The struggle for peace in Chiapas has taken some ugly twists in the past two years. Paramilitary groups backed by the Mexican army and the Chiapas state security police are attacking civilians they perceive to be supporters of a four-year-old guerrilla movement, the Zapatista Army for National Liberation. Among the most recent victims were two lay catechists wounded last November while traveling with Catholic Bishops Samuel Ruiz and Raul Vera.
The Zapatista uprising began in eastern Chiapas on New Years Day in 1994. Initially, it led to negotiations with the federal government, but also to increased militarization in the largely indigenous states of southern Mexico. Events in Chiapas attracted global attention, as indigenous people in Mexicos poorest state took up arms on the day that the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect. Their spokesperson, Subcomandante Marcos, eloquently expressed the Zapatista call for health care, housing, education, land, and respect for human rights. But negotiations ended in mid-1996 because the government refused to implement agreements on indigenous rights reached earlier that year.
North of the original conflict zone, related strife threatens the lives of thousands of indigenous farmers. This conflict polarizes communities along both political and religious lines. According to the International Service for Peace (SIPAZ), more than 4,000 people have been displaced from their homes and 300 killed in the past two years. In this new example of low-intensity warfare, the government and its armed forces create paramilitary groups (armed civilians) to provoke conflict, and then use the conflict to justify repression of groups that press for social reforms. In northern Chiapas, the major paramilitary group is called "Paz y Justicia" (Peace and Justice).