Archive for the Commentary Category

A Visit to Chiapas in March 2009

Posted in Commentary, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2009 by floweroftheword

After the three of us finally arrived in San Cristóbal, we began our drive to the Cañadas east of Ocosingo. Getting to Ocosingo from San Cristóbal is a unique experience: the paved highway consists of one “tope” (speed bump) after another. That makes it sort of hard to pass those giant trucks that belch black smoke in your face or the slow lumbering farm trucks. By the time we arrive in Ocosingo, we’re ready for a break at the Hotel Central’s delicious restaurant, aptly named Las Delicias. Next stop is the Ocosingo Market to buy some water and a blanket to replace a sleeping bag remaining somewhere in the labyrinth of the Mexico City Airport waiting to be claimed by someone who is already in San Cristóbal. It’s late in the afternoon as we exit Ocosingo, take the turnoff for La Garrucha and realize that we won’t arrive until after dark because the road is a bit difficult.

Well, the road isn’t the only reason we won’t arrive until after dark. We have friends along the way and we stop and visit a little. The little visits make it a happy trip and more than compensate for all the holes and ruts in the road. It’s warm and dry. No rain. By the time we get to Garrucha, it’s dark and the Good Government Junta is tired. The folks in the Vigilance Committee tell us the Junta will see us in the morning. They take us to the “Hotel Garrucha,” our tongue-in-cheek name for the space underneath the big stage erected for the Comandanta Ramona Women’s Encuentro (Dec. 2007). It now serves as the resting place for those of us who visit Garrucha. The Hotel’s tenured hostess greets us warmly. A kind of permanent peace camper, fluent in both English and Spanish, she helps out everyone who arrives there and doesn’t exactly know what to do. For some of us old-timers who sort of know what to do, she swaps stories with us.
The Junta received us first thing in the morning, but we hung around Garrucha anyway, confused about transportation to Zapata (San Manuel’s municipal headquarters). Folks who recognized us soon began to appear and strike up conversations. We visited with several friends at their homes and, when it was finally confirmed that there was no transportation available, drove our little car over the somewhat challenging road to Agua Dulce, and then on to San Manuel. The weather remained beautiful: warm, dry and sunny. It was late Saturday afternoon and the council decided to wait until Sunday to meet with us. We had lots of time to talk, eat, tell stories and get a good night’s sleep.

On Sunday, we met with San Manuel’s autonomous municipal council and some of the county’s other authorities. What we learned was very helpful and, in part, surprising. Importantly, we were able to clarify the new policy on projects in the region. It seems that there was a decision reached regionally to equalize the distribution of projects among the 4 autonomous municipios (counties) within the Caracol of La Garrucha. It is each county’s responsibility to present a project to the Junta. The Junta puts that project in a file cabinet, according to the category it falls into (economic development, production, health, education, etcetera). When an organization comes to the Junta and says it wants to help in a certain category of project, the Junta goes to the file drawer for that category and looks at the proposals. The Junta selects the proposal submitted by the county that is the farthest behind. The selection is made by the Junta and not by a regional assembly as we were told during our January visit. The person who told us that was in a position to know, but either did not communicate the policy correctly or we misunderstood what was communicated. This is just a temporary policy until the counties are considered more equalized. The hermanamientos (partnerships) continue as before and unfinished projects can be completed. The temporary policy applies to all new projects. This means that those organizations with hermanamientos may work in a county other than the one with which they have the hermanamiento IF they decide to take on new projects. I am not sure who was considered ahead in projects or behind in projects at the time this new decision was reached, but it is obvious that San Manuel is currently considered ahead. I do not know how other money is handled. Our concern was simply to clarify the policy on new projects in order that we could make an informed decision about whether to take on a large new project requiring foundation grants.

There are many factors affecting projects in the autonomous counties. One important factor is the effectiveness of the autonomous council in conceiving a project, getting it approved and in carrying out a project once financing is obtained. Another factor can be the effectiveness of a county’s hermanamiento. Some turn out well and work together effectively and others don’t. The personnel appointed to staff a project also play a decisive role in how much that project really helps the county. In other words, human nature plays a significant role in the degree of success these projects have. It boils down to the differences in human beings. I suspect these innate differences in us play a role in why one county is ahead and another is behind. I don’t think that any policy can equalize the differences in people, but it can certainly try to equalize the number of projects.
We also received important information concerning the secondary school in La Garrucha. The information we received this time is that the building has not been completed. It lacks a second floor. This is totally new information for us. We have asked many times about the secondary school and been told that the building was finished but the teachers weren’t ready. All four of the counties in the Garrucha region have children who have finished their primary school education and are ready for secondary school. But, there is no functioning secondary school within the region and transportation to the secondary school in Oventik is too expensive. Thus, all 4 counties have an interest in seeing this school get up and running. Finding the compañeros to go through the capacity building program for teachers and then go on to work teaching the children may be difficult, but not impossible. The time away from their families and fields is a hardship and keeps some from volunteering, but it won’t deter everyone.

A tour of the primary school in Emiliano Zapata revealed the need for primary school supplies: desks, chairs, paper, pencils, chalk, crayons and pens. I would not be surprised if this were the situation in the majority of schools throughout this region. An experienced education promoter (teacher) told us that it had been decided that each county should have its own capacity building (training) center for teachers. We were told that one of the two counties without such a center was San Manuel. Apparently the construction of these new centers has been approved, but we do not know when they will be ready to ask for funding. Health and education are coordinated regionally and it is not clear to this writer exactly how these decisions are made. We need to probe further into the issue of the secondary school and the capacity building center for education promoters on our next visit to La Garrucha and San Manuel.

