San Marcos Avilés: Forced Displacement and the Hope of Solidarity
Human rights organizations and solidarity activists warn that the Tzeltales of San Marcos Avilés are at risk of a displacement equivalent to that of 2010.
Published by Nacla: https://nacla.org/Zapatista-Displacement-and-Solidarity
For the Zapatista support bases of San Marcos Avilés, the nightmare of displacement has no end. After the end of the international campaign which had prevented the evictions, the government and the political parties renewed the threat, and there are now fears of an imminent displacement.
The ejido San Marcos Avilés is located in a mountainous region of the official municipality of Chilón, in the Highland region in the north of Chiapas. The population of around 140 families of indigenous Tzeltales grows maize, beans, coffee, sugar cane, and bananas, and keep a few cattle, horses, pigs, and chickens. Within the community live families of Zapatista bases of support (BAZ) alongside supporters of the Mexican political parties of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and the Green Party of Mexico (PVEM).
On the morning of Saturday February 23, 2013 came the news those in solidarity with the Zapatistas throughout the world had feared to hear again: “Urgent: Imminent risk of forced displacement of the support bases of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in the San Marcos Avilés ejido.” This article will try to give the background to the nightmare situation which has been endured by the BAZ of this community since 2010 and show the difference that international solidarity can make at a time of a resurgence of the Zapatista movement.
In August 2010, as part of the Zapatista Autonomous Rebel Education system and their fight for dignity, freedom, and justice, the BAZ of San Marcos Avilés constructed their own autonomous school, “Emiliano Zapata.” Education is one of the main pillars of Zapatista autonomy and self-determination, since it is completely independent from the state. Their autonomous schools are non-hierarchical and rooted in local indigenous culture and worldviews. Education is seen as a fundamental right of the people and a form of resistance. “We want a good education for our children,” say the BAZ about the foundation of the school, “good learning, a good example. We see that the government has its schools, but it is not good education, nor do they teach our children well; they do not provide good learning, and what they teach has nothing to do with us. So we opened our school.”
A group of the political party supporters in the community, in conjunction with the local police and authorities, began acts of aggression, harassment, and intimidation as soon as the building of the school started. These acts included the theft and destruction of food and belongings, physical and death threats, and land grabs. Within days 29 hectares of land and crops had been stolen from the BAZ. Less than three weeks after the construction of the school, 30 heavily armed men affiliated with the PRI, PRD, and PVEM broke into the houses of the Zapatistas and attempted to rape two women. They displaced 47 men, 50 women and 77 children who, so as not to respond to this aggression, took refuge in the woods and in the mountains, where they remained without food or shelter for 33 days—enduring cold, wet, and hunger, forced to sleep in the mud under plastic sheeting. “They treat us like animals, like dogs. This is what I felt when my son was born on the mountain,” said one of the women.
Supporters from throughout the world mobilized quickly in response to the eviction and organized a solidarity caravan to bring food, clothing, blankets, and medicine to the displaced people. After an accompanied return to the community on October 12, 2010, the BAZ found that the aggressors had looted their homes and stolen their possessions, taken over their lands, broken down their fences, killed their animals, and burned their crops. Moreover, the death threats, bullying, and harassment from the political party supporters continued, preventing members of the community from performing their daily activities, and severely undermining their mental and physical health. The attacks can be clearly seen as another attempt to put an end to the Zapatista autonomous process and force the BAZ to give up the struggle and submit to the projects of the “bad government.”
The JBG of Oventic, Caracol II made a statement: “If anything happens to our brothers and sisters now that they are back in their community, it will be the municipal, state, and federal governments who are responsible, by advising, financing, and arming paramilitaries and manipulating the poor and miserable.
“We the Zapatistas do not bother anybody, we do not evict our compas from the political parties, we do not persecute anyone, we do not steal the land of our brother and sister farmers, nor do we take any other property from other poor people; we only defend what is ours, what are our rights; we live and eat through our own work and sweat, and we want to fight for true democracy, freedom, and justice for everyone. These are our crimes as Zapatistas”.
An enduring nightmare
In August and September 2011, an Observation and Solidarity Brigade visited this and other threatened communities and reported acute malnutrition and an outbreak of fever which took the life of a child. One member of the brigade explained, “The women in particular express the suffering resulting from their displacement, and the pain caused by having no security of any kind, either for themselves, or, above all, for their children. As a direct result of asserting their legitimate right to education, they do not have food, shelter, or water for their children.”
However, they also commented: “We see that, in fact, the Zapatista autonomy project asserts the rights that are enshrined in the declarations, conventions, and treaties relating to the rights of indigenous peoples, especially those relating to autonomy and free determination. We witnessed terrible humiliations perpetrated by the bad government, but we also saw with our own eyes that despite the threats of repression, suffering, pain, and poverty, not one of the compañeros wants to give up. This belief in the process of liberation means that the Zapatista movement is stronger than ever.”
A second displacement?
Threats of another displacement, by the same armed actors, remained recurrent. As a result, in November 2011, the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba), in conjunction with Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio, an organization of Mexican migrants struggling for dignity and against displacement in New York, issued the “Worldwide Declaration in Support of the Zapatista Support Bases of San Marcos Avilés,” which groups, individuals, and organizations from all corners of the world signed. Over 1,000 protestors from Occupy Wall Street signed a further Declaration of Support.
