Chiapas: The Interminable War for Peace
A great, tense calm covers the mountains where the men and women of the EZLN live. Special army units have them surrounded. Will peace come? A true peace? Peace for the Indians? We don’t know what will happen.
What has been happening in Chiapas? What has been happening is...a war. Some call it "the war of the flea." Others, an armed subversion run by professionals of violence, by lawbreakers. Others, an Indian uprising. Others, a maneuver by liberation theologians to destabilize the country. Others talk of two winds, a torment and a prophecy.
It doesn't matter what it is called. It is a war, a long war. A very long, bloody, enslaving, painful war. An interminable history; the interminable war for peace. For "the pacification of the Indians," according to the conquistadors, or for peace for the indigenous, according to the indigenous themselves. It may be the same war, but it is not the same peace. That is why it is war; one group's peace means the other group's death.
There is a long history to this war. It did not begin January 1, 1994. Nor did it begin two years ago, or ten, or fifteen. Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, when he wrote of it in 1542, called it A Brief Summary of the Destruction of the Indians. The first chapter of this sad summary is found in the archives of Las Indias de Sevilla. The other chapters, not written by Fray Bartolomé, are dispersed in the jungles and hills of Chiapas, written in blood. The blood of Lacandón, of Tseltal, of Chol, of Tzotzil, of Tojolabal, of Zoque, of Kakchiquel, of Quiché, of Mam, of Canjobal... These precursors belong to the post classic Maya period, between 900 and 1517 AD, according to the conquistadors' calendar. Or between Katunes 4 and 13 Ahau of the Mayas, according to the Mayans' calendar.
The Lacandona Jungle: Humid, Hot, BeautifulHistory can be read in two ways, either from the perspective of the conquerors and their descendants the colonists, the mestizos, the ladinos or from that of the Mayans and their descendants. The war is the same, but not the peace.
Between 16 degrees 4 minutes and 17 degrees 35 minutes latitude North and 90 degrees 22 minutes and 92 degrees 15 minutes longitude West Greenwich, in the northeast region of the state of Chiapas, lies the Lacandona forest. Its climate is humid and hot, without well defined dry or rainy seasons. It is a region crossed by low mountain ranges, reaching 1,200 meters high, covered with conifers.
Valleys and plains between the mountains surround the main lakes and rivers: Blue Eyes Lake, the Santa Clara, the upper watershed of the Chocolha', the watersheds of the T'ulilha' and Bascán rivers, the confluence of the Jatate and Perlas Rivers, the watershed of the Lacanha'. A plain extends between the Lacantún and Chixoy Rivers. Almost all the rivers and streams that bathe the Lacandona belong to the Usumacinta watershed, which covers western and northern Guatemala, east and northeastern Chiapas and the eastern half of Tabasco.
The Fall and Mixing of PeoplesDuring the classic Mayan era (300 to 900 AD), the Lacandona Forest was home to one of the most spectacular civilizations in Central America. The ruins of such ceremonial centers as Palenque and Yaxchilan reveal the high social, political, religious and artistic level of the zone's inhabitants.
After 900 AD, that brilliant culture mysteriously disappeared a mystery that has yet to be solved. The most acceptable hypothesis about the disaster that ended that civilization is that a small group of priest leaders fell from power. After that privileged group was expelled or killed, the rest of the population perhaps reduced by wars, illnesses or economic upheavals formed small isolated communities under the leadership of modest leaders, without regional, political or religious cohesion.
A conviction exists among Mayists that during the entire post classical period, the central area continued to be inhabited by these groups, reduced in number and socio cultural scope. Some ceremonial centers continued to function, although on a smaller scale and with a gradual loss of the knowledge and practices of the great ancient cultures. This did not happen in the northern area (Yucatán) where immediately after the fall of the classical culture, the most important center later called Chichén Itzá was occupied and reorganized by Quetzalcoatl Kukulcán and his followers, fugitives of their Tula enemies. With the arrival of this Tolteca group to Maya lands, the Mayan cultural decline received a strong injection of new Mexican blood.
The bilingual leaders they spoke Maya Yucateco and Náhuatl introduced many Tolteca elements into the ancient religion and the Mayan socio political organization, creating a new mixed culture. Yucatán continued under the power of the Toltecas until the beginning of the 18th century, when the government fell into the hands of a new conquering group, the Itzá, from the eastern coast of the Yucatán. The Itzá were merchants who dominated the peninsula's maritime coasts and had their political religious center in the island of Cozumel.
