Chiapas Bishop Has Blunt Assessment of Marcos

Zapatista´s Intolerance Called an Obstacle to Peace

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SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico, APR. 3, 2001 ( Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristóbal de las Casas doesn´t mince his words about the state of Chiapas´ most famous rebel.

«Despite his willingness to dialogue in the Chamber of Deputies, the radical and intolerant attitude of Subcomandante Marcos might be one of the principal obstacles to reach peace in Chiapas,» Bishop Arizmendi warned, in a long interview published Sunday in the Diario de Yucatan.

«Because of his intransigent attitude, Marcos almost lost everything,» the bishop said.

When the commanders of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) went to the congressional platform last Wednesday, they used far more measured tones than those of military chief Marcos, who until then had been spokesman of the movement.

Marcos´ absence thus actually helped to boost the Indian leaders´ proposals, which were supported by President Vicente Fox. Opinion polls carried out by the media indicate that the majority of the country supports the line of promoting Indian rights through dialogue, not violence.

«Those of us who love the Indians must say to Marcos that he mustn´t harm them,» Bishop Arizmendi said. «I acknowledge that he is a great military and political strategist; no one denies him those qualities. But he also needs to be humble and flexible, as he already was in Congress.»

The bishop gave the interview in the austere living room of his residence, with bare walls and only a few wooden chairs around a center table. The successor of Bishop Samuel Ruiz García said he hopes that Marcos will not try to have the Law of Indian Rights and Culture approved exactly as it is, based on the St. Andrew agreements which were made with the former Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) government and the EZLN.

«If he starts to say that not a comma can be taken away from the document, he will expose the Indians to a setback,» Bishop Arizmendi said. «It is understandable that he should have combat tactics and strategies, but in a democracy we must learn to be flexible, to listen to one another, and to appreciate all.»

The bishop believes it is urgent that the EZLN become a political force and abandon its weapons. «There is no other alternative,» he said. «It is the same tendency followed at present by EZLN.»

Almost a year after Bishop Arizmendi´s appointment to San Cristóbal, he says: «The cost of a band of guerrillas is worse for the villages. It sinks them further into poverty. If they already live in an unjust system, recourse to arms produces more violence, insecurity and misery.»

The bishop said that the conflicts are no longer just those of landowners and mestizos against Indians.

«No! Now it is Indians against Indians, poor against poor,» he said. «This must make us realize that a situation of armed war cannot go on. The Zapatista phrase, ´everything for everyone and nothing for us´ is not so [much the case] in the Indian communities. In some the Zapatistas confront those who are not [Zapatistas]. As some are armed, the others also arm. Divisions in the communities were exacerbated by the Zapatistas.»

Bishop Arizmendi applauded the demilitarization process of the army ordered by President Fox, but he pointed out: «Unfortunately, the army is still needed. The division in the communities at times necessitates its presence as a form of dissuasion from violence. While there is no peace agreement, the army´s presence is necessary.»

As regards the paramilitary groups, the bishop said: «I perceive they are deactivating themselves, but now they no longer have much support, and their conduct is being questioned. In some communities, such as Sabanilla, there are important signs of reconciliation. Some groups approach me, keen on working together again.»

As regards the new Mexican government´s attitude toward peace, the bishop said: «I see a very great disposition by the present government to advance in this direction. However, progress will be slow but steady.»

According to Bishop Arizmendi, even more important than economic problems, the Indians are suffering from a lack of «education appropriate to their cultures. There still is racism, an imposition of Spanish, and no respect for communal organization.»

«The Indian communities do not want to stay on reserves,» he explained. «They want to be integrated in progress and the management of technology, but always with respect for their language, norms, and traditions. However, we must accept that some have customs that are opposed to a person´s rights, such as the marginalization of women and children, or discrimination against those practicing another religion.»

«Above all,» he concluded, «the Indian works to live, and needs to be paid just prices for his products. The most frequent complaint I hear from them is that their products are worthless. It is totally unjust that the markets of New York and London should decide the price of coffee. It is the speculators who are profiting.»

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