Thursday, April 29, 2010

UPDATE: All Disappeared in San Juan Copala are Free

UPDATE: The two missing journalists were rescued late last night.  Scott Campbell has details.

by Kristin Bricker

Contralinea reports that David Venegas and Noe Bautista from VOCAL have made it to safety in Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca.  They say they were with missing Contralinea reporters Erika Ramirez and David Cilia.

Venegas and Bautista have a video of Ramirez and Cilia that proves the journalists are alive.  Ramirez is unhurt but dehydrated.  Cilia was shot in his left foot and another bullet grazed his waist, but Venegas and Bautista say that neither are in danger of dying as long as they are rescued soon.

Venegas, Bautista, Ramirez, and Cilia had been missing since the April 27 paramilitary attack on an aid caravan that was headed for the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala in Oaxaca.

Cilia's father David is en route to the conflict zone.  He has stated that he will search for his missing son, regardless of the risk it entails.

Likewise, today at approximately 1pm two Triqui women from San Juan Copala whom paramilitaries had kidnapped just prior to the attack on the caravan were released.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Oaxaca Ambush Survivor: Paramilitaries Said They Had Governor's Support

by Kristin Bricker

In a press conference organized by Section 22 of the teachers union in Oaxaca, APPO counselor Gabriela Jimenez recounted her experience in the international aid caravan that was attacked by gunmen yesterday.  She says that the gunmen identified themselves as members of UBISORT, an organization affiliated with the ruling Institutional Revolution Party (PRI).  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees identifies UBISORT as a paramilitary organization.

Jimenez, who was briefly detained by gunmen following the attack, told the press, "They told us that they were the ones that controlled the area."

Jimenez recounts that a reporter from the caravan offered to interview the armed, masked men that were holding them hostage.  "And they [the gunmen] responded that they would have to interview their leaders, Heriberto Pasos and Rufino Juarez Hernandez."  Juarez Hernandez is the leader of UBISORT.  Pasos is the leader of the Movement for Triqui Unity and Struggle (MULT), an organization that has also allied itself against the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala.

"They told us that they were going to take back Copala.  They said they were going to drive people from their homes.  They said, 'Wherever you walk, this is all UBISORT territory.  In front of you is MULT [territory].  Behind you is UBISORT.  On this side is UBISORT."

Jimenez claims that the gunmen told her that they had the support of Oaxacan governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.  "They said it just like that."

Jimenez says that the gunman took the caravan members' identifications and noted their names on a piece of paper.  She said, "They were going to be watching us, because the MULT and UBISORT's power extends to Oaxaca City."

The paramilitaries also sent a death threat to Oaxacan community organization Omar Esparza through Jimenez: "Tell him that he's next.  We're going to find him, wherever he is, and we will kill him."  Esparza is the husband of Alberta "Bety" Cariño, whom the paramilitaries shot in the head yesterday during the ambush.

My friend Bety Cariño was killed by Mexican Paramilitaries in Oaxaca

by Keegan Smith

A good friend of mine Bety Cariño (39?) who I lived and worked with in Mexico was killed in southern Mexico by paramilitaries. The paramilitaries acted with the support of the State and National government to eliminate opposition to their plans and their way of thinking. Bety was one of the most charismatic and caring people I have come across in my 27 years. She has 2 young childen and hundreds of friends who have been touched by her passion and courage. She was the leader of the organisation CATCUS  which supported local indigenous communities and in securing projects for small business and agriculture initiatives. Together with the organisation she informed about womens and childrens rights to basic services. She also informed about the dangers of transgenic crops and pesticides and the damage caused by massive mining and damming projects which are proposed for Oaxaca.

Bety participated in various movements and forums in Mexico and Central America and travelled to Europe to increase awareness about the situation in Mexico and particularly the situation Oaxaca. Bety went to every length to make people feel welcome and had amazing power in her spirit to overcome personal loss and illness for the sake of her beliefs. This infectious passion will outlive her many lifetimes over.

This is one of many horrible crimes committed everyday in order to maintain the flow of capital, and the power it holds, in the hands of the few. While I am no longer inclined say eye for an eye and I don't want vengance for the pain this act has caused. The world needs very profound changes. This is not a call to arms but to reflect and change our minds. Our physical world is a reflection of our thoughts.

Our way of life mandates these conflicts. Those who refuse expansion and destruction and call for the right to a dignified life are being exterminated for suggesting change, for creating change or simply not bowing to the demands of capital (the rich). More money more power, get in the way you'll be defamed, mocked and if that doesn't work you'll be killed. I have lived this reality first hand and through history books.

Fortunately ideals and ideas will never be exterminated by the bullet. Bety's death only reinforces that we have no option but to try to live by our ideals. The opposite is self-extermination and condemnation to our own enslavery within this system.

Those who are concentrating power understand that the majority cannot continue to be allowed to consume in the way we are today. Their plan is an economic collapse which will leave the majority dying or on the edge of survival, vulnerable and controlled by police states. Under privitised systems those who can't pay die. Most of the world is now living this reality. Misinformation and the distraction of pop culture are the principle weapons of control. For those who get through the gap like Malcomn X, Che Guevara, Martn Luther King, Ghandi and my dear friend Bety a more sinister fate awaits.

The only option for the majority to escape this fate is to take power and look for a new economic, social and spiritual model which can avoid this genocide. Putting our heads under our pillows is no sollution.

Don't take my word for it. Think it through.. who holds power today? Why are most people not interested in politics, history or economy? What are the plans of those who have money (power)? What about the people who have very little money who are interested in the fate of the world.. why are they invariably anti-capitalist? Why do they buy less stuff? Why do they talk about spirit and love? Why don't they watch so much TV.

A good friend of mine is dead because she believed in a better world. Her two young kids and the thousands of people she influenced now have the responsibility of continuing her struggle. 

Oaxaca: Paramilitaries Ambush International Aid Caravan, Two Dead

by Kristin Bricker

San Juan Copala, Oaxaca - On Tuesday afternoon at about 2:50pm, people believed to be paramilitaries affiliated with the ruling party of Oaxaca ambushed an international aid caravan en route to San Juan Copala. At least two people are reported dead.

The caravan was carrying food, water, and other basic necessities to San Juan Copala, which has been subject to a paramilitary blockade that has prevented anyone from entering or leaving the community since January. In addition to carrying much-needed supplies, the caravan was meant to accompany teachers who were returning to classes after paramilitaries denied them access to the community nearly five months ago. The caravan included representatives from the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), Section 22 of the teachers union, the Center for Community Support Working Together (CACTUS), Oaxacan Voices Constructing Autonomy and Liberty (VOCAL), two reporters from the Mexican magazine Contralinea, and international observers from Belgium, Finland, Italy, and Germany.

San Juan Copala has been under constant siege from pro-government paramilitaries since it declared itself autonomous following the 2006 peaceful uprising that shook the state and nearly drove the governor out of office. One such paramilitary organization, the Union for the Well-being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT), warned that the caravan could be in danger if it attempted to enter San Juan Copala. UBISORT leader Rufino Juárez Hernández told press that shoot-outs were a constant occurrence in the region, and that his organization would not be held responsible for “what could happen” to the caravan.

Reports from survivors indicate that at approximately 2:50 pm just outside the community of La Sabana, which is controlled by UBISORT, the caravan reached a blockade of rocks piled on the road. As the vehicles began to turn around to head back, they came under fire from gunmen who were hiding in the brush. “They started shooting like madmen,” says one survivor.

Monica Citlali Santiago Ortiz, 22, was shot in the back. She is being treated in a hospital in Juxtlahuaca. The total number of wounded and dead is unknown. Paramilitaries continue to blockade the area, making rescue impossible.

The paramilitaries did allow police to remove two bodies from the area this afternoon. They have been identified as Alberta “Bety” Cariño, the director of CACTUS, and Juri Jaakkola, an observer from Finland.

Survivors who fled into the brush when the caravan came under attack are beginning to surface as they make their way out of the area and into larger towns. Nonetheless, an unconfirmed number of people are still missing. VOCAL reports that two of its members remain missing after they fled into the brush. CACTUS reports another four missing, including the two Contralinea reporters and Martin Sautan, a Belgian citizen.

Paramilitaries briefly detained VOCAL member, Ruben Valencia. He reports that the gunmen took his identification and cell phone and threatened to kill him before releasing him along the side of a road.

The Oaxacan government has denied all responsibility for the attack, claiming that it had no knowledge of the caravan.

Eduardo Almeida from the human rights organization Nodo de Derechos Humanos said, “We fear that the government will use this as a pretext to militarize the region.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Paramilitaries Attack Caravan Headed to Oaxacan Autonomous Town, 15 Wounded, 1 Disappeared

Phone Calls to Governor Urged So That He Orders State Police to Rescue the Wounded

by Kristin Bricker

A solidarity caravan headed to the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca, was attacked on Tuesday afternoon.  The caravan came under fire as it passed through La Sabana, a town controlled by UBISORT, a paramilitary organization that is allied with the ruling Institutional Revolution Party (PRI).

One young woman managed to make it to a hospital where she is being treated for a gunshot wound in the back.

There are reports of approximately 15 wounded people.  Alberta Cariño, the director of the community radio organization CACTUS, is reported as disappeared.

The Puebla-based human rights organization Nodo de Derechos Humanos reports that the Oaxacan State Police who are in the area refuse to rescue the wounded "because they don't have orders to do so from the State."  Nodo reports that the UBISORT paramilitaries have the area sealed off.  Another source confirms that no one can leave or enter the area.

The caravan was headed to San Juan Copala to bring food, water, clothing, and other basic necessities to the town, which has been the victim of an extended paramilitary blockade.  The UBISORT blockade has made it nearly impossible to bring supplies into the town.

San Juan Copala declared itself autonomous following the 2006 uprising in Oaxaca, and the autonomous government declared itself adherent to the Zapatistas' Other Campaign.  The autonomous municipality has been the target of paramilitary violence ever since.  Countless San Juan Copala residents have fallen victim to paramilitary violence.  The most prominent case was the execution of two young Triqui radio journalists.  This past November, paramilitaries opened fire on San Juan Copala's town hall during  a caravan that was traveling to San Juan Copala from San Salvador Atenco.  UBISORT had put up a highway blockade to stop the caravan, which was comprised of People's Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT) members.  While the FPDT was trapped outside the town, paramilitaries attacked the town hall. They shot four children, killing one of them.

The official action alert from the Nodo de Derechos Humanos is reposted below.  They request that people call Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz to demand that he orders the State Police to rescue the wounded.  Here's a quick line in Spanish: "Que manden la policia estatal a rescatar los heridos en San Juan Copala." It means, "They need to send the state police to rescue the wounded in San Juan Copala."


URGENT: The solidarity caravan that was en route to the Autonomous Municipality San Juan Copala in the Triqui region, which was made up of international observers, members of CACTUS, VOCAL, Section 22 of the teachers union, the the APPO, was attacked with firearms in the La Sabana community, which is controled by the organization Unidad de Bienestar Social de la Region Triqui (UBISORT). This organization is impeding the rescue of the wounded. Reports indicate that there are at least 15 wounded, it is unknown if there are any deaths. It is reported that Alberta Cariño, director of CACTUS, is disappeared. We fear that this action constitutes a provocation that could be used to justify the militarization of the Triqui region.

Requested Action

Call the Government of Oaxaca and demand that the necessary conditions be established so that the State Police and rescue teams can rescue them and provide them with medical attention.

