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LAS AMERICAS The Milagro Weed Field Wars BY JOHN ROSS La cucaracha, la cucaracha, Ya no puede caminar, Porque no tiene, porque le falta, Marijuana que fumar! Marching Song of “La Cucaracha” Aldama, Chiapas, Mexico Out at Rancho Nuevo, Mexico’s U.S.-sponsored War on Drugs was gearing up. At the military base south of San Cristobal de las Casas, which has so often been in the eye of the Zapatista hurricane, the press had been summoned to accompany an impressive detachment of Mexican troops: two generals, eight operation chiefs, forty-two officers, 451 combatready soldiers, forty military police officers and elements of the crack GAFE unit that trains at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. We’re all set for a late-night foray into Los Altos the surrounding highlands where the rebel Zapatista Army of National Liberation has its greatest influence. The object of this midnight mission: the destruction of fifty-eight scraggly marijuana plants scattered alongside a dirt road between the Tzotzil Indian villages of Aldama and Santa Marta. Suddenly, as the thirty-seven vehicle convoy navigates the narrow switchbacks down to Aldama, E.Z.L.N. sympathizers from neighboring communities appear in the high beams, lined up across the road in angry knots. “Go home you sons of Satan!” scream Tzotzil women at the bewildered drug warriors. One man, masked by a red bandanna and identifying himself only as “Jacinto,” plants himself in the middle of the road and accuses the military of wanting to establish a military base in Aldama. “You only bring us problems. Go away! You are frightening our children,” he shouts up at General Jorge Isaac Jimenez of Zona Militar 31. “We have come to destroy the enervantes that are bad for your children,” insists the General, a machine gun slung across his chest. The word “enervantes,” a government euphemism for drugs, seems to confuse Jacinto, until the military man explains. “We’re not eating these plants. We’re against them,” the rebel finally responds. “We will cut them down ourselves.” But General Jiminez is adamant: “We cannot go away it is our duty to combat drugs.” Even as a furious old Indian woman confronts the general, pounding on his chest, he gives the order to advance. Military police lock their electronic shields together, emitting a spooky shower of sparks in the dark, whip out canisters of tear gas, and push forward to open the road. Stumbling around blindly in the acrid fog, the Indians succeed in regrouping in the center of the small town, hurling stones and dirt and clumps of grass at the determined troops. At length the second battle of Aldama ends in a handshake between Jacinto and General Jimenez, who gives his word as an officer and a gentleman to rip out the plants and leave without arresting anyone. But the confrontation is the most serious clash between the Zapatistas and security forces since ten were killed at El Bosque during the attempted dismantlement of an E.Z.L.N. “autonomous municipality” last spring. It’s also a forceful reminder that, despite the intense politicization of events in Chiapas, this dispute is still essentially a conflict between the Mexican military and a rebellious civil population. Despite broad evidence that the fiftyeight, twenty-foot-tall marijuana plants allegedly spotted during overflights and subsequently cut down and burned by the soldiers were being cultivated by farmers affiliated with PRI \(the Institutional Revolutionary Party that has controlled the Mexgovernment, and its supporters in the press leveled an accusing finger at the E.Z.L.N. The official report filed on the incident accused the Zapatistas of having delayed the convoy long enough to allow the escape of “the narco-traffickers or narco-planters.” Emilio Rabasa, President Ernesto Zedillo’ s lonely peace coordinator in Chiapas who has yet to meet with the Zapatistas, lost little time in calling a no-questions-allowed press conference to demand the E.Z.L.N.’s return to the negotiating table to avoid future confrontations during drug raids. And TV Azteca and Televisa ratcheted up public indignation at the “narco-Zapatistas.” As in most big-lie campaigns orchestrated by the government and its paid-for press, the opposite of what was being said was closer to the truth. Rather than being willing dupes of the narco-lords or narco-lords themselves the E.Z.L.N. fights its own diligent War on Drugs. In a January 17 communiqu from the E.Z.L.N.’s Clandestine Indigenous Revoruling council reminded the press that Zapatista base communities “by their own decision” do not permit the cultivation, trafficking, or consumption of drugs a position made abundantly clear by banners outside rebel villages, warning violators of the consequences of drug use. Visitors to such communities are similarly warned and searched for arms _ and drugs \(even preIntelligence agencies have attempted to associate the E.Z.L.N. with drug trafficking for several years. Auditing citizen band broadcasts in the Lacandon jungle in 1992 and 1993, Mexican military intelligence and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency claim that they thought they were intercepting transmissions between traffickers. Even the narco gangs who sold the E.Z.L.N. a small arsenal thought they were narcos. Subcomandante Marcos, the E.Z.L.N.’s quixotic spokesperson, complained to La Jomada’s Blanche Petrick in his first-ever public interview in 1994. Marcos also revealed that the E.Z.L.N.’s surprise capture of seven Chiapas county seats that same year was designed to preempt a military offensive against the guerrilleros under government’s “Permanent Campaign Against Narco-Traffic.” In response to these early associations with the drug trade, the E.Z.L.N. has actively campaigned against drug and alcohol use in its communities evils they associate with the type of military encampments 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 2, 1999 re.,111. ,