After Chiapas and Colosio, Mexico’s Difficult Futures

Against the Current, No. 50, May/June 1994

Olivia Gall

“In today’s world, we have learned to live in a way where the rhythm of events is almost ruled by Olympic marks which bypass one another at great speed,” declared Don Samuel Ruiz García, Bishop of San Cristóbal and mediator in the Chiapas conflict, in a press conference last January 24.

Summarizing the events, he added: “a ten days’ record time for a war in the country, such a short delay of time that we haven’t even been able to obtain either the true nor even an approximate number of victims …; a national political turning point on the eleventh day of the conflict; then again, the unexpected and very swift cease fire; the preparation of the necessary conditions for a peace dialogue; the offer of a mediation for the dialogue…; the beginning of the dialogue with the spectacular arrival of the EZLN members [in San Cristóbal]; the results of the first agreement on matters to which you have been informed in this Cathedral.”(1)

“But the time in which we live has different logics,” continued Don Samuel. “For the peasants, time is not the value in which everything else is subordinated; time must rather serve mankind. There are, however, two other logics of time at work here: the logic of the political rhythm, and, on the other hand, the logic of the accelerated rhythm in which news flies to the whole world ….

“But the rhythm of serious agreements has a time dimension in the future, whose consequences will last for more than one hundred years; all of which demands seriousness and responsibility.”

Don Samuel Ruiz is right. Three very different timings mark the Chiapas conflict:

* The very long time of the Indians, who nowadays constitute about 4% of the national population and 30% of the Chiapas population. For five hundred years Mexican Indians have been — especially in Chiapas — the poorest, the most marginal people, the most victimized by racism. This has been true in colonial Mexico (1521-1810) as well as in independent Mexico. And this has remained true throughout all four periods of Mexico’s independence: from the sixty-six year civil war after Independence (1810-1876), through the period of General Porfirio Díaz’s dictatorship (1876-1910) and revolutionary Mexico (1910-1940), as well as through the “revolutionary institutional” period, in which Mexico has been ruled by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) (1940-1994).(2)

* The unequal, changing, unstable and volatile time of the mass media and the information about Chiapas it transmits to the world. This timing is ruled by the multiple ways Mexico’s present reality can be read, depending on one’s reference points: one’s country, culture, social, economic and political position, and, last but not least, one’s economic and political interests in reference to Mexico.

* The short, very short time that is left for the Mexican government. Prior to the assassination of the PRI presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, that time lay between January 1, 1994 — the date NAFTA took effect and the EZLN declared war against the current Salinas Regime — and August 21, 1994, the date of the Mexico’s next presidential election. It is a time shortened even more by the March 23 assassination.

The PRI’s extremely difficult task of reconstruction in the scarce five months that remain before the August election force the ruling party into a tight corner.

Before the assassination, the election had been long prepared by the PRI government to guarantee that political power remained in the hands of President Salinas’ team. No matter what the cost for the Mexican people, Salinas’ economic policy of “modernization” — under which Mexico was to enter the First World — was to remain in the hands of the Salinas technocrats.

The election also needs to be viewed from the lens of the majority of Mexico’s citizens, opposition parties and popular organizations, the EZLN included. From their point of view this election must be Democratic — that is, if Mexico doesn’t want to live through a serious social and political explosion, thrown back a hundred years and becoming one more of so many Third World nations living constantly between the risk of military coups and civil war.(3)

This article will try to deal with the Chiapas events as seen from the first and third logics of time: the logic of the Indians and the logic of the PRI government. As different as they are from one another, since the days of the Mexican revolution these forces have never been more dependent on each other. Not since the 1910-1920 period has the official and powerful political culture of the Mexican state been checkmated by the nation’s most marginalized political culture.

“Die to live,” the Zapatistas say very often when someone asks about their means and ends. Subcommandante Marcos, EZLN spokesperson and military strategist, has explained that “According to the Mayan ancient thought, unfortunately no changes for the better can occur in human life without them being announced by death.

“For five hundred years Chiapas Indians have been living in misery, hunger, exploitation and death. Generation after generation, they have been bequeathing to their children all that, especially death. And one can get used to bequeathing all that, even the practice of suffering, even death. But what is impossible to inherit is humiliation. It is possible for a father and a mother to tell their children to learn to live in misery and to learn to accept death as a frequent consequence of misery. But it is impossible to teach their children to accept humiliation, and humiliation is what they get every day in a region as racist as the Chiapas mountains or jungle area.”

