New Report from Chiapas

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Posted by Greg Ruggiero on January 06, 1998 at 17:33:46:

The following report just in from Kerry Appel of the Human Bean company. In
addition to importing coffee beans from communities in the conflict zone,
Kerry is an independent video producer. He was the cameraman behind the 10
minute video message that Subcommandante Marcos delivered tot he Freeing
the Media Teach-in one year ago.

>This report was prepared in order to elaborate on the attempt by the
>Human Bean Company to engage in fair trade with the indigenous
>peoples of Chiapas and the events and consequences of doing so.
>Written by: Kerry Appel, Director, Human Bean Company
>January 6, 1998
>The drive to Chiapas was more than difficult. We had left Denver on
>December 15th, stopped in Guadalajara to videotape a friends wedding,
>and arrived at the state of Oaxaca on December 22, 1997. We had
>experienced many breakdowns in my 1971 Volkswagen bus nicknamed the
>"Relampago Rojo" or "Red Lightning" and now we had to deal with the
>hurricane damaged roads in Oaxaca. Almost every bridge was destroyed
>and we had to take detours around all of them as well as around the
>long stretches of highway that were washed out.
>**** December 22, 1997, Acteal, Chiapas, a Tzotzil Indian village
>where the coffee for the Human Bean Company is grown, " women
>and children fled down the steep mountain path towards the valley,
>armed men shot them from behind...Some who reached the underbrush by
>the river below were discovered by the assassins when the babies
>cries gave them away...The assassins cut open the stomach of a young
>pregnant woman, tore her unborn baby out and cut it up. A baby less
>that one year old survived because her mother covered her with her
>own body and received all the bullets. One baby was shot in the head
>at close range...It was not possible to identify the bodies torn to
>pieces by machetes. The Red Cross found many of the bodies hacked in
>pieces and thrown in the underbrush in an attempt to hide the
>immensity of the crime..."
>"...The massacre went on for almost five hours on that black
>December 22, 1997 while dozens of armed civil guards stood on
>the road above and did nothing...there are still three people missing
>from the group of 300 refugees that were attacked by men in black,
>with red masks...A physician in one hospital in San Cristobal de las
>Casas said he had never seen such big bullet holes. "They looked as
>though something had exploded inside the body". "Anti-personnel"
>bullets were found at the scene that do explode on impact. The guns
>have been identified as M-16s, used exclusively by the Mexican Army."
>(The text in quotes above was written by Maria ---------. Her last
>name is blacked out to protect her from the Mexican government)
>Note: Don´t those M-16s come from the United States? Aren´t they
>supposed to be used to fight drug trafficking?
>We made it through Oaxaca in spite of the breakdowns and the damaged
>roads and arrived in Chiapas on December 23rd where the motor on the
>Relampago Rojo gave up the ghost. It died in a little Tzotzil
>village only 15 miles from our destination of San Cristobal de las
>Casas. It was nighttime and we had little choice but to make a deal
>with a Tzotzil mechanic to replace the engine. We left the bus there
>and continued the next day, Christmas Eve, into San Cristobal where
>we heard the news. Forty five of our coffee producers had been
>massacred and as many as 5,000 were refugees in the Tzotzil community
>of Polho.
>I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas sick in bed. My symptoms were
>those of a fever but I believe it was also due to grief and despair.
>At this point I´m going to say that I´m going to skip most of the
>statistical details of some reports. There are plenty of reports
>filled with statistics. I´m also not going to fill this report with
>references and sources. You can either believe me or not. The
>governments and the mainstream media try to control the flow of all
>information that you receive. I don´t care about them nor do I care
>for them. They are involved in the process of this low-intensity war
>that is being waged against the indigenous peoples in Chiapas for
>their own profit motives (NAFTA, etc.)
