistas camping in the center of their Caracol. People were selling food and other merchandise. We met a woman and her husband who said they had been homeless (landless) and had just been given land in a new community by the autonomous council of Ricardo Flores Magón. They were selling her crafts to raise money to construct a house on their new piece of land. After the beef soup was served, the dancing began once again. Undaunted by the light rain, almost everyone was dancing. Many of the people we talked to emphasized the importance of bringing people together in these region-wide fiestas. I connected it to the desire for reunification expressed by the Junta.

III. Health Care Crisis - As we were celebrating International Women's Day in La Garrucha, a woman was dying in one of the region's communities because there was no ambulance to take her to a hospital. Complications developed as she began to give birth and there was no nearby hospital, clinic or ambulance to care for her. We learned about this tragedy when we visited San Manuel, our sister municipality, the day after International Women's Day. We had first heard a woman express the need for an ambulance in a November training workshop in San Manuel. Now, members of the autonomous council were making an official request for one.
The need for emergency medical services is coupled with the lack of medicine in this region. When the International Red Cross left Chiapas, it also closed the clinic in San Miguel, not far from La Garrucha and San Manuel. The clinic had an ambulance with emergency medical equipment and emergency technicians. It also had medicine. The entire region is now without basic medicines. Some cases of typhoid and malaria have been detected and a general health care crisis exists.

IV. Paramilitaries - The issue of paramilitary activities arose several times during the weeks prior to the delegation: 1) The Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center (FBCCDH) announced that it was filing a petition with the Interamerican Human Rights Commission against the Mexican government for human rights violations in the case of the Acteal massacre; and 2) Chiapas state police used violence to break up a sit-in blocking the city hall, allegedly involving one faction of the paramilitary group known as "Paz y Justicia" against another faction. Each was cloaked in the colors of a political party.
Several NGOs we met with addressed the topic of paramilitaries. We were told there were three paramilitary groups with strength: 1) Paz y Justicia; 2) Mascara Roja; and 3) OPDIC. Several others exist without much strength, such as Los Chinchulines and Los Autenticos Coletos. The latter has arms but no military training. The state government of Chiapas had previously denied the existence of paramilitary groups in the state. However, Governor Pablo Salazar acknowledged the presence of Paz y Justicia as a paramilitary group after the problems in Tila.

A. The Acteal Massacre Case - On February 9, La Jornada reported that the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) announced that it was filing a petition (complaint) with the Interamerican Human Rights Commission (IHRC) against the federal government of Mexico, alleging that the government bears responsibility for creating, training and supporting the paramilitary group, Paz y Justicia, which allegedly committed the massacres in the Northern Zone of Chiapas between 1995 and 1997. Part of their allegations are based on the confession of an alleged former military commander of Paz y Justicia. The petition was actually filed on February 18, 2005 and reported in the press on February 22, shortly before we arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas. Frayba filed the petition jointly with Las Abejas, the Catholic campesino organization whose members were massacred. Frayba is a human rights organization sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. Retired Bishop Samuel Ruiz is on the Board of Directors.