There, many whites and mestizos (ladinos) still see and treat Indians as animals and are not in the least ashamed by this attitude, which they think is as natural as breathing.

Originally October 12, 1992 — the five hundred year commemoration of the conquest of America — had been chosen by the EZLN as the target date to arise and declare war on the Mexican government. They chose that date precisely to show the world that they wouldn’t take humiliation any longer. “Conditions were nevertheless not ready for this. So we had to wait.”

Then came the amendment to the twenty-seventh article of the Mexican Constitution, replacing the ejido — or collective form of the village land ownership — with a small, individual parcel. Following this came the designation of Colosio, Salinas’ disciple and political son, as the PRI’s candidate for the presidency. In this double way Salinas imposed on the country the continuance of his political and economic project, legalizing the privatization of the Mexican fields.

“We Chiapas Indians had to say, ‘Ya basta!’ and so we did. But that doesn’t mean we have changed our conception of time, on the contrary. Salinas reformed Article 27 to turn us into the slaves of NAFTA timing. Our timing clashes head on with this one.”

Subcomandante Marcos pointed out that January 1, 1994 showed society that “Indians will not bear everything quietly anymore, that there are things which we prefer to face with death rather than with resignation, that we are sure death is the only door the Mexican government has left for us towards a better life for our people. We hope no more death will need to follow this same path, but if there is no other way, we are willing to die, and we are not in a hurry for we have waited long enough. We have waited five hundred years, we can wait another five hundred.”

In the context of the disastrous effects of Salinas’ neoliberal policy on Mexican life as a whole, the Chiapas Indians’ economic, social and political humiliation under this policy has led the country to the most severe political conflict it has faced since the 1928 assassination of General Alvaro Obregón, the first great caudillo [leader of the Mexican Revolution regimes].(4)

The instability of political power revealed by the Chiapas war and by the positive reaction the country has expressed in general toward the EZLN movement illuminates the crisis. Today one may add that Colosio’s execution merely highlights the fragmentation of Mexico’s political power. Adolfo Gilly makes the same point strongly in a different way:

“The tragic triptych of the `20s: land, blood and power has been replaced in the `90s by another one no less tragic: power, money and blood. In it is summarized the crisis of a governing class overtaken by its acts, passions and interests.”

“Salinas knew!” explains the front-page headline of Proceso, Julio Scherer’s prestigious weekly political magazine. In May 1993, the Mexican army discovered by accident the camp in which the January attack was being planned. As Marcos related:

“The army acts as an army should: it discovers an enemy…and tries to finish up with the guerrilleros…but suddenly, a few days later, leaves. This is not a military decision, it is a political decision. In military terms they thought that our group was destroyable. But for the Mexican government, the fact of annihilating it … meant the official recognition of a guerrilla movement in Mexico. [That decision] couldn’t be but a decision coming directly from the President himself.”

Why did the Mexican Presidency neglect the existence of an obviously well organized and armed guerrilla movement in Mexico’s south frontier — a frontier with Central America and the guerrilla’s most explosive territory for the last quarter century? Why did Salinas choose to postpone this conflict instead of facing it before it exploded?

There are at least four possible answers:

First, that he was blinded by the very close date of NAFTA’s implementation. Willing to mortgage the entire nation’s existence on the basis of this project, Salinas felt certain that NAFTA would reinforce the power of his political team.

Second, that he underestimated, as Mexican political leaders have always done in the past, the human, political and military capacity of the Mexican Indian population — generally so quiet, so much in the shade.

Third, that he underestimated the impact such a rebellion could have on the Mexican population, whose economy and quality of life have been so damaged by Salinas’ neoliberal policy.

Fourth, while nobody was sure in Mexico to what extent the PRI’s fragmentation had advanced prior to the Colosio assassination, today it seems obvious that Salinas had been fighting a hawkish war inside the PRI since the end of 1993.

