Posts Tagged ‘Oventik’

The First Global Festival for Anti-Capitalist Resistance and Rebellion

January 26, 2015

Published on Counterpunch, 26 January 2014

Organized by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), the first annual Festival Mundial de las Resistencias y Rebeldías contra el Capitalismo, or the Global Festival for Anti-Capitalist Resistance and Rebellion, was held in central and southern Mexico over a two-week period at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015. The event’s subtitle sums up its purpose well: praxWhile those from above destroy, those from below rebuild.” Taken as a whole, this new Festival recalled the different “intergalactic” meetings hosted by the EZLN in Chiapas in the 1990’s, such as the Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neo-Liberalism (1996). According to the statistics made known at the event’s close at CIDECI-Unitierra in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, the number of officially registered participants at the Festival came to over 3400 Mexicans, including 1300 individuals belonging to 20 indigenous ethnicities, and 500 foreigners from 49 countries—though the total number of those who attended the Grand Cultural Festival in Mexico City and the EZLN’s year-end festivities at the Oventik caracol at other points over the course of the Festival must be considered as amounting to several times this total. While the Festival generally focused on the numerous problematics faced by Mexico’s various indigenous peoples amidst the power of capital and State—due in no small part, indeed, to the central participation of the CNI in the event—the distressing case of the 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Normal School who were forcibly disappeared by police in Iguala, Guerrero, in late September also took central stage throughout the event.

The Anti-Capitalist Festival was inaugurated in Mexico state on 21 December, and the comparticiones (“sharings”) followed for two days afterward in two locations in central Mexico. While I was present for neither, I can here relate the reports made ex post facto at CIDECI regarding the goings-on at these spaces. The launch of the comparticiones took place simultaneously in San Francisco Xochicuautla in Mexico state and in Amilcingo, Morelos. San Francisco Xochicuautla has become an emblem of socio-ecological resistance in Mexico lately, as the local indigenous Ñatho peoples have opposed themselves to the imposed plan of building a new private highway on their territory—a project that implies vast deforestation, and which has to date seen State repression meted out on those in opposition—while, as two Nahua CNI delegates from Morelos explained to me as we waited together outside the Zapatista Good-Government Council’s office at Oventik on New Year’s Eve, the case of Amilcingo reflects the problems of domestic and foreign rackets, extractivism, and profit in Mexico, as these exigencies result in the plundering of territory (despojo) and fundamentally violate indigenous autonomy. In Amilcingo, in accordance with the vision set forth in the “Integral Morelos Plan” (PIM) that has been on the books for years, there has been an attempt to construct a natural gas pipeline that would supply a planned thermal power station, this despite the various dangers posed to the integrity of such structures within such a seismically and volcanically active area as Morelos. In Amilcingo, as in San Francisco Xochicuautla, indigenous Nahuas have mobilized to prevent the construction project from being carried through. At both sites on 22-23 December, representatives from indigenous ethnicities represented in the CNI and affiliates of the National and International Sixth—that is to say, those who subscribe to the EZLN’s Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle (2005)—made presentations about their struggles, philosophies, and commitments.

In San Francisco Xochicuautla, the Las Abejas Civil Society from the highlands of Chiapas discussed the December 1997 massacre which they suffered at the hands of State-supported paramilitaries—an attack on the community of Acteal in which 45 people, mostly women and children, were murdered, with this number coming ominously close to the number of students currently disappeared from the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa—and they described how, though the attack was an act of State terror that should demand international prosecution, the Supreme Court for Justice in the Nation (SCJN) has in recent years instead liberated scores of indigenous men who had been convicted for having participated in the massacre, such that now only 2 out of the 102 individuals who had originally been held for the crime remain incarcerated. Similarly, ejidatarios from San Sebastián Bachajón, Chiapas, reviewed their historical struggle against the state-government’s attempt at privatizing their lands for touristic ends, as at proposing a new highway between San Cristóbal and Palenque—again for purposes of “developing” the tourist sector—in addition to the repression they have faced at the hands of paramilitaries belonging to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, which in addition to dominating the country’s executive, also holds power now in Chiapas in the person of Governor Manuel Velasco Coello, “el Güero,” or “the White Guy”), which has resulted in the murders of two of their comrades in the past couple of years. The Voz del Amate, a group of former and current political prisoners who similarly subscribe to the Sixth Declaration, also shared its experiences in Xochicuautla.

For their part, the Yaquis from northwestern Mexico revindicated their just struggle to prevent the waters of the Yaqui River from being massively diverted in order to supply the burgeoning industries and populations of cities like Hermosillo, Sonora, and they declared themselves in resistance to the systematic violation of their traditional laws and customs, to which they are entitled under international law, particularly the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169. At the first of two days of the Festival’s conclusion at CIDECI, in fact, Mario Luna, a Yaqui political prisoner who has been imprisoned precisely for having led the struggle in defense of the Yaqui River, was allowed to communicate by phone with the assembled: expressing his gratitude to the EZLN and CNI and the indigenous revolutionaries of Xochicuautla and Cherán, Michoacán, he affirmed his people’s right to govern themselves differently, in spite the conscious efforts that have been made to suppress such alternatives; making mention of the horrific fire at the ABC Nursery in Hermosillo which took the lives of 49 children in 2009, Luna announced that, despite his unjust incarceration, he continues firm in his convictions. International adherents to the Sixth Declaration from Argentina denounced the ingression of transgenic crops, the expansion of open-pit mining, and the repressive socio-psychological forgetting of the foundational genocide that took place in that country, while comrades from the Anarchist Federation of France (FA) declared themselves opposed to the degradation of the rights of workers and the destruction of nature. An additional group from Italy that was present described its political work as “anti-fascist, anti-sexist, anti-capitalist,” and in favor of mutual aid and solidarity.

In Amilcingo, the padres de familia (parents) of the disappeared students opened the compartición, naming the principal responsible parties for the atrocities to which their sons have been subjected to be the federal and Guerrero-state governments, the narco-paramilitaries, the Army, and President Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN, from the PRI). Constructively, they proposed the physical occupation of major mass-media outlets in the country as a means of intensifying the calls that have resounded throughout the country these past three months to demand the return with life of their sons. From Tepoztlán, Morelos, CNI delegates discussed the case of another planned highway expansion designed in accordance with the PIM, for which they blame private capital and State together. Hailing from Oaxaca’s Tehuantepc Isthmus, national adherents to the Sixth Declaration spoke to the expropriation of communal property by international firms like Mareña Renewables that have sought to install scores of wind-energy towers in the area in recent years, and they announced a caravan for January 2015 to highlight the problematic of looting and systematic violations of free, prior, and informed consent by these corporations. Other national Sixth adherents who presented at Amilcingo include the Anarchist Black Cross; the environmental wing of #YoSoy132, which declared itself opposed to transgenic maize and the newly approved energy and rural reforms spearheaded by EPN; comrades from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, who denounced the ongoing femicides, militarization, and war-footing for which that city is known, as well as burgeoning oil-extraction and fracking schemes in the region; the “Lucio Cabañas” collective from the Xochimilco campus of the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) of Mexico City, which shared its experiences with police repression following the mobilizations they had undertaken for the disappeared 43 students in November; CACITA Oaxaca, which has for years worked in favor of a generalized adoption of ecologically balanced and appropriate technologies, including bicycle-operated machines and dry bathrooms; as well as an environmentalist grouping from Mexico City that resists attempts to privatize the Chapultepec forests in that city. Internationally, comrades from Ferguson arrived to share their experiences with police brutality and to highlight the effective racial segregation on hand in U.S. society, while Parisian rebels lamented the annihilation of anarchist social spaces which has resulted from processes of gentrification in the French capital; commemorated the life of 21-year old Rémi Fraisse, who was murdered in November during a police clearing of the ZAD (Zone a Défendre) encampment in southwestern France; and detailed the various actions they have taken in solidarity with Ayotzinapa and the political prisoner María Salgado. Representatives from the Norwegian Committee for Solidarity with Latin America similarly explained the concrete actions they had taken of late to protest the criminalization of social protest in Mexico and elsewhere.

