January 12, 1998
by: S.R. Shearer


And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20)

His mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. (Luke 1:50-53)


On January 1st, 1994 a guerrilla movement "suddenly materialized" in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas near the Guatemalan border. One of the goals of the movement was declared to be the repudiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement - a goal which caused bemused snickering in American elitist circles - after all, what could uneducated Mexican peasants possibly know about NAFTA? The movement called itself the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. The movement’s leader was a mysterious hooded figure calling himself "Sub-Comandante Marcos."

Elitist snickering or not, the so-called "international investor community" wasn’t laughing; indeed, there was a good deal of evidence to indicate that it had been thrown into a panic by the revolt, hinting that a lot more was "a foot" in the "goings-on" in Chiapas than most ordinary people realized - and that behind it all was the hidden hand of Wall Street.

The extent to which this was true was revealed by an internal ("eyes only") banking community memo written by Riordan Roett, an advisor for Chase Manhattan Bank, which argued that the Mexican government -

"will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory ... (and restore the trust) ... of ... the (international) investment community (in Mexico) ..."[1]


According to Dr. Harry Cleaver of the Department of Economics at the University of Texas (Austin) and a member of the "watchdog committee," Austin Comite de Solidaridad con Chiapas y Mexico, the Roett memo (i.e., the Chase Memorandum) made three specific suggestions: (1) that the Mexican government should "eliminate" the Zapatistas, (2) that it should consider "stealing" the elections in Jalisco and (3) that the "Mexican working class" should be made to bear, as far as practicable, the pain of "re-structuring" the Mexican economy - and that it should be made to do so in order to "appease" foreign investors. Moreover, Roett recommended that this pain should be kept as far away from the "investor community" as possible. [Roett is director of Latin American Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and was - at the time the memo was written - on a leave-of-absence while serving as a Chase advisor. Known as a conservative but rational sort in academic circles, Roett’s views have - in the grand "homicidal tradition" of such academic policymakers as Louis Adolphe Thiers, Walt Rostow, Henry Kissinger and Herman Cohen (Cleaver’s words) - hardened since he went to work full-time for Wall Street.] The Chase Memo was attached to a larger report written to "Chase Emerging Markets" clients, a cadre of investors that targets newly industrialized nations for "easy money" (i.e., high yield) investments, and leaked to the magazine Counterpunch.


The Chase report was only one more indication - as if more were needed - of the growing connection between Mexico and Wall Street - a connection which is essentially a one-way relationship - with Mexico on the submissive end and Wall Street calling the shots; a situation which allows U.S. transnational corporations to dictate policy to the Mexican government.

News of the Chase report circulated to France and elsewhere. The result was much agitation and mobilization against Chase and Wall Street. Labor organizers brandished the memorandum at demonstrations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and other cities. The story was covered by everyone from Final Call, which is published by the Nation of Islam, to The Washington Post. On Capitol Hill, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) held a press conference to denounce the bank:

"Suggesting the killing of innocent people, throwing elections - none of this seems to bother Chase," said Kaptur, who called the memo an "amazing and troubling document." She added that "anyone who honestly believed that Wall Street’s hands weren’t all over ... [U.S. policy towards Mexico] should take a good hard look at this memo."

A similar uproar took place in Mexico after Processo, a major Mexican news weekly, carried a Feb.13, 1995 story about Counterpunch’s disclosures. Zapatista officials in the U.S. say that publication of the Chase Memo was "a turning point" in that it was the first hard evidence which directly linked Wall Street to Mexico’s economic and political crisis. Chase tried a variety of tactics in seeking to defuse the ensuing PR nightmare. First the bank insisted that the whole thing had resulted from a copy editing error, and that Chase had intended to call for the elimination of the Zapatista "threat," not the Zapatistas themselves. This tactic fell flat. Chase officials then placed sole responsibility for the fiasco on the document’s author, Riordan Roett. In a terse official communiqué, Chase said that the opinions expressed in the memo "represent [Roett’s] personal views as a scholar. They were not meant to nor do they represent the views of Chase;" but since Roett is on Chase’s payroll and the memo went out on bank stationary, this explanation also carried little weight. On February 16, Chase completed its distancing process from the memo: "Dr. Roett," announced Steve Rautenberg, a bank spokesman, "no longer has a relationship with Chase."


