Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 18TH, 1999 – CHIAPAS (CONT.)

250,000 tourists came to Chiapas in 1998. Since there's Tuxtla and Palenque, I would guess maybe only 100,000 came through San Cristobal. Actually, probably a lot less, because it's hard to get to San Cristobal.

Let's assume that a fair percentage of them is around during December, which is probably the peak of the season. So there might be more than 2,000 tourists here this week. Frankly, I didn't see many gringos when I arrived, but as the weekend continued, more arrived -- this is the start of the high season I guess because of Xmas vacations.

I wonder if this tourism number includes other Mexicans. From what I've seen, I would guess that there are fewer than 500 tourists here. The main square and the surrounding 10 city blocks just aren't big enough to hide 5,000 tourists. San Cristobal is a fairly small town.

Do the Zapatistas want independence from Mexico? No. They want the indigenous people to have representation in the state government. Chiapas is a rich state, with its natural gas and electricity, but the rich owners don't pay enough money to the workers. Market forces are not pushing the price of labor up, because the productive land is in the hands of just a few people, so they can act together like a cartel to keep prices down.

Also the indigenous people are desperate for jobs, and there are a lot of them, so if there's a strike, the rich people know that there are plenty of non-strikers who need a job. And of course, most of the jobs are menial, requiring little education, so it's easy for one Indian to replace another without much training.

If an Indian demands to get paid minimum wage, the rich people kill them to make an example of them! This doesn't happen around San Cristobal, but yes it does in Tuxtla. I get the impression that the Zapatista oversight has resulted in better treatment of Indians locally.

There are a lot of guns here. a) "White class" landholder private army b) Zapatistas c) army d) army auxiliaries, "paramilitary army" Two years ago they killed 46 people working in a field in Acteal. Rich people don't do this directly; they hire gunmen, or make threats around San Cristobal.

Mestizos call themselves "ladino" because they are thinking that they have nothing to do with the indigenous people. The political power is in the hands of the ladinos. He says that "ladino" is a Jewish word, meaning Jews living in Spain, which has been taken for this new definition. Mixed-race people call themselves ladinos to distance themselves from the Indians. This is basically racism.

I offer him money, but he refuses. There's no need to pay. I go back to the hotel. Tomorrow I start to go home!

Apparently one cannot stop and write in one's notebook at 9pm on the sidewalk. I was doing this when a Mexican man stopped and just stared at me, quite close, invading my private space. An older man, heavy, with greying hair, holding a partially eaten corn cob on a stick.

He says something in Spanish. I think he's commenting on how tall I am. He does not seem dangerous, but very weird. I say, ha ha, yes yes, it's amazing how tall I am. I even hit my head on a door this morning. Then the guy talks some more in Spanish, and I catch the word "mezcal", which is an alcohol made from cacti. Yikes! This guy is drunk! I excuse myself and walk away.

Hey, look at this. There's a small space heater in my room I didn't notice. Of course there's no need for central heating here most of the time, but in December -- well, it's been cold the last two nights. I will definitely use this tonight! The window to the outside doesn't actually close fully.

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