ICE Case Studies

Case Number: 13

Case Mnemonic: CHIAPAS

Case Name: Chiapsa Civl War and Environment

Case Author: Amanda Marx, May, 1997



CASE BACKGROUND
ENVIRONMENT ASPECT
CONFLICT ASPECT
ENVIRONMENT OVERLAP CONFLICT ASPECT
RELATED INFORMATION

I. CASE BACKGROUND

1. Abstract

Long before the armed uprising in Chiapas, on January 1, 1994, the Mexican military was well aware of political discontent rising in its southernmost state. However, they chose to conceal this information in order to assure approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada, Mexico and the United States (Inter Press Service, March 22, 1995). It was not a coincidence that the peasant revolt, led by the Zapatista National Liberation Army, occurred on the same day NAFTA was signed and implemented. With world attention focused on the implementation of NAFTA, the Chiapas uprising was set for the international agenda as well. NAFTA invoked feelings of resentment amongst peasants and members of the guerilla army. They feared being displaced, as large landowners would be required to best compete with US and Canadian agricultural producers. The armed revolt thus originated as a battle over property, justice, and tradition.

2. Description

The revolt in Chiapas has "deep political roots" (Inter Press Service, March 22, 1995). Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos, the insurgent leader of the guerilla army, has referred to NAFTA as the "death sentence" for poor Mexicans (Defense & Foreign Affairs' Strategic Policy, March 31, 1995). The signing of the agreement dismantled the livelihood of thousands of Chiapans, who were expected to compete with US farmers. The majority of land occupied by Chiapas farmers costs approximately $270 to produce a ton of corn. In comparison, the cost to produce the same quantity in the US is $92 (Inter Press Service, March 8, 1995). Such disparities reflect the continuance of domination by developed and industrialized nations of the world trade market-- exactly what the rebel groups in Chiapas refused to endorse.

In the words of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (during his state of the nation address), "...Poverty alone does not explain armed violence." In fact, the state of Chiapas received more federal support than any other during the Salinas administration's reign. The federal aid assisted in healthcare, education, electrification, drinking water, production, indigenous groups, designs to assist in the financing of land purchases, roads and highways (The British Broadcasting Corporation, November 4, 1994).

The social inequities existing in Chiapas are but one cause for the conflict. Former President Salinas admitted to the "social backwardness" of the region, but also pointed to local and foreign interests, alike, which clearly supported a political trajectory to be set forth by the armed and trained guerilla army. The Zapatistas blatantly sought to establish ties with urban social groups in the capital; and used the media as its main vehicle for notoriety.

When the rebel army attacked four Chiapas municipal capitals along with the Mexican army headquarters in Rancho Nuevo, January 1, 1994, it began as a "rebellion against property" (Reuter Textline Reinsurance, October 4, 1994). From a larger perspective, the uprising embodied an attitude of irrelevance for NAFTA among the poor and indigenous communities.

The Indian revolt "spooked foreign investors" and invoked a spirit of caution among American protectionists and Canadian "diehards" (Reuter Textline Reinsurance, October 4, 1994).

Historically, austerity measures were implemented during the 1980s in reaction to the pending debt crisis. Once again, they have returned with the passage of NAFTA. Mexican workers must face the consequence of and demand which foreign creditors bring to the national scene.

A program of austerity draws into question the issue of land and its ownership (as well as issues concerning a "regressive wage policy", employment, fair competition, etc.). Land in Mexico, is often communally owned by peasant communities, called "ejidos." In preparation for NAFTA, the Salinas administration amended the constitution allowing for the division of ejido lands among their members. This decision, in theory, would make it easier for individuals to sell their plot of land to larger and more efficient landowners. The landowners, in turn, would be in a better position to compete with US and Canadian producers once NAFTA was enforced (International Herald Tribune, February 17, 1995).

3. Duration: 1995 to now

4. Location

Continent: North America

Region: Southern North America

Country: Mexico

 The armed conflict arose in the Chiapas jungle; an area recently populated by Indians who had migrated from Altos de Chiapas. Over the past two decades, they had come in search of new land to farm. Approximately 70,000 people inhabit this isolated area, living within their small communities and dioceses. The population of Chiapas consists primarily of Mayan Indians, broken into various indigenous groups: Tzetzal (317,608 members), Tzotzil (281,677 members), Chol (139,646 members), Tojolabal (44,618 members), Zoque (43,350 members), Kanjobal (13,433 members), Mame (12, 320 members), and Mocho (278 members). (Chiapas, http://www.chisnet.com.mx/chiapas/Etnias/) The population of Chiapas constitutes three per cent of the national population.

Most of the region is part of the second largestmunicipality in Mexico, Ococingo, and by transport lies a couple of days away from the municipal capital, itself. It borders a region where Central American guerrillas have been in operation for 35 years (The British Broadcasting Corporation, November 4, 1994).

