Mexico: The False Narco-Smear Against the Zapatistas

The rapid-fire sequence of communiqués in recent days "from somewhere in the mountains of the Mexican southeast" by Subcomandante Marcos in the name of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials), especially the Monday communiqué that announced that the indigenous rebels of Chiapas had called a "Red Alert," has placed various actors on all sides on tenterhooks.

My emailbox runneth over with pleas for "more information" or to explain "what is really happening" and I realize how cynical news consumers have become. Society is not used to newsmakers who do what they say, and that, alone, makes the Zapatistas difficult for many to understand. My response is: Read the communiques! They're self-explanatory. I'll place links to English translations of the recent Zapatista comms below the jump.

On the other hand, governments, unlike the Zapatistas, never do what they say and rarely say what they do. The Zapatista "Red Alert" comes on the heels of a massive redeployment of Mexican military troops surrounding the 38 Autonomous Municipalities and 1,111 or so villages that openly declare themselves to be in rebellion and self-government with the Zapatistas.

The troop movements in Chiapas, in fact, are related to President Vicente Fox's new "Mexico Seguro" ("Safe Mexico") simulation of an anti-drug campaign... Perhaps government military commanders in Chiapas, fearing redeployment to someplace truly dangerous for them like Nuevo Laredo (where a military convoy was ambushed and shot at by local police earlier this month) are just trying to "look busy" to justify their continued vacation way down south in scenic Chiapas. And that's why the Army made a (demonstrably false) claim that it found some marijuana plants last week in Zapatista territory. In any case, whatever the motives, the behavior of the Armed Forces in Chiapas in recent days has backfired and led to a crisis, now, in Mexico's southernmost border state, too.

The Zapatista Communiqués Speak for Themselves

Here are links to the Zapatista communiqués of the past week, in more or less chronological order:

"The Impossible Geometry of Power in Mexico"

...this is so far available only in Spanish. Dated "in the sixth month of 2005," it is a scathing (and poetic) indictment, by name, of each of Mexico's three major political parties (PRI, PAN, and PRD) and every one of their national leaders, from Vicente Fox to Roberto Madrazo to Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Cuahtémoc Cárdenas. The communiqué openly calls on Civil Society to pay less attention to the simulated democracy of "power from above" as embodied in the upcoming 2006 presidential campaign, and more to the legitimate grievances of the movements from below...

Then, dated June 19, came the communiqué that placed everyone at the edges of their seats. This one, translated by Irlandesa, is available in English..

"General Red Alert" which the Zapatistas announce the immediate closure of the Good Government Councils and other self-governing entities in the Autonomous Municipalities:

  • That the councils and other officials will now work in a "clandestine and nomadic manner;"
  • That the local health clinics (set up by the Zapatistas without government money) have been distanced "from any of our future actions, and we are demanding that they be treated as civilians and with respect for their life, liberty and goods by government forces;"
  • That all Zapatista forces (civilian and insurgent) are being "called up" (the communiqué didn't specify what they are being called up to);
  • That Radio Insurgente and the Zapatista Information Center in San Cristóbal de Las Casas (the rebels' main communications routes to the rest of the country and world) are being closed for now;
  • "That, simultaneous with the publication of this communiqué, national and international civil societies who are working in peace camps and in community projects are being urged to leave rebel territory. Or, if they decide freely of their own volition, they remain on their own and at their own risk, gathered in the caracoles. In the case of minors, their departure is obligatory;"
  • "That the EZLN releases from responsibility for any of our future actions all persons and civil, political, cultural, citizens and non-governmental organizations, solidarity committees and support groups who have been close to us since 1994. We thank all of those who have, sincerely and honestly, throughout these almost 12 years, supported the civil and peaceful struggle of the zapatista indigenous for the constitutional recognition of indigenous rights and culture."
And it ends with the traditional signature:


From the Mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
By the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee – General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos

The following day, dated June 20, came a new communiqué, also available in English:

"The Reasons for the Red Alert" briefly explains that the centers of Good Government throughout Chiapas are closed because all Zapatistas have been called to a consultation about the next steps to take.