>**** December 25th, Christmas, Acteal, "When the procession arrived
>at the small hamlet of Acteal in the highlands of Chiapas at 8:00 in
>the morning, Maya men were digging the first of two 50 foot long
>graves...The men dug as other Mayas carried the coffins on their
>backs from the trucks on the road down the steep, rough, mountain
>path , through coffee trees to the area that was cleared and
>carefully smoothed to receive the dead with dignity. They dug as 15
>small, white coffins were carefully placed side by side before Don
>Samuel (Bishop Samuel Ruiz who was there to bless the bodies). They
>dug as 21 more coffins were carried down and placed beside those of
>the children, and then 9 more coffins holding the men were placed
>beside those of the women..."
>"The men dug as the bishop left. They were digging at 12:30 when I
>climbed the steep, mountain path to my truck and left with a truck
>full of Mexican and foreign supporters of the Mayan struggle for
>Peace and Justice with Dignity for all the poor of the world."
>"We left the men digging. We left the survivors to their grief. We
>left the "People of Corn" to bury their dead according to the ancient
>Mayan traditions. We left them to return their dead to the sacred
>ground, the same ground that soaked up their blood three days
>earlier." (Maria --------)
>I talked to the president of the indigenous coffee producers of
>Chenalho which is the municipality where the massacre occurred. I
>was told that there was no coffee available for me to buy. The same
>Mexican government backed paramilitary groups that had committed the
>massacre with the assistance of the Mexican government were now
>stealing the coffee of the dead and the refugees to sell it and buy
>more guns to use against the people. The Mexican Public Security
>Police were protecting the murderers and the thieves.
>We went to Chenlho and were stopped by these same Public Security
>Police at a roadblock. When they came to the window of my bus (I had
>a new engine now and the Relampago Rojo was alive again) they saw
>that I was videotaping them and they hid their faces in shame and
>waved me on. We continued to Polho, the site where the refugees from
>the death squads were. Since the national and international press
>was there the Mexican Army and the Judicial Police and the Public
>Security Police were using the opportunity to act as if they were
>protecting the refugees but when the press wasn´t looking they roamed
>the refugee camps intimidating the survivors with guns and dogs.
>When a woman from the civil society questioned there actions they
>struck her with the butt of a gun.
>Though the Mexican government could afford the presence of thousands
>of soldiers for the press in order to look as if they were trying to
>protect the people, they couldn´t afford to give the refugees potable
>water, food of medicine. Yesterday a baby died there of pneumonia
>without any medicine while thousands of soldiers and police stood
>around with machine guns and huge banners that claimed that they were
>doing "social labor".
>We went on to Acteal where there was a mass going on for the dead.
>On the way to Acteal we passed the coffee processing plant where our
>coffee for the Human Bean Company is processed. It was occupied by
>the Mexican Army.
>In Acteal we stood in solidarity with the survivors and we walked
>around the site of the massacre. There were still shoes on the
>ground that had come of the feet of the people as they were being
>murdered. There was a small cave at the head of the ravine where the
>massacre took place. This opening to this cave was only about one
>and a half feet high. I was told that some women and children had
>crawled into this cave in terror to escape the slaughter but that
>members of the paramilitary group had crawled in the cave after them
>and killed them. We walked through a tiny, rough church which was
>little more than a shack and counted 22 bullet holes in the walls.
>This is the "drug war". This is what the arms and weapons that the
>United States is supplying to allegedly "fight drugs" is being used
>for. The only crime of the dead and the refugees and indigenous
>people who are being occupied by 60,000 Mexican Federal Army troops
>is that they won´t give up their customs and their culture at the
>orders of the United States and Mexican governments.
