Bishop discusses indigenous-governmental relations

Bishop Samuel Ruiz presided over the National Commission of Intermediation and was a main actor in the process of dialogue and negotiations between the EZLN and the Mexican Government.

Could you explain what happened with the accords of San Andres Larrainzar?

Well, the parties involved in the conflict had programmed six areas to be discussed in six months. Among the areas to be discussed were: Rights and Indigenous Culture, Justice and Democracy, among others.

Only the first topic, which was about Rights and Indigenous Culture, could be completed. The second was more difficult and was suspended.

The San Andres Accords were signed on Feb. 16, 1996 after many months of dialogue and negotiations between the EZLN and the Government on the first topic. It was a pronouncement by both parties towards an initiative for law. Nonetheless, President Zedillo made some significant changes in key places that went against the San Andres Accords, and the initiative was not accepted. All of this despite the fact that the President had asked the government representative to follow the Accords.

How do you see the current situation for indigenous people of Chiapas, taking into account that it has been 10 years since the uprising?

There has been a consistent cessation of fire. This happened because since many years ago the Zapatistas had opted for a non-armed fight, and to look for peace. Let’s say there is an apparent tranquility.

Why didn’t Marcos defend the San Andres Accords before Congress?

Commander Estela in a historic speech said that Marcos didn’t speak because he is not indigenous, he is only an adviser.

In the second part of her speech she said that indigenous people existed before the conquest, and that they, as direct descendants from them, petitioned that the Constitution accept that Mexico is a multicultural country and that they be recognized as a race, with their laws and customs.

What are you referring to when you say their laws and their customs?

Well, an example in the criminal field is: in current legislation when a crime is committed what is sought is a punishment and reparation, for the indigenous the most important thing is for the person to reintegrate into the community.

Another aspect would be the right of the indigenous communities to use their waters and forests. They say that the natural products like petroleum are of the Nation, but the use of water and forests where they live is theirs.

Do you believe the Zapatistas have abandoned the fight?

No, it has only changed. Now their fight is a political one. They are not giving up, proof of it is in the creation of their autonomous municipalities, which is a form of social organization that existed even in the times of the Mayas.

Aren’t the autonomous municipalities outside the law?

No, because the State Department said that installing Autonomous Municipalities is not against the Constitution. They have created five and they have worked well. They don’t receive help from the government in these municipalities. They only work to improve their life conditions, and they have made progress, especially in the areas of health and education.

What is the future for the Zapatistas?

I believe that all of the political parties aren’t trusted anymore, and that they are not offering solutions to the necessities of the citizens. This is why there is fervor in non-governmental groups who are making proposals for change, and as you can see it happens everywhere not only in Mexico. Here, the Autonomous Municipalities receive support from non-governmental agencies that see the need for change in the people. I do not doubt that in the future we will see a more just society, since there is a great push from society towards it.

The Zapatismo is evolving. Marcos is a myth since many think that the indigenous don’t think they need help, but this is not true the indigenous think and believe.

There are many poor people in Mexico and there is interest in helping them that comes from the gospel, Christ was a sign of liberation, he had a preference for the poor and told us that if we help them (the poor) with food, clothes and a place to sleep, we are helping him.