Thus was the first part of the Festival completed, with the comparticiones lasting two days in San Francisco Xochicuautla and Amilcingo each. The next phase of the event—part two of five, we can say—took place in the Iztapalapa district of Mexico City, at the Lienzo Charro, a stable located near the Guelatao metro station, named for the birthplace in Oaxaca of the celebrated indigenous president of Mexico, Benito Juárez, who repelled the revanchist French invasion of 1862 that sought to install Maximilian von Habsburg as emperor and weakened the hegemony of the Catholic Church over Mexican society, in accordance with his Liberal principles—which are very far from the liberal (or neo-liberal) values known in the U.S.! Indeed, the “Grand Cultural Festival,” which started on 24 December and lasted three days, until the 26th, took place a short walk from the “Cabeza de Juárez,” a huge structure commemorating the Liberal Oaxacan president. Principally, the space at the Lienzo Charro was divided between a massive tianguis cultural—a cultural market of sorts, full of food vendors offering huaraches and tacos; anarchists and other radicals selling books, shirts, and prints; and intellectuals representing Praxis en América Latina, which takes after Marxist-humanism and the thought of Raya Dunayevskaya—and two stages for musical and theatrical performances: one named for Compañero Galeano, a Zapatista support-base (BAEZLN) who was killed in a paramilitary attack on the La Realidad caracol in May 2014, and the other for Compañero David Ruiz García, an Otomi indigenous man who died in a traffic accident after having attended the meeting held between the Zapatistas and the CNI that very same month to mourn Galeano. The Grand Cultural Festival also provided various activities for children, hosted chess and soccer tournaments, and opened space for various workshops addressing such questions as urban gardening, traditional Mexican medicine, eco-villages, prisoners’ rights, digital self-defense, and solidarity economics.

When I arrived to the Festival on the morning of the 24th, the activity on hand on the “Compañero Galeano” stage was a series of speeches made by padres de familia and even by students who had survived the police attack in Iguala of 26 September. At least one father and mother expressed the hope that their sons were in fact still alive, in this way rejecting the official account of the events of 26-27 September which was presented by Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam in early November: that is, that the 43 students had been expeditiously handed over by the Iguala municipal police to the “United Warriors” drug cartel, who subsequently murdered them and incinerated their remains. Omar García, a student-survivor who has become a spokesperson of sorts for the padres de familia, announced that, though the 43 students had been unarmed at the time of the police attack against them and the forcible disappearance which followed, many of the parents now wished that their sons had actually been carrying weapons that night with which to defend themselves. That morning of the 24th, which was marked by strong rains, the padres de familia were organizing their action for that night, Christmas Eve—known as Noche Buena (“The Good Night”) in Spanish—which was to involve a public protest outside the Los Pinos presidential residence. The action, which proceeded despite the rainstorm which raged that night, was meant to demonstrate to the government and Mexican society as a whole that, for the parents of the disappeared, there could be no Noche Buena. At the tianguis that day, I came across a print commemorating the life of Alexander Mora Venancio, 21 years old, the only one of the 43 whose remains have been positively identified by Argentinian forensics experts to date.

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Hasta siempre compañero”: a print commemorating Alexander Mora Venancio, 21 years of age, being the only student among the 43 disappeared whose remains have been positively identified since the police attack of 26 September 2014. The man depicted as holding Alexander’s image is Lucio Cabañas, a guerrillero from Guerrero state who founded the Party of the Poor in 1967.

After this sobering beginning, the Grand Festival Cultural proceeded principally to open space for a multitude of rebellious and revolutionary theater-artists, dancers, and musicians to share their art and vision with the masses of people who came to attend the event, even in spite of the heavy rains on the 24th. That morning, a Nahua man and his comrade provided a thorough public explanation of how the imagery of the Virgen de Guadalupe—originally depicted by a Nahua artist, in fact—preserves and expresses a myriad indigenous symbols, from the stars and flowers which adorn the Virgin’s dress to the waxing moon on which she stands. The duo showed that the iconography of the Virgen communicates the Nahua notion of Tonantzin, or “our beloved mother,” “la madre más primera” (“the first or most important mother”), and as such stands in for la Madre Tierra, Mother Earth. Notable musical artists from that first day of the Cultural Festival included the collaboration between Raíces Libertarias (“Libertarian Roots”) and Mentes Ácratas (“Anarchist Minds”), who melded stirring hip-hop beats with a profound anti-authoritarianism to simultaneously entertain and enrage; Inercia (“Inertia”), a group of young punk rockers who dedicated at least one song to the inertial manner with which humanity would seem to be careening toward eco-apocalypse; and a Chilean rapper who concluded one of his songs using the following lines, palpably referring to the contemporary eco-political situation identified by “Inercia”: “La tierra un infierno / Y la humanidad en cenizas” (“The Earth, an inferno / And humanity in ashes”).

The Grand Cultural Festival continued with musical celebrations on the 25th and 26th as well. The former day, reggae artist El Aaron sang the praises of cannabis while condemning the police (“Policias en helicopteros / Buscando marijuana”), in this way presenting an embodied rebellion against Zapatista rebelliousness: for it is known that all drugs are forbidden in EZLN communities. The all-women’s group Batallones Femininos (“Female Batallions”) provided raps having to do with feminist issues on the evening of the 25th—much as they would do live on Radio Insurgente during the night of the first day of the Festival’s closure at CIDECI just over a week later. Also the same evening from the “Galeano” stage, Sonora Skandalera provided everyone who so desired and could the opportunity to dance to the tune of their joyous music.

