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Everyone thought that the headline news in Mexico for the New Year were going to be about NAFTA, about the integration of Mexico to modernity, about markets and products, about our relationship with the North. Who could imagine that the news was going to come from the south, from deep within the soul and land of Mexico, that they were going to be about a rebellion of the poorest, about Indian people that are willing to die with a gun in their hands just for the right to be heard.
It was a surprise and it wasn't. It was a surprise because it was a large number of armed people, because they are organized, and because their main purpose is to overthrow the federal government. It wasn't a surprise because we in Mexico know very well how Indian people are treated, because we know that Chiapas is a beautiful and wealthy state where the law only works for the very rich, for those who own cattle ranches, for those who own coffee plantations, and not for those that work in them.
At this point there is war in Chiapas and it was started, it seems, by the rebels. The army has responded but not in full force. The government seems to be willing to negotiate a peaceful settlement and has asked the Catholic church to mediate. But there are already many deaths (officially 57) and the vicious circle of violence may have just started.
What does all this mean? Well, I cannot easily tell but my first thoughts are that it complicates things for Salinas and its government in a very political year; Mexico has presidential elections this summer. It complicates things for Salinas because it cannot use extreme violence; this would take votes from Colosio (the PRI's candidate). It also shows a defeat of his basic social strategy, which has been to target (under the so-called "Solidaridad" program) poor communities; the fact that some of those that have been the target of his programs are those uprising is not a good sign. In this same direction, the political campaign of Colosio (who was in charge of Solidaridad) was based on the structure established through Solidaridad and the fact that it may have failed is not very good news at this point in the campaign.
I don't think that the uprising will get too far; it will probably diminish quickly either by negotiations or by war. What I think is that the greatest impact of the uprising is already clear and that everything else will be marginal: eighty years after the revolution started, and when it is about to incorporate itself to the "big league", Mexico demonstrates that it is many countries and some of them are still living as if it was some centuries ago.
Today, while some Mexicans are looking forward to get NAFTA duty-free American goods at the corner store, others are looking for a basic good that is not part of NAFTA: social justice.
CHIAPAS (II) (1/9/94)
It took less than a week to get Mexico back twenty years.
A week has gone by since the rebel occupation of San Cristobal de las Casas and what seemed like an adventure by a large group of Indians is now a war. Mexico is now facing a situation not seen since the Mexican revolution and seems to have gathered momentum into the darkness of political violence.
But, at the same time that there has been a battle with guns, a battle of information is now occurring in Mexican newspapers that has been uncovering things that have been hidden under the rug. One of them (which I would call the most important) has been the knowledge by Mexico's government of the existence of the army of rebels since, at least, the summer of last year. What happened? Well, the NAFTA negotiations were more important and the war was being fought at low scale. One of the main questions Mexican newspapers have been asking is why the secretary of internal affairs, who left his job as the governor of Chiapas to take that post in the federal government, didn't know about the rebels. It seems that one of his main jobs in his new post (which he took a year ago) was precisely to keep this from being openly known, and it seems that he did a great job. He is now, however, an obstacle to the any political solution to the conflict, and his downfall is soon to happen.
Other things that have come up during the week is that the leadership of the rebels may, very possibly, be formed by survivors of old armed movements which belong to the same generation as Salinas, which is the generation was marked by the events of 1968.
For those who don't know, 1968 was the year when Mexico faced its first political crisis since the end of the revolution (1928), a crisis that had the form of a student movement that ended on the 2nd of October in the Plaza of the Three Cultures (it had a pyramid, a church, and a new and large government housing project), located in Tlatelolco. That day, in a series of events that have not been clarified, a large massacre, which involved the army, took place and more than 300 people died. This date, which had its 25th anniversary last year, has been the turning point of modern Mexico. The Olympic games started 12 days later but that day changed the life of a whole generation. Carlos Salinas de Gortari was at the time a student at the National University as were many that ended up dead, in prison, in exile, or in living a clandestine life.
In the 1970's, after Luis Echeverria became president and after a new student massacre on the 10th of June of 1971, many of those that decided that democracy was not possible in Mexico tried to follow the steps of the great Latin American hero of the time, namely Che Guevara. What followed was a secret and dirty war, a war that lasted several years, a war that was fought with kidnappings and bank assaults. Many, both on the government and guerrilla sides, died, many times executed in cold blood by the opposing force.
