Chiapas, Mexico

The Assault on San Juan de la Libertad

Revolutionary Worker #962, June 21, 1998

The Mexican government's military offensive in Chiapas took a new, bloody leap on June 10. More than 1,000 federal troops and state police forces entered the municipality of El Bosque in the early morning hours. In the course of laying siege to El Bosque, the government's armed forces killed at least seven campesinos, injured many others and arrested dozens of people.

In early 1995, supporters of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) declared El Bosque an "autonomous" community and renamed it San Juan de la Libertad. Since the January 1994 Chiapas uprising, more than 30 communities in Chiapas have declared themselves independent of the central government dominated by the PRI, the main bourgeois party in Mexico.

San Juan de la Libertad is in the northern part of the state of Chiapas, in the highland area known as Los Altos. The government forces that invaded San Juan de la Libertad first took over the alcaldía--the mayor's office--and arrested several leaders of the autonomous community. Then the military and police forces attacked two of the villages in this municipality--Unión Progreso and Chavajeval. As in other recent attacks on pro-EZLN communities, the soldiers and police used helicopters and armored military vehicles. Accompanying these official forces were several priístas--pro-PRI members of local paramilitary groups. These snitches, who had their faces covered, pointed out the houses belonging to the leaders and those most sympathetic to the EZLN.

According to various reports, the police shot seven young men who were working in a field near Chavajeval. Many others were injured by gunfire in the two villages.

As in other recent raids on pro-Zapatista communities, the troops went on a rampage of looting--breaking into houses, destroying furniture, taking what little belongings and money people have, stealing from the local stores. Hundreds of villagers were forced to seek refuge in the nearby hills.

The Mexican newspaper La Jornada quoted residents of Chavajeval who said, "The government talks of peace and reconciliation. But the only thing they do is send us the army to kill us, rob us or destroy the few things we have and threaten the children and the women."

La Jornada reported that by the next day a priísta had officially taken over the mayor's office in El Bosque--backed up by the guns of the occupying government forces.

Roberto Albores Guillén, the PRI governor of Chiapas, claimed that the raid on El Bosque was aimed at arresting people accused of involvement in several armed attacks in Los Platanos, a village in the municipality which had remained pro-PRI. Guillén also claimed that the army and police only fired their weapons after they had been fired upon first when they entered El Bosque on the morning of June 10. One cop was reportedly killed, and another was injured when a helicopter crashed.

The residents of San Juan de la Libertad disputed the government's allegations. They said the incidents in Los Platanos were due to contradictions among the priístas themselves. And they said the government forces entered Chabajebal and Unión Progreso with their guns blazing.

The murderous raid on San Juan de la Libertad is the latest operation in a brutal offensive that Mexico's central government and the Chiapas state government has been carrying out for several months against the EZLN and their supporters. On December 22, 1997 a paramilitary group linked with the PRI killed 45 campesinos in the village of Acteal. The PRI controls a network of paramilitary groups that receive government funding and are supplied with arms from the military and the police.

Following the Acteal massacre, the federal army flooded the area under the pretext of "confiscating illegal arms" and "restoring law and order." But in fact, the paramilitary groups continue to have a free hand to carry out their attacks and threats against the pro-Zapatista communities. And the troops have tightened their noose around the armed EZLN forces in the Lancandón jungle.

Meanwhile, the federal army and state police have carried out a series of brutal raids to dismantle the autonomous governments in Chiapas. On April 11, army troops and police invaded Taniperla (Ricardo Flores Magón). The autonomous municipality of Tierra y Libertad was taken over on May 1. On June 3, the community of Nicolás Ruiz came under siege.

The Los Altos region of Chiapas is where thousands of Indian campesinos rose up in armed rebellion under the leadership of the EZLN on January 1, 1994. This has been historically one of the poorest and most oppressed areas in Mexico. And U.S. imperialism's North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)--which went into effect on the day of the Chiapas uprising--is making life even more desperate for peasants and other oppressed masses in Chiapas and Mexico as a whole. As the Committee of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (CoRIM) said after the Chiapas uprising: "The rebellion demonstrates the deep revolutionary sentiments of the Mexican people and their basic needs: to be free of imperialist subjugation (principally by the U.S. which is being even further tightened by the North American Free Trade Agreement); to implement a thoroughgoing agrarian revolution; and to overthrow the bureaucrat-capitalist class that rules Mexico in the service of U.S. imperialism and in league with the landowning classes."

Since the 1994 uprising, the Mexican government--with U.S. backing--has been carrying out counter-revolutionary dual tactics in an attempt to suppress the just struggle of the people. On one hand, the PRI government has held on-and-off talks with the EZLN and floated out promises of "reforms" and "economic development." In 1996 Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo signed the San Andréas Accords, pledging autonomy for the indigenous people in Mexico. But Zedillo has repeatedly refused to actually carry out the agreement.

At the same time, the government has moved one-third of the entire Mexican army into Chiapas. The troops, along with the state police and the paramilitaries, are carrying out a reign of terror against the people. Thousands of Indian peasants have been forced out of their homes and have become refugees. The government continues to talk about "peace"--while their troops and armed thugs point the guns directly at the people.

Since 1994, the EZLN has maintained their bases in the Lancandón Jungle while avoiding direct confrontations with the Mexican army. This is linked with their overall strategy, which is different from the Maoist path of New Democratic Revolution. While they emphasize autonomy for indigenous people and democracy for the country as a whole, the EZLN does not have a program of overthrowing the current political order by armed force and establishing a revolutionary rule of workers and peasants in all of Mexico. And while they led the January 1994 uprising, the EZLN does not have a strategy of organizing the oppressed people into a revolutionary army, building revolutionary base areas and carrying out a protracted people's war to surround the cities from the countryside.

On June 7 Bishop Samuel Ruiz resigned as head of the National Mediation Commission (CONAI). CONAI was set up in 1994 to mediate talks between the government and the EZLN. Ruiz was basically forced to resign because of the stepped-up military operations in Chiapas--and the government's accusations that he sided with the EZLN. Just three days after Ruiz stepped down, the army and police took over San Juan de la Libertad and left a trail of blood.

The situation continues to intensify in Chiapas. The autonomous municipal council of San Juan de la Libertad declared in a June 10 statement: "At this moment, we are living in a situation of terror and persecution in our municipality. But there is also a great military threat to other municipalities in the highlands of Chiapas. What we are seeing here now is going to make it difficult to avoid a clash or some confrontation with the Zapatistas."


There are reports of another armed attack by the Mexican military--this time in the state of Guerrero. According to news reports, guerrillas of the Popular Revolutionary Army were meeting at a schoolhouse in the village of El Charco with Mixtec Indian campesinos. On the morning of June 7, the school was surrounded by hundreds of troops who started shooting. At least 11 people inside the school were killed, 5 were wounded and 27 were taken into detention. According to news reports, there has been graffiti and demonstrations in protest of the shooting in at least eight towns in Guerrero.

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