In contrast to the first two days, which were open to all, entrance to the third and final day of the Cultural Festival was limited to those who paid 70 pesos to attend a concert that doubled as a fundraiser for the CNI. A number of celebrated Mexican and Latin American groups performed this day, including El Sazón María, Mr. Blaky, Polka Madre, Antidoping, El Poder del Barrio, and others. Among the most impressive artists who performed on this final day was the Mexikan Sound System. Like El Aaron, Mexikan Sound System played a song explicitly dedicated to the legalization of marijuana, and much of the rest of the duo’s oeuvre would seem to be similarly politically radical, discussing State terror, migration, and the drug war. Another one of their songs, “No Te Olvido” (“I Will Not Forget You”), which is dedicated to “all those who have given their lives in the attempt to form a world in which many worlds fit,” features the following gripping refrain: “Pasarán los dias / Pasarán los meses / Pasarán mil anos / Pero no te olvido” (“Though days, months, and even a thousand years may pass, / I will not forget you”). Impressively for an artist who identifies consciously with the reggae musical tradition, Gabo Revuelta, the Mexikan Sound System’s MC, explicitly affirmed sexual diversity in personal comments between songs, both during this performance at Lienzo Charro, as at a subsequent one he did in collaboration with Panchito Rha, Sista Gaby, and Manik B (Al Sentido Kontrario) at El Paliacate Centro Cultural in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. In contrast, Lengualerta, another celebrated Mexican reggae artist who performed at the Grand Festival on the 26th—and in fact dedicated a song to Compañero Galeano, having modified the lyrics of the famous “Hasta Siempre Comandante” song to accommodate the murdered Zapatista—saw a brawl break out at the end of his concert with Al Sentido Kontrario in San Cristóbal a week later, owing to controversy surrounding the place of LGBTQ individuals in his vision for resistance against Babylon.

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The Mexikan Sound System at the Grand Cultural Festival in Mexico City, 26 December 2014.

I left the Cultural Festival early in the mid-afternoon of the 26th to attend a protest-action being organized to mark three months since the forcible disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa. The mobilization was massive: having started at the Ángel de la Independencia on Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma, it proceeded to entirely fill the Monumento a la Revolución (the Monument to the Mexican Revolution). One of the more telling banners I encountered read—as an inversion of René Descartes’ Cogito, ergo sum—that “I think, therefore they disappear me.” At the Monumento, padres de familia and student-survivors spoke to a rally of the assembled protestors; one father described how the parents of the disappeared had just been protesting outside the Germany embassy in Mexico City, given that new findings showed that the Iguala municipal police had used Heckler & Koch G-36 assault rifles in their attack on the students on 26 September, while another called on all Mexicans to boycott the upcoming 2015 elections—declaring that in Guerrero state, no elections would be held at all! Alongside the padres de familia, Omar García spoke again, as did another student from Ayotzinapa who had survived the police attack that horrible night, providing details of their ordeal: the caravan of three buses that had been appropriated by the students to raise funds for their participation in the upcoming 2 October protests in Mexico City, which happen every year to commemorate the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968 that took the lives of hundreds of student radicals; the sudden encirclement of the caravan as it passed through Iguala, followed by an entirely unprovoked barrage of gunfire from the police against the students; the escape of the students from the first two buses and their tribulations seeking refuge from police and military alike in a local medical clinic, and thereafter in the home of a compassionate elder who agreed to take them in, once the nurses in said clinic had washed their hands of them; and the fate of the third bus, which contained the 43 students who are currently disappeared. Adán Cortés Salas, the 21-year old international relations student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) who became an instant national and international celebrity after interrupting the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malaya Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi on 10 December to call on the pair not to forget Mexico and the disappeared students, also addressed the rally, leading an emotive count-down to 43.

The aura of this protest-action, particularly following the concluding interventions of these two youth, was fraught with trauma and horror; in fact, a number of individuals fainted over the course of the rally’s two hours, provoking calls for assistance from nurses and doctors alike. Leaving the action after hearing of so much negation and re-entering the usual flow of things in downtown Mexico City, I was reminded of an observation made by a survivor of the 2 October 1968 atrocity, as reproduced by Elena Poniatowska in La Noche de Tlatelolco (translated into English as Massacre in Mexico), that, once she had successfully maneuvered through the military barricades surrounding the Plaza de las Tres Culturas—the site of the mass-shooting, that is—and rejoined “normal” society, she felt that she had chanced upon an entirely foreign world, wherein people had little to no concept of what had just happened blocks away. Of course, I do not want to say that the masses of Mexicans one sees in the streets of Mexico City are uncaring or unaware of such shocking crimes as that which took place in Iguala. Still, I felt that I had passed from a place of profound rage, suffering, and dignity—la digna rabia—into the larger world, governed by the vast cruelties of the capitalist everyday.

The third part of the Anti-Capitalist Festival consisted of another compartición, this time held in Monclova, Campeche state, on the Yucatan Peninsula, from 28 to 29 December. There, as at other points during the Festival, 43 empty chairs were set up to commemorate the disappeared students from Ayotzinapa; the Yucatan being a tropical region, moreover, the comparticiones were interrupted on various occasions because of torrential rainfall. Those in attendance at Monclova were told of land-grabs in neighboring Quintana Roo state, where 26,000 hectares have been bought up in recent years by Mennonite families and German, Filipino, and Japanese corporations, leading to a mass-exodus of campesin@s from their formerly communal territories, in a continuation of processes which acutely worsened with the coming into law of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. Monclova itself is the site of a civil-resistance movement whose members refuse to pay for electrical energy provided by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), holding out the alternative of a popularly managed energy system that makes electricity available at affordable prices. In this sense, the movement in Monclova, which is comprised of 20 participating communities, echoes the resistance taken up by groupings like PUDEE (Peoples United in Defense of Electricity) in Chiapas, as elsewhere in the country. Beyond this, those participating at the compartición in Monclova heard from representatives from the “La 72” migrant-home in Tenosique, Tabasco, about the “exterminationist policies” overseen by the three levels of the Mexican government as regards the transit of Central American migrant workers through the country toward the USA—such that the Mexican side of the border is reportedly full of mass-graves containing the bodies of such economic (and environmental) refugees. In fact, the Central American mothers who have long organized periodic missions to seek out their children who have gone missing after passing through Mexico en route to el Norte estimate that a full 70,000 migrants have gone missing in the country in the past three decades.

The fourth part of the Festival took place during New Year’s Eve at the EZLN’s Oventik caracol—appropriately given the name “Resistance and Rebellion for Humanity”—in the highlands of Chiapas, not far from San Cristóbal. Indeed, the year-end’s event at the caracol can in some sense be considered the climax of the Festival. At Oventik, Zapatistas from the five regional caracoles—La Realidad, La Garrucha, Roberto Barrios, and Morelia, besides Oventik—were present en masse, resting under large tarps to shield themselves from the rain. The thousands of Mexican and international guests who arrived that day were invited to camp in tents, or join the BAEZLN under the tarps if need be—such that, by midnight on 31 December, the Oventik campus had become a veritable tent-city! The size of those gathered at the caracol that night was seemingly even larger than the previous year, when the EZLN celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its 1 January 1994 insurrection. While the legacy of those twenty years (and the thirty since the EZLN’s founding) provided much of the impetus for reflection at last year’s celebration at Oventik, as reflected in Comandanta Hortensia’s speech that night, the case of the disappeared students from Ayotzinapa was the focus this time, with Subcomandante Moisés himself—now the effective “chief” of the EZLN, following Subcomandante Marcos’s “suicide,” as announced in “Between Light and Shadow,” a discourse that was presented before the CNI in La Realidad last May—dedicating a substantial proportion of his comments to the struggles of the students and their parents. In fact, before Sup Moisés’ address, two padres de familia spoke publicly before the multitude assembled at Oventik—one being a mother who believed that her son had in fact been murdered, and the other a father whom I had seen speak both at the Grand Cultural Festival, as at the protest-action on 26 December. The most moving moment of the night—and perhaps of the Anti-Capitalist Festival as a whole—came when Sup Moisés interrupted his discourse to embrace each and every family-member of the disappeared who was standing alongside him on stage. Subsequently, the BAEZLN present followed suit, providing hugs “of tenderness, respect, and admiration.”