B. The case of Tila - In the early morning hours of February 15, 2005, state police vehicles entered the town of Tila for the purpose of dislodging protesters from their sit-in at city hall. Apparently, some or all of them were anti-riot police. Dissidents had been blocking entry to the building since December of last year (2004). According to news reports, the police arrested more than fifty people during the eviction and their whereabouts were unknown for several days. Eye witnesses report that the police kicked in doors to enter private homes and take out men they wanted to arrest. While inside, they beat the men and also beat women and children. Residents describe that helicopters flew overhead dropping tear gas. For several days after the operation, Tila's schools and businesses were closed, residents stayed indoors and more than 100 families fled in fear of police agents who were patrolling the town.
By the time we arrived in Chiapas thirty of those detained had been released, including the only Zapatista supporter detained.
The dissidents who blocked entry to city hall were opponents of the new Tila mayor, elected in October, 2004. The two opposing forces were the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI for its initials in Spanish and the Alianza, an alliance of two opposition parties, the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and the Worker's Party (PT). Apparently the election was very close and the State Election Tribunal declared that the Alianza won. However, an appeal by the PRI to the Federal Election Commission was successful and that body declared the PRI to be the winner. The sit-in by members of the Alianza began several days before the new PRI mayor, Juan José Díaz Solórzano, was to take office on January 1, 2005.
The state government of Chiapas had been negotiating with both sides from the beginning of the problem. The Alianza demanded power sharing; i.e., 50% representation on the Municipal Council. Some agreements were reached, but each side claims the other broke them.
Tila is one of the Chiapas municipalities, or counties, where paramilitary violence was rampant from 1995 until 2000. During those years, the paramilitary group Paz y Justicia terrorized the region and caused at least 100 deaths, numerous disappearances and up to 20,000 displaced indigenous people. Paz y Justicia was allegedly trained by the military and funded by those in power at the time - the PRI governments of Ernesto Zedillo at the federal level and Julio Cesar Ruiz Ferro and Roberto Albores Guillen in Chiapas - as part of the counterinsurgency campaign against the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and others on the left, including the PRD. Paz y Justicia was never dismantled or disarmed when the governments changed in December of 2000. Rather, it began to self-destruct, eventually splitting into two factions, one faction calling itself the Union of Indigenous, Farming and Forest Communities (UCIAF, for its initials in Spanish). The other remained Paz y Justicia.
The governor of Chiapas, Pablo Salazar Mendiguchía, was cited in La Jornada as alleging that the two factions of Paz y Justicia were behind the current political conflict in Tila. He claimed that one faction (the UCIAF) sought power using the PRI as a vehicle while the faction still calling itself Paz y Justicia was using the Alianza to seek power. There was an inference that all those arrested were members of Paz y Justicia, a claim denied by both the Bishop of San Cristóbal and the wives of those detained. It appears those detained were mostly members of the PRD, although Samuel Sánchez Sánchez, a founder of Paz y Justicia and now a leader in the UCIAF, has also been detained.
What is of particular significance is that for more than three years Salazar's Chiapas government of change has denied that paramilitaries exist within the state. Perhaps the recent confessions of a former Paz y Justicia comandante, made public by the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center have forced the state government to confront reality. These confessions form part of the basis for the Human Rights Center's recent complaint against former officials of the Mexican government filed with the Interamerican Human Rights Commission, a commission of the Organization of American States (OAS).

BY: Mary Ann Tenuto Sanchez
March 17, 2005
please feel free to address questions about this report to Mary Ann at:

Details on the Acteal case are available on the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center's webpage at:
The same site contains information about the violence in Tila.


The Zapatistas Construct Another World
by Mary Ann Tenuto Sanchez. Aug. 12, 2004

On January 1, 2004, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN or Zapatistas) and their

supporters around the world commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Zapatista Uprising in Chiapas, Mexico. Rebel Magazine, a monthly magazine of Zapatista thought published in Mexico, promoted a global campaign of festivities in honor of that anniversary, as well as the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the rebel organization on November 17, 1983. As this double anniversary occasions many important articles of analysis remembering EZLN history and the significance of the Uprising, it is useful to look at what the Zapatista communities are actually constructing inside their autonomous regions: an alternative to neoliberalism. They are constructing another world.

Although the construction of this other world began soon after the 1994 Uprising, it became more apparent with the major policy statements made in July and August of 2003. This other world is based upon civilian, regional, indigenous self-government (autonomy) and collective work for the community.

In July of 2003, Subcomandante Marcos, the eloquent spokesperson for the Zapatistas, informed the world of major internal organizational changes, the goal of which is to strengthen and advance autonomy (self-government) and to implement the San Andres Accords. Those Accords were the result of an initial peace agreement between the EZLN and the Mexican government on how to harmonize self-governing
indigenous regions within the Mexican state. Unfortunately, the Mexican Congress did not implement the full agreement into law, so the Zapatistas are de facto implementing the San Andres Accords within their territory--autonomy without permission.

The EZLN announced the creation of five centers of autonomous, regional civil government. This involved a change in the name of those centers from Aguascalientes to Caracols (conch shells). It also involved the creation of autonomous, regional governance structures called Juntas de Buen Gobierno (Good Government Committees). The Zapatistas refer to them simply as Juntas.

The Juntas are composed of representatives from each autonomous county within the region. Autonomous counties were initiated soon after the Uprising. They are composed of Zapatista supporters who live in resistance to the local, state and federal governments. The autonomous counties democratically elect their own autonomous county councils to carry out the usual functions of local government: recording births, marriages and deaths; obtaining development projects; constructing schools and clinics, etc. They also have a judicial function: dispute resolution.

The autonomous county councils resolve disputes which arise within Zapatista counties between members of the organization. They also attempt to resolve disputes between Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas within their territory. This latter function has caused friction between Zapatistas and anti-Zapatistas. It is important to note here
that many non-Zapatistas have accepted the role of the autonomous councils. The anti-Zapatistas are those with an axe to grind, such as paramilitaries, quasi-paramilitaries and those at the service of local politicians and cattle ranchers.

Other problems between the autonomous counties themselves have been the unequal distribution of economic support from civil society and the imposition of projects by some international aid organizations. The Juntas were created, in part, to address these problems and inequities.

