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24 June 1999 Edition

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Mexico Report

After a brief break from party wrangling for the visit of Pope John Paul II in January, Mexican politics has returned to its most pressing engagement of the year, the 2000 presidential elections. The ruling party, the PRI, have broken with the tradition of the President hand picking his successor, changing to an open ballot system to choose the candidate to run next July.

Top of the list and in the lead is the interior minister Labastida. The PAN, Mexico's far-right party, look set to put Vicente Fox forward as their man .He has already become a major media figure in Mexico, with all the television networks turning up at his public appearances. PAN believes in the privatisation of Pemex, the national oil company and Telmex, the telecommunications company. Because of their neo-liberal economic policies, they are the favourites of foreign investors. They have a populist appeal by claiming that all money raised through privatisation will go to health and education.

The main left-wing opposition party, the PRD, looks set to put forward the current mayor of Mexico City, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. Although a seasoned campaigner who has run in two previous presidential elections, his failure to make any large impact on crime and poverty in Mexico City means he has lost ground on his rivals and is not as popular in the country as a whole as when he took office in 1997. The shooting two weeks ago of a television host has also become a major thorn in the side for Cardenas.

Francisco ``Paco'' Stanley, Mexico's most beloved television host, was gunned down along with a colleague and a bystander by two men in broad daylight. Police claimed after the killings that Paco carried papers identifying him as a government agent. Some people believe the credentials were stolen, others that he was in fact a government informant. Searches of Paco's car after the killing revealed a pestle and mortar and cocaine packets. The killing is believed by many to have been carried out by one of Mexico's drug cartels. The political implications of the killing are being played out in the Mexican media, with most of the blame being placed at the door of Cardenas.

The big news in Mexico over the last few months, however, has come from outside the party-political spectrum. Two groups have taken the limelight, the EZLN in Chiapas through the staging of a national plebiscite and Global Exchange, a human rights organisation based in San Cristobal.

A national consultation has placed the issue of Chiapas and Mexico's indigenous people back to the top of the national agenda. In March, 5,000 Zapatista supporters from communities within Chiapas travelled in pairs to all of Mexico's 2,500 voting districts to ally with local groups and hold a national plebiscite on the issue of the San Andres peace accords, which were signed by the government mediating team during the peace talks but later vetoed by the president. Indigenous rights and demilitarisation of Chiapas. Three million people in all voted, with 95% voting in favour of the Zapatista demands. Polling stations in Oaxaca town on the day had queues as young punks from the local college rallied with members of the clergy and volunteers from all walks of life to ensure that everyone had the opportunity to vote. A party held that night in church grounds in Oaxaca showed the Zapatistas claiming a victory, as no one had anticipated such a response from the public. The publicity gained from the nationwide event left the federal government at odds for a response.

On 21 March, the human rights organisation Global Exchange released a report it had been working on in conjunction with other nongovernmental organisations, detailing the history of expulsions from the state of Chiapas . The document not only put forward a defence of the expelled but also challenged the federal government's legal claim to expel foreigners it deems undesirable. The report caused a major storm when realised, with Processo, Mexico's popular political weekly, affording it a five-page spread. The government made no official response but IMN, the immigration office responsible for the expulsions, has requested five copies of the report from one of the lawyers involved in producing it.

Force in Chiapas

Military incursions in the state of Chiapas are again taking centre stage as the federal government steps up its campaign of harassment and intimidation in Zapatista controlled areas. The EZLN (Zapatista Front for National Liberation) reported that on the morning of 4 June, the community of Nazaret was invaded by 700 federal soldiers along with members of the PRG, police from the Mexican department of justice. At 3pm, tear gas was fired at the women protesting the invasion. On the same day, incursions by the army were carried out in the communities of Saclum, Atzamilo and Santa Martha. On 10 June, incusions were reported from La Realidad, the Zapatista centre of resistance deep in the Lancandon jungle. Another Zapatista centre of resistance, La Garrucha, has witnessed a military build up in the nearby army barracks. Reports of even more military operations in other communities are being heard daily. According to Fray Lorenzo de la Nada Human Rights Centre, the objective of the army seems to be ``to close the military encirclement of the Zapatista positions, and to make the towns that are supporting the armed group move out of the selva [forest]''. With presidential elections so close, many believe a full-scale invasion of Zapatista territory is unlikely but the situation in Chiapas is accelerating and tension is rising by the day.

Stephen Mahony

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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