dorset chiapas solidarity

February 28, 2014

“We need a fresh interpretation of the San Andres Accords”

Filed under: Indigenous, Zapatista — Tags: — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 1:34 pm

“We need a fresh interpretation of the San Andres Accords”

Francisco López Bárcenas, who participated in the dialogues that led to the creation of the Accords, highlights the bravery of the Zapatistas in ceding the space for a true dialogue about indigenous rights to occur, and signals that it is time to reassert their value, but from a new standpoint.


As a part of the “Tower of Babel” that participated in the dialogues that led to the authoring of the San Andres Accords 18 years ago, the Mixtec lawyer Francisco López Bárcenas explains that the Zapatista rebellion took place in a context of the emergence of indigenous people as important political actors.

López Bárcenas highlights the bravery of the rebels in creating the scene for a truly open and national dialogue about the rights of indigenous peoples without preordained solutions, and explains that the State only pretended to honour the pact that they signed, in order to not contradict the interests of international capital. “That is the sound of the world tumbling down that the Zapatistas are talking about”, he says.

Finally, he notes the capitalist battle now waged in indigenous peoples’ territory to take control of their resources, something which obliges us to reaffirm the value of the agreement of San Andres Sakamch’en, but in a new way, for this new context.

International Context: decline of the nation-state


San Andrés Larráinzar, Chiapas.1995The San Andres Accords have their roots in an indigenous rebellion that broke out on the First of January, 1994, and which was a response to the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Signing this pact with the United States and Canada into law, just as with the constitutional reforms signed into law (such as the reform of Article 27 of the Constitution) implied dismantling the social pact that had emerged after the Revolution of 1910, and which was expressed in the Political Constitution of 1917. This Constitution had been in place for decades, and the signing into law of NAFTA meant dismantling it, that is, a rupture in social and political terms.

Of course, this situation was not unique to Mexico; the same processes were taking place in almost every country at this time, and in practical terms they represented the dismantling of the nation-state, suppressing the social rights won in decades of struggle, and replacing social policies with individualist ones, strengthening capital. One of the Zapatistas who participated in the Dialogues of San Andrés, for instance, told me: “before we had a layer of protection that helped us all, and suddenly they took it away, they left us vulnerable, and that’s why people are protesting”. The same thing was happening in Latin America and in various States.

A year after the Zapatista uprising, for example, the Guatemalan government and the National Revolutionary Guatemalan Union (UNRG) signed the Chapultepec Accords in Mexico as a condition for peace; these accords incorporated indigenous rights. Shortly before, when the transition in Chile took place and the Pinochet dictatorship ceded power to the Democratic Pact, the first new president signed the Accords of Nueva Imperial. Years prior, in Colombia, brandishing the demands that Quintín Lame had made during his rebellion in the region of Cauca, Colombians reached an agreement to modify their Political Constitution. With all of these examples, what we see is that the national State, just as it was conceived in the nineteenth century, entered a terminal phase, because there was now a new actor, a new political force that was reclaiming rights and the spaces in which they could be exercised. This force was the indigenous peoples.

The monoethnic nation-state fell into a period of crisis, and had to start to discuss the constitution of a pluriethnic, multicultural State with a new actor. This happened in varying ways: through agreements, such as in Guatemala, Chile and Mexico; others reformed their constitutions, such as in the cases of Colombia and Ecuador; others, like Brazil, left such change in the hands of private initiatives, as if the issue were a private and not a public one, provoking violent reactions. What is certain is that in all countries of Latin America there was an attempt to reconstruct the nation-state, since the monoethnic, nineteenth-century State no longer worked. This forms part of the international context in which the San Andrés Accords were signed in Mexico.

Indigenous Mexican organization, corporatized

In Mexico, indigenous organization began in a very corporate manner. Essentially, it started in the 70s, with the National Association of Indigenous Teachers (ANPIBAC), which was formed by the Secretary of Public Education (SEP). Another such organization was the National Council of Indigenous Peoples (CNPI), also created by the State. These were vertical organizations, controlled by state power, but with the passage of time many of their members opened up, becoming true representatives of their peoples, whilst others ended up occupying institutional positions.

In the 80s, the political landscape changed, above all due to the influence of the debates that took place in Nicaragua about the creation of the Pluriethnic Autonomous Regions, and the discourse fomented in international bodies such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS), that sought to evaluate the benefits of approving the declaration of indigenous rights. In 1989, Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO), about indigenous and tribal peoples, was passed. Some organizations took up these debates and incorporated them into their own political demands. Nonetheless, the activity of these indigenous organizations was limited to the margins, both in action and purpose; almost nobody understood ethnicity.

One of the organizations that did most to drive the debate forward, using the Nicaraguan model as a starting-point, was the Independent Centre for Agricultural and Peasant Workers (CIOAC), above all in Chiapas. After this, the Independent Front for Indian Peoples (FIPI), that also began to pressure for these rights, was formed, followed by the National Indigenous Assembly for Autonomy (ANIPA). These groups sparked many debates in different states of Mexico, but in the end they failed to achieve their goals since, having formed on the basis of an external experience, they could not respond the concrete realities of Mexico.

There were other movements that had different types of objectives and were more “grassroots”, such as those from Oaxaca, a few from Michoacán and some of those from Guerrero. These groups started to increasingly value the community, because they were looking for ways to respond to and improve their everyday lives. The same debate took place in San Andrés Larrainzar during the dialogues.

In terms of recognition of indigenous rights, there was the reform to Article 4 of the Federal Constitution, which the federal government pushed forward in 1992 in order to mark 500 years of the arrival of the Spanish to the continent – which the indigenous movement denounced as an invasion. This reform, whilst recognising the existence of the indigenous peoples, only made them part of the pluricultural composition of the nation, not as individuals with rights. Other legal dispositions existed, above all to do with access to justice in state tribunals, permitting the participation of interpreters and allowing for usos y costumbres (indigenous customary law). But that was the extent of it.

Zapatismo altered the horizons of the indigenous peoples

Re-reading the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, we note that the Zapatista rebels grant recognition to indigenous peoples, even as this is not their central demand: “We are the product of 500 years of resistance”, begins the Declaration. It was evident that this referred to the start of Spanish colonialism and the colonialisms that followed it. Since then, the situation had developed no further. Meanwhile, the indigenous movements said: “we, as indigenous peoples, have these concessions”. Then, an interesting thing occurred, in which different groups, rebels, and movements learnt – from each other – to grant central importance to the national debate on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Zapatismo altered the horizons of the indigenous movement. We have only to recall that in many municipalities of Oaxaca, local town councils made public statements in support of the Zapatista uprising, which was something unprecedented at the time. In the state of Guerrero, marches to Mexico City supporting the Zapatista rebellion were also organized.

The rebellion awakened expectations among the indigenous peoples, and in the rest of society: we all saw that their demands were just, that it was what was needed, that it was what we wanted, but only they dared to rise up in arms to achieve it.

The Zapatistas created space for the debate

San-Andres-96After 12 days of armed conflict with the federal army, there was a mass popular mobilization in favour of an end to the war, and the federal government found itself obliged to order a ceasefire, which was followed by an amnesty for all those that laid down their weapons (no-one obliged). In that period, the two sides started to approach one another to set up a first cross-party dialogue. Manuel Camacho Solís was named as representative of the federal government and, as such, sat down at the negotiating table opposite the Zapatistas in the dialogues at the Cathedral. From those dialogues emerged some preliminary accords that the Zapatistas took to their communities for consultation. These were rejected as unsatisfactory; they did not deal with the core issue of indigenous rights.

At that time, Zapatismo was beginning to have external influences. A document of the Mapuche in Chile was made public where they observed that territory, an issue fundamental to indigenous rights, was absent from the Zapatistas’ demands. A letter from Oaxaca was written with the heading “not all that glitters is gold”, which questioned much of what had been agreed. This weighed on the Zapatistas, and they responded: that’s not what this is about.

Since the indigenous peoples rejected the preliminary accords, the dialogues broke off. This was in June of 1994. After this, the Zapatistas were to organize the National Democratic Convention; a social energy was just starting to take hold. Jump forward to February, 1995, and Salinas was no longer president, but Ernesto Zedillo, who decided to betray the Zapatistas. He sent the Secretary of Government, Esteban Moctezuma, to meet with the Zapatistas, who realised that this was a plot to arrest the leaders of the rebellion, and withdrew just in time; when the army arrived they were no longer there.

Then began the incursion of the Army onto Zapatista territory. The Mexican Congress made a Law of Peace and Harmony (COCOPA), which obliged the two sides to dialogue in order to arrive at agreements to resolve the conflict and achieve a peace with dignity. In this new situation, the rebels and the Army agreed to set up a negotiating table. They agreed on procedural rules and an agenda of issues to discuss, the first of these being indigenous rights and culture. The government recognised COCOPA as a mediator and the National Commission for Intermediation (CONAI) as independent contributing body.
The dialogues began in October 1995. The first negotiation was on indigenous rights and culture and had three phases: one for each party to make the contributions they considered to be pertinent. The parties, that is: the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and the Federal Government agreed on the participation of advisers and invited participants. These were people that the Zapatistas and the government suggested that could come up with ideas that would nourish dialogue about indigenous culture and rights. But the Zapatistas were looking for more than that.

The first time that we went to the community of La Realidad, one person said: “they invited me as an assessor and I’m here, tell me what I have to do”. And the EZLN Command told them: “well, we don’t know what you can do, really, because we don’t know you and you don’t know us. Better to get together with your acquaintances and agree together what to propose to the government.” That was the problem. The Zapatistas wanted us to put together the proposal that they would defend in the negotiations, and their approach had a logic to it, in the sense that the criticisms of the accords that emerged from the cathedral dialogues had already been made.

The Zapatistas created the space for discussion, and in which a debate could be arranged.  That is an approach that we ought to value highly. It aimed to be an unprecedented process, I don’t know if in Latin America, but certainly in Mexico, since the arrival of the Spanish to these shores. It’s a value of the dialogues that we must recognise, because what they told us was that national issues ought to be discussed face-to-face with the Mexican nation, and without anyone saying beforehand “we’ve already agreed on what should be done”.

The Zapatistas invited leaders, indigenous people, anthropologists and communicators, but above all many municipal and communal authorities, and leaders of organizations.

The negotiations were organized into three phases. Firstly, there was participation from all advisers and invited participants, who were members of organizations and authorities and had been invited by the government and the Zapatistas. Here, something interesting happened: the guests and advisers from both sides understood one another very well.

During the second phase, the proposals were analysed, and organized into groups of coincidence and groups of divergence – and among these, those proposals that could be debated and those which were unsalvageable – the government retired its initial advisers and invited participants, and brought in ranch owners and businessmen from Chiapas, they even got rid of the National Indigenist Institute, the government’s own official institute focusing on relations with indigenous peoples, because the people they had invited to begin with agreed, for the most part, with the proposals that the Zapatistas’ advisers and invited participants had made.

The central theme for discussion was autonomy, a concept which as the years passed became increasingly clear: it is the possibility for people to develop the capacity they have to decide on their life, present or future. The other discussion was over rights and justice (in which I participated, a negotiating table that I shared with Ricardo Robles Ronco, with Yaotzin Dominguez, and with Zapatista Comandante Zebedeo; we were there together trying to endure the government’s provocations). There was another table discussing communication, another discussing culture, and finally, a table talking about political representation. These were the central issues, and the Zapatistas did not come up with them, but they were surely informed before agreeing to discuss them.

We were all concerned to avoid a scenario in which due to the presence of so many people – there were about 600 people, advisers and invited participants – the dialogues turned into a sort of “Tower of Babel” situation, in which nobody understood each other. This concern started to increase, because there were people present that had not spoken to one another for years, since they held different positions on certain issues. But it was interesting to see the way in which the discussion was held, because there was opened up a great space where all could go and elaborate, freely, what they felt; these proposals passed to a commission whose task it was to systematize them, and the products of this process were brought to the table with the friends who were in negotiation with the governmental delegation. There were some who didn’t want to co-operate, who forced their own particular proposals through, but these were few and far between. In general, proceedings were cordial, and there was great tolerance between all participants. It was a very rich debate.

The key issue is in the accords signed by all parties: we need a new State, a new relationship between the indigenous peoples, the State and society, recognising new collective rights for indigenous peoples and new policies through which those rights can be exercised. These commitments can be found in the first document of the three that comprise the Accords on Indigenous Rights and Culture, which are known as the San Andrés Accords. The first of these documents is a statement about the situation of the indigenous peoples, the second contains the commitments made to change the situation, and the third the specific commitments made to do with Chiapas.

Real reasons for not implementing the Accords

The government did not honour the Accords. In 2001 there was a constitutional reform that sought to implement them, but in the end they were excluded. The indigenous peoples refused to accept this; they went to the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation to request judicial intervention so that already-recognised rights could be respected in law, just as in the case of Convention 169 of the ILO, but the Court decided that, since this was a matter of constitutional reform, it could do nothing. All of the powers of the State turned their backs on indigenous people, who therefore decided, through the Indigenous National Congress, to construct autonomy for themselves. The Zapatistas did the same.

In the Zapatistas’ silent protest in 2012, which followed years of silence, when they said – referring to all of the problems that the nation-state confronts – “that is the sound of your world tumbling down, and of our world rising up”, they are referring to the fact that the State, in refusing to honour the Accords, not only violated the law requiring it to reach agreements in order to resolve the causes that led to the rebellion, but also wasted its opportunity to deal with national problems and avoid many future conflicts.

The question we ought to ask is: why did the State not honour its part of the deal? That is what is most important to understand, because it is the “sound of your world tumbling down” to which the Zapatistas make reference. From my point of view, the government did not honour the Accords because to alter the State would set the political class against the interests of capital; in other words, there exists a strong contradiction between the rights of indigenous peoples and the policies of neoliberal capitalism. At this point, the world faces these two stances: on one side, the greed of transnational business, and on the other, the need on the part of indigenous peoples to continue to be peoples.

The context is one in which capital has entered a terminal phase: this does not mean that it will end tomorrow, but that there is no longer any turning back. This has occurred because capitalism produced so much that there is no longer any demand to consume, and yet its very raison d’etre is production. This is its dilemma: should it stop producing, or create demand for what is being produced? It cannot do either of these two things, because its raison d’etre is to produce and pay as little as possible for the task. The solution it has found, then, is to commodify things that not even the bourgeoisie of the nineteenth century, a period where the foundations of the modern State were laid, dared exploit.

In current common moral codes, there are still areas that cannot be privatized because they are necessary for survival, such as water and air, but the new neoliberal laws now permit their conversion into commodities. This is where the indigenous peoples enter the picture, because these resources are located in their territories. When indigenous peoples demand territorial rights, this is what they are getting at, and when capital mandates that these rights not be recognised, it means that they will deny them at whatever cost. This is the grand dilemma that we currently face, and this is the great sound to which the Zapatistas allude.

The linchpin of the struggles of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Latin America is the defence of territory, the defence of water resources, of the jungles and of their spaces of production, because capital wants to get rid of these.

The political class claims that in 2001 the rights of indigenous peoples were put into law, and that they implemented the San Andres Accords, but the major problem is that all of that legislation is a simulation, because it does not deal with what was agreed. The San Andrés Accords say “reform the State”, re-found the State, recognise indigenous people as individuals with rights, recognise their autonomy, and highlight a series of elements that constitute their autonomy: social rights, plurality, sustainability. This was all forgotten in the reform of 2001 and in those that followed it, because many more reforms have been implemented in federal and state law. These are laws created to simulate an honouring of the Accords, but that at root cannot be implemented for one simple reason: their design does not correspond to the nature of the rights that they seek to regulate, as well as the fact that the institutions that might have been able to implement them were never reformed to do so.

Take this example. The legislation says that the indigenous peoples have the right to revive and revitalize their language, something that nobody calls into question. But it is not a declaration of the sort that is needed; it does not spell out how the State will be transformed to make this possible, what guarantees there are that might be put to use by the public, what state institutions will do to make this possible, what participation indigenous people will have in this process. A similar thing happens with the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, which runs programmes without having faculties to run them, something which permits it to use these programmes as a form of control, and to have a captive clientele with which to justify its activities with indigenous people.

Upon not implementing the San Andrés Accords, the State was not reformed, indigenous people have not been recognised as individuals with rights and what we are left with is a disjunction between indigenous peoples who want to continue being peoples, and a permissive State that has done all in its power to make sure that transnational capital enjoys the conditions in which it can appropriate the resources that these peoples want to preserve.

In these conditions, the demand that the San Andrés Accords be implemented continues to be made. We must be aware of this new context, because many things have changed, both on a global level and in Mexico. These new circumstances call us towards a re-evaluation of the Accords.


First published in Spanish on 17 February, 2014

Translated by Andrew Green


Bishop Raúl Vera on the EZLN: “Their Proposal Is Peace”

Filed under: Indigenous, Paramilitary, Zapatista — Tags: — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 11:42 am


Bishop Raúl Vera on the EZLN: “Their Proposal Is Peace”

ImageOne of the latest representatives of the ‘progressive’ current of the Catholic Church, Raúl Vera López is the bishop of Saltillo, Coahuila, and was involved in the peace process after the Zapatista Uprising of 1994. Reflecting on the twentieth anniversary of the rebellion, he says that the conditions which inspired it persist today – worsened by the criminal violence that currently divides the country. Moreover, he claims that there is no distinguishable limit between the criminal gangs and the Mexican State.

“The Zapatistas anticipated it all”, he says. “The political, economic and social bankruptcy produced by Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s regime has been reproduced exponentially today, as Salinismo has made itself at home. It has returned to power – if indeed it ever left, that is.” He continues, affirming that, judging by the growth of neoliberalism in Mexico, “we can conclude that the Zapatistas were right, because they tried to stop a process that has now encompassed the whole country: the incorporation of Mexico into the world of ‘free market’ policies and the continuation of injustice in the arena of human rights”.

The Zapatistas rose up against rampant poverty, injustice, and the absence of democracy just as the North American Free Trade Agreement came into force 20 years ago. During that period of increasing neoliberalism, poverty has expanded to include 53 million people – 20 million of whom live in extreme poverty and 7.5 million of whom are youngsters. To make matters worse, these young people currently lack sufficient opportunities to break out of this situation. Two decades after the Zapatistas’ demand for equal work opportunities and rights for indigenous people, the Federal Labour Law does not only keep indigenous communities up against the wall, but also sinks the entire Mexican workforce into that situation, according to Vera.

“I met a cold government, uninterested in justice and welfare for indigenous peoples”, he adds, referring to his participation in the peace process. “Its only form of resolving the conflict was to dispatch the Army to the region and encourage the growth of paramilitary groups: the path of violence.” And things haven’t changed in the government’s approach to organised criminal groups, he says. “Their tactics are the same: ‘the Army will sort everything out’. Their solution is to fight a low intensity dirty war. That was always the path they chose and nothing has changed.”

Recently, the Supreme Court has given a boost to paramilitary groups in Chiapas by releasing those responsible for the Acteal Massacre. Vera sees this as the government once again denying justice to its people. “Just as the government launched the paramilitaries against the Chiapan communities to destroy their social fabric, we now see the disproportionate military spending in the war on drug trafficking”, he points out. With thousands of citizens and criminals being shot down in the streets, apprehensions and trials are the exception to the rule.

And if that wasn’t enough, no-one is investigating the politicians allegedly in collusion with the criminal gangs or involved in money laundering. “The Mexican political establishment belongs to a school of politics distinguished by its corruption, shady dealings, and authoritarianism… The old PRI is back in power and has learned nothing from what happened in Chiapas. Nothing.”

Vera continues, speaking of how the indigenous people in Chiapas live in a democratic and participatory world, where everyone’s voice counts. It is a “mature political vision” that the Mexican political class will never understand, he insists.

Vera arrived in San Cristóbal de las Casas in 1995, where the local bishop Samuel Ruiz was heavily involved in the peace process after the Zapatista Uprising and was in need of some relief. There were initially suspicions that his arrival was intended to dismantle the very political role that Ruiz had been playing in the region. However, they soon dissipated when Vera denounced government-backed paramilitarisation in Chiapas after the Acteal Massacre in 1997, calling it part of the State’s low intensity war against Zapatista communities. As a result, he would soon be threatened by paramilitaries and even chastised by the Church.

Bishop Ruiz, in Vera’s eyes, saw the “construction of the Kingdom of God” as one that started on Earth. It was a view that didn’t allow him to “be happy with abandoning the poor, the indigenous, the gay community, or anyone else vulnerable in a Church so close to the structures of power and the well-off sectors of society”. Instead of speaking about Liberation Theology, however, Vera prefers to refer to such political awareness and activism within the Church as ‘Latin American Theology’, mainly because of the revolutionary connotations that the former has come to invoke.

However, this type of religious viewpoint put Vera and Ruiz at odds with the Church hierarchy. Vera speaks of how he ‘signed his own sentence’ upon denouncing the State’s creation of paramilitaries in Chiapas. Likely a result of this comment, he was moved away from San Cristóbal in 1999, and told that he had “never been forgiven” for what he had said in 1997. He infers from this incident that the power structures of the Church were in collusion with the government. And judging by the fact that Samuel Ruiz had also almost been removed in 1993 by the Church for his progressive pastoral work, that link would seem ever more apparent.

Ruiz was a bishop who encouraged “community reflection” on the “divine law” that all worldly goods belong to everyone and that there should be equality and justice on Earth. This contributed to the politicisation of indigenous Christians, who became aware of their rights and began to resist manipulation by political parties. Ruiz was only left in San Cristóbal in 1993 because many other Latin American bishops had supported him and his work. He would later become a key figure in the negotiations after the Zapatista Uprising.