On a recent fact-finding trip, this writer met with the Good Government Junta based in the community of La Garrucha. Its chairperson stated that its functions were equitable distribution of economic solidarity, resolving complaints of human rights abuse, and resolving disputes between people in different autonomous counties.

The chairperson explained that cases were initiated by someone who believes he/she has been wronged or cases are referred by the local courts in the official government county. In other words, the Juntas provide an alternative court system to that of the constitutional state government and, amazingly, according to the Junta and several experts, the local branches of the state government are cooperating!

Cases heard by the Juntas are free to all parties and hearings are conducted in the local indigenous language. This contrasts sharply with the state courts which cost lots of money (graft) and are conducted in Spanish and legalese. Many indigenous people in Chiapas do not speak Spanish at all and certainly not well enough to understand a court proceeding. Nor does the average indigenous campesino understand the legal system. Therefore, in order to pursue a case in a local court, indigenous people must pay the fees and hire a lawyer and also an interpreter. There are few indigenous peasants who can afford these costs. Consequently, most indigenous people do not have access to the state courts for resolving problems, and unresolved problems can escalate into violence. The reduction of violence may motivate the present-day cooperation of the local courts while a justice system conducted in their own language, free of charge and free of racism is a strong motivation for the average peasant with a grievance to use the Juntas.

An alternative system of justice necessarily raises the question of what rules or laws form the basis for decision making. An autonomous council president explained it perfectly: "We resolve problems according to indigenous justice, not according to money like they do in Ocosingo" (where the government courts are located). The new Juntas rely on traditional indigenous concepts of justice to resolve disputes just as the autonomous councils have been doing for at least five years.

It became apparent during my interviews that there is another dimension to the Good Government Juntas: territorial control. The Juntas want to know what is going on within what they consider Zapatista territory. This derives directly from the San Andres Accords which granted a degree of territorial control to indigenous peoples throughout Mexico. The Juntas expect all those doing business inside their territory to obtain permission from the Junta for their activities. One means of doing this is through the appellate function of the Juntas. A conflict which remains unresolved at the autonomous
council level can be taken up by the Juntas, thereby enforcing requirements and/or decisions of the autonomous councils within the region.

In several instances where anti-Zapatista groups have threatened the Juntas with violence, the state government has intervened so as to prevent violence. The assertion of territorial control over businesspeople, transport companies, construction companies and anti-Zapatistas will continue to present challenges to the Juntas as long as the Mexican Congress fails to convert the San Andres Accords into law.

Despite these challenges, the Juntas represent a significant step in converting the regional administration of justice and territory from the EZLN military structure to an EZLN civilian structure. It is sometimes difficult for observers of the Zapatista movement to separate the civilian side of the EZLN from the military side. According to Marcos, this will become easier because the lines will no longer cross. The military's function will be the protection of the civilian population and will no longer be involved in civilian functions.

Overseeing the distribution of economic solidarity and approving projects by national and international organizations present challenges. The Zapatista communities are developing an indigenous economy, often referred to as a solidarity economy or campesino economy by those advocates of constructing another world. It is referred to here as an indigenous economy because it is rooted in an indigenous tradition of peasant farmers, an indigenous emphasis on the primary importance of community, and on a traditional practice of working collectively for the community.

The 1994 Uprising claimed thousands of acres of former cattle ranches as Zapatista territory. The need for land was a major reason for the rebellion, just as defending themselves against armed aggression by cattle ranchers was a motive for arming themselves. The land taken by the Zapatistas ("recovered land") has been settled by Zapatistas from other communities in need of land. New communities were founded with just a piece of land (no water supply, no electricity, no houses, no schools, clinics or stores). The rather awesome task of the autonomous councils was and still is to develop these services. This has been accomplished by means of projects by nongovernmental organizations: water projects, ongoing training of health promoters and education promoters (teachers) and economic support from civil society (the construction of schools, clinics and collective stores). Other projects have included coffee cooperatives, weaving cooperatives, blacksmith shops, shoemaking shops, organic vegetable gardens, bread-baking cooperatives, cafes and even the reproduction of their music on CDs and cassettes. Nevertheless, the communities must be able to create a commerce of their own, independent of outside economic support. They must be able to generate funds to maintain the autonomous councils and to buy supplies for their schools and medicine for their clinics.

One proposal for generating profits is the construction of at least ten warehouses throughout Zapatista territory. These warehouses would buy necessities wholesale rather than through a middleman and then sell to the community stores at a small profit. This would generate the funds necessary for the daily maintenance of autonomous institutions. Eventually, the warehouses could purchase products from their region for trade with other regions and would be in a position to seek markets for their products. The labor of the warehouse workers is labor donated to the autonomous county, that is, collective work. The warehouse project is already under way in several regions.

