Insumisión: Winning Freedom, Building Autonomy
Originally posted on It’s Going Down.
We’ll start this look at the past two weeks in Mexico with some good news: people getting free. After seventeen months in prison and following a national and international campaign for her release, political prisoner Nestora Salgado was released from Tepepan prison in Mexico City on March 18. The commander of the Community Police in Olinalá, Guerrero, Salgado was charged with three counts of kidnapping. When those charges were dismissed, the state filed three more charges for kidnapping, theft and murder. Again, those charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. Upon exiting the prison, she was received by dozens of community police officers from Olinalá and other towns in Guerrero. Handed a rifle, she said, “We are going to keep struggling so they don’t keep repressing us. If this is needed [raising the rifle], then this is where we will go, but we won’t allow them to keep trampling on us.”
At a press conference later in the day, she committed herself to fighting for the freedom of Mexico’s 500 political prisoners, in particular those jailed for carrying out their duties as community police. Joined by members from the People’s Front in Defence of the Land from Atenco, those resisting the construction of La Parota dam in Guerrero, and family members of the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa, she led the count from 1 to 43. “I don’t represent any political party,” she said. “I only fight for my people. Sometimes they ask me if I’m afraid. And yes, I’m afraid, but I’ll die fighting for our people’s dignity. It doesn’t matter what I have to do, I am going to win freedom for our prisoners. I will be present in all of the struggles, as long as they need me.” She is calling for international mobilizations and actions on April 10, the anniversary of the assassination of Emiliano Zapata, to demand freedom for Mexico’s political prisoners.
The autonomous Chol, Tzotzil and Tzeltal community of Cinco de Mayo in Chiapas marked 22 years since the reclamation of their lands following the Zapatista uprising in 1994. They write, “The bad government has tried to disrupt and divide us through their programs of ‘support’ and projects that supposedly ‘benefit the community.’ The only thing that has occurred is the intent to divide us from our other compañerxs. In spite of this, the bad government has failed to defeat us. On the contrary, all of this has strengthened us be more united and organized in our resistance and struggle for autonomy.” The bad government is now attacking them by cutting off their access to electricity and water, which they installed themselves.
Another reclaimed community in Chiapas, Altamira La Providencia, most of whose members are Mam, is facing eviction after a judge signed an order allowing federal and state police to remove the 309 residents, including 129 children. Meanwhile, the Chol community of Ejido Tila is in the process of consolidating their autonomous project since kicking out the local government on December 16, in particular using their community assembly to organize their own security and those of the thousands of visitors who will be attending their annual festivities. On March 24, Juan Carlos Jiménez Velasco, leader of the Independent Confederation of Organizations (CIO-AC) was murdered in his vehicle by masked men in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. Jiménez was involved in defending 50 families from being evicted by landowners in a San Cristóbal neighborhood. In the last bit of Chiapas-related news, the Zapatistas issued a short statementon their upcoming “Zapatistas and the ConSciences for Humanity” encounter, followed by a long postscript about football and patriarchy.
In Michoacán, communities are also organizing to defend their autonomy. The Nahuatl community of Amilcingo decided in an assembly to reject the imposition of elections in their town. On March 18, election day, they organized patrols to block any attempt to bring in voting booths or ballots. The militantly autonomous Pur’épecha community of Cherán denounced rumors that they were cooperating with police. They clarified that, “here the entire community, including the four barrios, watches out for ourselves, as we said at the beginning, ‘block by block, campfire by campfire.’ We 20,000 community members are looking after ourselves…Cherán is not going to give up the fight. We won’t hand over our form of government or our self-determination.”
Last edition mentioned teachers in Durango surrounding and occupying the state’s Department of Education building in opposition to mass firings. In response, the state issued 20 arrest warrants, sending many teachers into hiding. They managed to capture two, who are now facing charges of rioting and unlawful imprisonment. Teachers took to the streets again, blockading roads and demanding the release of the prisoners and an end to the mandatory standardized evaluations. Parents have also come out in protest in support of the teachers and against the evaluations and privatization of education. Meanwhile, teachers in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guadalajara, Sinaloa, and Guerrero are organizing in solidarity with the Duranguense teachers, with talks of a national strike in the works.
In Oaxaca, the Zapotec city of Ixtepec is organizing to resist the imposition of a gold and silver mine on 30 percent of their territory. Already rejected by their community and agrarian assemblies, they are holding a regional forum called “One Lives Without Gold and Silver, Without Water One Doesn’t” to organize further resistance. Also in Oaxaca, at the urging of the National TV and Radio Industry Chamber, federal agents raided and shut down four community radio stations last week, arresting two people. Another community radio station in Juchitán is seeking support after its antenna exploded. Details on how to help are here.
