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Chiapas

Chiapas

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Chiapas is a land of stark contrasts: geographically, economically, and socially. One can find everything from frigid mountains to steaming jungles, from poor peasant farmers to wealthy oil executives, and deeply rooted ethnic differences between indigenous Maya and ladinos (those who trace at least part of their ancestry to Spain).

Chiapas is Mexicos southernmost and eighth most populous state (3.9 million in 2000). Most residents live in rural areas. Only three cities have more than 100,000 inhabitants: Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the political and economic center, Tapachula, a coastal port, and San Cristóbal de las Casas, a colonial city in the highlands. Chiapass population is also the youngest in all Mexico with 50 percent at twenty years of age or younger. Many are indigenous; over 25 percent speak one (or more) of Chiapass Mayan languages (Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Chol, Tojolobal, to name only the most common). Most are Catholic (64%), with a growing number of Protestants (14%), and a few Jewish, Muslim, and those without religious beliefs.

Agro-extractive industries dominate. Chiapas is one of Mexicos leading producers of coffee, corn, cattle, and cocoa. From Chiapas comes 54 percent of Mexicos hydroelectric power, 24 percent of its crude oil, and 47 percent of its natural gas. However, broad scale economic and social development was historically a low priority and not everyone has benefited equally. Twelve percent of homes lack electric power. Twenty-six percent of homes lack running water, and 43 percent adequate sewage. Fifty-three percent cook with wood. Chiapas also has the highest rate of illiteracy in Mexico (22%), the fewest doctors per person (1 per 17,856), and the second lowest life expectancy (sixty-seven years).

Inequities, exploitation, and ethnic distinctions began in the colonial period and continued after independence. In 1528 the Spanish conquistador Diego de Mazariegos subdued the indigenous populations of Chiapas. Chiapas had no mineral wealth, no gold, no silver. Its riches were agricultural products, including cochineal (red dye), cocoa, sugarcane, and tobacco, and forced indigenous labor, granted to Spaniards by the Crown, made their production possible. The conditions were so extreme and treatment so cruel that many died, others fled, and some rose in rebellion (the Tzeltal Rebellion of 1712, the Tzotzil Uprising of 1868). Independence in 1824 changed the form but not the nature of relations between indigenous and ladino. Liberal reforms privatized land held by the Catholic Church and indigenous communities. In Chiapas, ladinos used these reforms to obtain title to vacant lands, which often belonged, though not officially, to indigenous people. On these they established coffee and cattle ranches and obligated the very indigenous from whom the land had been taken to work for them, in forms often bordering on slavery. Thereby the general trend of wealthy landed ladino and poor landless indigenous continued.

Inequitable landholding was one of the causes of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 and land became a focal point for indigenous organizing in Chiapas. Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 granted landless people the right to petition the government for land, which the government could expropriate from large landowners. The process was long and drawn out, pitted landless indigenous against landed ladino, and often required secretive organizing, land invasions, and armed confrontations. Indigenous organizing grew throughout the century, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, so that by 1992 over one-half the land in Chiapas was ejido (commonly held) and the indigenous had gained control of many local political offices and some commerce.

In 1992 the Mexican president Salinas de Gortari changed the constitution, abolished the ejido, and in so doing dashed the hopes of many landless poor and exacerbated political unrest. That unrest came to a head in 1994 with the Zapatista Rebellion. The day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect poor, largely indigenous men and womenthe EZLN, Zapatista Army of National Liberationrose in rebellion. The Zapatistas had begun organizing in 1984 and voted to go to war in 1992. As their charismatic leader, subcomandante Marcos, put it, If you dont have land, youre living dead, so why live. It is better to die fighting (Russell 1995, p. 40). The Zapatistas demanded a wide range of social and political reforms. By 1996 the government and the Zapatistas had negotiated an uneasy truce. The Zapatistas refuse anything having to do with the bad government, but receive important contributions from abroad. The government offers many forms of aid to those who reject zapatismo and acknowledge the government. In their intransigence both sides have polarized the countryside, pitting, to unprecedented degrees, indigenous against indigenous: the most devastating manifestation being the massacre in Acteal, during which more than fifty women and children, of a nonviolent Zapatista faction, were brutally murdered by a pro-government faction.