They later set themselves up in Chichén Itzá, founded Mayapán and in 1441 1461 were expelled from both cities by a Mexican lineage called Xiu. They fled to Petén to establish the city of Tayasal. In 1517, Spanish invaders found the Yucatán population divided and in a state of feudal anarchy, dominated by rival chiefs.
Reconstructing the pastNo historic documentation would exist about the central area to help us reconstruct the domination of the Toltecas were it not for the large quantity of toponimicos in Náhuatl in Chiapas and the persistence of a certain oral tradition. Only two indigenous documents exist to help reconstruct the area's post classical past: the Probanza de Paxbolón, for the province of Acalán, and the Probanza de Votán, for Chiapas. The first, written in 1612 in Chontal and Spanish, is found in the Archive of Las Indias de Sevilla. The latter was written only in Tseltal and was illustrated as well. It was in Spanish hands throughout the 18th century, but was later mysteriously lost and has not been found.
According to the Probanza de Acalán, from Chiapas and Guatemala, where history is mixed with myth, a Mayan reign was established in Chiapas at the beginning of the 14th century, governed by a foreign military class that imposed its domination on the aboriginal population. The dominating class was Mexicanized due to the strong Tzequile influence, particularly in the religious domain. The groups in power continued to speak Chontal and Náhuatl and lived as Mexicans. Little by little they mixed culturally and racially with their Mayan subjects, but their descendants did not stay in power and the Votán reign disintegrated.
The chiefs multiplied both in the highlands and in the jungles, jealous of their independence and continuously at war with each other. Cultural particularities emerged and the Chiapas Mayas went back to living in towns as in past centuries. Some more audacious towns managed to subjugate neighboring peoples, forming more powerful chieftainships, like the Zinacantán. In general, however, each people remained a separate nation, closed within itself.
Historic studies by researchers were able to recover the main cultural features of the indigenous inhabitants during the post classical Mayan period. With some variations, these features are also found today and are the basis for understanding the enormous differences that exist between the concept of life held by the indigenous and the concept ladinos have of the indigenous.
Gods and MenThe life of pre Hispanic populations in Chiapas was protected by Patol and Alaghom, god and goddess creators of the earth, the heavens and men and women. Among the most important gods were Ihcalahau, the black god of war; Coxlaghuntox, the black god of thunder; Poxlón, the comet god; Kukulcán, the Toltec king made divine and venerated in the form of a plumed serpent; Votán, the Putún king made divine and adored as "the Heart of the People" and "the Lord of the Wooden Tambour," sent by God to divide the earth among the indigenous and give each people its name.
Apart from these gods, which existed in the whole region, each people had its own patron god, recognized in the entire zone but venerated in only one community. The ceiba tree, planted in the ceremonial plaza of each community, was the object of a special cult. It symbolized the union between the community and its ancestors, founders of the community. In each family, the bones of the deified ancestors were also part of the cult. In addition, each family had its own idol. At birth, each person received a nahual a special protector god.
The designation of this personal protector god was the suggestive and direct form by which the most important elements of pre Hispanic religion the gods, the ritual calendar, the sacrifices were made available to each person. The intermediary in the ritual was "the nahualist teacher," called "the wisdom of the people," who appears to have been one of the most respected men of the community and the guardian of the religious tradition and the codes in which it was written.
Nahuals, Calendars and CodicesThe codices or calendars contained, among other things, a list of 260 natural and animal elements, so that each day of the year had its corresponding nahual. According to the day on which each child was born, it would be given a nahual, which would accompany and favor that person throughout life. A certain hierarchy existed among nahuals. The strongest were destructive elements of nature; lightning or whirlwinds. Immediately after came the ferocious animals: the tiger and the lion. At the age of seven years, each child was initiated by the nahualist in the understanding of his or her nahual.
Throughout life, the nahualist teacher continued to offer assistance as a natural healer and prophet, when there were illnesses to cure or personal problems to resolve. Various ritual calendars were consulted for this. In the 17th century, the nahualist concentrated all religious power in his person. This monopolization was the result of the colonial Church's elimination of the ancient culture and all its ministers.
