The truth about Chiapas

We usually think of foreign aid going to help out the global community, feeding starving children, helping earthquake victims, etc. So why are $40 billion U.S. loan dollars going to fund a government that is now carrying out a war against its own indigenous population? Waging this war has now become a precondition to receiving U.S. loan dollars in a strange twist, where U.S. banks are dictating foreign policy.

Have you heard what's really going on in Mexico? Probably not. We would like you to know because your dollars are paying for it, and you should be concerned.

In a matter of moments, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo ended a yearlong peace process on Feb. 9 when he ordered the arrests of Zapatista liberation leaders and once again sent troops into the jungles of Chiapas.

Although Chiapas is the richest state in Mexico in terms of resources, including petroleum, coffee, cattle, hydroelectric power and timber, the indigenous people see none of this wealth. Forty percent of the population earns less than the minimum wage. One and a half million people have no access to medical care. Only 28 out of every 100 people have more than a first grade education. For more than a year now, the Mayan people of Chiapas have taken a stand and demanded access to basic human rights such as medical care, housing, running water, electricity, schools and land to grow food. The Mexican government has now chosen to meet these requests with violence.

Why violence? Why now? According to an inside memo written by Riorden Roett, Latin American advisor to Chase-Manhattan Bank, in order for Chase-Manhattan to back the recent $40 billion bailout of the Mexican peso, the Zapatista uprising had to be squelched. Thus the sudden inspiration for Zedillo's aggression.

Mexico's excuse? The Mexican government has pointed to the indigenous struggle as the cause of Mexico's failing economy. While this may appear to be a valid rationale, Mexico's shaky economic status rests more with its heavy dependence on neo-liberal economic policies, i.e. the reduction of trade barriers and tariffs to create better access to export markets. The resulting policies, including the changes to article 127 of the Mexican Constitution eliminating the possibility of government land grants to peasants and the privatization of their communal lands (ejidos), have created an intolerable situation for the native people of Chiapas. Their very identity and right to existence is being threatened. Their response? To stand up and assert their rights as human beings.

Why haven't we heard? Mexico would like the outside world to see this simple assertion of basic human rights as an insurgent rebellion. In order to preserve its image as a democratic nation, Mexico has limited the access of the media and international observers to the region. They don't want the outside world to see them massacre and torture their indigenous populations, yet reports indicate this is occurring. In putting aside peaceful negotiations, the Mexican government has sent troops into Chiapas. Morelos, Chiapas has been bombed. This will continue unless we take a stand.

Already the international community has responded. In Spain, protestors closed down the Mexican embassy. In this country consulates in San Francisco and Chicago were shut down. In Mexico itself, 100,000 people marched on the main square in Mexico city. To do so represented great personal risk as not only the Zapatistas, but many civil groups and opposition party members as well have become the targets of the Mexican government. Several Catholic priests have been placed under house arrest. The Wall Street Journal reports that Zapatista leaders were beaten when arrested. Other reported incidents of torture include the use of electric shock, sexual molestations and threats of violence against family members.

What can we do? 1) Encourage our government to revise conditions for the U.S. loan to Mexico making peaceful negotiations a priority and an end to all human rights violations immediately. 2) End all ties with Chase-Manhattan Bank until it agrees to allow Mexico to continue its previous peace process. 3) Ensure that native refugees from Mexico's war in the south be granted political asylum in the U.S.

How do we do this? Amnesty International, Pueblo Por La Paz and Derechos Humanos along with many other local and campus groups stand united against the violation of human rights in Mexico. An ongoing peace vigil will be held from 5-6:30 p.m. every evening in front of the Mexican Consulate, 555 S. Stone Ave. In addition, this Thursday, a discussion of recent events will take place after the vigil. Also, a statewide coalition will be gathering Sunday at 10 a.m. in Nogales at the border for an international day of solidarity. We are issuing an open invitation to the university community for all these events. Please, come join us, we need your presence insure a peaceful resolution to this conflict. For more information please contact Fr. Miguel of the Newman Center at 327-4665 or Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith at the Mexican-American Student Resource Center at 621-7551.

Thank you,

Sonny La Motte


Psychology/Mexican American Studies

Cati Carmen

International Indian Treaty Council

Bilingual Education

Theresa Becker

Secondary Education


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