Linked with Guatemala in colonial days, Chiapas became a Mexican state in 1824; its boundaries were fixed in 1882. The early Maya ruins of Palenque, now accessible to tourists, are in the northeastern rain forest; Tuxtla is the state capital. Area 28,653 square miles (74,211 square km). Pop. (1990 prelim.) 3,203,915.

Estado ("state") of southern Mexico. It is bounded southwest by the Gulf of Tehuantepec and the Pacific Ocean, east by Guatemala. Its territory is mountainous and forested. The mountainous region of the Sierra Madre, in the south, includes a fertile, temperate plateau inhabited by most of the state's population, mainly Indians, but isolation and lack of transportation facilities have retarded its development. In 1994, however, Chiapas was the scene of an armed uprising against the federal government. The rebels consisted of impoverished Indians protesting the expulsion of many others from their farmlands and forest tracts by large-scale cattle ranchers and loggers.
Chiapas is the most resource-rich state in Mexico, including the agricultural production of coffee, corn and cocoa, the growth of cattle-ranching, hydroelectric power, and timber harvested at irresponsible rates from the Lacandona rainforest and has some of the richest oil reserves in Mexico. At the same time, poverty and the level of infrastructure in the form of schools, hospitals, and basic services remain abysmal. The strengthening of large landholders and their private armies which has such a large indigenous population also contributes to the repression in Chiapas. The systematic brutalization of indigenous communities and the tight control of the political machinery that allowed for no democratic openings constitute the conditions against which the Zapatistas organized. NAFTA is a key factor, since it sells off Mexican sovereignty and further erodes the autonomy of indigenous communities. The Zapatistas have insisted that the further privatization of land means the death of indigenous culture.

Since the Zapatista uprising in 1994, more than a third of the state has been heavily militarized. The army has completed a major road project connecting previously inaccessible communities to main population centers and facilitating troop movement, and has built permanent installations in dozens of communities. All this has significantly altered the local economy and culture.

There are now between 25,000 and 30,000 soldiers permanently installed in the regions of the state that are Zapatista strongholds. The army has taken over the state police forces of Chiapas, and is further augmented by the presence of thousands of federal "public security" and judicial police. There are 17 major military barracks and 44 semi-permanent military installations in the conflict zone-and a soldier for every three or four inhabitants in many communities. In addition, the Coordinating Group of Nongovernmental Organizations for Peace (CONPAZ) has identified seven different paramilitary groups operating in the area. In the two months prior to the 1997 elections, dozens of people were killed and wounded in local confrontations between the Partido Revolucionario Institucional and the PRD, and as victims of paramilitary and federal police forces.
  • Why Mexico's Massacre Was No Surprise; Op-Ed; Juan Enriquez; New York Times, New York, N.Y.; Dec 27, 1997; Late Edition (East Coast); pg. A.11
  • Mayor held for Indian killings Slaughter in Mexico; PHIL GUNSON IN MEXICO CITY AP IN LOS CHORROS; The Guardian, Manchester (UK); Dec 29, 1997; pg. 012
  • Indigenous Revolts in Chiapas and the Adean Highlands; Murdo J Macleod; The Hispanic American Historical Review, Durham; Nov 1997; Vol. 77, Iss. 4; pg. 760, 2 pgs