Another world is not generated overnight. One autonomous council president told us that the name of the cooperative coffee shop in his community is Smaliyel. That means "slow going" in the Tzeltal Maya language. They chose that name because progress is made slowly. What is important is that several hundred thousand Zapatistas have begun the process of constructing their own world with cultural values opposed to those of neoliberalism.

(This article appeared in the Spring, 2004 edition of Left Turn magazine. It gives a good summary of what is taking place inside the civilian Zapatista communities as they construct autonomy. It is also available in Spanish. )


Zapatistas Retake the Political Stage in Mexico
by Mary Ann Tenuto Sanchez, Sept. 26, 2003.
Chiapas Support Committee

What do a pink shoe with a stiletto heel and five conch shells have to do with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation's (EZLN's) latest initiative to recapture political space in Mexico for the indigenous movement? Stay tuned for the answer from that master of prose, rebellion, and public relations himself, Subcomandante Marcos (aka "the Sup").

The comunicados began flooding our email bins in mid-July. First, an announcement by the commanders that Marcos would be temporarily speaking for the 30 autonomous municipalities. Next, a few brief statements on the international, national, and local political scene and two bold announcements: 1) that the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) would not be permitted in Zapatista territory; and 2) that the Zapatistas would implement the San Andres Accords without the government's permission.

Then came the announcement of a death. Marcos didn't say who or what was about to die and left us worrying whether the Sup was gravely ill. He kept us hanging until the next day when we learned that the five Aguascalientes had received the death sentence. We waited yet another day to find out that those same five communities (Oventic, Morelia, La Garrucha, La Realidad and Roberto Barrios) would die in order to be reborn as Caracoles (conch shells). Conch shells? Spirals that lead to the heart.

Rather than the political support, dignity, and respect the communities deserve, Marcos said, they have received many cast-off items from modern industrial societies: one pink shoe with a stiletto heel, old computers that don't work, expired medicines, and inappropriate (useless) clothing. He characterized this charity, which was delivered to the five Aguascalientes, where it remains unusable, as the "Cinderella Syndrome." Marcos also reported that the Aguascalientes experienced the imposition of unnecessary projects by some nonprofit organizations.

The death of the Aguascalientes signifies the end of their acceptance of such charity and imposed projects. The Caracoles will no longer accept cast-off items or imposed projects. Rather, they expect dignity, respect, and political support.

Since 1996, the five Aguascalientes functioned as spaces where civil society could meet and dialogue with the Zapatistas. They also served as training and cultural centers for communities in the region. The Caracoles will continue to perform those functions as well as some additional ones.

Building the Material Conditions for Resistance

In a communique entitled "A History," Marcos evaluated the progress made by the autonomous municipalities over the last seven years, a very practical and down-to-earth assessment of the current situation in the communities. He praised them for the important advances they made in such high-priority areas as health care and education, with the support of civil society (that's us). Marcos reminded us that resistance means great material sacrifice for the communities because they will accept
nothing from the "bad government" (mal gobierno).

Progress has taken place "under conditions of extreme poverty,
shortages, and technical and information limitations . . . ," he
continued. "Its having managed to survive under conditions of
persecution, harassment, and poverty that have rarely existed in the history of the world speaks to the fact that [autonomous government] has benefited the communities." Marcos recognized that, with support from civil society, the autonomous councils have carried on the labor of building the material conditions for resistance. However, he said, the development of these autonomous municipalities has not been equal.

The inequality had been caused by several factors: 1) the autonomous municipalities (counties) in which the Aguascalientes were located have tended to receive more attention and more economic support from civil society than other municipalities; and 2) those autonomousmunicipalities which are easy to reach have also received more economic support and thus are more developed. The resulting inequality in development is unfair and causes friction between communities and between autonomous municipalities.

The success of the autonomous councils in dealing with conflicts between Zapatista communities and nonZapatista communities got mixed reviews. Thus, the new plan to remedy the inequalities: Good Government Committees (Juntas de Buen Gobierno or, simply, Juntas).

These are juntas of good government in contrast to the "bad government" of Mexico (as the Zapatistas usually refer to it). The Juntas will take on the duties of distributing economic solidarity and projects in an equitable manner throughout their region. They will also resolve disputes which cannot be resolved locally. They will regulate who enters and leaves their region. Marcos put it this way:

"The Caracoles will be like doors for going into the communities and for the communities to leave. Like windows for seeing us and for us to look out. Like speakers for taking our word afar and for listening to what is far away. But, most especially, for reminding us that we should stay awake and be alert to the rightness of the worlds which people the world."

