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VENTURA COUNTY FOCUS | WEST COUNTY / OXNARD

Protesters Decry Chiapas Massacre

January 13, 1998|RICHARD WARCHOL

Outraged over the Christmas week massacre of 45 unarmed villagers in Chiapas, Mexico, about two dozen local students and Latino activists protested at the Mexican consulate in Oxnard on Monday.

The demonstration coincided with similar protests staged across the United States, Europe and Mexico to stop the war in the troubled southern Mexican state.

"We wanted to make people in Ventura County aware of what's going on in Chiapas, because most people aren't," said protester Ismael de la Rocha of Ventura, who teaches Latin American history at Ventura College. "I hope more people will become concerned. I don't think anyone likes to see anyone suffer."

The protesters lay blame for the Dec. 22 massacre on the shoulders of Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo's Institutional Revolutionary Party. A gang linked to the nation's ruling political party is suspected of carrying out the slaughter of nine men, 21 women and 15 children.

Zedillo's party, which received worldwide criticism after the killings, has been accused of stalling national negotiations with Zapatista rebels, a group composed mostly of Indian farmers who in January 1994 launched an uprising in an effort to gain greater rights.

Stalled peace talks have lead to occasional but bloody clashes between the rebels and gangs of pro-government supporters.

A handful of the protesters who gathered in Oxnard on Monday had a private meeting with consulate officials.

There, they said, they continued to demand that those responsible for the massacre be punished and that the ruling party stop sending forces to other Zapatista communities.

Demonstrators also believe the party is using anti-drug aid from the United States to finance the 4-year-old conflict with the Zapatistas.

"It's a dream, but at least we made the point," de la Rocha said.

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