The state of Chiapas, Mexico, has been in a state of change since 1994. On January 1st, 1994, Indians of Chiapas calling themselves Zapatistas, after the legendary Mexican people’s revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, took over the city of San Cristobol and several other cities in the region. The National Zapatista Liberation Army (EZLN) soon became international news. The fight for Indigenous Peoples’ rights made the EZLN heroes to some and villains to others.
This struggle has not disappeared over the years. For years, small communities that allied themselves with the Zapatistas were threatened by the Mexican Army. Entire villages were attacked and killed, such as in the infamous massacre at Acteal, in which nearly an entire community was slaughtered, in December 1997. In order to stave off these attacks, villages began to turn to human rights organizations for help. These organizations and communities created Peace Camps, where outside, usually foreign, observers could report any human rights abuses and basically serve as human shields.
The community of Union Progresso used to be an afinca, a rich man’s farm. In 1986, a group of farmers bought the land, and today about 20 families live together in this small town. In 1998, an estimated three thousand armed men, believed to be a combination of paramilitary troops and the Mexican Army, entered Union Progresso. They killed five men before running the rest of the citizens out of town. The men looted the town, taking everything they could carry, including livestock, food and crops. A few months later the community was again attacked, but this time managed to escape without any fatalities. Soon after, they approached a human rights group for help starting a Peace Camp.
There are children growing up now that have known nothing but this conflict. To them, there is nothing strange about trading places with their fathers on guard duty, posted around the town every day and every night. The goal is better education, better heath care, more respect and rights: the children’s parents fight this war because they want the children to have a better life than they do.
The first sign of hope for a political remedy occurred when the PRI, the prevailing political party for over 70 years, lost the presidency to Vicente Fox of the PAN party last year. Although a conservative, Fox took the position that a peace must be negotiated. The Zapatistas, also wanting peace, marched a delegation to Mexico City to address the congress. Although many Mexican political powers did not want the talks to take place, they did, leaving both sides feeling, for the first time in years, that there was a possibility for peace.
During my time in Chiapas, I saw this hope becoming a reality. Although children still stand guard duty, they are slowly learning just to be children. Although the adults are cautious, they are slowly learning to live their lives without the fear of the past. There is still hope in Chiapas. I tried to make pictures that captured this hope, within the context of a land still caught in war and fear.