Capitalism, war and counterinsurgency in Chiapas III
By: Gaspar Morquecho
In the jungles and mountains of the Mexican southeast 46,000 indigenous families are resisting the most prolonged counterinsurgency war in the recent history of Mexico. They are grandparents, men and women, youths, girls and boys of four generations of those that a half century ago were abandoning the path and long walk of resistance per se to construct another, the Resistance for its own sake… The task was not simple… In the Chiapas of the Indians, war has been systematic, practically permanent.
The war strategy that comes from far away… a brief summary
We can place one part of the War against the People in Mexico a half-century ago. The workers and teachers experienced it in 1958. As students, we experienced brutal repression of the Student Movement in the Plaza of the Three Cultures in 1968. The CIA, the federal government and their armed forces were the intellectual and material actors of the massacre. In the 1970s, the federal government and the armed forces created the Halcones (Falcons) paramilitary group that was present near the Mexico City International Airport the day that a group of exiled Mexicans returned from Chile. They attacked us on two occasions: the first near the Casco de Santo Tomás, and the second in San Cosme, where they murdered dozens of students on June 10, 1971.
Those State crimes encouraged and gave way to a growing number of movements and armed groups in Mexico. In the mountains of Guerrero, Lucio Cabañas commanded the armed forces of the Party of the Poor. On August 6, 1969, on 5 de Mayo Street in Monterrey, N.L., a group of 7 persons founded the National Liberation Forces (FLN, their initials in Spanish), three more witnessed the act. The Cuban Revolution, the guerrillas and the figure of Che, the National Liberation Movements in Asia, Africa and in Latin America and the revolutionary wars in Central America were the referents that spirited the armed struggle in Mexico. The United States and the USSR were bottled up in World War III, the Chinese communists were confronted with the Russians, and the Yankees were headed to the defeat in Vietnam. To guard its backyard patio, the US imposed the dictatorships, gorilla governments in Latin America.
Within that context, the government of Luis Echeverría Álvarez (LEA) adopted the Counterinsurgent War Strategy in which were conjured up, alternatively, the Dirty War (military and paramilitary violence), the Democratic Opening and the programmes derived from the Social Policy. LEA’s international policy was characterized by the defence of the Sovereignty of Nations, Self-determination of the Peoples and political asylum to the persecuted from the military dictatorships. In that way, LEA projected a democratic, humanitarian and Third World image.
With the Dirty War, the federal government and its armed forces disarticulated and/or annihilated the main body of the armed movements, urban and rural, in Mexico. The result of the Dirty War was 10,000 disappeared persons. In Chiapas, the federal government militarized and populated the jungle and the border with Guatemala with Indians, and started the construction of the Border Highway. With those measures, LEA’s government constructed El Yunque for containing the Guatemalan guerrillas.
In the region of Los Altos (the Highlands), with the majority of the population being indigenous, the Social Policy was concretized in the Socioeconomic Development Programme of Los Altos of Chiapas (PRODESCH); a preventive programme for social containment. United Nations agencies such as FAO and UNICEF intervened in it, and the three levels of government. The PRODESCH was a product of the global policy designed by McNamara at the World Bank, whose objective was: “avoid the political costs of a rebellion.”
Within that context of war, the National Liberation Forces (FLN, their initials in Spanish) were discovered on February 13, 1974. The police were looking for guerrillas of the Liga Comunista 23 de Septiembre (September 23 Communist League) who had murdered the impresario Eugenio Garza Sada one year before. That operation led them to an FLN safe house in Monterrey. They arrested and tortured two of its members. On February 14, the Mexican Army attacked the headquarters in Nepantla. Five combatants died there and two were detained.
The soldiers found data in the Nepantla house about the foco established in Rancho El Chilar in the municipio of Ocosingo, Chiapas. Later, 3,000 federal Army members carried out Operation Diamante. Between February and March they extended a circle to locate, occupy and destroy the camp of the FLN’s first Emiliano Zapata guerrilla nucleus in Ocosingo, Chiapas. Seven combatants were murdered and disappeared: Elisa Irina Sáenz, Raúl Pérez Gasque, Carlos Vives, Juan Guichard Gutiérrez, Federico Carballo Subiaur, César Germán Yáñez and Fidelino Velázquez. After a very complicated decade, the FLN was in the position to found the second guerrilla nucleus in the Lacandón Jungle.
Meanwhile, the Programmes to Combat Poverty were grouped together with the violent repression against the indigenous and campesino movements in Chiapas in which the PRI governments, the federal Army, the police and the private armies of the ranchers known as Guardias Blancas (White Guards) systematically participated.
Here are some cases: 1974, 40 soldiers of the 46th battalion burned 29 huts in the Colonia San Francisco in Altamirano municipality. 1975, Tzotzil leaders of Venustiano Carranza were murdered by pistoleros of the ranchers Augusto Castellanos and Carmen Orantes; 1976, confrontation for several hours between the federal army and comuneros  of Venustiano Carranza. The result was 2 comuneros dead, 3 injured, 13 detained, 6 women raped and several dead soldiers; 1977, the federal Army extended a military circle in Simojovel, Huitiupán and Sabanilla, 16 ejidos were evicted and the schools were converted into barracks; 1978, in Ocosingo, the Army evicted the indigenous residents of Nuevo Momón, destroyed and burned 150 homes, resulting in 2 Tzeltals dead and 6 tortured; 1979, paid gunmen carried out attacks on campesinos of Venustiano Carranza and Villa de las Rosas and murdered 7 campesinos; 1980, encirclement, intimidation and military manoeuvres in charge of 9,000 soldiers in the Tojolabal municipio of Las Margaritas; 1981, 45,000 soldiers effectuated counter-guerrilla manoeuvres and simulations in the Chol region – Tila and Sabanilla -, in the Lacandón Jungle and on the border with Guatemala; 1982, finqueros and police attack the Tzeltals of Flor de Cacao village; 1983, the indigenous caciques of Chalchihuitán organized the massacre of 11 indigenous and the destruction and burning of homes in the village of Tzakiuc’um.