Governor of Oaxaca

Ulises Ruiz Ortiz

Tel. +52 951 5015000 ext. 13005

Fax. +52 951 5015000 ext. 13018

The action alert can be found in Spanish here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mexicans Don't Want To Be Another Vietnam

Translator's note: The following translation mentions an unnamed report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS).  CRS researchers and other English-speaking drug trafficking experts have complained that other Proceso articles, including the one cited in this editorial, have misinterpreted a recent CRS report, taken quotes from it completely out of context, or, in some cases, completely invented quotes that never appear in the article.  They are right, and this editorial is not an exception: the first CRS "quote" in this editorial is taken completely out of context to the point where its original meaning is completely lost; the second "quote" appears nowhere in the report.  

Nonetheless, I believe this editorial is a very valid and poignant critique of what has been the United States' de facto strategy in Mexico--regardless of what the CRS report says.  Ignore mentions of the CRS report, and instead focus on the editorial's overall message about the Mexican drug war and the United States' role in it.

Thanks United States, But No Thanks
by Sabina Berman, Proceso

1.  Mexico City, April 20 - Now the northern giant looks at us attentively.  According to the advice of the United States Congressional Research Service's report, "the Pentagon should increase its role in the fight against drug trafficking" in our country (Proceso 1745, April 11, 2010).  The United States should send more and more sophisticated weapons, more economic resources, and more war specialists to Mexico.

As if the lessons from the past three years of war weren't clear: when State violence escalates, without a doubt drug traffickers will escalate their violence.

2.  The United States would arm the Mexican State's forces even more while drug traffickers arm themselves even more at  Texas, Nevada, and Arizona gun shows.  We will find ourselves, Mexicans, between US weapons and US weapons.  We supply the dead.

3.  It must be recognized that, as the report notes with particular sensitivity, that Mexico's sovereignty would be compromised.  "...there are opinions that with the the [United States] Department of Defense would transform itself in the master of control in Mexican territory."

4.  Coincidentally, President Barack Obama announced last week that light airplanes would fly over our shared border.  Let's choose correct words: they will patrol our shared border.  That is, it will be the air version of that wall that is comprised of concrete and virtual equipment, that impenetrable wall that the Republicans wanted to separate themselves from Mexico.

Which means that US weapons will battle against US weapons; in the middle will fall the dead Mexicans, and planes will patrol the border so that no one escapes.

It's an obvious trap.  Not a trap planned in malice.  But obvious nonetheless.

5.  The problem is not that it's an unjust war.  No one morally defends the drug traffickers.  Morally: seeing to the common good.  The narcos don't even consider themselves to be heros.  The problem is, what sort of country will the war leave us with?

Nor is it a question of if it is possible to defeat organized crime in ten or fifteen years.  The two numbers that President Calderon has mentioned, with rare lightness, as calculations for defeating organized crime.  The problem is, what country will be left after ten or fifteen years of war?

A country in ruins.  With an economy in ruins.  Not like the old days, when we were the 9th biggest economy in the world, or the 11th like we are now.  We would rank 20th, or 40th.

6.  But in the United States, who the hell believes that the solution is to escalate the violence in Mexico?  Who the hell thinks that the solution is to kill more kingpins, so that for every dead kingpin five little bosses fight to the death to take his place?  Who can't see what is already evident, that further pulverizing the drug trafficking structure means disorganizing its violence even more and increasing the extent of its chaos?  And who in their right mind believes that we Mexicans yearn for 15 years of war so that pot--the devil incarnate--won't be smoked in California's sunny gardens?

The military.

Of course: according to the military, the answer is the military.  US legislators need to listen to them, but after that they need to listen to better strategies.  Strategies to minimize the war, not make it bigger.  Minimize it by taking advantage of the US and Mexico's operational advantages, which necessarily include freezing drug traffickers' finances, stopping arms trafficking along the US-Mexico border, and legalizing marijuana.

How curious: those three measures have been declared "difficult" to achieve in the United States.  Mexicans need to be aware of this: before making important changes in the United States, the US believes that it is easier to "help" us by adding to the war arsenals on our side of the border.

7.  When was the last time US lawmakers read the Powell Doctrine?  Horrified by the bloody mess that Vietnam turned into, Colin Powell wrote a series of questions so that his country would never again create and drown in another Vietnam.

Is this war's objective clear?  Before declaring war, have peaceful means of resolving the conflict been exhausted?  Is the war quickly winnable?  Does the civilian population strongly support this war?

These are only some of the Powell Doctrine's questions.  Their answers, in the case of the war in Mexico, are all "no."  And even if no one is talking about sending US troops to Mexico, turning Mexico into a bloody mess for Mexican soldiers and civilians should be just as important to US lawmakers.

8.  The US doesn't want a new Vietnam.  Even more important for us: we don't want to be another Vietnam.  

So: Thank you, United States, but no thank you.

Translated by Kristin Bricker.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Reconquest of Recuperated Land in Zapatista Territory

By: Mary Ann Tenuto
Chiapas Support Committee

The farm truck pulled off a dirt road into the ruins of an old and very large former plantation. It parked on the expanse of crumbling tile patio. Twelve of us, plus the driver, climbed out and entered a building painted rust and turquoise for a meeting with members of San Manuel's autonomous council, staff of the Compañero Manuel Grocery Warehouse and two municipal education promoters.

The former plantation, or finca, was claimed by indigenous rebels belonging to the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) during their January 1994 Uprising. The rust and turquoise building was just one end of the plantation owner's jungle mansion, now used as a grocery warehouse by the Zapatistas of San Manuel autonomous county. A new farming community called Nueva Arena has been established on the land. The Zapatistas refer to the land claimed in 1994 as "recuperated land." Chiapas NGOs estimate that campesinos from several organizations recuperated between 250,000 and 300,000 hectares of land in 1994. That translates into somewhere between 600,000 and 750,000 acres of recuperated land.

