By Gilberto López y Rivas

The counterinsurgency war, be irregular, wholesale or of attrition, against the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and its multiethnic and multilingual communitarian environment, against its autonomous governments and support bases, started in 1994, and carried on to this day with various methods, has doctrinal background that is mainly American, although it is fed by other experiences accumulated by the colonial or neocolonial armed forces, such as the French, in Indochina, today Vietnam, and in Algeria; or the British, in Ireland, the Arab world, mainly Iraq, India, Burma, Afghanistan, among others. From the British comes, for example, the expression of winning the hearts and minds of the civilian population during the war against the rebellion in Malaysia in the 1950s. From this also comes the need to establish an efficient intelligence network, population displacement, concentration camps and encircled villages. In Ireland, during the frequent rebellions against the occupiers, the British destroyed or burned the houses of suspects, collaborators and sympathizers.

The French heritage in counterinsurgency dates back to the defeat of its troops in Vietnam in 1954. From this, the psychological welfare actions, the construction of schools, housing, vaccination programs are nourished. In Algeria, the insurgent combatant is equated with the terrorist, just as the Nazis treated the Maquis in the Second World War. In all cases, torture is imposed as a systematic method to obtain information about the organization and the chains of command –urban protection programs, censuses, family networks, tribal and community group leaders are implemented. The Italian-Algerian film The Battle of Algiers (1966), directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, masterfully describes the turn of the heroic struggle for independence, and the brutal deployment of counterinsurgency, which included the murky flights of death, in which insurgents were thrown into the sea, a practice, by the way, used in Guerrero during the so-called dirty war.

The United States began its early counterinsurgency experiences in its ethnocidal campaigns against the indigenous population, and in the war of conquest against Mexico, when General Scott put into practice the methods that would later be used by the Nazis to demolish houses, and even city blocks, during the popular insurrection in Mexico City, on September 14 and 15, 1847. They continued their counterinsurgency practices in the Philippines from 1899 to 1902, promoting political measures, schools, public works combined with population relocation, and punitive actions that resulted in 220,000 deaths during those years. They had a failed experience in Nicaragua, where Sandino applied guerrilla tactics, although they managed to impose the Somoza dictatorship after his assassination.

Kennedy was the great proponent of counterinsurgency, although the CIA was installed in 1947 as a control apparatus at the global level. The Cuban revolution justifies the idea of a permanent offensive against revolutionary dangers, already in the Cold War, and the extraterritorial and extrajuridical perspective of counterinsurgency, which later becomes war against terrorism and fourth -generation warfare. Paramilitary groups and local armies are supported against insurgents, combined with direct interventions with troops from the United States, with its long list of invasions in Latin America and the world. The potential enemy is the entire population. Clandestine or open prisons, such as Guantanamo, are springing up all over the world, including ships, secret bases and operations of its special forces in more than 130 countries. The term fourth-generation warfare, coined in 1989, encompasses the full range of counterinsurgency, including asymmetric warfare, state terrorism, dirty warfare, terrorism and counterterrorism, which I conceptualize as global state terrorism (

Israel is a huge proponent of counterinsurgency, which it permanently imposes against the Palestinian people, although it has specialized in the sale of sophisticated telephone and cybernetic intervention programs, such as those installed in Mexico through the Merida Initiative, as well as in torture methods (interrogation and treatment of prisoners).

The Mexican military call counterinsurgency irregular warfare, and its strategy is based on the combined use of paramilitary groups (brave fish), penetration siege, saturation of the theater of war, aerial, land and communications surveillance, population displacement, and massacres, like that of Acteal. These groups are trained and supported by the armed forces, although this link is not recognized by the State.

This article was published in La Jornada on September 29th, 2022.
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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