Conservation International Trying to
Expel Zapatistas from Rainforest

Webnote: Conservation International, the pseudo-environmental group
discussed below, works hand in hand with Starbucks exporting token amounts
of organic coffee from the Monte Azules region of Chiapas, Mexico's
southernmost state.

La Jornada
Monday, March 25, 2002.
US, World and Transnational Agencies Want to Clear
Indigenous Out of Montes Azules
Hermann Bellinghausen, correspondent.
Northern Selva Lacandona, Chiapas.
March 24.

Never before have the interest and actions of the
United States government, large transnational
companies and some world agencies (which range from
the UN to Conservation International, and include all
levels of the federal governments the Mexican one)
been so obvious in the Selva Lacandona and in Montes
Azules. Environmental, bioprospecting, eco-tourism
and birth control (eventually, steriliza- tion of
indigenous women) programs are acting as the spearhead
for a far-reaching strategic and military project.
According to Mexican officials, it is an
"international security" matter, a problem of "serious
ungovernability," a "war operation."

According to calculations by the Chiapas state
government, approximately half of these communities
are EZLN support bases. Others belong to the
ARIC-Independent, two more to the PRI, and one to the
CIOAC. This gives the question an even more immense
political dimension. Over the last few years, various
independent agencies have described the environmental
concerns of the Mexican and US governments in the
Selva Lacandona as being military and geostrategic

The Collective of Information and Analysis of the
Selva Region, an independent observation agency in the
region, released two compre- hensive documents which
report recent events in the area and denounce the
imminent dislocation of dozens of indigenous
communities in and around MontesAzules. These
documents analyze the strategic regional focal points
of the occupation -handing over of the humid central
mountainous massifÈ of Chiapas and the scenarios of
"expulsion-relocation-re-concentration" of the
communities. A large part of this information had
already been made public, and, in those cases where it
was not, it is in agreement with other sources
consulted by La Jornada.

It is a plot with many threads, and at the core are
crouched strategic and commercial interests that are
putting the nation's sovereignty at risk and creating
fear and anxiety in the indigenous communities, which
are in danger of being attacked and violently
dislocated. Yes, legally.

To the Patios of Nueva Palestina

If the point of the plot is not in the demands which
were presented by LacandÛn representatives last
September 12, where could it be? On that date, using
information and aerial photographs provided by
Conservation International-Mexico and the US
government agency AID [Agency for International
Development] ìthe LacandÛn demanded that Governor
Pablo Salazar MendiguchÌa expel, using the Army, all
the settlements and clearings in Montes Azules. They
said, however, that they would view as a gesture of
good faith the withdrawal of villages in the lake area
(Suspiro, Ojos Azules and Ocotal), in the northeast of
the biosphere reserve.

It is precisely there that Conservation International
(CI) has been supporting work groups, and it has taken
an extraordinary interest in the lakes. The photo-
graphs which the LacandÛn displayed were taken by the
fixed digital camera from the airplane which the
international agency maintains in the region. In just
April of 2001, the CI in a hotel in Tuxtla GutiÈrrez
ìpresented to friendly NGOs the geographic information
system that had been donated by the USAID, which is
based on satellite images provided by NASA, with a
focus of up to 10 by 10 meters.

The collective stated, in its detailed investigation,
that the CI and the USAID used the village of Nueva
Palestina, in the Selva Lacandona, as an example.
They showed shots from a satellite of the patio of an
indigenous house, where flowerpots and a completely
identifiable woman could be distin- guished. They
also showed the airplane, with USAID markings, and the
routes it used for monitoring the entire Selva
Lacandona (not just the Biosphere Reserve). Lastly,
they stated that they are carrying out a flight once a
week through the region.

Conservation International had demanded, in May of
2001, that the Zedillo and Albores governments take
all necessary measures for the immediate disloca- tion
of those populations. It was in late September,
however, when a first group of Americans, in vehicles
with trailers, managed to enter into the lake area.
The researchers had left the area during the first
weeks of January of 1994. The Army has maintained a
camp close to El Suspiro since 1995, which has been
"protecting" the researchers' activities, the
collective states.

The Return of the Impassive American

In October, while President Fox was visiting New York
and meeting with George W. Bush, a delegation of US
diplomats traveled from Mexico City to the Montes
Azules. There was a military attachÈ, the person in
charge of economic and commercial affairs and the one
in charge of political affairs at the US Embassy in

They met with Ignacio March, the CI director in
Mexico, and, after visiting the Selva, they spoke with
the traditional doctors of Los Altos, members of
Compitch (an independent organization which,
incidentally, had just stopped a US bioprospecting
project in their communities). The people from
Compitch heard them say to the commercial attachÈ from
Washington in our country: "I'm here representing my
government and our companies. We want to do biopros-
pecting in the Selva Lacandona, but we're also
interested in doing it in all of Chiapas and all over
the world. Our interest is, basically, commercial and
strategic." That same day (oh irony!) Vicente Fox was
meeting with Bush in Manhattan.