It is precisely this recuperated land that is now in dispute between the government (fronting for corporate interests) and the Zapatistas. This was the dominant theme throughout the time I spent in the state of Chiapas, Mexico from March 16 to March 30, 2010, coordinating a delegation of twelve people.

"It's all about territory"

Once all the delegates arrived, we began to receive educational briefings from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Chiapas. Our first talk was at the Center for Economic and Political Investigations for Community Action (Ciepac, its initials in Spanish). The Ciepac analysts focused on how one part of the current counterinsurgency strategy is aimed at re-claiming the land recuperated in 1994.  The government wants the land back in order to implement the Mesoamerica Project, a development plan stretching from southern Mexico to Colombia, which proposes a re-colonization of the land by transnational corporations. "It's all about territory," one analyst told us. An example used to illustrate one method of reclaiming land is that of February 20th (20 de Febrero) community.

February 20th is located in The Canyons region of the Lacandón Jungle, in Ricardo Flores Magón autonomous Zapatista municipality. Its inhabitants belong to different organizations. Some belong to the EZLN and they occupy 100 hectares of land. Others belong to the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (Opddic, its initials in Spanish). Still another group belongs to the Association of Rural Collective Interest (ARIC, its initials in Spanish). Opddic and ARIC members jointly occupy 130 hectares. The folks who occupy the 130 hectares went to the government's Agrarian Reform agency and said they occupy all 230 hectares of land. The government gave them title to all 230 hectares for a new ejido called Nuevo Oxchuc. Why? Because they agreed to enter the ejido into the land-titling program called PROCEDE, a program for privatizing ejido land titles so that individuals can sell, or otherwise alienate, their land. Prior to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), ejido land could not be alienated (sold, or taken by a bank for default on a loan). According to Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, ejido land was communally owned, a result of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Article 27 was changed in preparation for NAFTA so that ejido land could be privatized.

The Zapatistas refuse to enter into PROCEDE and they are defending the 100 hectares in question in February 20th with an occupation by supporters from other communities.

Something similar is happening now in Bolom Ajaw, a community with land adjacent to a virgin waterfall that connects to the Agua Azul Cascade tourist area. Bolom Ajaw is a Zapatista community on recuperated (untitled) land. A former ranch, it was claimed as a result of the 1994 Zapatista Uprising. Approximately 200 Zapatista support bases have occupied Bolom Ajaw since 2001. They have been continuously harassed and attcked for the past four years or so by PRI members from the adjacent Agua Azul ejido. On January 21, 2010, 57 PRI members invaded Bolom Ajaw land, carrying pistols, machetes and radios. They began to construct 3 cabins. That was just the beginning.

Several weeks later, on February 6, PRI members from Agua Azul ambushed a group of Zapatistas in Bolom Ajaw. The Chiapas Attorney General reported 1 PRI member dead from a bullet wound and 11 injured by bullets. The Zapatista Junta in Morelia reported 1 Zapatista shot and gravely injured, while the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) reported 3 Zapatistas injured by bullets. The PRI members are suspected of still belonging to the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (Opddic), a paramilitary group, although they claimed having left that paramilitary grouping in a much-publicized media show more than a year ago. The state Attorney General believes the Zapatistas fired weapons, thus violating the 15-year truce. The Zapatistas are claiming that they were not armed and say that the PRI death and injuries were caused by friendly fire. According to a detailed report now available from Frayba, PRI members were in several parts of Bolom Ajaw and were shooting from different positions. It states that some PRI members were caught in the crossfire and injured by the flying bullets, as were 2 Zapatistas. The government has responded by heavily militarizing the area around Bolom Ajaw, thus protecting the PRI members who remain on the property. The intent of the PRI members from Agua Azul is to take over Bolom Ajaw's recuperated land (which becomes more valuable every day), privatize it, and then sell it to resort developers.

An elaborate plan to convert the Agua Azul area into a "world-class resort destination" shows the importance of the Bolom Ajaw property. The government plan includes a Boutique Hotel, a European 5-Star Hotel, a Conference Center with golf course, and a Lodge overlooking the waterfall on Bolom Ajaw's property. But of course, one would have to helicopter into the Lodge due to its remoteness! (The Lodge has a helipad.)

Norton Consulting, which advises governments on the market possibilities for resort and real estate development in North and Central America, South America, the Caribbean and Europe, actually has photos of the spectacular Agua Azul Cascades region on its web site (See Norton advised the Mexican government's National Fund for Fomenting Tourism (Fonatur) and collaborated on these very elaborate plans with EDSA, an architectural firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Simply stated, the Mexican government wants to turn the Agua Azul region into a world-class resort destination as part of the Mesoamerica Project and the Zapatistas of Bolom Ajaw are in the way.

The San Cristóbal-Palenque Toll Road

The key to Agua Azul's development as a world-class resort destination is the San Cristóbal-Palenque Toll Road. Absent a super-highway between San Cristóbal, Agua Azul and Palenque, the Boutique Hotel, 5-Star European Hotel and the Lodge with helipad will all be empty. However, the toll road has become a flashpoint of conflict between pro-government communities (in favor of the toll road) and pro-Zapatista communities (opposed to the toll road) located along its anticipated trajectory. Although no road construction is yet visible, the controversial project has already generated two deaths, numerous injuries, political prisoners, death threats, displacement and torture.

One of the communities taking paramilitary abuse because of its militant stand in opposition to the toll road is Mitzitón, an ejido that borders on both the current highway to Agua Azul and the Pan American Highway between San Cristóbal and Comitán. The highway to Comitán is being widened and that construction, also part of the Mesoamerica Project, is well underway. Mitzitón's ejido assembly voted to join the EZLN's Other Campaign and also voted to resist the passage of the toll road through its land. Other Campaign members in Mitzitón have experienced non-stop paramilitary activity, including murder and torture. It would not surprise me if an attempt were made to take their ejido land by fraud, with government complicity.