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Zapatistas embracing relatives of the 43 disappeared students on New Year’s Eve at the Oventik caracol, following the example of Subcomandante Moisés (pictured at the microphone).

Much like the previous year, live music was performed from the Oventik stage before and after the “political act” which saw Sup Moisés and the padres de familia make their public addresses. This music included various cumbias that brought the BAEZLN and their sympathizers alike to fill the basketball court adjoining the central stage and dance to welcome the change in year. In fact, both the cumbias and dancing continued on through the night until shortly after dawn. In contrast to the case at year’s end 2013, the weather cooperated through most of the night this time, with the rains coming only around 3 or 4am. The next morning, for this reason, Oventik was a veritable mudscape. But that, taken together with the heavy fog which accompanied the mud (lodo, in Spanish, or che, in Tsotsil), did not stop the BAEZLN from continuing with their planned volleyball and basketball tournaments on the morning of 1 January.

The fifth and final act of the Festival took place at CIDECI-Unitierra in San Cristóbal de Las Casas from 2 to 3 January, as has been mentioned. The CIDECI-Unitierra has had a long history of supporting the Zapatistas and various other autonomist-indigenous political movements. (CIDECI itself stands for the Center for Integral Indigenous Education and Training.) Every Thursday evening, indeed, the space’s director, Dr. Raymundo Sánchez, hosts an international seminar for reflection and analysis of current events, considering local, national, and global matters. The second day of the conclusion at CIDECI, then, resembled a typical night at the Unitierra seminars, only taken to a much higher level—for, while the first day of the Festival’s conclusion at CIDECI summarized the three comparticiones that had taken place during the previous two weeks, the second was dedicated to consideration of popular proposals from below and to the left for confronting the hegemony of capital and State. This remarkable exercise in deliberative, participatory democracy was open to any and all registered participants, being adherents to the EZLN’s Sixth Declaration, who wished to share their views.

Though essentially all the proposals made by participants at the closure of the Festival shared a generally radical political analysis, the specific details varied in each case, and though I cannot review all the recommendations that were made, I will mention some of the most illuminating ones. One of the first speakers noted that capitalism is destroying the world, and it was for this reason that she had responded to the calls by the CNI and EZLN to attend the Festival: she posed the fundamental question, “How it is that we will destroy capitalism?” Another participant suggested that we work to report on the situation in Mexico and wherever else the plundering of land and resources is a pressing issue; arguing that we must struggle in the interests of future generations, she designated the State as enemy. A number of attendees separately called for a return to the traditional cultural and political forms of indigenous societies as a means of rejecting capital. Furthermore, a representative from a Mexican collective focusing on disability issues shared his view that disability per se is not a problem, as it is considered in the medical model, but rather that the hardships faced by people with disabilities have to do with social exclusion. Affirming the proposal that has been advanced by some of the padres de familia of the disappeared students, one individual person called on all Mexicans to boycott electoral politics, while another called for a new constituent power to intervene and form a new constitution, toward the end of instituting a “transitional government” in 2018—the very year, incidentally, in which the current Chiapas governor, Manuel Velasco Coello (el Güero), hopes to run and be elected president as the PRI candidate.1 A male in the crowd advocated that we all decolonize our minds specifically by identifying patriarchy as a principal enemy of the Sixth National and International, and engage in direct action against violence against women, which in Mexico is taking on epidemic proportions. Advocating the transcendence of national borders, a representative from CACITA Oaxaca announced a Caravana Mesoamericana para el Buen Vivir (a “Mesoamerican Caravan for Living Well”) that will launch its journey in April of this year—in many ways echoing the mission of the Caravana Climática por América Latina (“the Climate Caravan through Latin America”), which began its action-tour through Mesoamerica and Central and South America in northern Mexico a year ago, only to face repression at the hands of the “revolutionary socialist” government of Rafael Correa days before it had planned to arrive at the Twentieth Conference of Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), with this destination having been the original end-goal sought by the caravaner@s.

Omar García then addressed those assembled at CIDECI, thanking the CNI and EZLN for their support and presenting the proposal that Mexican society be transformed through the participation of everyone from below. An indigenous Purépecha male followed by expressing his rejection of industrial agriculture, while a representative from UAM Xochimilco mentioned the new “Cooperative of 26 September” that will provide space for exchanging seeds. A university instructor openly advocated a general strike to demand the presentation with life of the 43 disappeared students, and another individual called for boycotts against those corporations that are engaged in the looting of the lands and resources of the peoples represented in the CNI. One young activist presented an especially compelling vision for dual power and transition, outlining a vision whereby the national territory is to be divided into a multiplicity of local assemblies that are to meet twice a month and thereafter coordinate through bimonthly regional assemblies and, less periodically, national ones; he identified the minimum objectives of such a strategy to be the reversal of the plundering of lands, the liberation of all political prisoners, and the cessation of femicides, with the ultimate end sought by such action being the very abolition of capital. Affirming vengeance for those massacred by the State, he provoked a general cry from the assembled: “Los compadres masacrados / Serán vengados / Y, ¿quién lo hará? / ¡El pueblo organizado!” (“Our massacred comrades / Will be avenged / But by whom? / By the people, organized.”) Lastly, a Colombian male called on the Sixth National and International to adopt veganism, considering the vast waste of resources implicated in animal agriculture at present, and especially in light of the inescapable suffering of non-human animals who are instrumentalized for the end of human consumption. Taking a page from the more traditionalist political accounts heard earlier, he argued that pre-Hispanic societies consumed far fewer animal products than Latin Americans do now, thanks to the imposition of Spanish dietary preferences through colonial processes.

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Banner of the Anti-Capitalist Festival at CIDECI, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, 3 January 2015.

In closing, the CNI agreed to organize further meetings between the padres de famila and its constituent communities, while the Sixth International pledged to assist in the organization of an international caravan for the parents of the disappeared. The general conclusion was that we must construct social relations outside of capital: autonomy in the countryside, as in the cities, and in the spheres of education, health, communication, politics, and nutrition. Addressing those who might have been disappointed by this conclusion, those assembled at CIDECI declared that “it is not a question of coming up with a grand program for national, global, and intergalactic struggle; […] there are no magical formulas that can change the world. The struggle cannot be reduced to one path, as we ourselves are not just one [but many].” In the official document produced in the final session at CIDECI, those present note rightly that “[i]t will only be through our rebellion and resistance that the death of capital will be born, and a new world brought to life for all.”

1José Gil Olmos e Isaín Mandujano, “Al estilo Peña Nieto, pero con madre vicegobernadora.” Proceso no. 1992 (4 January 2015), 16-19.