The most important rite was human sacrifice, in the style that had been common throughout the Mayan area. It consisted of extracting the heart of the sacrificed person, secured to a horizontal stone or tied to a stick or vertical structure. Those to be sacrificed were sought in neighboring communities, which explains the interminable wars between communities. Animal sacrifices, especially of dogs and birds, were also common on many occasions. Idols were adored in caves, in springs, in hills and in houses. Another religious custom was the use of the sacred calendar to give names to people. The Chiapas calendar name combined one of the 20 days of the month with a numeric coefficient of between 1 and 13.
Principals, Peasants and SlavesLand was divided into provinces that included a capital, some towns and an indefinite number of rural communities. The government was in the hands of a cacique, or chief probably a hereditary position and various high level principals. They lived permanently in the capital, which served as the religious, commercial, political and military center for the people in the province. It filled with people from the rural communities on holidays, market days, or for political meetings. Everyone sought refuge there in times of war.
The social classes were stratified according to a well marked hierarchy. The upper stratum was held by the principals, a privileged and bilingual class set off from the rest by dress, living arrangements, weapons, land and prerogatives like polygamy, initiation into special cults and possession of the most powerful nahuals. They were proud to be descended from heroes made into gods. The common stratum was made up of humble peasants, probably represented by principals of their own class when some issue had to be resolved with the nobility. In the lowest stratum, separated from the rest by an uncrossable barrier, were the slaves, prisoners of war who had escaped ritual sacrifice.
Pozol, Cocoa, Corn and TobaccoAfter the renaissance of the 14th century, the Chiapas culture disintegrated politically and culturally in the 15th century. The cities built or remodeled by Votáns and Tzequils were buried under the jungle. The only survivors were small groups of people in isolated areas.
The majority of the inhabitants were peasants who harvested their fields using the slash and burn system. They complemented their basic diet of corn, chile and beans with tropical fruits, the meat of wild animals and fish from the rivers and lagoons. They grew cotton (for blankets), cocoa (as currency), and tobacco (a highly valued religious and medicinal drug). They spent their free time at war with their neighbors. They were good navigators of the rivers that served as communication between the jungle communities and the rest of the world. They spoke Chol and in some zones Tseltal. The caciques dominated the Náhuatl.
Because of the heat, they ate little and got most of their nutrients in semi liquid form. The basic plate was pozol (corn with water) or suchel (pozol mixed with cocoa and pepper). They harvested corn three times a year, as well as beans, squash, plantains, chile and tomatoes. They used tobacco in two forms: the smoke to cure colds and rheumatism and the ashes as an analgesic and soporific. They lived in houses with floors of wood, walls of sugar cane and roofs of thatch. The temples were built in the same way. During war, the men dressed in the skins of tigers, lions and deer. They used bows and arrows and macanas (wooden swordlike weapons) with blades made of stone. The women spent the whole year grinding corn and cocoa.
The Spanish RequirementThe central part of the Lacandona forest was inhabited by four indigenous peoples when the Spaniards arrived. In the north and the western edges were various tribes who spoke Chol and Tseltal. The Spanish tried to join them together in order to "reduce them." This reduction process took many years and left enormous pain, blood and death. The ancient indigenous communities were dismantled and disarmed. Their principals were assassinated in the cruelest manner and their populations decimated by the war, deportation and illnesses brought by the foreigners.
In 1541, Francisco de Montejo began the complete "pacification" of Chiapas so as to carry out the real project in the zone; the reconquest of Yucatán. His plan was applauded by the Spanish colonists in Chiapas; some were desirous of gaining control over the areas assigned to them in the zone, and others attracted by the prospect of gaining new lands and slaves from the conquered peoples.
It was "required" to respect the rights of the indigenous peoples. This consisted of a formal invitation to the "rebels" by the conquistadors to enter into or peacefully submit to Spanish dominion. Each conquering captain was obliged to carry this official document, approved by the Crown, with him. It always began with a formal exhortation to the indigenous to submit to the King of Spain and accept Christianity. It was accompanied by suggestive promises to make the surrender more attractive, but if the caciques did not listen to the offer, they were threatened with a war without mercy and the enslavement of their men, women and children.
