‘On the verge of civil war’: Zapatistas march to demand peace in Southeastern Mexico

By June 14, 2023

Mexico City, Mexico — The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), a leftist guerrilla movement that has challenged the Mexican government since 1994, held a nation-wide demonstration last week to denounce increasing violence at the hands of drug cartels and paramilitary groups in their territory in southeastern Mexico. 

Demanding peace for people in the southern state of Chiapas, the Zapatistas warned that the region “is on the verge of civil war” if the government keeps turning its back on them, denouncing the state’s governor as well as Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. 

“Today, at this moment, Mexico is at the limit; at that limit that always seems distant, until a bullet from above detonates the rage of the Mexico from below,” read the statement issued by the Zapatistas, dated June 2023. 

The Zapatistas are calling out growing violence and disruption in their region. A battle for the control of the arms and drugs trade between cartels operating in the territory, as well as paramilitary groups such as ORCAO, is terrorizing civilians, and has pushed the Zapatistas to consider taking up arms again, according to them. 

The Regional Organization of Coffee Growers of Ocosingo (ORCAO) is a paramilitary group active in Chiapas that has violently targeted Zapatista communities for the past 20 years, according to the indigenous organization. The attacks have included burning schools and coffee warehouses, shootings, torture, kidnappings, and “serious gunshot wounds.” 

On May 22, a reported attack from the ORCAO left Indigenous Zapatista Gilberto López Santiz hospitalized after paramilitary troops reportedly shot López Santiz in the chest following an attack in the Zapatista comune Moisés y Gandhi. 

The Zapatistas have accused groups like ORCAO of being deployed by the government as a counterinsurgency measure in an attempt to subdue the Zapatistas since its inception in the early 1990s. 

The autonomous indigenous community has endured such violence throughout the multi-party democracy Mexico has experienced in the last 20 years, including the current administration under the MORENA party, created by President López Obrador. 

Namely, the Zapatistas have accused Chiapas Governor Rutilio Escandon of MORENA of allowing armed attacks against Zapatistas and other insurgent groups that might intercede in infrastructure development projects and government programs key to López Obrador’s administration. 

Like many other Indigenous movements, the Zapatistas have called out López Obrador’s development projects in the southeast region, such as the interoceanic corridor and the Maya Train. 

Read More: AMLO’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec infrastructure project draws the ire of Mexico’s Indigenous communities 

However, they have criticized social programs such as “sowing life,” an agricultural work program launched by López Obrador’s administration that creates jobs by incentivizing farming and tree planting in Mexico’s rural regions.  

“Supreme Leadere of the paramilitary.” Photo taken from Enlace Zapatista.

The Zapatistas have accused these programs of having an insidious hidden agenda that promotes confrontation between communities, pushing Zapatistas out of their territory and consolidating resources for those who support the current government. 

López Obrador has remained silent in the face of the guerrilla accusations, and the Zapatistas took aim in their statement.  

“Why does López Obrador keep silent? Because the governor of Chiapas is the brother-in-law of his beloved Secretary of the Interior, Adan Augusto López. Because like his predecessors, he cannot tolerate that a rebel group can be a referent of hope and dignity. Because he needs to justify a military action to “cleanse” the southeast and finally be able to impose his megaprojects,” read the statement.