Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 171 | Octubre 1995



Alarming Signs of a Dirty War

The victims of arbitrariness end up being the guilty ones, while activists of the social and political organizations are treated as delinquents and terrorists. The ungovernability of the country deepens, and the party-state seeks to respond with a dirty war.

Human Rights Center Miguel Agustín Pro

Incidents that took place throughout August in Mexico suggest, even in a preliminary analysis, the questionable way authorities operate to contain political and social movements.

We all know that, since January 1994, the official strategy toward the armed conflict in Chiapas the movement that most concerns the government has involved sieges and corralling the opponent. The attack in February 1995 against goods indispensable to the survival of Chiapas' civilian population, media manipulation, the reinforcement of military troops and reconnaissance flights or patrols to sow terror among the indigenous, the obstinacy of the official delegation during the San Andrés Dialogue, and the harassment of sectors of civil society sympathetic to the EZLN, are all aimed at strengthening the isolation of any Zapatista movement, military or political. This is an implicit precursor to surrender or to a possible final extermination offensive, once national and international opinion has already "justified" it.

Greatest Military Concentration Ever

La Jornada published a revealing report on August 11, stating that there is one soldier for every three inhabitants in the Lacandona Jungle, the greatest military concentration in Mexican history. Some 36 40,000 Federal Army soldiers are in the "conflict zone" on the periphery of 37 indigenous and mestizo communities, over an area of more than 20,000 square kilometers. According to the Jornada investigation, the territorial distribution of the military districts is reinforced by continuous detection and reconnaissance overflights, accompanied by helicopter air patrols aimed at intimidating the inhabitants.

The complement to this siege is the official attempt to minimize the Chiapas situation in public opinion and prevent any kind of civilian organizational initiative in connection with the Zapatistas. The successful pulling off of the National Consultation for Peace and Democracy was a serious blow to this siege strategy. It is estimated that one million Mexicans took part in that consultation, called surprisingly by the EZLN.

Blame the Victims

The government's objective of reducing the definition of the conflict to the Chiapas regional issue explains its campaign to harass and discredit those who promoted and carried out the consultation. The detentions, threats, blockade of events and accusations of distributing "subversive propaganda" suffered by Consultation activists, as well as harassment at the voting tables and the unattributed way the communications media covered the activity and reported on its results, are chapters in the authorities' vain attempt to reduce the Zapatistas' national impact.

Official strategy returned to repression and publicly delegitimizing the Zapatista movement because that indigenous armed protest represents the most overwhelming protest against the Mexican government's social, political and economic policies, and because the EZLN could potentially pull together growing social discontent.

In a national security scheme that seeks to safeguard official political interest, the term "terrorist" or "subversive" is enough to publicly justify any act of violence against any citizen or social organization that criticizes or questions the government. Hence, anyone who is a victim of human rights abuses because of public or social activity, sooner or later becomes the guilty party.

The Guerrero case, in which 17 peasants were murdered on their way to an event organized by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) in Aguas Blancas is a perfect illustration. The modus operandi of the repressive apparatus was epitomized in that massacre and was meticulously documented by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH): the location of the crime was altered, evidence was falsified, people lied, data was concealed, experts' information was falsified and penal investigation was detoured.

All of this was done to create a scenario in which the victims could be blamed, leaving the aggressors in impunity. Jesús Salas, the new state prosecutor who succeeded one removed on the CNDH's recommendation, declared, "It was not repression, but a lamentable incident." The way the Guerrero governor "fulfilled" the CNDH recommendation appeared to respond above all to this question: how to cast the scandal so that everything can remain the same?
The CNDH described the operation and its cover up mechanisms, but did not explain the cause. The intent does not seem to have been to get to the root of this massacre, to process the intellectual authors and those who carried out the crime, to explain why they were ordered to do it and what interests it obeyed, to explain why they had to kill. If things had gotten to that point, they would have to respond to the PRD's accusations, and its claim that in the last three months, 16 of its militants, always peasants, have been killed in Guerrero for political reasons.

The Military Are Criminals

As Abel Barrera, president of the Guerrero Human Rights Center, noted on Radio Educación on August 11, the authorities, faced with the emergency presented by social movements of that state, wanted to fit Guerrero into the Chiapas mold by making false accusations against the progressive Church, NGOs, indigenous peoples and intellectuals. The favorite recourse of these authorities is "the search for armed groups or criminals," which allows them to read any meeting, forum or assembly carried out by an organized group as conspiratorial.

