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LAS AMERICAS Blood, Coffee, and Black Wind BY JOHN ROSS San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico In an angry swirl of rainbow-hued huipiles, embroidered blouses, and red ribbons, the girls and young women joined hands and marched right up to the advancing soldiers “Get out of here you men with faces of black dogs,” the women shouted “Get out of our house” As the women pushed against them, the startled soldiers fingered their automatic weapons nervously. Stone-faced officers ordered them to stand firm. The dateline for this stand-off was San Cristobal de Las Casas, but it could have been any one of a dozen villages in southeastern Chi apas during the first week in January, exactly four years after the Zapatista Army of lion against the government. “Sakam’chen de Los Pobres,” “San Pedro Michoacan,” “Ernesto `Che’ Guevara,” “10 de Abril,” “El Municipio Autonomo de Polho” each names a village where a confrontation between Mexican troops and villagers took place, in the wake of the horrific December 22 mass killing of forty-six Zapatista supporters. The murdered were mostly women and children at Acteal, in the highland autonomous municipality of Polho. These self-declared autonomous enclaves were under attack before the Acteal massacre, but the pressure has in fact been increased considerably since December 22. “Our mission is to dissuade illegally named authorities from committing acts they are not legally empowered to undertake,” read one bulletin issued by the Secretary of Defense in early January. The wording was a thinly veiled reference to the officials of the autonomous communities. Although the victims of the December 22 massacre were in fact residents of an autonomous community, the autonondas have been cited repeatedly by high-level officials of the Zedillo administration as themselves the root cause of the murders at Acteal. Attorney General Jorge Madrazo called the municipalities “illicit and anti-constitutional.” Before President Zedillo removed him from his position on January 3, Interior Secretary Emilio Chuayffet said, “The autonomous municipalities are a source of per manent conflict.” Julio Ruiz Ferro, the former governor of Chiapas, who is now under investigation for his role in the massacre, was more direct: “The problem began with the autonomous municipality. The Zapatistas formulated illegal laws and regulations.” For President Ernesto Zedillo, since the San Andres Accords were signed in February of 1996, “autonomy” has been the most problematic variable in the tortured Chiapas equation. The President has openly warned of the “balkanization” of Mexico, should the accords become law. Yet the San Andres agreements were signed by Zedillo’s own negotiator, Marco Antonio Bernal tor in the President’s party. The agreement would grant majority Indian municipalities administrative control of their own affairs, allow for the selection of local officials by traditional means, provide limited local control of financing and natural resource exploitation, guarantee the principle of territoriality, and recognize the reality that Mexico is a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic nation. But Zedillo subsequently vetoed a legislative draft of the forty-page agreement prepared by the congressional commission that oversaw the negotiations. “These are times of black wind,” said Margarito Ruiz. “Acteal is proof that the cost of building autonomy is very high.” Ruiz is a Tojolabal Mayan leader who for the past decade has been a pioneer in the autonomy movement. He does not agree that the autonomfas are illegal. “Whenever we take back what is ours our land whenever we practice Mayan medicine, or invoke our justice system, or select our own leaders by our uses and customs, they say we are outside the law. And they are right because they will not let us. in. We are not trying to separate from Mexico. If we were, we wouldn’t be demanding a change in the constitution. We would be writing our own.” – “It is not the Indians who want to balkanize Mexico. It is Mexico that has balkanized the Indians,” wrote Carlos Fuentes, Mexico’s premier novelist, in the daily La Jornada. Finally, almost two years after the agreements were signed, the EZLN grew weary of waiting for Zedillo to reconsider his objections and simply declared its own autonomous jurisdictions. “The legal foundation of these municipalities is San Andres,” Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos told the government. “But their legitimacy comes from the communities themselves.” Thus far, seventeen autonomous enclaves have been established. Some have been carved out of Ocosingo, the border of Guatemala, and which until the 1994 Zapatista rebellion was the exclusive domain of the Institutional Revoprivate armies of “white guards.” Other autonomfas came into being through local elections in 1995, under the principles of “uses and customs.” And some are remnants of the “government in rebellion,” declared by opposition gubernatorial candidate Amado Avendario after he lost the fraudulent 1994 governor’s race to the PRI candidate. Paralyzed by government and military pressure and a chronic lack of funds, the autonotnias are unevenly developed. Some exist in name only, while others have used JANUARY 30, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19