>For nearly four years I have been travelling regularly to Chiapas. I
>have been in the sites where this dirty war is being carried out. I
>have seen the suffering of the indigenous people there. I have
>learned from the dignity and the hope and the determination of the
>members of the Zapatista National Liberation Army as they struggle
>for indigenous rights and culture, justice, democracy and dignity. I
>have admired them as I have watched this small group of poor Mayan
>people hold up the efforts of the US and Mexican governments to
>exterminate them as indigenous peoples. Tens of thousands of members
>of international civil society have done what they can to be in
>solidarity with the goals and objectives of this small group of
>rebels with dignity. I have watched and documented as the indigenous
>peoples of Chiapas spoke the truth and always kept their word while
>the Mexican and US governments have waged a campaign of lies and
>deceit and murder. And I have watched an read the mainstream media
>of the US and Mexico as they play their roles in this destruction of
>indigenous peoples with their omissions of the truth and their
>broadcasting and printing of the lies of the governments and the
>I recall now the statements that have been made to me by members of
>the press and the United States government.
>Rick Salazar, Channel 4 (at that time in 1994), Denver, Colorado, "I
>don´t think that our producers would be interested in your footage of
>Chiapas Kerry. We have a business relationship with a Mexican
>government TV station and we wouldn´t want to jeopardize our business
>Kerry, "Are you telling me that the truth of what you show us is
>influenced by your business relationships?"
>Rick, "I´m afraid so."
>Henry Solano, US District Attorney, State of Colorado, (When I asked
>him if it was true that the US had required Mexico to change their
>Constitution to end the indigenous land system so that US
>corporations could buy their land), "Yes, that´s true Kerry. We´re
>going to take their land but they´re not making it productive and
>someone has to make it productive. But they´ll be better of in the
>long run because we´ll build factories and give them jobs."
>What he is referring to is the "Mega-Project of the Isthmus of
>Tehuantepec" for one thing. The United States, Europe and Japan have
>devised a plan to move the indigenous people and peasants off their
>land in the south of Mexico in order to build ports and railroads
>across the isthmus, kind of like a Panama Canal. The US has already
>made deals with the Mexican government for the oil, uranium, wood,
>fishing, railroads, ports, hydro-electricity and the other
>resources that are currently on Indian land and had Mexico change
>their laws to allow these deals to be "legal". In order for
>international public opinion to not be negative toward the
>corporations they decided to make the Indians "partners". The
>Indians would give up their land and rights to the resources and the
>corporations would give them jobs in return.
>He doesn´t understand that indigenous people don´t necessarily want
>to trade their land and culture for a job in a factory. Besides,
>nobody asked them their opinion.
>Ben Nighthorse Campbell, American Indian US Senator from Colorado,
>"As you know Kerry, I am indigenous myself and I´m doing all that I
>can for the indigenous peoples of Chiapas."
>When I tried to find out what he was doing his aide told me that Ben
>was testifying on committees and panels that dealt with the issue.
>When I pressed him for a list of these committees and panels he
>admitted that there were none and that Ben wasn´t actually doing
>anything that he knew of for the indigenous peoples of Chiapas.
>Later, Ben´s assistant, Rita, asked me why I was picking on Ben. "He
>hasn´t done anything worse that the rest of the elected officials."
>(This in regard to the US exploitation of the indigenous peoples of
>Chiapas and the rest of Mexico)
>Finally Ben Campbell sent me a letter telling me to stay out of
>Chiapas and leave it to the "proper authorities to fix the problem of
>Mexico´s impunity in regard to human rights violations at the proper
>time and in the proper manner".
>I wonder when it will be the "proper time and manner" for Ben
>Nighthorse Campbell. The truth is it will never be the proper time
>and manner for the governments or the multi-national corporations to
>be interested in justice. It´s not their job any more if it ever
>was. Maximum profit is the only thing that has validity to them. The
>blood of the 45 Tzotziles massacred on December 22, 1998 is on their
>hands as well as on ours. It is the price they have to pay for our
>This is the racist and arrogant philosophy of "Manifest Destiny".
>Holger Jensen, International editor for the Rocky Mountain News told
>my friend Jeff that, "Kerry is crazy. He can´t make a difference.
>Not one US citizen would pay a dime more for a hamburger to save a
>million Indians".
>Now is the time for us to tell them and to to show them that they are
>wrong. I don´t believe that they are right that people don´t care
>about justice for indigenous people . I don´t believe that people
>would knowingly accept the extermination of indigenous peoples. But
>we are going to find out very soon.
