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Two Men Claim Governor's Post in Split Mexican State

By Juanita Darling
Los Angeles Times
TUXTLA GUTIERREZ, Mexico

Two men took the oath of office Thursday to be governor of deeply divided southern state of Chiapas, both promising a new constitution and electoral reform.

Eduardo Robledo, the ruling party candidate and official winner of the Aug. 21 election, was inaugurated during a special legislative session at the modernistic City Theater with Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo in attendance.

Amada Avendano, who claims the election was stolen from him by vote fraud, was installed at the main plaza several blocks away, where 3,000 protesters gathered in front of the statehouse to witness a Mayan ceremony of incense and chanting in the unrelenting sun.

Both events were peaceful. Demonstrators who had marched from all over the state to protest Robledo's inauguration did not attempt to confront the tight security surrounding the theater. Police guarding the statehouse watched the plaza ceremony indifferently and protesters did not disturb their barricades.

However, tensions remain high as Mexicans wait to find out whether the Zapatista National Liberation Army will carry out its threat to break its uneasy truce with the government once Robledo takes office. The rebels, who briefly took control of four county seats last New Year's Day, have said that Avendano will be recognized as governor in any territory they control.

The inauguration day was the first measure of how Zedillo's week-old administration would respond to both the rebels and to nonviolent protests.

"My presence in Chiapas is for peace," Zedillo said in a speech. "I come to Chiapas to assume the demands of those who live in conditions of misery that undermine the lives and dignity of thousands of men and women, especially in Indian communities."

He repeated orders to the Mexican armed forces to continue the cease-fire in effect since mid-January and he called for negotiation and dialogue, without mentioning the Zapatistas by name.

Avendano, a crusading newspaper publisher who was the candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, made clear his parallel government will be a peaceful protest that will not include taking over any government buildings. In other states, opposition parties have forced the governor's resignation by blockading government buildings, preventing the conduct of state business.

"We lack the minimum infrastructure to be able to function, because the government has appropriated the goods and real estate that belong to us, the people," Avendano said as supporters chanted, "The people voted, Amado won."

"It will take a lot of work for us to recover peacefully that to which we have a right," he said. "We are going to make democracy with our own hands."

He proposed a constitutional convention with representatives from each county in the state and an electoral reform law.

During his inauguration speech, Robledo renewed his offer to resign if that would convince the Zapatistas to lay down their arms.

He offered a 12-point government program that includes a new constitution with electoral reform, which will be written by the state legislature. He also proposed an Indian rights law and the creation of plebiscites and referendums, which so far do not exist in Mexico.

The officially elected governor also came down strongly in favor of law and order, a growing demand in a state that many citizens claim has become ungovernable. Since the uprising, increasing numbers of peasant groups have invaded plantations, demanding that the government confiscate the land and turn it over to them, a process known in Mexico as "redistribution."

Besides a judicial reform, Robledo offered a new agrarian law, "to redistribute that (land) which can be redistributed, make productive what has been redistributed and to respect that which cannot be redistributed."