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: http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/
CAPISE is organizing observation brigades in Zapatista territories: http://www.capise.org.mx
A long interview with Subcomandante Marcos was just published in book form in Mexico: Corte de Caja, http://www.cortedecaja.org
Background information on the aggressions against Zapatistas in English: