The Raid at Nicolas Ruiz
Revolutionary Worker #961, June 14, 1998
On June 3, the community of Nicolás Ruiz in Chiapas became the latest target of an invasion by the Mexican army and police.
In the pre-dawn hours, over 1,000 army troops and police from various federal and state agencies surrounded the town. The people of Nicolás Ruiz, alerted about the threat, formed a human shield in an attempt to block entry into their community. They were armed only with rocks and poles. The invading forces then launched tear gas against the people. Then, as two army helicopters hovered overhead, the government forces used their shields and truncheons to beat the people back so that army and police vehicles could enter town.
For seven hours, the military and police forces laid siege to Nicolás Ruiz. Among the armed invaders were a group of men with their faces covered. According to the residents of Nicolás Ruiz, these masked men belong to paramilitary squads tied to the PRI, the main bourgeois party in Mexico which controls the central government and many state governments, including in Chiapas. These snitches pointed out houses belonging to members and supporters of the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) and the opposition PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution). The troops then broke down the doors of the houses and arrested the accused people--without any warrants or charges. According to the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, over 100 homes were searched illegally and 164 people were arrested in this raid. The military and police stole or broke household items, took merchandise from shops and robbed money from the town church. The residents reported that dozens of people were injured and about 20 of their children became sick from the tear gas.
By the next day, many of those taken from the town had been released. But La Jornada reported that 16 people continued to be under detention. And in Nicolás Ruiz, some 200 cops continued to occupy the town.
Roberto Albores Guillén, the PRI governor of Chiapas, said that the raid was intended to "bring the town into conformity with the law." He claimed that a "small minority" of the residents of Nicolás Ruiz had taken over the town and expelled 33 pro-PRI families.
But the real reason for the invasion is that this operation is part of the government's moves to stop people who support the EZLN from setting up their own autonomous local governments. Over 30 towns and villages in Chiapas have set up such local governments independent of the official Mexican state and the traditional political structures controlled by the PRI. These new authorities keep their own birth and death records and have often organized the Indian campesinos to prevent state and federal forces from entering their communities.
The central government, dominated by the PRI, represents and serves the big bourgeoisie and land-owning classes of Mexico--and it plays a key role in the massive exploitation of Mexico by the U.S. and other major powers. The PRI and its agents have carried out death-squad campaigns in Chiapas and many other Mexican states, seeking to keep their hold on power by terrorizing the masses.
Over the last several months, Chiapas Governor Guillén has ordered raids on a number of communities that have set up autonomous local governments. On April 11, for example, 500 Mexican army troops and police invaded Taniperla--a peasant cooperative that had just declared itself autonomous from the central government and renamed itself in honor of the early Mexican revolutionary hero Flores Magón.
After this attack, Guillén announced that the raid represented a new policy--that he would no longer allow the people of Chiapas to set up local governments that did not recognize the authority of the central Mexican government. The PRI government has also intensified the campaign to drive out people who have come to Chiapas from around the world. Eleven of the 20 people seized in the raid on Flores Magón were foreigners associated with a local human rights organization. They had reportedly come from the United States, Germany, Spain, Canada and Belgium to document mistreatment of people in this area. Such observers have played a role in exposing counterinsurgency atrocities by the Mexican army and the PRI-led paramilitary groups. The fact that the Mexican ruling class wants to force them out of the area is an ominous sign of the government's moves against the people.
The EZLN emerged as an armed peasant force in southern Mexico in January 1994--right at the time when U.S. imperialism's North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. The uprising in Chiapas struck fear and panic into the hearts of the Mexican ruling class and its U.S. overlords. The uprising was met by counter-revolutionary dual tactics: vicious armed repression against the people on one hand, and false promises of reform and peace negotiations on the other.
Talks between the EZLN and the Mexican government collapsed in 1996. Since then, the central government has carried out a huge military build-up, pouring in thousands of troops into Chiapas to surround the areas controlled by the armed EZLN forces and turn large EZLN-influenced areas into occupied zones. The PRI's paramilitary forces are carrying out a bloody campaign of terror against the people. Last December, paramilitary gunmen massacred 45 campesinos in the village of Acteal. The attacks on pro-EZLN communities in Chiapas have forced thousands of people to become refugees who suffer from severe shortages of food and dangerous health conditions.
The Mexican government's sinister counterinsurgency operations in Chiapas are marked with the hand prints of U.S. imperialism. The U.S. government provides many forms of military support--from the sale of helicopters and weapons to the training of officers.
According to a May 3 article in the Mexican newspaper Proceso, Mexico is now the biggest provider of military personnel for training programs offered by the U.S. armed forces. Many of the Mexican military personnel are trained at the notorious School of the Americas, located at the Fort Benning military base in Georgia. Over 330 Mexicans attended sessions there last year. This training is carried out under the guise of helping Mexico with the "war on drugs." But clearly, the U.S. government is very worried about the "stability" of Mexico and the potential for more uprisings in Chiapas and elsewhere in the country.
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