The requirement had to be read three times in a loud voice and in both languages; that of the conquerors and of the adversary. A cleric, who always accompanied the expedition as military chaplain, was obliged to make sure that the precepts were observed the solemn reading of the text and a wait for the reply before proceeding with armed intervention. In practice, the requirement degenerated in most cases into pure formality, pure theater on the part of the conquerors, who were determined to take up their arms and win slaves no matter what. Some read it only in Spanish so the indigenous would not learn of the possibility of a peaceful "solution." Others shouted it out from far away without making any effort to make it intelligible. History shows that the Chiapas peoples resisted the Spanish. There was war and the rebels only submitted under force.
Bartolomé de las Casas ArrivesFray Bartolomé de las Casas arrived in Guatemala in 1537 and proposed his own plan to peacefully reduce the indigenous. He was consecrated Bishop of Chiapas on March 30, 1544 in Sevilla, and arrived at Ciudad Real (today San Cristóbal de las Casas) at the beginning of 1545, accompanied by 22 Dominican friars committed to re evangelizing the indigenous people by peaceful means. They called their mission the land of "true peace" Verapaz.
The task was enormous. They had to confront not only the Indians' mistrust poorly Christianized and irritated as they were but also the hatred of the Spanish colonists, who did not forgive the friars their struggle to liberate the slaves. The new bishop upset the whole city because of his intransigence and had to leave Chiapas in 1546.
Abandoned by their bishop, the friars could not "pacify" the unsubmissive Indians, so they dedicated themselves to reducing them to the towns on the edge of the jungle, leaving them defenseless against attacks from the jungle tribes. Little by little they began to request military support to carry out their evangelizing mission, until they ended up abandoning it and their ideals.
For 20 years beginning in 1559, the Crown declared open warfare on the Lacandonans to open the route between Guatemala and the Campeche coasts, assuming that the great rivers in the zone were totally navigable. From 1560 to 1580, the only pacific presence in the jungle was that of Fray Pedro Lorenzo, who walked among hundreds of communities, alone, without soldiers, "carrying no more than his own person, a little bit of pozol, like the Indians, and his breviary." Successive military incursions finally terminated that tribe, which was the only one to resist the Spanish truce. The jungle remained unpopulated for more than 100 years.
Lumber FeverIn 1822, the colonial province of "Las Chiapas" declared its independence from Spain. In that same year, the Lacandona Forest was discovered for the first time as a forest reserve. The discoverer was Militia Captain Cayetano Ramón Robles. He requested authorization to explore the zone and in exchange offered "to the nation the exploitation of all the construction lumber and tar it needed at half the price sold to the Anglo Americans that same day, to the Crown representatives a third less, and to foreigners the price of our choice." The explorers asked for some compensation for exploration costs: land titles to graze cattle and an exclusive six year concession for lumber cutting. The destruction of the jungle began, carried out by Tabascan lumber businessmen.
From 1822 to 1880, Tabascan merchants and industrialists monopolized the exploitation of the first cuts of precious wood. From 1880 to 1895 the exploitation expanded to powerful lumber companies the Bulnes House, the Valenzuela House and the Jamet and Sastré House which dominated the fluvial watersheds where lumber abounded. Lumbering became a huge industry that conquered the world market thanks to the financial support of foreign investors. Lacandona mahogany was loaded onto ships in the ports of the Gulf of Mexico and sold at outrageous prices in those of London, Liverpool and New York under the label of "Tabasco lumber."
Workers Snared for LifeThe period between 1895 and the Mexican revolution was the golden age of Lacandona mahogany. Porfirio Díaz's Liberal economic policies offered ideal conditions for foreign investment, and few industries were as profitable as mahogany. Ten big estate owners divided up the Lacandona between them. Five were Tabasco lumbermen and the rest businessmen and politicians from the Federal District.
The forest was covered with lumber camps. Work methods were absolutely primitive: the tree was chopped down with an axe, dragged along by oxen and floated down the rivers. The workers lived in semi slavery, tied to the camp by debt and more than 100 kilometers of impossible to traverse tropical vegetation.
The great majority of the workers were recruited through the enganche system of recruitment, which basically consisted of advancing a certain quantity of money to the worker when the contract was signed. This way, the man arrived at the lumber camp with a large debt. The enlistments almost always took place at parties in small towns, where the recruiter got the candidates drunk, told them marvelous stories about the work and advanced them money to continue drinking.
Instead of being cancelled with the work, gradually the debts grew, and the peon was hooked for life. The foremen punished those who did not work hard enough, and even more those who tried to escape the camp. A worker could receive between 50 and 500 lashes spread out over several weeks, depending on the foreman's whim.