Today, only five months after the beginning of the Chiapas war, President Salinas and his neoliberal team, the PRI as a whole, the other political parties, the Zapatistas themselves and the entire country face a situation no one could have thought possible. We must not forget that on November 28, a smiling and radiant Salinas announced that Colosio, former Minister for Urban Development and Ecology, was “elected” by the PRI as its presidential candidate. That is, following the system’s sixty-year-old rules, Colosio was assured the presidency.

Shortly afterward, in December we Mexicans witnessed a dark premonition of the regime’s intentions toward democracy: the top-down, authoritarian way in which Salinas’ government refused to answer society’s claim and reveal the truth about the tragic events that surrounded the army’s attack on the student movement in 1968. How many hundreds of students were attacked by the army in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, Tlatelolco [in Mexico City] and brutally murdered? A full quarter of a century after 1968 and the PRI government still refuses to answer.

On March 2, after a short and violent war — and two weeks of dialogue — the EZLN and Manuel Camacho Solís, the government representative, signed a proposed agreement entitled “Compromises for A Peace with Dignity in Chiapas.”

I agree with Luis Javier Garrido, a specialist on the PRI, who wrote in La Jornada that this document is ambiguous. It leaves the door open to manipulation. The compromises are not precise enough so federal and local governments can satisfy the claims of the Chiapas Indians and “therefore don’t guarantee at all that the social structures will change.” It is nevertheless an historic document for what it states and for what it represents.

The document admits:

* That Mexico doesn’t have a democratic regime and that in today’s conditions there cannot be, in Mexico, free elections;

* That the country isn’t ruled by a constitutional order and that the structure of judicial power and the penal laws must be modified;

* That the Salinas regime’s social policy has failed, since no modern country needs for its citizens to rebel and rise up in arms; for the government to admit that it must build schools and hospitals, establish health programs, electrify communities and open up roads — in other words, to admit it must fulfill its constitutional responsibilities;

* The failure of Carlos Salinas’ agrarian policy.

In this sense, the document represents a victory of the armed Zapatistas, the first Mexican armed political group in sixty years to have forced the federal government to sit down and negotiate.

Nevertheless, by not recognizing the EZLN as a “belligerent force” but as an “army in formation” and by proposing real “authoritarian traps,” such as the project of joining the Chiapas governor’s election with the legislative and the local municipal ones, the same document shows once and again, as Garrido points out, that its authors, Camacho’s people, “wrote it in terms of the rules of the `system.” As if a federal regime and the division of federal and local powers did not exist at all: “not only didn’t they outline recommendations directed to the other government’s instances, but they compromised them. This is evidence once more that Mexican presidentialism is the main obstacle to the establishment in Mexico of a State based on right.”

Before the Chiapas war broke out, we knew — I repeat, we knew — that the federal government had no intention of democratizing Mexican political life. The document quoted above, and the events that have followed, show that this decision remains firm.

As it has done often before, the PRI system has played its two cards at the same time. In Camacho’s respectful attitude toward the EZLN, it has played the negotiating card, but without dropping the other one, the authoritarian one. The Mexican TV and other media have also increased their subtle campaign against the EZLN and Subcomandante Marcos. Army, police, intelligence and PRI members have reinforced their positions in Chiapas. Now, under the impact of the video images shown on TV of Colosio’s murder, Mexicans seriously ask themselves if the PRI’s candidate wasn’t executed by the very system that he stood for.

All of this is occurring during a short truce in the middle of a war that has not at all come to an end. One of the greatest EZLN victories over the government is that nowhere in the agreement is EZLN disarmament demanded, as Salinas demanded it at the very beginning of the peace prologue. So Chiapanec Zapatista Indians and their few mestizo comrades will watch over the government’s fulfillment of the agreements with the guns in their hands.

On the other hand, hundreds of non-Zapatista Chiapanec Indians and mestizo peasants are now also fighting for their rights by invading private pieces of land — not only the latifundia, which is protected by the guardias blancas (the latifundia’s personal and dangerous security guard). National papers talk about how more than 40,000 acres have already been invaded. Many of these peasants are members of several local or national organizations, some of them even belonging to the PRI. For many years these peasant organizations have fought for peasant rights. Up to the beginning of hostilities, they disagreed with the EZLN on the pertinence of the armed way in Chiapas.

Today these organizations make it very clear that they are not thieves nor criminals. They call the EZLN “our brothers who have given their lives for us” and they warn the authorities that they will recover their lands, stolen over time since the Spanish conquest. And they protest against Salinas’ amendment to Article 27, which has deprived them of all possibilities of having a piece of land for their survival.

From the national point of view — as well as from the local one — the situation is extremely difficult.

Two weeks ago I wrote that Salinas and his party would have to decide: Which of their two cards will prevail regarding the future of the agreements with the EZLN of the Chiapas conflict and the country’s political life? Would it be negotiations, or what Camacho called a month ago a “toughening up” (“endurecimiento”)? After Colosio’s assassination, but especially after Ernesto Zedillo’s unpopular designation as the new PRI candidate, it seems obvious that the regime has chosen the second road.

On the local level:

About a month ago, a demonstration of 3,000 people who call themselves “autenticos coletos” [coleto means born in San Cristóbal] marched in San Christóbal. For many years, the city has been pluricultural, harboring a varied Indian population, with mestizos and others from all over the country and foreigners from all over the occidental world. This emonstration demanded that the army stay to protect the town’s citizens and that all “non-autenticos coletos” [meaning Indians and foreigners] should go away.

During the peace talks in San Cristóbal, the army and federal police posted at Altamirano, a town located in the heart of the Zapatista zone, made it clear within a few days that they were not going to interfere with Altamirano’s big cattle and land owners’ racist and belligerent attitude not only when directed against the EZLN but also when directed against human rights organizations, charitable groups of a religious orientation, or even the Red Cross.

On March 9, another coleto group which calls itself “Frente Cívico Coleto Contra los Desestabilizedores, made it very clear that they are against Don Samuel Ruiz and his priests. They closed many churches throughout the city and wrote slogans on the walls, blaming the bishop for “the land invasions and the war.”

How has the government reacted? Before and during the peace talks, the government remained silent. On March 8, Chiapas’ new governor, Lic. Manuel López Moreno, announced that the government would act “according to the law” against the land invaders. This declaration means that the federal government has decided to “solve” a deep social and political problem with police and army methods.

The Consejo Estatal de Organizaciones Indígenas y Campesines (CEOIC) revealed that a witch hunt against peasants has begun with selective assassinations. For example, on March 6, Mariano Pérez Díaz, leader of the Organización Campesina Emiliano Zapata (OCEZ), was assassinated.

Before Colosio’s murder, this was the everyday context in which Zapatista communities were discussing the agreements in order to decide which they would approve and which they would not. On March 20, Subcomandante Marcos told the press that the cattle owners’ attitude was a menace to peace and that if the federal government didn’t do anything to stop it, peace would be jeopardized.

On March 24, when Colosio’s death was officially announced, the Zapatistas sent several press releases written by Marcos in which they accused the government of the murder. They stated deep “regret that the governing class cannot solve its internal conflicts without shedding blood over the country” and declared “that the militarist option inside the federal government planned and carried out this provocation in order to cancel all the possible peace attempts to democratize national political life” and that “the cunning crime that now shakes the nation is only the prelude to a large military offensive against our positions and our forces, and the beginning of a dirty war against all those honest beings who, taking different roads, search for the same goals as we do.”

They added,”The government troops are preparing to break the cease-fire. Our forces were carrying out in the communities the consultation to decide which should be the next step in the dialogue towards peace and reconciliation. Now we find ourselves forced to interrupt the consultation and to prepare ourselves to defend our cause and our flag: that of democracy, freedom and justice.”

A few days later, in an official communique dated April 1st, the headquarters of the VII Military Zone seated at Tuxtla Gutierrez announced that the troops placed in the main cities and towns in the zone of conflict will “proceed to some movements” in order to be transferred to “resting areas,” because they need an “adequate rest.” The communique also assures the population “that the Mexican Army wishes peace and will never do anything that could obstruct the peace process.” Despite these assurances, Subcomandante Marcos told the press that government troops are not resting. In order to circumvent the press, they are advancing along coastal roads towards the mountains, attempting to encircle the EZLN. The army wants to force the Zapatistas towards the Guatemalan border, where the Guatemalan army is watching.