We were in the offices of the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center as yet another chapter in the Mitzitón saga unfolded. One of the ejido's council members, Manuel Díaz Heredia, had been detained the night before and taken to a state prison by the Mexican equivalent of the FBI on old and false charges. The ejido assembly voted to hold 2 state police and 3 state government employees as hostages in response. They also voted to put up a roadblock on the Pan American Highway demanding their compañero's release. Frayba staff members were in Mitzitón, where negotiations with the government were taking place, as well as at the state prison checking up on the ejido authority's situation. The Frayba Center has decided that it will accompany communities in their decisions as to how they want to deal with situations of conflict. If the community wants the Center's participation in negotiations or conflict resolution, then they will help resolve situations in accordance with traditional justice.  If a community decides to mount a militant response to a conflict situation, the Frayba Center will accompany them in that decision and its consequences. Manuel Diaz Heredia was released from prison the following day after a judge ruled there was a complete lack of evidence against him.

The Jungle

Our delegation also received a presentation from Miguel Ángel García Aguirre and Moisés Hernández of Maderas del Pueblo del Sureste, an NGO that emphasizes ecology with social justice and focuses on La Selva (The Jungle) and its several parts: the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, Las Cañadas (The Canyons), the Lacandón Community and Marques de Comillas. The Lacandón Jungle is an important "lung" for carbon exchange in North America. It is also enormously rich in biodiversity. In fact, Mexico ranks fifth in having the most biodiversity in the world. Mexico ranks sixth in the world for cultural diversity, having a population approximately 40% indigenous. Corporations covet land in the Jungle for: genetic material, spectacular beauty, vast expanses of land, plentiful sources of sweet water and its oil.

In between the Highlands (los Altos) in the east central part of the state and the Montes Azules are a proliferation of lower mountains, foothills, rivers and valleys, a region referred to as Las Cañadas (the Canyons), a beautiful and fertile part of Chiapas. Everything slopes gently downwards toward the Montes Azules and the Usumacinta River, the eastern boundary of Chiapas and Mexico.

The re-occupation of recuperated lands is also happening in the Jungle, but the tactics vary by region. February 20th community, where PRI members obtained title by fraud, is in the Canyons region of the Lacandón Jungle. In the Montes Azules Biosphere, under the guise of "conservationism," a cabal from Profepa (the federal environmental prosecutor's office), the state police and various federal police agencies are green-washing the forced displacement of indigenous peoples. Not only do they remove them from their lands and homes at gunpoint, they burn their houses, crops and belongings, leaving them with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Any money found in homes or community stores is stolen. Harvested crops are confiscated or burned. The most recent of these forced displacements occurred on January 21 and 22, 2010 in the communities of Laguna San Pedro and El Suspiro (also known as El Semental), both in the Montes Azules. I cannot erase the photo of police setting fire to the humble thatched-roof house in Laguna San Pedro from my mind!

Without getting into the twisted history of land ownership in the Montes Azules, let us simply say that the government gave title to the Montes Azules and a surrounding area known as the Lacandón Community to a group of 66 indigenous families whose origins are in dispute and called them Lacandóns for convenience. In their most recent request, the Lacandóns asked for the eviction of 8 communities and the government has agreed. Laguna San Pedro and El Suspiro were the first two. The plan is to develop eco-tourist facilities on these lands to become part of the Ruta Maya, a mega-tourist project within the Mesoamerica Project. The Ruta Maya (Maya Route) is a plan to connect archaeological sites and places of natural beauty throughout Mesoamerica by developing roads and lodging for tourism. We're talking massive tourism here! While in San Cristóbal, one can see the huge tourist buses packed with folks from other parts of Mexico, or from Europe or Japan. Some say that the Palenque airport, currently undergoing a major expansion, will accommodate direct flights from Europe when completed.

I spoke with a man from a community just outside the Montes Azules, but in the deep jungle nearby. He said his community feared an eventual eviction because of oil exploitation. While that has not yet started, the government has already expropriated lands for that purpose on the edge of the Montes Azules, in sharp contradiction to its conservationist rhetoric. Another contradiction is found in the use of land in the Jungle for mono-crop agriculture: growing trees for bio-diesel fuel and African Palms for cooking oil.

Co-existence of Autonomy and Counterinsurgency 

The Ciepac analysts described the construction of Zapatista self-government (autonomy) in 38 autonomous municipalities (counties) and the 5 regional Good Government Councils. The development of autonomous government implies developing schools, education promoters, health promoters and health programs, clinics and income-producing projects to support the new government structures and institutions. Although sometimes difficult to conceive, the construction of autonomy is taking place amidst the resistance to counterinsurgency. This was dramatically driven home during our meeting inside the rust and turquoise Compañero Manuel Grocery Warehouse.

The Grocery Warehouse was an economic development project in which the Chiapas Support Committee participated, as did several organizations from Italy. Its purpose is to bring grocery items from the city and make them available to residents of the outlying rural areas. By purchasing in large quantities and having a place to store the items, they can buy at wholesale prices. The warehouse then sells to the little community stores for a small profit. The community stores raise the price a little and rural farmers still save money because they don't have to pay for transportation into town to buy their needed items. Profits from the Warehouse support the functioning of the municipal government. It has been very profitable at times and modestly profitable at others. A government warehouse now competes with it.

The warehouse staff explained to us that the warehouse was supplying free food to the rotating guard in Casa Blanca, a disputed piece of recuperated land that campesinos belonging to the PRI would like to take over. In September 2009, PRI members from an adjacent ejido attacked Casa Blanca in an attempt to take it over. They were armed with guns, machetes and clubs. In the confrontation that followed, one PRI member was killed, 8 Zapatistas were injured, 8 Aric members were injured and 7 Zapatistas were taken prisoner. Those taken prisoner were brutally tortured for 36 hours. After this attack, San Manuel mounted a plantón (occupation) with 250 Zapatistas to guard the land. That guard has now been reduced to 25. The problem this presents to the warehouse staff is that there is no money from sales to replenish their stock.  They are looking for a way to expand the line of products carried by the Warehouse in order to compensate for the counterinsurgency's drain on its profits.