Then, in 2012, the situation of threats and aggressions intensified to the point that the BAZ sent out an urgent call for help to the national and international community. Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio again responded, sending out an urgent message to the “Compañeros of the world” in July 2012, along with an extraordinarily moving and powerful video message from the BAZ themselves. “In the video message, our Zapatista comrades from San Marcos Avilés send special messages to the world…. They issue an urgent call for national and international support and solidarity with their community, in light of the alarming escalation of threats and hostility…. The culprits remain an attack group of political party members, who have stated that they will kidnap authorities of the Zapatista community, and in this way, forcefully displace the support base members from the ejido…. It is feared that another wholesale displacement of the community, similar to the one that took place in 2010, will occur.”
The BAZ explain, “We cannot enjoy the fruits of our labor with our children, because members of the political parties are eating them on the orders of bad government….The parties do not want the Zapatista organization in the ejido San Marcos. According to them, we set a bad example. They showed they want the organization to disappear. We will continue our struggle … because we have the right to be taken into account. Freedom, justice, and peace are what we are asking for. But we are not afraid because we know quite clearly what we are looking for and how we want to live”.
The Echo Campaign
Having grabbed attention from all corners of the world to the situation of the BAZ of San Marcos Avilés, Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio went on to launch the campaign “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas,” on July 27, 2012. This initiative was in two phases—the first, “Walking the True Word,” was one of education and awareness-raising, and the second, “From Truth to Action: Stopping the Repression,” focused on holding protests led by the same communities who learned and became aware during the previous stage. As a result of this effort, “Committees of the True Word” began organizing in support of the Zapatistas in 29 countries, many of them composed of people who were new to the Zapatista struggle.
Although the Campaign was one of solidarity with all the Zapatista communities under threat and their political prisoners, the continual dissemination of information through video messages, events, declarations, letters, articles, statements of support from well-known thinkers, and a great range of activities and actions, combined to keep San Marcos Avilés in the public eye.
“These attacks,” wrote the Peruvian fighter for social justice, Hugo Blanco, in support of the Echo Campaign, “are the spearhead of the attempt to crush the zone liberated from neoliberalism, where the people govern themselves through the Good Government Juntas. This is seen as the great enemy by the transnational corporations…as they are a living example of the fact that Another World is Possible, A World where Many Worlds Fit….It is in the direct interests of humanity to defend the island of freedom that is the Zapatista area.” The Campaign left no doubt that the attacks are part of the war of attrition that has been conducted by the Mexican state against the Zapatistas since 1995, with the aim of eradicating the whole movement and the hope it embodies, from the face of the earth.
In her second letter of support for the Campaign, the great Mexican feminist Sylvia Marcos explored further the reasons behind the paramilitary attacks, “What are they afraid of to make them deploy such destructive force? What is the danger from the proposal, the resistance and the survival of the Zapatistas for the prevailing capitalist order? Is it because they show positively that other forms of life, in justice and dignity, are possible? That the satisfactions of life and the joy of being need not be governed by consumerism and commodification? That we can “live well,” as they say in the Andean communities of South America, with other ways of organization, government, and campesino production, in which the best way of living is not the accumulation of material goods, but community solidarity and sharing what there is?”
The women of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) added their own insights, “The Mexican government targets these indigenous communities because Zapatistas are building an alternative form of living where people have sovereignty over the land and pursue justice for indigenous people. To our compañeras and compañeros of San Marcos Avilés who were displaced for over a month from their community, we stand together with you in your fight against the corrupt government that imposes such cruelty.” Meanwhile, members of South Africa’s largest grassroots movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Shack Dwellers Movement, pointed out that the primary goal of all repression is to break our bonds as movements and communities, so we must stay united and firm in our commitments and see our struggles as one.
Throughout the duration of this intense period of organizing, inspiration and awareness-raising, from July to November 2012, the situation in San Marcos Avilés remained relatively quiet and no attempts at displacement were made. The aggressors knew the situation was being watched. This can give us all hope that national and international organizing can actively help to prevent repression, that we can make a difference, and that all the hard work is worth it. Most importantly, these campaigns help the Zapatista compañer@s to know that they are not alone, that they have allies everywhere, and what is more, knowledge and understanding of their struggle is spread more widely. They help us find one another.
The new threats of displacement
There has been an intensification of the repression in San Marcos Avilés since February 2013, raising concerns about a new attack. There are now fears that another displacement of the BAZ is imminent, following a demand from the authorities and police of the community for the BAZ to pay the local (predial) tax. They replied, “We have suffered very much as a result of all these aggressions from groups of (political) party members, and the government has done nothing. Now is not the time to pay, because we are in resistance and we demand respect for our right to our lands. If we do not receive anything from the government, we are not going to pay taxes.”
The party supporters threatened to arrest the BAZ, take them to the authorities, and cut off their light and water. They then put in motion the process of eviction in conjunction with the Municipal President of Chilón, Leonardo Rafael Guirao Aguilar, and the Agrarian Procurator in Ocosingo, Luis Demetrio Domínguez López. The threat is imminent, and the ejido is filled with growing terror.
