Page 10


, . low-ceilinged, concrete-and-cinderblock buildings where Tres Nudos held its meeting days before. I stop here several times a day with hopes of gaining information about the prisoners; the crowd of Tres Nudos members who live in the area always has news, which I gather in rough Spanish until a boy or girl runs to get Mariano Lopez G6mez, a local teacher, to translate from Tzeltal. Today a dozen women in the local uniform of red and white striped huipiles and long skirts are talking over each other frantically. When Mariano arrives, the 45-year-old Ilaria Lopez Gomez explains that two dozen soldiers came to her house the day of the Army occupation wanting to know where her husband was if not fighting in the jungle with the Zapatistas. “I said, ‘I didn’t know,’ and they said, ‘Well if you don’t tell us we’ll kill you,'” Lopez narrates. “They were pushing me with their guns and then they said, ‘Open your house,’ and I said, ‘I can’t,’ and they made me and they came inside and surrounded me.” There’s a serious translation problem: Mariano’s interpretation is terse, and all I can make of Lopez’s testimony is her repetitive plea in heavily accented Spanish to the soldiers: “No me chinha, no me chinha,” or “No me chinga” Mexican slang that translates into, more or less, “Don’t fuck me over.” In addition, Lopez narrates a precise dialogue with Ithe soldiers, though she understands and speaks no Spanish. But three more women have nearly identical stories, and all have clearly locked themselves inside their homes out of fear in the three days since the events they describe. Given the information about military abuses to have filtered into San Cristobal, since almost 100 international human rights workers arrived after January 10, the women’s experiences sound at best typical. After speaking with residents in the nearby town of Ocosingo, Jorge Mancillas of UCLA discovered a common grave where the Army dumped 11 bodies all apparently civilians. As similar graves turned up, delegates from Physicians for Social Responsibility made it through an Army blockade sealing rural villages outside the mountain town of Altamirano. In the small community of Ejido Morelio, residents had no access to supplies for two weeks; the Army isolated the village hoping to catch members of the EZLN creeping about after nightfall. Locals told of coup de grace shootings in the central street. The roads going all directions from San Cristobal serve as maps to the Army’s misdeeds. Outside Oxchuc, a crater the size of a small bedroom threatens to swallow passing motorist and verifies reports of bombing of civilians. Nearby, a public bus, its floors covered in rain-soaked blood, bulletholed and blood-stained fatigue caps still littering the ravine behind it, sits in the middle of the street. The Mexican and American press widely reported the corpses of 14 adults and one child discovered beneath this bus the official story being that the Army caught and slaughtered these Zapatistas as they retreated from Oxchuc. But according to Father Antonio Garnica of Oxchuc, two civilians, a bus driver named Pablo and his son, also died on the bus. “The Zapatistas came into town and asked people to bring them in their trucks and buses, and to join them, join the army to fight against the government,” Garnica recalls. “They opened the stores and told people to take food. People were scared. It wasn’t just the bus, but other people were in the same situation. Some people came back here walking two days.” With its windshield completely knocked out by bullets and every seat riddled with holes, the bus is an effective reminder from the Army to the locals: This could happen to you. It is a message underscored by the presence of soldiers as young as 16 at Army checkpoints a kilometer down the road, unconsciously pointing G3s and AK47s at passing journalists and peasants. Campesinos, in widebrimmed Nortefio hats and often carrying machetes strapped to their backs like rifles, file out of public buses a hundred at a time for Army shakedownsas if there were obvious distinguishing characteristics between members of the EZLN and common Chiapas peasants. Not that the Army necessarily cares, a point Mexico’s Proceso made by publishing excerpts from the military’s 358page antiguerrilla manual. Drawn up at the climax of Mexico’s radical student movement of 1968 which ended with the massacre of hundreds at Tlatelolco Plazathe manual is apparently still in use. “…[I]f a car with enemy officials comes by,” the manual reads, “don’t hesitate to throw the grenade, even if our best friend is driving the car. We have to keep in mind that if our best friend is a patriot, he will pray with his soul to die before being forced to serve the enemy. If not, all the better, for then we have one traitor less.” Manuel is a 35-year-old Tzeltal campesino who lives on a 30-by40-meter plot of ancestral land in the hills behind Oxchuc with the eight members of his immediate family. As in much of rural Mexico, Manuel’s land was granted by the Mexican government shortly after the 1910 Mexican Revolution. Land partitiohs, overworked soil and a subsequent reliance on heavy fertilization have rendered the plot barely workable. “Without fertilizer,” says Manuel, “it’s nothing.” The local variety of political corruption complicates matters further. As a member of Tres Nudos, Manuel is denied interest-free government agricultural loans supposedly available to all of Mexico’s rural farmers. Instead, to eke corn and beans from this intransigent earth, Manuel participates in a loan cooperative to buy fertilizer. The members of his group have also petitioned the government to bring roads, electricity, running water and a school. Getting no response, 36 members pitched in 20 pesos apiece–about three days’ workplus labor to construct a school building. “We put this up in six days,” Manuel says, referring to the simple structure. “If we were working for six pesos a day, multiply that by the 36 men who worked, and imagine how much this would bring in.” Meanwhile, Manuel’s community faces the inevitable shrinking of the agricultural pie. “It’ s less land each time you pass it down,” Francisco Gomez Sanchez, the Tres Nudos leader, told me before he disappeared. “In 10 or 15 years we’ll be twice as poor. We need the government to buy us landgood land, not necessarily a ranch, but not mountainous lands that won’t produce anything. With eight hectares my son and I could make it work. I have one hectare \(two-and-a-halfchildren. I can’t kick my children off the land. What will happen in 20 years?” Because of the anemic agricultural yield among so many Chiapas peasants, the state ranks off the charts in almost every indicator of social welfare: The government has designated 34 percent of Chiapas as regions of “high poverty.” In 1992, 15,000 residents of Chiapas died of hunger. The many who supplement their farming with wage work are the lowest-paid workers in Mexico. Land has also been the source of continuing tension: A quarter of all Mexico’s land disputes, which often turn violent as peasants and ranchers vie for acreage, take place in Chiapas. The future looks no better. NAFTA and economic integration with the United States should enable competition from U.S. agribusiness to push local corn out of the regional market; the prices of corn and coffee have already fallen 50 percent over the last five years. Other nearby communities face the even more stunning blow of Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s 1992 repeal of Act 27 of Mexico’s Agrarian Code a provision that was the most significant advance of Emiliano Zapata’s 1910 peasant revolution and enabled landless peasants to bring privatized lands into Mexico’s ejido system of land distribution. “The government could give us some economic support, but at its root the economic situation is not getting better,” says Armando, a 27-year-old Tzeltal farmer who unconvincingly tells me he has no affiliation with the guerrillas. “People can see it. At some point these organizations, the EZLN, will erupt in armed uprising. From what I’ve read of their declarations, it seems it’s the only road left to us. If the state doesn’t give the indigenous people and people in general concrete, profound changes, movements like this will arise. People will seek liberation. It’s a just struggle.” THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21