The region has seen tremendous advances in health over the past 3 years. Francisco Gómez County now has a Women’s Clinic in La Garrucha (in addition to its regional clinic) capable of providing high-level OB/GYN services to women. This was part of the huge Basque Country health care project that also constructed a basic clinic in each of the 3 remaining counties: San Manuel, Ricardo Flores Magón, and Francisco Villa. All the clinics have dormitories for the health promoters who are on duty there, as well as for those who come for capacity building workshops. La Garrucha has a large building with dormitories to house health promoters from throughout the region when they are in the Caracol for capacity building. San Manuel inaugurated its Compañera Lucha Clinic in December 2008 and it is now serving patients. Francisco Villa plans to inaugurate its new clinic as soon as it gets enough money together to pay for a big celebration. I have no information about an inarguration date for Ricardo Flores Magón, but I have been told that its clinic is complete and operational. As in other regions, the region of La Garrucha has a vaccination program and a maternal health program carried out by its health promoters. San Manuel also has 3 micro clinics, one in each of the 3 canyons that make up the county. Micro clinics are distributed throughout all four counties.

We promised to return in July to follow-up on the Pharmacy Warehouse and to learn more about some of the region’s plans. We are also concerned about the health of a good friend in San Manuel who was sick while we were there.
Oventik and Polhó

We next visited the Caracol of Oventik in order to do a little shopping and also to ask for permission to visit San Pedro Polhó autonomous county (Polhó). After visiting the Junta, we stopped at the Che Guevara store and then continued on to Polhó. A crime against public health is taking place in Acteal, a community within the boundaries of Polhó, which has some displaced Zapatistas living there. Chenalhó County, the name of the official government county, has created a garbage dump adjacent to a camp of displaced Zapatistas in Acteal. The Chenalhó county government dumps all kinds of waste in this open-air dump, including the bodies of dead animals. Acteal is near the county line with Pantelhó, which has also started using the same garbage dump. We asked both the Junta and the representative of the autonomous council what, if anything, they were going to do about the dump. They said they had not yet decided, but it was clear that they would do something. We bought artesanía from one of the two weaving cooperatives in Polhó before returning to San Cristóbal.

We would urge folks who visit Chiapas to take the time to visit the women weavers in Polhó and to buy some of their beautiful artesanía. The purchase of their artesanía enables the women to supplement their family’s basic diet with fruit and vegetables. The women in the two weaving cooperatives are Zapatistas displaced by paramilitary violence in 1997. The basic diet for the camps of displaced people is 3 tortillas per day, one serving of beans per day and meat once a month. The income they earn from selling artesanía goes to supplement that basic diet. One of the cooperatives, Comandanta Ramona, is on the highway, not far from the main entrance gate to Polhó, and it is not necessary to get permission from Oventik to shop there. The other cooperative, Nueva Esperanza, is inside the gate and requires permission to enter.

Although this was a working visit, we were able to enjoy a few meals with friends, dinner at our favorite cheap restaurant, and a cup of hot chocolate at a wonderful place called “Chocolate.” It was also a more “typical” visit than the one in January, in the sense that there were no Encuentros or Festivals. Life was a little slower and people were just going about their daily routines. On the surface, it appeared very calm. We mentioned that to a long-time friend we encountered while in La Garrucha. She raised her eyebrows and rolled her eyes in disagreement with that statement, but did not go on to explain.

Actually, no explanation was necessary.

Given all the fuss and publicity about drug-related violence in Mexico, I feel compelled to add that in spite of what lies just below the surface of daily life in Chiapas, the EZLN’s total ban on narcotics (growing, consuming or dealing) makes its communities an exception to the current drug-related violence experienced by many other (non-Zapatista) communities in Mexico.

Mary Ann Tenuto Sánchez
Chiapas Support Committee
March 2009

Atenco’s Political Prisoners: The Persistence of Resistance

Posted in Commentary, News with tags , on October 1, 2008 by floweroftheword

Tues 23 Sept 2008

An article on the sentences passed this past August 21 against the political prisoners of San Salvador Atenco, based on interviews with relatives of the prisoners

by Alejandro Reyes – Radio Zapatista

When the parents of Oscar Hernández Pacheco were told that their son would be free in late August or Early September, they were overwhelmed with happiness. At the prison of Molino de Flores, don Paco and other relatives of political prisoners – who since the violent repression in San Salvador Atenco on May 3 and 4, 2006, had faced uncertainty, fear, and indignation – celebrated the news. “You see, don Paco,” said the father of another young prisoner from the town of Texcoco, “the kids will soon be free, we just need to stick it out a little longer.” “We’ll celebrate back in our town,” answered don Paco.

But some days later, on August 21 this year, they heard the terrible news: their son, like all other political prisoners held at Molino de Flores, were sentenced to 31 years and 10 months in prison, accused of kidnapping, while Ignacio del Valle was given an additional 45 years, on top of the 67 which he had already been sentenced to.

When doña Francisca learned of the decision, she fell ill. At 63 years of age, both she and her husband suffer from diabetes, an illness which has worsened in these two hears of anguish. “My children didn’t want me to go to the prison because they were afraid for my health, but I went anyway. I was a bit calmer, but when I got there I felt like I was no longer myself. I felt very ill. The next day I went to the hospital and the doctor told me I had to calm down, or I would have to be hospitalized. But how? He’s 30 years old. In another 30, he will be 60. How can they do that to him? And with such young children… the girl is eight years old, the boy is about three.”
As most of the prisoners sentenced, their son did not participate in the confrontations on May 3 and was not even a member of the Peoples’ Front in the Defense of the Land (FPDT), the organization that in 2006 was defending the flower vendors of Texcoco from being evicted from their place of work.

In the municipal auditorium of San Salvador Atenco, on one side of the central plaza, a small group of relatives of political prisoners recount what they have lived through these past two years and their indignation with the sentences of August 21, while the preparations continue for the Independence day celebration, on September 15, 2008, organized by the FPDF. Doña Francisca continues:

“The day they captured him he was going to see a relative that was very sick. They stopped him on the highway. They beat him, they injured his head, his face. We have a picture where the police are beating him, and one officer has a piece of concrete block with which he’s hitting him on the head. I didn’t know anything because that day he’d been at home. We were having breakfast, eating pozole, which is his favorite dish, and he told me that he would pick up the girl and he would come back to eat some. When the troops started coming into the town, we locked ourselves up. At around 3 pm my sons knew they had arrested him, but they didn’t tell me because they were afraid for my health. But then I saw him in the news, and that’s how I found out.”

Something similar happened with Julio César Espinoza Ramos, son of Maribel Ramos Rojas. At the time Julio was 18 and he hadn’t even heard about the FDPT. He liked to play soccer, worked in sales at the town of San Pablito Chiconcuac, and helped his grandmother take care of the cattle. On May 3, 2006, Julio César was riding his scooter on the highway that goes by San Salvador Atenco. Near the gas station of Tocuila he was detained at a police blockade. There he was brutally beaten, and then taken to the police station, before being transferred to the high-security prison of Santiaguito, in Almoloya, in the state of Toluca.

Julio César doesn’t understand why all of this is happening to him. Why was he sentenced to so many years in prison, if he didn’t do anything? And why such a heavy sentence, while the true kidnappers, those who maim people, those who murder and rape, are free? “He had so many dreams,” says his mother, “and now those dreams are truncated, locked up behind those prison walls.”

Juan de Dios Hernández, the FDPT lawyer who defends Atenco’s political prisoners, argues that the sentence was made without convincing proof, through legal proceedings full of irregularities and contradictions. One of the relatives even claims that, when he questioned the judge about the harshness of the sentences, he answered that he didn’t have full control over it and that the decision had come from above.

The political motives behind the sentences are evident in the fact that they were announced the same day that a highly publicized meeting of the National Council on Public Security was being held at the National Palace. In this meeting one of the topics that most concerns Mexican society was discussed: the insecurity that is currently lived in the country. There, a National Security Agreement was drafted, through which police and judicial institutions will be strengthened, with a focus on fighting kidnapping, money laundering, and organized crime. Among other legal reforms is a proposal for a general law on kidnapping. The sentences against Atenco’s political prisoners, precisely for kidnapping, should be read by Mexican society as a sign of alarm, since they criminalize dissidence and the defense of basic rights, equating political activism to organized crime. “We’re indignant,” says Trinidad Ramírez Velázquez, wife of Ignacio del Valle. “How dare they compare someone who defends the land and his rights to someone who kidnaps, murders, mutilates, rapes, and so on.” One of President Felipe Calderon’s proposals is to apply life in prison to convicted kidnappers. The sentence of 112 years to Ignacio del Valle is nothing less than life in prison.

It’s important to note that, regarding insecurity, the wave of kidnappings that are increasingly the topic of front-page headlines, and the drug-related violence that plagues the country, state corruption and impunity are two of the main contributors. Practically all known kidnapper gangs have members who are agents or former agents of precisely the same police forces which are in theory in charge of combating them.

At the same time, while political prisoners are given these absurd sentences, those responsible for the blatant human rights violations committed in San Salvador Atenco enjoy complete impunity. The events of May 3 and 4, 2006, represent one of the darkest moments of state repression and violence in the history of modern Mexico: murders, mass sexual aggressions against women and men, breaking and entering without a warrant, destruction of property, beatings, torture, humiliations. The savagery committed in Atenco were not just the uncontrolled actions of unprepared police forces, but rather a premeditated act of state violence designed to provoke terror in the population and to set a precedent that serves as an example to other social movements. The sentences of August 21 are just one more ingredient of these politics of terror.

It is hard to describe the pain of the families. “I’m a single mother,” says Maribel Rojas. “My son is all I have, and I’m all he has. This has affected me a lot at work because I’ve had to miss many times and I’m afraid to lose my job, but I can’t leave him alone. It’s also affected my health because I have diabetes and I’ve been hospitalized many times. And of course, it’s been very hard economically. I have to take him food, there are many expenses, and if I don’t work, how am I going to get the money, especially being alone? It hurts me a lot seeing him there. The day he called after the sentence, he seemed strong because he didn’t want to hurt me. But when I went to see him, he seemed an entirely different person, he was entirely broken.”

Doña Francisca can’t hold back her tears when she speaks of her son. “I feel very bad when I can’t go see him, but it hurts me a lot when I go to the prison. Since he was in Toluca, I used to go see him. But I feel terrible when I see my son like that. That’s why he tells me, ‘Don’t come, mother, because I get very sad when I see you cry.’ And we both cry together. But God willing I’ll be able to go see him and I’ll be calm and I won’t cry.”

For don Paco, his son’s imprisonment has also been devastating. He is a farmer, he plants corn in Atenco. “These two years have been very difficult. There are times I can’t go see him, because I have to work. There’s no money. We have to take money and food to him, and we make every effort to do it. And we spend 500 or 600 pesos in just one day. Imagine that, and we have no money. So we go crazy trying to find a solution, because I can’t work like I should.” Doña Francisca explains: don Paco is also diabetic and he often falls ill for one or two weeks at a time.

For Trinidad Ramírez, these two years have been a veritable ordeal. Her son César was in jail for almost two years. Her daughter América is in hiding. And her husband Ignacio faces a sentence of 112 years in prison. Nonetheless, she seems strong, firm, decided. “I think about them,” she explains. “I think of Ignacio in jail, always so optimistic. I’m afraid of falling into a depression and not being able to get up to continue fighting. But love can do so many things.” She says that, despite the sentence, Ignacio holds his head up. “He is very secure in his beliefs, in his ideals, in his cause. That’s why when I say that Ignacio is doing well, it’s not because he is well being there, because the conditions in prison are very tough, but because he believes in his ideals.”