During his time in Chiapas, Vera and others in the Church suffered aggressions because they were “an obstacle” to the government’s preferred ‘violent solution’ to the Zapatista problem. “The paramilitaries closed our churches”, he says, and “the state police and the Army took control of them”. In 1996, the armed paramilitary group known as the ‘Chinchulines’ lynched a teacher, hanging him and setting him on fire. The state police did nothing, and Vera says that he himself was lucky to avoid being burned.

The Church in Chiapas had become a symbol of peaceful resistance, and “the army focussed in on us in the hope of taking away that symbol”, he affirms. It had proved itself capable of playing the role of interlocutor and of linking up with international civil society groups and even other religions, and that was dangerous for the government.  In November 1997, an attack on Vera and Ruiz left three people injured, but they survived. To avoid being too closely linked to the Zapatistas, Vera says that he and Ruiz “could encourage political reflection but not support for any particular political movement… Our role was not to recognise the EZLN… [but to] ensure people received the rights bestowed upon them by God…, mediating a peaceful solution to the conflict so that justice could be obtained for all indigenous people.”

Twenty years ago, the government promised that Mexico would enter into the modernity of the First World with the help of neoliberal economic policies, and that all of the big national problems would be solved as a result. But the opposite has happened. Nonetheless, the same promises are given today as new ‘reforms’ are brought into force. They “always tried to generalise in order to avoid discussing the root causes of the nation’s problems: racist injustice, accumulation of wealth by the Few, and lack of democracy”. The Zapatistas, on the other hand, spoke openly about these things. And they “continue today with their proposal of peace, born from indigenous concepts of justice and wisdom”. Their weapons are no longer used, and what remains is their fight for “a straight-talking, truthful form of politics” which aims to deal with the problems of poverty and injustice that the government has failed to address.

Meanwhile, the State lives a form of hypocritical politics, according to Vera. Impunity reigns and the paramilitaries responsible for the Acteal Massacre are freed, but workers in the Supreme Court receive massive pay-cheques. Instead of ensuring justice for the Mexican people, they spend their time doing paperwork and jobs that should be done by apprentices. While “the Zapatistas have not resorted to violence again, the government continues to shoot”, says Vera. And that is how “the government has kept itself in power: through hypocrisy.”

Making final reflections on the motives behind the Zapatista Uprising, Vera affirms that the conditions the EZLN fought against twenty years ago have today extended to the whole country. Their movement is based on fighting injustice and poverty, and those circumstances, as they predicted, have only worsened. “Reason”, the bishop concludes, “is on their side”.


Translated and adapted by Oso Sabio from the article “They Continue with a Proposal of Peace” by Arturo Rodríguez García, found between pages 19 and 21 in Proceso’s Special Edition Number 43 – “20 Years Later: The Zapatista Uprising”



February 27, 2014

MEXICO: San Andrés and the Unresolved Dialogue

Filed under: Indigenous, Zapatista — Tags: — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 6:55 pm


MEXICO: San Andrés and the Unresolved Dialogue

By Radio Zapatista and Koman Ilel

If the San Andrés Accords at any point reflected the Mexican government’s decision to allow and contribute to the construction of indigenous autonomy, it certainly didn’t transform into reality. Instead, the pathways of dialogue became narrower and narrower.

These negotiations were set in motion by the EZLN (along with civil society groups) and the Mexican State between October 1995 and February 1996. Their intention was to bring about a new species of relationship between society and the State – with a particular focus on ending the exploitation and marginalisation suffered by Mexico’s indigenous peoples.

The dialogues took place in the Tsotsil town of San Andrés – a name officially followed by the surname “Larráinzar”, but referred to as “Sak´am Ch´en of the Poor” by the Zapatistas. The EZLN’s reason for renaming the town was to bring both the pre-Hispanic and colonial history of the area to mind.

Alongside the government and the EZLN in the dialogues were the CONAI (the “National Commission of Intermediation”, consisting of a number of activists and intellectuals chaired by Bishop Samuel Ruiz) and the COCOPA (the “Commission for Harmony and Pacification”, consisting of legislators from the two federal houses and the local Congress). A significant number of national and international civil society groups were also involved in both the ‘belts of peace’ and in consultancy during the dialogue. After the first meeting, regarding indigenous rights and culture, the San Andrés Accords were signed on February 16th 1996.

However, it is important to emphasise that San Andrés was not only about indigenous rights and culture. One of the federal government’s strategies has been to classify the EZLN in terms of ‘the indigenous question’, and then as a movement aiming for ‘independence’ or the separation of Chiapas. Such an understanding of the Zapatistas clearly ignores what the movement stands for, as it has stated since the very first Declaration from the Lacandona Jungle. In this instance, the EZLN made it clear that it was a movement of ‘National’ Liberation, drawing from not only 500 years of indigenous resistance, but also from the struggles of workers’ unions and of independence heroes Hidalgo, Morelos, and Guerrero.

At the same time, a sense of urgency had grown within numerous sectors of society for the war in Chiapas to end, along with sympathy for the Zapatista call of ‘Enough Already’. Both of these factors served to bring political forces, intellectuals, civil society organisations and regular citizens ‘to their feet’. This convergence of forces was to meet in San Andrés in order to get to know each other and, together, debate and rethink the project of the ‘Mexican Nation’. The meetings became a bridge, attempting to create a new national project and a new social and political pact. This can be seen in the names of the other tables of dialogue that were planned:

1. Indigenous Culture and Rights.
2. Democracy and Justice.
3. Wellbeing and Development.
4. Reconciliation in Chiapas.
5. Women’s Rights in Chiapas.
6. An End to Hostilities.

Of these programmed dialogues, only the second was begun – in which the issues discussed do not only remain valid today, but remain urgent:

1. Political democracy and public institutions.
2. Social democracy and social justice.
3. Social organisations and citizen participation.
4. Justice and human rights.
5. Justice, social coexistence and the rule of law.
6. Democracy and the media.
7. Democracy and national sovereignty.

The second meeting was designed as a space for honouring and demanding the presentation of those who had fought for Democracy and Justice. Among the advisors’ first list were not only presumed Zapatistas (those in prison for political reasons) but also the names of those who had previously ‘disappeared’. These Disappeared represent an open wound on the nation’s historical memory, in spite of government attempts to establish collective amnesia as State policy.

So what did San Andrés mean for Mexico and, in particular, that second meeting?

It was a meeting space for discussion about the need to recreate the nation through dialogue, to which different political and social forces were invited. The EZLN, as convenor, presented a very different idea of politics – something the government has never understood.

Although the government began the process of dialogue, their commitment proved hollow and their political will soon withered away. Faced with this government betrayal and disinterest, the EZLN were forced to embark unilaterally on a path towards autonomy. After the uprising, the attempts at dialogue, and the apparent need to keep the struggle alive, it became clear that popular organisation and the construction of independent projects in communities was going to be the only way that change would come.

At this point, the EZLN ceased to see the State as an interlocutor. Its betrayal of the San Andrés Accords and the rupture of the process of dialogue not only represented very clearly its refusal to recognise the rights of indigenous people, but also the inexistent possibility of a transition towards democracy negotiated with the State.

Today, the contradictions of the Mexican State’s bureaucracy and illegitimate, generalised use of violence have deteriorated. War is the only way for those in charge to continue exercising their power. They burnt the bridge built at San Andrés because it threatened their own domination and there is no reason to suspect that they would be willing to build that bridge again.

The State’s lack of real political will to participate in a dialogue, and its decision to initiate a war of low intensity instead, obliged the EZLN to change things for itself. It forced the Zapatistas to demand the construction of alternative perspectives as the only real way to transform relations with the State. It led them to build up, gradually, a social force capable of converting demands in autonomous, popular achievements. The process of conflict and the experience of community-building proved that true change wouldn’t come from the State, but from the effort and action of the People.

That is the path we are on, and we are conscious of what still needs to be achieved.

What’s missing is missing……..

Translated and adapted by Oso Sabio from



February 26, 2014

From Syria, Palestine and the Arab region: Letter of solidarity with the Zapatista autonomous communities!

Filed under: Zapatista — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 6:50 pm

From Syria, Palestine and the Arab region: Letter of solidarity with the Zapatista autonomous communities!

To adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle

To the Zapatista Army of National Liberation

To the Good Government Juntas

To the Zapatista support bases

To all who strive to create a world where many worlds fit

We, the undersigned, from our corner of the world in the Arab region and in exile, are writing to express our support for the Zapatista struggle for freedom, dignity, justice and direct democracy, a struggle which is an inspiration to all those who are struggling to dismantle all systems of domination and dehumanization that have characterized the world for the past five centuries, and against which the indigenous peoples of America continue to struggle.

Since their uprising on 1 January 1994, the Zapatistas have transformed the lives of indigenous communities in Chiapas, Mexico, having reclaimed much of their ancestral lands that were stolen from them by the Spanish conquest 500 years ago, and on which they were forced to work as servants.

Despite repeated attacks by the Mexican government against the Zapatistas during the past twenty years, the compañeros and compañeras of the EZLN continue collectively defending their land and governing their affairs through their own “Good Government” which operates independently without any relation to the “Bad Government” and its institutions.

We recently received news that the repeated assaults of the Bad Government against the Zapatistas reached a new level on 27 and 30 January, when a group called CIOAC (Central Independent Agricultural Workers and Campesinos) “Democratic” attacked the community “10th of April,” a Zapatista support base in the Rebel Autonomous Municipality “17th of November.” Armed with stones, sticks, machetes and firearms, hundreds of members of the CIOAC took by assault the land, uprooted 87 trees in the ecological reserve, stole 41 trucks worth of timber, and injured six members of the EZLN, three seriously, leaving one in danger of losing his sight.

We join the Zapatista Good Government Council of Morelia from Caracol IV in denouncing the attacks carried out by the CIOAC and their sponsors from all three levels of Bad Government: federal, regional and municipal.

We condemn all attempts by the Bad Government to crush the Zapatista movement, either through military and paramilitary repression, tactics of intimidation, or through gifts designed to disable the collective resistance, dispossessing the Zapatistas and intimidating dissent.

We reiterate our full support for the inalienable right of the Zapatistas to defend their personal and collective integrity, their territory and autonomy from the counterinsurgency war waged against them by the Bad Government, an institution which today does no more than perform an administrative role to serve a much broader and far-reaching neoliberal system, which requires death, destruction and dispossession in order to function.

As we are involved in a struggle against colonialism and dispossession in Palestine and a revolution for freedom and justice in Syria, we fully identify with the Zapatista project which seeks not to change the world but to create a completely new one from below, with room for many worlds. This is a world, they tell us, which cannot be created by those from above, but by the “smallest ones”.

