I. The Facts
At the dawning of the World Day of Peace and the beginning of the International Year of the Family, an armed group calling itself the Zapatist Army of National Liberation staged an uprising in several towns of Chiapas which seeks to gain respect for the human rights, the progress and development of the poor sectors of that part of the country. Nevertheless, their violence has already resulted in the deaths of dozens of people.
These events took place in one of the poorest regions of Mexico and at a time when the deterioration of living standards has become overwhelming in Mexico as in other countries. The falling prices for certain farm products and the lack of work has caused people to fall into despair.
Given the slogans and the strategies of those who have taken up arms, one would not think that this is an improvised movement but rather one thought out and planned for some time.
Presenting the social problems as the basis, this movement adopts the posture of violence which, on the one hand, demands solutions but, on the other, makes difficult the search for responses that would address their needs and rights.
Because they are violent, these actions cannot be approved, but they are still a call for attention to the integral development of the large and abandoned sectors of the society such as the indigenous and the peasants.
These events are taking place in the south of our country. One often speaks of "North" and "South" as social indicators. There is a north and a south in the world, and within countries. However we characterize the south, regardless of where it is, it points out the need for greater attention on the part of all, of governments and institutions.
III. In the Light of the Gospel
The Catholic Church rejects violence as contrary to the peace which God offers to the world through the Incarnation and the Redemption of Jesus Christ.
Violence advances the signs of the culture of death: fear, division, rancor, hatred, vengeance.
Although "there are certainly situations whose injustice cries to heaven...and recourse to violence as a means to right these wrongs to human dignity is a great temptation... We know, however, that a revolutionary uprising--save where there is manifest, long-standing tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good of the country--produces new injustices, throws more elements out of balance and brings on new disasters. A real evil should not be fought against at the cost of greater misery" (Populorum Progressio #30-31).
On the other hand, physical violence reflects the lack of attention to an objective moral order. Pope John XXIII said that "men can agree fully and surely about nothing, since one and the same law of justice is not accepted by all" (Mater et Magistra #205). The Pope laments that the term "justice" at times does not mean the same for all, indeed that it can have contradictory meanings, resulting in serious contention. And from this can come the resort to force, "the root of very serious evils" (#206).
IV. Our Proposal
In the face of these facts, we urge sincere dialogue and a broad openness in order to arrive promptly both at a peaceful resolution of the events in Chiapas and at a way of addressing the basic problems.
We call for objective information from the authorities and the mass media about what is happening in that region.
"Support and encourage those organizations for economic solidarity with which our people are trying to respond to their desperate situations of poverty" (Santo Domingo #181).
"Press governments to respond to the hardships that are being worsened by the neoliberal economic model whose primary impact is on the poor. When considering these situations, it is important to single out the millions of Latin Americans who are struggling to survive in the informal economy" (ibid.).
As these events began on January 1, the World Day of Peace, one would greatly wish to say that peace "at times appears a truly unattainable goal...but we must not lose heart. We know that, in spite of everything, peace is possible because it is part of the original divine plan" (John Paul II, World Day of Peace, #1).
As these event began with the International Year of the Family, despite all we continue putting our trust in the family which "contains in itself the very future of society... its most special task is to contribute effectively to a future of peace" (#2)
And finally, as peace is a gift of God, let us with prayer to Christ, the Prince of Peace, and to Our Lady of Guadalupe, accompany our brothers who have taken up arms, the victims and their loved ones, the authorities and the entire nation at this delicate moment. May the Lord grant us his peace and may we derive great good from this time of difficulty.
With the same prayer, we join with the bishops of San Cristobal de las Casas, of Tuxtla Gutierrez, and of Tapachula, who with edifying pastoral love have become one on behalf of all those who are passing through these difficult circumstances.
January 3, 1994
+Hector Gonzalez Martinez
Archbishop of Oaxaca
President, Comision Episocpal de Pastoral Social (CEPS)