Chiapas, Mexico: Tight Security in San Cristobal — Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

Geographically, in a sense, San Cristobal sits on a little peninsula. But unlike most peninsulas, San Cristobal is not surrounded by water. Instead, it’s surrounded on the north, east, and south by rebel-friendly areas.

In 1994, the North American Free Trade Act, or NAFTA, was signed by Mexico, the US, and Canada. NAFTA allowed for easier imports and exports, financial trade, and other activities among the three countries. One of the selling points for the Mexican government was the possibility of Mexico reaching the same first-world status as the US and Canada. But some people in Mexico didn’t think NAFTA held any benefit for the country, and that, in fact, it would cause problems for Mexico. Unfortunately, it became evident pretty quickly that they were right. Now Mexicans had to compete against much larger producers in the other two countries in areas such as agriculture, meaning that people who depended on income from those sources were now losing money because the larger companies could afford to charge lower prices.

Even before the impact was apparent, though, people, especially in Chiapas, fought against NAFTA. The same day the agreement was signed, a group called the Zapatista National Liberation Army, after Emiliano Zapata of the Mexican Revolution, started rebelling and attacking federal and local authorities.

The Zapatistas are a guerilla group, but they aren’t trying to take anything over. They’re trying, or at least believe they are, to save Mexico, and especially the indigenous residents of Chiapas, from the effects of NAFTA. But they aren’t going about it in any less destructive a way than guerillas who are trying to take over other countries, and people have been killed in the fighting.

The Zapatistas make Chiapas, including San Cristobal, particularly dangerous to visit, which is why the guidebook I have says it’s best to remain in the center of the city. San Cristobal is quite well protected from the rebels. The city has its own police force, which keeps things under control, but they aren’t working alone. Federal police are here as well, and security guards are present in much of the city.

Even though in theory the police make San Cristobal a safe place to be, during this part of the trip I sometimes wonder what I’m doing here. The same aspects that make San Cristobal and the rest of Chiapas a great setting for the book I’m planning make them not such a great place for the author!
Other times, though, it feels quite comfortable being a tourist here.

There are so many kinds of police that I tried to catalog them all.

Johnny Monsarrat: This guy is from the army poli
This guy is from the army police. I snuck some photos and didn't get arrested.
Johnny Monsarrat: This guy is just a security gu
This guy is just a security guard.
Johnny Monsarrat: I worked up the courage to ask
I worked up the courage to ask the Federal Police if I could take his photo. They carry AR15 machine guns. I know because one of my tour guides called one over and asked! Yikes!
Johnny Monsarrat: Then he started hamming it up,
Then he started hamming it up, holding his gun and stalking a pedestrian like he's going to shoot. Meanwhile his buddy laughs. That was my cue to get the hell out of there.

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