Nevertheless, when Roett’s remarks first surfaced they were warmly received by the so-called "investment community" and this country’s foreign policy establishment. For example, Elliott Abrams, a prominent figure in the Reagan Administration who is tightly connected to American "investment circles," heartily approved Roett’s call to action. News also leaked that Roett had had extensive conversations with Senator Bob Dole[2] as well as other members of the Senate Steering Committee and the State Department with regard to the report prior to its publication, and that no one had found fault with it at the time. Upon learning of the involvement of Dole and other Congressional leaders in the Chase memo, Ken Silverstein, one of the journalists responsible for making the Chase Memo public, was shocked. He later wrote, "I originally compared it (i.e., the Chase Memo) to Hitler’s ‘white paper’ for the invasion of Poland... But it’s not the specific proof that really matters. The investors’ views are well known." The importance, Silverstein stresses, is the level of confidence the investment community evidently now carries through the halls of Congress, so much so, that, "They were dumb enough to put the damn thing on paper."

Syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer, considered a mouthpiece for elitist views by many, seemed to speak for most in the financial aristocracy when she wrote in one of her syndicated columns a few days later that no one "explained [Mexico’s situation] better" than Roett, adding that "establishment" scholars and financiers "seemed to agree that while . . . [the Zapatistas] do not threaten a wider rebellion in Mexico, they have become a litmus test for Mexico’s stability." The fact is, however, fear of a wider rebellion is precisely what the elite establishment feared, and Geyer knew it, despite her efforts to play down the possibility.

Commenting on the real extent of the Chiapas revolt, Ana Carrigan,[3] a prominent journalist and documentary film-maker, wrote in a Knight-Ridder release dated February 22, 1995,

"The Zapatista rebellion (i.e., the Chiapas Revolt) is much bigger than ... (Mexican and U.S. authorities) let on. It may be waged by a ragtag army, but it is also a genuine indigenous uprising, with mass support throughout Chiapas and the south, and nationwide sympathy ..."

Just how much sympathy was revealed in the streets of Mexico City where hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds packed Mexico City’s enormous Constitution Square chanting "We are all Marcos" (referring to "Subcommandante Marcos," the leader of the Chiapas revolt) and "Marcos, hold on, the people are rising." Commenting on the huge demonstrations in Constitution Square, Carrigan writes that all this "... shows the extent to which the government is out of touch with the people."

Carrigan continues,

"The U.S. media have been duped by official (U.S.) efforts to belittle the Zapatistas’ strength by portraying them as ... eccentric and overrated. Press reports of the 12-day war in January 1994 made the government’s decision to call a cease-fire look like a foolish act of good will. No one reported on the skill and determination of a peasant army that launched repeated frontal attacks on the largest military base in the state for eight consecutive days ..."


John Ross, a well-known New York Times reporter in Mexico, believes that the Chiapas story reveals the dark side of the "new global economy" - one which goes far beyond "merely" displacing wage-earners in First World countries like the United States, France and Germany, but one which also obliterates the peasant agriculture of Third World nations like Mexico, Argentina, Chile and India.

Specifically, free trade (i.e., "globalization") undercuts peasant farming in the Third World by making it compete against the giant agribusinesses of the First World - concerns which are located principally in the United States and to a lesser degree in Canada and Australia. In the process, peasant agriculture is ground down under the impress of a First World agricultural juggernaut, eventually resulting in the forced migration of these peasants from their homes in rural areas to the city where they are pressed into a kind of industrial slavery for re-located First World industries (like Ford, General Motors, General Electric, etc.), the products of which are not destined for Third World customers, but for First World consumers. The vacated peasant lands are then gathered up and reconstituted as large farms very often controlled by interests in the employ of the very First World agribusinesses which destroyed them in the first place.[4]

