Thousands of ranchers protest against Indian rights law for Zapatistas |

Thousands of ranchers protest against Indian rights law for Zapatistas


SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (AP) – Thousands of farmers and ranchers, backed by Lacandon Indians, announced Wednesday that they will ask Mexico’s Congress to modify an Indian rights bill – a measure they contend would pit Indian communities against each other.

The farmers and cattle ranchers also said they would make peace with the Zapatista rebels whose short-lived revolution led to the bill’s creation – but only if they give them back land and cattle the rebels seized during the conflict.

More than 5,000 farmers and ranchers were displaced during spates of violence in the wake of the Jan. 1, 1994 uprising in which the Zapatistas seized six towns. The rebellion led to 12 days of fighting and left 145 people dead.

If Congress passes the current Indian rights bill backed by the Zapatistas, it would cause severe friction among the communities, not all of whom support it, said group leader Jorge Constantino Kantel.

”If the intiative is not analyzed thoroughly, we’re not going to be able to apply it in the Indian communities of Chiapas, because the residents aren’t going to allow it,” Constantino said.

”We can’t accept a law that is going to trample the rights of Indian brothers.”

Constantino said legislative leaders already have invited the ranchers and Indian representatives to appear before Congress, where they plan to present an alternative proposal. A date has not yet been set.

Some critics have voiced concern that the current bill – which allows Indian communities some level of local self-government – might permit traditional councils of elders to violate the rights of women and political and religious minorities.

Chan Kin, a leader of the Lacandon Indian community, complained Wednesday that President Vicente Fox and the Congress have failed to take the Lacondons into account when considering the bill.

”We know that the Zapatista National Liberation Army rose up in arms to demand justice, attention and development for indigenous communities to end with their marginalization and poverty. With that we agree,” Kin said.

”However, it makes us sad to see how the Zapatistas today only harass us and take away the little that we have, and try to force us with arms to accept a law not approved by a large majority” of Indians.

”Mr. President, honorable Congress of the Union, we also deserve to be heard and to raise our demands so that the initiative is discussed and analyzed thoroughly and not approved lightly,” he said.

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