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Reflections on Acteal

by Stan Goff


It begins in a church. The subliminal tension of an occupied territory is broken by automatic weapons fire. Lives are extinguished, and lives next to them are changed forever with the instantaneous absence of friends, relatives, parents, children. Life is reduced to the nanosecond of right now and the necessity to run (escape) mourning is slammed into a box in your chest-deferred until survival is secured. Running blindly down the dirt streets, between houses of clay and straw, with the coppery taste of terror in their mouths, one after another fall with the physical shock of tissue cavitation, shattered bone, shredded organs, the personal Armageddon of high velocity ammunition.

The Chiapas Rebellion entered a new phase in Acteal. Since the uprising of Mexico's Southern indigenous peoples in 1994, around 500 murders have been committed against rebels, rebel sympathizers, and those suspected of being sympathizers. But the massacre at Acteal was a qualitative escalation. And now the witnesses are being expelled; Maria Darlington of Durham just being one of many. The relative circumspection of the rebel operations, the astonishing initial successes they had against shocked government troops, and the inscrutable, articulate, and charismatic spokesperson for the rebels, known as Subcomandante Marcos, have given the rebellion a mystique. Chiapas has become a cause celebre among left-liberal circles in the United States and around the world.

The David and Goliath tenor of the conflict is partly responsible for the popularity of the rebellion. But another reason the rebellion has been embraced by many has been the ability of the rebels to defend a certain moral high ground, refraining from the more brutal and repugnant activities of warriors: shedding little blood and avoiding the kinds of crossfires, military and political, where everyone becomes a combatant.

That may be over now. If not, the Chiapas Rebellion may not survive. This century is sated with examples of what is happening in Chiapas now, the marriage of violence and capital. The 45 massacred Tzotzil civilians represent a deliberate escalation of hostilities designed to attain the objectives of the Mexican political patriarchs who ordered the attack. Much attention will be paid to the phony investigation that the federal government will conduct, to Jacinto Arias Cruz, mayor of Chenalho, who is accused with 23 others of perpetrating the action. Little attention will be paid to the net result of this and smaller, former actions; that the land which produces the wealth, and which the rebellion was designed to protect for its original inhabitants, is now being willingly vacated. Mission accomplished.

The government agreed two years ago to refrain from sending government representatives or armed forces into Acteal and environs. Pure chicanery. Government tolerated death squads have done the job much more efficiently with terror. Do not say "government-sponsored" death squads, because the sponsors are not the government. Indeed, the government is sponsored by the self-same people as the death squads—and that is the economic elite that needs the capital locked in the rich coffee lands upon which these bothersome Indians reside. The death squads and the government are fellow employees, one sent in to circumvent the obstacles encountered by the other. The belief that the invisible captains of this land grab can be reformed or contained, history should have taught us by now, is nothing more than a pious fantasy. They will destroy the indigenous rebels, or the rebels will destroy them.

The actions of December 22nd, wherein the 45 terrified residents of Acteal met their extinction, is the next logical step for the ruling class in Mexico. And their logic is as clean and cold as a scalpel. They will not deviate from it. That is why the Zapatistas can no longer afford circumspection and restraint, except at the service of a logic as cold and calculating as their enemy's. The struggle has moved to another level. They will make war, real war, or they will be eradicated as a movement and a people.

Hesitation under these circumstances will be fatal. The rebels must fight. To fight, they will need weapons, many weapons, and ammunition, and communications equipment—all the luggage of war. There is only one way for an isolated force, with no outside sponsorship, to acquire that materiel. When I worked in Special Forces, it was called "battlefield recovery." They will have to wage frequent, audacious, and deadly assaults on small police and military elements simply to seize their weapons and equipment. Those people they destroy will have families, parents, grandparents, spouses, children. The starkest reality of war is that the enemy is never really a monster, never inhuman. Warriors have often tried to reduce their foes to sub-humans to prop up their denial, but the fact is the enemy is someone who dreams, someone who loves, someone who just needed a job, someone who is just waiting for a break to take a leak or eat his supper-full fledged, 46-chromosome human just like us.

To conduct such operations will require central coordination, and the refinement of a general staff to both direct operations and determine the disposition of new troops and equipment. They must now become an even more disciplined, more secretive, more centralized, and more vigilant force. The only principles they will capable of embracing in every situation will be the Principles of War. They will cease looking like pastoral heroes, and begin to gain the hard edges of soldiery.

They will encounter spies, collaborators. Those must be dealt with summarily and ruthlessly. Failure to do so will result in the loss of precious combatants. Mistakes will be made. If and when victory approaches, seasoned combatants will commit excesses. The making of war, even the most necessary and just war, hardens human hearts. War has its own internal logic, one that is icily cruel and impervious to refinement. This war of national liberation, and make no mistake that this is exactly what it is, has no nation to which it can appeal for aid. The axis between the former Soviet Union and Cuba that provided support for African national liberation fights, and the Soviet-Vietnamese axis that supported the latter's anti-colonial struggle, have become a memory. The great logistical platform that dared to stand up to our home-grown emperors of finance has collapsed under the effort of that colossal confrontation.

The rebels of Chiapas now depend on the outside world, in the most critical way, for solidarity in their political struggle. They need agitation. They need us to confront capital with our unions, with our voices, with our votes. More than anything, they need us to understand the necessity of what they must do. They need international recognition and unwavering support for the ultimate justice of their fight, that will weather the brutality into which they are being inexorably pulled to secure that justice. I hope we are up to that task. I hope we are inoculated against the inevitable reports from the corporate media that will seek to dehumanize the Zapatistas, that will coax us to say things like, "I supported the early Zapatistas, but this barbarism is a different matter." They will be the same Zapatistas. And the barbarism will come. It has already been chosen by the invisible rulers with the clean hands and the "plausible denial," and that choice was announced in Acteal on December 22nd.

  Stan Goff is a retired army Master Sergeant, who served in Special Operations in eight conflict areas, and worked extensively in Latin America. He is also the secretary of the Hosea Hudson Club, CPUSA.  

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