The US delegation returned to Chiapas in November,
and it met with state and federal officials. The
collective states that there were exhaustive meetings,
and the diplomats expressed "insistent questions about
the Selva and the activities of the EZLN." And, with
that elephantine tact which those guys up in
Washington have, they explored the possibility of a
military government - they didn't say whether interim
or not - by Salazar MendiguchÌa.

In late November, the Los Angeles Times and the
Houston Chronicle published special supplements on
Montes Azules. They showed photographs of forests in
flames. They assumed that it was a "regional
security" issue. In December, the former head of
National Security and present Mexican delegate on the
UN Security Council, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser,
accompanied by the heads of the PGR and Profepa,
stated that there are "real" environmental "terrorist
activities" in nine regions in the country. The State
would shortly, he announced, be deploying "all their
force on a military scale" in those regions, since it
was a "war operation."

The location where the "ungovernability" would be
dealt with in a priority manner was revealed a few
days later by the head of Profepa (environmental
ombudsman designated by the Executive): Montes Azules.
Also at the end of the year, Semarnat announced that
in 2002 the border with Guatemala (which surrounds the
north of the Selva Lacandona) would be sealed, and the
Sedena set up a new military control point in
Taniperla (on the other side of the Montes Azules).

And so, on the afternoon of January 9 of this year, a
hundred soldiers conducted two Public Ministry agents
from Ocosingo across the lake to the zapatista
community of Laguna El Suspiro. They entered the
village, and, in the name of the government, offered
money to the women there "so that they would leave
here." They promised to pay them the maize and
oranges which the soldiers had "expropriated" from
them five years ago. "Take the payment, if you don't,
then we'll have to see you here again real soon."

That was, in 2002, the "first" notification of
expulsion to a community. Since then, military
overflights have multiplied above the communities
inside the Montes Azules and in the Autonomous
Municipalities of the caÒadas of the Selva Lacandona.
In some cases,

officials from Semarnat and Profepa have arrived. On
February 21, five emissaries from Profepa were
detained in Santa Elena by hundreds of campesinos from
the Union of Unions of Agua Azul, when they were
heading towards Nuevo Guadalupe Tepeyac. The
indigenous demanded
negotiations, and they refused to be dislocated.

Days later, the Ricardo Flores MagÛn Autonomous
Municipality denounced threats of military expulsion
which were being experienced by communities in the
northeastern part of the biosphere reserve and of the
Selva Lacandona. The independent authorities said that
they would defend their lands.

The ARIC-Independent has repeatedly proposed that,
instead of being dislocated, it should be the
comuneros in the region themselves who are entrusted
with the management and preservation of the forest, as
established by Convention 167 of the ILO, which was
signed by Mexico. This convention was the foundation
of theSan AndrÈs Accords of 1996, but not of the
indigenous law which was approved by Congress last

This month the threads of the plot have continued
their course. The National Forestry Commission
(Conafor) announced, in Zapopan, Jalisco, that its
Director General would be participating in the Second
United Nations Forum on Forests, which was held
between March 12 and 15 in New York. Together with the
former PAN governor and current head of Conafor,
Alberto C·rdenas, participating in the Forum were the
Departments of the Environment, Foreign Relations and
the Economy.

The Conafor explained in a bulletin that the Forum's
objective was to "promote the management, conservation
and sustainable development of all kinds of forests,"
as well as to "strengthen political commitments made
in that regard." Without specifying exactly what
those commitments were, the Conafor communiquÈ
announced that "with the President of the Republic,
Vicente Fox Quesada, having declared that the forestry
issue is a matter of national security, the head of
Conafor will be proposing on that stage, in front of
the representatives of 188 countries of the UN, that
forests be considered a matter of international

While the Forum was going on in New York, on the
13th, the Commission of Forests and Selvas of the
Chiapas Congress passed a law that had been proposed
by Governor Salazar MendiguchÌa, weeks before, which
imposed severe sanctions on those who fell or burn

And so, where are the US agencies in the case? In
February, Dr. Ernesto Enckerlin, of the National
Commission for Protected Areas, admitted that the
government had been pressured by environmental NGOs,
among them the CI, to expel communities from the
Montes Azules.

The CI has insisted that it does not involve itself
in the country's agrarian or political affairs,
although it "provided" photographs to the LacandÛn in
order to "provide a basis" for their legal demands.

The same NGO, in their Maya Selva project, has a
population and environmental program, whose objective
is to contain the "over- population problem." Along
with the IMSS and Mexfam, the CI is holding
reproductive health and gender workshops with women in
the Selva. It has been testing various contraceptive
methods "in order to see which works best," according
to officials. LacandÛn women are excluded, because
"there are very few of them left."

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