Mexico's Two Faces

Article excerpt

The peasant rebellion in Chiapas has starkly revealed not only the two faces of Mexico but the two faces of the Mexican government as well.

Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari is understandably eager to put the Indian rebellion in Chiapas behind him. After a remarkable six years in office, in which Mexico has modernized dramatically though unevenly, he does not want to cap his career with a peasant uprising squelched in a typically banana-republic-like fashion. So President Salinas is doing his best to present a conciliatory face both to the insurgents in Mexico and to the outside world.

So, once the fighting abated, Mr. Salinas took all the right steps. He declared a unilateral cease-fire for the military, and he offered amnesty to guerrillas. In addition, he invited the Zapatista National Liberation Army to "peace talks" and appointed Manuel Camacho Solis, the respected former foreign minister and mayor of Mexico City, as negotiator. Signs over the weekend pointed to progress. For his part, Mr. Camacho pledged to help "rebuild the political process in the region."

But these steps, while laudable, cannot erase the past. Indeed, the Salinas administration bears a heavy responsibility for the repressive policies in Chiapas that helped spur the revolt. These policies go far beyond neglecting the Indian peasantry in favor of large landowners. …