We are inspired by the Zapatistas and their alternative form of government that is based on autonomous self-organization from below and to the left, freeing themselves from the hegemony of the state and corrupt electoral politics. They are showing us today that the creation of a genuinely democratic, egalitarian and non-hierarchical society is not just a utopia, but a reality. It is a reality in Chiapas, and it can be a reality in other geographies like ours.

We are convinced that the struggle in Syria, Palestine and Chiapas can only succeed by creating this new world for us all, wherever we are and with whatever we have. It is for this reason that we express our indignation against any attack on our compañeros and compañeras in Chiapas, in an emphatic statement that if they touch the Zapatistas, they touch us all.

Long live the Zapatista National Liberation Army!

Long live the Good Government Juntas!

Long live the Zapatista support bases!

From below and to the left, and from our corner of the world, in the Arab region and in exile.


Razan Ghazzawi – Syria – activist

Beesan Ramadan – Palestine

Yassin Swehat – Syria – blogger and columnist

Salam Shama’a – Syria

Shadi Rohana – Palestine

Dima Yousef – Syria

Rasha Abbas – Syria – writer

Khuder Salman – Syria – poet

Yasmeen Mobayed – Syria – blogger

Yasser Khanger – Golan Heights, Syria – poet

Yasser Munif – Syria – activist

Omar Abbas – Syria

Nisrine to Zahre – Syria

Abdallah al- Khatib – Yarmouk camp, Syria – activist

Mohammad Sami al- Kayyal – Syria – Journalist

Raya Ziada – Palestine – activist

Budour Hassan – Palestine

Kamar Izzat – Syria – medical

Nayef Kabai – Syria – activist

Thameena Husary – Palestine – activist

Hind Mujalli – Syria – teacher

Ghayath Naisse – Syria – writer

Shiar Youssef – Syria – Journalist

Sam Hammad – activist

Aamer Ibraheem – Golan Heights, Syria – activist

Fouad Roueiha – Syria

Khaled abdelwahed – Syria – Painter

Najib Mzloum – Syria

Samer Hourani – Syria – Journalist

Lina Mohammad – Syria – activist and journalist

Ribal Maghribi – Syria – activist

Nasser abu Motawalli – Palestine – writer

Raed Wahsh – Palestine – writer and poet

Wael Kays – Syria – writer

Walaa Awad – Syria – Journalist

Thaer al- Zaki Zazou – Syria – Journalist

Angela Suleiman – Syria – Journalist

Omero Koujer – Syria – poet

Anas al- Arabi – Syria – activist

Ahmad Issawi – Lebanon – student

Kamal to Rashi – Syria – activist

Amal Eqeiq – Palestine

Mwaffaq Ismail – Syria – Artist

Linah Alsaafin – Palestine – journalist

Musab Blachi – activist

Nisreen Mobayed – Syria

Mostafa Omeis – Lebanon

Lilah Khoja – Syria

Sami Jieries – Palestine

Ossama Mobayed – Syria

Ali kaakarli – Syria

Amal Ali – Palestine

Amena alMashni – Palestine

Mohammad al- Masri – Syria

Zoya Bahbouh – Syria

Hammoudeh Makkawi – Jordan – journalist


Dorset Chiapas Solidarity





Mexico: Paramilitary Action Continues

Filed under: Acteal, Displacement, Frayba, Paramilitary — Tags: , , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 5:50 pm


Mexico: Paramilitary Action Continues

By Orsetta Bellani

The front porches of the homes in Ejido Puebla, in the southern state of Chiapas’ Chenalhó municipality, are covered with coffee beans. Since October, the residents of this indigenous Tzotzil Maya community in a corner of the Chiapas highlands have been harvesting the seeds that are now drying under the sun.

On January 17, after five months of exile, 14 of 17 Catholic families from the community who were displaced returned to Ejido Puebla, accompanied by international observers.

“In April 2013, the Presbyterians knocked down the chapel we were building and in July 2013, without proof, the commune’s commissioner [of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)] Agustín Cruz Gómez accused the two Zapatistas in town of poisoning the communal water tank. Since then, the priístas [members of the PRI], started harassing us,” Nicolás Cruz Pérez, spokesman for the displaced residents, told Latinamerica Press. “Today we returned to our community and found our land and our homes ransacked.”

The displaced families of Ejido Puebla — a base of support for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), and members of Pueblo Creyente and the Civic Organization Las Abejas de Acteal, both Catholic pro-Zapatista organizations — sought refuge in the town of Acteal. There, in Dec. 1997, approximately 100 militants from PRI affiliate group Máscara Roja, or Red Mask, attacked about 300 indigenous Tzotzil. Forty-five of them were killed: 9 men, 15 children, and 21 women, four of whom were pregnant.

The region was in upheaval at the time due to paramilitary violence following the uprising of the EZLN on Jan. 1, 1994, in defense of the rights of the indigenous communities; the landowners, known as hacendados, had organized vigilante “shock groups” to confront them.

The killers next door

According to a petition filed in 2005 before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) by Las Abejas and the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba), which was accepted in November 2010, Public Security Police operatives were 200 meters from the chapel and did nothing to stop the massacre in 1997. Moreover, the complainants denounced the existence of a state policy “designed to commit widespread and systematic attacks against civilians carried out by paramilitary groups financed, trained and protected by national authorities to weaken the bases of the EZLN and the communities that have expressed their sympathy.” The government has always denied a role in the massacre, instead claiming the event was the result of religious conflicts between indigenous groups.

Of the 75 Máscara Roja paramilitaries imprisoned for the Acteal massacre, 69 were freed in Aug. 2009 due to irregularities in due process, such as suspects arrested without warrants. Many of them returned to the area, according to Las Abejas; the group is concerned they could attack again.

“Some of the paramilitaries who participated in the Acteal massacre are originally from Ejido Puebla. Among them is Jacinto Arias, who at that time was president of the Municipality of Chenalhó; he was incarcerated for 14 years, today he is free and returned to the town,” Víctor Hugo López Rodriguez, director of Frayba, told Latinamerica Press. He believes there is a link between Arias’s return to the community and the displacement of Catholic families.

Likewise, the residents of Chiapas’ Zona Selva Norte, about 120 miles north of Acteal, must live alongside their relatives’ killers: paramilitaries from the group Development, Peace and Justice, who have operated in the area since the 1990s. Armando Díaz, an ex-paramilitary with the group, provided a statement to Frayba in 2004, saying that the irregular militia is portrayed as an organization of farmworkers, therefore receives government subsidies, which it in turn uses to buy arms.

Low-grade war

From Dec. 6-7, 2013, in the Chiapas community of Susuclumil, the pre-trial hearing of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) took place — an international, non-governmental court that sets out to denounce the perpetrators of human rights violations, although their decisions are not binding, in its chapter devoted to the low-grade ongoing conflict in Chiapas.

Speaking to the PPT, Frayba attorney Pedro Faro claimed that from 1995 to 1999 — a period in which the militias were most active — Development, Peace and Justice and other paramilitary groups were responsible for 81 extrajudicial killings, 36 disappearances, and the displacement of more than 3,500 residents of communities around Tila, Sabanilla, Tumbalá, Yajalón and Salto de Agua, in northern Chiapas.

Faro said the counterinsurgency plan from the Secretariat of National Defense, named “Campaña Chiapas 94,” took root locally and expanded into the highlands, favoring “paramilitary action with the goal of crushing the increasing influence of the EZLN, [by] committing systematic attacks against the civilian population.” The paramilitary groups, he added, were made up largely of indigenous campesinos that belonged to the PRI, and their crimes included extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, threats, robberies, forced displacements, and arson.

After 2000, when the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) came to power, the counterinsurgent strategy shifted and focused on government assistance projects with the objective of dividing communities and buying off their leaders, added Faro.

The TPP, which will next hold a session in May 2014 in the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, concluded that the Mexican government and the Armed Forces are responsible for human rights violations committed in Chiapas since 1994, following the EZLN uprising, because it covered up and contributed financially to the paramilitary groups.

From: Latinamerica Press



February 25, 2014

Today marks 16 years and two months of impunity for the Acteal Massacre

Filed under: Acteal, Displacement — Tags: , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 7:51 pm

Today marks 16 years and two months of impunity for the Acteal Massacre

Civil Society Organization Las Abejas

Sacred Ground of the Martyrs of Acteal

Municipality of Chenalhó, Chiapas, Mexico.

February 22, 2014 

To Social and Political Organizations

To Human Rights Defenders

To the Alternative Media

To the National and International Press

To National and International Civil Society

To Adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle

Brothers and Sisters

Acteal Chiapas: A 16 años y dos meses de la matanza de indígenas en el municipio de Chenalhó, la impunidad continúa.

We are in the second month of 2014; today we reach 16 years and two months of impunity for the Acteal Massacre in 1997. Three days ago we learned that a court in the United States stated that “Zedillo is exempt from liability … for the death of 45 indigenous in 1997.” The next day, President Obama of the United States was in Mexico to visit President Peña Nieto to thank him for the energy reform which will allow multinational companies to take over Mexico’s oil, as they did before Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution was applied by Lázaro Cárdenas to recover the oil for the Mexicans.

We, the members of the Civil Society Las Abejas, have already said that we were not the ones who filed the lawsuit against Zedillo in America. Neither did we agree when, in 1993, PEMEX wanted to invade our lands in Chenalhó to extract oil. But in any case we realize that the neoliberal governments of Mexico are handing over a patrimony of the nation to the neoliberal governments of the United States, so it makes us angry, but does not surprise us when in the United States they declare that Zedillo is innocent of the Acteal massacre. Would they condemn him if they are from the same mafia? As Peña Nieto is handing over the oil, Zedillo gave the national railways to the United States. And it was Salinas de Gortari who opened the door to such betrayals with the reforms to Article 27 and the signing of NAFTA.

The United States Court which decided that it could not judge Zedillo for the Acteal Massacre said “We have considered all the remaining arguments of the plaintiffs and concluded that they are without merit.” So the demands of the victims of a massacre against a former president are worthless. All that matters to them is money and power. Neoliberalism feeds on land dispossessions, killings, violence and drugs, femicides, discrimination, repression, massacre. But they think prisons are only for social activists and the poor. For them there are no prisons, and it is they who are bathing their hands in the blood of men, women and children.

For neoliberalism has committed massacres in every corner of our country. And for neoliberalism there have been wars in many parts of the world. Through greed for oil the United States made war against Iraq a decade ago and now they want to provoke a war in Venezuela for the same reason. In our country they do not have to make war to keep the oil because the presidents of Mexico are from their same neoliberal mafia. So they defend Zedillo, so the U.S. magazines say that Peña Nieto is saving Mexico, but he is not saving it, it is sinking still further. Our world is in total crisis because of a few, greedy for money and power, who want to acquire and control everything at the cost of the work of the poor and the blood of the innocent. So we see it in the word of God, which confirms that this is the cause of wars:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and you do not have, so you murder. You covet and you cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. (James 4: 1-2)

While the neoliberal governments are robbing everyone, what they do with the people? They keep them deceived with demagogic speeches, misinformation and welfare projects.

