THE Chiapas caldron, on a low simmer since a preliminary peace
accord was signed in early March, is now starting to boil again.
"The situation is deteriorating. We have no support from the
authorities. We're desperate," says Jose Luis Aguilar, president
of the Altamirano Cattleman's Association.
Ranchers in Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state and the site of
a New Year's Day indigenous uprising, say their cattle have been
stolen and about 80,000 hectares (197,600 acres) of land are now in
the hands of peasants directly or indirectly supported by the Mayan
Indian rebels known as the Zapatista National Revolutionary Army.
Angered by the government's kid- gloves approach, cattle
ranchers are starting to take matters into their own hands. On
Monday, some 400 ranchers blocked the main road out of Pichucalco
and began a sit-in in front of the town hall. The ranchers in the
northern Chiapas town say they will prevent anyone from entering
the government offices until the governor "guarantees the safety
of small property holders."
On Sunday, the president of a local human rights organization,
Enrique Perez Lopez, supposedly mediating between ranchers and
peasant land invaders, was kidnapped by 80 armed landowners near
Comitan, in southern Chiapas. According to statements made by
peasant farmers who were with Mr. Perez, the ranchers beat Perez
and fired bullets at the ground, before taking him to a nearby
Last week, the ranchers say, two of their own were kidnapped
near Altamirano by the Zapatistas. Mr. Aguilar says that landowner
Arturo Espinoza Macedo fired his pistol at several Zapatistas who
allegedly came to take his land and rape his wife. One Zapatista
was killed. The Zapatistas left but took Mr. Espinoza's brother and
sister-in-law hostage. The leader of a Chiapas cattleman's group
and president of the ruling political committee in Altamirano asked
the Roman Catholic Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia on Monday to mediate
the release of all three hostages.
Ranchers seek `other methods'
A statewide meeting of ranchers is planned for April 15.
"We're giving the government until April 20. If there's no
positive solution, we'll adopt other methods," says Aguilar in a
phone interview, declining to define "other methods."
Amid the rising tensions, the government's peace negotiator,
Manuel Camacho Solis, has sent a letter to the Zapatista hideout in
the mountains asking their leaders to return to the negotiating
table. Mr. Camacho says he hopes to receive a reply by next week.
Adding to the uncertainty of the situation were rumors that Camacho
would be leaving to accept an ambassadorship abroad. On April 8 at
a press conference, Camacho quashed the rumors and committed
himself to the peace process.
The preliminary accords, signed on March 2 between the Mexican
government and the Zapatistas, called for a range of measures for
Indians in Chiapas, including electoral reforms, better health
care, basic infrastructure services, new schools, and a development