The government is trying to paint each party militant as a criminal. The PRD denounced a pattern of persecution against some of its members, noting the publication of documents that implicate them in crimes, such as "political subversion," that are not outlined in the law. On August 17, Jesuit priest David Fernández, director of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez A.C. Human Rights (PRODH) Center and an envío correspondent, was threatened precisely for denouncing security apparatus actions that are hidden, unpunished and outside of the constitutional framework.

The legal ruse that attempts to bring accusations against social leaders and activists has no basis, as the CNDH demonstrated in Guerrero. The attempted legal backing used to capture supposed Zapatistas in February did not hold up to a confrontation with the law. These prisoners' defense, coordinated by the PRODH Center, demonstrated "the inconsistency of the accusations that the General Prosecutor of the Republic formulated against them." "If justice prevails," as the Center argued on August 21, "the supposed Zapatistas will soon have their liberty."
There are various worrisome signs in the country:
The logic of the decisions made by the authorities in the face of the country's growing poverty. Instead of putting into practice the economic measures needed to resolve the social problems and the marginalization of peasant and indigenous zones, those zones are militarized under the pretext of an anti drug or arms campaign.

The pilot plan announced by the Chihuahua governor, which seeks to substitute Federal Judicial Police and Public Ministry agents with military forces. This measure smacks of "national security" rather than "public security." The "national security" discourse appears more and more frequently to justify the army presence in Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chihuahua.

The police confrontations with street vendors from the Historical Center in the Federal District and the declarations of the Federal District Public Security secretary calling the violence applied in the eviction operations "legal," and noting that the use of force is precisely what makes a legal system different from "those systems where social conventions or moral norms are fulfilled as acts of faith."
Society is also alert to the content of initiatives announced by President Zedillo in his first government report, regarding modifications of the penal law and a supposed legal framework for what is known as the National Public Security Coordination.

Narco Ungovernability

The political panorama in August registered significant advances in the ungovernability rocking the country. After nine months of government, Zedillo has been unable to consolidate a government program or a team under his control. From his first press conference to his first government report, uncertainty has prevailed. There were expectations that, in his report, Zedillo would announce some substantial modification in economic, social or domestic policy to address the needs and demands of diverse sectors of society. The absence of this announcement confirms his lack of political leadership and the ever more evident power vacuums.

Accusations of intimidations that include death threats against leaders of political parties, civilian organizations and communications media are being added to the foot dragging on investigations of the political assassinations of Cardinal Posadas and PRI leader Francisco Ruiz Massieu. Those investigations implicated in one way or another high level functionaries of the previous government, the Vatican representative and mafia leaders. These implications, as well as rumors of a possible negotiation in Mexico between the General Prosecutor of Justice and drug leader Juan García Abrego, which is linked to Mexico's strategic location and the weakening of the principal Columbian drug cartels, leads one to consider the possibility of an accelerated and significant recomposition of forces competing to control to the international drug market. The fact that the assassination investigations have not advanced significantly and that the Posadas case, in particular, has actually officially returned to the starting point, could be due to these still undefined internal purges.

Institutional credibility has been seriously weakened due to impunity around actions like the Guerrero massacre, the irregular imprisonment of accused Zapatistas, violent evictions of street vendors and the unresolved conflict of Route 100. The politicization of social conflicts such as those affecting bank debtors contributes to a climate of political agitation and makes evident the authorities' inability to establish negotiations among the diverse interests in conflict.

The negotiations on state reforms, convoked by the President, have faced problems that test the political will of the PRI and government to continue this initiative. The difficulties in reaching some minimum accord, after the negotiations opened with a propagandistic display that committed the President, have produced an effect opposite to that desired. The negotiations are now interpreted as one more of Zedillo's disasters, particularly now that he has proposed passing the project to the legislative branch.

Zedillo's First Report

In this climate of uncertainty, President Zedillo's presentation of his first government report awoke great expectations that spectacular measures would be announced to turn around the difficult situation Mexicans face. But no such announcement was made.

According to Article 69 of the Constitution, the government report should inform on actions carried out by the Executive, not be a catalog of promises typical of a campaigning candidate. This time, the general tone of the discourse and the obligatory mention of problems made it appear as if Zedillo was commenting on situations for which the Federal Executive has no responsibility, ones provoked by an invisible hand that dominates the country's political and economic life.