In the words of Frayba, “This Center for Human Rights expresses its concerns about the imminent risk to life, personal integrity, and security faced by the BAEZLN, inhabitants of the ejido San Marcos Avilés, stemming from the death threats and harassment which have increased during recent weeks. In addition, their forced displacement and dispossession from their lands, which are their means of subsistence, and which they have not been able to work since April 9, 2010, have led to a food crisis and constant threats against their process of autonomy. We point out the responsibility of the government of Chiapas who, by deliberate omission, has not acted to ensure the integrity and personal security of the BAEZLN and their access to the land, despite several interventions submitted.”
A great sign of hope that may affect the situation in San Marcos Avilés is the recent re-emergence of the Zapatistas from a period of silence. A massive silent march of as many as 50,000 masked BAZ took place on a highly significant day, December 21, 2012, the end of Baktun 13. This day marked the end of one cycle of the Maya calendar and the beginning of another—a time when traditionally worlds change and power is transformed. “Did you hear?” wrote Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, “It is the sound of your world crumbling. It is the sound of our world resurging. The day that was day, was night. And night shall be the day that will be day. Democracy! Liberty! Justice!” Since then, 25 communiqués have been released (to date), and the Zapatista Word has been reborn.
Cultivating hope and action
Recently, solidarity campaigning has been seen to have contributed significantly to the release of the Zapatista political prisoner, Francisco Sántiz López. As a result of very effective organizing, the name of San Marcos Avilés is now well-known. There are people who have never visited the ejido who care about what happens there. Although the Echo Campaign may be over, the Committees of the True Word are still active. Frayba’s release of the Urgent Action brought a rapid response in the form of reports, letters, statements, and articles. An eviction could not happen quietly, without being noticed and protested against. People are urged to write to the Municipal President of Chilón immediately, as well as the governor of Chiapas, Manuel Velasco Coello, and the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, holding them responsible for any aggressions that may occur.
It is essential to remain vigilant, to keep organizing actions, writing letters, and spreading information, while we make sure we keep the name of San Marcos Avilés, our solidarity with the BAZ, and, of course, hope, alive.
Solidarity Brings Freedom and Justice for Zapatista Francisco Sántiz López
Originally published by NACLA 11th February 2013https://nacla.org/news/2013/2/11/solidarity-brings-freedom-and-justice-zapatista-francisco-s%C3%A1ntiz-l%C3%B3pez
After 417 days of wrongful imprisonment, the Zapatista is freed.
Thanks to all the people and organizations throughout the world who campaigned for his liberation.
Joyful celebrations have taken place all over the world as supporters and Zapatistas rejoiced in Francisco Sántiz López’s liberation after 417 days of unjust imprisonment for crimes he never committed. The order for his release states that the evidence of his innocence was not taken into account, confirming that, as the Oventic Good Government Junta has repeatedly made clear, “his only crime was that of being a Zapatista.” Upon his release on January 25, 2013, the Tzeltal, Francisco, stated: “We are going to continue in the struggle of the EZLN, to follow the path, and we are going to win.”
In the eleventh of Subcomandante Marcos’s recent communiqués, released on January 24, he listed the names of several persecuted individuals. One of these was “Francisco Sántiz López, indigenous Zapatista, unjustly imprisoned by ‘law enforcement’” On January 23, in La Jornada, Hermann Bellinghausen wrote of Francisco, “he remains in prison for no reason, his case frozen, more like a political hostage than a prisoner.”
Francisco is from the community of Banavil, Tenejapa, in the highland region in the north of Chiapas. He is a campesino who also runs a stall in the local market and is married with eight children and 12 grandchildren. He has been part of a committed support base of the Zapatistas for over twenty years, even before the uprising of January 1 1994, and is described by the Oventic Junta as “an honest person who fulfills his community and organizational responsibilities.”
On December 4, 2011, local police arrested and charged Francisco Sántiz López with “leading” a violent confrontation that had taken place that day in Banavil that resulted in two deaths. Although many witnesses were able to testify that he was not present in Banavil when the attack took place—but instead miles away running his fruit and vegetable stall in the municipal headquarters of Tenejapa, where he was arrested—Francisco was imprisoned in CERSS No. 5 in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, where he was confined for 417 days in total.
The incident in question involved an armed attack by a group of PRI supporters against four Tzeltal families, who were not Zapatistas, although they were described as sympathetic to the organization. During the violence, one of the attackers was killed, and one of the victims, Alonso Lόpez Luna, was disappeared; only his arm has ever been found, and his case has never been investigated. The four indigenous families were displaced and remain in inadequate living conditions, far from their rural home on the outskirts of the city of San Cristóbal, while their attackers occupy their lands.
On March 22, 2012, a judge exonerated Francisco of the unproven charges of murder and aggravated assault, and he was released. However, just as he was leaving the prison he was rearrested, this time on a federal charge, for the crime of “being in possession of a Firearm for the Exclusive Use of the Army, Navy and Air Force.” Despite the fact that there is no evidence that Francisco was in possession of a firearm at any time, he was returned to the prison.