But the repression and especially the sentences, which were intended to provoke fear and to silence people, had another effect. Maribel Ramos knew nothing about the FPDT, she had never participated in any struggle, she had never expressed indignation against the injustices she sees.

“My vision has changed a lot,” she says, “because we used to be very shy about expressing what’s happening in our country, the repression we suffer. Because what the government is doing is repression. They want to use us as an example and tell people: if you rebel, this is what can happen to you, you can have the same fate as these people. But instead of intimidating me, that has made me stronger, and I think it’s really important for me to express my indignation as a mother, to defend my son, because he’s completely innocent, and to denounce all this injustice we’re living. It’s time to raise our voices. If they said, ‘You better be quiet,’ well, I don’t think so. We have to face them and denounce everything that’s happening.”

Doña Francisca and don Paco, like other relatives of political prisoners who had never participated in any struggle, have also approached the FPDT, joining forces to struggle together for their son’s freedom.

For Trinidad Ramírez, “all bad things have a good side.” The sentences reawakened indignation and gave a new impulse to the struggle, in Mexico and around the world. This September 15, the FPDT organized an Independence Day event in the main plaza of San Salvador Atenco, and on September 23 a march is planned from the Angel to Los Pinos in Mexico City. At the same time, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) announced that the encampment in front of the Molino de Flores prison would be reinforced and that it would be transformed into a space of encounter for the Other Campaign. The EZLN also called for a renewal of the national and international campaign for the freedom of political prisoners.

For many people, demanding the release of Atenco’s political prisoners is an urgent necessity, because what is at stake, besides the lives of innocent people, is the right to resistance and the defense of basic rights. It is, in sum, a struggle for justice, democracy, and freedom in Mexico.


Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , on August 19, 2008 by floweroftheword

by David Venegas Reyes “alebrije”
Participant in the APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca)
member of VOCAL (Oaxacan Voices Constructing Autonomy and Freedom)
11 July 2008

translated by: bojobita

POWER, this monster of one thousand faces of politicians, businesspeople, bishops, and military men, that in 2006 was at the point of being squashed beneath millions of feet in the people’s victorious march for freedom; that was burned by the magnificent heat of the millions of good hearts set alight with the fire of rebellion and hope; that hid itself, terrified when cornered by the thousands of barricades; that was deafened by millions of throats that shouted like never before the slogans of justice, freedom, dignity and peace, words that are naturally opposed to power. That same power that was humiliated and mortally wounded by the insurrectionary action of the peoples of Oaxaca, today is rapidly regrouping its forces and rises furiously from the ground, with a thirst for vengeance.

Where in 2006 power had as its ultimate refuge the space bought on TV screens and the covers of a few daily papers, the only spaces where it could feel safe, and from there it performed a false show of strength. Today power goes out in the streets to demonstrate its renewed cynicism. The faces of businesspeople and politicians of all the parties that in 2006 looked with skepticism or open disdain at the more violent and authoritarian face of power, of the repressive and murderous governor (Ulises Ruiz Ortiz). In their hypocrisy these faces of power that in 2006 publicly criticised the fascist face of power, negating their common origin, today have reconciled and renewed their agreement to keep their power alive at whatever cost.

Power licks the deep scars left in its skin by thousands of anonymous hands of the people that hastened its deafening collapse, painting slogans of freedom and justice on its reptile body to the bewilderment of those who thought that power would never succumb, and the happiness of those who thought it was already dead. For this affront power feels a renewed appetite for the blood of the working people, an appetite stimulated by its desire for revenge.

Revenge disguised as reconciliation, power knows that it should show its friendliest faces in order to get its claws within reach of the distrustful and rebellious public, and once captive, it will return to feeding on their obedience, fear, admiration and their blood. For this, power counts on its most hypocritical faces, faces of leftist politicians, of legitimate deputies, senators and presidents, of leaders of falsely revolutionary social organisations, of bishops, of painters, “philanthropists”, of union leaders, of parrot-journalists and even the faces of some that are called “Leaders of the APPO” that with their long serpent tongues speak magnificent discourses of surrender and spit the venom of the demagogy at those that are within reach of their treacherous tongues, fulfilling the vile task of attracting the people that rose up in 2006 to the jaws of power so that they may be devoured by this monster of a thousand faces.

The leftist faces of power in 2006 sought eagerly to put themselves at the front of the valiant actions of the people in the struggle, and when they spoke at rallies or on occupied radio stations they gave speeches so inflammatory in their revolutionary vehemence that they squeezed with emotion the hearts of thousands of brave and honest men and women.

Leftist faces of power including those who encouraged people to engage in direct confrontation with the police and military face of power. Today they don’t lose the opportunity to label as “radical, violent and police” the people from the struggle in the streets who dare to denounce their treason and opportunism for becoming once again efficient servants of power. There is a powerful rationale behind these accusations of the leftist faces of power: To discredit, defame and eliminate those members of the social movement that refuse to serve power, those that continue fighting for freedom.

The power which in 2006 showed its most fascist and repressive face, which provoked the forceful action of the people to deeply and mortally wound its ghastly body, has learned the lesson and is ready to include however many faces may be necessary, even many faces of the left, so that this monster – devourer of peoples, nature, culture and future – may continue living. There are many faces of the left, many of those self-described leaders of the APPO who don’t hesitate to become part of the body of power and sate their appetites, to this day they rehearse the gestures, the solemnity and the demagoguery necessary to form part of this monster.