How sad and shocking that the use and custom of the official authorities of the Bad Government is, instead of applying justice, to offer little gifts and crumbs in order to leave in impunity actions from a simple misdemeanour to a crime against humanity such as the massacre of Acteal!

Neoliberalism is built on injustice. So all its officers must be corrupt and no one dares to do justice because if they do their bosses will chase them. Now we see in Michoacan, where there was so much violence by criminal groups that Peña Nieto came to visit and offered a lot of money for government programmes. But the brothers there told him that what they want is justice. And they have even had to arm the self-defence groups there because the government does not do justice. We, the Civil Society Las Abejas, do not agree with the use of weapons but we understand that people have the right to defend themselves when the government does not want to do justice. We disagree with the use of weapons because of what happened after the massacre of Acteal. Paramilitary groups organized by the government of Ernesto Zedillo in different municipalities of Chiapas acted in burning houses, stealing belongings, evictions, obligations to take up firearms, obligations to co-operate with financial resources to purchase weapons. Because we did not want to co-operate with weapons the massacre took place.

In 2001 the displaced members of Las Abejas returned to their communities and some had to relocate to different communities. It was a return through need but without justice, because the intellectual authors were never tried and just a few of the perpetrators went to prison until the Supreme Court of Unjust Judgements freed them. Now in 2013 the same people who were asking for arms cooperation in 1997 provoked the displacement of our brothers and sisters from Ejido Puebla who had been displaced for 6 months this February 23rd, who left abandoning their belongings. The government does not accept that they are forcibly displaced, it says they are voluntarily displaced, do you leave your house and all you own for fun? Of course politicians do not know what the poverty and suffering of living in a camp for displaced people is like. What kind of government do we have which does not know or think about the life of Humanity?

On the 15th of February a dialogue was held in the community of Yabteclum, to address the issue of displacement from Ejido Puebla. The state government, through the Undersecretary for Religious Affairs, pledged to make restitution for all the damages caused by the Presbyterians brothers who caused this violence against the Catholic brothers, the government would compensate for the stolen belongings, the destroyed church, the burned houses. It appeared that the Catholics brothers would soon be able to return to their homes. But it seems to be, like in 2001, a return without justice or, at best, with only partial justice. For those who caused the displacement of 1997 and 2013 remain unpunished. And as we have already seen, problems repeatedly occur when there is impunity. For the beating of Juan Mendez and the two brother support bases, for whom they fabricated the crime of poisoning the water, for the kidnapping and beating of Father Manuel Pérez Gómez, we analyse that justice is being trampled by criminal groups, as is happening in the Acteal case.

Currently neither the President of Mexico nor the Government of the State of Chiapas think anything of justice for our 45 innocent brothers, who fell at the hands of the paramilitary groups. They have already been forgotten. But for the Organization of Las Abejas, we can never ever forget a drop of the Innocent Blood of our brothers when they were fasting and praying, and we will increasingly continue to denounce it as is our right and obligation to defend human rights. And also, we will not stop denouncing the injustices suffered by our displaced brothers of Colonia Puebla.



The Voice of the Civil Society Organization Las Abejas

For the Board:

Antonio Gutiérrez Pérez                                    Martín Pérez Pérez

Nicolás Arias Cruz                                             Simón Pedro López Pérez


Dorset Chiapas Solidarity


February 23, 2014

“Today we start our activities in Atenco again, we need the hands of everyone” – Trinidad Ramirez.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 3:07 pm

“Today we start our activities in Atenco again, we need the hands of everyone” – Trinidad Ramirez.

“Hoy reiniciamos nuestras actividades en Atenco,  necesitamos de las manos de todos” Trinidad Ramírez.“The message is simple. It is to say to our people, our people of Atenco, our people of Mexico who are in struggle, our brothers and sisters who defend a right with a reason, that we are here. That we have not gone away. That our struggle continues. That today we re-start our activities in Atenco and that to do so, as always, we need the hands of everyone. Today those people are here strengthening our struggle, those who have always given us their hand, those who have believed in us, those who do not see us as someone who preaches without basis, who asks for rights without foundation.”

Festival against the Airport Project in Texcoco,

held in the Plaza of San Salvador Atenco

on Sunday February 16 2014


1990: Dark nights of a Zapatista dawn

Filed under: Displacement, Frayba, Human rights, Indigenous — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 12:18 pm

1990: Dark nights of a Zapatista dawn

Mercedes Olivera

Hunger and extreme poverty are the place where all crises build up. In Chiapas, hunger for food and justice for marginalized and violated people has been present in all models of development. That is to say, it is historical.

25 años Frayba caminando con los PueblosBut the year 1990 was paradigmatic in this sense, because the structural crisis came together with the coffee crisis, with the bankruptcy of INMECAFE, the ingenuity of the privatisation of Pujiltic and the Forestry Service, the devaluation of the peso, cuts in government subsidies to campesino production, the support for crops for export (sorghum, peanuts, soy, safflower), and with other neoliberal policies and violence; these severely hit campesinos and indigenous people, anticipating the official intention of disappearing social property, which had been one of the most important achievements of the Mexican Revolution, from the national scene.

Indeed, the infamous couple of neoliberal politicians formed by President Salinas de Gortari and Governor Patrocinio González Garrido (1989-1993), spared no legal means, corruption or violence to break the social fabric of the communities, striking campesino opposition organisations along with making the ejido disappear, the same for both indigenous and non-indigenous campesinos, who then constituted more than 85% of the population of Chiapas. The crisis particularly hit the population which was surviving from the growing of coffee – in crisis since the previous year – and from the production of maize and beans mainly for local consumption.

Both officials, in an effort to “modernize” and supposedly to make agriculture “competitive”, favoured the privatization of land, and promoted business investment in livestock and agriculture, as well as the free grain market, thus greatly damaging local production which declined further due to the peso devaluation and credit constraints, making it impossible for farmers to acquire the fertilizers and insecticides which had been imposed on them by the government itself in previous decades.

The shortages and needs in a situation of extreme poverty, together with the job insecurity in the state, on the one hand resulted in a flow of migrants to tourist resorts and the United States, and on the other gave justification to the demands and needs of campesinos for land, credit , fair prices for their products and solutions to the land conflicts; these had been encouraged by the government itself through the officialist CNC acting as a paramilitary force in favour of cattle farmers and landowners, faced with the taking of land by the campesinos. Independent campesino organizations like COAO, CIOAC, OCEZ, CEMPA, ARIC Union of Unions, CEMPI and others led the land reclamations, the marches and protests that swept through the state demanding the regularisation of land, credit and fair prices for their products. The divisive actions of the government and the co-optation of leaders were not enough to silence the campesino struggles, so that military repression, disappearance, torture and the murder of many leaders became the weapon of governments in los Altos, la Selva, Venustiano Carranza, Pujiltic, San Felipe  and in all the places where the campesinos raised their voices.

Women were always present in the campesino defence, we remember especially the hunger strike of the compañeras from San Felipe Ecatepec in Mexico City to demand that Salinas respond to the repression, persecution and imprisonment of the leaders of CEMPI (National Coordination of Indigenous Peoples), their organization.

The government’s response was always the same: repression hidden behind dialogue and promises of justice. We women who, in the city and the country demanded security for our life and punishment for abusers were not heard.

Another sector which was much repressed and a victim of the misogynist hate of Patrocinio González was the homosexuals, hundreds of them were persecuted and many were disappeared or killed. The situation became red hot that year, campesinos, indigenous, women and all the marginalised people of Chiapas, with the accompaniment of Frayba and Don Samuel, continued to struggle for the right to live with dignity, without having any reason to ask for pardon, as Subcomandante Marcos said a few years later.

deLirios de memoria Enero: Agenda conmemorativa Frayba


February 22, 2014

The singing of a Tojolabal sister of light: María Roselia Jiménez

Filed under: Indigenous — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 5:38 pm

The singing of a Tojolabal sister of light: María Roselia Jiménez

Roselia_JiménezThe universes of María Roselia Jiménez are full of beetles in trance, healing chants of crickets and sisters of light, the fireflies. Roselia is a native of the place of the nine stars, the old Balún Canán, house of the Tojolabal people, seated in the shelter of Ixk’inib’, the hill whence the grandparents brought back apple, sugar cane, papaya, orange and limes, as abundant as if coming from a mystery, in the highlands of Chiapas.

Roselia finds herself in the singing. She began writing in her native language as a political exercise, nourished from the living root, the Tojolabal speakers closest to her heart.  I became a song writer at a late age, truly, because we began with a movement in 1993, a movement headed by Natalio Hernández and Jacinto Arias in Chiapas. A movement of indigenous writers; then we started to investigate and prepare using our alphabet, because even the researchers, for example the German Carlos Lenkesdorf, (1926-2010), who came to the state of Chiapas and lived along with the Tojolabal culture for thirty years, he was the only one who was writing in Tojolabal, and also other linguists who were not Tojolabales. And some catechists, and then there was a need for us to have a common alphabet to work on, so I took writing as a tool to write about the culture of our people, our ancestors, our grandparents, and my dad, who had just died at the age of 106, and had great knowledge of traditional music, and my mum who is 90 years old, she provides me with a lot, I think her thoughts should be put in writing so that they can nourish and be used again.

Their struggle is not only for the land, the transmission of the native language of the Tojolabal people is vanishing; it is a painful experience every day, crossed by discrimination and the domination of monolingualism in Spanish: We witness it, we are experiencing it, I am realising that many communities are ceasing to be speakers of the language, especially children and young people. The main speakers are the elderly, it is a very difficult situation to solve, because no action has been taken, there are no plans about how to feed the linguistic root. Partly discrimination has a lot to do with this, because young people say they are embarrassed to speak in Tojolabal and prefer a thousand times to speak in Spanish, and all of them in all the schools in the region read better in Spanish than in their own language.

The loss saddens her very much and she says without hesitation that the only time we had the opportunity to be respected and considered and were able to speak out was during the uprising of the Zapatista movement, because there was blood involved, because our own people died.

Roselia’s poetry is a task of linguistic rescue, of the revitalization of the language, for her this work goes beyond the organisation of events, there have to be long-term projects. As a cultural promoter, she has encouraged the formation of youth choirs in Las Margaritas, which has awoken an interest in creating their own groups; she has also reached out to children who she has managed to amaze through her oral narration. Her singing has became a ritual invocation through which the Tojolabal people can find a new home in their ancestral language: I have written to the mother earth, I have written to the sacred elements of our universe, corn, beans, the fruits of the earth. To the sacred musical instruments, the drum, the violin, the guitar. Our musical instruments have been abandoned, the drums are sacred music for the Tojolabal people but are no longer played; there are communities which have completely forgotten the drums, they are now only played by the elders; and already in some communities when they hold their ceremonies, have to ask other communities and pay for their drum players to come.

