Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Poverty Plagues Mexicans Village of `Forgotten Ones' Seeks Better Life, Not Death

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Poverty Plagues Mexicans Village of `Forgotten Ones' Seeks Better Life, Not Death

Article excerpt

A MUDDY THREE-hour trudge over knife-edge ridges separates this mountain hamlet from the nearest medical clinic. Light comes from candles. Water comes from a river 2 1/2 miles away.

Briseo Hernandez Ocampo, 40, balances his bags of corn, beans and coffee on his back with a strap across his forehead. Fruit rots on his mountainside plots because there is no road to nearest markets.

Repeated petitions to the government for a road, electricity, a clinic and drinkable water have gone unanswered.

"We are the forgotten ones," Hernandez said.

La Estacion had reasons to take up arms when the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army declared war against poverty, injustice, corruption and electoral fraud on Jan. 1.

Most of the 500 villagers stayed home. But despite the government's promise of amnesty for rebels, some fear they may be punished along with the few who went off to fight.

"This is the worry of the people," said Raul Hernandez, the 30-year-old nephew of Briseo. "We're all mixed in with them."

The two men say their fellow Protestants in the village stayed out of the fight. Some of the Roman Catholic families, they say, were lured into it, apparently influenced by liberation theology.

"We cannot save our souls by spilling blood," said Briseo Hernandez, his face and roughened hands shining in the candlelight of his tin-roofed house. "We take up spiritual arms," he added. "They take up material arms."

Hernandez said that about 14 Catholic families here began studying political ideology about a dozen years ago, when some rural priests allied themselves with Marxist organizers from northern Mexico to help their impoverished flock. The groups they founded helped obtain farm credits and sell crops. But government officials say that some also evolved into radical factions that may have spawned the Zapatista army.

"About a year ago, we heard rumors they were training in the mountains," Raul Hernandez said. …

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