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La Jornada > Cobertura de "La otra campaña"

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.. Caosmosis ..

Rage One (blog)

lunes, abril 16, 2007

Inside the Paramilitary Offensive: An Eyewitness View

by Liam Frost*

For the first week of March, the small Zapatista town of Emiliano Zapata had planned a full week of collective work in the milpa (cornfield) to make up for the consumption of a cow they had eaten a few days previous. They had killed it as a small reward for the number of river snails they had gathered so arduously the week before, and they were now preparing to clean fields ready to plant next season’s maize.

But like many other communities across the municipality of San Manuel at the beginning of March, and indeed across Chiapas, work in the milpa had been suspended. Instead, the men of Emiliano Zapata were gathered outside the home of the person in charge of the community, listening intently to loud, muffled voices emanating from his two-way radio. Though the voices streamed constant information, the gist was that paramilitaries were mobilizing.

By Tuesday morning the information from the muffled voices had become clearer and, indeed, visible. At around eight o’clock a caravan of at least seven cargo trucks rode through on the dirt road that bisects this small town, and reports were filtering through of a large demonstration in the market town of Ocosingo three hours away.

The demonstration had been organized by the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (OPDDIC, its initials in Spanish), an organization long characterized as having close paramilitary links. Over the last few years, the OPDDIC has grown rapidly in Chiapas, directly challenging the authority of the Zapatistas. By the end of the day the result of the demonstration was that twenty-six of the demonstrators were in jail for beating up two Zapatista cameramen who were documenting the protests and a much higher profile, although somewhat negative, for the OPDDIC.

It was the beginning of a strange time in the cañadas (canyons). Even the weather appeared to sense the sudden shift in mood, switching from dry, baking heat to foreboding storm clouds that only managed to threaten but never materialized into a rainstorm. The usual laid back pace of Emiliano Zapata had reclined to almost a complete halt, and all people could do was wait for developments and do what they could in their own homes.

During the night it was not unusual to hear the deep timbre of the conch shell, normally only reserved to call men for the planning of collective work but now used to alert them of new developments and plan shifts to guard the town. By the end of the first week of the “threat,” the number of guards for the night had increased from the usual two to thirty, causing the vast majority of the town’s male population to walk around like zombies during the day. Even the boisterous noise of different accents and languages that usually color the communal kitchen had disappeared, as Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center, a Chiapas human rights organization, suddenly pulled all their human rights observers from the area.

In fact, the only constant was the mischief of the children here who, with the added freedom of a canceled school week, punctuated the slow days loudly barging in and out of rooms, announcing, in no uncertain terms that there was a war.

There was, of course, no war, but the situation here in Chiapas is, undeniably, tense. Since Marcos’ bellicose February communiqué, in which he labeled the OPDDIC an out-and-out criminal organization, the heat has been rising and the tension palpable.

Whereas before, the OPDDIC had been treated with a cautious disregard by the Zapatistas, it is now recognized as a legitimate threat to reclaimed campesino land. Indeed, on March 25 during the inauguration of the second phase of the Other Campaign in San Cristobal, the first half of the gathering was dominated by reports on OPDDIC. Marcos illustrated the gravity of the situation. saying that in addition to the Other Campaign, “there is a new offensive and that it is OPDDIC.”

What really underscores the tension here is how inextricably linked each side is to the other. Whole families are split between Zapatistas and OPDDIC, and usually within a few miles of each other.

Just across the river from Emiliano Zapata is Rafael Moreno, a smaller community that also uses the wide river to fish, bathe and scour for river snails. Unlike Emiliano Zapata, however, where everyone is loyal Zapatista, Rafael Moreno is deeply divided. It is a village where every single one of the OPDDIC supporters that reside there were once Zapatistas who lived in Emiliano Zapata, thus intensifying relations and loyalties.

The threat to Zapatista supporters in Rafael Moreno was deemed so great in fact that Zapata began sending twenty-four men a night by kayak to secure their safety. However, it was clear the OPDDIC members were far from intimidated by this presence.

On March 16, as Zapata geared up to celebrate the completion of the building for the municipal Pharmacy Warehouse by killing a pig to the fiesta sound of a marimba, huge flames burned in the evening sky across the river. A whole milpa, one campesino’s supply of corn for the whole year, was being incinerated by the OPDDIC.

In addition, further demonstrating just how close to home the OPDDIC threat is for Emiliano Zapata, one of those arrested at the March 7 demonstration in Ocosingo was not only a resident of Rafael Moreno but also a brother-in- law of those in charge of Emiliano Zapata.

Indeed, it seems every family here has some relative in the OPDDIC. One former guerrilla told me that last week he walked a mile down the road to visit his cousin, a loyal “OPDDICa.” He had gone to his cousin’s to talk over the situation and explain that OPDDIC has no ideology other than allegiance to government money. Apparently, the conversation concluded with a goodbye to his cousin and an offer that there would always be a place for him to return or otherwise always someone to fight, presumably his cousin, the guerrilla warrior.

Over the past decade La Lucha has evolved from the military fight for land to a peaceful, if not more complex, fight for autonomous health and education. But a decade is not such a long time, and if this recent episode with the OPDDIC has proven anything, it has proven that the Zapatistas are as ready to fight as they were in 1994.

When I asked an elderly woman recently if she was worried about the current threat, she seemed almost offended by my question and curtly replied, “Not at all, we’re totally organized.”

* Liam Frost is currently living and working as a volunteer in San Manuel, the Chiapas Support Committee’s partner autonomous municipality.

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