The Campaign for Francisco’s Release
Locally, nationally, and internationally, Francisco Sántiz López’s supporters have disseminated information, written letters, circulated petitions, produced videos, and participated in actions, rallies, forums, gatherings, and artistic displays to work for his liberation.
Many of the actions in support of Francisco also focused on another famous iconic and innocent prisoner, the Tzotzil “Professor” Alberto Patishtán Gómez, who has been imprisoned unjustly since July 2000, and who, in 2002, was sentenced to 60 years of incarceration. He has since become well-known and highly respected for his human rights work on behalf of his fellow prisoners—setting up prisoner organizations, such as the Voice of El Amate, within the prisons and for leading the prisoners on hunger strikes to demand their rights and freedoms.
“Breaking Down the Prison Walls”
Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio initiated this global solidarity campaign to bring down the prison walls and liberate these two prisoners. The campaign had four phases: the First and Second Weeks of Global Struggle, in April and June 2012; the “Public Letter Demanding the Immediate Liberation of Francisco Sántiz López and Alberto Patishtán Gómez,” in June; and finally, “for Nine Months: Nine Days of Global Action to Bring Down the Prison Walls” in August and September 2012. With great energy, momentum continued to build throughout the campaign as they organized more and more actions and events. Videos released included messages from the Landless Peoples Movement (MST) from Brazil and the Shack Dwellers Movement from South Africa (Abahlali baseMjondolo).
Movimiento launched the campaign with these words: “We have witnessed with much pain all the attempts to dehumanize Alberto Patishtán Gómez and Francisco Sántiz López, from the false accusations to the legal inconsistencies of the bad government via its three levels and its rulers from every post. They seek to erase the faces of our compañeros to make them invisible. They seek to erase the words of our compañeros to silence them. They seek to eliminate their physical freedom so that they cannot fight any more. Because it is easier to bury beneath prison walls a human body that lacks a face, makes no sound, has no life.
“But we continue listening to them from afar, and their dignified cries, their indispensable lives, call us to walk alongside them to obtain their freedom. They call on us to unite our forces in order to knock down the walls that surround them.
“As an organization of predominantly Mexican immigrants, we have experienced first-hand the inhumane reality of the border and social walls imposed upon us by those from above. We have lived and challenged the many injustices that are like bricks in these walls; we have also lived and seen them crumble. Once all of us unite, combine our forces, and organize, we can accomplish this. For this reason, we view international solidarity as deeply important. United and together, we shall win.”
Declarations of Support—“Their Struggle is Our Struggle”
During the second week of global action the renowned thinker, university professor John Holloway, wrote a letter in support of the campaign for the political prisoners: “To Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio, the Other Campaign, New York. How impressive! Wave after wave of protest for the liberation of Alberto Patishtán and Francisco Santiz López, letter after letter arriving from every part of the world.
“A result, of course, of the organization and determination of the organizers of the weeks of struggle for their liberation. But it is something much more than that. We recognize ourselves in Alberto and Francisco, we recognize that they are suffering for us. Their struggle is our struggle. Their struggle is the struggle of all of us who still dream that there can be a future for humanity, a life of dignity. Their imprisonment is simply another manifestation of the fact that capitalism has no room for humanity. The present system is a constant aggression, a machine of destruction that seeks to destroy all that does not bow to the logic of money, all that stands opposed to the logic of profit. But it cannot succeed because there are people like Alberto and Francisco who say No, that they will not accept it and ……millions and millions and millions more who will not accept.”
A letter from Raul Zibechi, the highly respected writer, thinker, and analyst from Uruguay, presented another very powerful statement: “Those from above are criminalizing the place occupied by the people who are the color of the earth. That is the justice of the State and the bad government. A ‘justice’ that imprisons the children of Pachamama and those who defend and care for her, but rewards with freedom those who destroy her in order to turn her into a commodity.
“The international campaign to free Patishtán and Sántiz López is revealing the true reasons behind their imprisonment. When those from below stand up, when the poor of the world speak out and organize, they are systematically labeled “terrorists” and “violent” and are turned into the targets of defamation campaigns, with all the machinery of repression thrown upon them.
“When those from above steal public resources, when bankers appropriate the money and labor of all others, they are rewarded with positions in the bad governments and utilize state money to save their dirty businesses.
“These are not errors or abnormalities, but rather the true notion of justice held by the State: To protect those from above and condemn those from below. In this world two forms of justice exist: One for the governments and one for the people. The former is implemented by rich, white men who are protected by armed guards, and who hide in palaces to make decisions. The latter is community justice that is decided in assemblies of common people–the people who are the color of the earth–whereby everyone can debate because neither lawyers nor experts are required to distinguish between good and bad.
“They are two justices for two opposed worlds. One day our justice shall judge those from above; and on that day, they shall be condemned to live off their work, to care for the common good. They shall be condemned to live as we, the 99% of humanity, do.
“That day, which is not far off, we will remember our brothers, Patishtán and Sántiz López, as two of the many midwives who made the birth of a new world possible.”
