Chiapas: Any Hope for the Future – Government (300 Level Course)

Chiapas: Any Hope for the Future – Government (300 Level Course)

As the uprising in Chiapas enters its sixth year, there appears to be no immediate solution. Will the new president elect Fox be able to bring about peace in this troubled area and succeed where his predecessors have failed?

The state of Chiapas has always had the potential to be a wealthy state. With a wide array of natural resources it has been an important part of the Mexican economy both politically and agriculturally.

However, because of the fact that the majority of its population consists of some fourteen different indigenous groups, many of whom do not speak Spanish, the social structure has been in disarray for many years. While a revolution has been started and is still in progress, little has changed and it is a wonder if anything will in fact change in the future for this state in need. The 2000 election of Vicente Fox can only bring promise to these people, as so little has been done thus far the only way for things to go is up. This has yet to be seen unfortunately.

The revolution began on January 1, 1994, an important day in Mexican history as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was set to go into effect. As the rest of Mexico was celebrating this achievement, armed citizens in Chiapas were taking control of the capitals in seven of the major cities. These revolutionaries are known as the Zapatistas, naming themselves after Emiliano Zapata, an indigenous leader of poor Mexicans during the turn of the twentieth century. These people were all of Indian heritage and had been neglected by the Mexican government because of this for decades. This was not simply the case only in Chiapas, but the staple all throughout the country, where the indigenous were considered and still are considered to be the bottom rung of the cultural ladder.

The statistics that the Zapatistas used for their cause were startling. Only 11% of the population was said to have been living a moderate existence and nearly 50% of all households were without running water. A similar amount of homes are without electricity regardless of the fact that Chiapas is home to the power plant that supplies much of Mexico as well as Guatemala with power. Besides the mere poverty, the people of Chiapas were divided along other lines such as their religion, their political party and if they were in fact in favor of the Zapatistas and what they stood for. Many citizens were content in the fact that little they did could be helpful to their cause and they saw the plight of the revolution as meaningless. Furthermore, much of the land that was promised to these poor workers by the new Mexican constitution was still in the hands of the wealthy Mexican landowners and the PRI and then president Zadillo almost always quietly covered up this ownership.

While most of the revolution itself consisted of low intensity warfare, that is there was no real open warfare, just constant threats by opposing groups and continual uneasiness in the relations of all people in the state. At this same time it was rumored that some paramilitary groups arrived on the scene sponsored by the PRI. Other rumors said that these groups were funded by the drug traffickers that had been plaguing Mexico for years. During all of this a cease-fire was reached and the government met with the leaders of the Zapatistas movement, including their supposed leader, sub commander Marcos. These groups were able to reach some agreements after almost four months of negotiations. This bargain was known as the San Andres Accords and was to give the indigenous of Chiapas more individual rights as well as the autonomy that they sought for their culture which they felt was very dissimilar from that of modern Mexico. It was a new, separate identity that they wanted.

However as the agreement reached president Zadillo, he sternly rejected it, citing that giving in to these proposals would be giving Mexican citizens special and different rights. He refused to sign it saying that it went directly against the Mexican constitution. So as Zadillo does feel the support of the Northern wealthy side of Mexico, he falls out of favor with the poor indigenous of his country. This leads the country back in a tug-of-war as the Zapatistas head into a full-fledged revolution more weary of where the months of long negotiations brought them. And while these people did deserve increased favor and more rights, for the government to do so would only prove dangerous to the overall good of the nation.

The presidency of Zadillo reached its end with still no resolution to the conflict in Chiapas. Yet the election of 2000 lead the country in a surprising direction as the PRI lost control of Mexico for the first time in over seven decades. Vicente Fox of the P.A.N. party won office in an astounding manner and with his election brought about an enormous wave of enthusiasm for the entire country. With his inauguration finally over, Fox is officially in office and must tackle the problems facing his country. And while his main problem will most likely be how to lead a country that still favors the PRI and a senate of his opposing parties’ elected officials, his real political test will be the problem with Chiapas.

Having perhaps already made the mistake of saying in jest after just winning the election that he could resolve the conflict in Chiapas “in fifteen minutes,” he has been open to more realistic thoughts. Now that he is in office he appears ready to get to work and start the ball rolling. Sub commander Marcos has only recently broke his silence on Fox’s election and said that he will in fact be open to talks with the new president. This shows great promise for Fox and his staff, as he must be aware of the apprehension that still plagues the Zapatista forces. It appears that Marcos and his followers are ready to settle this dispute and attempt to rebuild their home.

Though the demands that have been made are only for democracy and the basic freedoms that much of Mexico and much of the world enjoys, the Zapatistas may be sympathetic to the fact they asking for everything at once may not realistically result in anything. To take plans slowly and cautiously would favor not only them but also Fox, who could meet more demands choosing this path. Fox seems to be honest and adamant about solving this problem. A settlement would also prove two-fold for his presidency. It would gain favor in Mexico, bettering his popularity, and a solution in Chiapas would appease the large number of NGO’s that are seeking improved human rights not only in Mexico, but worldwide. These groups have brought human rights to the international forefront and a settlement by Fox would shed good light on Mexico in international relations, and only help the country gain better status and move it closer to a first world status.

Fox does have the ability to bring about the adoption of some reform and improved rights for the state of Chiapas. This would not only bridge the ever widening gap between the Mexican people, but it would also be ethically right and it would prove to be an important tool in the future success of his tenure as Mexico’s president. So while the conflict still exists and he is in office, it is crunch time in Mexico. The conditions are the best they have been and Fox appears to be suited to tackle the task at hand. For only time will tell if the revolution can in fact be ended, but one thing is for sure; if Fox is unable to work with Marcos and the Zapatistas in an effort for reform, it may be worst blown chance that Mexico may have ever had, or even worse, may ever have.