It is precisely this fate - their enforced eviction from ancestral lands and their subsequent indenturing into a form of industrial slavery - against which the Zapatistas revolted in Chiapas. Ross Perot tried to make this point - that is, what First World industrialists were really up to in Mexico and other Third World countries - in the run-up to the NAFTA vote; but he was ridiculed by the Clinton Administration, the establishment wings of both the Republican and Democratic Parties, Wall Street, and the American press (which the "investment community" essentially controls) as a "Know-Nothing." "Where was the proof of Perot’s allegations?" they asked. It was there; the problem is, no one wanted (or was permitted) to look. Even Perot - as rich as he is - didn’t have the financial wherewithal to stand up against the withering fire (to say nothing of the derision, ridicule and mockery) of Wall Street. In the end, Wall Street machinations in the press and elsewhere, coupled with its relentless ad homonym attacks, reduced Perot in the eyes of countless Americans to the status of a pathetic, uneducated, eccentric buffoon - which, or course, he was not.


Efforts by the Mexican press to report honestly on Chiapas have been met with open hostility by the "investor community." For example, newspapers like Proceso, La Journada, El Financiero, and El Tiempo have been deluged with a variety of veiled warnings from the Mexican government. La Journada has actually been the target of threatened violence by the so-called "Mexican Anti-Communist Front" - a group which fronts for the Mexican oligarchy and is reputed to be under the control of certain Wall Street interests like Chase and Morgan. La Journada’s reporters in Chiapas have even received telephoned death threats and have been physically assaulted by interests in the pay of landed Mexican aristocrats eager to expropriate vacated peasant farms [interests which are commonly believed to have links with several giant First World (American) agribusinesses like Cargil, Archer Daniel Midlands, etc.]. The offices of other newspapers and journals have also been broken into and ransacked. And just how close has the unrest in Chiapas been linked to NAFTA (and, ipso facto, the American government) in the imagination of many in Mexico? - the Mexican people believe that the troops would have never been sent in without Washington’s OK! It was certainly spurred by pressure from the American investment community.


It was this and more which was substantiated by the Chase Memo which Counterpunch published on February 1, 1995 - attached to an article by Ken Silverstein and Alex Cockburn. The article began: "In the name of investor confidence, a powerful U.S. bank is calling on the Mexican government to crush the Zapatista insurgency in Chiapas."

Studying the report and exploring Roett’s other "interventions" in the Mexico crisis, Silverstein and Cockburn discovered what appeared to be an almost paranoid and even panicky desire by Chase (and Wall Street) to quickly extinguish the revolt in order to protect "investor confidence" insofar as Chase’s (and Wall Street’s) "clients" were concerned. In the report, Roett played down the possibility of a negotiated settlement to the conflict, saying ‘it is difficult to imagine that the current environment will yield a peaceful solution." Why? - because Zedillo may not be able to gain the confidence of the Zapatistas and their supporters due to the fact that "the monetary crisis limits the resources available to the government for social and economic reforms."

In other words, foreign investors should have first rights to the dwindling reserves at the Mexican treasury, which then, of course, would leave almost nothing to implement the anti-poverty programs Zedillo had promised for Chiapas. The blindness of the "international investor community" to the legitimate needs of anyone but its own selfish interests is mind-boggling; it is, nonetheless, a pattern of thinking which has historically characterized this community .


Getting back to the Chase report, Silverstein and Cockburn reported that Roett was particularly bitter over events south of the border because he had previously assured Chase executives that the government in Mexico was at last sufficiently under the "influence" of Wall Street and adequately in command of Mexico’s internal situation that investors need not be overly concerned about the safety of their investments south of the border. Comforted by this report, Chase had increased its Mexican investments - investments which now seemed to be threatened by the popularly-based Chiapas revolt, a rebellion which - according to its own communiqués - was openly aimed at Wall Street’s "globalization" aspirations.