The Juntas will be composed of one or more representatives from each autonomous municipality within the jurisdiction of each Caracol, in other words, regional self-government. A bold move, which takes autonomy to another level and places it on the national agenda once again. Suddenly, Mexican newspapers were full of articles pro and con the new Zapatista initiative on autonomy and the legality of its Juntas (or lack thereof). Mexico City's progressive daily, La Jornada, called it "autonomy without permission."

The Political Context

Many of the problems this initiative addresses have been around for a while. Those of us who travel to Chiapas frequently (and have learned to listen and see) have observed the unequal development, imposed projects, and useless cast-off items for some time. So the logical question is, Why has the EZLN waited until now to launch their new initiative?

We have only to look at the election debacle of July 6 of this year for the answer. Mexican voters expressed themselves by abstaining from voting. Nearly 60 percent failed to vote. In Chiapas, the rate of abstention was close to 70 percent, a negative referendum on the failed promises of the Fox presidency. The PAN (Fox's political party) lost seats in the Chamber of Deputies whereas both the PRI and the PRD gained.

There is much talk about the inability of Fox to govern for the
remaining three years of his term. A political power vacuum results. Enter Marcos, the EZLN, and the autonomous communities to fill that vacuum, reopening space for the issue of indigenous autonomy. The Zapatistas are reuniting the nation's majority, which supported them on the March of Indigenous Dignity during February-March of 2001. They invited civil society to three days of fiestas in Oventic this past August 8, 9, and 10 to commemorate the death of the Aguascalientes and the birth of the Caracoles. Indigenous peoples from all over Mexico, as well as some campesino organizations, the press, and civil society, attended. An estimated 15,000 or more greeted this new phase of EZLN resistance to globalization and bad government.

Warning Issued to Paramilitary Leaders: 2 for 1

Marcos reported that the activity of paramilitary gangs has increased in Chiapas, especially in Los Altos (The Highlands). Once again, these gangs are threatening attacks against Acteal and Polho similar to the Acteal massacre of December 1997. Marcos put the paramilitary leaders on notice that there will be no impunity for them if they attack. He stated that for every Zapatista killed, the EZLN will kill two paramilitaries, his point being that this time the paramilitaries will suffer the consequences of their actions.

In his letter to the festival in Oventic, Marcos spelled out very
clearly that the autonomous municipalities and Good Government Juntas will have autonomy from the EZLN's military structure. Members of the military will no longer perform police functions, like maintaining checkpoints and collecting taxes from individuals. Therefore, all checkpoints and tax collections will be terminated immediately. This announcement was well received by the mainstream media and the government, a good public relations move by the EZLN, interpreted by some as a signal for peace and dialogue. Marcos said clearly that the military's role would be to defend the communities.

Plan La Realidad to Tijuana (Plan RealiTi)

Interspersed among the practical matters of moving toward regional autonomy, Marcos repeated his scathing critique of the Plan PueblaPanama (PPP), that ill-fated plan by the Fox administration to "develop" the infrastructure of indigenous Mexico, not for indigenous people but to accommodate transnational corporations and the FTAA. The Sup boldly
announced that the PPP would not be permitted in Zapatista lands. He also predicted that all the resistance movements throughout Mexico and Central America had already doomed any attempt to implement the PPP. The comunicado on this issue is worth reading for his critique of "big capital."

A big surprise came when Marcos announced the Plan La RealidadTijuana (Plan RealiTi). This plan involves linking all the resistance movements in Mexico and together rebuilding the country from below. And . . . the Zapatistas have four more plans to deal with the rest of the world, including the U.S. and Canada!

In connection with globalization, an announcement was made during the Oventic fiesta that the Zapatista word would travel to Cancun in mid-September for the WTO gatherings.


We congratulate the Zapatistas on this advance in their construction of indigenous autonomy. A Chiapas Support Committee delegation will deliver our congratulations in person to the Caracol of La Garrucha when we travel into the river valleys of the Lacandon. We will be asking the questions everyone has about what the reorganization means to those of us in civil society. Join us on our October 5 to October 12 delegation
to Chiapas, and help construct the material conditions for resistance. Call (510) 6549587 or email:

Note: All the EZLN's comunicados can be read in Spanish at: and in English at:

The War in Chiapas: CSC delegation report (March, 2003)

Military Situation.