Finally, SubVersiones published a series of in-depth reports on community radio stations in Oaxaca this past month. These stations are an important component of social, political and cultural self-determination that are organized by the communities. They provide a vital service and base for organizing by broadcasting information in indigenous languages and in formats determined by and that resonate with the communities in which they are based.
Not content with the laws already at their disposal, the state continues to legislate repression. Back in 2014, Puebla approved what became known as the “Bullet Law,” allowing police to use live ammunition against demonstrators. It caused such an outcry that the part permitting live fire was removed just three days after being passed.
On March 17 of this year, in the neighboring State of Mexico, the congress passed what has been dubbed the “Atenco Law,” named after the town that faced brutal repression in May 2006, ordered by then-governor, now-president Enrique Peña Nieto. Two people were killed, 26 women were raped, and 207 people were arrested by police. The Atenco Law allows the use of live ammunition against assemblies, meetings or protests, punishes police who don’t fire when ordered, and absolves the police of any criminal or civil punishments for excessive use of force, limiting their culpability to “administrative sanction.” Of course the People’s Front in Defence of the Land in Atenco, which has won several victories against the state, didn’t wait long to respond. Together with unions, indigenous groups, neighbourhood groups and human rights organizations, they have formed the “Fire of the Dignified Resistance” coordinating committee and announced political, legal and social actions beginning in April against the law that they prefer be called the “Eruviel Law” after the current governor of the State of Mexico.
On the national level, the congress is trying to pass a law allowing for the suspension of all individual rights and protections in “cases of invasion” or “disturbances of the public peace.” What qualifies as a disturbance of the peace is conveniently left up to the sound, impartial judgement of the president, whose nickname just so happens to be the “Butcher of Atenco.”
Regeneración Radio launched a microsite on the farmworkers struggle in San Quintín, Baja California, where thousands of internal migrants work more than twelve hours a day for a daily wage between $3.50 and $7, picking fruit to be shipped to the U.S. Following months of organizing, what started as a conversation between three workers emerged as a 35,000-strong general strike on March 17, 2015, at the peak of the strawberry harvest. Along with refusing to work, workers blockaded highways and defended themselves against brutal police attacks for more than two months. Hundreds were arrested and dozens wounded by the police. In the end, the businesses and government signed an agreement meeting 12 of the workers’ 14 demands. A year later, little has changed. To commemorate the uprising and demand the implementation of last year’s agreement, workers began a 180-mile march from San Quintín to Tijuana on March 17. In solidarity, Familias Unidas por la Justicia carried out a 28-day West Coast tour promoting the boycott of Driscoll’s, a major profiteer of the exploitation in San Quintín. The tour culminated in a direct action at Driscoll’s headquarters in Watsonville, CA on March 31.
Another new site, Mujeres Jóvenes Desordenando (Young Women Disorganizing), looks to connect and give voice and space to young women involved in social movements in Mexico, noting, “As young women we participate in a significant way in many spaces, such as social movements, social organizations and collectives, in the academy and in public institutions. Although our participation is generally made invisible and unrecognized, it is certain that we sustain and are constantly renewing and strengthening each of those spaces.” Punto Género is a second new site focused on women organizing around feminism and human rights. It “seeks to create a space for discussion, recreation, reflection and information about the human rights of women from a critical position of young women feminists.”
Some final notes to round out this edition. In Veracruz, three young people were detained by state police on March 19 and haven’t been heard from since. Eight police officers have since been arrested. It is eerily reminiscent of the disappearing of five young people by Veracruz police in January. Contralínea reports that CISEN – Mexico’s domestic spy agency – has been putting technology acquired from HackingTeam to good use, with surveillance requests in the past three years being seven times higher than the three years prior. The Morelos Independent Human Rights Commission released a report that found 49 percent of human rights defenders in Mexico have suffered from psychological violence, with women human rights defenders being the primary recipients of such violence. The press freedom group Article 19 issued their annual review of attacks on the press, citing 397 incidents in 2015, up more than 21 percent since 2014. Most of the violence was at the hands of government officials (165 cases), far more than the cartels (35 cases). Research by FIAN International calculated that Mexico’s 4,462 dams have displaced around 200,000 people, most of whom are indigenous. Finally, Gustavo Castro, the Chiapan environmentalist who witnessed the murder of Berta Cáceres in Honduras, was wounded himself, and subsequently prohibited from leaving the country by officials, has at last been given permission to return to Mexico.