Why the Zapatistas Are Preparing for War - The Color Red, "26 Communities" and La Otra
By Mary Ann Tenuto Sánchez
The Center of Political Analysis and Social and Economic Investigations, AC (CAPISE, its initials in Spanish) has documented 56 military bases and/or camps surrounding indigenous Zapatista territory in Chiapas. Regular Army troops in those military positions have been replaced by elite special forces, which CAPISE thinks may constitute a sign of war. CAPISE also talks about the 27,000 acres of land claimed by the EZLN after being abandoned by their landowners in 1994 which are now in danger of violent eviction because Mexico's Agrarian Reform agency is granting legal title to those same lands to antiZapatista groups, often referred to as paramilitary.
La Garrucha, however, is in the Patihuitz Cañada (Canyon) east of the city of Ocosingo in the Lacandón Jungle, a region with a unique history. This writer was traveling with a group that visited other cañadas in this same region after the Women's Encuentro and chatted with its residents about this issue. These conversations called to mind a somewhat secretive expropriation of land by the federal government with potentially devastating consequences for the Cañadas.
The expropriated lands consist of eight sections. One section borders on Amador Hernández, which some may remember for its brave and prolonged resis-tance to the Army in 1999. At the time of that standoff, Subcomandante Marcos said the region was rich in oil. The entire area of eight sections has a wealth of biodiversity, forests containing precious woods, unparalleled natural beauty and an abundant supply of uncontaminated fresh water in the form of white water rivers, natural springs and aquifers. It also has many Other Campaign supporters, both Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas.
Sometime between 1950 and 1960, an exodus of indigenous people into the sparsely settled Cañadas of the Lacandón Jungle began. Some went in order to establish new settlements and escape the extremely harsh life of exploitation as peons on the fincas (estates). Others were no longer needed on the fincas as land use changed from cash crops to cattle ranching, a less labor intensive business. The lowly-paid farm workers were turned loose without land, money or homes. They went in search of land on which to settle and grow their food. The new Jungle settlements founded by the colonists began to apply for ejido title to their lands under Article 27 of the new Mexican Constitution. Even-tually, some obtained title to the lands they had settled. Others were not so fortunate because the process of obtaining title was often backlogged for many years in government red tape and bureaucracy.
The settlers faced incredible obstacles. Most were subsistence farmers. There were few schools and no health care services. The new communities had no electricity or safe drinking water, no sewage disposal. The region had few roads, and those which existed were deeply rutted dirt trails, making access to nearby cities where they could sell their cash crops and purchase their supplies extremely difficult. In other words, the settlers were impoverished and ignored by the federal and state governments in so far as those governments did not extend public services to them.
In response to both the presidential decree and in order to collectively overcome the economic obstacles they faced, on December 14, 1975, the settlers in the Cañadas to the east of Ocosingo, formed the Union of Ejidos Quiptic Ta Lecubtesel (United for Our Strength, in Tzeltal). Quiptic's demands were: 1) regularization (legalization) of land tenancy; 2) opposition to taxes imposed by the government for services they did not provide; and 3) opposition to fines for planting their milpa (cornfield) or cutting firewood for cooking. The first demand and that which united Quiptic from the beginning was to legalize ownership of "the 26 communities" established before the Lacandón Community was created and which fell inside its boundaries. Quiptic maintained a militant stance despite wanting to work with government programs and advisors to commercialize their products and obtain credit. The reason for the militancy was the precarious tenancy of "the 26 communities" affected by the presidential Decree of the Lacandon Community, over which hung the threat of eviction.
Now, according to the report in La Jornada, the federal government has expropriated lands which 15 of those 26 communities use and work. Currently, several indigenous organizations, including the EZLN and the various ARIC and UU groupings, inhabit the lands involved. The expropriation is a direct provo-cation to the EZLN, as well as to the campesino organizations that struggled for many years to legally own and work these lands. It raises the threat of more violent evictions like those of San Manuel and Buen Samaritano.
In our conversations with residents of the Cañadas, we learned that government agents are visiting the region and making known government intentions to expel communities pursuant to the May 2007 decree. One of our sources told us that this is like waving a red flag in front of a bull and, consequently, that the region's residents and their social organizations are uniting to fight against the government's plan to evict them.
Indeed, not long after these interviews, a press release appeared on the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center's web page, denouncing the expropriation and reporting on a meeting in Amador Hernández of 640 delegates from the communities and organizations throughout the Cañadas.