And simultaneously, the EZLN released another brief communiqué announcing The Restructured Politico-Military Organization of the EZLN

Yes, there are gaps in the details provided. Combined with the removal of Radio Insurgente and the Zapatista Information Center, it seems pretty clear that those gaps are intentional: It's classic Marcos, "presence through absence." The communiqués hint at a possible bold new action to come (if, as Marcos says, the grassroots bases of the organization endorse it). But a reader can be certain that everything they say they are doing, they are doing. Commentators like to label the Zapatistas with words like "enigmatic" or "mysterious" but they're really quite straightforward. They tell us what they want to tell us, and they wait until later to fill in the blanks. It's part of what is now a 12-year educational process. And if there is anything I have learned by walking close to this movement for most of those years, it's that it is futile to speculate too much about what comes next. When they're ready, they'll tell the world.

However, the actions of the non-enigmatic institutional forces, the ones that never say what they will do nor do what they will say, do beg analysis. I'm speaking, of course, of the Mexican government, its sponsors in Washington and on Wall Street, and the Armed Forces with 70,000 troops in Chiapas. (Think about it: there was a huge hullabaloo when Fox sent 1,500 troops to Nuevo Laredo and the populous northern border this month: but he keeps a force 45 times larger than that surrounding the most impoverished peasant farmers in the country, in Chiapas, who don't count with a fraction of the armaments that the Tex-Mex narcos have up north.)

According to Hermann Bellinghausen, probably the most astute reporter on all things Zapatista, in today's La Jornada, the context of the Zapatista "Red Alert" is provided by recent and heavy military troop movements all around them, and demonstrably untrue claims by the Secretary of Defense that marijuana fields were supposedly found in Zapatista territory.

As Bellinghausen reveals, the Defense Secretary is very confused when it comes to the geography of Chiapas:

The recent Zapatista announcements were made in the context of out-of-the-ordinary movements, unexplained to the public, by the Federal Army, such as the repositioning of troops in Chenalhó and last weekend's military entrance from the Rancho Nuevo base into the Lacandon jungle with "special" convoys (a word that was affixed in front and back of the trucks on those convoys) bringing arms and hundreds of soldiers in large trucks and all-terrain vehicles...

In its recent press statements about anti-drug operations, the National Secretary of Defense (SEDENA, in its Spanish initials) listed the names of three official municipalities as being inside rebel indigenous territory but that, according to the Army's own data, are not part of the "conflict zone" or under "zapatista influence."

In fact, the towns of Tapilula, Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacán and Rayón (the three places where marijuana plants were found) are outside of the the wide fence tended by the Federal Army around the indigenous region of Chiapas since 1995. There aren't even military bases there, just Judicial and local police encampments and bases.

Additionally, these municipalities aren't even in the highlands region (Los Altos) as the SEDENA press releace claimed yesterday afternoon, hours after the EZLN declared itself in Red Alert. The press release was the first reaction by the Armed Forces to the rebel announcement, although the military movements were carried out, according to the official version, on June 15 and 16...

The geographic inexactitude was so evident that the state government of Chiapas had to, yesterday, correct the military error. No, it said, these places are not located in Los Altos.

What is worrisome is that there is little chance that the Secretary of Defense made an honest mistake. Those towns are so far outside of the major Zapatista zones of influence that there is no wiggle room for error. The marijuana plantations were found, rather, near the border of the state of Tabasco, at the base of the femous El Chichonal volcano that erupted in the early 1980s covering much of the region with green dust (and, as hemp farmers know, volcanic dust makes for fertile soil for their particular favorite crop.)