The renowned social struggler from Peru, Hugo Blanco, commented: “In Mexico, jail is not meant for narco-traffickers, but rather, for indigenous people, such as Alberto Patishtán Gómez and Francisco Sántiz López, who have done nothing wrong.
“What crime did these two men commit? Thinking that Mexico should be a place for all Mexicans–one in which everyone works and lives peacefully, without exploiting or being exploited, and enjoys the fruits that the land gives us. A country where everyone may be educated, where everyone may attend to their health, where there are no millionaires and no beggars. A country where everyone is concerned about each other, as they are in indigenous communities; a country that is formed by communities of communities, both in the countryside and in the cities; where there is no one who rules and no one who obeys–where all may decide; a country where everyone may be in deep solidarity, where it is not necessary to step on another’s head in order to move up.
“This is what they had in mind, and they understood that they must not resign themselves to only think as such, but that it is necessary to collaborate with other people in order to build this country of solidarity which would exist in a world of solidarity.”
And the much-loved writer and activist from Oaxaca, Gustavo Esteva, wrote: “The prison of these two compañeros must weigh on us as if it were our own prison. As in truth it is. While they remain prisoners, we are all prisoners, imprisoned by this abominable system from whose bars we have failed to free ourselves . . . . We have to break the chains that still bind our hands and our feet and keep us from the conquest of our autonomy in every corner of the world where we live. Only through these autonomies, entrenched in every area and linked in solidarity everywhere, will we be able to leave our prison.”
The Echo Campaign
At the same time as the final phase of “Breaking Down the Prison Walls,” the quite extraordinary Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio also convened the campaign “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas,” which ran from July to November 2012. Francisco’s release was one of the two main demands of this campaign, along with an end to attacks on the autonomous Zapatista communities.
Amazingly, groups and individuals from 25 countries participated in the “Prison Walls” campaign and from 29 countries in the “Echo” campaign, with documents being translated into eleven different languages.
The Legal Position
The Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Centre (Frayba) filed an amparo & indirecto—an appeal for legal protection—in the federal court in favor of Francisco on October 25, 2012, on account of “the grave violations of due process” committed against him and requesting his immediate release.
The Human Rights Centre stated clearly, not for the first time, that they were convinced that this case “is an example in which the Mexican State utilizes the justice system for criminalizing Zapatista support bases, as a consequence of their exercise of the right to self-determination and autonomy, based on the San Andrés Accord . . . . Convention 169 of the ILO and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
On December 4, 2012, Francisco completed one year in prison. La Jornada reported that Alberto Patishtán said, “the compañero Francisco Santiz asked me to say: ‘I will not tire of asking for justice.’ He is an important example of the crimes that are ‘imposed’ on the innocent who are in Mexican prisons.”
The requested amparo for the protection of federal justice was granted to Francisco on January 3, 2012. On January 10 Frayba wrote: “This Human Rights Centre believes that the federal government has no good reasons to continue to deprive Francisco Sántiz López, support base of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, of his freedom.”
As a result of the legal protection granted, a judge was ordered to determine Francisco’s legal status. On January 25, 2013, Frayba reported that an order had been issued that the case had to be resolved within 24 hours. That same evening, the political prisoner was released. “They know I am innocent,” he said to the press on his release into the waiting arms of his family “and they invented my crime.” He went straight to Oventic to thank the Junta for all the help and support they had given him.
Francisco’s freedom was made possible by the massive national and international organizing campaigns applying pressure and raising awareness of his plight, as well as the challenge to the legality of his imprisonment—namely the lack of evidence. However, it was a triumph for worldwide solidarity, not for the law.
While his release must give hope to the families, friends, and supporters of Alberto Patishtán Gomez, who hopefully will soon also be freed, and indeed to the other political prisoners in Chiapas and throughout the world, the unjust imprisonment of Francisco Sántiz López and the fabrication of crimes against him have to be seen as another part of the government’s strategy of low-intensity warfare, which, alongside incessant direct aggressions, attempts to destroy the resistance of the Zapatista communities. “His only crime” as the Junta said, “is struggling for his people, telling the truth, struggling for true democracy, liberty, and justice.”
In the words of the Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio’s Echo campaign, “the unjust incarceration of Francisco is not an isolated case but one that forms part of the continuous war by the Mexican State against the Zapatista communities, a war that through harassment, attacks, and arbitrary detentions seeks to undermine and annihilate the resistance and process of autonomy that the Zapatista support bases are bringing to a head in Chiapas.”
His freedom comes at a time of great hope and expectations, following the Zapatista “resurgence” on December 21, 2012, the day of the ending of the cycle of the 13th Baktun of the Maya calendar and the beginning of the “new era” of the 14th cycle. It also comes at a time when the new PRI government of Enrique Peña Nieto is embarking on a whole new strategy of counterinsurgency, based on propaganda, misinformation, and deception. Those who care for democracy, liberty, justice, and that other possible world for which we struggle, must not relax their vigilance.
The final words belong to Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio: “His strength and courage have been an inspiration to us . . . . and a very powerful reason to keep fighting. The walls that enclosed our brother Francisco could not do so against memory. With time, every wall crumbles, but the memory of a people who struggle together for their dignity will never end.
