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.