Coming on top of other evidence of the role Wall Street is playing in forcing the nations of the earth into knuckling under to its globalization aspirations, Roett’s report revealed in stark terms that Wall Street’s influence was now virtually omniscient, reaching even into the backyards of the planet’s most inaccessible and isolated communities - and that it would stop at nothing in crushing those who opposed its globalist dreams and its efforts at establishing its world-wide economic hegemony over the earth’s myriad populations. It was to this end that Roett had called on the Mexican government to take a hard-nosed approach on Chiapas - going even so far as to suggest that the government consider "stealing" the vote in the upcoming elections in order to maintain "investor confidence" in the Mexican economy (and, ipso facto, protect Chase investments in the area). Roett urged:

"The Zedillo administration will need to consider carefully whether or not to allow opposition victories ... at the ballot box." He continued, "To deny legitimate electoral victories by the opposition will be a serious setback in the President’s (i.e., Zedillo’s) electoral strategy. But failure to retain PRI (i.e., Zedillo’s political party) control runs the risk of splitting the government party."

Roett conceded that his call for brutality, if heeded by Zedillo, might provoke negative repercussions internationally, but there were "always political costs in bold action." David Malpass, a director at Bear Stearns, said that Mexican President Zedillo should appease foreign investors by taking Roett’s advise. Such action, Malpass suggested, would result in a "giant re-establishment of confidence."

Dalal Baer, a well-known Wall Street spokesman and an advisor to the investment house of Bear Sterns & Company, echoed both Roett and his boss at Bear Sterns, David Malpass. He wrote, "financial markets might not respond positively to increased democracy because it leads to increased uncertainty." Quite a piece of advice, considering it is directed toward a nation whose citizens have been fighting-and dying for generations to gain the right to free and fair elections. Still, as Roett writes, there’s no question that the current party (i.e., PRI) dictatorship serves the banking community’s interests better than a democratic government.


Roett writes that, indeed, it’s democracy more than armed rebellion that unsettles the Wall Street heavy hitters - and as if to confirm Wall Street in its fears, recent elections in the states of Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanajuato, Baja California, and Yucatan have all gone against PRI and the Mexican oligarchy. "The Mexican monetary crisis... raises the issue of whether or not the Mexican working class will accept a prolonged period of wage losses and diminished living standards." And if not, they may do something foolish, something they’ve done twice before in this century: throw the "investor community" out. Democracy makes such an outcome that much easier.

All this becomes that much more likely as details of the complex hidden structure behind the peso crisis emerge: Mexicans are smarting from insult after injury and are responding correspondingly. The entire PRI political and economic organization is under siege as never before. Several days after the army headed into Chiapas to "eliminate the Zapatistas," the "investor community" (i.e., the PRI) suffered a resounding defeat in the race for the governership of Jalisco. The landslide was too great for the results to be falsified by the PRI. As a result, Wall Street remains opposed to any type of "subtle" methods in dealing with the Zapatistas, believing that any kind of action which smacks of "appeasement" - i.e., any action which does not deal harshly with the revolt - will come at the expense of "investor confidence" in the Mexican economy - and, after all, "investor confidence" in Mexico is what NAFTA is all about. This is why Wall Street believes that the Mexican government needs to "finish off" Subcommandante Marcos and his comrades as ruthlessly and as quickly as possible. Wall Street knows that Mexico has "fallen prey" to two such "populist" revolts in this century already, and it doesn’t take much imagination to seriously consider that a third such insurrection is a distinct possibility.


The extent to which this fear permeates the "investment community" was made apparent on Dec. 18, 1995 when a group of Mexican businessmen reportedly met with Zedillo to demand that the new government take the offensive in Chiapas - going even so far as suggesting the "Argentine Method" (i.e., the use of "Death Squads") for dealing with the revolt. [See our report on the "Death Squads" in our October, 1997 Journal].

Indeed, there are many high-ranking Mexican military officials who have long been lobbying for a Mexican equivalent to Argentina’s "dirty war,"[5] and - according to reports from Buenos Aires - military advisors from Argentina have already been sent to Mexico to train Mexican troops in the " Argentine Method ." The parallel here is with the dispatch of Argentine officers to train the Nicaraguan Contras at the start of the eighties.

To believe that all this was not the result of a secret intrigue between Wall Street, the U.S. government and the Mexican oligarchy is a stretch - something akin to believing that tooth fairies are real. Subcomandante Marcos certainly felt that there was collusion involved here. As the Mexican military chased the EZLN (i.e., the Zapatistas) deeper into the Lacandon forest on February 10, Marcos wrote,

"Maybe in the secret conditions agreed to by Mr. Zedillo for ... [continued U.S. (i.e., Wall Street)] support is the condition to annihilate us..." He continued, "The price of the head of the Zapatistas is the only thing that has stayed high in the rise and fall of financial speculation."