On the EZLN’s Escuelita and Neo-Zapatista Autonomy

January 23, 2014

Originally published on Counterpunch, 23 January 2014

As many readers of Counterpunch are likely aware, the Chiapas-based Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) has recently launched an open initiative called the Escuelita (“little school”), a four or five-day program by means of which outsiders, both Mexican and international, are invited to reside with Zapatistas to learn more about the EZLN’s politics and the daily lives of the organization’s members, as well as to promote cultural exchange. The openness reflected in the launch of the Escuelita stands in contrast to the relative aloofness of the organization in recent years—with the EZLN’s command observing a period of silence for more than a year after Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos’ plaintive condemnation of the Israeli military assault on Gaza during winter 2008-9. Of course, at the end of the thirteenth Baktun and the beginning of the fourteenth (21 December 2012), up to fifty thousand Zapatistas silently marched through five of the municipalities the EZLN had liberated in its 1 January 1994 insurrection—thus overthrowing their prior reclusiveness while dialectically preserving their verbal quietude. Indeed, in this sense the Escuelita’s founding recalls the early years that followed the EZLN’s public appearance with its uprising, when the organization hosted Intercontinental Encounters for Humanity and against Neo-Liberalism—and even Intergalactic ones—that brought together radical thinkers and dissidents from Mexico and the world over to publicly strategize on ways to bring down capital and the State. I was greatly pleased, then, when in response to a form I had sent the EZLN some time ago, I received a letter signed by Marcos and fellow Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés inviting me to the second round of the First Level of the Zapatista Escuelita, to be held in late December 2013.

Registration for the Escuelita took place at CIDECI, or the Indigenous Center for Comprehensive Training, which has its campus on the outskirts of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, the largest highland city in the state of Chiapas. Also known as Unitierra (Earth University), CIDECI hosts weekly international seminars on anti-systemic movements, in addition to monthly seminars dedicated to contemplation and discussion of the thought of Immanuel Wallerstein. Much of the art adorning the buildings on the CIDECI campus depicts Zapatistas, and the Center has hosted Sups Marcos and Moisés to speak on several occasions, so it is natural that it would be chosen as site of registration for the Escuelita. Arriving with my friend Reyna, we entered the short registration line established for foreigners—the lines for those hailing from Mexico City and the states of Mexico being much longer than this one—presented our documents to the receiving team, paid the 380-peso fee (about $30US), and then were told we would be placed in a community belonging to the La Realidad (“Reality”) region located deep in the Lacandon Jungle. I was pleased to hear this, as La Realidad is my favorite of the five Zapatista caracoles (“snails”), or administrative centers located in the zones with Zapatista presence. Reyna and I then got in line to board the various vehicles the EZLN had organized outside CIDECI to transport us to our respective caracoles.

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Map of the 5 Zapatista caracoles and their corresponding regions. From Niels Barmeyer, Developing Zapatista Autonomy (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2009), xvii.

When the caravan from CIDECI entered the jungle and arrived at La Realidad some ten hours after having departed, we were asked to remain in the vehicles outside the caracol compound for just a few more minutes. Thus were we faced with a white banner draped above the iron gate that served as entrance commemorating 20 years since the Zapatista uprising in general and the caída (“fall”) of Subcomandante Insurgente Pedro during the fighting in Las Margaritas in particular. Once the Zapatistas had finished preparing themselves, the alumn@s were invited to file through to enter the caracol, just as skilled masked players struck joyful tunes on the marimba from the stage above where the students came to join the assembled Zapatistas for a brief orientation to the Escuelita. After declaring our support to the cause of revolution—responding with ¡Viva! to the mention of various persons and groups, such as the EZLN, Subcomandante Marcos, Comandanta Ramona, the Escuelita, the peoples of the world, the world’s women, and so on.—we were assigned to our guardian@s individually and then sent to sleep as segregated by sex while the marimba continued to play into the night. My guardián was a young Tojolabal male BAEZLN (base de apoyo, or “support base”) named Héctor—his name here is a pseudonym for reasons of clandestinity.

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Banner in La Realidad commemorating Sup Pedro, who died in the insurrection on 1 January 1994.

The next morning, 25 December, the Escuelita at La Realidad officially commenced with a collective presentation made by Zapatista teachers of the region regarding different aspects of life and politics in the BAEZLN communities pertaining to this caracol. In basic terms, these teachers spoke to the EZLN’s autonomous health and banking systems—with the former comprised of health promoters, male and female, who are trained in the three fields of acute care, obstetrics, and herbalism, and the latter comprised of lending institutions (BANPAZ and BANAMAS) which offer loans for productive projects at 2-3% interest and provide economic support for Zapatista families struck by illness—as well as their democratic system of governance, which in parallel to the official system is made up of three tiers: the local popular assemblies at the communal level, the autonomous Zapatista rebel municipalities (MAREZ) at the intermediary level, and finally the Good-Government Councils (Juntas de Buen Gobierno, or JBGs), which coordinate matters at the regional level. Of the three, the JBGs represent the highest authority for the Zapatistas, yet legal proposals can be raised at the local assembly level, and the BAEZLN representatives voted into the JBGs through assemblies are fully recallable. The autonomous authorities, moreover, receive no wage or salary for their work but are instead supported with food from their base communities. While the Zapatistas’ methods in civic administration thus seem to bear a great deal of similarity to the positive policy proposals made in Euro-U.S. settings by Karl Marx and some anarchists alike, they resemble and develop the political customs of many indigenous peoples of the Americas as well. Indeed, in philosophical terms in this sense, one of the teachers expressed the idea—as recognized also by G.W.F. Hegel and others—that the perpetuation of oppressive social conditions drives forward the dialectic: he spoke specifically of the memory of the Zapatistas’ ancestors enslaved by the feudalism imposed by the colonia as propelling the strength of the movement of BAEZLN’toward autonomy. At this time, one of the teachers noted that the EZLN’s goal at present is two-fold: one, to “liberate the people of Mexico,” and secondly to uphold and extend the autonomy of the organization and its constituent members.

The situation of women in the EZLN was first examined an hour and a half into the teachers’ presentation, when various female representatives spoke to the issue. Like Friedrich Engels on private property, the introductory speaker argued that the patriarchal enslavement of indigenous women began with Spanish colonialism, whereas previously the worth of women had supposedly been fully recognized, as based on women’s ability to reproduce the human race. This speaker noted both males and females to have been oppressed by the patrones imposed by European invasion and genocide, and she welcomed the vast changes provided by the EZLN in terms of women’s ability to participate in socio-political matters, whether as health promoters, communal radio progammers, JBG authorities, or milicianas in the guerrilla movement. Several of the speakers on women’s issues stressed that the struggle to increase women’s participation in the EZLN has not been an easy one, due both to resistance from men as well as the internalization of self-deprecating values on the part of many indigenous women themselves. Another issue is that females in this context tend to be less literate and knowledgeable of Spanish than males, such that engaging in administrative work using Spanish as the common language among BAEZLN from different ethno-linguistic groups proves challenging. One teacher noted that Zapatista women face exploitation on three fronts—for being female, indigenous, and poor—and based on her and other compañeras’ words, it seems they largely bear responsibility for domestic affairs and child-rearing within the dominant sexual division of labor which prevails in Zapatista communities. Speakers in this section also analyzed the Revolutionary Law on Women, passed by the EZLN before its January 1994 insurrection, by enumerating its stipulations—such as the right to freely determine the total number of children to bear, to reject imposed marriage and freely choose partners, to resist domestic violence, and so on—and afterward simply stating that all the conditions of the Law are being observed in Zapatista settings. However, this claim came too quickly, as we will shall see.

