Letter: Peasant revolt divides Indians

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The Independent Online
Sir: It was very good to see that you gave front page coverage to the peasant revolt in Mexico (' 'Zapata' peasant revolt blazes in Mexico', 3 January). However, I do feel that it should be put in its proper context.

Having lived and worked with the Tzeltal people in both the rainforest and the highlands of Chiapas as an anthropologist/agriculturalist for 18 of the past 23 years, I have seen the other side of the coin.

This movement is by no means 'clearly supported by the vast majority of the local, mostly Indian population', as Phil Davison claims. Two thousand Indian peasants operating over an area the size of Wales cannot possibly be said to be representative of a population of more than half a million people. Nearly every community from where these peasants come is divided over this issue, and many communities have refused to have anything to do with them at all.

In Chiapas the vast majority of Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Tojolobal, Ch'ol, Lacandon and Zoque Indians have rights to their land; many of them have up to 50 acres per family. In the highlands they live on communal tribal lands. Nearly every community in Chiapas, down to small rancherias, has a primary school, and nearly all large ejidos have secondary schools, piped water, a government rural clinic, electricity, a government food store and a small road. Recently in Oxchuc, a highland Tzeltal community, the government built water tanks and rain catchment areas for any of the peasants who requested them and were willing to help build them.

According to the local Indians, the peasant rebels are led by Central Americans, and the accents of the leaders who spoke in San Cristobal backed up that impression. These people do not understand Mexico and have latched on to a disaffected few who can be found in any community of the world.

Yours faithfully,

BOB SHORT

Repton, Derbyshire

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