As if to confirm Marcos’ suspicions, journalists working for La Journada in Chiapas report the fact that the U.S. is covertly strengthening its unofficial military presence in the Chiapas area and that U.S. intelligence is the agency which finally identified Subcomandante Marcos. According to La Jornada, the information was published in the early edition of a New York Times story, but was removed in later editions at the insistence of Wall Street.


The extent to which the mainline press in the United States has been covering all this up is truly astounding. Once again, death squad activity is alive and well, and its no longer confined to out-of-the-way countries like Guatemala and El Salvador, but now has taken root in Mexico. Michael McCaughan of the small newspaper, the Anderson Valley Advertiser (Mendocino California) traveled to Chiapas to report on what’s been going on. He writes:

"Once the televised speech of President Zedillo spoke of ‘re-establishing the State of Law" inside rebel-held territory, the people of Morelia began packing up their belongings in no doubt that the army would be there as fast as formality permitted. Zedillo spoke of a minor operation, conducted by security forces belonging to the Attorney General’s office (GR), with only the minimum army backup, a ploy which fooled no one. This was going to be a full-scale war on anyone foolish or brave enough to remain inside rebel territory since the Zapatista uprising in January 1994.

"The population of Morelia pace the mud floors of their homes all night, burning photos and IDs, picking out the vital items for survival in the hills: blankets, clothes, a sack of grain, machete, etc. The older men and women sat in a daze, aware that they were probably leaving their homes forever. Despite the poverty, this was all they had built up over 60 or 70 years and it hurt bitterly to abandon it to the army. The children, sensing the fear around them, refused to sleep, and prepared their own small packs consisting of a toy, a change of clothes, and food. At one point, as I faded into exhausted but fitful sleep, I was quickly awakened by Juan, a bright four-year-old, keeping an eye on the television. "Don’t sleep, Michael," he said, "the army will come and kill you." The last time the army entered Morelia they were looking for "subversives" in the wake of the January 1994 uprising. All males over 12 years of age were dragged out to the basketball court, forced to lie face down in the sun all day and kicked in the head if they looked up. 32 villagers were arrested and taken by helicopter to prison where they were beaten and then released without charge. Three elderly men were taken to the convent nearby, where the village heard their screams as they were tortured and beaten. [Reports indicate that "Anglos" speaking only English were present during the torture of the individuals involved.] They emerged at midday, covered in blood, their ears, noses and chests carved up by army knives. The Morelia women, ignored by the army, watched as the three were taken away in an army ambulance with red cross markings. The bodies of the three men reappeared five weeks later in a ditch three kilometers from the village, a scattered collection of bones and rags and skulls, later pieced together by forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow. (all this, of course, smacked of classic death squad methodologies).

McCaughan continues,

"Meanwhile, on the evening of President Zedillo’s speech, February 9th last, advance lookouts were posted all the way to the town of Altamirano, a rancher stronghold located eight kilometers away, converted into a Mexican army fortress ever since Zapatistas occupied it and destroyed the municipal presidency building in January 1994. Local rancher Luis Orbins (a rancher who reportedly has been busy trying to buy up "vacated" peasant lands) lent his half-built hotel in the main street to the army for their headquarters, conveniently located beside the only telephone in town. The army ringed the town with tents, tanks and troop carriers, occupying the gardens of the townspeople. In apparent defiance of former President Salinas’s public order for the army to withdraw from the center of Chiapan towns after the January 1994 cease-fire, the army disguised its central HQ as a "complaints office," with a desk on the street. Dozens of complaints appeared about masked rebels stealing cattle, household goods and terrorizing people in their homes, all of them curiously similar. When one Altamirano citizen went to army HQ to complain that soldiers had occupied his garden and stolen a chicken, he was visited by three soldiers, who stuck a gun in his mouth and advised him not to persist with his complaint. Another local, Alejandro Munoz, has been arrested twice, the second time spending a month in prison, after organizing a petition to lobby for the withdrawal of the army from the town." [For a full account of the subsequent investigation read "Waiting for Justice," by Human Rights Watch/Physicians for Human Rights.]