“Today, we, the Mexican migrants of Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio, The Other Campaign New York, are celebrating, knowing that this was not a triumph of the rule of law, which does not exist in Mexico, but a triumph of our Zapatista sisters and brothers and our compañer@s of good heart in different corners of the world. We embrace you all and celebrate with you. In the spirit of ‘Breaking down the prison walls,’ and giving ‘a Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas,’ we struggled together and achieved the release of our brother Francisco.”
Further information about Francisco Sántiz López:https://sanmarcosavilesen.wordpress.com/francisco/
Video message from the Zapatistas about Francisco Sántiz López:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXuVyJ5YdfA
Video about the International Campaign: “Breaking down the prison walls”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lj0lUahDzTs
Video message from the MST (Landless Workers Movement), Brazil:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hUSCv-GPqU
Twenty-nine Years of Dignified Resistance: An Echo in the Heartbeat of the People.
17th November 1983 to 17th November 2012
Dorset Chiapas Solidarity Group
For the last five months, the largest international campaign to be organized in solidarity with the Zapatista support base communities in resistance (BAZ) for a very long time has been rolling out around the world. We, the Dorset Chiapas Solidarity Group, are pleased to have been able, along with many others in 25 countries, to contribute our grain of sand by helping to organize informative events and actions, disseminate news and information, and set up new groups, known as Committees of the True Word, to support our Zapatista brothers and sisters. In our small corner of the world we have been able to reach out to people not previously involved, and we know that, as a result of this joint effort in many places, many more people now know the history of the Zapatistas. As the Campaign says in its first Call to Action, “everyone should know this history of profound pain, hope, and inspiration.”
This history began in Chiapas on November 17th, 1983 and it was on the twenty-ninth anniversary of the founding of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, somewhere on top of a hill in the Lacandón Jungle, by 3 indigenous and 3 mestizos, that the enormous organizing effort that has been the “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas” was finally wrapped up.
It is an anniversary that was not only celebrated in the hundreds of Zapatista support base communities throughout the mountains, canyons and jungles of the state of Chiapas in south-east Mexico, butt was also remembered among indigenous communities worldwide who are struggling for recognition of their land and traditions, by groups everywhere struggling against neoliberal displacement and dispossession, and by all people of good heart who work for democracy, liberty and justice. The Zapatista struggle has touched the hearts and awakened hope in people of all colors and continents.
As the “Worldwide Echo” Campaign has now come to a close, we from the Dorset Chiapas Solidarity Group offer the following thoughts to mark where we have been and where we must continue to go. In particular, we hope all those who took part in the two stages find this of use.
Movement for Justice in El Barrio (MJB) is a majority Mexican immigrant women grassroots community organization that fights for dignity and against neoliberal displacement in El Barrio and beyond. They have a long history of supporting other communities and organizations that are part of The Other Campaign, including campaigns in solidarity with San Salvador Atenco and San Sebastián Bachajón, and they first planned the Echo campaign in response to an appeal made by the BAZ of the community of San Marcos Avilés, who are under siege from political party supporters backed by the local government.
The initial aims of the Echo campaign were “an end to the war against the Zapatistas of San Marcos Avilés, and immediate freedom for our Zapatista compañero Francisco Sántiz López”. The campaign was launched with the sending out of a stunning video message from the compas of San Marcos Avilés, telling of the nightmare situation they were, and still are, enduring, which provoked an enormous response. Our group have now shown this video seven times, to great effect.
Shortly afterwards, the war being waged by the three levels of the bad government of Mexico on the BAZ communities had extended to other communities, and the Campaign grew accordingly in order to offer support to all the communities under threat–a total of 6 by October. “It is absolutely clear”, states a declaration promoted by the campaign, “that the ongoing government repression being carried out against the BAZ of Comandante Abel, Unión Hidalgo, Guadalupe los Altos, San Marcos Avilés, Moisés Gandhi, and Jechvó, as well as the unjust imprisonment of the Zapatista political prisoner, Francisco Sántiz López, stem from the same source: the shared ambition and strategy of the municipal, state, and federal governments in their war of counterinsurgency to annihilate the indigenous Zapatistas.”
The Mexican government’s war of attrition has remained the main strategy of its counterinsurgency efforts since 1994, when, under the ‘Chiapas 94 Campaign Plan’, a campaign was drawn up to displace the indigenous population, thus severing their ties from the land. It prescribed: “the forced displacement of the population under Zapatista influence into official shelters or refugee zones; neutralization of the San Cristóbal diocese; capture of Mexicans identified with the EZLN; expulsion of undesirable foreigners; death or control of equine and bovine livestock; destruction of planted and harvested crops, and use of ‘civil defence’ to break the support relationship that exists between the population and the transgressors of the law.”
This plan is currently being carried out through the use of paramilitary groups, or paramilitary-style attack groups, composed of local political party members, and armed, funded, trained and directed by the three levels of the Mexican government, with the aim of eradicating the entire Zapatista organization.
Paramilitary groups have a military structure, dress and operate as soldiers, and bear weapons which are for the exclusive use of the armed forces. They operate through daily threats and acts of harassment whose aim is to generate fear, attrition and stress in the community. The ultimate goal is to provoke a confrontation or to displace the community so as to crumble the foundation of the Zapatista movement: the BAZ.