Roselia sings to women as they are born, welcomes and blesses them, and to women who have shared their lives with her. Although she acknowledges that the role of women in the communities is currently changing, she does not put aside the stories of the grandmothers, or those of the closest person to her, her mother, who still cries when she tells her story … when she did everything possible not to be thrown to the dogs, because she was the fourth female.

Being indigenous and being a woman, in an adverse context which does not always see them as masters of their own decisions, is hard. Forced marriage at an early age is part of a recent past which is gradually being transformed: I still remember that in the nineties, in the early nineties, (women) were still handed over and forced to join together with a man, without their consent at the very young age of thirteen or fifteen years old. That was the situation of most women. We find very sad stories of women, stories of forced marriage, not marriage for love, and they had their children, of course they are very loving towards their families, but in their story there is this sad memory…

Mobility of women outside their community is not generally well received, even though, for Roselia, the experience of migration, to Mexico City or the United States, provides other knowledge and other experiences which help women to realise that things can be different: Previously women used to say, we feel buried alive, our lives have no meaning, we would rather die. But I think there are women now who have left their communities, and are fighting back and I think they will slowly move forward and especially supporting their daughters … there are some women already who are transcending, for example, some are speakers,  masters of their own thinking, and now have some freedom to do and discover things.

Although the situation of violence which indigenous women experience, is for Roselia a harsh reality, there are also brave women who give hope – that’s how story is written – she tells me: That’s what it takes to be able to work, to be brave, and not to lose heart … (there are women who) also say I have my rights … and are very brave, things change for them.

By Lulu Barrera

Translated by Nélida Montes de Oca


February 19, 2014

EZLN Governs 250,000 Indigenous Mexicans

Filed under: Zapatista — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 7:41 pm


EZLN Governs 250,000 Indigenous Mexicans

Over the course of twenty years, the Zapatista insurgents have founded schools, hospitals, coffee exporting cooperatives, and even banks. Their model has also inspired the growth of community police forces, forest guards, and resistance movements around Mexico. However, they still have work to do in terms of justice and openness to the world.

Caracol of Morelia

Laura Castellanos, El Universal

Morelia Caracol, Chiapas – In the wooded heart of Chiapas, the highest authority in the Zapatista region (or Caracol) of Morelia meets to discover the motives of our visit and decide whether we can enter or not. Known as the Committee of Good Government (Junta de Buen Gobierno – JBG), the group is made up of three young women, two older women, and three men – none of whom receive a salary.

Dressed largely in traditional indigenous clothing, they all write down our names in their notebooks. Unlike the majority of images seen of the Zapatistas, the committee members do not have their faces covered. However, they are wary of our presence, and a serious-looking young woman of about seventeen years old asks us why we are here. Our answer is that we had previously witnessed the Zapatistas’ rupture of relations with the state and federal governments – and the subsequent creation of autonomous forms of government, justice, education and healthcare – and that we want to report on their progress.

According to a confidant close to the EZLN, there are around 250 thousand Tseltales, Tsotsiles, Tojolobales, Choles, Zoques, and Mames (indigenous Mexican communities) living under the system of self-management in the twenty-seven Autonomous Zapatista Rebel Municipalities (MAREZ). They represent twenty-one percent of the indigenous population of Chiapas, which stands at around 1,141,499, according to INEGI (the National Institute of Statistics and Geography).

On January 1st 1994, as NAFTA came into force, the EZLN rose up against the Mexican government, demanding land, food, work, healthcare, education, housing, justice, and equality for the nation’s indigenous population. Twenty years on, the movement is sharing its achievements with the world, such as four regional hospitals equipped with operating theatres – found on the border with Guatemala, in Los Altos, in Tzotz Choj and the Lacandona Jungle (where the hospital is specialised in reproductive and sexual health) – and dozens of municipal clinics. In addition, 1,100 midwives and 1,500 herbalists have been trained.

Central Figures

In the field of education, Bruno Baronnet – doctor of social sciences from the Colegio de México and the Sorbona University in Paris – recorded the presence of more than 500 primary and secondary schools “in resistance”, where 1,500 educators teach and from which 45,000 youngsters have graduated. Author of the book “Autonomy and Indigenous Education: The Zapatista Schools of the Lacandona Jungle in Chiapas”, Baronnet emphasises that these youngsters go on to serve their communities in terms of healthcare, education and communication, whether in Ejido authorities (community farms) or autonomous municipalities.

The Zapatistas have also created two banks – one of which is the Autonomous Bank of Zapatista Women (BANAMAZ) – along with dozens of ecological farming cooperatives, animal farms, community shops, brick factories, bakeries, and handicraft workshops. On top of this, they produce medicinal herbal products and export coffee to Italy, Germany, France, and Greece.

Francisco Bárcenas is the author of twenty books about indigenous communities, one of which is titled “Autonomy and Indigenous Rights in Mexico”. He believes that, since the EZLN uprising, indigenous communities have moved from being marginal figures to central figures in politics, saying “indigenous people have been responsible for the most important struggles in Mexico and Latin America in the last twenty years”.

However, he also points out that “the quality of life and respect for the rights of indigenous people is the same as it was twenty years ago, and in some cases worse, though this does not depend on the Zapatistas but on government policies”.

The Caracoles

The five Zapatista Caracoles (La Realidad, Morelia, Roberto Barrios, La Garrucha, and Oventic) were created in 2003. In the Oventic Caracol, one militant explained his own understanding of Zapatista autonomy as follows: “we don’t accept help from the bad government. All that we have comes from our own hard work and effort and our aim is to ensure the welfare of everyone”.

One example of this philosophy is that both Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas are treated in the autonomous health institutions. A civilian source told me that the small hospital in Oventic – with emergency services; surgeries; and gynaecological, ultrasound, dental, optical, and endoscopic services – has attended to “PRI supporters, AMLO sympathisers, and even soldiers”.

The creation of the Caracoles came in response to the legislative rejection of the San Andrés Accords by all Mexican political parties in 2001. These accords would have recognised constitutionally the right of indigenous communities to autonomy, justice and equality. The fruit of seven years of negotiations between the government, intellectuals and indigenous organisations, its rejection was incredibly disenchanting. However, the EZLN took matters into its own hands, creating the Caracoles as a representation of the right to autonomy that had been constitutionally denied to the indigenous communities.

The regions were formed from 27 autonomous municipalities, dispersed along a corridor that occupies a third of the state of Chiapas – including the border area with Guatemala, Tzotz Choj, the wooded area of Los Altos, and the Lacandona Jungle.

Each Caracol is independent and has its own rules, but each one decided that members of the JBGs would be elected by an assembly of citizens. These members deal with internal and external conflicts and coordinate cross-community cooperation. There is no hierarchy between them, no wages, and total transparency regarding their activities. Nonetheless, through their work in the cooperatives, communities usually give the representatives corn or subsidise their transport.

The JBGs are normally made up of twenty-four people, though this number depends on the Caracol – as does the length of time they serve, which can be around three years, with rotation every week or two. The way in which the JBGs coordinate with other community representatives also varies.

Mariana Mora, author of the book “Decolonisation of Politics: Zapatismo, Autonomy, and Indigenous Peoples” which will soon be published, affirms that the EZLN “transformed political work into an ethical one”. Examples of this transformation can be seen in the collective decision making, empowerment of youngsters and women, and lack of government support with the foundation of the Caracoles.

Marcos Arana, investigator from the Centre of Training in Ecology and Health for Country Workers (CCESC), says that it’s necessary for these communities to open up to the outside world in order to share their achievements as, up to this point, they “have been closed to doing so”.

The major challenge for the Caracoles is their system of justice. At the Zapatista School of August 2013, a militant pointed out that there was insufficient infrastructure and a lack of programmes for the reforming and retraining of murderers, rapists, and thieves. In a video, recorded for and shared with EZLN sympathisers, the Zapatista says: “Who is going to look after them? Who is going to feed them? Who is going to care for them when they’re sick? That’s why they sometimes escape”.

The Zapatista Effect

One of the pillars of the Zapatista struggle is Agreement 169 of the UN’s International Labour Organisation, signed by Mexico, in which collective indigenous rights are demanded, including: territory; consultation; free decisions; autonomy; and freedom from discrimination.

The EZLN had an impact on several autonomous indigenous processes after 1994. One of these was the growth of community police forces, starting in 1997 and now present in dozens of municipalities in Guerrero and Michoacán. Another was the creation of forest guards like those found in Cherán, Michoacán.

It also inspired communities, united in the National Network of Resistance to the High Costs of Electrical Energy, resisting payments to the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) in sixteen states. Equally, projects of ‘monetary resistance’ drew inspiration from the EZLN, such as those involved in creating the alternative ‘Tumin’ currency in Espinal, Veracruz.

Resistance has also spread as a result of the increasing encroachment into Mexican territory of multinational corporations. For example, popular struggles have fought to defend land and natural resources and fight against so-called ‘Mega-Projects’. The Mexican Movement of Dam Victims and in Defence of Rivers (MAPDER), the Network of Mining Victims, and other civil society groups have recorded 55 community conflicts against such projects.


Bárcenas adds to the list of struggles influenced by the Zapatistas, including those of “the Yaquis in defence of water; the Nahuas, Wixaritari, Mixtecs, and Zapotecs against mining companies; and the Zapotecs, Ikoots, and Kiliwas against wind farming companies”, among others.

An influence seen a lot recently in the news is that of civilian self-defence groups (or Autodefensas). When the EZLN rose up in 1994, they appealed to Article 39 of the Mexican Constitution, which says “The People have, at all times, the inalienable right to alter or modify their form of government”. This appeal helped to spread the idea of popular armament in defence of communities and rights and, since October 2011, Autodefensas have arisen in dozens of municipalities in Michoacán and indigenous municipalities of Guerrero – using Article 39 to justify their existence.

In the rest of the world, the Zapatista ideology gave fuel to the growing alter-globalisation movement against neoliberalism – a forerunner of the ‘Indignados’ movement in Europe and the Occupy movement in the USA.

The Struggle Continues with the Coming Generation

On the morning of December 21st 2012, prophetically marked by the Mayan Calendar as the end of time, 40,000 balaclava-wearing Zapatistas appeared in the municipal capitals of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Ocosingo, Altamirano, Las Margaritas, and Palenque. According to the press, two thirds of the protestors were youngsters. Marching through the streets in silence, the EZLN showed the next generation of Zapatistas off to the world.

On that day, Subcomandante Marcos wrote a communiqué, saying “Did you hear that? It’s the sound of your world collapsing. It’s the sound of ours resurging. The day that was day, was night. And night will be the day that will be the day”. With these comments, the EZLN reaffirmed its presence, reminding the world that it is still fighting to overturn the current world order and that, soon, it will succeed.