The slow decline of the lumber companies began in 1917. The largest ones gradually disappeared, leaving in their place smaller, more modest companies that also disappeared bit by bit. Some estates were divided and others nationalized, until in 1949 the Mexican government prohibited the exportation of log lumber.
A Devastated EnvironmentWhen the last of the Tabascan lumber companies withdrew in 1949, an important era in the Lacandona Forest came to an end. The new one that began the next year, with different problems, still exists today.
There are three primary realities of our time, the first of which is the irreversible destruction of the tropical forest and irreparable damage caused to the zone's ecological equilibrium. The large scale devastation has mainly been the responsibility of the lumber companies and cattle ranchers but, pulled along by inertia, the peasants also participated. Seventy percent of the wealth of the Lacandona Jungle was lost in only 30 years.
The greatest consequence of this tragedy is the enormous difficulty of establishing regional economic development alternatives. It is almost impossible for any type of development to take place where there was only devastation in the past.
Permanently Disputed LandIn second place chronologically but much more significant for ecological deterioration is the problem of land. Beginning in 1960, peasant groups flooded the jungle, forming colonies in the former lumber zones. Many of these new colonies were born of spontaneous and anarchic occupations. Others were promoted by the federal or state government, in response to the great pressure for land by the peons on farms and latifundios situated in the highlands.
The migrations took place in different ways. At times entire groups left farms or towns together, and at others isolated families traveled on foot for weeks until they found an unoccupied area. And at still others, individual adventurers heard the news that "national land" was available and set out for the promised future. The new population centers were made of families, groups or individuals from different ethnic groups, regions, traditions and customs. This has since made community and social integration very difficult.
The communities are made up partly of indigenous Choles, Tseltals, Tzotzils or Zoques, and partly of mestizos from Chiapas or other Mexican states. Many do not have their lands legalized, and now need to find new lands for their children who are making their own families.
The history of these lands has been full of evictions, confrontations, demands, mutual threats. The government is burdened by a heavy political and economic load, and the affected peasants face serious socio cultural problems.
A Contradictory GovernmentThe third reality is the contradictory and poorly defined policy with which the government faces the region's social issues. On the one hand, it is trying to create a giant ecological reserve and put a stop to the destruction of the jungle. On the other, it faces enormous pressures from numerous colonies, with populations that increase every year and request that their common lands be broadened or new population centers be opened.
The government faces a challenge to resolve the land problem, but is also committed to exploiting petroleum, gas, hydroelectric energy and even the forest reserves and precious woods left untouched by the private companies. Even more serious is that it has decided to concede enormous facilities to cattle ranchers, with whom it has clear links.
A Nutshell Summary of this Long HistoryThis long history of destruction of the indigenous continues today. And it continues producing its inhuman and painful effects with the fundamental principle of the conquerors: take the land and everything on it jungles, rivers, plants, animals...indigenous peoples. The masks and costumes have changed, as have the legal figures, but the interests remain the same.
During the years of the conquest, the nobles attacked the Indians, destroyed their towns, dismantled their communities, cruelly eliminated their principals, decimated the populations through war, deportations and illnesses, and made the survivors slaves, reducing them to controlled and "pacified" peoples. Then, during the colonial period, the encomenderos built great fortunes based on indigenous labor under their domain.
Independence gave new ways to more wealth for the Chiapas Creoles, who took advantage of the new free labor system to build their camps and farms with a "modern" system, which gave them even greater economic liberties, since they no longer had to abide by the bothersome Indian Laws.
The Indians could die in the logging camps or in the dangerous jungles or the flowing rivers, trapped by the currents or by the enormous logs of precious wood that traveled to the sea, without the mahogany industrialists taking any responsibility for these deaths, which were just "work accidents."
The revolution gave the large farmers even more advantages. By taking control of the new state after the insurgent struggle, they were able to use the new cooperative political systems to give a national character to the exploitation of the Chiapas resources. Since then, all that was Chiapas went to Mexico. Chiapas produced meat, corn, coffee, honey, lumber, petroleum, electricity, ruins, waterfalls, jungles, beautiful tourist paradises, ecological reserves, tropical flora and fauna unique to the world. And of course Indians, "true" Indians. And votes, many votes, thousands of votes. Chiapas takes first place in vote production, though the indigenous don't know how to read or write.