There is a war in Chiapas. It is called a "low-intensity" war. It is a war directed at the civilian population. From time-to-time orchestrated violence breaks out. All is watched and controlled by the Mexican Army's estimated 70,000+plus troops stationed throughout the EZLN zone of influence. We saw troops everywhere we went: on the main highway between San Cristobal and Ocosingo, on the dirt road into the Las Tasas Canyon, on the road into the Patihuitz Canyon and on the mountain road that passes the entrance to Polho.

They were "on patrol." The entire countryside is dotted with military camps and bases of various sizes, beginning with the gigantic olive-green 39th Military headquarters across the road from the Tonina Ruins and the community of Jerusalen. They watch, harass and frighten civilian Zapatista supporters. They protect and coordinate with the paramilitary groups.

Paramilitary Situation.

The paramilitary groups do the dirty work for the government and the Mexican Army. When violence is planned, it is the paramilitaries who do it. They have complete impunity. In the Northern Zone, the autonomous counties do not publicly announce themselves for fear of attack by Development, Peace and Justice, ironically the name of a large paramilitary group. In the canyons east of Ocosingo, some counties do not publicly announce the name of the county seat for fear of paramilitary reprisal. County headquarters are rotated. Communities protect themselves by close coordination and cooperation/ support in the event of an attack and with denuncias (public announcements) of paramilitary activity. They stressed the importance of international observers in their peace camps and of international civil society distributing information about events in Chiapas.

We learned that the paramilitary group MIRA has disappeared because, according to the companeros, civil society found out about it and it was denounced. It has been replaced with a new paramilitary group, the Opdic, which operates in the canyons of the Lacandon Jungle. The Opdic is said to be responsible for several of the attacks last July-August. We also learned that it is growing and spreading throughout the canyons east of Ocosingo. According to the companeros and the Mexico City newspaper La Jornada, the Opdic is organized and financed by the Municipal president of Ocosingo, Omar Burguete and by Pedro Chulin, a delegate to the state Congress from a district in Ocosingo county (the largest in terms of square miles in Mexico).


Although the Mexican Congress and Supreme Court have refused to implement the San Andres Accords into law, the Zapatista communities in Chiapas have constructed autonomy on their own. They have developed a structure of self governance based on their cultural values and on the principles of their resistance against neo- liberalism and a "bad government." They elect their own authorities who in turn implement programs for autonomous education and health. They construct schools, libraries, health clinics and begin to develop an autonomous economy. They face many obstacles: lack of money, inability of many to read and write, lack of transportation, lack of medicine, etc. They know it will take a long time to accomplish all they hope for, but they are diligently working on it.

Polhó Refugee Camp

There are still many refugees from the "low-intensity" warfare. 8,000 are in the autonomous refugee camp of Polho, possibly
the world's only entirely self-managed refugee camp. They are
in resistance. One of the leaders told us that they will not sell out by returning to their villages of origin while there are still paramilitaries there. They were critical of those who did return.

As I emerged from the van at Polho, trucks full of soldiers were no more than 15 feet away on the road, glaring at me and at those guarding the entrance to the refugee camp. The patrols were frequent. The military camp is adjacent to Polho. It is active and menacing.

Lack of food is a problem for everyone in the community of Polho. The International Red Cross has reduced the amount of food aid to 25% of the minimum daily requirement. To that amount is added the food from those fields which it is safe for some of the refugees to work plus the money contributed by national and international civil society. There is hunger there. It seems to me that the refugees are the responsibility of all of us.

We were shocked to hear that the Mexican Red Cross, which is supposed to be providing health care to the county, developed a little housing project which was for PRI families (read paramilitaries) in other communities and they are using it to divide communities. The paramilitaries have been given 1,000 tons of building materials (gravel, cement, wood, tin roofs).

Montes Azules - Mesoamerican Biological Corridor-Mexico.

The threat of eviction looms heavy over the indigenous communities settled inside the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve. Towards the end of our delegation, Global Exchange took a group of NGO workers and press people for a flight over the area and a visit to several communities. Their report confirmed all we have previously said about the phony "green" reasons being but an excuse to evict troublesome indigenous communities in the way of corporate exploitation of the rainforest. They echoed our criticisms of Conservation International's (CI's) position on this matter. We applaud their work. The more voices that are added to the critique of what is really happening in the Montes Azules the better.

In one of our informational briefings we were told that one of the
things CI is doing in the Montes Azules is catching butterflies to send to a tourist park in Cancun. They also send fungi and orchids to the U.S.

Both before and after the delegation, several of us met with friends in Tuxtla Gutierrez, where we discussed the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor-Mexico (MBC-M). In the opinion of these folks there is no doubt that it is being used for counterinsurgency purposes. The reserves of El Triunfo and the Chimilapas are home to the EPR and both EZLN and EPR respectively. Civilian communities supportive of these groups live inside the reserves. The Montes Azules is only the first biosphere reserve to be threatened with evictions.

