Jornada Wednesday, February 5, 2003.
Two US Citizens "Spreading Lies" That We Are Invading Their Ranch,
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
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
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.