In the third part of the initial presentation in La Realidad, the teachers addressed some of the challenges the EZLN has faced in the development of its autonomy in the 20 years since its armed revolt. They claim now that their form of resistance is the word, both spoken and written: while in January 1994 their resistance took on armed form, it has now become peaceful and civic—with the resort to arms opening the subsequent possibility for the Zapatistas’ impressive development of autonomy. Despite this difference between January 1994 and everything after, the Zapatista movement remains under siege, with the “bad government” (el mal gobierno) working now to divide indigenous communities among themselves by encouraging participation in official political parties and recourse to state-provided services—a strategy it adopted in direct response to the insurrection, yet one that was subordinated in the years of peak intensity (the years following 1994) to the overtly repressive resort to direct militarization and the fomenting of paramilitary groups designed to terrorize BAEZLN and Zapatista sympathizers in eastern Chiapas. However, forced displacement of BAEZLN still takes place—consider the cases of San Marcos Avilés in 2010 and Comandante Abel more recently. One speaker mentioned the Lacandon indigenous people who live quite close to La Realidad as an example the Zapatistas do not wish to emulate—for the Lacandones have been made dependent on the State after having been stripped of their rights to fell trees and cultivate agriculture for residing in the region which has been designated as belonging to the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve (RIBMA). Defining the principal problems which the EZLN confronts at the moment, one representative noted the issues of the occupation of lands “recovered” by the Zapatistas in 1994 by indigenous persons belonging to rival political groups, forced displacement, paramilitary activity, and the arbitrary incarceration of BAEZLN. This speaker connecting the experience of these problems with the “peaceful and civil” Zapatista approach, which is to engage in public denunciation through the JBGs.

To close this introductory presentation, the teachers accepted written questions from the audience of alumn@s. In response to a question that would continually be raised over the course of the Escuelita, one teacher said that the Zapatistas “respect” the ways of gays, but no more specifics were given on this. As for the question as to how to reproduce the neo-Zapatista model in other contexts—particularly in cities, where living conditions are clearly rather different—the teachers said that that prospect could be helped along by means of the promotion of an autonomous sense of politics, however that be translated into reality. Intruigingly fielding a question about Zapatismo and ecology, one of the teachers noted that the EZLN seeks to carry through the word of the people in terms of how to manage natural resources, such that the question of whether nature be ravaged or left alone is secondary to adherence to the vox populi—an interesting permutation of “green” anarcho-syndicalism or ecological self-management. Another question-and-answer had a maestro clarifying that BAEZLN practice a “high level” of abstention in official elections at the three levels (municipal, state, and federal). Perhaps most controversially of all, some of the teachers shared the general neo-Zapatista skepticism toward family planning methods, which are apparently considered in the main to be measures imposed from above to limit indigenous population growth. Along these lines, one maestra clarified that abortion is not performed at Zapatista autonomous clinics, considering it a practice of infanticide that should be suppressed if there are to be numerically more zapatistas. Separately, though relatedly, a different teacher declared that the Zapatista midwives are not trained by the Public Health Ministry.

Following the morning presentation, the alumn@s and their guardian@s traveled by group to the communities in which they would experience the Escuelita. Transport of these 500 people (about 250 students and their chaperones) took place by means of large sand-trucks—traveling in one of these during the journey out to community and back truly reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of the anarchist troop-transport vehicles used in the Spanish Revolution of the 1930’s. Upon arrival to the — community affiliated with the — MAREZ pertaining to La Realidad to which the group in which I was included had been sent, the first session of the Escuelita began for me, as Héctor and I were welcomed into the abode of the — family. (Thus, like many others, Héctor and I experienced the Escuelita with one family, though some alumn@s and guardian@s apparently experienced a more collective setting, such as took place in the actual space of an autonomous school.) The first text to be examined was Autonomous Government I, which like the remaining three volumes of written materials provided for alumn@s and guardian@s to study is comprised of varied testimonies from BAEZLN with different charges who belong to MAREZ affiliated with each of the five caracol regions.

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A scene from the — community, affiliated with the La Realidad caracol

This first volume tells its readers that the EZLN base is comprised of a total of 38 MAREZ, with 4 belonging to La Realidad, and it notes that this caracol was the successor to the first Aguascalientes established in 1994 by the EZLN in the nearby community of Guadalupe Tepeyac—Aguascalientes referring to the Mexican state in which the 1917 Constitution was drafted—which was in turn occupied by the Mexican Army in 1995, its residents displaced for six years until 2001. In 1995, the EZLN responded by founding five more Aguascalientes, administrative centers which would in 2003 become the caracoles and the seats of the JBGs. In terms of La Realidad, the region itself has an autonomous Zapatista hospital in San José del Rio—with a large state-based one recently installed in Guadalupe Tepeyac, and a government clinic (physically protected by barbed wire) constructed within the last three years just a couple minutes’ walk from the caracol itself. The text on autonomous governance says that the San José hospital has recently acquired ultrasound equipment for obstetrical purposes, but it remains unclear to me to what extent there exist rehab or harm-reduction programs for Zapatistas in public health terms—consumption of alcohol and all other drugs is forbidden for BAEZLN. Moreover, in sharing the names of all the Zapatista MAREZ which exist, the volume speaks to the role of revolutionary memory in the EZLN’s program: municipalities are named for Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, San Manuel (Manuel being the founder of the EZLN), Ricardo Flores Magón (a renowned Oaxacan anarchist involved in the Mexican Revolution), Comandanta Ramona, Lucio Cabanas (a left-wing guerrillero who formed the Party of the Poor in Guerrero in the 1970’s), La Paz, La Dignidad, 17 November (date of the arrival of the urban-based Maoists to the selva Lacandona in 1983), Trabajo (“Work”), and Rubén Jaramillo (a campesino insurrectionary who sought to carry on Zapata’s vision until his 1962 murder by the State), to give just a few examples. Politically, volume I lists the seven principles of mandar obedeciendo (“to command by obeying”) which is to govern the action of representatives of the JBGs and all other civilian Zapatista institutions:

“To serve and not to serve oneself”; “to represent and not to supplant [or usurp]”; “to construct and not to destroy”; “to obey and not to command”; “to propose and not to impose”; “to convince and not to conquer”; “to go down instead of up.”

Beyond this, the interviews in the text discuss problems with rival organizations in the region corresponding to Morelia such as ORCAO and OPPDIC, and it provides some history showing the necessity of direct JBG oversight of projects proposed by internationals and NGOs to be implemented in Zapatista communities. Moreover, with regard to the northern region affiliated with the Roberto Barrios caracol, the text specifies that economic donations from visitors often go toward expanding cattle-herds, in accordance with the wishes of base communities.

