This article is from the February 1997 The Mexico File newsletter.
Back to Articles List

The Haves and the Have-Nots in Mexico

By Bill Wilcox, Scottsdale, Arizona

"Have-Nots Need Stake in Mexico" is the headline on page A-5 of the December 4, 1996, issue of The New York Times. The source of information for this article is not a left-wing radical, but the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and a former U.S. Congressman, James R. Jones. The Ambassador expresses concern over the growing gulf between Mexico’s haves and have-nots and the need for reform.

While Jones may be the leading public official to show unease over developments in Mexico, he is by no means alone. Two books, A New Time for Mexico and First World, Ha Ha Ha: The Zapatista Challenge, document the considerable unrest in the State of Chiapas and other southern states of Mexico. A New Time for Mexico reviews the historical factors leading to Mexico’s current malaise. The author contends that the traditions of the all-powerful leaders of the Aztecs, the Hapsburgs, the Bourbons and post-independence Mexico is the basis for many of Mexico’s ongoing political and social problems. First World: Ha Ha Ha... takes its name from a protest slogan of a Mexico City demonstration. It contains a series of essays centered on current social unrest in Mexico, especially among the Zapatista protesters in Chiapas.

Lest the Zapatista Indians be thought to be the only activists on the scene, the San Francisco Chronicle, is a news item from San Cristobal, Chiapas, reports on an attack by "a pro-government paramilitary group" on a bus carrying 16 "pastors for peace," headquartered in Minneapolis. The group proposed to deliver twelve tons of corn, beans, medicine, shoes and school supplies to a poor village. The article reports, "...In recent months, local paramilitary groups linked to the ruling Institutional Revolutional Party (PRI) have carried out killings and kidnaping of peasants allied with the Zapatistas."

By far the most poignant statement in personal terms of the distress and the attendant violence is a dramatic presentation, "13 Days/13 Dias: How the Zapatistas Shook the World," presented by the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Each individual, depending on his or her class or personal loyalties, is conflicted in a personal way and must deal with the unrest which circles about. These stresses are depicted in individuals from both sides of the border. The presentation is a political statement and is followed by a comment by the director during curtain calls.

After a successful run last summer and fall, the playwrights from the Troupe and the Borderlands Theater of Tucson, Arizona, are updating the presentation. They plan late winter showings in the California cities of Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Santa Barbara and San Francisco. Other showings are scheduled for Amherst, Massachusetts, and Montclair, New Jersey.

Nobody knows the outcome of the present unrest in Mexico. Will it result in another bout of armed struggle or will it lead to the adoption of true multiparty democratic reforms with the executive power at all levels playing reduced roles? Personally, I am betting on the latter.

For further information on "13 Days/13 Dias," contact the Troupe at 855 Treat Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94110 or call 415-285-1717 (fax: 415-285-1290).