>The US government and the corporations are getting impatient to end
>this rebellion of indigenous peoples. They feel that they´ve been
>successful in undermining international support for the Mayan people
>and they´ve been working hard for the last two years to make it
>appear that the rebellion is just a local conflict. The Mexican army
>commanders have been travelling to Ft. Benning, Georgia since 1994 to
>learn counter-insurgency tactics at the "School of the Americas" also
>know as the "School of Assassins".
>The tactics learned there are now being used against the people of
>Chiapas. The massacre of these 45 unarmed men, women and children is
>just the beginning a new level of violence against the
>civil population.
>It is critical for us to make a stand now. This is the end of the
>second millennium. This is the beginning of "the next 500 years" for
>the indigenous peoples in the Americas. We have all been made to be
>participants in "the new Indian wars" by what we buy, or by what we
>watch on TV, or by what we say or don´t say in regard to these
>massacres and other human rights violations. Everything about our
>current social and economic and political systems makes us
>participants in the dirty wars that the US and other governments wage
>either by active participation based on the distorted information
>presented to us or merely by ignorance of what is going on and the
>consequent silence as a result of that ignorance.
>I have received a lot of communications from people who are clients
>of the Human Bean Company or from people who have seen my
>documentaries. A lot of people have said that they agree with my
>work toward fair trade or human rights. A lot of people have said
>that they wish they could do something to help the indigenous peoples
>of Chiapas. All of the communications that I´ve received have been
>extremely critical of the US and Mexican governments actions against
>the Zapatistas and the indigenous peoples of Chiapas and Mexico.
>You who read this know who you are and how you feel about these
>issues. I am addressing myself to you right now. By reading this
>message to this point you have been presented with a choice. That is
>unavoidable now. Sorry. You an I can either struggle for justice or
>be part of the genocide.
>I know that this affects a lot of people deeply and the recent
>slaughter of the 45 Mayan peoples by the Mexican government´s proxy
>forces has made you even more aware of the urgency of this situation.
> I imagine that some of you might use that extra dime that Holger
>Jensen say´s you won´t spend on a hamburger to make a phone call to
>the local Mexican Consulate or to the US government to strongly
>protest the continued violence with impunity in Mexico. I imagine
>that some of you might get together with others and talk about the
>issues and then talk to others and still others. I wouldn´t be
>surprised if some of you organized demonstrations and marches in the
>streets. Personally, I wouldn´t blame you if you committees acts of
>civil disobedience or took over and occupied the offices of elected
>officials or of newspapers or television stations. Or maybe someone
>will call Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell and ask him what he is
>doing or what he is going to do.
>As for me, I´m going to keep doing what I have been doing and that is
>to keep buying the coffee and weavings from the indigenous people who
>are under siege by soldiers with tanks and guns that originate from
>my country and I´m going to continue making documentaries that show
>what it is that I see and experience while I´m here in Chiapas.
>Right now I´m going to send this message to you and leave the Cyber
>Cafe and then I´m going to pick up a few bags of coffee that we were
>able to find from some Tzotzil-Tzeltal indigeous producers and then
>the Reampago Rojo will start the long trip through the militarized
>country of Mexico to bring the coffee back.
>That reminds me of an incident that occurred two days ago on the way
>to visit friends in Oventic, Chiapas. This is a Tzotzil community in
>resistence, as they say here, and the Mexican Army was creeping
>closer and closer to Oventic with their roadblocks and their machine
>guns and their tanks. We drove up in my bus and the army stopped us.
>"Get out of the vehicle", they said, "We´re going to search it for
>guns or explosives!"
>"First let me ask you if that is constitutional." I said, "Do you
>have probable cause to think that we´re violating the law?"
>"Constitutional?" he responded looking irritated, "You´re in Mexico
>now you know."
>Kerry Appel,
>Chiapas, Mexico, January 6,1998

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