Hermann Bellinghausen, correspondent.
April 13, 1999.
The residents of this community confirmed today that the federal army had made two incursions on the 10th and 11th, carrying out interrogations and searches, without warrants, using the excuse of lost pistols.
The community as a whole attests to the innocence of the five youths, accused of having stolen those weapons. Through their representatives, members of the community itself state that it was a "provocation" by the Mexican Army, stationed on the outskirts of the town. This is keeping the choleros of Jolnixtie in a state of suspense.
The usual anxiety and isolation in which the zapatistas towns in the northern zone live has intensified over the last few days. The military "provocations" in this municipality of Tila, in Sabanilla, leave no doubts. The chols say they are willing to resist peacefully. But they are also fearful of experiencing violent attacks. They say they want peace, but also that they are going to remain there. "We are not going to leave now," they say.
The military and paramilitary encirclement and pressure over the northern zone of Chiapas cause the communities to say "ya basta" with an urgency that comes from today, not from five or five hundred years ago. The encirclement suffocates them, as if they were alone. "They are provoking us," an older man accuses, from behind his tight fitting, blue ski-mask, a representative of the EZLN support bases in this isolated region of the lands beneath Tila, chol territory for more than a thousand years.
"It would be better if they were to withdraw. What benefits do the soldiers bring us? What they do to us is threaten us," another man with a covered face says, also older, almost elderly. But he adds with certainty: "We do not have fear. The people are organized here. We are not going to give up. Ya basta. We are Mexicans and we have that right to live in peace."
In few of the threatened communities of the indigenous lands of Chiapas is the alarm so palpable. So urgent. Over the last few days the federal army has been threatening the residents of Jolnixtie as never before. It has made two incursions into the community, and the surveillance on the outskirts is continuing. On one side of the road there is a check-point, and, on the other, a community dominated by the Peace and Justice paramilitary group. And then another Mexican Army post. And so, with guns pointing at them between the high mountains where the chiapaneco sierra abruptly ends, Jolnixtie is an enclosed town, but ready to struggle.
Six men, youths and old men, without stating their names, present themselves as "representatives of the EZLN support bases," and they give their statements in front of a group of journalists and human rights observers, almost ceremonially. Hundreds of persons around them back them up, outside the cabin where the interview is being conducted. The spokespersosns do not need to identify themselves, because they are speaking for everyone.
"We are the witnesses," the man in the blue ski-mask says, and he gestures behind him, referring to the hundreds of indigenous who are listening attentively. All the women and all the men of the town.
Another time this man had said they did not remember how long they had been living on these lands. His memory of the community has been lost in the grandparents of his great-grandfather, who still live here. And he makes a definitive declaration as to the worth of his words and denunciations:
"These are the truths, the realities. We are not going to lie, because we are the witnesses, those who are seeing."
The six men take turns speaking, as if they were one single voice, with different generational tones. Two old, two mature, two youths.
One of the latter says, in his turn: "We want them to not provoke us. We want peace, but peace that is just. Instead of that, they're going to provoke us. Our people are very upset that the federal army is coming to do what they shouldn't be doing."
They are not thinking about going to the mountains now. Even if the soldiers come again, they will not go away. Nonetheless, their encirclement is such that it has been several days since any of the farmworkers have gone to work the fields. They are not "incidents." The situation is critical.
Everything took place around the celebration of Emiliano Zapata. One of the young representatives relates that, on April 9, "before the fiesta, a taxi arrived in the community at about 11 at night and parked in the atrium." In a community as remote and excluded as Jolnixtie, this is very unusual.
"The taxi dropped off two people from the army, one civilian and another in uniform. We were still awake. They waited half an hour. We realized it was something odd. They weren't going to talk to us. They didn't talk to anyone," the recital continued.
"The taxi went over to the store that Peace and Justice has close by, and it stayed there. In complete darkness, there were no lights."
Finally, the passengers from the taxi left. "We realized they were from the army, we realized they had gone straight towards their barracks," the young man says, before deferring the word to the next man: "We were upset that they came into the community without permission."
One of the older men, of obvious authority, relates the events of the 10th. He explains, with disarming simplicity, why they were celebrating Zapata: "We remember that person because he fought for the poor. We feel his death very deeply, that is why we held the celebration."
And he tells: "We were celebrating a fiesta with the people of the communities of this seat. We had to inaugurate a clinic. A couple of hours where the people could enjoy themselves. We were continuing the fiesta in the Church atrium. We were commemorating the 80 years of Emiliano Zapata."
There was a "program," with poems and songs, and the dance followed. "Without our knowing what was going to happen. The lights went out. We didn't know they had been cut out there at the entrance. At about 12 the federal army movements began in their La Libertad camp, the second section. Two army trucks came and they went straight to the house of the deputy, Manuel (PRD federal Deputy Manuel Perez Garcia is from this community, and he lives here effectively).
"They went into Manuel's house. The army men brought a list of five of our young persons, they were blaming them for having disarmed a soldier. They said it was 50 meters from their operations base. That the youngsters had gone there to take his weapons. That's where we realized it was a provocation."
The entire community - through their presence - attests today to their innocence: Samuel Hernandez Garcia, Sebastian Hernandez Martinez, Carolino Hernandez Martinez, Jose Mayo Garcia Perez and Zacarias Perez Martinez, the five accused of the alleged theft of weapons.
The soldiers withdrew to the outskirts of the town, on the other side of the bridge, and they set up a check-point. The first ones to go by were the musicians who played at the fiesta. They searched everything, the horns, their clothing.
The next incursion by the federal army was on the 11th. One of the young representatives again speaks: "It was dawn. The soldiers surrounded the entire community. They were still napping and everything, and the people got up. The Army came, they wanted to go into the houses, they came straight in. They came to search here," and he points out this room, which appears to be a meeting room.
"We asked if they had brought search warrants for the houses, and they said they had them at the barracks and they hadn't brought them. We asked them what they were looking for. And they answered 'they told us they were selling bread and we came to buy some.' They wanted to go into the houses. But we didn't let them."
The young man, in a clear indigenous accent, became indignant: "We put them out on the highway. The people got mad. We had to throw them out, the lieutenant colonel and all of them, so that the people wouldn't get alarmed." And then he said: "We want the army to not be outside the community anymore, that they take their crap and go. The indigenous are the ones who govern. They live, eat and drink here, and they say ya basta. They know. They choose what has to be done."
The old man in the blue ski-mask intervenes: "The thing about the attack against their weapons is a lie. Anyway, they're changing their story. The lieutenant colonel who came at 6 in the morning said that the soldier who had lost his weapons had them taken away here, close to the community. Then when he saw his intention of changing the lie. These are the problems that are causing us pain. We are the witnesses. We are Mexican chiapaneco indigenous. When Albores took over he said that Mexico needs a state of law. Where is it?"
In his tight ski-mask, like a sock, he looks like a talking mask: "The zapatista companeros want there to be calm, for there to be work so that they can take care of their children." And he warns the reporters:
"The soldiers aren't here because of you. As soon as you're gone, they're going to come back."
And one of the youngest adds: "We want, after giving voice now, for the soldiers to stop bothering us," before giving a surprising definition of the testimony being given by these chol spokespersons of the deep Mexico (as Guillermo Bonfil says): "We are seeing ourselves, that we ourselves are the witnesses to what we are seeing."
Or, that they are witnessing that they are witnesses.
Originally published in Spanish by La Jornada ********************************* Translated by irlandesa La Jornada April 14, 1999.