The defeat of those groups by the government and the political reforms of the late 1970s brought many of those active since 1968 (either peacefully or through violence) into political parties. Those are who, in 1988, gathered forces behind Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and almost defeated (many say Cardenas won) Carlos Salinas and his party in the presidential election. But others decided to remain clandestine and took to the part of the country where the contradictions of the system are greater: Chiapas.
Many from the 1968 generation, even some of those that opposed the government and talked in Marxist terms, are now part of Salinas's party and government; they are men in their late forties and early fifties. News reports talk about men in their fifties as part those leading the army that occupied San Cristobal de las Casas on the 1st of January. It would not be a great surprise to know, when things clarify, that some of those leading those Indians were old classmates of Carlos Salinas and, as a dark and obscene college prank of national dimensions, decided to ruin Salinas' walk into the future as the man who brought Mexico into the First World by bringing into his New Year's party those who live in the darkest side of Mexico: the poor Indians of Chiapas.
The great challenge in Mexico at this point is to get the peace back. Unfortunately the government seems to have taken the military option, which is the option that may turn down the fire but also help extend it. Some urban guerrilla groups that were thought to have disappeared have resurfaced and want to become actors of this tragedy through acts of terrorism in Mexico City. These terrorist acts, which have not resulted in the loss of human lives, have caused great uncomfort among those who live in the center of the economic and political life of Mexico. The great fear is that Mexico becomes like Peru, where senseless violence takes the lives of many that don't even know what is going on.
Carlos Salinas (and Mexico with him) has already lost the facade that made NAFTA possible. But that was only a facade. What he (Carlos Salinas) has now is a great challenge and opportunity: to demonstrate the world that Mexico can solve its problems with peace, even those that present themselves in a violent fashion. The army of the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN) is large, but not large enough to defeat the Mexican Army. Attempting to destroy the rebels through massive war operations can only give too much power to those whose solution to problems is institutional violence. An option of this type will resonate all through the country and into Mexican communities across the border: it may build support towards a cause that may have been, otherwise, lost, particularly among the millions who don't find leadership in a system that has cheated them in their attempts for a better life.
There may be no choice for Salinas and his government but to act as the catalyzer of Mexican society towards the expansion of what may be the cure and the vaccination: democracy. Accepting the moral power of citizens out of the traditional power system and using it to create a barrier to the violence of the EZLN may be a way out of the cycle of death and violence. The result may be, however, the beginning of the end of a political class that has dominated the country for more than sixty years. It may be too much ask.
CHIAPAS (III) (1/10/94)
Carlos Salinas seems to have taken the political path towards the peace in Chiapas and bring back the country twenty years after having gone back that much in a week.
Maybe driven by the reaction of the stock market (which fell 6% in one session) to the developments of the weekend (two bombs in Mexico City and the continuation of the confrontation in Chiapas), but most probably driven by the strong drive of public opinion in and outside Mexico, president Salinas has brought in the star negotiator of the Mexican government into the scene: Manuel Camacho.
Manuel Camacho, an academic turned politician whose father was a military man, is the man that came in (as secretary of urban development) to negotiate with the groups affected in the last great Mexican tragedy which was the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. Camacho, a man that has written extensively about Mexico's political system, was one of the strongest competitors for the PRI nomination to the presidency and his nomination would have meant a sign by Salinas that he was ready to bring real political reform. Camacho was the candidate of Mexico's intellectuals and he had their support: he supports the idea that the state will become stronger by respecting the will of the people.
The way that Salinas brought Camacho into the picture and the changes that resulted in the government are very significant. First, he got rid of his cousin (he is married to a cousin of his father) as secretary of internal affairs and brought in Dr. Jorge Carpizo (the head of Mexico's FBI and former chancellor of the national university) to take his place. As Camacho had taken the post of secretary of foreign relations when he lost the nomination to Colosio, he left that post and a renown diplomat, Manuel Tello.
What is the interpretation? As I wrote in my previous note, Salinas had a military and a political option. It seemed that Salinas was going for the military one. But, by bringing in Camacho (and old friend and confidant) as head of a Peace Commission for Chiapas he brings the strongest and most credible PRI politician to work as the catalyzer of a political solution. Salinas is attempting to solve the problem using a man that is part of the system and choosing Camacho he has chosen the best man for the job.