Chiapas in NumbersThis is Chiapas in the 1990s, Chiapas at the end of the 20th century:
Population: 3.21 million inhabitants, 26.4% indigenous according to the census and 60% according to blood; 8 ethnic groups.
Education: The highest illiteracy rate in the country: 30% of the population over 15 years is illiterate, which jumps to 60% in the indigenous regions. The jungle and highlands are considered extreme poverty zones. Only 19% of the occupied population receives a salary. In 1991, 70% of the occupied population earned less than 9 pesos daily.
Living Conditions: 76% of the land is privately owned; 11.7% is common lands. Half of the houses have dirt floors, two thirds of the population either share a house or are in bad living conditions, three quarters of the houses have only one room and half these one room houses are occupied by 9 or more people.
Energy: Chiapas occupies first place nationally in electric energy generation; 55% of Mexico's hydroelectric production begins there. But a third of the population has no electricity, and coal or firewood is used in 60% of the houses.
Production: Chiapas occupies first place nationally in coffee production, second in cattle production, third in corn production. But it has the record for the greatest number of malnourished children; in 1984, 54% of the population was malnourished.
The Roots are AliveIn this barely outlined long and painful history, there have always existed two distinct ways of viewing life, war and peace; the indigenous and the ladinos.
The indigenous communities have conserved their cultural essence through the centuries despite the destruction, rapes, slavery and humiliations to which they have been subjected. They are still the descendants of those Mayan groups that populated the jungle in the post classic period of the 13th and 14th centuries.
They still hold their religious vision and socio political organization, influenced, of course, by elements of Christianity and the different social models with which they have had contact and have sifted through and discerned, incorporating some as survival mechanisms.
Their vision of nature is a profound part of the cultural roots that have been preserved, both in their experience as community and in their relationship with the divine. The historic expressions of this vision have changed with the language changes imposed by the dominant culture indigenous must always speak the white's language to be understood or to be allowed to live but the roots are there.
What Peace Means to ThemTo the indigenous, peace is not reduced to urban populations, uprooted from the earth, torn away from the religious community, inserted in the dynamics of free trade or internationalization of production. Much less does it mean being massively included on nominal electoral lists.
The indigenous concept of peace lies much more in the area of free community association in a territory where one can live from the earth and share the fruits the earth offers, where community mechanisms of social organization, representation, participation and exchange between ethnic groups can be developed.
A land where they can celebrate their rituals, celebrate life when it really is life with the community closely accompanying each of its members, guaranteeing that the most important elements of the culture are available to all, protecting them in daily life, supporting them in illness and personal or community problems, maintaining them united to their ancestors and their history, rooted to life itself.
Peace, for the indigenous, means ending slavery to the Spanish, colonists, encomenderos, lumber companies, farmers, cattle ranchers, caciques or ladinos. It means no longer having their lands, jungles, mountains, rivers and lagoons taken from them. It means not discarding the communities, authorities, traditions and customs.
To no longer be detained, beaten, jailed, tortured, judged, sentenced and trampled on by the executive, legislative and judicial powers, and by all type of local authorities.
For the indigenous, peace means, simply, peace. It means respect for life, for their rights, traditions, forms of social organization, their conception of the world, and their right to be an active part of that world. It means accepting and respecting the fact that the indigenous are part of the earth.
What They Mean to the LadinosFor the world of the ladinos, colonists, encomenderos, cattle ranchers or government officials, indigenous peoples are also part of the earth. But the earth is not Mother Nature. It is a piece of merchandise that magically converts into money, goes through a process by which it once again becomes merchandise and then generates even more money.
If the indigenous are part of the earth, they are also part of the merchandise and money cycle, just like the trees, rivers, ruins, coffee plantations or cattle. They are simply more complicated merchandise. Sometimes they are an extraordinary productive force, but at other times they are a political, economic and social load. Sometimes they are needed to increase the earth's productivity level. Other times they are a drag on the economy, a bother that must be eliminated.
Since the times of the conquest, the indigenous represented a two sided coin, a double edged sword: useful for work, but renegades in society. Incalculable wealth as part of the earth's merchandise but an inadmissable plague on the harmonic development of the colonial or national project. The fundamental problem, for the ladinos, is that the indigenous conserved their traditions and have not been able to adapt to the new economic models of political and social development.