Translated and adapted by Oso Sabio from an article by Laura Castellanos, published in Spanish at  on Thursday 2nd January 2014



Mexico in 1994 and 2014: When Modernity and Reality Clash

Filed under: Zapatista — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 7:27 pm


Mexico in 1994 and 2014: When Modernity and Reality Clash

Rodrigo Aguilera

Editor/Economist (Latin America), Economist Intelligence Unit

Huff Post

2014-02-13-mexico12.jpgImage source: REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez

To many it might seem as distant memory but 20 years ago in January, a group of indigenous peasants known as the Zapatista Liberation Army (EZLN) led by a well-versed balaclava-wearing former philosophy teacher, rose up in arms in the southern state of Chiapas. In just a few hours, the rebels managed to capture numerous municipalities, including the city of San Cristobal de las Casas, before the military responded. A dialogue was opened between the rebels and the governments that dragged on for the better part of the next two years and ended in a partial victory for the EZLN: their enclaves would remain autonomous and free from federal government intervention. Yet despite this, Chiapas remains one of Mexico’s poorest states, where the country’s gut-wrenching inequalities and social deprivations are most evident.

Prosperity Always a Step Too Far

For many, the most shocking aspect of the EZLN’s uprising on January 1st 1994 is that it came at a time when most Mexicans were dreaming of modernity: NAFTA had been signed the year before and was set to go into force that very day. But rather than wake up with one foot in the first world, Mexicans entered the new year with the grim reality of underdevelopment flashed on the front page of every world newspaper. This was not a country that was now a free trade partner with two of the richest and most advanced economies in the world: it was still poor, it was still indigenous (a shocking fact to many who believed NAFTA blurred both borders as well as racial lines), and it was still grossly unjust. To make matters worse, the country would be hit one year later by the worst financial crisis in its history, and the “lost decade” of the 1980s would repeat itself.

It is hard to look at the current situation in the country and not feel that there are some worrying similarities with 1994. On one hand, we have a country that is looking increasingly confident in its position in the world after passing a series of landmark structural reforms in 2013. One of these, the liberalization of the energy sector, is possibly the biggest economic game-changer since NAFTA. Just a few weeks earlier, President Enrique Peña Nieto came off as one of Davos’s darlings, flaunting the country’s progress and his government’s success and making it very clear that Mexico is open for business. On the other hand, however, things may not be running so smoothly at home. Leftists continue to rile against the “betrayal” of the country’s energy sovereignty, while right-wingers deplore the new taxes that the fiscal reform has imposed. Consumers are still weary after a dismal 2013 and are deeply cynical of the positive benefits that the reforms will bring, particularly in the short-run (witness the plummeting of consumer confidence in January). For a country jaded by failed promises, long-term success always feels like a world away.

The New Hot Spot

If a direct parallel is to be made with the Chiapas uprising in 1994, then the current situation in Michoacán is probably as close as it can get. It was in Michoacán where former president Felipe Calderón (a Michoacano himself) first ordered a military intervention back in December 2006, just days after his inauguration, triggering the start of the drug war. But seven years later, hardly anything has changed. Much of the state remained at the mercy of the cartels, which established their own reign of terror of extortion, kidnapping and murder. It did not help that Michoacán had the misfortune of being home to one of the most violent of the lot: the Familia Michoacana (now splintered and rechristened as the Caballeros Templarios or Templar Knights), probably second only to the Zetas in terms of their brutality, and unique among Mexico’s cartels in their almost-religious zeal.

The rise of self-defence militas, known locally as the autodefensas, therefore comes as no surprise in a state that has long lost its patience with empty government promises to stem the violence. These autodefensas, initially a ragtag group of farmers fed up with the suffocating grip of the Templarios on practically all economic activity in the state, are now essentially a small army; one powerful enough to have driven the Templarios out of numerous municipalities over the past few months. The government response has been pathetic in its incompetence: first denial, then plans drawn up to disarm them, then most recently a reluctant truce and an agreement to provide them with logistical support in exchange for some degree of regulation (such as a list of members and registry of their weapons). Meanwhile, public support has sided massively in favour of the autodefensas for obvious reasons: they have done more in a few weeks to rid the state of a major cartel than the government has done in as many years and with infinitely more resources.

A Dangerous Precedent

Behind the façade of this recent agreement, however, lies a troublesome fact: the state has effectively given a near-blank check for a paramilitary group to undertake the duties that, in any country where the rule of law is observed, belongs exclusively to the public security apparatus. By doing this, it has essentially recognized that it is utterly incapable of stemming the massive corruption in the ranks of local and state police that prevent them from ensuring peace and safety to its citizens (“narcs with badges” is the common complaint). It has also laid bare the fact that military intervention alone has little lasting benefit. So far, the autodefensas have largely stuck to their professed intent of fighting the Templars and nothing more. But there are dangerous precedents elsewhere in Latin America of what can go wrong when armed militias are given too much freedom to operate.

What is most surprising about the autodefensas is that so far they have only appeared in Michoacán. How could the government respond if such groups suddenly materialize en masse in other drug-ridden states like Sinaloa, Tamaulipas or even the violent outskirts of Mexico City? And if these groups one day decide that the government, rather than the cartels, are the real enemy, could the spectre of 1994 come back to haunt? Here lies the contradiction between modernity and reality in Mexico. It is a country that is keen on gaining the status of an emerging market leader and that is increasingly presenting itself to the world as an example of economic success, business opportunities, and social progress. Yet it is also one that when seemingly on the brink of breaking out in the world stage — as it is now and as was the case back in 1994 — always gets a sharp reminder of just how far it still needs to go.



‘Caracoles’ – Schools of the ‘New Seeds’

Filed under: Zapatista — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 6:53 pm

‘Caracoles’ – Schools of the ‘New Seeds’

In Los Altos of Chiapas, the Lacandona Jungle, and the Tzotz Choj area, Zapatistas live alongside political adversaries who, unlike the rebels, accept government support. This has created division in communities and even economic migration from autonomous Zapatista communities. Nonetheless, the EZLN continues to forge a new generation of rebels.

Zapatista Autonomous Rebel Primary School Lucio Cabañas Barrientos
Behind the community shop in Oventic.

By Laura Castellanos, El Universal

OVENTIC, Chiapas– In a wooded spot of the autonomous municipality of Sakamch’en de los Pobres, in the Caracol of Oventic, the evening sun floods a shop where a Zapatista shopkeeper shows us the candles he sells to the area’s religious communities. The candles come in different sizes and colours, but for a peso ten of the smallest can be bought. Sweets are also sold (MX$1.50), along with buns (MX$1) and machetes (MX$55).

Oventic is one of the five Zapatista regions (or Caracoles), and is seen as the “Central Heart of the Zapatistas in front of the World”. Surprisingly, the Zapatista shopkeeper shares his name with us and has his face uncovered, showing himself to the camera.

A group of children enters the shop, chatting and giggling. They buy a sweet and run out when the Zapatista, called Alberto, starts speaking in Spanish, which he does with a certain difficulty. He tells us that, twenty years after the uprising, the demands of justice and indigenous equality have still not been met. “Our situation isn’t much better, but we are hoping that the lives of the coming generations will be”, he says.

Alberto was just beginning his 24-hour shift in the shop, from 5pm to 5pm the following day. Five workers take it in turns to do these shifts, sleeping in the shops to protect the products. He isn’t the owner of the business, and doesn’t receive a wage. He is a farmer and builder who was 25 years old when he joined “el sub Marcos” in the taking of San Cristóbal de las Casas twenty years ago.

The cooperative shop uses the profits obtained to buy products wholesale, which are then sold on at cost price to the shop’s clientele. They don’t discriminate, selling these products to Zapatistas, PRI supporters, or whoever else passes by. That way,everyone saves money and avoids the journey to the nearest city, San Cristóbal, which is an hour and a half away.

This collective project is one of dozens set up by the EZLN in each of its Caracoles ten years ago when it broke all relations with the federal and state governments (in response to continued aggression and the rejection of the San Andrés Accords). It is just one example of the sustainable and autonomous programmes of health, education, justice, and economy created in Zapatista communities.

El Universal went into three of the five Caracoles – Oventic, La Garrucha and Morelia – to take a snapshot of the lives of Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas in these communities.

Government Support

In La Garrucha, inside the Lacandona Jungle, the hectic routines of health and education workers are very apparent. They are having meetings to prepare for the arrival of those invited to the ‘Escuelitas Zapatistas’ – schools set up to show hundreds of Zapatista sympathisers what has been accomplished in the communities.

In the Caracol, there is constant movement around the Clínica Comandanta Ramona – a clinic currently being built in the community. Specialising in reproductive and sexual health, this two-storey clinic will be the most important building in the area.

At the same time, just outside the Caracol, PRI activists build homes with concrete blocks given to them by the state and federal governments. Oblivious to the Zapatista movement, a group of youths unload sheets of metal – the future roofs of the new houses – from a trailer parked up on a dirt track next to La Garrucha.

In some Caracoles, Zapatistas live alongside supporters of political parties who receive government support. El Universal asks if these youths are Zapatistas due to their proximity to an EZLN community. The tall PRI leader of the group responds sharply “We’re not Zapatistas – we receive official support”. They then ask us to move on.

The following day, in San Juan Chamula, we speak to another young PRI supporter who receives government benefits. He says that the Zapatistas are “missing out” since “the government belongs to all of us. It’s for the benefit of our children [because], as you see, there’s no work around here”.

The EZLN, however, denounces government benefits as an attempt to prevent Zapatista expansion and sap the life out of their movement. In Oventic, for example, a Zapatista taxi driver says that “the government is trying to divide our communities. It has even divided families!” His co-driver adds, “The bad government thinks we like receiving help. But we don’t, because we are resisting [their domination and exploitation]”.

Migration under Resistance

In the Tzotz Choj region, near the archaeological area of Toniná, lays the Caracol of Morelia. Here, government-built housing can be seen in the distance, with their concrete blocks and metal roofs. Zapatista housing, in contrast, is built with wooden planks and is much bigger.

In a Tzetzal house belonging to Zapatistas, it is dinnertime. The monolingual tzetzal mother watches over the coffee and boiled chayotes while her oldest daughter holds a baby. The son is twenty years old and has previously left Chiapas in search of work. On his last journey, he worked in Cancún for two months as a builder and carpenter. “I had to go”, he says. “It wasn’t because I wanted to go”. Other Zapatistas have felt obliged to do the same, leaving for Cancún, Mexico City, or the US border.

Since the global crisis of 2007, the EZLN has shown concern about economic emigration, trying to regulate the exit of migrants – who are asked to authorise their journeys first with a ‘Committee of Good Government’ – the highest authority in the Caracoles.

The young Zapatista says that “the authority supports you for three months” if you ask for permission but, if you spend more time away, you lose your membership of the organisation. Sometimes, he says, people go for “eight or ten months” and the Zapatista communities no longer want to support them when they return because “they have not followed their orders”.

