1. Chiapas is one of the most important regions in Mexico, due to the fact that it has an abundance of strategically important natural resources. It has the country's main freshwater reserve, Mexico's main tropical jungle, a primary source of forest and agrarian biodiversity and a great diversity of indigenous and campesino cultures, which are closely tied to the use and management of these biological resources. And, is if that were not enough, Chiapas also has new and important reserves of oil, gas and minerals, such as uranium, iron, aluminum, copper, amber, and so forth.
All resources which are, for the most part, located close to or in the same area in which more than a million indigenous are suffering under the worst poverty anywhere in the nation. That is the situation in the Selva Lacandona, an area to which hundreds of thousands of indigenous have displaced over the last forty years. Indigenous who were unable to find workable land in the destitute region of Los Altos, nor permanent work within the regional dynamics of the savage and chaotic "progress" in the area, which successively opened up and closed down (like in Soconusco, the oil region in the north, or the building of hydroelectric dams in the Grijalva River basin).
As if all the previous were not enough, the most recent technological changes, such as the explosion of genetic engineering, the engineering of new materials, the systems of geographical information and the planet's environmental imbalances, the growing desertification, the genetic erosion of agricultural species, the disappearance of species and the contamination of the waters of the rivers and the subterranean strata: all of these highlight even more the strategic importance of all these natural resources.
It is not by chance that the masters of money are today organizing the privatization, among other things, of these riches in all the countries in the world. Selling off, at bargain basement prices, resources such as minerals, railroads, electricity, gas, oil, water, etcetera. A disposal which, in peripheral countries such as Mexico, also goes hand in hand with the delivering of these goods into the hands of the most powerful foreign companies. Because of that, the existence and privatization of strategic resources involves, for the population which has the misfortune to live in these much coveted areas, the imminent danger of expulsion.
The manner in which these dislocations are effected are multiple: introduction of agricultural technologies which make campesinos completely dependent on, and vulnerable to, the transnational businesses who sell them supplies and buy their products from them. The closing down of state services and benefit programs. The reinforcement of those circumstances and routes which stimulate migration of the population to large cities and wealthy countries. Reform or cancellation of laws which protect community forms of land ownership. Deliberate encouragement of violent conflicts between ethnic groups or neighboring villages. But, also, cancellation of legal rights and the absolute closing of political channels which allow community problems to be managed through social organization and political negotiation.
When these rural communities resist, in spite of these attacks, and remain deeply rooted and harmoniously organized in their regions, the hour of police, military or paramilitary expulsion arrives. Throughout all areas of the south and north of the planet, examples abound of indigenous or campesino communities who are living above mineral, gas or oil deposits, or who are living within coveted protected natural or agricultural areas, who are today suffering violent expulsion, regularly enforced with attacks by soldiers, police or paramilitaries.
Because of this, the interest that the great masters of money have in the indigenous lands of Chiapas is merely a mirror of the war which neoliberalism is waging against humanity. The current process of militarization and paramilitarization in Chiapas has to do with neoliberalism's expulsion of the majority of campesinos in the third world from those areas who have not been able, or known how, to be used for the generation and private appropriation of thousands of millions of dollars.
2. The surprising indigenous uprising in Chiapas in January of 1994 allowed the media, and millions of persons throughout Mexico and the world, to focus attention on the conditions of poverty, exclusion and racism which prevail in the area. This took place before these complex processes of strategic expulsion were to begin the final destruction of the living and cultural conditions of these Indian peoples.
In spite of tremendous efforts by the federal and state governments, as well as by the majority of the media, to present the public with the image of a conflict that was the product of a terrorist guerrilla intervention - perversely interested in the country's destabilization - the conditions of poverty and marginalization could not remain concealed and came scandalously to light, awakening an understanding of the justice of this struggle in a large part of the population.
And not just that. The enormous mobilization and pressure by civil society against the war, and the EZLN's willingness to enter into an authentic negotiation for peace with justice and dignity, forced the federal government to have to sit down on two occasions (in 1994 and 1995) with the chiapaneco rebels in order to find solutions to the conflict.
Before the federal government managed to understand how to perversely use the time of the peace negotiations in order to prepare paramilitary groups destined to destroy the daily life of the indigenous communities (with military provocation's, corruption, prostitution, drugs, weapons, destruction of crops, expulsion of displaced and massacres), the EZLN had quickly taken advantage of the time to open up various spaces for dialogue with national civil society. From those spaces, they were able to think and to collectively build solutions that would put a halt to, and reverse, the attacks which the neoliberal globalization is waging against everyone.
A product of this convocation was that the majority of the Indian peoples of Mexico - the most marginalized national sector - came, invited by the EZLN, to the first peace negotiating table in Chiapas. An encuentro from which emerged an assessment of the general conditions affecting all the Indian peoples, but also a collective proposal for its solution, which intended a legal reform of our magna carta, establishing unprecedented collective cultural, political and economic rights for all Indian peoples.
The national proposal by all the Indian groups - assumed by the EZLN as its own - was discussed with the federal government in the town of San Andre's Sacam'chen de los Pobres. It became, after a complex negotiation, a single common proposal, which was able to recognize basic rights of cultural autonomy and of governance for all Indian peoples. New rights which allow the conservation of cultural identity, community property and equilibrium with the environment on which they depend. This also involved the constitutional recognition of the fundamental democratic right of ethnic groups to have discussion with state and federal governments and to rescind the application of programs which were an assault against them or which did not benefit them.
The federal government signed these accords with its own hand, so that the legislative commission (Commission of Concordance and Peace), which monitors and witnesses the carrying out of the peace negotiations, would send the legislative branch the authentic and essential nature of the proposed solutions, placing in their hands the expeditious approval of the San Andre's Accords.
Nonetheless, the federal government soon noticed that what it had signed would hinder, on the one hand, their privatization and de-nationalization of an infinity of strategic natural resources. While, on the other hand, it granted new democratic and self-management rights, for which - even though they were only being conceded to a minority sector of the population - there could soon be a national outcry for them to be more widespread.
From this point on, the federal government failed to keep its word, and in a few months it retracted what it had signed. Contrary to all universal ethics of negotiation, President Ernesto Zedillo proposed modifying the text which had been agreed to in San Andre's. He brought the peace negotiations to a standstill, increased the military, police and paramilitary presence in the conflict area, organized the unspeakable Acteal massacre and applied pressure to the civil intermediation commission (CONAI) by every means possible, until he achieved their dismantling.
Meanwhile, the increasing placement of soldiers and paramilitaries in the Selva region began occupying positions whose purpose was not just to wear down life in the communities, to destroy the exercise of political autonomy by the rebel municipalities and to provoke the resumption of the armed conflict. One unexpected aspect for many people of this surprising military mobilization was the manner in which, on the one hand, the federal Army set about guarding the security of the Selva's strategic riches (oil, biodiversity and water). On the other, they set about openly or covertly promoting, in international forums, the delivery of these riches to the foreign masters of money, fostering, with that, the destruction of the most basic foundations of national sovereignty.
Consequently, the failure to carry out the San Andre's Accords not only put a halt to the best possibility for a true transition to democracy, but it also, along with it, guaranteed the delivery of national sovereignty into the hands of a few strategic groups.
** This text by Andre's Barreda, university professor and researcher, is contained in the pamphlet which accompanies the recent CD, CHIAPAS, by singer-songwriter Oscar Cha'vez.
Originally published in Spanish by the FZLN _______________________ Translated by irlandesa