Jerusalen/Rancho Esmeralda.

While several of us were en route to Chiapas, EZLN bases of support surrounded Rancho Esmeralda, the now notorious "ecotourism" ranch owned by a couple of U.S. citizens. Zapatistas took control of the property several weeks after it was abandoned by the owners, who remain in Chiapas and talk to the press, U.S. government representatives, and to representatives of the Chiapas government regularly. We did not detect much sympathy for them among Chiapanecos. They are asking the Chiapas government to indemnify them in the amount of $5,000,000.00 pesos ($500,000.00 U.S. dollars). The governor has refused.

This is a difficult subject to discuss because we do not have the
benefit of the EZLN's word on this. They are completely silent on this subject. However, some information was published in La Jornada and the local Chiapas papers while we were there. The essence of the published information is that a top-level Israeli military official was the leader of the "eco-tourist" group that caused the problem last December. The group is known to have ties to the Guatemalan military and it is suspected that they brought arms with them as well as satellite telecommunications equipment. They must have been seen as a threat to civilian Zapatista bases of support in Jerusalen, so the road through Jerusalen was closed to further Rancho Esmeralda "eco-tourists."

The remainder of our experience was a mix of serious interviews and celebrations in autonomous communities. We are producing a video on that part of our trip for presentation at La Pena Cultural Center, 3105
Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, on April 9 at 7:30 PM.

* The Chiapas Support Committee's (CSC) 4th Annual Delegation for International Women's Week began on March 2 when all eleven delegates gathered in San Cristobal de las Casas Chiapas, Mexico. We were 7 from the Greater Bay Area (6 from Oakland), 1 from Davis, California and 3 from Germany.

During the 9-day delegation we received excellent informational
briefings from Enlace Civil, the Coordinator of Civil Society in
Resistance and the awesome research center, CIEPAC. We traveled to four communities in the canyons east of Ocosingo (where the U.S. State Department advises us not to go), spending four days and three nights there. We had formal meetings with autonomous authorities in two communities and chatted informally in others. In addition, we visited the archaeological ruins of Tonina, celebrated International Women's Day (a day late) at a fiesta given for us by the women's collective store in the community of San Jose and ended the delegation with a visit to the Polh' refugee camp on March 10. A very full itinerary and an amazing experience. Below we summarize what we learned about the general situation.

For more information about Chiapas, the La Pena program or about future delegations to Chiapas, please contact us.

CNC Activity

The CNC is a national peasant organization affiliated with the Partido Revolucionario Institutional (PRI), the ruling party in Mexico and Chiapas until the elections of 2000. The PRI still controls the enormous county of Ocosingo. It soon became apparent that the CNC members in La Providencia were interested in more than just having some land. Some of them, Los Lecheros, were one of the groups which pretended to leave the Zapatistas and faked turning in their weapons to former Governor Roberto Albores Guillén. Around the same time (1999) this group began to provoke the Zapatistas by making false reports to the police and causing the wrongful detention of one of the Zapatistas. Moreover, they entered Zapatista houses.....
See story

Mexican Human Rights Lawyer Is Killed
A winner of Amnesty International's Enduring Spirit Award, had been menaced by death threats for years, often in notes devised from newspaper clippings that appeared under her door. In 1999, she was kidnapped and beaten. Two months later, she was tied, blindfolded and tortured in her home for nine hours. No arrests were made in the attacks.........
See story

Report on Chiapas - Parts 1 & 2
Chiapas state elections & Francisco Gómez
" was clear that the PRI remained the majority party. [Later results showed that the PRI was indeed the #1 favorite of the people who bothered to vote, with the PRD a distant second and the PAN (Fox's party) third.] The PRI will have a majority of deputies in the state Congress and maintains control of a majority of the municipal governments. A big surprise was that a previously unheard of party, the PAS, won control of San Cristóbal municipal government. It is rumored that the PAS was founded by a rich conservative (redundant?), but who knows!

Pérez López and Morales Ramírez shared the analysis that there was one crystal clear message to be learned from this year's election: if you want to beat the PRI, you must do so in alliance with other parties..."
See story

Worsening situation of internally displaced Chiapas refugees & threats from paramilitaries against Zapatista bases of support.

