Mexico has held talks with the Israeli defence ministry on confronting the Zapatistas of Chiapas.
by Deborah Esch
In 1994, the Mexican military faced an armed uprising by the Zapatistas in Chiapas state [AFP]
Several observers have raised this question since the announcement in early May that Jorge Llaven Abarca, Mexico's secretary of public security for the troubled southern state of Chiapas, had engaged in talks with the Israeli defence ministry. According to Llaven Abarca, the parties discussed security cooperation and coordination on policing, prisons and the effective use of technology. Only one major Mexican news organisation reported on the announcement in its immediate aftermath.
Chiapas is home to the EZLN (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional), a movement comprised of indigenous Mayan fighters and their supporters. The Zapatistas led a popular rebellion against the Mexican government in January 1994, on the occasion of NAFTA's implementation, re-taking large tracts of land in and around the Lacandon rainforest. Since then, the EZLN has established cooperative farms, autonomous schools, health clinics and other community infrastructure.
The Zapatistas have been a thorn in the side of the federal government from the start, scaring off foreign investors: a Chase Manhattan Bank memo from 1994 read in part: "While Chiapas, in our opinion, does not pose a fundamental threat to Mexican political stability, it is perceived to be so by many in the investment community."
Under successive presidents and ruling parties, the government has intensified its efforts to crush the rebellion in Chiapas. In December 2012, when Llaven Abarca was named head of security for the embattled and impoverished state by newly minted governor Manuel Velasco Coello, human rights organisations came together to protest the appointment. They predicted an escalation of violence, after what they said was his record of a range of abuses, including arbitrary and criminal preventive detentions, disproportionate use of public force, death threats, and torture, documented during his service in several positions in the government of Juan Jose Sabines Guerrero.
So why now? As analysts Jimmy Johnson and Linda Quiquivix have noted:
"This may be the first time the Mexican government has gone public about military co-ordination with Israelis in Chiapas. Yet the agreement is only the latest in Israel's longer history of military exports to the region, an industry spawned from experience in the conquest and pacification of Palestine."Historical context
If that longer history is not widely acknowledged, it is certainly documented, as John Collins attests in The 'Pacification' Industry Comes to Chiapas. Israel's decades-long role in providing military assistance to repressive regimes in Latin America is detailed in the work of Jane Hunter and Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, as well as that of other historians.
Reportedly among those regimes who received such assistance was Guatemala, whose leader, General Jose Efrain Rios Montt, was convicted of genocide and sentenced to 80 years in prison a few days before Llaven Abarca announced plans for "new" cooperation with the Israeli military in Chiapas. As Collins notes: "There is nothing particularly new about Israel's being involved militarily in the region."
In the 21st century, however, Israel has come to the fore as a leader in what Collins terms the "pacification industry": "The production of tools, technologies and techniques designed to help governments enforce the criminalisation of dissent and the suppression of popular resistance."
In 2007, Naomi Klein made a nuanced case for the transformation of Israel's vaunted "tech economy" into a "homeland security economy" in a column for the Guardian, under the title "How war was turned into a brand".
"Many of the country's most successful entrepreneurs are using Israel's status as a fortressed state, surrounded by furious enemies, as a kind of 24-hour-a-day showroom, a living example of how to enjoy relative safety amid constant war. And the reason Israel is now enjoying super-growth is that those companies are busy exporting that model to the world.Mexico as client
Mexico's shopping list for Israeli technology and weaponry has lengthened considerably since 1973, when the government purchased five Arava planes from Israeli Aerospace Industries. The government would eventually rely on these aircraft to deploy its Airborne Special Forces Group (Grupo Aeromovil de Fuerzas Especiales, or GAFE), whose commandos were themselves reportedly trained by Israel and the US.
Several GAFE members would later desert their posts and go on to form Los Zetas, one of the country's most powerful and violent cartels, whose notorious former leader, Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, reportedly received his own military training in Israel and the US.
In Chiapas and elsewhere around the country, the new PRI government of President Enrique Pena Nieto faces citizens in open rebellion, fighting for their rights and, in some cases, their lives. As in 1994, projecting an appearance of effective control and stability is vital for both the provisional and the permanent rulers.
Indeed, "creating an atmosphere of stability" was the stated objective of the recent Mexico-Israeli discussions on Chiapas, and a desire for at least the perception that this elusive goal is attainable, if not already in hand, may explain, in part, why the Israeli military presence in the remote southeastern state is now going public.
'From this corner we have something to say'
In January 2009, on the occasion of Israel's invasion of Gaza, the EZLN's Subcomandante Marcos published a speech entitled Of sowing and harvests, in which he stressed a certain proximity between lands and populations that may seem a world apart: "Not far from here, in a place called Gaza, in Palestine, in the Middle East, right here next to us, the Israeli government's heavily trained and armed military continues its march of death and destruction."
Based on the news reports and photographs to which he has had access, Marcos views Israel's latest incursion into Palestine as "a classic military war of conquest":
"First an intense mass bombing in order to destroy 'strategic' military points (that's how the military manuals put it) and to 'soften' the resistance's reinforcements; next a fierce control over information: everything that is heard and seen 'in the outside world', that is, outside the theatre of operations, must be selected with military criteria; now intense artillery fire against the enemy infantry to protect the advance of troops to new positions; then there will be a siege to weaken the enemy garrison; then the assault that conquers the position and annihilates the enemy, then the 'cleaning out' of the probable 'nests of resistance'."A seasoned strategist himself, Marcos recognises that "the military manual of modern war, with a few variations and additions, is being followed step-by-step by the invading military forces". But from "this corner" - Chiapas, Mexico, 2009 - the Zapatista's spokesman ventures a more pointed comment:
"According to the news photos, the 'strategic' points destroyed by the Israeli government's air force are houses, shacks, civilian buildings. We haven't seen a single bunker, nor a barracks, nor a military airport, nor cannons, amongst the rubble. So - and please excuse our ignorance - we think that either the planes' guns have bad aim, or in Gaza such 'strategic' military points don't exist."Though the Zapatistas "have never had the honour of visiting Palestine", they are left to suppose that "people, men, women, children and the elderly - not soldiers - lived in those houses, shacks and buildings". One imagines a pause, perhaps a reflective pull on the familiar pipe, before Marcos takes his next rhetorical turn.
"But wait. It just occurred to us that perhaps to the Israeli government those men, women, children and elderly people are enemy soldiers, and as such, the shacks, houses and buildings that they inhabited are barracks that need to be destroyed. So surely the hail of bullets that fell on Gaza this morning were in order to protect the Israeli infantry's advance from those men, women, children and elderly people. And the enemy garrison that they want to weaken with the siege that is spread out all over Gaza is the Palestinian population that lives there. And the assault will seek to annihilate that population."From the mountains and rivers of Chiapas, Israel's 2009 invasion of Gaza looks distinctly like "a professional army murdering a defenceless population". Hence the recognition, the sense of proximity, the solidarity with the people of Palestine - this, though the immediate outcome is mostly predictable. "As for everything else," muses Marcos, "what will happen will happen."
"The Israeli government will declare that it dealt a severe blow to terrorism, it will hide the magnitude of the massacre from its people, the large weapons manufacturers will have obtained economic support to face the crisis, and 'the global public opinion', that malleable entity that is always in fashion, will turn away."The recently disclosed talks between Mexico's secretary of public security for Chiapas and representatives of the Israeli military have not, to date, captured the attention of global public opinion. What it will take for a joint operation in Chiapas to garner that interest is hard to contemplate.