There are, of course, other things that have to be analyzed. One of them is the role of Colosio in these changes. Tradition establishes that any changes in the president's cabinet after the PRI's presidential nomination are either decided or negotiated by or with the candidate. How does having a former competitor in such an important role affect Colosio's strength? It seems that the need for peace in a peaceful manner is the main objective at this point. Colosio may have accepted this because, without stability, there will not be an election for him to win.
Something else that has still to be clarified is why the rebels were able to move in into San Cristobal in such great numbers in a region that has been militarized for so long. New information and analyzes transform the whole picture in ways that support very Maquiavelic scenarios: the Indians clearly have had the leadership of radicals but very probably these radicals also had strings attached to them. I even wonder (and excuse me if I offend sensitivities by saying this) if the whole thing was done by someone that wants to sell the rights of the whole thing to American TV. No, not that: powerful forces are on the move and it may all be happening inside the palace. Could it be that a move of peons has meant a jaquemate (?) to the king?
Date: Fri, 18 Feb 94 18:15:17 PST From: email@example.com (Odon de Buen) To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Re: Remarks on Chiapas
Alan Sanstad requested a comment on Sub-Comandante Marcos. Here is it..
ON COMANDANTE MARCOS (2/12/94)
"El Sub-Comandante Marcos" is the new national icon. Since the January 1st occupation of San Cristobal de las Casas by the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN), this white blue-eyed man and his mask have become the new symbol of revolution all over Mexico.
As the main speaker during the occupation, the sender of many letters to the Mexican press, and the voice of the EZLN for an TV interview in the middle of the Lacandona jungle for one of Mexico's cable TV networks (which, in tape version, is becomeing a collector's item), the "sud-Marcos" has reignited the revolutionary imagination of many revolutionary "wanna-be" men and women.
Mexico has a tradition of masks and masked heroes. The Anthropology Museum has many masks, the most famous made of green jade; the artisan markets have masks from North, South, East, and West of Mexico; one of the most popular movie heroes of the poor is "El Santo", the "luchador" (wrestler) of the golden mask, the hero of dozens of (pretty cheap) movies; and there is "Superbarrio" the masked man with the big "S" on his chest, the defender of those who rent their living space in the old, ran-out downtown houses of Mexico City.
Marcos is a new masked hero but he is not an "hijo del pueblo" (a son of the people). He is a son of privilege that decided (according to his interview) to dedicate his life to be with those who have nothing. But logic tells us that without people like him a movement of the type he is in couldn't have had the success it has had. The timing of the occupation (right at the time NAFTA came into effect), the use of the media, the military strategy, and the incredible effect that such a relatively small operation had on Mexico's present can only result from minds that have been in the city, that have read newspapers, that have operated in an urban environment. The indians may now the jungle very well to survive in it, they may have the problems that give them courage to fight to death, but they don't have the formally educated minds that can deal with the press or know how to give a big blow with a small hit to a regime that was supposed to be stronger than ever.
With a sharp and cultivated mind, smoking tobacco from a pipe made out of a corn cob (during the TV interview), "sud-Marcos" is the man of the moment. A sex symbol for some, a new "Che" for others, and one of two people (according to linguist that analyzed his speech and his letters), this man has taken, in my perspective, too much of the attention that should be going to those that are part of the background in the televised interview: the indians.
He says that he is not the leader, that the leaders are the heads of the indian communities. He is just "one of army". This may be the truth, but , for many he is the leader and the fact that he is the only face and mind of an indian movement may work in favor of certain things but not for others. On one side, that a "handsome" white man gets so much attention as a hero may inspire other people like him (white, urban, middle class) to support a movement that is of dark, rural, small people On the other side, however, it may make the movement suspicious to those it should be trying to "mobilize" the indians.
What is next for Marcos is not clear. Negotiations are on the way and several hundred media people are on their way to register the images, the voices, the words, the ideas, and every detail of what may be a big media event in some city in Chiapas. Will Marcos be there? Will he uncover his face? Will he be alone? Will there be other masked people with him? Will they be indians or will they be white, middle class, urbanites turned guerrilleros? We shall soon have an answer and it may be, as this whole thing has had, a few surprises.