N California Rallies for Peace and Justice in Chiapas
Northern California rallies for peace & justice in Chiapas

by John Trinkl

Alarm sparked quick action when Northern California
activists learned of the Mexican government's crackdown on
the Zapatista Liberation Army (EZLN). On Feb. 9, Mexican
president Ernesto Zedillo issued orders for the detention of
the top leadership of the EZLN. In the following days,
activists learned, government troops moved into the cease-
fire zone, homes were searched and villages bombed. People
suspected of being Zapatista supporters were detained and
tortured.

Ten people sat in at the Mexican consulate in Sacramento
Feb. 10 and shut it down for the day, according to Al Rojas
of North Americans for Democracy in Mexico; he also reported
that compadres in Fresno maintained a presence at the
consulate there throughout the week of Feb. 13.

Santa Rosa's  Committee for Democracy in Mexico (CDM) drew
60 people to a vigil in the courthouse square Feb. 14, said
executive committee member Pablo Rivera. San Francisco saw
demonstrations Feb. 10, 11, 14 (a welcoming party for
President Clinton) and 17.

The Feb. 10 action, held at the Mexican Consulate, was
called by Mexicanos Sin Fronteras, the National Commission
for Democracy in Mexico (NCDM) and several other  Bay Area
Zapatista support groups. Cecilia Rodriguez, the U.S.
representative of the EZLN and national coordinator for the
NCDM-a solidarity organization established by the EZLN-told
the crowd they were there to remind the PRI (the governing
party in Mexico) that U.S. Mexicans "will not have blood on
their hands."

Though each action had its own call, the gist of their
demands on the Mexican government  was the same: stop the
war; return to the dialog mediated by the National
Commission for Mediation (CONAI);  respect human rights;
allow free access for human rights groups and media to the
area, and recognize the Zapatistas as a belligerent party to
the conflict and extend them all rights due under the Geneva
Convention. (By labeling the Zapatistas as terrorists, the
Mexican government is seeking to avert rules of
international conflict. Under the Geneva Convention,
detainees must be considered prisoners of war and be
guaranteed their physical integrity and access by the Red
Cross and human rights organizations.)

Besides keeping street heat on the U.S. and Mexican
government, and generating a heavy flow of phone calls,
letters and faxes to them, "there's a long list of things to
do," said Ruben Garcia of Mexicanos Sin Fronteras.
With the Mexican government providing a steady flow of
misinformation and blocking real news out of Chiapas, one of
the first solidarity tasks is to "keep talking to people,
educating them about what is happening," said Rojas. "We
can't rely on the commercial media." Direct information is
trickling in through family, friends and political contacts.

CDM's Rivera went to Mexico for a meeting of the National
Democratic Convention (CND), a federation of progressive
groups, and was on a plane back to the U.S. the day the
raids against the Zapatistas started. "We have direct
contact with people there," he said. "We knew there were
shootings, bombings, and human rights violations because we
created this gate of communication with people in my
country."

Technology has played a critical role, said Rojas, "the fax
and the computer and the info highway. We're able to get
communications from Subcommandante Marcos, human rights
groups, [Bishop] Samuel Ruiz." They've learned that "what is
happening in Mexico is not only a military assault on
Chiapas but widespread repression of democratic forces,
using selective searches, arrests, detentions of activists
in all sorts of groups to put fear of reprisal into the more
active, and send fear into the whole country. The message is
'careful, don't get involved'."

Material aid for the people of Chiapas is also urgently
needed. NCDM is organizing an emergency shipment of food and
medical supplies; the Santa Rosa group "has people going [to
Mexico] quite often," Rivera said,  and sends supplies with
them.

Priscilla Hunter worked with the Indian Peace Caravan to
Chiapas last spring, and has asked their supplier of
medicines if they can send some now. Hunter is also trying
to organize a delegation of Indian spiritual leaders to go
down to Chiapas "for purposes of healing prayers for the
land and people."

A  delegation sponsored by the San-Francisco based Global
Exchange and a number of other groups was in San Cristobal
de las Casas when the Mexican government crackdown was
announced. Delegation members, as representatives of
international humanitarian and peace organizations, were
asked to stay close to local human rights and church workers
who had been intimidated and threatened. Others accompanied
local non-governmental groups,  traveling as human rights
observers to communities where hostilities were reported.

Global Exchange sent a Human Rights/Action Delegation to
Mexico for a Feb. 19-26 visit, and plans to set up an
ongoing international human rights witness.

Phone or fax for peace with justice:
 Ernesto Zedillo, President of Mexico, tel. 011-525-515-
4783; Esteban Moctezuma, Secretary of the Interior of
Mexico, tel. 011-525-566-0245;  the White House, tel. 202-
456-1111, fax 202-456-2461.
Mexico's CND asks supporters to pressure the UN Human Rights
Commission to keep an eye on Chiapas: fax (212) 917-0213

For more info:
Global Exchange: (415) 255-7296*National Commission for
Democracy in Mexico: (510) 465-1984*Mexicanos Sin Fronteras:
(415) 822-5203*Committee for Democracy in Mexico (Santa
Rosa): (707) 544-5389*North Americans for Democracy in
Mexico (Sacramento): (916) 446-3021*Advisory Council on
California Indian Policy: (800) 489-1994

 Innosanto Nagara and Marcy Rein contributed reporting to
this  story.