The only concrete things Zedillo offered were some changes in laws, without explaining the origin of the crisis or the precise way to deal with it. He made no diagnosis of the country's political situation, and ignored the crisis of ungovernability in Chiapas, Guerrero, Tabasco and the country in general. He demonstrated with all of this that he is still practicing an "ostrich policy," possibly to avoid continued talk of "the Mexican crisis" in the headlines of foreign newspapers.

Zedillo announced with a triumphal tone that the objectives of the adjustment program have been met, despite the high social costs. He referred to a neglect in generating domestic savings to explain why the Mexican economy became vulnerable. The population was unsatisfied; they had hoped for announcements about economic policy, not the rhetoric favored by economists who choose macroeconomics over the peoples' daily economy. He also disappointed those who had hoped for different explanations than those given in recent months. Instead, he revealed the country's greater dependence on speculative capital.

In the political sphere, Zedillo recognized democratic advances due to citizen participation and noted legal reforms needed to increase this. But the President gave the impression of finding himself immersed in policies previously dictated by Salinas; he does not accept the demand for a transition to democracy that implies dismantling the state party system and only proposes a limited reform to the electoral law.

Chiapas: A Critical Omission

Zedillo characterized the current violence as a result of years of insufficient measures, neglect and omissions. He did not explain his position on the Tabasco case, the Guerrero assassinations or the political crimes still to be resolved. He never alluded to his promise to clarify the Colosio case. He excused himself by suggesting that, since the current Prosecutor is an opposition party member, it is the responsibility of that party, the PAN, to move the investigation forward. According to Constitutional Article 21, however, the Public Ministry should intervene initially, and according to Constitutional Article 89, the naming of the Prosecutor corresponds to the Executive. Thus the final responsibility for the investigations lies with Zedillo himself.

To respond to the demand for a real equilibrium among the branches, he proposed the creation of a collegiate body that would audit the use of public resources. But that is the task of the Treasury's Accounting Office, according to Constitutional articles 73 and 74, so far carried out because the PRI majority covers up the indiscreet way they make use of public resources.

Finally, another important omission: Zedillo barely spoke about Chiapas and the conflict with the EZLN. He stated only that the long negotiation process is continuing and mentioned a legal initiative for indigenous rights. He minimized the issue, ignoring once again that there is an armed movement backed by a large social movement and a declared war without effective dialogue, issues that will not be resolved by ignoring them. He simplistically claimed that the situation is better than it was on February 9, as if the army intervention had overcome the obstacles and eliminated the conflicts, when the reality is exactly the opposite.

As Zedillo spoke, 77 civilian organizations with 15,000 participants met at the Monument of the Revolution and listened as PRD leader Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and union leaders from Route 100 and the El Barzón organization, which includes more than one million bank debtors, charged that there have been no advances in the economic, social or political sphere, and demanded a clarification of the recent major crimes and alternative solutions to the neoliberal economic model.


In an interview in the August 14 issue of the Mexican magazine Proceso, PRODH Center director David Fernández charged that there are clear signs that a dirty war of state violence and repression began in Mexico in 1995. "It is more and more clear," he said, "that drug traffickers have infiltrated high level government spheres and an alliance is being forged between the drug lords, big business and hard line politicians."
"From one day to the next," he added, "the Judicial Branch appears as an absolutely corrupt power, the representatives and senators are totally unable to offer solutions, the General Prosecutor of the Republic cannot operate and we see that almost all of Mexico has gone into crisis. We are beginning the path to Peruvianization." The interview also offered the names of those who, in his judgement, are leading this "dirty war" against those who fight for and demand an alternative to this crisis.
After his interview, David Fernández began to receive anonymous telephone calls as has happened to many others threatening his life and that of his family. "Very soon you'll wish you'd never
been born, very soon you'll receive a gift," the voices said. "Dirty dog, you want to be a redeemer? Very soon you'll be one;, no one plays with us."
On August 18, Mexico's Jesuit provincial, José Morales Orozco, sent a letter to the Secretary of Governance and the Prosecutor of Justice, denouncing these threats and stating that "death
threats, intimidations, harassment and torture are common practices in our country." Morales Orozco demanded security for Father David and his relatives. envío echoes these demands and clamors for justice for millions of Mexicans.


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