It is not clear what the government wants with Casa Blanca. It is located in the Las Tazas Canyon, which is the valley of the Upper Jataté River. At one point, as a project within the Plan Puebla-Panamá (before it was renamed the Mesoamerica Project), the government had plans to dam up the river and convert the corn farmers into fish farmers. But archaeologists raised a fuss (there are remnants of archaeological sites scattered along the river) and it seemed like those plans were dropped. Perhaps those plans were not cancelled, just put on the back burner until the fuss died down. What is certain is that the government wants something in this canyon. It has fostered and protected paramilitary groups for at least the last eight years and there were once 4 military camps guarding just this one canyon. There are only two military camps now. The other two pulled out when they believed that they had trained enough paramilitaries to keep the Zapatistas under control.

The Jataté River is a white water river, perfect for kayaking and rafting. It is beautifully portrayed in Sacred Monkey River, a book by Christopher Shaw describing his kayaking experience on the Jataté. Perhaps the Las Tazas Canyon is wanted for tourism. A brand new two-lane highway to Monte Líbano is currently under construction. It passes by the turnoff for the Las Tazas Canyon. On the other hand, perhaps the canyon is coveted for its abundance of sweet water (unpolluted fresh water). In addition to the river, there are natural springs, aquifers and, according to some, an underground river, making it very attractive to corporations that monopolize water sources so they can bottle water for a profit. Thus it's hard to predict whether corporations envision a Jataté Hilton Lodge and Kayaking Club in the Las Tazas Canyon or a Ciel bottling plant. (Ciel bottles and sells purified water in Mexico. Coca-Cola owns it).

Rural Cities?

As the counterinsurgency continues its efforts to re-conquer land recuperated by the Zapatistas, it would seem appropriate to ask where the indigenous people will go if the government is successful in obtaining this land for corporate exploitation. The government and the World Bank have just the answer: Sustainable Rural Cities (SRC). Remember the "model cities" in Guatemala and "strategic hamlets" in Viet Nam? The Chiapas version of these counterinsurgency mechanisms is already under construction in Los Altos. The SRC of Santiago El Pinar is being built on the slopes of a mountain, right next to San Andrés Sakamch'en de los Pobres, the autonomous Zapatista municipality in which the Caracol of Oventik is located. Another SRC is planned for the Jungle and a third in the Northern Zone. They are intended to compete with the Zapatista Caracols and their eventual result, if successful, will be to remove the indigenous peasantry from its territories and disrupt its way of life and production, thus giving indigenous land to corporations and making the peoples dependent on those corporations to maintain a new urban way of life.

Virtually unreported in the mainstream press, human rights abuse and repression go unpunished in this low-intensity war to re-conquer Zapatista lands and displace the indigenous peoples. Some analysts with whom we spoke stated that the Lacandón Jungle was the starting point for the Mesoamerica Project, which will then affect Central American countries and Colombia. Throughout the continent and the entire world, megaprojects involve the four wheels of capitalism: plunder (theft), repression, scorn and exploitation.
Chiapas Support Committee [OR]
April 10, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Honduras Land Conflict: Militarization Leads to Fears of Deadly Repression

The following communique came across my desk.  Hopefully the attention it is drawing will prevent the sort of violent attack the locals fear.  Unfortunately, the last time a communique from Honduras came across my desk, it was to warn that a coup was about to happen...

Peasants from the Unified Peasant Movement of Aguán (MUCA) do have reason to fear a massacre: over the past three months, eight of their organization's members have been assassinated.  According to the humanitarian organization Ayuda Popular Noruega, attempts to link those murders to guerrilla movements or drug traffickers "arouses the suspicion that propaganda is produced with the goal of justifying the human rights violations that have been unleashed since [the coup that occurred on] June 28."
Here is the communique, reprinted in its entirety from  In the English version I bolded two words that I changed from the original translation to clarify some confusing wording.

12/04/2010 06:12:00 El Libertador
For several hours now, neighbors of the city of Tocoa and surrounding areas have denounced through El Libertador that they have been under a state of siege, without the authorities responsible having issued any notice or explanation.
Issued at 00:15 Monday April 12
Aguán Region. In the major cities of the department of Colón, in the Northeast of Honduras, a state of siege has been illegally enforced, with the aim of preventing residents of the region from going to the aid of the campesinos who are on the farms, as it is expected that in the coming hours, members of the army, national police, and mercenaries—all working for landowners Miguel Facussé Barjum, René Morales Carazo and Reinaldo Canales—that have invaded the areas in question, to murder everyone they find (children, adults, the elderly and women) in their path.
This act of intimidation arises on the eve of a definitive solution that members of the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguán (MUCA) have been negotiating with the government of "Pepe" Lobo and the National Agrarian Institute (INA), to return the lands that were fraudulently expropriated in the decade of the 1990s, when Rafael Leonardo Callejas was president and Juan Ramón Martínez was director of the INA.
Sources on the campesino farms report that numerous military transport vehicles are bringing motorboats to enter the plantations via the Aguán river. Nonetheless, they have been kept covered with tarps to prevent suspicion, and have been transported toward the region of San Esteban (Northeast Olancho) with the aim of going unnoticed. Also being transported are assault tanks, the same that were used to take over the Presidential House during the military coup d'etat in June, 2009.
The imminent military and paramilitary aggression could leave thousands of dead and gravely wounded people behind, many of them minors, since there is a high concentration of children and elderly on the farms, whose lives have been on the razor's edge since January, when the dictator Micheletti ordered the systematic repression and murder of members of MUCA, which to date has had six people killed, and twelve people in the Guadalupe Carney community, located in Trujillo, which has experienced similar luck.
The National People's Resistance Front (FNRP) holds Presidente Porfirio Lobo Sosa and the current Secretary of Security, Oscar Álvarez Guerrero, responsible for continuing the war against the campesino movement, and for preventing a definitive solution from being reached.
We have uploaded several videos taken from cameras located in various strategic points in Tocoa, so that the population can see the military presence in the zone.

