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Zapatistas Seize a Tourist Ranch

March 01, 2003|From Associated Press

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico — Scores of Zapatista rebel supporters seized an American-owned tourist ranch in the southern state of Chiapas on Friday, the owners and government officials said.

Rebels denouncing foreign influence in Mexico have said they want to drive out the American owners of the Rancho Esmeralda, and since mid-December, residents of the rebel village of Nuevo Jerusalem have blocked roads leading to the ranch.

Friday morning, about 100 intruders arrived and threw out the two caretakers who were the only people left on the 26-acre property, said Ellen Jones, who owned the ranch with her husband, Glen Wersch.

"This is a robbery with two months of advance written notice," she said. "We just had our lives destroyed, our home taken from us, our business ruined and our life savings evaporate."

The intruders had machetes but were not violent and did not harm the employees, she said, adding that police were summoned but that they declined to enter the property to confront the invaders.

The office of state Government Secretary Emilio Zebadua confirmed the takeover but said it had no details.

The leftist Zapatistas have mingled calls for Indian rights, local autonomy and socialist economic measures since emerging from the jungle canyons of rural Chiapas on Jan. 1, 1994.

Recently, they have begun to denounce foreign investment and tourism projects such as Rancho Esmeralda.

The Zapatistas had told reporters that they had no plans to seize the ranch but hoped to force the Americans out. Wersch, however, said their employees had been told the rebels planned to take the property.

Since the road was closed by residents of Nuevo Jerusalem, the Americans had closed their guest ranch operation and moved to the nearby town of Ocosingo but kept caretakers on to look after their tropical flowers, coffee plants and macadamia groves.

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