Hermann Bellinghausen, corespondent San Jose La Nueva Esperanza, Chiapas August 27
In the conflicting reports about the events of July 25, it is clear that the federal Army fired on campesinos who were not carrying weapons, and that they repelled the attack with sticks, stones, slingshots, and, possibly, machetes, which are common work tools.
It was between 10 and 11 in the morning when some 100 federal Army soldiers tried to enter this community. The women, as on other occasions, went out to prevent them. The soldiers then left, heading towards Rizo de Oro, from whence they had come, and they met three campesinos in the road, all of them adult males, whom they detained violently, according to the different statements. These three persons, released today and in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, do, in fact, appear to have been severely beaten.
The three terrified campesinos declared, in their ministerial statements, that they had been "zapatista sympathizers for three months," and that, prior to that time, they were PRIs.
The women of San Jose, when they found out the soldiers were taking the three men, returned to the road. They saw Rosario Vazquez Rodriguez, Andres Perez Jimenez and Daniel Gomez Lopez (as they were said today to be calling themselves, even though the residents of the community referred to them by other names), who had been beaten and tied up by the troops.
The men of San Jose, the majority of them in the fields, began coming down to the road. The women followed the soldiers along the San Caralampio ranch road, and there, from across a fence, the military detachment stood up to the growing gathering of campesinos, who were demanding the release of the three detainees.
Then the federal Army fired. Of the reports heard by this correspondent, the one that speaks of the fewest shots refers to "more than 20." Others didn't know, and some witnesses spoke of "40 or 50 shots." Regardless, there are two persons with gunshot wounds, one of them in serious condition, in the clinic at San Jose La Nueva Esperanza.
There are also women who have been beaten, a climate of tension, and, above all, worry. The wives of the detainees, not knowing they would be released tonight, expressed fear for their lives. They know they were badly hurt when they took them away.
Then the community found out that the detainees had been accused of being armed and of wearing ski-masks. The weapons were never shown, and when they were introduced today, they were wearing their worn and torn campesino pants, and were not in any kind of uniforms.
While we were walking after the women, Manuel expressed his belief that the best case was that the soldiers supposed that by firing "they were going to frighten the people, but no, the people became more angry at the soldiers and began throwing stones at them."
Without explaining why very well, Beatriz, a young woman from the community, said that, in the middle of all this, the soldiers did not leave San Caralampio immediately. It was close to three in the afternoon when they left with the three detainees, and with, certainly, their own wounded.
Seeing the rapid unraveling, and the divergence in the reports from the federal Army and the campesinos of this community, one can nonetheless imagine the measure of confusion, pain and indignation that was set off after the shots and the response by the indigenous.
The fact is that the violent military incursion into this tojolabal community - that identifies itself as belonging to the San Pedro de Michoacán Autonomous Municipality - confirms the recent reports by the CCRI-CG of the EZLN. According to those, the federal Army is attempting to encircle and possibly attack La Realidad, which is close to here - if 20 kilometers can be considered to be close - and apparently closely patrolled by land and air.
Beatriz is worried about the wounded, especially about one of them, who is badly off: he is receiving penicillin. Manuel is angry that they fired on indigenous. The wives of the detainees are concerned about their whereabouts and the condition of their spouses. Carmelino is passionately concerned that it be known that it was not them, the indigenous, who attacked the federal Army first, but rather that they did nothing more than defend themselves.
One more town that was not left alone. "They came to provoke us," said Manuel, and Carmelino agrees. The federal Army, meanwhile, has said they were provoked. However it may be, just like in Amador Hernandez, the incidents occurred on land belonging to the community. And here, in addition, the firearms spoke from only one side.
Summarizing: the federal Army appeared, violently, on the outskirts of a zapatista community. The campesinos expressed their opposition, and then they were accused of having provoked it. One more episode of the ducks throwing themselves in front of the guns, or how militarization advances into the communities without anything stopping it, not even the determined resistance of the people, nor the consecutive scandals of the attacks.
On the lower banks of the Euseba River, some 20 kilometers southeast of La Realidad, and at the same time 30 kilometers north of the border with Huelvetenango, Guatemala - the tojolabal community of San Juan La Nueva Esperanza sits on a green and beautiful plain. Some 60 families, about 400 residents.
Until yesterday, it had been between 8 and 10 years that a plane had landed. In response to the emergency situation in which the community had so quickly found itself, following the attack by the federal Army, they all decided, in assembly, to clean the landing strip. The zapatista majority and the PRI minority, by common accord, cut the grass. The mountains of cuttings and grass can still be seen at the edge of the reborn airstrip.
And what the first small aircraft brought was visitors from the National Human Rights Commission, who remained in the town for between two and three hours, without properly speaking to anyone. In the early afternoon, they once more boarded a light plane that took them to the military barracks of Guadalupe Tepeyac. They undoubtedly reported on their observations there, something which they declined to do to the national and international press, who had arrived on foot and who had met with them minutes prior to their departure.. They said "they still lacked the facts."
During the time the CNDH was in San Jose, so were four individuals who never explained their presence. When they arrived, they said they were with the first group of journalists who had come in, but that turned out to be untrue. According to the campesinos, the ones who had held them in the school, on the outskirts of the village, had been "soldiers in civilian clothing." They even recognized one of them as having participated in the previous day's attack.
The fact is, when the CNDH visitors withdrew, these men disappeared from the town. Among the reporters present, one of the things that stood out, among others, from the visit, was the alacrity with which the CNDH had arrived. There are denuncias that have taken days, even weeks, to warrant their appearance. And it would appear that the federal Army sent them here.
