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Chiapas Article

La Jornada Wednesday, February 5, 2003.

Two US Citizens "Spreading Lies" That We Are Invading Their Ranch, Respond Indigenous

Hermann Bellinghausen, correspondent. Nuevo Jerusale'n, Chiapas.

February 4. It would appear that an interventionist opera buffa is being played out behind the doors of the dead city of Tonina': 100 meters away from the main access to the headquarters of the 39th Military Region, and a few more from the barracks of the 31st Infantry Battalion. At the entrance to a community in resistance, which belongs to the Primero de Enero Autonomous Municipality. In the vicinity of a tourist ranch, La Esmeralda, the property of US citizens.

A unique scenario in the area: it has all the necessary ingredients for setting up a small provocation and for broadcasting the matter (yes) to the world. They attempted it just before January 1, but failed. At that time, the Wersch couple told the press that their ranch "had been invaded by zapatistas," something which never took place, but the story was widely reported. Over subsequent weeks, the owners of La Esmeralda told their government, international agencies and the national and state press, that the zapatistas were threatening them.

The latter firmly deny it. What did indeed occur, a year ago, was that the assembly of the towns of Nuevo Jerusale'n and San Juanito decided to prevent the Public Security police and the federal Army from passing through their lands. The "security" operation continuously covered the short route between the Tonina' Predio (the military barracks) and La Esmeralda ranch. The patrols would remain there for a bit, and then they would cross through the two zapatista communities on their way back.

At the beginning of 2002, the indigenous closed off the entrance to patrols, and to the foreign tourists who were serving as an excuse for the police and soldiers to use a road on lands that were not public, since they belonged to the community of Nuevo Jerusale'n.

They only allowed the owners of La Esmeralda ranch, Glenn Wersch and Ellen Jones, to go through. Since then, tourists have entered through the archeological zone. "This entire problem has been caused by the owners of that ranch, with their lies. They themselves created this situation, as if it were something serious," says a man, the oldest in the group of six persons who is guarding the entrance gate to Nuevo Jerusale'n. "By going around saying the lie that we had already invaded, what we never said we were going to do, we spoke with Se~or 'Clen' (which is what the indigenous call Glenn Wersch) to see if he had carried out the lie, and left. Then he said that we were asking him for his ranch. He must not have understood." The indigenous are quite certainly unaware that the Wersch couple's stories reached the New York Times, the United States embassy and the State Department in Washington. The zapatistas heard it on the local radio in Ocosingo when they returned from the march in San Cristo'bal. That was enough for them to realize that the owners of La Esmeralda ranch "were spreading lies."

Now that the alleged threats and invasions have appeared in the media, one must begin at the beginning. Most especially because this contrived situation has been used by the US government for an interventionist posture, which has not received sufficient attention.

Upon attempting to minimize the memorandum of alarm that the Department of State released a few days ago for US citizens wanting to visit this area, Governor Pablo Salazar Mendiguchi'a made an extraordinary revelation. According to the national press, the Chiapas governor stated that, owing to the "events" at La Esmeralda ranch, "officials from the Department of State asked the government of Chiapas to send in the Army in order to guarantee Glenn Wersch's property."

In response, the chiapaneco governor commented: "It's not the Army's job, nor is the Army dependent on me. Since they didn't get (US officials) the response they expected, they threw an out of proportion tantrum, and now comes this communique'." Nuevo Jerusale'n has been settled for eight years on what was previously the Canelo cattle ranch. After the zapatista uprising of 1994, the owners left, having received indemnification from the government.

Subsequently, EZLN support bases "recovered" these lands and established a new town center, with the lands being held communally. The zapatistas' new neighbors arrived at almost the exact same time. The Department of National Defense (Sedena) acquired the Tonina' predio alongside the highway in order to build a huge complex of military, administrative and residential facilities. On the archeological zone side, the Wersch couple acquired La Esmeralda ranch and moved from the United States to the Ocosingo valley.