Bellinghausen also recounted various other times during the 12 year history of the Zapatistas that previous adminstrations were caught red-handed planting drugs near Zapatista communities, or using video special effects to place the burning of some drug crops in locations closer to Zapatista towns. (In Narco News' ten part series on the Drug War in Chiapas, there are multiple other examples of this kind of narco-simulation as well.)

The Cocopa National Peace Commision (a governmental board set up to mediate 1996 peace talks) doesn't buy the narco-smear either, according to today's La Jornada:

Senators and Congressmen agreed that it was urgent to officially clarify the supposed seizure of marijuana in the conflict zone, since the details offered by the Defense Secretary are very unclear.

"For the COCOPA, it is definitely impossible that there is any connection between the EZLN and narco-trafficking. We also know that the marijuana seizure that SEDENA alluded to was not strictly inside the area of influence of the Zapatistas."

The Fox government seems to be speaking with forked tongue on the matter, with different high officials contradicting each other, according to today's El Financiero:

Presidential press secretary Ruben Aguilar said that there is no proof of any connection between the EZLN and narco-trafficking. But Secretary of State Luis Ernesto Derbez called on Subcomandante Marcos to "explain his relationship" with drug trafficking.

The daily El Universal quotes Derbez - the recently disgraced and defeated candidate for the chairmanship of the Organization of American States - as saying:

"I think it is important that this man gives us an explanation for why there is drug cultivation in the territories that he has taken over.

Derbez is one of the high Mexican officials most controlled by Washington. Indeed, that's why the Organization of American States rejected him (see "Democracy Triple Play: Mexico to Ecuador to the OAS," Narco News, May 1, 2005, for more details).

The long confluence between repression of the indigenous in Chiapas and a false "war on drugs" is one of those pesky matters that few players want to talk about openly.

But oh how the mighty have fallen if we trace Vicente Fox's March 2001 declaration in favor of the legalization of drugs (precisely at the moment when the Zapatisas were pulling up stakes from Mexico City and turning their backs on the Fox government for its broken promises... and now, this week, the Zapatistas have turned around and faced toward his government for the first time since that moment four years ago...) to this month's remanifestation of Fox as boneheaded gringo-style drug warrior from Texas to Tapachula, it's clear that the US-imposed drug war has something to do - we don't yet know to what extent - with the "Red Alert" in Chiapas.

Be on guard, kind readers: The drug war pretext is the flavor of the month in the halls of Mexican power. The Fox administration, entering its final year, unable to solve any of the problems he said he would resolve "in fifteen minutes," is increasingly pulling out the narco-brush to distract from all other grievances of a public that has had enough.

And what does a failed government do when the illusion of control is crumbling all around it? In the 21st century, it plays the narco card.

Just yesterday, for example, Fox's press secretary Ruben Aguilar made a bizarre and unnecessary smear upon members of Civil Society in the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo, who have protested against the militarization of their city through the "Mexico Seguro" operation. Aguilar claimed:

"There are indications that some citizens who have demonstrated against the operation, particularly in Tamaulipas, in Nuevo Laredo, have been backed, including paid and financed, by organized criminal gangs."

It's a potentially dangerous time when officials are so desperate to silence speech that they paint it as criminal. That's why Mexico's secretaries of Defense and State are running around like clowns trying to narcotize the Zapatistas, who, as we've reported here many times, are one of the only political forces in Mexico who, it can be definitively confirmed, are not mixed up with the narco. The Zapatistas strictly prohibit all use, cultivation or trafficking of all drugs, including alcohol, in their communities.

The drug-free Zapatistas, though, stand at stark contrast with the government, which, now finds itself in another blossoming narco-scandal along the Caribbean coast, where Mexican narco-traffickers worked hand in hand with the Fox and Bush administrations this spring to give international terrorist Luis Posada Carriles safe passage up to Gringolandia.

Pot, Kettle, Narco. The accusers are the narcos here. And their "Mexico Seguro" simulation has now backfired on both borders, North and South, of the United States of Mexico.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.