"They have been wanting to enter the community for three years," Hermelindo Vazquez Lopez says, about the federal Army troops. He is one of the campesinos who was seriously wounded by a gunshot in the upper part of his right thigh. The visits by the Maravilla Tenejapa Group (as the Sedena - Department of Defense - is called) have increased over the last few weeks. They have never been able to enter the village. The women have always blocked their way.
"The companeras say the soldiers come to offer money. They come flashing money," Hermelindo continues his recounting, "in order to let them through."
Laid up in a bed in the community clinic, half naked, covered with a beach towel from the Virgin of Guadalupe, and an untied scarf over his face, he says: "I can't move my leg, because it's broken." His swollen thigh shows the bullet's entrance and exit holes.
"The soldiers used their pistols and long weapons," he said. "They shot at us, then."
Hermelindo was, like most of the men, working in the fields, when the people from the community "sent people to call and say 'we are getting beat.' Or it's time for that."
"We arrived later," he recalls. "Our companeros had already been advancing, they wouldn't let us by." The women were already confronting them, when the men arrived. "They fired in order take the companeros, and then I was throwing sticks and stones at those who were firing. Some companeros were carrying slingshots also."
"Without giving any explanations," he continued, "they grabbed the companeros, in order to take them away. They weren't carrying weapons and they weren't wearing masks."
He, like the other witnesses, spoke of "an older soldier, he's the commander, who came himself." And he said that he fired "two shots into the air."
Convalescing in another room in the clinic, Francisco Vazquez, "about 67 years old," said: "They fired because they saw that we were coming." He has a gunshot wound in his right knee. "It entered and went out," he said.
After talking to the two wounded men, a group of women and girls, with their faces covered, conducted the journalists to the San Caralampio ranch, half way between San Jose and Rizo de Oro.
At a bend in the road, before reaching the San Caralampio dirt road, the women stop, and one of them points out a rock at the edge of the road, and she speaks in tojolabal. Carmelino, one of the campesinos accompanying us, translates that that was where she had seen them beating her husband, Estanislao Lopez Jimenez, and his blood was flowing on the ground. She steps on the muddy place where she says her husband's blood was. Four women were beaten while trying to rescue him.
By the soldiers. From this spot, the women pursued the captors towards San Caralampio.
They walked quickly, most of them barefoot, dressed in electric colors, through the forest. Night fell. Some parrots flew noisily by.
They have us cross the dirt path behind them. We reach the fence, they have us pass through the gate and stay at the side of the path. Carmelino crosses with us, saying:
"The soldiers came already angry. The hook was closed. The companeros were already upset. Our purpose was to pass through. Then the commander fired into the air. It wad the signal for them to start shooting. The companeros who were in the front here fell, wounded."
Carmelino also arrived, he says. He found his companeros facing the troops. "We wanted to defend the companeros with words, but it didn't work."
He shows two cartridges from, perhaps, a 38 caliber pistol. And he says: "The shots lasted for 10 minutes, and the sticks for half an hour against us."
On the other side of the fence, Luci Vazquez Lopez, 39, wife of Estanislao, is speaking. She asks where her husband is, she says she has eight children. And she points to where she saw the three detainees being beaten.
Then Marcelina Jimenez Mendez, 40, the wife of Carmelino Mendez Lopez, speaks. According to young Carmelino's translation, the other Carmelino was coming from work when the soldiers caught him. She remembers the soldiers threatening "they are just going to go in, and they aren't going to respect the community or the women."
Francisca Lopez Vazquez, 41, a woman with a large face and slow movements, turns towards us and points to the place on her back where the soldiers kicked her. She denies that they started the aggression. But she admits she tried to defend her husband, Enrique Lopez Cruz, with whom she has seven children, because "she saw how they were beating him" Carmelino translates, who says:
"The ones they took are not guilty. They are EZLN sympathizers. They want to improve their lives. That is their crime, not weapons or drug trafficking or anything."
Another campesino relates how four or five officers began the gunfire with pistols, and then the troops with their long weapons, and that it was then that the campesinos attacked with sticks and stones. He holds out a broken staff, made of varnished wood. He says that, after the gunfire, the soldiers threw these lances, "as if to provoke us, like they were going to beat us."
The soldiers finally withdrew towards 3 in the afternoon. And they took the detainees to Maravilla-Tenejapa, a primarily PRI town and base of operations for the federal Army, the police and a group of paramilitaries. It is one of Governor Albores' alleged new municipalities, although the Army still considers it to be part of Las Margaritas. From there they will be taken to San Cristobal de Las Casas today, and then, in the end, released.
Several PRD Deputies also visited San Jose La Nueva Esperanza. Patria Jimenez, Fabiola Gallegos and Sergio Benito Osorio are federal legislators, while Agustin Gomez Patistan, Edith Velasco Ochoa, Jose Juan Ulloa Perez and Noel Rodas Vazquez are state legislators. The latter, the parliamentary coordinator for the state PRD, said, at the end of the trip: "We condemn these incidents that have just been related to us in San Jose. We have verified Albores' lack of authority, we have the facts in order to ask for a political judgement. Let him leave the state in peace, let him stop provoking confrontations between civilians and the military."
In a very few days, the deputies have learned, in Amador Hernandez, and now here, the progressive steps of militarization. One concern that they repeat, while walking with difficulty along the path of rocks and mud: Why does the federal Army have to come here to enforce the federal Firearms and Explosives Law? This was in reference to the Sedena's communication, that justified the presence of a military camp in those terms, here, in the middle of the countryside.
Returning, that night, along the border highway, by the road that comes from Rizo de Oro, the Deputies could see a pick-up truck, from the private construction company, Socton, pull over to let them go by, being driven by armed police officers. In plain sight. One hopes they took note of it.
Originally published in Spanish by La Jornada ___________________________ Translated by irlandesa La Jornada Saturday, August 28, 1999