Mexico: Peace Movement Meets Zapatistas

The Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, headed by Mexican writer Javier Sicilia, travelled through southeastern Mexico and reached the heart of the territory controlled by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), bringing a message of solidarity.

(IPS) – The Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, headed by Mexican writer Javier Sicilia, travelled through southeastern Mexico and reached the heart of the territory controlled by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), bringing a message of solidarity.

Sicilia and other relatives of victims of the wave of violence triggered by the militarisation of the war on drugs by the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderón visited the “autonomous community” of Oventic, in the southern state of Chiapas, Friday Sep. 16.

The community is part of the territory under the influence of the EZLN, guerrillas who took up arms in 1994 in Chiapas to demand democratic reforms and greater recognition of indigenous rights. After two weeks of skirmishes with the army, a truce was agreed. The barely-armed group remains in political and administrative control of part of the state, where communities are organised autonomously under local councils.

No Zapatista commanders took part in the meeting, but the peace movement activists were welcomed by the Junta de Buen Gobierno (Council of Good Government). The meeting lasted for over three hours. Five EZLN representatives listened to the victims’ testimonies, but made no statement.

“They have their own methods and sense of timing. The main thing is that it was possible to hold this meeting,” one of the coordinators of the peace movement, Pietro Ameglio of the Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ), told IPS.

On May 8, when a national march convened by Sicilia arrived in the Zócalo, Mexico City’s central square, the Zapatistas held a demonstration in the southeastern town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in support of the peace movement.

Since Sicilia’s son was murdered Mar. 28, he has become a symbol and leader of a burgeoning movement of families of victims of violence.

“The government betrayed you, and we, without realising what you had shown us, fell back into the state’s game of government corruption and the pretence of a democratic transition. As a result of that forgetfulness, the social fabric of the nation was torn even more,” Sicilia told the Zapatistas in Oventic.

In the village of Oventic, where men and women were wearing face masks to avoid being identified, signs proclaimed it Zapatista territory and stated that “the autonomous local and municipal authorities have decided to prohibit the passage of illegal vehicles, the cultivation of drug crops, and violent assaults.”

“We are in safe territory here,” said Sicilia as he emerged from the meeting. “If only we could let modernity flourish, rooted in the traditions of social organisations, this would be a great country.”

According to official statistics and social organisations, 40,000 people have been killed, 10,000 have disappeared and 700,000 have been displaced since President Calderón got the army involved in the war on organised crime in January 2007.

Sicilia has travelled over 6,000 km on the way to Chiapas – first in the Peace Caravan that journeyed north and arrived in Ciudad Juárez, on the border with the United States, on Jun. 10, and now in this caravan to the south of the country – to gather testimonies about the violence.

Mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters of Mexicans who were murdered or disappeared have joined his cause, seeking a halt to the military strategy for combating crime.

The activists on the south-bound caravan have seen evidence that the wave of brutal drug-related murders is linked with structural violence, endemic poverty, and private interests that have clashed with indigenous people.

On Sep. 16, the anniversary of Mexico’s independence from Spain, Sicilia replaced the traditional “Grito de Dolores” independence proclamation with five minutes of silence during a march held under torrential rain in San Cristóbal de las Casas, the main city in the Chiapas highlands.

The dozens of victims’ relatives who had come south with the caravan gathered in the town’s theatre along with local indigenous people, who gave their testimonies about harassment by military and paramilitary forces and the plunder of their lands by private interests.

Numerous social organisations based in Chiapas gave their support to the peace movement’s National Pact, launched May 8 in Mexico City. They also criticised reforms to the National Security Law that are being debated in the lower house of Congress that would, among other things, expand the president’s powers to use the army.

Sicilia demanded that the government respect the autonomy of indigenous peoples and disarm paramilitary groups. “They seem to be a pretext to fight organised crime, but they want to militarise the country and criminalise indigenous peoples,” he said.

Meanwhile, a peace movement commission met with survivors, relatives and friends of the 45 Tzotzil Indians murdered Dec. 22, 1997 in Acteal, 70 km from San Cristóbal.

The commission was headed by Julián Le Barón, from Chihuahua state, who has become one of the pillars of the peace movement.

“Acteal is a symbol for all victims; these people are an example to all of us of what we should do, that is, not ask of anyone what we are not prepared to do ourselves,” Le Barón told IPS.

The activists were welcomed with live music, fireworks, the ringing of the chapel bell and more than 500 indigenous people carrying white balloons, who had waited in the rain for over seven hours for the caravan’s vehicles to arrive.

“The path to peace with justice and dignity is unity and conscientious struggle, because the army and the so-called National Security Law will only create more terror, and the spiral of violence in Mexico will never end,” indigenous members of Las Abejas, a social organisation in Acteal, said in a communiqué.

“Never again will our voices and hearts be silenced, nor will our heart and memory forget crimes, because our dead have faces and names, and those responsible for their violent deaths also have names: they are those who are up above, pretending to be the ‘rulers’ of Mexico,” the statement said.

On Sept. 16, the peace movement also held a ceremony in the Chiapas town of Ocosingo, and a march in the city of Palenque, where the caravan was received with candles and singing.

The Peace Caravan continued on its way over the weekend through the southern states of Tabasco and Veracruz. Sicilia is due to meet with President Calderón on Wednesday.