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US Military Sends Choppers Over Chiapas

by Maria Darlington


Two helicopters appeared over a small village in the municipality of El Bosque in Chiapas, Mexico,and started shooting into a group of Zapatista sympathizers in March of this year. Four men were killed and more than 25 wounded. One of the passengers in the helicopters was identified by many people of the village as the State District Attorney. Twenty minutes later more than 100 policemen arrived in trucks and arrested 24 of the Zapatista sympathizers and none of the PRI (national ruling party).

When I brought a truckload of corn and beans to the families who fled to a sympathetic village across the high valley, I spoke to some of the men about the massacre. One young man showed me two holes in his lower leg where a bullet entered and exited. They told me that their 17-year-old cousin was one of the murder victims. His father was among the men arrested. With hands tied behind their backs they were thrown onto the rough, hot, truck-bed face down. Policemen sat on them for the two-and-a-half hour ride to Cerro Hueco prison in the capital, pressing their faces and bodies against the hot truck-bed, causing serious burns and forcing their arms out of their sockets. They were put into a small room. They had to sit almost on top of one another. No toilet facilities, food or medical treatment were given until families and supporters made demands on their behalf several days later.

In May of 1996, my friend Pauline, a nurse and the only medical professional in an area of north Chiapas, walked from her little house into the nearby village of Bachajon to find transportation to the remote villages she planned to visit that day, and counted 15 dead bodies in the central square-massacred by para-militaries the night before. This area of Bachajon, Yajalon, Tila and Salto de Agua is the most dangerous zone at this time. The para-military have shot at nongovernmental organization vehicles as part of "aid" or "fact-finding" visits. They put up road-blocks, forcing people at gunpoint to go back.

In May, La Jornada, a national newspaper, reported that four Mexican Army bases were being installed in Chiapas, which brings the number to approximately 44 with more than 25,000 soldiers. Currently, 80% of the communities located in the "conflict zone" are monitored by military camps. The majority have landing areas for helicopters. There are 400 paratroopers in Chiapas specially trained for jungle guerilla warfare. According to the Final Use Report of 1994, the Mexican Attorney General has an aerial fleet of equipment donated or loaned by the USA, which includes 21 Bell 206B-lll helicopters, seven Bell 212 helicopters, one UH-LN Bell helicopter, 18 Bell UH-IH helicopters, and 13 Cessna 206/210 planes; 24 mechanics from Mexico City have been trained by the US to work on the helicopters.

This year the US will grant Mexico up to $37 million in helicopters and reconnaisance aircraft and is requesting $10 million for night vision and command and control equipment for Mexico. The spy planes, called "condor," are equipped with infrared sensors and silent flight, have been utilized in the Zapatista zones since May 1994, and right now are being used to detect the command posts of the EZLN in the mountains. (Communique from the commanders of the EZLN, dated Sept. 17, 1996. Published in La Jornada, Sept. 19, 1996.)

Foreign observers in the indigenous, Zapatista village of La Realidad watch 25 vehicles with 165 armed soldiers pass through the village twice daily, among them Humvees made in the US. At least five soldiers scan the village with video cameras and as many have still cameras.

The military penetration has been secretive. They took advantage of President Zedillo's order two years ago to begin penetration during the peace dialogues at San Andres Larrainzar. And they continue. According to non-governmental organizations, there has been a sharp increase in the militarization of Chiapas in the last few months. "The objective is total engagement," they stated, adding that "each one of the strategic communities is under the vigilance of at least one military camp." This work of the army is camouflaged as a supposed "social service" work or "aid" to the civilian population. (When an army commander was asked why the army was in Chiapas, he said "to protect the civilian population from drug runners.")

Zapatista villages, however, do not allow soldiers to come to their villages, in or out of uniform. The village of Guadalupe Tepeyac, for example, fled when the Mexican army invaded their village on February 10, l995, looking for the Zapatista army commanders. They have lived in a remote area since, with little land for corn. But they live with dignity.

And this is where I come in. I have vowed to help these brave and dignified people of Guadalupe Tepeyac stay alive and develop a productive life in exile. They live on land borrowed from another Zapatista village, which is not enough to grow a year's supply of corn for 425 people. They must depend on others to help them survive. During the six months I'm in the US, I will raise money and collect clothing for them. With the money I buy corn, beans, rice, sugar, salt, cooking oil and soap.

Uncertainty about the future of the peace process and the fear of military attack causes tension, weakens the social fabric and promotes polarization, especially within the more isolated communities.

The Federal elections of July 6 offer hope that the peace process in Chiapas may receive a much-needed boost. (The left-center PRD and rightist PAN party victories have taken majority power from the corrupt PRI for the first time in more than 60 years. Cárdenas Cuauhtémoc, founder of the PRD, won the Mexico City mayoral race.) Only time will tell. But how much can one person do to change the path and the force of the Neo-liberal Hurricane?

There is no doubt among the civilian supporters of the Zapatistas, of whom there are many throughout Mexico, that the winds of change blow from the southeast of the country, the jungle, the home of the Zapatistas. The Zapatistas have raised the hopes of the poor of Mexico and are teaching them that they can cause change and have a "just and dignified peace."

  Maria Darlington is a resident of Efland, NC. Contact her at 919-563-8830 for information about the special embroidered pieces made by Zapatista women in Chiapas. After November 2 send inquiries to The Prism.  

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