Why Chiapas?

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Of the 32 Mexican states, Chiapas is the southernmost state which borders Guatemala to its south. Chiapas ranks at the top of the list as the most impoverished state in the country, with 3.4 million people living in that area.  There is a strong representation of indigenous people living there.  Their history goes back many millenia to the Aztecs and Mayan cultures.  Their physical features are different from Mexicans of European descent; they are short in stature, have very dark skin, straight black hair and dark, slanted eyes.  They thrived in the area until the Spanish conquered Mexico in the 1500s and repressed the culture and religion there.    They hold a general distrust of ‘white’ people or ‘gringos’, as they refer to them.

Outside of the cities, much of the region is mountainous and covered in jungle, featuring wet and dry seasons.  It is challenging to get around in the winding mountain roads, yet the natural areas are teeming with wild animals, waterfalls and vast beautiful vistas dense with vegetation.   In those areas Chiapas is poor and undeveloped, with a local economy that relies on agriculture for exporting goods such as coffee, bananas, cotton, fish and chocolate.  However, most farmers work only on small plots of land that had been guaranteed to the indigenous people as part of the constitution in 1917.  So most farmers produce only enough goods to support themselves and their families.  Unhappy with poor representation for their people and demanding numerous reforms, especially involving property rights and independence for native communities, many indigenous people formed a group in the 1980s called the Zapatistas. By the 1990s, rising tensions and a change in the wording of the 1917 law allowing large corporations rights to the land (for mining, etc) contributed to an uprising against the Mexican government beginning on January 1, 1994 (the day the NAFTA agreement went through).  For more information on this subject, Google “Chiapas History” or refer to this excellent article, http://teaching.quotidiana.org/our/2006/chiapas/history.html 

This photo shows coffee beans laying out to dry in the hot sun.

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