At the same time, contradicting the information that the cattle owners’ organization had given the press (that the invaded lands would be returned by the government to its legal owners starting Monday, April 4), the governor of Chiapas declared that the executive power had instructed his government to stop the evacuation of the invaded land. This declaration was followed by another, this one coming from CEOIC, a peasant organization. They said they will keep all the land that had been invaded and will not cancel the march to Mexico City planned for April 10, the anniversary of Emiliano Zapata’s death. [Editor’s note: The press reported tens of thousands marched in the capital on April 10.]

On the national level:

On January 27 Salinas stated he would not modify his economic policy. After the peace talks, Salinas, Camacho and other important public figures announced that Article 27 would not be rediscussed nor modified. They maintained its structure can include the satisfaction of the EZLN’s land vindications. On March 4, Luis Donaldo Colosio was officially registered as the PRI’s presidential candidate.

Two days later, Colosio presided over — and was the only speaker at — the PRI’s sixty-fifth public anniversary, attended by 75,000. In his speech, Colosio told Mexicans that the PRI was absolutely conscious of the very deep problems the country was facing, that it was also conscious of its mistakes. What the country needed, before anything else, he announced, was the democratization of its political structures.

He also promised that the next presidential election would be clean and that international observers would be invited to testify about the “impartiality and openness” of its electoral mechanisms.

The strongest image in Colosio’s speech was that “The PRI must now walk towards a real independence of public power and be capable of implanting in its bosom democratic and autonomous procedures of candidate selection.” And he identified as the source of the problem “an excessive concentration of power, which leads to mistaken decisions, to the monopoly of initiatives, to injustices and excesses.”

No matter how self-critical and favorable to democracy Colosio’s speech may have sounded, nothing indicated that his fight for power would be a democratic electoral one. Today, taking advantage of the pain that his murder caused to the entire nation, the government is building up a solid apology of Colosio as a democratic figure par excellence. One must not forget, however, that Colosio was a man of the system and that as all men of the system have done, he would have made use of fraud to impose his candidacy.

It is true that Colosio was starting to show the nation that he was willing to become the new “king” by criticizing the old one. It is also true that one doesn’t have to be very critical minded to see that his campaign faced serious problems. Among them, two deserve to be analyzed.

First, the accusation of ineptitude drawn by the “colosistas” against Ernesto Zedillo, today’s new PRI candidate. Last November he was appointed Colosio’s general campaign coordinator. By March the “colosistas” demanded that the PRI’s National Executive Committee replace him. They held Zedillo responsible for what many called Colosio’s “gloomy campaign.”

Several political analysts have pointed out that Zedillo was not appointed by Colosio, but imposed upon him by the main political figure within Salinas’ team — Jose Córdoba Montoya, a French citizen who received Mexican citizenship at the beginning of the Salinas period.

Until the end of March, Córdoba was the head of the Presidency’s Office, the second man at Los Pinos [the Mexican White House]. According to many political analysts, he was the key man in the Salinas administration. Immediately after Zedillo’s nomination, Córdoba was named by President Salinas to represent Mexico before the Interamerican Development Bank, placing him in a key position to win Clinton administration backing for Zedillo.

For several years, some democratic forces have raised their voice in favor of Córdoba’s removal from any important political office. Some very well-informed intellectuals, Luis Javier Garrido among them, have also expressed their suspicions about Córdoba having played an important role in Colosio’s assassination.

The second factor was the constant threat, which was floating in the national political atmosphere — and which President Salinas fed — about Colosio being replaced by Manuel Camacho Solís. Under the circumstances created by the Chiapas war, Colosio’s designation as PRI candidate was not popular enough inside the PRI itself. A dynamic opened up between the PRI’s main internal factions, creating problems Salinas has had to face.

Before Colosio’s murder there didn’t seem to be many possible ways in which a more democratic card could be played by President Salinas. An unlikely scenario seemed to be, if the Salinas team understood the depth of the Chiapas crisis and how it converged with the national one, that they could choose to have Salinas be remembered as one of the “great statesmen in our history” and open up a truly free electoral process. As Sergio Aguayo writes:

“[What] we need is a pact that will rapidly lead us, without any calls or pretexts, to integral democracy and that will draw us away from the ghost of civil conflict and polarization….We need trustworthy elections, but we also need to establish the division and balance of powers, to create social control mechanisms over government officials and to enlarge the culture of tolerance.”