In that scenario of Social Policy and a war against the peoples, Bishop Samuel Ruiz and the pastoral agents had opted “for the poor among the poor.” Committed people accompanied their resistance and their walking in the Construction of the Kingdom of God. They did not walk blindly. The 1974 Indigenous Congress had profiled a programme of struggle that would be in effect for the next two decades. A programme that guided their accompaniment and the movement of the peoples: Land, health care, education and housing. In the midst of the war against the indigenous and non-indigenous peoples of Chiapas, the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas was found also among the communist, revolutionary, political military social activist organizations that forged the Kiptic ta Lecubtesel, the Independent Central of Workers and Campesinos (CIOAC), the Organización Campesina Emiliano Zapata (OCEZ), the ARIC Union of Unions, Solidaridad Campesina Magisterial (SOCAMA) and the Organización Indígena de Los Altos de Chiapas (ORIACH).
On November 17, 1983 the FLN finally established, after five attempts, the Second Emiliano Zapata Guerrilla Nucleus in the Lacandón Jungle. They came with two decades of experience and the teachings that the hard blow of February 1974 had taught them. The jungle, the mountains and the canyons gave them cover. Nevertheless, the social movements were the best cover in the decade for the silent accumulation of forces. With intelligence, they moved under and among the fallen leaves of the social movements, and “they put a trigger to hope.” They had in their favour the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution and the wave of revolutionary wars in Guatemala and El Salvador. The FLN would resolve the challenges that various changes in the juncture imposed within the international ambit and their national and local impact, the differences between the groupings that opted for the mass movement and that of arms and the changes of direction among the pastoral agents and their bishop.
At the beginning of the 1980s, the federal government intervened decidedly in the peace processes in Central America: Contadora Group (1983), in the Mexico Accord prior to the de-mobilization of the Guatemalan guerrilla in (1991); in 1992, the El Salvador Peace Accords were signed in the Chapultepec Castle. Those peace processes fell upon the orientation of the San Cristóbal Diocese and fundamentally estranged it from accompanying the rebels who were preparing for war in the jungle and the mountains of Chiapas. The signs of the times had changed. For sure, the withdrawal from the communities was no minor thing.
Programmes derived from the Social Policy continued systematically in the state. If with LEA (1970), the PRODESCH was the point of departure for the preventive programmes and for social containment in Chiapas, López Portillo created the General Coordination of the National Plan for Depressed Zones and Marginalized Groups (COPLAMAR) (1976). With Miguel de la Madrid the price of a package of basic products was subsidized (1982); and Carlos Salinas designed the National Solidarity Programme – PRONASOL (1988-1994).
On the way to the armed uprising
While the FLN’s guerrilla nucleus moved like the fish in the water, we have to take into account that the waters were not quiet; they were turbulent. Other cases: 1984, ranchers and state police attacked Indigenous in Simojovel. Eight people were injured. In 1985, 2,000 police, 35 ranchers and police evicted housed peons from the Medellín and La Soledad fincas who were demanding lost wages. In 1986, Judicial police and Enrique Zardain’s bosses burned and levelled for the second time 50 houses in Muc’ulum Bachajón in the municipality of Chilón. In 1987, caciques and police burned the town of La Independencia in the municipality of Ocosingo. In 1988, the police kidnapped four campesinos from the CIOAC in Las Margaritas. In 1989, the rancher Roberto Zenteno murdered PMS local deputy and former leader of the CIOAC Sebastián Pérez Núñez. In 1989, Arturo Albores, the founder of the OCEZ was murdered. In 1990, the San Cristóbal Diocese denounced that in the absence of Joel Padrón, the parish priest of Simojovel, several unknown persons set fire to the Parish House. In 1991, ten police detained Father Joel Padrón. He was accused of rebellion, robbery, dispossession, conspiracy, carrying illegal weapons, criminal association, an apology for crimes, threats and gang activity… The priest’s arrest was directed at the Bishop. Patrocinio did that. In 1992, Ocosingo cattle ranchers founded the Union for Citizen Defence in order to defend against the “destabilization” that the pastoral agents promoted. In 1993, the commanders of the XXXI Military Zone reported that an Air Force captain and an Army lieutenant were murdered and later burned on lands of San Isidro el Ocotal in the municipality of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. In May of that year, the federal Army discovered a guerrilla training camp and clashed with a group of combatants in the Sierra de Corralchén.
In 1993, the presence of the guerrilla in Chiapas was no longer hidden. The aggressiveness of PRONASOL in the state was notable. Patrocinio González Garrido had increased the budget for the indigenous municipios and hardened the escalation against the movements, social organizations and, above all, against the Diocese of Samuel Ruiz and the pastoral agents. Carlos Salinas dedicated a Day of Solidarity to Chiapas and inaugurated three hospitals; one of them in Guadalupe Tepeyac…
Originally Published in Spanish by POZOL COLECTIVO
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Friday, October 16, 2015