Zibechi: Communities stand up for life
The National Campaign in Defence of Mother Earth and Territory
The campfires in Cherán, Michoacán, Mexico.
By: Raúl Zibechi
Dozens of communities in resistance from 17 states of Mexico have started a long campaign that seeks to coordinate struggles, denounce extractivism and offer a space for mutual aid among those who are being attacked by capital and the State.
“The campaign seeks a dialogue and common actions that construct a fabric,” explains Gerardo Meza of the Acapatzingo Housing Community, in Mexico City. “Because the State takes advantage of the lack of information about what happens to the megaprojects it impels against the peoples. Therefore, we seek to construct non-organic organizational spaces for generating identity in the neighbourhoods and to weave a process of autonomy in Mexico City.”
Gerardo refers to the National Campaign in Defence of Mother Earth and Territory that started on April 10 and will culminate on November 20, two dates with deep rebel content in Mexico. The Francisco Villa Popular Organization of the Independent Left participated in it along with 180 organizations from 17 states, grouped into nine regions. A Committee for Mother Earth made up of 40 musicians, actors, religious men and women and professionals supports the campaign, which at each activity united hundreds and thousands of people: from the 1,500 that went to the launch in Mexico City on April 10, to the hundreds who mobilized in support of Xochicuautla, where the community resists the construction of a superhighway in the State of Mexico.
“The spearhead of the extractive model is mining,” Meza reasons, “levelling entire communities, taking territory away from them and destroying their identities.” The campaign places affected communities in a relationship with other affected communities in a direct, horizontal relationship, not mediated by representatives but rather of people to people. Of the campaign signers, 97 communities and barrios have conflicts with extractivist capital and the State, and resist often with very high human costs.
In the Mexican capital, for example, the barrios are being affected by urban infrastructure and communication projects, through the construction of metro lines, inter-urban trains and real estate speculation, one of the most destructive and least analysed facets of the extractive model. We’re able to talk about an “urban extractivism,” which is connected with the general model and in many cases acts to complement the mode of accumulation, since the enormous profits from mono-crops and mining are apt to be invested in urban speculation, which results in the gentrification of the cities and the expulsion of the poorest inhabitants.
From Norte to South: young and brave women
The Campaign reports that the most of the conflicts are produced by the construction of hydroelectric dams and other energy generation projects (34%), followed closely by mining projects (32%). Transportation projects like highways and trains (12%) and urbanization (11%) appear at more distance. The privatization of water embraces 15% of the conflicts, but many mining and energy projects also appropriate the commons, like water, therefore this must be one of the principal motives for the community resistances.
In the north, in the state of Sonora, the Comcáac Nation resists the destruction of 100 kilometres of Pacific littoral, where fisherpeople seek to save their sources of work from the La Peineta mining project. Gabriela Molina, of the Comcáac Territory Defenders organization, assures that half of his peoples’ territory has been conceded to a mining company that seeks to extract iron, copper and silver at sites that are sacred to his nation. “The nation is a place where deer and bighorn sheep reproduce, because of which we don’t want an extractive activity on our territory, which is also very close to the Canal del Infiernillo, where there are plants that we use for our artesanía, like jojoba and elephant tree (torote), and it is thus a site of material spiritual importance for the survival of our people.”
As happens all over the world, mining succeeded in dividing the Comcáac people with promises and a few resources. “Our group is made up of 22 women who organize against mining and we are dedicated to informing the peoples of the Sonora Sierra who are not familiar with what mining is,” Gabriela says. As Comcáac Nation, they are supported with the Traditional Guard, armed self-defence that was born in 1979 for the protection of autonomous territory. The guard is elected by the council of elders and the traditional governor and is composed as much by men as women.
“Until we added ourselves to the campaign our people were invisible,” Gabriela finished; she also denounces hydric extractivism that diverts water for business production and tourist projects in zones her people inhabit.
Since 2008, the town of San José del Progreso, in the state of Oaxaca, has opposed the arrival of a mining company in a campesino population that cultivates corn, beans and garbanzos. According to official data of the Secretariat of the Economy, since the approval of the 1992 Mining Law, Mexico delivered 31,000 concessions on almost 51 million hectares to more than 300 companies that manage around 800 projects. Rosalinda Dionisio, who is a member of the Coordinator of United Peoples of the Ocotlán Valley, suffered an attack when members of the organization were ambushed for opposing the mining Cuzcatlán, a subsidiary of the Canadian Fortuna Silver Mines, which exploits 700 hectares for extracting uranium, gold and silver.
The mine is located near the San José del Progreso municipality, one of the three poorest in the state. Although the better part of its six thousand inhabitants reject mining, the mayor supports it and heads a group that attacks members of the Coordinator. In February and March 2012, the activists were attacked, in one case by the municipal police and in another by unknown persons, with a result of two dead and various injured, among them Rosalinda. That was the reaction to the community protests, when tubes were installed to carry water to the mine, diverting it away from the campesinos’ crops.
A monster that is called the State
“With the campaign we seek to speak clearly with other communities, since we must redouble in the face of repression, and be able to inform other peoples about what is happening to us,” Rosalinda explains. “We have a monster State that has hit us very hard, with disappearances, with repression, and therefore we need a network to support each other, based on mutual aid, for confronting the monster that takes life away from us,” says this young and brave woman, survivor of the war against the peoples. She has still not completely recovered her mobility after various surgeries, but she shows an admirable combative spirit.
The resistance of the community of Cherán doesn’t need presentation, because since 2011 it has been an example for peoples who resist the extractive model and the armed groups (state or paramilitary) that promote and protect it. Severiana Fabián, a member of the High Council of the P’urhépecha indigenous community of Cherán, also forms part of the National Campaign in Defence of Mother Earth and Territory. Her community rose up to expel the criminal woodcutters supported by local caciques.
“We fight to defend a commons that is Mother Earth,” explains Severiana. The key to the success of this community is its organization, extensive and profound, which reaches all corners, is open and transparent, solid and convincing. “We are organized by uses and customs (traditional indigenous governing practices) and we have attained that Cherán is calm and secure by the force of our community organization,” says a woman who feels proud of the work accomplished in five years, which she considers an example for Mexicans.
The form of organization, from below to above, begins by the campfires. There are four barrios (neighbourhoods) and in each one there are between 50 and 60 campfires (fogatas), at the rate of one per block. There are 53 campfires in Severiana’s barrio, which speaks of a way of outdoor organization, in which families can participate, from the children to the elderly. Each barrio elects three individuals to the High Council, in which there are currently three women.
Cherán has a population of 20,000 inhabitants and in each one of the 240 campfires installed on each corner there are some one hundred people. “This organization is the key to everything,” exclaims Severiana. The campfires are meeting places among neighbours, spaces where the community is re-created, but they are also organs of power in which collective decisions are made and where the participation of women is decisive.
As the synthesis of these years of struggle, Severiana assures that in Cherán “courage overcame fear.” Maybe it will be the legacy of this community that it can gather and expand the National Campaign in Defence of Mother Earth and Territory.
Originally Published in Spanish by Rebelión
Saturday, June 25, 2016
Re-published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee
Minor edits for UK audience by Dorset Chiapas Solidarity