From the first years of the indigenous peoples' destruction until today, ladinos have maintained that Indians are Indians and never stop being such; they are pagans, superstitious, witch doctors, witches, idolaters, heretics, savages, depraved, rebels, fiery, drunks, thieves, lazy and liars.
Will they accept the Peace of the Crown?In 1541, the ecclesiastical and civil authorities already declared that the indigenous peoples that inhabited the borders of the Lacandona Forest were "guilty of rebellion against the legitimate authority of the king of Spain," a proclamation that justified Montejo's expedition to completely "pacify" Chiapas.
At the same time, the Spanish respected the right of the indigenous to the "requirement" through which they were invited to "peacefully" accept Spanish dominion. We do not know if the requirement was read or not, nor if it was read, as the Crown dictated, in their languages. What we do know is that there was war, and that the rebels were put down by force and made slaves and that the peoples of Tila, Petalcingo, Entena and Pochutla were subjected to the Spaniards.
This episode of 1541 is enormously similar to another episode in 1994. Indians in Mexico have been declared rebels, subversives, lawbreakers, professionals of violence, guilty of destabilizing the country. War was made on them, not without first offering to "pardon" them if they voluntarily accepted to "peacefully" enter the dominion of the law. The invitation was accompanied by suggestive promises of reforms to the state Constitution, the agrarian law, the penal law and others, promises of public works, social services and others to make surrender look more attractive. Will the indigenous of today accept the peace of the Crown?
The war we are living today did not begin on January 1 nor two years ago nor ten. It is a long, bloody, enslaving and painful war. It is the interminable war for peace. The peace of the Indians, for the Indians. Or the pacification of the Indians, for the ladinos. It is the same war, and has been for centuries, but not the same peace.
Winds from Above and from BelowThe two winds have met. One, the wind from above, "narrates how the supreme government was moved by the indigenous poverty in Chiapas and offered hotels, jails, military barracks and military airports. It also narrates how the beast feeds on the blood of this people and other unhappy and unfortunate occurrences." The other, the wind from below, "narrates how dignity and rebellion are linked in the southeast and how the ghosts run on the Chiapas sierras. It also tells of the patience that runs out and other ignored but presumably important events." (Excerpts from the "codices" of Subcomandante Marcos, of the EZLN).
The two winds have met and the torment has begun. A tornado began in the middle of the mountains, uprooting the trees, diverting the rivers, destroying hills, crying out in the darkness of the night with its bombs. Death's bell once again rang, the horizon is painted red, and a light appeared in the sky. We still do not know if the light comes from the fire of war or the darkened face of hope. We only know that it came, that it is getting closer.
Civil society put itself in the middle and stopped the war for a time. But the two winds are preparing to confront each other with gunfire. One, on top, with modern equipment and rapid action units, trained in specialized schools in foreign countries, with strategic support. With airplanes like the F 5, AZ, T 33, Pilatos and Arabas. With helicopters like the UH 3, Bell 206, Bell 212 and Apache. With 105mm, 120mm and 81mm artillery, with a Special Air Service that carries light arms, 30mm machine guns and 60mm mortars. The special "anti terrorist" units came to the jungle forming a wide band around the indigenous. Will they be ready to deal with the "pacification of the Indians?"
What Does the Wood Tambour Say?The other wind is from below. It prepares itself on an empty stomach, consulting ritual calendars, looking for the gods, asking Ihcalahau, the black god of war, if their name has been mentioned. They ask Coxlaghuntox, the black god of thunder, if it is his voice they have heard in the mountains, and if they should cover their faces in black. They ask Votán, "the Heart of the People," if he is the one who plays the wooden drum, and if he has come to divide the land among them and give each people a name.
Ceibas are planted in the community plazas in order to be joined to ancestors. The bones of those fallen in the hurricane of January 1994 have now been received in the earth's interior. Their true names are among the codices, among the list of the nahuals. Men dress with tiger, lion and deer skins. They tense their bows, shine their arrows, sharpen their stone macanas. The women grind corn and cocoa. The smell of tobacco dulls pain and helps one to sleep. The snail dreams. The echoes are heard in the mountains. Votán plays his wooden drum.
We do not know what will happen. We do not know if there will be crying and gnashing of teeth. For today, an enormous tense calm, like a shade, covers the mountains, waiting for the painful labor and birth. We are only waiting for what comes after the peace. The peace of the indigenous, true peace.