Above: A self-defense group named El Machete irrupted in Pantelhó last July. Photo: Elio Henríquez Tobar
This is the first of Hermann Bellinghausen’s two-part overview and analysis of the current situation in Chiapas that led Subcomandante Galeano to say that Chiapas is “on the brink of civil war.” Bellinghausen has many years chronicling the Zapatista Uprising and the indigenous movement in Chiapas.
By: Hermann Bellinghausen
The succession of violent events in indigenous regions of Chiapas leaves the impression that they occur outside of institutional control. Day after day for hours, since many months ago, the Tsotsil families in several communities in the municipality of Aldama receive a rain of large-caliber bullets or are threatened with explosives; there are seven dead, several injured, traumatic displacement, hunger and fear: an isolated scenario, yes (allegedly an agrarian dispute). Each scenario of armed violence seems isolated. The fearsome scooters (motonetos) take over the days and nights of the once peaceful and touristic San Cristóbal de Las Casas, the country’s most indigenous city.
In Pantelhó and Chenalhó, groups that are armed and related to the municipal governments kept the population terrorized until the El Machete armed self-defense group emerged and drove them out, although the paramilitaries and sicarios (hit men), who the people identify as drug traffickers (narcos), threaten to return. Among those murdered is the former president of Las Abejas of Acteal, Simón Pedro Pérez López, whose community is displaced, like others. And among their leaders are members of the PRD and the PVEM.
The ORCAO, once a coffee organization in the most populated zone of Ocosingo, maintains harassment, sabotage, kidnapping, shootings, blockades and thefts of land against the Zapatista bases in autonomous Tseltal communities. On September 11, they kidnapped Sebastián Núñez and José Antonio Sánchez, member of the Patria Nueva autonomous Zapatista government. The violent decomposition affects Chalchihuitán communities attacked from Chenalhó, just like what happens to Aldama. In San Juan Chamula, armed political-criminal groups have controlled the life and commerce for years, and their tentacles reach into San Cristóbal and other municipalities where the population of Chamula has spread.
Meanwhile, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN, Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) points out that Chiapas is “on the brink of civil war” in a brief and tremendous communiqué (September 19); it’s evident that the federal civil authorities, their National Guard and the Federal Army itself are permissive, and in fact leave the dozens of attacked communities helpless. The local police are incompetent or complicit. As Subcomandante Galeano suggests upon characterizing the wild-card party, of green Gatopardismo , which artificially predominates in the region, courtesy of the PRI, seeks “to destabilize the regime in power.”
He accuses officials of corruption and robbery, “perhaps preparing for a federal government collapse or betting on a change of the part in power.” The EZLN blames the Morena Governor Rutilio Escandón directly for this irresponsible and dangerous lack of control.
Paraphrasing the leitmotif of the great novel by the discredited businessman Mario Vargas Llosa, Conversation in The Cathedral, today more cited than read, has become commonplace: At what moment did Chiapas get screwed? Not that there wasn’t an abundantly fucked up reality in the intense, poor and yet full of riches state in the Mexican Southeast, but rather that the lives of its residents, especially the indigenous people, had not overflowed into decomposition, even despite the massacres at the end of the 20th century, and much less on the side of violent crime, similar to that which has disgraced a good part of Mexican territory in recent six-year terms.
Above photo reads: “Chiapas, tragic town,” which is a play on the “magic town” designation the federal government gives to cities and towns that have tourist attractions, such as archaeological sites, sandy beaches, colonial architecture, etc. The photo is taken in front of the Cathedral in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas.
Control from the center
The place called Chiapas (as a documentary of the Canadian Netty Wild is titled) has always been a geographical and historical exception. We have a canonical book that recounts it admirably, Resistance and Utopia: A memorial of grievances and a chronicle of revolts and prophecies that occurred in the province of Chiapas during the last 500 years of its history, from Antonio García de León (1985). An obscure corner of the country, Chiapas was always governed from the center [of the country], which is a saying, because it was so far from the news, the independences, reforms, wars and revolutions came late.
Previously the exclusive subject of ethnology, archaeology, folkloric photography and the occasional crime note, starting in 1994 the ink ran on and from Chiapas. Its communities of Maya origin rebelled, achieving international projection with a new and convincing discourse. For the first time in history, “the most forgotten corner” came to occupy the center of the national agenda; to such a degree that the absence of a state government was accentuated, since the Presidency of the Republic converted Chiapas into the principal theater of war and counterinsurgency operations, establishing in its military zones and regions an authentic army of armies.
The state governments, once distant and now dummies, continued to be conspicuous for their absence. As the historian Andrés Aubry recalled, Emilio Rabasa governed Chiapas from Mexico City, almost from Porfirio Díaz’s office. The unfolding of the revolutionary period turned it into a land of caciques and landowners, more than a consolidated federative state.
The 1994 explosion put this peripheral condition into evidence. The last governor prior to the indigenous uprising, Patrocinio González Garrido, had attempted to avoid the center, and its president Carlos Salinas de Gortari brought him in to take the crown away from the tropical kinglet, to make him Secretary of the Interior (Gobernación) and thus shorten his reins. This episode is part of the tragicomedy of the Chiapas political class (to call it something).
Now that a brutal and it would seem absurd violence lashes precisely the indigenous mountain regions of Chiapas, it’s essential to remember what contributed to such lack of control. The decomposition comes from the lack of fulfillment of the 1996 San Andrés Accords between the federal government and the EZLN and the definitive interruption of the most important negotiations between the State and the original peoples of all of Mexico in history, led by the liberated communities in a struggle for self-determination.
 Gatopardismo is the art of making change that doesn’t actually produce change, but rather keeps everything much the same.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Monday, October 18, 2021
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee