Members of Las Abejas of Acteal, 22nd December 2014
By Rafael Landerreche*
What is happening in Chenalhó (I use the present because the fire has not been put out) must be examined beyond the obvious dimension of post-electoral conflicts or of the undeniable but partial component of gender. To get to the bottom of the issue it is necessary to go back in history to something that is not about this moment nor exclusive to Chiapas, but that, nevertheless, is the deep root of what happens here and now.
The big lesson of the last century for the Mexican political class was that in order to maintain themselves in power it was necessary to make concessions to the people; not isolated and circumstantial, but rather, so to speak, of a permanent and structural character. That was the social policy of the “governments that emanated from the revolution,” which permitted the PRI to stay in power for 70 uninterrupted years of relative social stability. We all know of course the vices that accompanied and corrupted this social policy: a lack of democracy, paternalism, corporatism, electoral patronage, application of an economic model that was incompatible with those demands, corruption, etcetera. The system had its clear limits and anyone who would attempt to exceed them would have to put up with the worst consequences (Tlatelolco is not forgotten). However, that social dimension was real and one of the proofs of that is the void that appears now that it is dismantling.
The new generations of the political class formed in the rarified heights of neoliberalism, didn’t know or didn’t want to see the difference between social policy and the vices that were parasitic to it. They placed everything without distinction into the same bag, put the ambiguous label of “populism” on it and threw it in the rubbish. It is like the saying that they threw the baby out with the bathwater, but we could modify the image saying that in this case they threw out the baby and were left with the dirty water, because the social and nationalist policies have gone away, but the corruption, vote buying and lack of democracy continue. For example, the button of the SNTE: what has been combatted is every attempt at political independence –including its independence from the teacher Elba Esther– what has been maintained is the absolute political, bureaucratic and electoral manipulation.
Upon disavowing the great lesson of the 20th Century, to which it owed its stay in power, the new political class was sustained by just three props, rigid but not solid: media manipulation, colossal vote buying but in drips (in the end, vote buying on scales that reduce to insignificance the old practice of a sandwich and a soft drink) and brute force, with, as a last resort, the Army. In places like Chiapas, with high social marginalization and very incipient political awareness (lights that point in the opposite direction, like the work of the Diocese of San Cristóbal and the lightning of Zapatismo, should not prevent from seeing this sad generalized reality), the media manipulation assumes the tragic-comical characteristics of the daily exaltation of a governor in a permanent campaign, the vote buying with government supports and programmes has the subtle efficiency of a steamroller, and the Army and other forms of repression are always around the corner.
One must add to this a fact that is more specific to Chiapas. It turns out that the governor and a sector of the political class that accompanies him, with an incredible blindness which is the product of excessive ambition for power (that hubris about which Javier Sicilia speaks so much, which inevitably brings about its nemesis) decided to jettison not only the social policies of the old PRI, but even the very cover and party name, ignoring the fact that, if there was anywhere it had taken root, and anywhere they had to thank for their stay in power, it was among the indigenous communities of Chiapas. They shook the hand of the Green Party, which was born to be on the stage with others, and they converted it into the centre of their political project. So, nothing more than their pistols imposed the Green candidates on communities with old PRI roots.
Chenalhó is no more than the last in a long list: Chamula, San Andrés, Oxchuc, Chanal, Altamirano and many more. Practically all the post-electoral conflicts that have devastated Chiapas since last year’s elections are like this, the creation and exclusive responsibility of those who now suffer their consequences. In the case of Chenalhó it is complicated by a combination with the survival of the paramilitaries responsible for the Acteal Massacre, but that merits a separate analysis.
Division in the communities and destruction of the social fabric is now, unfortunately, an old and sad story in Chiapas, the fruit in good measure (although not exclusively) of the counterinsurgency plans for confronting the Zapatista insurgency. But with these actions, the political class has taken the division in to the heart of its own support bases and has given a new twist to the destruction of the social fabric. The confrontation in Chenalhó has nothing to do with the independent forces in the municipality, the Zapatistas, Las Abejas, not even with the relative opposition of the of so-called political parties. It is simply a matter of the old governing sectors, arbitrarily divided by their own state bosses into PRIístas and Greens, who are disputing the municipal budget booty, and that is all. But they are taking the whole municipality between the legs (not to speak of the old Secretary of Government and now leader of the Congress). Members of Las Abejas from Colonia Puebla are now displaced from their community again (for the third time since 1997) and two people, including a female minor, died there in the crossfire between PRIístas and Greens (for sure, neither the deaths nor the displaced angered the authorities as much as the teachers’ haircuts). Even the Zapatista communities, clearly outside and apart from all the party fights, feel worried by a violence that could be directed against them at any moment.
At first sight this situation looks like a product of the blindness and incredible political insensitivity of the ruling class, rather than a deliberate plan to create greater destabilization; the fate of the leader of the (Chiapas) Congress, would seem to corroborate this: they have not even been able to protect themselves. But, who knows? Chiapas is the site and destination of important megaprojects and we know about the increasing pressures throughout Latin America to bring about transnational projects, whatever the cost. Fishermen gain from troubled waters. And what about the third prop? Will it be the Army like they claimed in Ayotzinapa, right there, watching?
* Rafael Landerreche is adviser to alternative education projects in Chenalhó.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee