Though Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo has been forceful in condemining the recent terrorism in Mexico’s Chiapas state, his government’s inability to restore order there further erodes public confidence and places peaceful reforms in question.
News reports this week that vigilantes have taken at least four men prisoner in retaliation for the pre-Christmas attack that killed 45 highlights how far the government must go to find a solution to this standoff. In the years since the uprising on New Year’s Day 1994, more than 350 people, from both sides, have been killed. The tension between peasant rebellion and government revenge will continue to lead to more tragedies such as the one that occurred last month unless the government can demonstrate a capacity for fully investigating these outrages.
At the local level, at least, President Zedillo’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, got off to a poor start. The mayor of the region and a PRI member, Jacinto Arias Cruz, at first denied any knowledge of the attack on the unarmed Indian inhabitants but was later accused by authorities of lying about his knowledge and was arrested this week along with 23 supporters on charges of homicide, causing injuries and illegal association. The arrest was positive but incomplete: It is difficult to believe that no one higher up in the party was at least as well informed of the coming massacre.
The attack and almost inevitable counterattack by the Zapatistas is a further excuse for mutual disregard for peace treaties both sides have signed. President Zedillo has an opportunity to end this cycle by encouraging the investigation to search as high up the government ladder as necessary, even if it means going into his own cabinet.