From the mid-1970s to the present, Chiapas has seen many changes: large-scale indigenous organizing, religious conversions, and rebellions. More so than ever before people migrate to cities in search of opportunity and, almost unheard of in the 1990s, residents, especially the young, leave Chiapas by the thousands bound for the United States.

SEE ALSO Indigenous Rights; Liberation Movements

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Benjamin, Thomas. 1996. A Rich Land, a Poor People. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Collier, George. 1999. Basta: Land and the Zapatista Rebellion. Chicago: Food First Books.

Ponce de Leon, Juana, ed. 2001. Our Weapon Is Our Word. New York: Seven Stories Press.

Russell, Philip L. 1995. The Chiapas Rebellion. Austin, TX: Mexico Resource Center.

Pete Brown

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Chiapas

Chiapas (chēä´päs), state (1990 pop. 3,210,496), 28,732 sq mi (74,416 sq km), SE Mexico, on the Pacific Ocean between Guatemala and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Tuxtla Gutiérrez is the capital. Chiapas is crossed by mountain ranges rising from the isthmus and extending southeast into Guatemala. They are separated by low, subtropical valleys. Paralleling the coastal plain is the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, reaching 13,310 ft (4,057 m) at Tacaná volcano. The state's principal river valley is the Grijalva, northeast of which are the central highlands. Farther to the northeast are lower ranges, lakes, and valleys, falling away toward the Usumacinta River and the rain-forested plains of Tabasco. This sparsely inhabited region contains valuable but dwindling forests of dyewoods and hardwoods and is also the site of ruined Mayan cities (notably Palenque). The area is also the retreat of the Lacandones, a gradually disappearing indigenous people often thought to be related to the ancient Maya.

The climate of Chiapas, except for the highlands, is hot. Rainfall is heavy from June to November. Subsistence crops are grown, and coffee (of which Chiapas is a leading national producer), rubber, and cacao are economically important, as is livestock breeding. The state's rich mineral resources, especially silver, gold, and copper, remain mostly unexploited, although petroleum production has become significant. Chiapas also has valuable amber deposits. The state is also a major producer of hydroelectric power from dams on the Grijalva River. In general, economic development has been hindered by remoteness and inadequate communication; however, airlines and the Inter-American Highway link Tuxtla with the highland towns, especially the pre-1892 capital, San Cristóbal de las Casas, and are opening up the interior. Tourism and ethnological research are both increasingly important. Interesting archaeological sites have been discovered near the village of Chiapa de Corzo.

Conquered with difficulty by the Spanish, Chiapa, as it was then called, was attached to the captain generalcy of Guatemala. Never part of colonial Mexico, quasi-independent Chiapas was annexed by the republic following the collapse in 1823 of the empire of Agustín de Iturbide. Its people, however, many of them members of highland Maya tribes, resisted the central government in various uprisings. In early 1994 several towns in Chiapas were briefly occupied during an uprising by peasants, who remain on the socioeconomic and political margins in the state. Armed conflict was brief, and the rebels (the Zapatista National Liberation Army) established control in a number of communities after a truce was declared. The Zapatistas have continued to press for greater autonomy for all of Mexico's indigenous communities, and there have been sporadic outbreaks of violence.

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Chiapas

ChiapasChiapas, tapas •campus, grampus, hippocampus, pampas •metacarpus, streptocarpus •trespass • Priapus • Lepus •Aristippus, Lysippus •Olympus • Oedipus • platypus •pompous •corpus, porpoise •Canopus, opus •lupus, upas •compass, encompass, rumpus •octopus •multipurpose, purpose

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