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16. U.S. Paper Companies Conspire to Squash Zapatistas

Source: EARTH FIRST!, Title: “U.S. Paper Companies Conspire to Squash Zapatistas,” Date: Summer 1997, Author: Viviana, National Commission for Democracy in Mexico

SSU Censored Researchers: Katie Sims and Angie Yee SSU
Faculty Evaluator: Ray Castro, Ph.D.

The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has ushered in an era of unprecedented military and corporate domination over the already beleaguered indigenous citizens of Mexico. On the day NAFTA went into effect, the Zapatistas of Chiapas in Southern Mexico rose up in rebellion against the exploitation that they feared NAFTA portended. Though the initial violence did not last long, the Zapatistas have continued to resist intrusions into their communally held lands, known as eijdos. Inhabited by the indigenous people of Mexico, the eijdos have been farmed collectively for centuries.

With the passage of NAFTA, the Mexican government is pushing for the elimination of these communally held lands. By privatizing the land, the government hopes to make lucrative deals with multinational corporations from the U.S. and elsewhere.

Under the guise of the perpetual “War on Drugs,” the U.S. has funded a massive build-up of the Mexican military over the last three years. Over 50 Huey helicopters and various other offense-capable weapons have been provided to Mexico by the U.S. government. Most of this hardware can be used to control the poor and indigenous peoples there. The U.S. State Department admits that it is unable to account for how military aid to Mexico is used.

In recent years, the Mexican military has constructed roads deep into the Zapatista-inhabited areas of Chiapas in order to expedite movement of troops into the region. Previously a pristine and relatively remote area with few roads, the military presence in Chiapas has intimidated and isolated the various Zapatista communities, interfering with planting and harvest-ing their crops. This, in turn, has led to widespread malnourishment in the communities.

The absence or lack of enforcement of environmental and health and safety regulations in Mexico makes it particularly attractive to corporations from more regulated industrialized nations. Major deals have already been brokered between the Mexican government and multinational corporations for the development of forest and petroleum resources in the country.

One company, Pulsar, has presented a project to plant (non-indigenous) eucalyptus trees over 300,000 hectares through-out Chiapas and surrounding territories, and has contracted to sell the wood to International Paper (IP). In 1995, the vice president of IP sent a letter to the president of Mexico warning: “at this time, the projections of that project are not positive [since] the political environment [in Chiapas] represents a high risk.” He went on to advise that “the development of a Mexican forest industry—strong and globally competitive, supported by commercial plantations—is a national priority.” The implication that the Mexican military ought to be making a greater effort to eliminate the “Zapatista problem”—cannot be disregarded.

To make matters worse, Chiapas sits on major petroleum reserves that are second only to Venezuela in the Western Hemisphere. Many of these are under Zapatista-controlled lands. In 1996, the Mexican government made a deal with a major Canadian corporation, Hydro-Quebec International, to develop natural gas resources throughout Chiapas.

To the indigenous communities of Mexico, many of whom have inhabited their lands for hundreds of years, the loss of their homes would have ramifications which reach beyond simply the loss of their crops and livelihoods. As has happened so often in the Americas, it would mean the loss of their autonomy, their identity, and the tragic death of yet another innocent culture.

UPDATE BY AUTHOR VIVIANA: “Much of the information regarding corporate interests and plans for development of the natural resources of Chiapas remains widely unreported. However, these factors are central to understanding the depth of U.S. involvement in the politics of the region and the fate of its natural resources.

“Historically, indigenous people have repeatedly found themselves backed into the same corner, with their culture and ability to exist threatened by the race for control over their resources. The solution to the Mexican crisis depends on our awareness that we are a significant part of the problem. With this knowledge, we are challenged to participate in real solutions that support the struggle for human rights and cultural identity of the indigenous people in Zapatista communities and throughout Mexico.

“This story went unnoticed by the mainstream press, just as the Zapatista struggle has had little coverage. Because of this lack of response, the information was primarily disseminated through independent publications of non-profit organizations such as the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico, the Native Forest Network, and the Earth First! journal. The Internet has also played an important role (as it has throughout the work in support of the Zapatista movement) in accessing the relevant reports and articles from Mexico and in communicating the information to the United States.

“The Zapatista struggle continues as does the Mexican military’s low-intensity war against the indigenous communities of Chiapas. The U.S. government has not acknowledged its role in the military presence in Chiapas, and continues to contribute to the military buildup.”