A more likely option for Salinas was to replace his already chosen presidential successor, Colosio, with a candidate who could actually win the popular vote, thus avoiding the risk  of loosing power or jeopardizing NAFTA’s future. Only one man inside the PRI could fit this description: Manuel Camacho Solís.

With the Chiapas conflict, Camacho’s political image grew. Already when he was Mexico’s City Mayor (December 1, 1988-November 26, 1993), he was considered by many — including some important intellectuals such as Don Pablo Gonzalez Casanova — as the only conciliatory member of Salinas’ cabinet.

Just after Colosio’s designation for the presidency (“destape”), Camacho appeared before the Chambers, unable to hide his certainty that he was the chosen one. When Salinas announced to the country that the PRI had a “brilliant candidate,” Luis Donaldo Colosio, Camacho again couldn’t hide his disappointment and anger. Having accepted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs because “of my loyalty to my party and to my country,” he was unexpectedly brought back to the first row of national politics with the Chiapas war.

Camacho literally rescued the government from drowning after its extremely violent response to the EZLN declaration of war and its first attacks. Camacho’s respectful, quiet, simple, direct and even humble way of treating the EZLN, Don Samuel and the press in San Cristóbal focused the country’s attention on him, drawing them away from Colosio’s “gloomy campaign.”

Despite Camacho’s very close and long friendship with Salinas, his activism in the PRI and his very efficient but not particularly democratic five-year administration of Mexico City, his role as government negotiator in Chiapas won him the sympathy of many Mexicans all over the country. He especially won the sympathy of a large majority of those who don’t believe any more in the PRI’s party-government-state system, but who believe even less in any of the opposition parties. For these citizens, above all, what is dear to them is Mexico’s “social peace,” its status of a non-violent, maybe even non-democratic, but most of all, non-dictatorial country.

This former mayor of Mexico City, the one PRI man who had all eyes of the nation on him for the two months prior to Colosio’s assassination, made his confrontation with Colosio’s people very clear: Camacho failed to show up at the PRI’s sixty-fifth anniversary, where Colosio was to shine.

Despite Salinas’ constant declarations defending Colosio’s candidacy, the outgoing President displayed an ambiguous attitude. This was particularly evident at Camacho’s press conference in early March, where his suggestive silences and smiles throughout the conference convinced the country that despite Colosio’s official candidacy, Salinas was still keeping Camacho as a possible backup, should it prove more useful for the maintenance of the PRI’s power system.

Nevertheless, on March 22, only one day before Colosio’s trip to Baja California, Camacho unexpectedly announced to the country, “during this electoral process, I will not seek any candidacy for the presidency of the Republic nor a seat in the Senator’s Chamber. I want to be president, but not at any cost. If I have to choose between a presidential candidacy and the contribution I can make towards the peace process, I choose peace.”

On the morning of March 23, after reading Camacho’s declarations, everyone thought Colosio’s team had won the battle against Camacho’s people. Everyone thought Salinas had decided to favor Colosio against Camacho, to favor the perpetuation of fraud against what we here call “a most popular option.”

Political analysts and cartoonists filled that day’s newspapers with the idea that Camacho’s words must have been a relief to Colosio. Only a few hours later the country learned that the winner had been skillfully murdered. By the beginning of April Mexicans were learning that Colosio was professionally executed by a very powerful force.

Whose interests does this crime serve? It is not yet absolutely clear, although everything points to the PRI power system. As Adolfo Gilly remarked, for the moment “it would be irresponsible to accuse directly somebody in particular or to venture conjectures about conspiracies or guilt.”

It is clear that Colosio’s execution did not serve Camacho’s interests. The mortal blow against Colosio also shot Camacho’s political march toward the presidential chair. After Colosio’s murder, any sign of Camacho wanting the candidacy, any positive answer he might have given to an offer in this direction, would have meant in the eyes of Mexicans that he had been the intellectual author of the time. Whoever  murdered Colosio didn’t intend to have Camacho rule the country, but rather to kill him too –from the political point of view.

Three inevitable questions arise, however: Why did Camacho abandon the 1994 race? What was the “cost he didn’t want to pay” in order to win the presidency? Did Colosio’s murderers have anything to do with the fact that he withdrew so suddenly from the country’s main political contest — or did they wait for his withdrawal before they consummated their crime? Why did the timing of these two events coincide?

