An Phoblacht 2 - 2022 small

25 March 1999 Edition

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Rebel vote breaks deadly silence

Radio silence. Television silence. Government silence. 3 million Mexicans turning out to vote against the war of extermination of the indigenous peoples, in a national plebiscite organised by diminutive, malnourished Indians wearing balaclavas. This is the democracy of the poor in a country where the political system can barely hang on until presidential elections next year, and fresh scandals break on a weekly basis.

The poll was conducted by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in an attempt to return the initiataive to ordinary Mexicans right around the country. Peace talks supposedly aiming to grant autonomy for indigenous people were suspended in February 1996, with an ensuing stalement which the Federal Government still makes little effort to overcome. The rebels have maintained their ceasefire despite a campaign of harassment by police and the military, and by Loyalist-style death squads armed and trained by the government. Last Sunday's ``Consulta Nacional'' was a deliberate gamble to reveal the government's weakness before its own people, so the huge response - breaking all the records for such surveys - is enormously encouraging.

Even more heartening for them is the 95% ``Yes'' vote to the four questions on the ballot paper. Mexicans were asked if they believed the indigenous peoples should be involved in the construction of the nation, and if a proposal for constitutional reform from the joint congress commission set up to examine the issue should be put into law. They also voted for demilitarisation of the country and to demand that the government begin to act in accordance with the will of the people.

Considerable harassment of people attempting to vote occurred in various states, such as Chiapas, Guerrero and Tabasco. In some cases armed groups of government supporters prevented polling tables from being established, and in others police photographed all those who came to vote, which in itself is a formidable threat. The consultation was given no coverage by the televison channels, which are run by large media corporations, and what did appear in national newspapers was lost to the majority of Mexicans who cannot afford to buy them. So it was something of a miracle that the poll happened at all.

That it did must be counted as a considerable triumph for the thousands of volunteers who organised the ``brigades'' responsible for the running of the Consulta on the ground. Five thousand delegates from the Zapatista communities were bussed around the length and breadth of the country to promote it, which was a considerable challenge for the EZLN since many of these people came from tiny mountain villages which are all but inaccessible. The delegates point out that this was part of the objective of the whole project: to give civil society the opportunity to start organising for itself outside of government-fostered structures which have been co-opted into the system and become highly corrupt. Whatever happens in the presidential elections in the year 2000, many people fear that political life will remain largely unchanged. Whether this is the only future faced by ordinary Mexicans depends on their own organisational capacity, as the Zapatistas proved yet again last Sunday.

Moment of truth

The moment of truth has arrived not only for Milosevic and the Serbian State, but for the International community. The NATO powers has decided it is high time for starting a war within European borders, without UN approval. All in the name of peace. The failure of US and British efforts to force an agreement between the Serbian state and the Albanians in Kosovo (not so rebel anymore as they accepted the proposed peace plan) will be solved through the use of force. This kind of approach if taken by minoritary groups is called terrorism, but if it is a decision of the military powers it becomes peacekeeping.

The negotiations in the French city of Rambouillet were embarrassing, as was the whole approach to the conflict by the International Community. Some political analysts pointed out that the international observers did not understand the complexity of the problem. But a more thoughtful approach will make clear that what really happened was that they did not want to understand. From the very beginning, it was known that the plan for so called ``wide autonomy'' presented by the international delegates would not satisfy any of the participants. Kosovan leaders have realised in the last year that they cannot deal with a Serb government too prone to break its commitments. On the other hand, the Serbian state maintains its claim that an autonomous status is not possible for the region that saw the creation of the Serbian nation. The Kosovan delegates had to accept the plan. It was made clear for them that the international community will not support the idea of an independent Kosovo. ``It is not a right they have'', claimed Christopher Hill, the US negotiator in Rambouillet.

Self-determination was allowed when it favoured Western interests. Lets remember how the international community saluted the declaration of independence of 14 states that at the time were part of the Soviet Union. But, when it comes to the West, things are not so easy. If self-determination is granted for Kosovo, the position of some members states in NATO -Turkey, Spain, France...- could see their own policies towards their own minority populations affected.

Ironically then the air-strikes will expose the high levels of international hypocrisy, because at the end of the day the NATO's bombs may force Milosevic to accept Kosovan autonomy and only mean that Kosovan destiny will remain in the hands of the Milosevic government anyway. Nothing will in fact have been resolved!!!

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