APRIL 18 UPDATE: The region remains militarized.  Jesse Freeston from The Real News Network reports that MUCA has signed a deal with the government regarding the disputed land:

¡Urgente! Ejército prevé realizar genocidio en el bajo Aguán en las próximas horas por conflicto de tierras
12/04/2010 06:12:00 El Libertador
Desde hace algunas horas, vecinos de la ciudad de Tocoa y alrededores han denunciado a través de EL LIBERTADOR que se ha implementado el estado de sitio, sin que las autoridades competentes hayan emitido la resolución al respecto.
Redacción Central 00:15 horas lunes 12 de abril
Región del Aguán. En las principales ciudades del departamento de Colón, noreste de Honduras, se ha implementado el toque de queda de manera ilegal, con el propósito de impedir que los residentes en las localidades salgan al auxilio de los campesinos que permanecen en las fincas, a la espera de que en las próximas horas miembros del ejército, policía nacional y mercenarios al servicio de los terratenientes Miguel Facussé Barjum, René Morales Carazo y Reinaldo Canales incursionen en dichos lugares, para asesinar a todo aquel que encuentren (niños, adultos, ancianos y mujeres) a su paso.
Este acto de intimidación surge en la víspera de una solución definitiva que miembros del Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguán (MUCA) entablen con el gobierno de “Pepe” Lobo y el Instituto Nacional Agrario, para devolver las tierras que fueron fraudulentamente expropiadas en la década de 1990, cuando siendo presidente Rafael Leonardo Callejas y como director del INA en aquel entonces, Juan Ramón Martínez.
Fuentes consultadas en las fincas campesinas, aseguran que varios furgones militares están trasladando lanchas para ingresar a las plantaciones a través del río Aguán. Sin embargo, han sido cubiertos con toldos para evitar sospecha alguna, y que han sido trasladados hacia la región vía San Esteban (Olancho, noreste), con la finalidad de pasar desapercibidos. Al igual que tanquetas de asalto, mismas que se utilizaron para tomar Casa Presidencial durante el golpe de Estado Militar de junio de 2009.
La inminente agresión militar y grupos de seguridad paraestatal, podría dejar como saldo miles de personas muertas y heridas de gravedad, muchas de ellas menores de edad, debido a que en las fincas hay alta concentración de niños y ancianos, cuyas vidas están al filo de la navaja desde enero anterior, cuando el dictador Micheletti ordenó la represión y asesinato sistemático de miembros del MUCA, que hasta el momento seis personas muertas, doce personas de la comunidad Guadalupe Carney, ubicado en Trujillo, que han corrido similar suerte.
El Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP) desde ya está responsabilizando al Presidente Porfirio Lobo Sosa y al actual Secretario de Seguridad, Oscar Álvarez Guerrero, de continuar con la guerra contra el movimiento campesino, e impedir que se llegue a una solución definitiva.
Hemos habilitado en la página web algunos videos tomados desde cámaras fijas ubicados en puntos estratégicos de Tocoa, para que la población pueda observar la presencia militar en la zona.
Vínculos habilitados:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mexican Soldiers Murder Two Children, US Media Covers Up the Crime

  • Mexican Media and the Family Reports that Soldiers Shot the Boys After It Was Obvious They Were Shooting at Young Children 
  • Associated Press Reports Children Died in a Shootout Between "Soldiers and Suspected Drug Cartel Hitmen"
Mexicans returning home after Easter vacation were greeted with horrifying news: Mexican soldiers opened fire on a vehicle full of children as their family headed to the beach for Easter Sunday.

According to Mexican press, the soldiers indiscriminately opened fire on the vehicle, and even threw fragmentation grenades.  La Jornada reports:
According to the victims' complaint, the seven children and four adults were traveling in a Tahoe truck, driven by Carlos Alfredo Rangel, early Sunday morning.  When the vehicle passed the military checkpoint, Rangel observed that the soldiers were alongside the highway.  Rangel slowed down, but the soldiers did not signal for him to stop.

After passing the checkpoint, the soldiers began to shoot indiscriminately at the vehicle; the adults say that they even threw multiple fragmentation grenades.

They recount that they experienced moments of terror and confusion as they got out of the truck and tried to run for the brush. Martín Almanza carried his sons Bryan and Michel, but at that moment he felt a bullet graze him.  His son Bryan was covered in blood.  He died in his arms.  Despite the fact that the civilians were screaming at the soldiers to stop shooting at them because there were children present, the soldiers ignored them and injured the other youngster, who died at the scene.
 From his hospital bed, injured driver Rangel told La Jornada:
"All of a sudden they started shooting at us; I stayed with my wife and baby in the truck and they were shooting at everything that moved.  We yelled at them that we had our family with us and they kept shooting.  When we passed in front of them we even rolled down the truck's windows so that they could see the kids, but I don't know what happened.

"When they saw me wounded they cocked their weapons and told me that they were going to kill me; I don't remember anything after that... we were a family with seven children.  My wife got out of the truck and ran into the brush with the baby and they kept shooting at her."
 Cinthia Salazar, the murdered children's mother, told Milenio, "I never saw other people [at the scene] who were not soldiers.  I saw the [soldiers]."

