FOR a deeper understanding of the revolt by Indians in...

Salmagundi

January 21, 1994

FOR a deeper understanding of the revolt by Indians in Chiapas state against the Mexican government, consider the following passage from Alan Riding's excellent 1984 book, "Distant Neighbors":

"In Chiapas, a centuries-old tradition of regionalism has suddenly acquired greater strategic significance because the state borders Guatemala and serves as Mexico's buffer with Central America.

"For the first time in decades, Mexico City is now looking to its deep south with concern. Until 1830, Chiapas was part of Guatemala and to this day, with its stunningly beautiful mountains and lakes, its large coffee and cotton plantations and its communities of impoverished Indian peons, it has more in common with Guatemala than with neighboring Oaxaca.

"In the 18th and 19th centuries, there were Indian uprisings, but in recent decades the state has been characterized by acute economic exploitation, social neglect and tight political control. . .

"In mid-1981, however, the problems of Central America spilled into Chiapas when some 2,000 Guatemalan Indian refugees crossed into Mexico while fleeing a Guatemalan army offensive. These first refugees were forced to return home, but as political violence escalated in Guatemala, more and more entered Mexico and were allowed to build improvised settlements in fields and woods closer to the border. . .

"With weapons being smuggled into Guatemala from Mexico, with 'radical' priests involved in aiding the refugees and with Guatemalan military patrols occasionally entering Mexico in hot pursuit of guerrillas, the government feared contagion of Chiapas.

"The government therefore designed a two-pronged strategy for the state: tighter security and improved welfare . . ."

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