Of course, the U.S. foreign policy establishment claims to have been taken by surprise by the events in Chiapas - insisting that the revolt somehow materialized out of nowhere - and, naturally, American press reports seems to lend credence to such a belief. Indeed, the New York Times headlined its morning edition of the 2nd of January (1994) with "Rebels Hit 4 Towns in Mexico." Other newspapers printed similar headlines - all of which appeared to accept the sudden nature of the uprising - but it is all smoke and mirrors - a studied effort by the American foreign policy establishment to hide what is really happening in Mexico from the American public and to obscure the damage that globalization is having on every-day citizens in countries like Mexico. The fact of the matter is, there was nothing sudden about the insurrection in Chiapas. Ross claims that smoke from the Zapatista uprising was first detected in March 1993 when two Mexican army officers were ambushed in the highlands near San Cristobal.

The army sent 4,000 troops to scour the region for the guerrillas, and a firefight ensued in the municipality of Ocosingo on May 20th - a skirmish which resulted in an additional four army losses. News accounts of the firefight were widespread throughout Mexico at the time. In addition, the Mexican weekly Proceso published at least four additional detailed reports on the insurgency between March and August of 1993 - all of which appeared on Mexico City newsstands. Moreover, an extensive official report of the goings-on in Chiapas had been in the possession of then Mexican Secretary of the Interior Patrocinio Gonzalez as early as May, 1993. Finally, San Cristobal bishop Samuel Ruiz had for some time prior to 1993 been making known to everyone who would listen the existence of the embryonic guerrilla movement. Why then was the U.S. government seemingly caught off guard?

Ross continues,

"The Clinton Administration had at least four access routes to foreknowledge of the guerrilla uprising - shared resources with Mexican military resources; independent U.S. military intelligence via the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s air and ground surveillance of the region, which has become prime drug smuggling country; high diplomatic interchanges; and CIA evaluations of the Zapatista capacity. State Department assertions that the U.S. did not have a clue about the uprising are not credible."[7]

In other words, if Proceso, Bishop Ruiz, the Mexican Secretary of the Interior, and countless numbers of ordinary Mexicans in Mexico City and elsewhere throughout the country knew, the CIA and the White House also surely knew. The proof was there - but it was being stepped on and hidden by the Clinton Administration and the free-traders (i.e., the "investment community") in order to facilitate the "yes" vote for NAFTA which was scheduled to take place in late 1993. Knowledge of how widespread opposition to NAFTA was among Mexican compesinos would have surely worked against Wall Street interests in the run-up to the NAFTA vote.

As we indicated earlier, the Chiapas story reveals the dark side of the "new global economy" - one which goes far beyond "merely" displacing wage-earners in First World countries. Globalization undercuts peasant farming in the Third World by making it compete against the giant agribusinesses of the First World. In the process, peasant agriculture is ground down under the impress of a First World agricultural juggernaut, eventually resulting in the forced migration of these peasants from their homes in rural areas to the city where they are pressed into a kind of industrial slavery for re-located First World industries (like Ford, General Motors, General Electric, etc.), the products of which are not destined for Third World customers, but for First World consumers. The vacated peasant lands are then gathered up and reconstituted as large farms very often controlled by interests in the employ of the very First World agribusinesses which destroyed them in the first place. It is precisely this fate - their enforced eviction from ancestral lands and their subsequent indenturing into a form of industrial slavery - against which the Zapatistas revolted in Chiapas.

  1. Released through the Knight Ridder Newspapers on February 22, 1995 and picked up by the Sacramento Bee the same day on page B-7.
  2. Maria Felix, El Andar Publications, March 8, 1995.
  3. Ana Carrigan's works include Palace of Justice, A Colombian Tragedy (Four Walls, Eight Windows), 1993
  4. John Ross, "Chiapas, Missing the Story" in Lies of Our Times, May 1994, pg. 7.
  5. "The Chase Report," Chiapas95 chiapas95 (University of Texas, Austin).
  6. "The Chase Report," Chiapas95 (University of Texas, Austin).