1990s >> 1996 >> no-1104-august-1996

Down Mexico Way

Once again guerrilla warfare has flared up in the Mexican state of Guerrero. A little over twelve months after the killing of 17 peasants near Coyuca de Benitez in the south of the state, a group of up to 100 masked men and women, carrying automatic weapons, and claiming to be members of a 500-strong guerrilla organisation formed after the killing, clashed with police on the Acapulco-Mexico City highway about one hour’s drive out of Acapulco. Three policemen were injured, according to a report in the Guardian (1 July). The group, calling themselves the Popular Revolutionary Army, then read a proclamation calling for the overthrow of the “anti-popular, anti-democratic, demagogic and illegitimate government”. Guerrero was, and still is, considered to be the most violent and repressive state in Mexico. In 1912, during the civil war, Guerrero was said to be “aflame”; and in 1915, the forces of Venustiana Carranza advanced across the state from Acapulco and into Morelos, only to be driven back again by the Zapatistas who almost captured Acapulco.

In 1969, Lucio Cabañas, a flamboyant former schoolteacher, formed a guerrilla army known as the “party of the poor”, which had considerable grassroots support among the dispossessed campesinos and peones in Guerrero, and operated in the vast, almost impenetrable mountains and jungle areas between Acapulco on the Pacific coast and Morelos in the cast. They assassinated the Acapulco police chief, attacked army outposts stationed along the Acapulco-Mexico City highway, and then kidnapped Guerrero Senator, Ruben Figueroa, at the time a candidate for governor of the state. More than 10,000 army troops were dispatched to Guerrero to kill or capture the guerrilleros; but it was not until 1974 that Lucio Cabañas and 27 of his men were finally killed in a gun battle with the army. But the “party of the poor” and their “brigade of peasant executioners”, as they were called, were still active in 1980 when I was there.

Following the murder of the 17 peasants on 28 June, last year, masked gunmen carrying AK-47 automatic rifles ambushed a truck carrying a group of policemen near the town of Cualac, north-east of Acapulco, killing five and wounding two of them. The previous week, 12 members of one family were also killed in the state by “persons unknown”, but assumed to be police officers.

Meanwhile the economy continues in recession. Probably 1,250,000 workers have lost their jobs since the end of 1994. Many more have never had a job in the first place. Just over 18 months ago, President Zedillo’s government declared Mexico City’s publicly-run bus company, known as Route 100, bankrupt; and fired 10,000 bus workers. According to reports earlier this year, the only businesses which are booming are sex clubs and hundreds of so-called night-clubs. Furthermore, confidence has not been helped by the escape of the disgraced, corrupt, ex-president, Carlos Salinas, alleged author of Mexico’s economic collapse, and brother of Raul Salinas, charged with murdering a political rival. Carlos Salinas was last reported in Ireland; and brother Raul is said to have more than £80 million stacked away in Swiss and United Kingdom banks.

All of which is a long way from Guerrero.

Time and time again, the peasants and dispossessed workers of Mexico, particularly in the states of Morelos, Chiapas and Guerrero, have struggled, sometimes peacefully but often violently, against the increasingly powerful Mexican state and the effects of a crisis-ridden capitalism; but, as elsewhere, have yet to organise, not for a reformed capitalism, but for its overthrow.

Peter E. Newell