Wednesday, March 26, 2008

SiPaz Report-Rev. Griebler's Report from Chiapas

Dear Ones - I'm home safe from Chiapas. There's surely a piece of my heart that lives in Latin America. It was good to be there even for a little while. And it was a short little whirlwind trip. I was there for a board meeting of SiPaz (International Service for Peace) and to meet with Congregational and Disciple of Christ pastors from Northern Mexico who were visiting Chiapas and our mission partners at IMM and Global Ministries invitation.

Lots of meetings, including one with all 14 cabinet ministers from the state of Chiapas. Had to wonder why the governor wanted his entire cabinet to spend the day with SiPaz? Perhaps to portray an image of concern for human rights. Too bad the reality says different. Most of my meetings were with the board of SiPaz, this incredible little international coalition that provides critical presence, reliable information and works to build a culture of peace in Chiapas. Which is still one of those strategic places where you can measure the social temperature of world.

The conflict in Chiapas smolders still. Where the movement for autonomy among the indigenous people is strongest (the Northern Zone – which is where the ancient Mayan site Palenque is located) the military and paramilitaries have increased their presence. The Protestant churches are fanning the flames once again, pastors preaching that Zapistasta supporters and communities are devil-possessed. And that the devil must be driven out. Not that the churches are causing the conflict – it’s rooted in issues around land and power and access to strategic resources. Not surprisingly, expulsions are on the rise and fear grows that the situation is ripe for more Acteal-type massacres. (Back in 1997 paramilitaries killed 47 people who were gathered in a church praying for peace in the town of Acteal. The victims were members of Las Abejas, a group committed to active non-voilence that supports the Zapatistas’s goals, if not always their means. Many of the victims were women - 4 were pregnant - and children. The killing spree took place over 5 hours. A military installation was just a football field's length away, but no one came to intervene and stop the killing. Which leaves one to presume that the military chose not to respond and so is complicit in the crime.) SiPaz is one of the groups that works to lessen tensions and to actively build a culture of peace. I’d say we’ll be in business for a while.

See, there's oil in them there hills. And quite a lot. And uranium, fresh water (think hydro-electric dams), rich bio-diversity of cloud forest, rain forest and jungle(think pharmaceuticals), natural beauty & Mayan cultural sites (think eco-tourism). The Mexican government and the trans-national corporations are interested in clearing out most of the indigenous communities to make way for development. This is what the trade agreements from NAFTA to CAFTA to Plan Pueblo Panama are all about. Phase 1 is an Indian removal project to be sure. Of course, some co-operative indigenous communities will be allowed to remain and make a show of their authentic Mayan culture for the tourists. The Zapatista autonomous communities aren't planning on co-operating with the various free trade agreements. At the very least they will not just roll over. They want to have a say, now and into the future. Their resistance - which has taken the form of active non-violence - is more than admirable - really courageous, creative and inspirational.

If you or your congregation would like to see pictures or hear more about this, just ask and I will be happy to talk with you or even a group that’s interested. I can be reached at St. Michael's United Church of Christ, 630/231-0687.

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