Millennium fuse still fizzles in Chiapas
A cold night in the poverty-stricken highlands of South East Mexico saw soldiers withdraw to their barracks and encampments in what ranks as one of the most heavily militarised regions of Latin America. Rumours of a fresh offensive by the indigenous guerilla fighters of the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) had set the entire state of Chiapas - an area with about the same size and population as the 26 Counties - on red alert for the last New Year's Eve of the old millennium. The customary roadblocks that litter both the Panamerican Highway and the dirt tracks that serve the majority of the population represented too easy a target, so they were replaced by constant overflights by military and police reconnaissance planes, helicopters and bomber jets flying in close formation over the squalid wooden shacks which comprise the Indian communities. In the event, the attack never took place, although the atmosphere is still extremely tense and large deployments of soldiers continue to patrol the squares of towns in or near the conflict zone.
Long-term control of the country is hardly an issue here - the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has been in power for the past 70 years - but what the Zapatistas have demonstrated in the six years since their initial uprising in 1994 is that whole areas of Mexico and significant sectors of the population are effectively ungovernable. The government's need to maintain over 70,000 troops in Chiapas carries a heavy material and moral cost, which is difficult to justify in the face of a rebel army made up of hungry peasants armed mostly with .22 rifles originally intended for dispatching rabbits.
A second successful strike by the guerillas might not cause the foundations of the presidential palace at Los Pinos to shake, but it would certainly demolish the facade of democratic reform which President Zedillo and his handlers have done their best to erect for the international community.
Free-market economic policies adopted since 1982 have consistently undercut ordinary Mexicans' living standards, and respect for even basic human rights has been restricted to bombastic political speeches and the fanciful realms of the very official and utterly ineffectual National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH). Ranked by the OECD as an upper-middle income country, Mexico has become one of the world's leading producers of dollar billionaires. The flipside to this, however, is that every year millions more of its citizens find that they simply do not get enough to eat. Even conservative estimates reckon that a quarter of the population is unable to afford the basic basket of essential foodstuffs which official statisticians deem necessary for continued human existence.
Polite society in the rancher capital of San Cristobal breathed a sigh of relief on New Year's Day 2000, when they woke up to realize that their city had not been taken over by the pint-sized indigenous people they and their ancestors have spent the last 500 years exploiting. They are, nevertheless, conscious that the potential threat remains as long as desperate poverty drives the Indians to take up arms.
All around the country, the end of the millennium was marked by strange omens. The Vatican announced it was posting left-wing bishop Raul Vera to Coahuila, well away from the conflict area he has tried so hard to pacify.
The peso experienced a further slump against the dollar, and at midnight in Mexico City's Central Square, President Zedillo was struck on the nose by the remains of a 10-inch Catherine Wheel. It may not be the only fallout from unforeseen explosions with which he will have to contend.
BY NICK JONES
Basque pro-independence political party Herri Batasuna is calling for a national general strike in support of the Basque political prisoners on 27 January 2000. Pernando Barrena, a member of the Navarran parliament, explained that ``there will not be peace in this country as long as there are political prisoners''.
Basque political organisations, trade unions, youth and social groups will be joining in a silent demonstration organised by Basque political prisoners' relatives' and support organisations Senideak and Amnistiaren Aldeko Batzordeak on 6 January in Bilbao.
These are part of a wider campaign in support of Basque prisoners, which includes weekly fasts by hundreds of citizens all around the Basque Country.
According to Indonesian police chief constable General Bachrumsyah, since May 1999, more than 300 people have been killed in Aceh, North Sumatra, a region occupied by Indonesia. A further 66 people have disappeared since fighting resumed between the Indonesian Security Forces and the pro-independence movement Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh) in May last year, after the Indonesian army opened fire on pro-independence demonstrators, killing 41 civilians.
Around 157 people, most of them members of Aceh Merdeka - an organisations fighting since the 1970s for a Muslim independent state in Aceh - have been arrested.
More than 500 people were killed during civil and religious confrontations in the last two weeks in the Moluccas Islands, which are also under Indonesian rule. The Indonesian authorities are doing nothing to stop the violence caused by religious tensions and which have involved members of the Indonesian military and the Moluccas' police.
Since January 1998, more than 1,000 people have been killed and at least 2,300 injured as result of clashes between Muslims and Christians. The Indonesian government's peace plan, according to the Home and Security Minister, General Wiranto, does not include a request for foreign aid but rather the segregation of the population according to their religious beliefs and the mediation of the Jakarta government.
The conflict in the Moluccas Islands highlights the difficulties faced by the Indonesian government in holding together a highly centralised state formed by 17,000 islands, inhabited by 300 ethnic groups speaking 200 different dialects. Neither conflict, instability or human rights violations have stopped the International Monetary Fund from economically supporting the repressive Indonesian regime.
Xanana Gusmao, the president of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), has announced that he will not be standing for election as president of the newly independent East Timor. Gusmao explained that he wanted the Timorese people to understand that he is replaceable.
He pointed out that his main worries at the moment are the social injustices and the possibility of social unrest if the UN transitional administration stays too long.