The mountainside of the archeological site can be seen from all parts of the Ocosingo valley, where the stairs to the netherworld rise and fall and, on a stele, a dreadful deity holds up a severed head in his hand. The military fortress where the bloody Se~or Murcie'lago-Tigre, Tzoj Choj, reigned at the end of the classic Mayan period. Over the centuries, the National Institute of Anthropology and History was handed down a notable site, which continues, nonetheless, to not go over with the tourists. It is, at best, just one stop on the way to Palenque.

This is what Glenn Wersch and Ellen Jones had when they set up a rural hotel with a few cabins, kitchen service, gardens and pleasant scenery. A small tourist business, close to the archeological zone, on the way through southern Mexico to the beaches of the Caribbean, and at the doors of the Ca~adas of the Lacandona. Meanwhile, the Sedena established its huge architectural complex, from where they have organized and imposed the overwhelming militarization of the Lacandona over the last seven years. Ernesto Zedillo inaugurated the barracks personally, and he hung one of those huge flags which he so delighted in planting during his travels through Chiapas.

There was a mobilization by EZLN and ARIC-Independent support bases and others at that time, expressing their repudiation of the military base. And life goes on. Almost just across from it, indigenous resistance was established, and here it is. Nuevo Jerusale'n and San Juanito bring together around 150 Tzeltal families who are engaged in surviving, like all campesinos in the country, with the milpas their lands provide.

Military sources have repeatedly stated that there is "a zapatista checkpoint" in Nuevo Jerusale'n at what is, strictly speaking, a simple entrance to the community. Despite their dissidence, and the arrogant attitude of the Wersch couple, for years the zapatistas allowed tourists, mostly US, through. "We just got tired of having the soldiers and police by our houses, and we closed the gate," the man said.

A young man intervened: "That 'Clen' treats us like dogs. He doesn't have any respect." A murmur of agreement. The older man added: "Just now some INAH workers told us that Se~or 'Clen' had cut some barbed wire at the ruins, without asking permission, in order to put his car where there wasn't even a road. No, no respect." Meanwhile, the Wersch couple have packed up their belongings and taken the furniture out of the ranch, assuring the press that they are planning on resisting as much as possible.

And with the little help from the radio and a certain US press, and the government of Washington, across the Ri'o Grande they look like heroes of free enterprise, whom the Chiapas government "didn't pay any attention to." And whom the PRI municipal president in Ocosingo, Omar Burguete, goaded on, telling them, according to Se~ora Jones, that they understand that "there isn't any law here." On the night of June 29, Glenn Wersch and other persons left La Esmeralda, and they reached the iron entrance gate, which the autonomistas had closed with a lock. The US citizen has stated that he "cut" the lock in order to leave.

The zapatistas say that it was not he, but his foreman, Ernesto Cruz Ka'nter, who is also indigenous. Upon returning from Ocosingo, after 10 PM that same day, Wersch and Ka'nter met up at the gate with a group of residents from Nuevo Jerusale'n, who complained about his actions. 'Do~a Elena,' as the indigenous call Ellen Jones, stated that they attacked her husband. The zapatistas say it was the other way around. "He even threw a compa~ero under a car. And it's not true that we threw stones," said the man who had been carrying on the conversation with this correspondent. Something else the autonomi'as reject is the story that they "asked" the Wersch couple for the deed to La Esmeralda ranch. "What happened is that they said we can't have the road because it belonged to them, and we asked them to show us the deed in order to prove it. Then she went around saying that we wanted to take it away from them. What would we want it for?" the man added.

Lastly, regarding the "five hour kidnapping" of the foreman on the 30th, when he was leaving the ranch in a taxi, the autonomistas stated: "Yes, it's true that we stopped him the other day, because he had committed a crime by breaking our lock. But it's not true that we threatened him and were beating him up, like the newspaper said. Yes, he did get hurt, but it was because he resisted," they admitted. "And we only had him for two hours, as punishment here, in the school. The other hours he mentioned in his (ministerial) statement he didn't spend with us," the man related, adding: "It seems odd to us that 'Do~a Elena' would say those things, she had always been a good person. But not Se~or 'Clen.' He still talks to us as if he were our boss," concluded the spokesperson for the indigenous.

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