“The bad government should hold its head in shame to claim that its police are there to safeguard order and social peace, when right in front of them robbery, threats, movement of paramilitaries, and the firing of heavy calibre weapons is carried out”, says the Good Government Junta from Caracol V, Robert Barrios. “What they should state clearly is that the police have been sent to protect the paramilitaries, so the latter can evict, pillage and steal the harvest of our Zapatista compañeros.”
In addition to the formation of paramilitary groups, the counterinsurgency, or civilian-targeted, war also manifests itself through measures including the military occupation of the indigenous territory of Chiapas, the injection of money through coercive social programmes, direct political persecution, the fabrication of charges, and the imprisonment of innocent members of the Zapatista bases of support.
One of the latter is Francisco Sántiz López, from the ejido of Banavil. The Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Centre (Frayba) assert that human rights violations have been committed against Francisco, including: lack of an adequate defence and access to justice, not having a translator or a legal defender who knew his language and culture to assist him, violations of due process, and violations of the principle of presumption of innocence. For these reasons they have filed an appeal for legal protection for Francisco and requested his immediate release, stating very clearly:
“We believe that the case of Francisco is an example of the Mexican state using the system for the prosecution and delivery of justice to criminalize the support bases of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, as a consequence of their exercise of the right to self-determination and autonomy, based on the Agreement of San Andrés and national reference points established in Article 2 of the Constitution of the Republic, as well as the international benchmarks ILO Convention no 169 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
The current situation
In the face of the historical process of repression, the difference made by the campaign is principally one of increased knowledge and awareness. The perpetrators of repression now know they are being watched and monitored, and that the news of their actions will be rapidly disseminated amongst what has become a multi-country support network of new and veteran activists, organizers, and communities. All around the world, in countries from Korea to Argentina, people have grown aware of the situation. They are watching. Thousands now know about the Zapatistas and the attacks they are facing–many with no prior knowledge–and are creating new ways to offer solidarity to their compas in resistance.
Additionally, our brothers and sisters, the Zapatistas, know full well that they are not alone; that international solidarity, inspired by their struggle, is reaching out to them; that as they celebrate 29 years of the EZLN, strong in the belief that they will never give up, never surrender, there are hands held out to them across the oceans of the world.
In a recent communiqué, following acts of harassment denying the BAZ of Jechvó access to their own water supply, the Good Government Junta of Oventic declared: “We want to make clear to the 3 levels of bad government, the officials and their people who they have paid, controlled and manipulated, that they should not think that, with provocations, threats, assaults and persecutions, they will stop the struggle of the Zapatista peoples, the struggle of all the original peoples from all over Mexico for the construction of our autonomy, self-determination as indigenous people and national liberation; whatever it costs us, no matter what happens, we will continue onwards, because dignity, reason and justice are on our side.”
As the campaign drew to a close, actions and events continued to be organized on a daily basis, and messages of support continued to arrive from all over the world, from young people in the Basque Country to indigenous students in Canada, from the streets of Calcutta to the mountains of Colombia. Likewise, some of the campaign’s more well-known supporters sent new statements backing the Campaign. Here are extracts from a few of the messages we have found particularly moving:
Hugo Blanco, Peruvian social activist and editor of Lucha Indígena:
“There is a campaign by the system governed by the 1% to crush this island of democratic self-government, so that it will not serve as an example to the world that this is both possible and healthy.
Their instruments are the governments of Mexico and the state of Chiapas, political parties, criminal gangs and even campesinos who want to get land easily and with the protection of those from above.
It is therefore both an obligation and in the direct interests of all of us who are seeking a new world, of all who want a horizontal society in solidarity, of all who understand that the 1% is leading us to the extinction of the human species and who are committed to its survival; we must organize with all our strength and collective intelligence, in the defense of this island of freedom and democracy in Chiapas, which shows us that building another world, a world where there is room for many worlds, is truly possible.”
Raul Zibechi, Uruguayan thinker, activist, and writer:
“Hundreds of families are being besieged by paramilitary groups, with the unconcealed aim of putting an end to one of the most remarkable examples in the world of the power of those from below.
They will not succeed. Due the strength of the communities which have sustained for decades their project of life, despite repression, death, hunger and isolation.
They will not succeed, because Zapatismo is the seed which grew from the Ya Basta of January 1, 1994. Because it was rooted in the hearts of millions in the March of the Color of the Earth and it returned stubbornly to fight for life with the Other Campaign.
Zapatismo is indestructible among the many from below who struggle to continue being, who work every day to build a new and different world.
All solidarity with the besieged communities.
Let every heart beat together, intoning the mutual support among those from below, celebrating the joining of all the struggles, of all the other worlds.”
Dr Sylvia Marcos, Mexican feminist, thinker and activist:
“The indigenous peoples appear too often as the object of “help”, “development”, “education” and not as what they are, subjects from whom we can learn and who have already opened a new path which has illuminated hope under so many skies of this world.
This path is today a living possibility, which is manifested in a sustained peaceful resistance which we in the cities, the mestizos, can only admire. Why is there so much fear, on the part of the powers, both governmental and de facto? Why, among other things, this concentration on aggression, this excess of violence? Why?