The second volume, Autonomous Government II, which Héctor, my teacher, and I examined on the Escuelita’s second day, gives details about the specific autonomous social projects implemented by the EZLN, especially health and education. Interviews with educational promoters specify the types of classes on offer at the ESRAZ (Escuela Secundaria Rebelde Autónoma Zapatista, or the Zapatista Rebellious Autonomous High School): languages (Spanish and indigenous), history, math, “life and environment,” and integration (on the EZLN’s 13 demands). In the La Realidad region at least, autonomous education programs are designed in consultation with students’ parents, who are asked what it is that should be preserved from standard public education approaches, and what should be added. With regard to autonomous health, the text specifies that EZLN health promoters have composed a list of 47 points for preventative health, that medical doctors assist in solidarity with health projects, and that the San José del Rio hospital had recently acquired an autoclave thanks to revenue from the 10% tax the JBG collects on all construction projects undertaken by community, corporation, or State in its territory. In the northern zone of Chiapas, vaccines arrive every three months for Zapatista children, and the organization SADEC(Salud y Desarrollo Comunitario, or Communal Health and Development) assists with their administration; my teacher assured me that vaccines are regularly given to BAEZLN children in the zone of La Realidad as well. Furthermore, the second volume mentions various difficulties and successes experienced by the EZLN, both internally and externally: for example, the forced displacement prosecuted by federal forces of the Zapatista San Manuel community located in Montes Azules and the scarcity of land limiting the scope of collective projects to be taken in the highlands region corresponding to the Oventik caracol, or the exportation of Zapatista coffee to Italy, Greece, France, and Germany.

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Zapatista school in the — community with anarcho-syndicalist colors (rojinegro)

This same day, my guardián, teacher, and I decided to begin study of volume three, Autonomous Resistance, as well. This collection of interviews provides great insight into neo-Zapatista culture and resistance, as well as relationships between BAEZLN and members of other organizations, particularly officialist grupos de choque (“shock groups”). Providing an interesting perspective on Zapatista child-rearing practices, one representative explained the various alternative cultural activities Zapatista communities offer to their youth so that they not fall into “ideologies of the government”: sports, poetry contests, and dance. Also in terms of cultural norms, another interviewed spokesperson notes the celebration of religious holidays to be more popular outside the ranks of the EZLN than inside it—a reflection of the organization’s secular orientation. A socio-cultural milestone for the EZLN, the first and only appearance of the neo-Zapatista air force is also described in this volume: to protest the military’s occupation in 1999 of Amador Hernández, a La Realidad MAREZ, local BAEZLN organized a mass-production of paper airplanes carrying subversive messages which were ceremoniously launched into the barracks of the soldiers upholding the occupation. The resistance to this occupation also took on the form of sit-ins, dance, and exhortative speech.

In addition, the third volume examines Zapatista diplomacy and relations with other organizations. The construction of water-irrigation projects with which many internationals involved themselves—as is described in Ramor Ryan’s Zapatista Spring: Anatomy of a Rebel Water Project (2011)is mentioned as a sign of international cooperation and solidarity, while in contrast relations with local communities affiliated with the PRI (the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party) and ORCAO/OPPDIC (comprised in part by ex-BAEZLN) are shown to continue to be tense and problematic. Indeed, it seems there is a true political competition going on between BAEZLN on the one hand and PRI militants on the other, with a number of respondents from the Morelia and La Garrucha regions expressing faith and pride that BAEZLN in many cases live better than their PRI counterparts, thanks to the organization’s reportedly consistent besting of the official system in health and educational outcomes—this despite the myriad social programs offered by the Chiapas state government, and the millions of pesos it spends on them. In universal (or galactical) terms, an education promoter from the Roberto Barrios region tells his interviewer that the neo-Zapatista struggle proceeds not only with the interests of BAEZLN in mind, but of all—tod@s.

The reading for the the third day was the fourth volume, Women’s Participation in Autonomous Government, perhaps the most interesting one of all—for it is testament to the patent conflict between Zapatista rhetoric and everyday life in this regard. From the La Realidad region, an ex-JBG member notes proudly that in neither organized religion nor in established political parties have women experienced the kind of participation that female BAEZLN have been allowed. A member from an autonomous council of the same zone claims the lot of Zapatista women to be better off than that of indigenous women in PRI communities, where high rates of alcohol and other drug abuse and sexual violence reportedly obtain. Nonetheless, a great deal of tension between the end of women’s liberation and respect for established patriarchal custom can be readily detected in this volume on women’s involvement. For example, the 47 points on preventative health from La Realidad include one endorsing family planning, while health promoters affiliated with Morelia suggest to their female clients that they ideally try to leave a 5- or 6-year gap between each subsequent birth, all in accordance with article 3 of the Revolutionary Law on Women, which grants female BAEZLN the right to elect the number of children they will bear—yet sources from Oventik and Roberto Barrios note that it is precisely this law no. 3 which is being least observed in practice, given the strong opposition expressed by many male BAEZLN to the use of birth control methods. Indeed, summarizing the results of a public discussion among BAEZLN in the Roberto Barrios region on women’s issues, one educational promoter reported the widespread opinion that women should not unilaterally decide on the question of number of children—thus expressing a popular repudiation of law no. 3! From La Garrucha, another educational promoter claims that women’s participation in her MAREZ is 2-3% of what it should be—that is, if I’m not mistaken, that >97% of female Zapatistas from that municipality opt out of taking on the charges passed to them through election. Sexual education would seem underdeveloped in the Roberto Barrios region, according to a Zapatista educator there, and in this zone marriage is common by 15 or 16 years of age, while in the Oventik region unmarried couples are apparently expected to ask permission from their parents to date—so that they avoid the “bad customs of the cities where lovers just get together without respecting their parents.”

In these terms, an interesting proposal from the base is that of the recommendations made in the Oventik zone in 1996 for an expanded Revolutionary Law on Women—a proposal that has yet to be adopted by the EZLN. While from volume IV it is unclear how this proposed expansion came about, and who precisely composed its articles, it in some ways reflects regression from the original Revolutionary Law: here, it is only married women who have the right to birth control, and this only to the extent to which agreement with male partners is achieved, while non-monogamous relationships are declared unacceptable: “it is prohibited and inappropriate that some member of the [Zapatista] community engage in romantic relations outside of the norms of the community and populace—that is to say, men and women are not allowed to have [sexual] relations if they are not married, because this brings as consequences the destruction of the family and a bad example before society.” In a similar vein, “arbitrary abandonment” and coupling with others while formally married are also tabooed in the articles of this recommended expansion. Whether such attitudes are representative of the thought of many or most female BAEZLN is unknown; however conservative such ideas may seem, it is also worth noting that 17 years have passed since their proposal.

Thus after finishing the last volume on women’s participation, the Escuelita in community had ended, and Héctor and I expressed our gratitude for the generosity showed by our maestro and his compañera (female partner) during the classes and our stay in the — community. We then met up with the other alumn@s (including Reyna) who had come together in the local assembly space and then departed for our hike to the access road at which we were to be picked up and returned by sand-trucks to La Realidad. Once the afternoon progressed into evening in the caracol, as more alumn@s continued arriving from other communities, the Zapatista teachers called us all back together once again for a final round of questions-and-answers, followed by the presentation of the Mexican and Zapatista flags and the singing of the anthems to State and EZLN, which in turn gave rise to more creative musical performances by the teachers and artistic interventions from alumn@s. I will confess that I cried for Sup Pedro when the maestr@s sang about this “simple” and “decent” man from Michoacán, born to a beautiful mother and killed in insurrection.

After the conclusion of the participatory cultural event, it was announced that all those desiring to return to San Cristóbal would be leaving in a caravan departing before dusk the next morning. Then the night was ceded to a large dance on the basketball court, as animated by a sustained series of ludic perfomances on marimba played by male BAEZLN of differing generations.