Salazar told La Jornada that she left her children's bodies in a funeral home and went to her house to pick up photos of the boys for the funeral service.  She found thirty soldiers surrounding her home.  When she entered the house, she says soldiers burst inside, took pictures, searched the house, and interrogated her.  Salazar told Milenio that soldiers also went to the funeral home where her children's viewing was being held.

Hoy Tamaulipas reports that the dead boys' family and friends held a protest outside a local military base:
With a protest outside the "Macario Zamora" military base, family, friends, and neighbors of the two boys Martin and Bryan, 5 and 9 years old respectively, murdered by soldiers, expressed their condemnation of the armed forces and demanded that those responsible for the double homicide be punished.

With signs and banners in their hands, they reproached the soldiers for the shooting attack against 13 people last Saturday...

...A youngster held a sign with the phrase, "Please don't shoot me, I'm a child." ... Another said, "Get out murderous soldiers."
The Mexican corporate media's overwhelming consensus on the incident, then, is that soldiers indiscriminately opened fire on a truck full of children at a military checkpoint.

So how did the US corporate media report the incident?

The AP's story, "2 children killed in Mexico border state shootout," published the day after the attack, reports:
A shootout in northern Mexico between soldiers and suspected drug cartel gunmen killed two children and wounded five of their relatives who were caught in the crossfire....

The 5- and 8-year-old brothers were traveling in their family's car when the gunbattle broke out on a highway near the border city of Nuevo Laredo, the Tamaulipas state government said in statement Sunday night.
Two suspected gunmen were also killed.
Wait, what two suspected gunmen?  What shootout between drug cartel gunmen and soldiers?

The AP was probably confused by initial government reports that claimed that soldiers killed "offenders" and in the process seized nine firearms, two rocket launchers, two rockets, two hand grenades, 5,089 bullets, 69 gun cartridges, and nine vehicles, including one armored vehicle.

The initial reports were suspect from the start.  They claim that the soldiers came under fire during a routine reconnaissance mission along the highway.  How could a group of soldiers who were taken by surprise by a nine-vehicle convoy armed with rocket launchers, grenades, and firearms repel the attack, seize nine vehicles and an enormous quantity of weapons, and not suffer a single casualty?  Moreover, if the soldiers seized nine vehicles, where are the nine drivers?  They are not counted among the dead, and the military doesn't report a single detention.  And what sane gunman opens fire on the military if he and his criminal colleagues only have nine guns?  Furthermore, someone traveling with five thousand bullets and only nine guns is likely trafficking weapons, not attacking military targets.  So what sane clandestine arms trafficker would un-clandestinely open fire on a group of unsuspecting soldiers?

This wouldn't be the first time the government has claimed to have seized an impressive quantity of weapons in order to cover up its misdeeds.

As soon as the dead boys' bodies appeared in a funeral home, the government dropped the ruse.  The military and Tamaulipas state government press releases cited in the original media reports about the "shootout" have disappeared from government websites.  Mexican press dropped the shootout version and reported that soldiers shot the boys.  No one claimed the boys were killed in a shootout.

The AP seems to have combined the two conflicting reports to come up with its own version that claims four people (two children and two cartel gunmen) died in a shootout.  No one--not even the government--has claimed that four people died when the boys were killed.  Following the incident, not a single Mexican media outlet claimed that the boys were killed by crossfire from a shootout between soldiers and drug cartel gunmen.  The press reports all agreed that soldiers killed the boys.

The Mexican government must have liked the AP's caught-in-the-crossfire version of events: on April 8--four days after the shooting and three days after the AP story--Mexican Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont held a press conference claiming that the children were killed in a shootout between drug cartel gunmen and soldiers.  This is the first time since the shooting that the government has claimed the boys died in a shootout.  The family contradicts the government's version and maintains that only soldiers were present at the scene, and that they never saw any civilian gunmen.

Gomez Mont promised that the government is investigating the boys' deaths.

Cartoon translation:  "New Federal Government Slogan: So drugs don't fall into your children's hands, we are killing them for you."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mexico Backslides on the Merida Initiative’s Human Rights Conditions

NACLA published my new article on the Merida Initiative entitled "Mexico Backslides on the Merida Initiative's Human Rights Conditions."  The article is in response to a recent legal reform that allows the Mexican Attorney General's Office (which has its own police force and is statistically one of the nation's worst human rights abusers) to pick and choose which information it turns over to the government's National Human Rights Commission.

The National Human Rights Comission (CNDH) investigates human rights abuses committed by government officials.  The legal reform means that if the CNDH has to investigate the Attorney General's Office for alleged human rights abuses (not an uncommon occurrence), the Attorney General's Office (PGR) can refuse to hand over information that is necessary to the investigation.

This development isn't shocking, and the CNDH itself pointed out that even when the PGR was legally required to hand over certain information for CNDH investigations, it often refused.  One particularly high profile example of the PGR refusing to cooperate with a CNDH investigation even though it was legally required to do so is the Brad Will murder case. Brad Will was a US journalist who was allegedly murdered by local police and government officials while working in Oaxaca in 2006.  The CNDH carried out an investigation into the murder prior to this new legal reform, and it reports that the PGR was very uncooperative and withheld evidence.

What does all of this have to do with the Merida Initiative?  Well, as I point out in the NACLA article, the PGR is one of the main recipients of Meridia Initiative funding.  Fifteen percent of that funding is supposedly conditioned on federal police forces (such as the PGR's police force, the Federal Ministerial Police) increasing their transparency and cooperation with civilian review panels.  This new legal reform does just the opposite.

However, Washington is silent.  The State Department ordered that much of the conditioned funds be released despite Mexico's refusal to comply with human rights conditions.  During Hillary Clinton's recent visit to Mexico, she promised more aid for the Mexican government's deadly drug war, which has done absolutely nothing to stem the flow of drugs into the United States.

There's more information in the article, which is available on NACLA's website.  Read it here.