Chiapas Rebellion Sparks Indian Dissent across Mexico

Article excerpt

LIKE a match tossed on the parched political tinder of the Mexican countryside, the Chiapas rebellion is beginning to ignite brush fires of discontent elsewhere.

Emboldened and encouraged by the armed New Year's Day uprising of Indians in Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state, impoverished peasant and indigenous groups elsewhere in the country are expressing dissent over government policies. None are taking up arms. But acts of civil disobedience are on the rise.

One short-term consequence of the mini-uprisings may be that the Zapatista National Liberation Army, known by its Spanish initials, EZLN, will wield more leverage at the negotiating table, analysts say. (Due to delays over logistics and security, peace talks may not begin until this weekend.) If the dissent endures or spreads, they say, it could cause political instability. And it may push the ruling party candidate into costly promises he could have trouble keeping if he wins the August presidential elections.

"In an election year, everyone is trying to strike a deal for their votes. Now we have the added context of Chiapas and a growing wave of groups making a common front with the Zapatistas. I don't know if the government can easily escape this wave," says Federico Estevez, political scientist at the Mexican Autonomous Technological Institute, a private Mexico City university.

The estimated 2,000 members of the EZLN are mostly poor Mayan Indian farmers. On Feb. 6, Mexican newspapers published a letter from the EZLN leadership calling upon "all good men of this land, Indians and non-Indians, men and women, old and young" not to "abandon us, brothers. Take our blood as nourishment.... Don't let this be in vain."

The response has been rapid.

In Puebla on Feb. 8, a new peasant group calling itself the "Southern Puebla Zapatista Movement" was formed. It claims to be in direct communication with the EZLN and draws support from 3,000 people in 60 Mixtec Indian communities. The Puebla group says it backs the "social and political plans" of the EZLN.

"Our objectives: fight against poverty, for work, land, independence, liberty, democracy, and peace," said Gaudencio Ruiz, ex-deputy of the Mexican Socialist Party. "They can't accuse us of being Central Americans. We are Mixtec people and the only thing we can lose by uniting with this movement is this misery."

In Michoacan, sugar cane workers who have been protesting the closure of a local processing plant for more than a year, claim they will now join ranks with the EZLN. …