Fin de Año in Oventik

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Presentation of Zapatista flag, 31 December 2013

Upon returning to San Cristóbal, I was already greatly missing Héctor; I hope we will stay in touch. I considered which of the 5 caracoles to visit for the New Year’s celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the armed uprising and launched myself to Oventik, the closest to San Cristóbal. After being admitted into the foggy caracol with a crowd of other visitors shortly after arriving, I placed my belongings in one of the classrooms of the escuela autónoma, as a new friend had just recommended to me, and we then made our way to the basketball court where live music was being played under a roof, protected from the rain. Standing on stage alongside Zapatista authorities and BAEZLN, the performers included highland indigenous musicians and conscious freestyle rappers from Mexico City, among others. At a certain point in the evening, as the rain continued, the assembled Zapatistas performed a “political act” involving the marching presentation of the Mexican and EZLN flags and the public reading of the Revolutionary Indigenous Clandestine Committee’s (CCRI) declaration on the event of the twentieth anniversary of the neo-Zapatista insurrection, as performed by a Comandanta. The text was subsequently read in Tsotsil and Tseltal translations—with these being two indigenous languages spoken in the highlands region in which Oventik finds itself. In the Tsotsil translation, the word kux’lejal (“bodily pain”) could be heard uttered several times. At the end of this “act,” with the retiring of the Mexican and Zapatista flags, representatives of the EZLN wished all those assembled in the caracol a happy new year, and they particularly wished all Zapatistas a joyful twentieth anniversary for their resort to arms. Similarly to the case in La Realidad just days before, the remaining hours of 2013 and the first several hours of 2014 in Oventik were celebrated with several hours of cumbia rebelde, during which the basketball court was full with dancers, Zapatistas and their well-wishers together. Also present at the cumbia were organizers of the Climate Caravan through Latin America (Caravana Climática por América Latina), who sought to connect the assembled dancing rebels with this compelling initiative from below to combine direct action and information-gathering activities in resistance to unchecked ecocidal trends.

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Entrance to Oventik caracol, 1 January 2014

Questions, critique, and the future

There can be no doubt that the BAEZLN have been truly impressive in their efforts to “conquer liberty” and extend the cause of autonomy in the 20 years since their declaration of war against capitalism and the Mexican State. Nonetheless, it would contradict the spirit of critique and autonomy not to raise questions and concerns regarding different facets of the Zapatista movement. For one, what is the political model the EZLN is pursuing? As against the original demand for independence made in 1994, this model is not that of formal statehood—as is made, for example, in the Palestinian case—but rather that of developing the new society within the shell of the old. In his Developing Zapatista Autonomy (2009), German anthropologist Niels Barmeyer argues that the Zapatista example advances the creation of a counter-state to the official one presided over by the Mexican government (el mal gobierno). Contemplation of the various details provided in the four volumes of text assigned to alumn@s of the Escuelita would seem to confirm this diagnosis, from consideration of the Good-Government Councils (as counterposed to the bad government) to the Zapatistas’ alternative health and education systems. As Barmeyer notes, moreover, the EZLN provides protection to its members, even if the organization does not necessarily exercise a monopoly on “legitimate” use of force in the territories of its influence.1 Nonetheless, if the overall claim is true—that the Zapatistas really desire a State, or that the nature of their principles of self-government effectively express their wish for such, as an anarchist confided in me at the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City a year and a half ago—one must then interrogate the attraction the Zapatistas have represented for libertarian socialists and anti-authoritarians the world over these past 20 years. Clearly, the 1 January 1994 insurrection has proven seminal for the adoption of the Black Bloc tactic all over the globe, while the indigenous character of the movement and the radical humanism expressed by its principal spokesperson—Sup Marcos—have enlivened and illuminated the radical imaginations and hopes of millions of observers. But what do anarchists have to say about the processes of socio-political autonomy undertaken by the EZLN since January 1994? Are they too similar to State institutions, or are they sufficiently distinct? Is it just a matter of “contradict[ing] the system while you are in it until it’s transformed into a new system,” as Huey P. Newton observed with reference to the “survival programs” the Black Panther Party implemented in the late 1960’s, “pending revolution”?2

How are outsiders, especially internationals, to engage with the persistence of authoritarian and inegalitarian attitudes toward women in social movements putatively based on the principles of “democracy, justice, and freedom” with which they express solidarity—despite the relative improvements seen in these terms over time? Can it justly be said that feminist perspectives are simply irrelevant if they are held by those who do not pass the course of their lives within a given movement? If it were to be affirmed, the principle underlying this second question would betray a cultural nationalism and relativism of sorts, one which undermines internationalism and global notions of solidarity. It would also effectively trivialize the disappointment expressed from the start by many Mexican feminists at the perpetuation of patriarchy within the EZLN—and, indeed, paper over the absurd expulsion of COLEM (el Colectivo de Mujeres, or the Women’s Collective, from San Cristóbal) from Zapatista territory on the charge that its feminist organizing threatened to “incite a gender war”!3 Conceptually, the idea of “autonomy” cannot immediately tell us which of the conflicting principles is to be held superior: in the first place, autonomy likely should presume substantive freedom for all as a precondition of its existence, yet in practice it is taken to mean the outcome of popular self-determination, as opposed to Statist or capitalist imposition. Such tensions clearly exist in appraising Zapatismo, especially with regard to the situations faced by female and non-heterosexual BAEZLN. A similar critical line of thinking could also bring to light the extensive deforestation which Zapatista communities have produced through their “autonomous” desire to raise cattle en masse in jungle environments, or it could criticize the Zapatistas’s drinking and selling of Coca-Cola and their generally non-vegetarian lifestyles—or at least the ambivalence Marcos expresses as regards the prospect of even discussing this latter point, for he declares vegetarian tactics of moral suasion to be an imposition to be disobeyed. As Mickey Z. Vegan could be expected to point out, the collective Zapatista butcher-shop from the Roberto Barrios region mentioned in volume III may not be the most liberating project to engage in, for either BAEZLN workers or the beasts themselves.

Thus, in spite of the issues I have observed and the doubts they produce in me, I consider the EZLN nothing less than a world-historical revolutionary movement, one which has played a critical role in inspiring and spurring on the multitudinous activist militancy seen throughout much of the world following the self-implosion of the Soviet Union—a militancy which radically seeks the abolition of those power-groups which threaten the entire Earth with social and environmental catastrophe. I also believe that the EZLN’s struggle has much more to offer the world still—given that the Zapatistas had originally sought to incite other Mexican revolutionary groups to join them in insurrection in 1994, and in light of the continued strength of the capitalist monster against which the BAEZLN revolted—no matter how optimistic Marcos’s declaration last year on the occasion of the new Baktun and the silent Zapatista occupation of the townships the EZLN had taken in 1994, that the world of those from above is “collapsing.”

However, I do agree with Sup Marcos that the world of those from below is resurging. Hence was I very glad to have been able to attend the first course of the Escuelita and to celebrate the twenty years since the Zapatista insurrection together with them. I wish the BAEZLN the very best for this year, and the next 20 as well. ¡Zapata vive!

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1Niels Barmeyer, Developing Zapatista Autonomy: Conflict and NGO Involvement in Rebel Chiapas (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2009), 5, 214.

2Cited in Alondra Nelson, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 63.

3Barmeyer 99-100, 206.