The massacre at Acteal, Chiapas, ten years ago, which left 45 indigenous women, children, and men brutally murdered, should have been a turning point in history. When pacifist refugees are gunned down and savagely annihilated with machetes, the world should weep. When we hear the testimonies of survivors and onlookers which declare that local and state police stood idly by as paramilitaries were allowed to attack the village, we should become sick to our stomachs and ask “Why!?” When we consider the larger context in which this tragedy took place—a federal government counterinsurgency response to the Zapatista uprising, including low intensity warfare tactics learned at the infamous School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA—in outrage our resolve should be this: never again U.S. military training and funding in Latin America.
But have we largely forgotten the U.S. role in the Acteal massacre? Despite a strong international presence at the commemoration of the massacre’s tenth anniversary, there was a noticeable absence of U.S. participants—only 5 to 10 in attendance according to our observation (ourselves included)—and no on-the-ground presence of the U.S. alternative press.
Have we learned anything as U.S. citizens from the Acteal massacre or are we ignoring the message Acteal has for us today?
U.S. military intervention in Mexico is entering a frightening new phase, perhaps something quite unlike anything we’ve seen from our government in the past. At the worst—as evidenced by the establishment of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America and the available details of the $1.4 billion anti-narcotics Merida Initiative (aka “Plan Mexico”) proposed by President Bush (see the Witness alert)—the U.S. is secretly seeking to sure up its access to capital and natural resources—especially oil and water—by establishing a militarized North American security zone that includes Mexico as a proxy in the global “war on terrorism” and strips the public of constitutional guarantees to privacy, protest, and habeus corpus—all while turning a blind eye to human rights.
At best, billions of your tax dollars are going into the military machinery and international database integration necessary to blow immigrant rights out of the water, wage ineffective police and military warfare against drug-trafficking (kind of like Plan Colombia), and make multinational business and banks even richer.
Speaking in the context of the Merida Initiative, Laura Carlsen of the Americas Policy Program states:
The physical presence of U.S. military companies such as Blackwater doing training and equipment maintenance, and direct U.S. involvement in Mexican security could lead to a proxy relationship that compromises national sovereignty and subordinates a traditional Mexican foreign policy of neutrality to a U.S. interventionist foreign policy.
But we don’t have to wait on Congress to approve the Merida Initiative. Our government is now beginning its third year of providing counter-terrorism training to Mexican military personnel on Mexican soil—while at the same time continuing the tradition of training Mexican officers at 4 US military installations, including Ft. Bragg.
Then there are these recent considerations:
- The U.S. Department of Defense has invested $500 million in a University of Kansas study mapping indigenous communal land holdings in Mexico’s Huasteca region and the state of Oaxaca. Simultaneously, transnational mining and informatics companies have been using high-tech methods to map subterranean mineral resources in Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico.
- Mexican federal and Chiapan state authorities have permitted the increasingly violent forced eviction of indigenous peoples and other ejido residents in one of North America’s most bio-diverse—and potentially profitable—regions: the Lacandon Jungle. According to several Chiapas-based organizations, there is evidence that international interests (led by Ford, Monsanto, and Conservation International) are pushing the Mexican government’s expansion of the Montes Azules protected area, perhaps with a strong bio-patenting agenda in mind.
- According to our on-the-ground sources in Chiapas, 56 military installations and military airstrips have been strategically placed throughout the state in such a way that the low-intensity psychological warfare against the Zapatistas (and other organizations such as Las Abejas)—in which the U.S. has invested both money and intellectual support—can be turned to an all-out crush offensive at the drop of a hat. In the meantime, the military has been providing aid to anti-Zapatista organizations and reactivating paramilitaries to incite fear.
The considerations affecting Chiapas—and ignorance of those issues at a national and international level—may very well have been what prompted Zapatista Army leader Subcomandante Marcos to state (17 Dec 2007):
We understand…that for some media we are only news when we are killing or dying, but at least for now, we prefer to remain missing from their stories and to try moving forward in building civil and peaceful efforts as part of…‘The Other Campaign.’ Yet, at the same time, we are preparing ourselves to resist—alone—the reactivation of aggressions against us, whether by the army, police, or paramilitaries.
We who have made war know how to recognize the way it is prepared and how it comes. The signs of war on the horizon are clear. War, like fear, has its smell. And as we speak it has already begun to breathe its fetid stench in our lands.
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(Family members of victims of the 1997 Acteal Massacre hold Mayan crosses in remembrance of the dead. Photo by Robert M. Saper.)
U.S. military interests did not stop with Acteal or the quelling of the Zapatista “threat to security”; in fact, they have only become more secretive, collaborative and far-reaching in their willingness to back corporate interests and U.S. strategic goals. These are examples of a new wave of corporate globalization in Mexico, enforced at the barrel of a gun.
The meaning of Acteal for us today should not just be one of sentiment and regret, but a firm conviction to reject and confront U.S. militarism and create alternatives to a system that keeps us forever in the business of threatening the lives of the poor for our own gain.