"We Will Die of Hunger Without Red Cross Committee Aid." Say Chenalhó Displaced Elio Henríquez, correspondent San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas.
Indigenous from the municipality of Chenalhó, displaced from their communities, asked the International Committee of the Red Cross (CICR) to reconsider its decision to reduce their humanitarian aid deliveries because, if they do not, "we are going to die of hunger...."
See story

Brief Background on Chiapas

On January 1, 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) declared war against the Mexican government by seizing the four largest municipal governments in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. The EZLN, or Zapatistas as they are often called, is composed largely of indigenous Mayan campesinos. Their demands include land, housing, food, schools, health care, roads, electricity, safe drinking water, and democratic elections.

After thirteen days of fighting, a fragile truce was called by the government. Peace talks resulted in an initial agreement on Indigenous Rights and Culture in February, 1996. (This agreement is referred to as the "San Andres Accords.") Additional talks were called off in September of that year when the government failed to implement the agreement it signed. In November, 1996 all parties to the peace talks agreed to language for implementing the initial accords into law. The president of Mexico refused to sign the language to which his own negotiators agreed. No talks have been held since.

Meanwhile, the government has implemented a strategy of "low-intensity warfare" against civilian communities supportive of the Zapatista demands. This includes sending 70,000 military troops to Chiapas (a state with only 3.2 million people), allowing paramilitary groups to terrorize with impunity, and the military occupation of civilian communities.

This strategy culminated in the brutal Christmas Eve massacre of 45 women, children and men, as they prayed in the chapel of a refugee camp in a village of Acteal, Chiapas. Military and paramilitary violence has driven 19,500 indigenous people into makeshift refugee camps where they lack food, shelter, medicine and safe drinking water. The hunger in these camps is now combined with a critical food shortage caused by this year's severe drought. We also work directly with indigenous communities.

A New President.
On Dec. 1, 2001, Vicente Fox became the President of Mexico. His election represented a change in political party for the first time in more than 70 years. He is a member of the conservative National Action Party (PAN). Fox immediately indicated that he wanted to resume peace talks with the EZLN and sent the Cocopa Initiative to Congress. The Zapatistas set three conditions for returning to the talks and announced the March to Mexico City to address the Mexican Congress regarding the passage of the Cocopa Initiative. The three conditions were: 1) Implementation of the Cocopa Initiative into law; 2) Release of all Zapatista political prisoners; and 3) withdrawal of the Army from seven of the many military camps in the zone of conflict. None have been fully complied with.

The March to Mexico City.
The March began in Chiapas on Feb. 24, 2001. It passed through 9 nine states of Mexico, participated in the National Indiginous Congress and arrived in the Zocalo of Mexico City on March 10, 2001. There were between 200,000 and 250,000 people awaiting the 24 comandantes (commanders) in the Zocalo.

The Mexican Congress.
A delegation of 4 civilian commanders addressed the Mexican Congress on March 28, 2001, advocating for the passage of the Cocopa Initiative. Their historic presence was in spite of intense opposition from PAN legislators, a
rather ominous sign.

In April 2001, the Congress passed a watered-down version of the Cocopa Initiative, leading one Mexican newspaper to label it "Cocopa Light." The legislation failed to recognize indigenous lands and territories or recognize their right to autonomy. The Zapatistas rejected it, withdrew their government liaison and broke off all formal contact with the Fox government. The majority of the states approved the constitutional change, in spite of fierce opposition. More than 300 appeals were filed with the Mexican Supreme Court which has yet to rule. A case was also filed before the International Labor Organization, a United Nations organization.

The Current Situation.
After the states approved the constitutional changes, Fox signed then into law. Additional troops were sent to Chiapas, paramilitary groups resurfaced and low-intensity warfare resumed against Zapatista civialian communities. The current estimate is that there are 80,000 soldiers in Chiapas.

Although conservatives claim "constitutional concerns," it is widely accepted that the reason the Cocopa initiative was not approved has more to do with economic interests. Transnational corporations and the governments which they influence are anxious to exploit the abundant natural resources of Chiapas like oil, biodiversity, water and fertile land. The Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP) is just beginning to develop the basic infrastructure (roads, ports, dams, railroads, privatization of communal land, etc.) needed for monocrop agriculture, biotech research, "eco-tourism," and the maquiladora industry. This necessitates violent clashes between the governments and many indigenous communities which have vowed to resist. (For further introductory information on Chiapas, see Earth Island Journal's report on Chiapas. Another independent report is available here.)

How You Can Help.
The indigenous people of Chiapas need support form the international community in various ways: 1) International human right observers in Chiapas peace camps; 2) political support such as letters to the Mexican Consulates, U.S. politicians, demonstrations, etc; and/or, 3) Financial support. For more information, call the Chiapas Support Committee at: (510) 654-9587.

All or any part of these documents may be reproduced verbatim &
distributed without permission provided that their sources are cited.

Chiapas Support Committee.