Where are events leading to now?

The political side of the Chiapas problem is still unresolved. Land invasions are multiplying, demonstrating to everyone that the political conflict is no longer merely between the EZLN and the government, but above all between the peasants and the landowners, cattle ranchers and forces of power.

Chiapanecs know very well that the members of the new local government are in many cases the same as those who occupied political positions in some of the former governments. The land and cattle owners have become more careful in their public declarations but still demand that the land invasions be solved according to the local judicial system.

In Chiapas there are two diametrically opposed forces: Mexico’s most top-down, racist and corrupt governing class — Central America style — and a Zapatista guerrilla movement, which has shown a discouraged and disenchanted country that political struggle can have a moral and ethical face.

I am not trying to deify the EZLN. I have heard and read stories about Zapatista comandantes taking some profit from their newly acquired power in the communities inside the Chiapas area they control. What I am talking about is a way of seeing justice, humankind and history, a way that appears clearly in the EZLN reaction to Colosio’s murder:

“We understand well the message that this crime draws in the nation’s sky. Is more of our blood necessary? Okay … that we knew. But he didn’t. Come here. Here we are, here where we were born and grew up. Here where we have a big heart that sustains us, where our dead ones and history live. Here we are, in the southeast Mexican mountains….Come and get us…we will know how to greet each one as he deserves…the bad ones and the good ones….”

In the opposite corner of the ring we find a discredited government, and an anti-democratic and extremely divided and weakened PRI. Ernesto Zedillo’s designation as the PRI presidential candidate was a shameful imposition on the country. This time the “destape” ritual reached a new low. The announcement of the new candidate wasn’t even made by the PRI’s National Executive Committee’s President, Fernando Ortiz Arana, but by some well known TV and radio reporters. This fact left Ortiz Arana a ridiculous part to play in the improvised show — confirmation of news that the media had already broadcast to the country.

In 1994 it is very unlikely that Mexicans as a whole and Chiapanec Indians and peasants in particular will react calmly to a new electoral fraud. Nevertheless that is what is going to happen on August 21. It will need to be a fraud of enormous proportions, for it is the only way Zedillo’s unpopular candidacy can win.

The questions seem endless: How will the decisions of the EZLN communities and the Chiapanec peasants land invasions live together with next August’s electoral fraud, and with the racist, chauvinist, narrow-minded and violent attitudes of the landowners and of the “autenticos coletos”? Will the future of Chiapas and that of its poor be mortgaged on behalf of the most authoritarian part, of the PRI’s reign over the country and over the administration of NAFTA? How are the foreign investors reacting to the conflict and its handling by Salinas’ PRI? What will the Clinton administration demand in exchange for the six billion dollars’ credit granted Mexico immediately following Colosio’s murder, in order to prevent the collapse of the Mexican financial market?

The next months will answer these questions, but none of the answers will be easy for the country. In any case, there is not much room to hope that they will be peaceful answers. This is not because of what some important Mexican intellectuals have called the Zapatistas’ responsibility for the outburst of violence in the country, but rather because the leaders of the PRI and the extremely powerful financial interests they represent have more than ever proven that power is more important to them than the nation’s well being.

The alternative facing Chiapas and the country today is the choice between an authoritarian state and a state based on rights.


  1. The dialogue between the EZLN and the government took place in San Cristóbal’s Cathedral between February 21-March 2, 1994. The EZLN took the proposals back to their communities for discussion. When Colosio was assassinated the EZLN, fearing that the government might use the event to mount a new offensive against them, suspended community discussions and went on alert.
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  2. The PRI was originally called the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (1924-1938), then the Partido de la Revolución Mexicana (1938-1946) and finally, from the days of Miguel Alemán Valdás’ government (1946-1952) until today, it has been the PRI, Partido Revolucionario Institucional.
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  3. In 1988, Cuauhtámoc Cárdenas, candidate of the center-left party, PRD, won the presidential election. His victory was stolen by the PRI government which, through fraud, imposed its own candidate, Lic. Carlos Salinas de Gortari, a former Budget Ministry Secretary.
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  4. Author’s note: I must point out here that the first version of this article sent to ATC one week before Colosio’s assassination, already included this last sentence.
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ATC 50, May-June 1994