They forget and ignore that the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca is naturally opposed to power. Since horizontalism, respect for consensus and respectful dialogue are the fundamental principles of the assembly, inheritances from the assemblies our indigenous peoples have practised for millenia, the assemblies are precisely the reason for the indigenous peoples’ survival through the successive invasions, plunder, attacks, colonialism, capitalism and neoliberalism with which the owners of power have attacked them for centuries. Today the assembly remains in force as the communities own form of self-government, but above all as a political proposal of national and international reach. The APPO is that historic paradigm where the experience of struggle of the peoples of Oaxaca and the different peoples of the world that have struggled for freedom, justice, dignity and peace is combined, in a moment in history where savage capitalism is found in terminal crisis, and power, its bastard son, has shown its most criminal faces.

Power has suffered more than the superficial wounds left on its body by the people’s insurrectional action of 2006, and even though it may be adorning its hideous body with words of social peace, reconciliation and development, it will not be capable of curing itself of the most profound wound caused by the people in 2006, the wound created at the source of its strength by the consciousness gained by our peoples of their unsustainable situation and the need to fight tirelessly for true justice, freedom, dignity and peace. It is this mortal wound that remains in the heart of power and from this it will never heal.

See also:

Subcomandante Marcos’ “Good Nose”

Posted in Commentary, News with tags on July 2, 2008 by floweroftheword

By Eugenia Gutiérrez
(Translation: Erika Del Carmen Fuchs)

What does war smell like? How much pain does its odour cause? Half a year has passed since close to fifty humanists from various countries met in the University of the Land in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. They responded to a call of the Sixth Commission of the EZLN, the magazine Contrahistorias and the CIDECI and they participated in a colloquium in memory of a great man: Andrés Aubry. When the colloquium was at the point of ending Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos spoke to say: “Those of us who have been at war know how to recognize the paths through which it is prepared and nears us. The signals of war in the horizon are clear. War, like fear, also has an odour. And now we begin to breathe its fetid odour in our lands” (December 16, 2007).

By then, the Juntas de Buen Gobierno (“Councils of Good Governance”) (JBG) of the five Caracoles (“centres of local government/social/political activity) had been denouncing for months a rash of aggressions against communities where thousands of men and women from the Zapatista Grassroots Support live. The JBG had already informed us with clarity that the Federal, State and local governments had intensified their battle to displace/evict Zapatistas from the territories that they had recuperated in 1994, during those days in which so many died fighting. The denunciations of the JBG were continuous, close to forty in only 2007. However, this warning made from the peace of a colloquium turned out to be very disturbing. It was not a progressive intellectual warning us of what war is that spoke. It was a warrior that knows war who spoke. It was not an invitation for contemplating war wounds. He reached the depths and he sounded crude and profound, like when someone places you above a wound so that you can see it such as it is: open and bloody.

During 2007 there were three large gathering of the Zapatistas peoples with the peoples of Mexico and the world. Thousands of people of different countries could hear in the Caracoles the history of Zapatismo told by those who have written it. We know from them that now, with autonomy and despite the constant military pressure, the communities in resistance of Chiapas have health projects that prioritize human dignity and that in various places they have built general and specialized medical clinics, some conditioned to carry out surgeries or to transport patients in ambulances. We also know that the Zapatista youth have access to autonomous education projects that range from basic levels to high school, including the Cultural Centres of Autonomous Zapatista Technological Education (CCETAZ), or that the young women and youth will study sciences and humanities when they start up their university, which they have already planned. We know because they told us and because we saw it-that the consumption of alcohol is not permitted, in response to one of the women’s demands; that the Zapatista communities, without receiving a cent from any government, have transportation, grain storage warehouses, fair trade practices, bread, cattle, embroideries, and chicken cooperatives, workshops in herbal and traditional medicine, a sensibility that recognizes what is lacking, enthusiasm to achieve it what is lacking, community radios, nurseries, vaccination and illness prevention campaigns, justice systems that seek to be just, autonomous cafeterias, communications offices, libraries.

And, we know unequivocally that in Zapatista communities drugs are not being planted.

A few days ago, close to two-hundred elements of the Federal Army and the State Police of Chiapas burst into communities of the La Garrucha Caracol, called “Resistance towards a New Dawn.” According to the denunciation made by the JBG “The Path towards the Future,” on Wednesday, June 8, 2008, there was a convoy made up of “2 big cars of soldiers and 3 small cars of soldiers and 2 cars of public security officers, 2 cars of municipal police and a tank and a car of the PGR” which sometime afterwards was joined by another convoy coming from Patihuitz. The inhabitants of the Caracol rejected them. The military took photos and video of them. They decided to surround the Caracol and went down the path that leads to the cornfields in order to head to the community of Hermenegildo Galeana. According to the JBG, the military had their faces painted for combat and they were guided by a municipal police officer from Ocosingo named Feliciano Román Ruiz. Halfway down the path they came across the civil population, men, women and children that rejected them with yelling. The soldiers responded: “We came here because we know that there is marijuana and whatever it takes.” So the Zapatista people recurred to stones, slingshots, slings, machetes and all that they could find to reject them. When not able to pass, the military responded: “This time we will not pass, but we will return in 15 days and then we will pass whatever it takes.” Then they moved to the community of San Alejandro. On the way the soldiers “left the field of corn trampled on, that which is the only food for the people to live on.” The community of San Alejandro also rejected them with whatever they could and the convoy opted to retire.

In this Caracol various chapters of the life of the Other Campaign were written, since it was here that the first plenary meeting was held (September 2005) and where the tour of the Sixth Commission was initiated (January 2006). In addition, here is where the gathering “Comandanta Ramona and the Zapatistas” took place (December 2007). Today this Caracol lives threatened by a military incursion under the accusation that marijuana is on their lands. And it is not distrust that prevails, but memory: when the Aguascalientes(“Zapatista headquarters”) that gave accommodation to the National Democratic Convention in 1994 became emblematic, the government opted for destroying it and establishing on its remains an enormous base of military operations. The nearby community of Guadelupe Tepeyac was severely punished and got to know the pain of exile. The Mexican Federal Army knows how to crush the civil population-they specialize in doing this to the indigenous population.

Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, President due to a tantrum, seems to have nailed a red tack on the name of “La Garrucha” in their map of places to repress, a map that now looks very red. Juan Sabines Guerrero, PRD governor of Chiapas, encouraged him and smiled. Son of the person responsible for the massacre of twelve indigenous in Golonchán (June 1980), the current Sabines has governed a Chiapas where not only paramilitaries but also police have not stopped hurting the civil population in pathetically cowardly acts of violence: children tortured when they go to the river for water; parents and children imprisoned; lone campesinos beaten by a group or shot on the outskirts of a road; water cuts; beaten, humiliated women; families who see their cornfields being burnt; families who see their house being burnt; youth persecuted on paths or spied on at the door of their house in order to drive a machete in their cranium; power cuts; people of any age displaced at any moment.

To know how war smells or to imagine how much pain it causes, we could speak with all of them. We could ask them. Perhaps they would respond, “it depends.” Sometimes war smells like the house that they lit on fire and its odour hurts so much-as much as the years that you lived in it and planned to live in it. Other times it smells like blood on your beaten face and its odour hurts you just as much as the kicks of various dozens of men against you alone. It depends. Maybe war smells like the husband that the police robbed from you and it hurts as much as the sentence that, without motive, has been imposed on him by a brutal judge. We would need to talk to them, ask them. Each testimony of state violence of the last two years has been presented with details by the JBG, documented by civil organizations, video-taped by /brigadistas/ in solidarity with the people and even gathered in documentaries. The facts are there, at reach of the feelings of those who want to know them.

While the Subcomandante Marcos stressed in San Cristóbal de las Casas that he could smell war, the community of La Garrucha was ready to receive thousands of women from dozens of countries. Six months later, the community of La Garrucha are ready to receive the Army of Felipe Calderón with all its violence. The couple who had planned to get married on June 20^th , gets married. Well, in reality, they had the celebration, the food and the dance early because the wedding will be later. The women that have already started the new “Comandanta Ramona Clinic” meet in the upper level of this outstanding construction in order to continue taking their course on sexual and reproductive health. The autonomous cafeteria feeds those city eaters without stopping with a gas stove where the /fogon/ (“wood burner”) is history. The girls dress in the thousands of colours of always and the boys do the pranks of usual. The elder woman who lives alone does not stop preparing corn breads. The generous auditorium that housed us does not change its physiognomy while in a corner of the people’s central stage the figure of an enormous guard that looks towards the entrance of the /Caracol/ stands out-she withstands the sun and the rain and she is various
compañeras in one: Emiliana Digna Ramona, the paper-mache gift doll turned over to the Gathering of Women in December of 2007, who danced without stopping.

Everything points to the fact that this community, like any other Zapatista community, waits for the military offensive. And during this wait, the community continues to live. Like the Junta de Buen Gobierno well says in its communiqué of June 4: “We are what you already know brothers and sister of Mexico and of the world.”

Caracol de La Garrucha, June 2008. 06/23/el-olfato-del-subcomandante/
Mujeres y la Sexta DF-Edomex
Abajo y a la Izquierda con Todo el Corazón

Zapatistas defend autonomy, State aggression escalates

Posted in Commentary, News, Otherpress with tags , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2008 by floweroftheword

Zapatistas defend autonomy
State aggression escalates

June 07, 2008 By John Gibler

This past Wednesday, June 4, a military convoy of about 200 Mexican soldiers and federal and municipal police attempted to enter Zapatista villages under the pretext of searching for marijuana plants; something patently absurd in communities that have maintained a self-imposed “dry law,” prohibiting all drugs and all forms of alcohol throughout Zapatista territories for nearly fifteen years.
The convoy first stopped at the entrance to the Garrucha Caracol (the regional seat of the Good Government Council, or Junta de Buen Gobierno). Four soldiers stepped out into the road, others photographed and filmed the Zapatistas from their vehicles, but the community began to draw people together, shouting at the soldiers to leave, and gathering slingshots, machetes, rocks, and sticks. The soldiers quickly got back in their vehicles and continued down the road.

The convoy joined a second convoy down the road where they all descend and set off walking to the Zapatista support community of Galaena. A police officer from Ocosingo, Feliciano Román Ruiz, guides the soldiers through the trails towards the community.

In Galaena, the men, women, and children organized to bar the soldiers’ entrance to the community.

According to the Zapatista communiqué denouncing the events, the Zapatistas shouted at the soldiers to turn back. The soldiers said that they had come to destroy the marijuana plants they know to be near by. The Zapatistas denied growing marijuana and began to gather slingshots, machetes, rocks, and sticks to defend their land.

The soldiers turned back, but warned that they would return in two weeks, and they would enter the community no matter what.

But they did not leave; they walked to nearby San Alejandro where some 60 soldiers had already taken up position around the community, automatic weapons drawn.
The people of San Alejandro, also a Zapatista support community (bases de apoyo) also confronted the soldiers and barred their passage.
Soon the soldiers withdrew.

“People of Mexico and of the world,” the Good Government Council of La Garrucha wrote in a denunciation of these events released on June 4 and published in La Jornada online on June 6, “it will not be long before there is confrontation provoked by [President Felipe] Calderón, [Chiapas governor] Juan Sabines and Carlos Leonel Solórzano, municipal president of Ocosingo, who send there dogs of repression…”

Aggressions against Zapatista support communities have been building steadily since Calderon took office in December 2006. The military bases in Chiapas have been restructured to include Special Forces and air-borne capacity throughout the state. The government has reorganized various paramilitary organizations.
This has been extensively documented by the San Cristóbal-based organization CAPISE (Center for Political Analysis and Socio-economic Investigation).