“Money corrupts” and it is difficult to live in a city, he says. “Here, in a village, if you want firewood you can have it [but], in the city, you can’t live if there’s no work. You have to worry about paying the electricity and water bills while, back here, no-one’s on your back like that”.

He has also observed how government social programmes like “Casa Firme” (Safe House) have divided communities. He claims “there are many who say that, if you have a lot of kids in school, they will give you more money – sometimes six or seven thousand pesos a month [around twice the minimum wage]”.

When asked if his family would continue to support the Zapatista movement, he said that they would “because we aren’t doing anything wrong – just as Zapata said a long time ago. The fight to help the poor was Zapata’s struggle, and that continues today”.

Awaiting “Fruits”

Behind the shop in Oventic is a primary school, named after Mexican guerrilla leader Lucio Cabañas. Classes have finished, and all that remains is a blackboard with phrases and words on it: “Area: Social Sciences, Subject: Our State, EZLN, hierarchies, governmental, battle”. Due to the recent Escuelita Zapatista, the school has been closed for a few days.

Alberto has eight children ranging from one year old to fourteen years old. In the primary school of his youngest, eight ‘promoters’ of education – chosen by and trained within the community – teach a hundred infants. They live in the same place and receive food – but no wage.

When asked if the coming generations would continue to fight, Alberto assures us that they will – just “like us”. He says he tries “to be an example, as a father, that my children can follow. We will keep moving forward”. Today’s children, in his view, are seeds which will, at some undetermined and unknown point in the future, “bear fruits”.

Translated and adapted by Oso Sabio from an article by Laura Castellanos, published in Spanish at on Sunday 5th January 2014



February 18, 2014

Yearning for a Future Rooted In Traditional “Blessings of the Dream”

Filed under: Indigenous — Tags: — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 8:21 pm


Yearning for a Future Rooted In Traditional “Blessings of the Dream”

La Jornada: César Moheno

Milpa, Corn Field on Purhépecha Meseta, Michoacán
(Photo: Mexico Voices)

Many days ago I walked along the road of Don Joel Equihua in one of the most remote parts of the forest on the Purepecha Meseta [Highlands] in Michoacán. Despite the many intervening years, he recognized my step and, as if time didn’t exist, we sat on the path, resumed the conversation and began to recount the stories of the peoples. They might have happened yesterday or a hundred years ago. These stories serve to guide us in our world. So we are fortunate, he told me, that we never feel alone.

Waking early on a Wednesday morning in March of last year, he realized that the day would be warm, very suitable for planting. As he dressed, he remembered his father and his father’s father. Every year they had planted corn on the same land. He knew that his son would already be preparing the ox team, and his grandson would be pouring the fertilizer into the buckets. He remembered that it had always been so, and it would be so until the end of time. He knew his plot better than anyone, much better than his body, better than his hand, better even than his wife. All had changed over the years. Their lands and ways of relating to it would remain almost unchanged.

Seeing him walk, step by step, through the newly opened furrow, one thinks of a dance learned at the beginning of life. He knows not to exaggerate his hopes, but he can never prevent yearning for the future … that dream in which he sees himself walking in the middle of plants as tall as he. He knows that since October [harvest] the blessings of the land have been fulfilled, and he hopes that no late frost might occur. Following the team led by his son and his grandson sprinkling fertilizer into the furrow, he recalls that he had left the land fallow since late November. He sees himself and his neighbours ploughing all the plots with a narrower plough. Everything seems like the needles of a large fabric. As in the second ploughing of late December and early January, he hears once again the music of the cúrpites that is heard in all the fields as they are worked.

[Los cúrpites are unique in popular Purhépecha consciousness. Harbingers of spring, they are an awareness that is felt, impalpable. Los cúrpites appear to those who want them. They are pure, unrestrained, boundless fertility. There are no possible limits to their presence, no definitions, no borders.]

When he had sown more than half the plot, that small twinge began, like every year, between his stomach and his heart. He never knew how to pinpoint it, but it is always present until the plant’s “little needle” sprouted. He remembers the first time he felt it was when his grandfather explained, with a very serious face, that he should put many stones at the foot of his land to prevent the birds and livestock from entering the plot if they tried to approach. He knew that with the first rains in late May and early June the plants would have already grown two hands [about eight inches] and then it was time for weeding, pulling all the weeds contrary to the corn. All this he knew, and he knew that I knew it, but he continued in his head with the benefits that you had to give your corn field in order to shoo away this pang of emptiness that continued between the stomach and the heart.

Like any good farmer, after weeding he would have to hill up the corn. So many years ago, this work was tended to with his wife. He saw the muzzle made of cord that was put on the team of oxen to prevent them from satisfying their taste for eating the young corn, and he saw himself preparing the special plough for piling the earth against the seedlings so that, by remaining well repretada [hilled up], they could be protected from the wind and rain. This was the last benefit given to the planted corn. For the next three months, he would only watch it grow until the ears are full toward the end of October.

On the way back to town, perhaps because his son and grandson walk in silence, or because of the late-afternoon light that lengthens their shadows and fades their colours, or simply to give wings to his innermost desire, he recalled that during the months of November and December, the pueblo [village] would be deserted, and he wondered why he felt like singing when, in the afternoon, returning with the caravan of harvesters, all sweaty and dirty, but with their chundes [huge baskets], gunny sacks and wagons full of corn to fill the stalls of the trojes [traditional Purépecha structures used as barns].

The harvesters were men and women; young people, children and old folks. Everyone making jokes on the ride back to town, saying coarse things or simply smiling. Everyone was paid in kind: one chiquihuite of corn for each day worked. He smiles when he thinks that in this way those in the pueblo who have no land can have corn for themselves, since they are given preference. By this custom, at times the landless harvesters gather more corn than he himself.

Arriving at his house and while removing the dirt from his feet, he turns to ask, as he does every year upon returning from cultivating his plot, if this time he’ll be able to bear once again on his back the weight of a chunde full of fresh-picked corn. Following this unanswered question, as every year since he has worked the land, in that very instant, as always, hope returns.

From this intensity—from the incandescent energy radiated by these men and women of the rural world in the theatre of Michoacán’s natural world; from this universe as close to Lorca as to Faulkner, to Berger as to Rulfo—comes the storyline of the times, paced by the pulse of harvest and sowing, of fiesta and challenge, cycles of life among those who plant. So the campesinos of the Purepecha Meseta place their bet on what must be preserved in order to change. Of what must continue with the blessings of sleep in order to preserve the culture and way of life until the end of time. This is the bet that the entire Mexican society should urgently join today. It is an invitation to recover the blessings of the dream.

Translated by Jane Brundage



Amnesty International Memorandum to President Enrique Peña Nieto

Filed under: Human rights, Indigenous — Tags: — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 8:00 pm

Mexico: Human Rights Are Not a Priority Issue for Peña Nieto – AI

Proceso: Gloria Leticia Díaz

Mexico City – More than a year since Enrique Peña Nieto took office as President of the Republic, Amnesty International (AI) warned about the persistence of impunity as “standard” across all classes of crimes while “human rights abuses committed by the police and security forces, including forced disappearance, torture and arbitrary detention” have not ceased.

A document delivered to Peña Nieto during the visit of the Secretary General of the international organization, Salil Shetty, titled “Challenges for Mexico on the Subject of Human Rights: Memorandum From Amnesty International To President Enrique Peña Nieto,” calls on the President to make the defence of human rights, “the centrepiece of his efforts to improve the lives of the people” and to commit to effective ways of fighting “patterns of serious human rights violations and impunity.”

The Memorandum is a summary of observations and recommendations formulated by AI in the context of Salil Shetty’s first visit to Mexico after becoming AI’s Executive Secretary in 2010.

AI’s Executive Secretary met on Monday with Peña Nieto at Los Pinos, the official residence, an event attended by the Secretaries of Government Affairs [SEGOB], Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong; National Defence, Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda; Foreign Affairs, José Antonio Meade; and Attorney General of the Republic, Jesús Murillo Karam, among others.

Among its main points, the Memorandum delivered to Peña Nieto identifies attacks suffered by human rights defenders and journalists; the “discrimination and violence” against women, indigenous peoples and migrants, who have no way of obtaining redress.

“The justice system continues defrauding victims, whom it accuses of crimes, and society in general,” reproves the document, adding “and so far the government (of Peña Nieto) has not responded to this critical situation.”

For the international organization, everything indicates that “within the government (of Peña Nieto) human rights need not be a priority. Consequently, human rights have been relegated to mid-level administrative functions of the Secretariat of Government Affairs [SEGOB] and other institutions with limited authority and capability to drive substantial change.”

After the Memorandum recognizes that Mexicans suffer the consequences of the ‘war on drugs’ declared by the former President Felipe Calderón and that an “alarming situation of insecurity is experienced in many places,” AI goes on to recall that in March, the Mexican government is obligated to report which of the 176 Recommendations made by the Member States of the United Nations (UN) [in October 2013] have been dealt with.

In this regard, Mexico has been summoned to show domestically the same commitment on behalf of human rights that it shows at the international level, by adopting “those recommendations consistent with international human rights standards, followed by their prompt implementation with specific actions that ensure a lasting effect.”

The document insists that Peña Nieto set aside the rhetoric of commitments to international human rights: “He must make clear that public officials cannot ignore human rights or reduce them to a secondary issue,” and to demonstrate that impunity will not be tolerated by ensuring that “anyone directly or indirectly involved in human rights abuses will be brought to justice and that victims will have access to truth and reparation.”

Among issues of concern, Amnesty International lists:

  • Disconnect between constitutional human rights reform and the Mexican reality;
  • Overwhelming violence and lack of State response, which has led to the emergence of self-defence groups;
  • Lack of State response to the 26,000 disappearances inherited from the previous administration;
  • Deficiencies in the criminal justice system; and
  • Noncompliance with rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACDH) that ordered reform of the Code of Military justice.

Translation by Jane Brundage


AI recommendations on Indigenous People´s Rights

Twenty years after the emergence of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) in Chiapas, many Indigenous communities across the country continue to face discrimination, including limited access to justice, health, education, housing and land. The measures taken by the government so far do not adequately address many of the major structural obstacles to the enjoyment of these rights. The increasing number of resource extraction and economic development projects which directly impact Indigenous peoples’ lands pose a serious challenge to the government’s obligation to provide adequate impartial information and conduct transparent consultation processes to obtain the full, prior and informed consent of affected communities.

  • Ensure that Indigenous communities are fully consulted during the development and delivery of policies to strengthen their access to housing, healthcare, education, water and other essential services;
  • Guarantee that Indigenous communities are fully consulted on the development of resource exploitation projects and other matters affecting their use of their lands, territory, or resources in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent.
  • Ensure that resource extraction and economic development projects are in compliance with Mexico’s obligations under ILO Convention No. 169, the Indigenous and Tribal People’s Convention, and in accord with the principles set forth in in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


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