Rights group sees Mexico Chiapas Indians ``terrorized''
MEXICO CITY, May 23 (Reuters) - The heavy presence of
Mexican troops in the troubled state of Chiapas is
terrorising peasants and ripping apart the social
fabric of Indian communities, international rights
workers said on Tuesday.
``The militarization continues to grow ... exacerbating
destruction of the social fabric and violation of
individual and social guarantees, all of which is
provoking psychological terror in the communities,''
the Second National and International Civil Observation
Mission to Chiapas said upon returning this week from a
four-day visit to the region.
The delegation of 130 national and international rights
workers visited several communities in the dirt-poor
state bordering Guatemala, where Zapatista rebels
declared war against the government on Jan. 1, 1994
over indigenous rights.
Stepped up army and police forces aim to enforce law
and order and do humanitarian work such as providing
food, medicine and haircuts, the government has said.
But the delegation reported growing instability and
tension within communities, provoked partly by the
presence of military, police and paramilitary troops,
which they said threatened free participation in the
July 2 national election.
The situation paralleled what the same mission saw
only a few weeks before the 1997 massacre of 45 Tzotzil
Indians in Acteal, said Michael Chamberlin, secretary
of a Mexican rights group that led the delegations.
``What we saw then was extremely worrisome, and at the
end of that month came the massacre at Acteal,''
Chamberlin told Reuters. ``In different communities
and regions of Chiapas we now see the situation
aggravated and it could reach something like Acteal.''
A retired general and two senior security officials
were sentenced this month to eight years in prison for
negligence in the Acteal massacre. Another 44 indigenous
participants in the massacre, members of a paramilitary
group, are serving 35-year prison sentences.
A host of organisations in recent weeks have denounced
militarization in the zone, which they blame for threats
and violence among largely indigenous citizens, with
Indians frequently turning against Indians.
Tuesday's report painted a dismal picture.
``Mental health in the population shows signs of grave
deterioration, in the incidence of suicide, the rise in
family violence, the spiraling increase in alcohol
consumption, other types of addiction, depression,
fear and violence,'' the report said.
The delegates found a daily reality in ``sharp contrast''
to government pronouncements that violence is diminishing
and the needs of mainly poor, farming communities are
The gulf between the grass roots view of the rights
situation and the government version was highlighted last
November by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary
Robinson in a landmark visit to Mexico.
``If I can bring those realities closer together, that
will be one result of this visit,'' she said then.
The delegates called on the state to withdraw military and
police forces, saying peace cannot come to Chiapas through
force, and to invest in long-term social programmes instead.
``The government must recognise its responsibility in
generating this situation by its incapacity to implement
effective programmes of sustainable development,'' they said.
Environmental degradation in the Montes Azules biosphere --
one of Mexico's last remaining rain forests -- is largely the
result of government indifference rather than indigenous
practices, as the government has claimed, the report said.