Re: ZapatistaPortAction

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Posted by Newsroom on March 06, 1997 at 15:18:20:

In Reply to: ZapatistaPortAction posted by ricardo dominguez on February 02, 1997 at 17:37:38:

: Rabinal Achi/ZapatistaPortAction


: President Zedillo's e-mail:


In Chiapas, cola wars take new twist

Vendors too powerful, leaders say

Special to The Herald
Published Monday, March 3, 1997, in the Miami Herald

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico -- The Pepsi vs. Coke wars have
taken a new turn in the troubled Mexican state of Chiapas.

Maya Indian leaders say the U.S. icons have not only tainted local
culture but led to a powerful class of cola distributors who rule
Chiapas' desperately poor villages.

More than 400 Maya Indian leaders have decided they have had enough.
At a meeting last month for the Council of Pluri-ethnic Autonomous
Regions they vowed to boycott Coke and Pepsi in their communities. The
group, known by its Spanish acronym RAP, represents 180 mountain

``For our people, neither one is good,'' said Marcelino Gomez Nunez, a
Tzotzil Indian and state legislator of the opposition Democratic
Revolutionary Party (PRD).

In the past three decades sodas have become a sacred part of Maya
ceremonies throughout the Chiapas highlands. That means a lucrative
business, and considerable power, for owners of soft drink

It is a Maya custom to give a gift, such as a soft drink, when talking
to an official or discussing a business deal.

``The majority are the money lenders for the communities,'' said
Walter Morris, an expert on the Mayas in Chiapas. ``Whenever someone
asks for a loan, they bring a refresco [soft drink]. That's how it all
got started. Concession owners also have a network of communication.
Their trucks go to all the hamlets. All this has given them massive
political control.''

A link in control chain

In many Chiapas villages, soft drink concessions have become another
link in the chain of controls that the ruling Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI) and its local chieftains have wielded for
decades over the indigenous population..

In Tenejapa, local government has become a matter of taste.

Sebastian Santiz Luna, a Coca-Cola concession owner and PRD member, is
now mayor. Before him, Pepsi concession owner Sebastian Lopez of the
PRI ruled.

Some residents say Lopez, nicknamed ``El Pepsi,'' ran Tenejapa with an
iron fist and what they call ``cola justice.'' If someone committed an
infraction, Lopez was known to order the guilty party to buy a case of
Pepsi. In one case, hundreds of peasants protested against Lopez's
government. Many were beaten, imprisoned and then fined several cases
of Pepsi to be donated to the town, residents said.

Lopez denied forcing people to buy Pepsi to pay fines.

``These people are lying about me because they are envious that I can
earn a living,'' Lopez said. ``They say we distributors are powerful,
but we are not. If anything, I have helped the community by donating
drinks for festivals so everyone can enjoy a Pepsi.''

`Cola justice' not uncommon

But Gomez said ``cola justice'' is meted out all over the highlands.

Indian leaders say they hope the boycott will dilute such power.

For now, individual families are boycotting Pepsi and Coke. But Gomez
said that in the future communities may organize and prevent delivery
trucks from entering the villages. RAP urges communities to drink
fruit juices and other locally made refreshments.

Pepsi and Coca-Cola companies in Mexico declined to comment.

The boycott, Gomez said, is a part of the continuing fight for rights
and cultural survival by the indigenous people who were awakened by
the Zapatista National Liberation Army's peasant rebellion in Chiapas
that began on New Year's Day 1994. Most of the communities
participating in the boycott support the Zapatistas, whose peace talks
with the government have floundered amid disagreement over how to
implement an Indian Rights Accord.

``Families are wasting their savings buying soft drinks instead of
food that is good for their families,'' Gomez said. ``We should be
using the resources around us to make drinks to sell that would help
the entire community economically rather than a small, powerful

Mexico's Indian population is among the poorest in the country and
suffers one of the highest rates of malnutrition.

But change may not come so easily.

Drinks part of culture

In the 1970s, many Maya peasants, pushed by religious leaders, swapped
the fiercely strong, locally brewed cane liquor called posh for soft
drinks to curb alcoholism and cut down on drunkenness at festivals.

Today in San Juan Chamula, scores of Maya worshipers head to the
Catholic Church daily to light a candle and offer a bottle of Pepsi or
Coke to their patron saint.

In Tenejapa, modern, internationally marketed products contrast with
ancient distribution methods. A huge Pepsi truck rumbled down a
partially paved road connecting the isolated mountain hamlet to the
rest of the state. Men in cowboy hats and hand-woven, black wool
ponchos watched as teenage boys unloaded the crates at a local outlet.

An elderly, barefoot Tzeltal woman in traditional garb filled a
handmade net bag with two dozen bottles, fitted the bag's strap over
her head and trudged home down a dirt path.

It has become tradition for a young boy to ask for a girl's hand in
marriage by first offering her parents a case of Pepsi or Coke.

``Prohibiting it will never work,'' said Antonio Intzin Ramirez, city
treasurer of Tenejapa and one of Santiz's right-hand men. ``How can
they? It's a part of our custom.''

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