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Ann Bar-Din

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Refugees, Expelled Communities, and the Edge of War: A Chiapas Journal

Activist-author Ann Bar-Din, offers information concerning the fate of the civilian, uninvolved population in the wake of the Zapatista uprising that is little known inside Mexico, given the area’s relative inaccessibility and the government-controlled television system. The observations and analysis are based on the author’s five visits to Chiapas between February 1994 and July 1995. Background on the history of rebellion over unequal land distribution and indigenous rights is provided on the Mayas, the ethnic and linguistic group inhabiting Guatemala and the impoverished Mexican state of Chiapas. These areas were once part of the same country, but are now artificially divided by a political frontier. Also explained is the role of religious institutions in the structure of power, particularly the Protestant Roman Catholic rift that has developed and led to “religious” expulsions in Chiapas. Over the past 28 years, there have been at least 132 mass expulsions of indigenous populations, supposedly on religious grounds, but the real reason was to seize their properties. The latest uprising aggravated the number of refugees. The author argues, however, that they were not fleeing from a war of extermination as is the case in Guatemala or from ethnic rivalries leading to externination as is the case in the former Yugoslavia. The “voluntary refugees” fled mistakenly, from an imagined danger. In any event, expelled Protestants have settled in shanty towns encircling the main urban centers in Chiapas and they are beginning to wage internal wars for space and resources, making the situation unmanageable. The instability of this region severely complicates the central government’s efforts to overcome the country’s severe economic crisis, creating space for a negotiated settlement on the key demands of the Zapatista army.

Mexico; Zapatista Army of National Liberation [EZLN, Mexico]; NativeAmerican movement; NativeAmericans of Mexico; refugees

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 22, No. 3 (1995): 190-209

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