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A San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas Peter Robertson LAS AMERICAS Zapping Free Trade BY JOHN ROSS Mexico and the European Union came together in Lisbon on March 23 to sign what they describe as the most progressive commercial treaty ever forged between a developing nation and a first-world trade block. But the TL.C.U.E., as its known in Spanish, may not take effect July 1 unless the Mexican government makes major human rights improvements in the conflict-ridden state of Chiapas. The T.L.C.U.E. is the first trade treaty signed by the European Union and a Latin American country. It has been approved by the Mexican Senate, the European Parliament, the Counc” of Europe, and thirteen of the E.U.’s fifteen members, with Luxembourg poised to add its name to the list in April. But Italy’s left-leaning lower house has yet to ratify the treaty. The Italian legislators cite their concerns over human-rights abuses Mexican military and paramilitary forces are committing against civilian sympathizers of the Zapatista Army of National house’s refusal to come on board \(the Italian ples important T.L.C.U.E. chapters dealing with investment and services. Italian opposition to the Mexican government’s Chiapas policies dates back to the first day of the Zapatista rebellion. On January 1, 1994, the Mexican rebels rose up just as another trade pact the North American Free Trade Agreement had gone into effect. That day, left-wing Italian journalists vacationing in the highland city of San Cristobal de las Casas obtained the first interviews with the E.Z.L.N.’s quixotic spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos, and broke the story to the world. Since then, Italian delegations have worked in Chiapas as human rights observers and solidarity workers. They have not always been welcome: 140 members of the ;Basta Ya! support Mexico in May 1999, for purportedly intervening in domestic political affairs. Among the deportees were several members of the Italian parliament. Further cementing ties between the rebels and Italian partisans was the 1997 appearance of a Zapatista couple in Venice, where the E.Z.L.N. was awarded that city’s Golden Lion medallion. During five years of negotiations between Mexico and the E.U., the central issue of contention has been the political chapter of the proposed accord. That chapter includes a “democracy clause,” which mandates free and fair elections, and respect for human rights, as conditions of commercial association. Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo almost walked away from the agreement two years ago, claiming the clause is an unfair restraint on free trade. He relented, and an interim agreement was signed in 1998. The left in Europe seems to be of two 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 14, 2000