The geographic location has afforded a widening gap between authorities and the occupants of local communities. This, in conjuncture with the passage of abuse and prejudice suffered by the Indians at the mercy of local bosses and age-old inequities, has lent to an atmosphere of shame and dissidence.

5. Actors

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Deforestation

Date began: Jan. 1, 1994

As of February, 1995, Mexican troops were still in Chiapas maintaining a forced peace. Under the current administration of President Ernesto Zedillo, the arrest of the rebel leaders was ordered (February 9, 1995) when weapon caches, belonging to the Zapatistas, in Mexico City and Vera Cruz. Six days later, President Zedillo reinstated his willingness to negotiate (Defense and Foreign Affairs' Strategic Policy, March 31, 1995).

Nonetheless, the impact of the peasant revolt is far reaching. It has been attributed of the escalation of the 1994 peso devaluation into a national crisis, one that still persists today (International Herald Tribune, February 17, 1995).

7. Type of Habitat

8. Act and Harm Sites:

Act Site       Harm Site           Example

Egypt          Sudan               Plans for diversion of the Nile

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict

10. Level of Conflict

11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities)

III. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:

Faced with pressure for agrarian reform in Chiapas, former President Luis Echeverría responded with plans of colonization. Thus began the deforestation of the Lacandona jungle, chosen as the site to be colonized.

Organization of this 'new' society was granted to priests of "Liberation Theology" (which explains the intense religiousness of the Chiapas state), "left-wing community developers," and 'ex'- members of urban armed struggles. The current and principle ethnic groups of the area are the Tojolabal, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, and Chol communities. The 1970s marked Eastern Chiapas as one of "multi- ethnic indigenous communities"--an environment ripe for insurrection.

Large landowners repeatedly repressed the indigenous communities in efforts to push them off their land. The reformation of Article 27 of the Constitution, in 1992, gave peasant farmers title to the land they received under the agrarian reform (instituted during Echeverría's administration, 1970-1976). (It was also the impetus for the formation of the rebel army, itself.) Immediately following was the sale of land for very low prices and/or confiscation of it -- many of Chiapas' communities, faced with extreme poverty, were in heavy debt. Upon being evicted from their land, many Chiapans felt "radical" resentment. This only increased with the expected implementation of NAFTA, and the likelihood of a return to an agricultural system based on large landowner control (in order to best compete with US and Canadian producers). (IPS, http://bioc09.uthscsa.edu/natnet/archive/nl/9502/0218.html, Feb. 1995)

13. Level of Strategic Interest

14. Outcome of Dispute:

IV. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE and TED Cases

TED Cases CHIAPASCase
NAFTACase
PETENCase
TEAKCase
MOHAWKCase
HUDSONCase
COSTBEEFCase
COSTPESTCase

ICE Cases

16. Relevant Websites and Literature

Websites Chiapas
Experts on Chiapas Unrest
NAFTA Progress Assessment
Mexican Views
Index of /Politics/International Socialist

Literature "1994 Was a Tough Year for Mexico, But 1995 May Prove An Even Tougher Challenge," Defense & Foreign Affairs' Strategic Policy. March 31, 1995.

"Mexico: Pentagon Analyzes Roots of Chiapas Conflict," Inter Press Service. March 22, 1995.

"Social Summit-Trade: Who Really Benefits From Free Trade?" Inter Press Service. March 8, 1995.

"Hot Time in Mexico: Carlos Salinas de Gortari," The Irish Times. March 7, 1995.

"Beyond the Peso, Mexico's Whole Development Strategy Is In Crisis," International Herald Tribune. February 17, 1995.

"The trouble with Mexico; Peso decline; ballooning trade deficit, and Chiapas uprising dim the picture," Industry Week. February 6, 1995.

"Salinas reviews the successes of his administration," The British Broadcasting Corporation BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. November 4, 1994.

"North America: A New Spur to Trade," Reuter Textline Reinsurance. October 4, 1994.

ENDNOTES (All sources were compiled using the LexisNexis database)

"1994 Was a Tough Year for Mexico, But 1995 May Prove An Even Tougher Challenge," Defense & Foreign Affairs' Strategic Policy. March 31, 1995.

"Mexico: Pentagon Analyzes Roots of Chiapas Conflict," Inter Press Service. March 22, 1995.

"Social Summit-Trade: Who Really Benefits From Free Trade?" Inter Press Service. March 8, 1995.

"Hot Time in Mexico: Carlos Salinas de Gortari," The Irish Times. March 7, 1995.

"Beyond the Peso, Mexico's Whole Development Strategy Is In Crisis," International Herald Tribune. February 17, 1995.

"The trouble with Mexico; Peso decline; ballooning trade deficit, and Chiapas uprising dim the picture," Industry Week. February 6, 1995.

"Salinas reviews the successes of his administration," The British Broadcasting Corporation BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. November 4, 1994.

"North America: A New Spur to Trade," Reuter Textline Reinsurance. October 4, 1994.



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November, 1997