Paramilitary organizations have invaded Zapatista territories throughout the state, often attacking Zapatista support communities.

In recent weeks the aggressions have escalated.

On May 19, federal agents and soldiers, arriving in helicopters and military convoy, entered the community of San Jerónimo Tuliljá, in the Caracol of La Garrucha, breaking into houses and pushing people around without explanation.

On May 22, a large group of armed men from the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) invaded the Zapatista Caracol of Morelia, cutting off the community’s electricity and attacking people in their homes throughout the night. The gunmen wounded over 20 Zapatistas, six of whom were taken to the hospital in serious condition.

But the aggressions are almost daily: kidnapping Zapatista supporters and taking them to local jails on invented charges, contaminating local wells, invading lands, cutting corn plants, leaving death threats for the community.

“It is as if we are seeing the preparations for what will be another Acteal,” said Subcomandante Marcos in a recent interview published in book form in Mexico, referring to the December 22, 1997 paramilitary massacre of 45 indigenous men, women, and children gathered in a church in the community of Acteal.
“But now they are not looking for a conflict between aggressors and defenseless people, but really a confrontation,” he said.

Zapatista autonomy is not only a threat to the perceived legitimacy of the state, but it is the structure of resistance that maintains and protects Zapatista territories, land recuperated through the 1994 uprising and cared for and cultivated since.

Ernesto Ledesma of CAPISE says that over 74,000 hectares of Zapatista territory are under thereat of invasion. The federal, state and local governments, and all three national political parties in Mexico, including the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) have joined together in the aggression against the Zapatistas, he says, using direct paramilitary land invasions, bureaucratic trickery through the federal secretary of agrarian affairs, and through federal expropriations.

“We are not drug traffickers,” the Good Government Council of La Garrucha wrote, “we are what we all well known to be, brothers and sisters and Mexico and the world. It is clear that they will be coming for us, the Zapatistas; they will be coming from the three levels of bad government, and we are ready to resist, and if necessary to comply with our slogan, which is: live for the fatherland or die for liberty (vivir por la patria o morir por la libertad).”

This is a brief and dramatic lesson in autonomy: with slingshots and machetes the Zapatistas are ready to refuse entrance to their communities to the soldiers and federal police. Most of the daily work of autonomy goes unseen and unreported: collective land management, autonomous schools and health clinics, community dispute resolution. But autonomy also means rejecting the authority of the state, rejecting the legitimacy of the state; and this rejection comes not only in the form of eloquent communiqués, but also staring down the soldiers with nothing other than a farm tool in hand.

John Gibler is a Global Exchange Media Fellow and author of Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt, forthcoming from City Lights. Gibler has been living and writing from Mexico since 2006. He has reported for Left Turn, In These Times, ZNet, Z Magazine, New Politics, Common Dreams, Yes! Magazine, Colorlines and Democracy Now!.

To read the Good Government Councils communiqués, Enlace Zapatista:

CAPISE is organizing observation brigades in Zapatista territories:
A long interview with Subcomandante Marcos was just published in book form in Mexico: Corte de Caja,

Background information on the aggressions against Zapatistas in English:

The New Government Provocation Against Zapatismo

Posted in Commentary, Otherpress with tags on June 17, 2008 by floweroftheword

“The New Governmental Effort to Make Out the EZLN to Be an Accomplice in Organized Crime Attempts to Take Advantage of the Wave of Anti-Narco Sentiment”

By Luis Hernández Navarro
La Jornada

June 12, 2008

Since the January 1994 insurrection, various administrations have wanted to associate the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN in its Spanish initials) with drug trafficking. They’ve never been able to demonstrate such a link, but they try time and time again.

This past June 4 the tired old story played out again. Only this time the threat is greater than in the past. On that date over 200 agents from the federal Army, the Attorney General’s office, and state and municipal police, with their faces painted, entered the Zapatista territory of La Garrucha with the pretext of looking for marijuana plants. Hundreds of residents from the Hermenegildo Galeana and San Alejando communities fended them off with machetes, clubs, and slingshots.

Zapatista communities prohibit the cultivation, trafficking, and consumption of drugs. It’s not even permitted to drink or sell alcohol there. This isn’t a new fact. The rebel commanders have made this law public since the beginning of the armed uprising. The measure remains in effect under the civil authorities who have been put in charge of the autonomous municipalities and the good government councils. The same can’t be said for the PRIista [translator’s note: members of the Institutional Revolution Party which ruled Mexico with an iron fist for over 70 years] communities, where illegal drugs are grown in collusion with the police.

In a communique directed at then-president Ernesto Zedillo, dated February 10, 1995, one day after the military offensive that tried to detain, by means of treachery, Subcomandante Marcos, the insurgents stated: “we want to tell you the truth, if it’s what you don’t know: the criminals, terrorists, drug traffickers are you, they are the same people who make up your cabinet, they are your very own soldiers who traffic drugs, who force the indigenous peasants to plant marijuana and other narcotics. You haven’t realized this, Mr. Zedillo? Yes, we Zapatistas, because we live amongst the people, are the same people who have fought against the planting of drugs, against the drug trafficking that your very own soldiers do and have done within the territories we’ve controlled.”

Unfounded, the accusation has been repeated year after year. In 2004, the newspaper Reforma published the news that “on average, every two days members of the Mexican Army enter Zapatista territory in order to destroy marijuana and poppy fields which in the past year have considerably increased in number.” Days afterwards, Gen. Jorge Isaac Jiménez García, commander of military operations in the zone, denied that the marijuana fields belonged to EZLN sympathizers.

The police-military provocation this past June 4 against the rebels is not an isolated incident. It forms part of and endless aggression. The government harassment against the insurgents has been constant since the arrival of Gov. Juan Sabines in 2006.

