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17 June 1999 Edition

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Chiapas, Mexico: Fresh wave of military assaults on indigenous villages

BY NICK JONES

Mexico's new Minister for the Interior, Dionisio Carrasco Altamirano, appears to be bent on marking his arrival in power with a series of strikes against the poorest and historically weakest sector of society: the indigenous peoples of the state of Chiapas.

NAZARETH is the name of a small Indian village which has supported the Zapatista Army of National Liberation ever since it made its presence felt in the historic 1994 uprising that demanded land, work, education, democracy and indigenous autonomy. The community thus has a significance far beyond mere biblical reference: it is part of a symbolic movement which offers leadership and hope to many people around Mexico. These rebels are poor by definition. They hide their identity behind red and orange bandanas and are equipped with a bizarre medley of different armaments. It's rumoured there are several thousand of them, but nobody knows for sure.

On 4 June, a mixed contingent comprising over a thousand soldiers, federal and state police entered Nazareth and dispersed the inhabitants using tear gas. Three hundred people had to flee into the mountains, leaving the army in control of their village. Since then, the soldiers and police have been camped in the area around the village's primary school, and the men, women and children of the community have been forced to shelter in the hills.

It's the rainy season here and they have practically nothing to eat. It's likely that when the army eventually leaves their village they will have destroyed all the beans and maize which are the people's staple diet, as well as taking tools, blankets, pots and pans and what little money they come across. That's been a consistent pattern over the last five years of ``low intensity warfare'' as the theoreticians up in the U.S.-based School of the Americas like to call it.

This year's offensive has started with almost no pretext given. A police official claimed that the huge operation had been mounted in order to investigate a roadblock allegedly set up by the rebels two kilometres down the road. ``But we didn't find anything'' he admitted openly. The general in charge refused to clarify how long the soldiers would remain in the village. ``Until orders change'' was the stated position. The Mexican military tends to fight shy of the press.

A further two Zapatista villages have since been invaded by similar contingents of police and soldiers. There has also been a significant build-up of army units around already existing bases in this massively militarised corner of Mexico. Again, no explanation has been given. Observers can only guess at what the government hopes to gain from a tactic that last year led to carnage and severe loss of face in the international community. One possibility is that the new Minister for the Interior hopes to ``soften up'' the Zapatistas before coming out with a new peace offer known to be on the cards already. However he is unlikely to succeed. These people have been in resistance ever since Columbus arrived.


Victories for Basque independence movement



The political process in the Basque Country that began in September last year has affected the local and European elections in the Basque Country. This has been the key factor in the success of the pro-independence movement Euskal Herritarrok (EH), that has increased its vote in the European elections to double the result the coalition obtained in 1994. EH has also got a majority representation in some of the town councils and increased its councillors in the four capitals of Hegoalde (South Basque Country, under Spanish rule).

Defying the opinion polls, Euskal Herritarrok, the electoral coalition created by Herri Batasuna and other left-wing organisations, managed to have its candidate, Koldo Gorostiaga, elected in the European elections. The pro-independence coalition got 123,000 more votes than in the last European election in 1994, reaching a total than more than 300,000, 10% of which came from outside the Basque Country.

After the seat was confirmed, Koldo Gorostiaga sent his regards to Karmelo Landa, MEP of Herri Batasuna until 1994 and today imprisoned in Basauri, and also thanked all those who voted for its candidature outside the Basque Country, specially to the 18,000 voters from Catalunya. Gorostiaga also denounced that in at least ``30 polling stations in the Spanish State there were no EH ballot papers'', pointing out that ``in a democracy'' the voting should have been cancelled at these polling stations.

The elected MEP highlighted that he will be fighting ``for a free Europe, where politics will be more important than economics, where the citizens have access to the power making bodies''. The People's European Coalition, which included Basque and Catalan nationalist parties, won two seats in the European Parliament, and the Galician nationalist party, BNG, also had a candidate elected to Europe.

Koldo Gorostiaga


Born in 1940 in Bilbo, Koldo Gorostiaga has spent the last 25 years living in Iparralde (north Basque country under French rule). He has a law degree from Deusto University. A Doctor in Labour Law for Barcelona University, he worked as a lecturer in the University of Basque Country and the Central University of Barcelona. Later, he lectured in Pau University and has also worked in Bordeaux, Nantes and Paris.

Since 1995, Gorostiaga has been working in the European Office for Lesser Languages. He is a member of the Economic and Social Council of the Basque Autonomous Community and a director of the Institute of Cooperative Law and Social Economy.

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