Move to split state of Chihuahua in two

The cresting of a techie wave in northern Mexico has some specialists - including intellectuals as noted as Carlos Fuentes - worrying that deepening regional divisions could eventually lead to Mexico's "Balkanization."

So when a group of citizens in Ciudad Jurez called earlier this year for their booming city to become a separate state, the red flags went up. For some observers, especially in distant Mexico City, the schism had begun.

But according to the Jurez lawyer who leads the movement for a new state, his project is about strengthening Mexico, not destabilizing it.

"This is nothing about separating from Mexico, it's about redressing injustice," says Antonio Lpez Bustamante, who heads up the citizens for creation of Chihuahua Norte, which could be Mexico's 33rd state. According to Mr. Lpez Bustamante, Jurez fails to get the resources it should from both the state of Chihuahua and the federal government, simply because it is the upstart border city and not the state capital.

"We're the motor moving this state, but we get no respect," he says. "As a state, we'd govern ourselves among people who think more or less the same," he says.

The fact that Jurez generates more taxes than the rest of the state is also a factor in the new-state debate.

Chihuahua is Mexico's largest state - which worked fine, Lpez Bustamante says, when the entire northern border was agricultural and sparsely populated. But that has changed. And he notes that other Mexican states were created after breaking off from an original state.

The campaign for a new northern-border state revives fears of movements for autonomy in Mexico. One reason the armed conflict in the southern state of Chiapas remains unresolved is that the government fears autonomy for the state's indigenous groups could open the door to foreign domination of Chiapas and its important natural resources.

But Lpez Bustamante says northern Chihuahua is nothing like Chiapas. "In Chiapas, the Indians don't speak Spanish, and they aren't integrated into the rest of the country," he notes. "But if anything, we are more Mexican than other Mexicans because we live with the tremendous weight of a powerful northern neighbor. We don't want to be part of the United States," he adds, alluding to an accusation the state movement has faced.

"But being so close, we have learned from [American] democracy," Lpez Bustamante says. "We have learned the importance of just representation of our interests."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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