Various peasant groups close to the state government try to take possession of the lands that Zapatista support bases have occupied and worked since 1994. Paramilitary groups such as the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Peasant Rights (OPDDIC) harass the autonomous municipalities. The Army has established new positions, made its presence felt in the region, and carried out unusual movements of a clearly intimidating character.

Jaime Martínez Veloz, representative of the Chiapas government on the Commission for Peace and Reconciliation (Cocopa), has explained very clearly the agrarian dimension of the current anti-Zapatista offensive. “The Mexican government,” he said to the International Civil Commission for the Observation of Human Rights (CCIODH in its Spanish initials), “I am convinced that in the attitude of trying to confront the EZLN with peasants and indigenous people in the zone, gave land titles to people in need of land, but it entitled them as ejidatarios [trans. note: communal land owners] of the same lands that the Zapatistas occupied. It made them ejidatarios, and obviously it creates a conflict. In the same area there’s those who occupy the land and those who have a title to it. This was already happening in the first years, ‘95, ‘96… and the repercussions of that, well, now they’re surfacing.”

Curiously, those responsible for agrarian, rural, and tourist policy in Juan Sabines’ government are people like Jorge Constantino Kanter, representative of the plantation owners and ranchers affected by the Zapatista eruption, or Roberto Albores Gleason, son of ex-governor Roberto Albores, who committed countless human rights violations.

The June 4 operation was carried out in the place were just a short while before Subcomandante Marcos had been present. By the looks of it, his presence in La Garrucha worried the governmental authorities. The spokesperson of the rebel group hasn’t appeared before the public for months, and his silence makes the intelligence services nervous. But the red flags that warn of the increasing governmental intolerance when faced with the peaceful civil initiative of the rebels have been raised for some time. En route to the first Continental Gathering of the Peoples of America [sic: Indigenous Peoples of America] in Vicam, Sonora, from October 11-14, 2007, police and military checkpoints detained a convoy that was transporting the Zapatista delegates, forcing the indigenous commanders who were going to attend the event to return to Chiapas.

An opinion poll recently carried out by Felipe Calderón’s administration demonstrates that, in addition to the broad public support for the anti-drug campaign, despite the passing years, 26 percent of those surveyed support the Zapatistas. This is not a negligible percentage under the current circumstances.

The new governmental effort to make out the EZLN to be an accomplice in organized crime attempts to take advantage of the wave of anti-narco sentiment in order to try to erode the current positive opinion of the rebels and deal it a repressive blow. A resolute blow with a long history. Does the federal government really lack unresolved conflicts so much that it needs to enflame one that it hasn’t been able to resolve for years?
Original published in Spanish – La Jornada, June 10, 2008
Translation by Kristin Bricker

Wellington Zapatista Support Group on State Violence Against Indigenous Communities in Mexico

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , on June 17, 2008 by floweroftheword

On June 4, a deployment of some 200 Mexican army troops and federal police occupied several communities around the Zapatista settlement of La Garrucha, on the edge of the Chiapas rainforest, under the guise of a marijuana eradication mission. The Zapatista Good Government Junta (JBG) “El Camino del Futuro,” based at La Garrucha, said residents mobilised to defend their homes with sticks, machetes and slingshots as troops spread out, destroying corn fields, taking photographs and “intimidating the population.” The troops found no marijuana, but threatened that they would return on 18 June.

Earlier, on May 22, a large group of armed men from the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) invaded the Zapatista Caracol (Zapatista regional government seat) of Morelia, cutting off the community’s electricity and attacking people in their homes throughout the night. The gunmen wounded over 20 Zapatista supporters, six of whom were taken to the hospital in serious condition. On May 19, federal agents and soldiers, arriving in helicopters and military convoy, entered the community of San Jerónimo Tuliljá, Caracol of La Garrucha, breaking into houses and pushing people around without explanation.1

These are just a few recent incidents among a plethora of military, paramilitary and police raids in Zapatista communities, raids which are in keeping with the widespread corruption, political assasinations, detentions, torture and sexual violation that have earned the Mexican government it’s appalling human rights record.2

On the 1st of January 1994, the day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect, the indigenous Zapatistas of the EZLN rose up with their demands for democracy, liberty and justice for all Mexicans. To this day they continue with the peaceful development and provision of their own health, education, democratic governance, and justice systems.

In breach of the San Andrés Accords, the Mexican state and federal government routinely uses military and paramilitary violence to pressure Zapatista communities to leave their lands. This is in order to facilitate the exploitation of natural resources for the profit of Mexican politicians and transnational corporations.

But the repression of indigenous peoples is not solely a foreign phenomenon. The New Zealand government is also guilty of ongoing human rights abuses, from the large-scale legalised theft of Maori land through the Foreshore and Seabed Act, to the quasi-military invasion of Ruatoki and the detention of refugees and indigenous, peace and environmental activists amidst accusations of “terrorism”. Meanwhile the NZ government embraces neoliberal policies that prioritise profits for corporations and the rich, resulting in widespread exploitation, environmental degradation and poverty.

The Wellington Zapatista Support Group denounces the repressive actions of the Mexican and New Zealand governments, and demands the immediate withdrawal of troops from Chiapas communities, an end to military harrassment of indigenous communities, the release of all political prisoners, and the upholding of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the San Andrés Accords.

If you would like to give Mrs María Angélica Arce de Jeannet, the Mexican Ambassador, your opinion on this matter, she can be contacted at: phone: 472 0555, fax: 496 3559 or email:

Or you can visit the Mexican Embassy inside the AMP Chambers at 185 Featherston St, Wellington.

The Wellington Zapatista Support Group (which fundraises to support community health services in La Garrucha) can be contacted at:

For more information about the Zapatistas: (in Spanish)


2 For example see Atenco, Oaxaca, Acteal, Ciudad Juarez…