Indians Prefer to Do Without Army's 'Help'

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

At many of the ubiquitous military checkpoints in Chiapas, soldiers wear armbands saying "social work" - while carrying automatic rifles equipped with 40-mm grenade launchers.

"We are here to enforce the federal firearms law," they explain.

All this is nothing new for Chiapas, Mexico's poorest state. Troops posted to camps and checkpoints now total 40,000.

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Resistance to them is rising steadily as Indian communities complain of house-to-house searches, human rights abuses, and other provocations.

Soldiers "force their way in and throw the family's food supplies, their beans, everything, all over the floor," says Jos Francisco, a Roman Catholic lay worker in Chiln, a village in the conflict zone.

Meanwhile, the investigation of the massacre at Actal is at a standstill. Nearly every day Indians from more than 50 communities, mainly women and children, march or occupy buildings in protest of what they see as a failure of justice.

Violence between troops and protesters continues. Two weeks ago, an unarmed Indian woman died when police at a roadblock opened fire.

The climate of resistance and mistrust is seen even among children. A child of 3 will pull up his shirt to hide his face from an Army checkpoint camera.

"The pain and anguish [the soldiers] cause the people here isn't just going to go away tomorrow," says Edelmira Garcia, another lay worker in Chiln. "Children are growing up with hatred for the Army."

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