We know that the paramilitaries are armed with the consent of the three levels of government: federal, state and municipal. So the attacks on the Zapatista support bases raise a crucial question…….
What are they afraid of to make them deploy such destructive force?
What is the danger from the proposal, the resistance and the survival of the Zapatistas for the prevailing capitalist order?
Is it because they show positively that other ways of life, in justice and dignity, are possible? That the satisfactions of life and the joy of being need not be governed by consumerism and commodification? That we can “live well”, as they say in the Andean communities of South America, with other ways of organization, government and campesino production, in which the best way of living is not the accumulation of material goods, but community solidarity and sharing what there is?”
Gustavo Esteva, well-known writer and activist
“The Zapatistas gave us Zapatismo, which now no longer belongs to them.
They gave us hope again, as a social movement, and affirmed for us the value of dignity.
Zapatismo today is a force which travels the world and transforms it. It is always local, and always open to the world, linking all our struggles in coalitions of the discontented and the rebellious.
Adopting Zapatismo as our own, as a new attitude which links us together in these dark times, does not mean forgetting the Zapatistas. Not only do they continue to be a source of inspiration. They have become an effective demonstration of that sense of the possibility of transformation which surrounds us. This has made them the subject of ongoing attacks which try to destroy them or at least to suffocate them, to stop them. For this reason they demand our solidarity.
One of the more radical positions of the Zapatistas has been to argue that they are simply ordinary men and women and therefore are rebels, nonconformists, dreamers. This underscores the fact that Zapatismo is not the work of leaders, vanguards or parties, but of the common people. It is a hugely important political position which still today defines the Zapatistas…..
We must act. We need to continually express our solidarity with the whole Zapatista project, but particularly with the communities which at this moment are exposed to direct and daily more intense aggression. We need to extend this campaign which embraces them.”
We have great admiration and respect for the Movement for Justice in El Barrio, and would like to thank them for putting such tremendous efforts into inspiring and launching our collective Campaign. Indeed, as they state: “The government and its people have their strategies, their violence, their terror. But we state here that we also have an option in the face of so much repression: we have the option to organize ourselves and to fight for justice, dignity, and autonomy.”
Although the Echo Campaign has now come to an end, we must not relax our vigilance. The BAZ communities face great risks and remain vulnerable to new threats as they enter their twentieth year in resistance, and the thirtieth year since the founding of the EZLN. We must continue to organize in their support and for our own liberation(s). The newly formed Committees of the True Word must continue their work, walking the word through the world in opposition to the repression and in support of the other world we need.
Why? Perhaps it is best to allow our compa Hugo Blanco to respond: “The Zapatista zone is a living example that ‘another world is possible’. This other world is not only possible but urgent, in order to maintain the survival of the human species.”
“WALKING THE TRUE WORD AROUND THE WORLD”:
State Violence, Global Solidarity, and a New Campaign to Support the Zapatistas
Originally published in English by Upside Down World
The role of the “True Word” in the “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas” Campaign to liberate Zapatista political prisoners and bolster the self-defence of the Zapatista base communities under siege…
“They say they will eat our flesh”
At the beginning of September a large number of political party members in paramilitary-style groups, carrying high-calibre firearms, invaded the Zapatista communities of Comandante Abel and Unión Hidalgo, firing shots. Their goal was to displace the Zapatista support base members (BAZ) from the community, and seize their land. This was not the first assault. In fact, there had been so many attacks that the Zapatistas had given their original community of San Patricio to “our indigenous brothers and sisters”, and set up the new community of Comandante Abel, again on their own land, in hopes of finding peace to live their lives, produce their food, and bring up their children.
The latest attack forced community members to flee, terrified, in all directions and many ended up lost on the mountain. As they recount, “We hid under trees, vines, rocks, and went to the woods and the mountains, for fear of the bullets. We spent two nights in the cold and rain”. “They chased us with bullets, and when we arrived in this place we were already sick. We did not follow the path, but went through the canyon. I felt like there was a jaguar after me, I was lost and terrified, I felt as if I was no longer in the world”. Eventually they emerged, traumatised, sick and hungry; to this day 83 BAZ from Comandante Abel and Unión Hidalgo remain displaced, taking refuge in other communities, while their attackers are occupying their lands, guarded by a new police encampment.
A woman, reflecting on the night she and her child spent in a cave high in the mountains, offers words describing what has become a ceaseless horror. Unable to take her eyes off her 3-month-old child, she recounts “Fear passes into the milk”, she explained. “My daughter has a fever, and refuses my breast”.
Alongside the destruction of crops and livestock, the BAZ of Comandante Abel describe a chilling scene:
“Through a loudspeaker the paramilitaries are announcing, day and night, that they are going to ‘eat’ us, because we are outlaws, we are beyond the reach of justice and the law”. “If the paramilitaries do not succeed in taking over Comandante Abel community, they say that they are going to massacre us.” “The government buys people, and then persuades them to take our land. It is their policy of war and attrition to make us surrender. We will not stop our struggle and we are not going to give up,” says one of the compas, to applause from the others.
The twin stories of Comandante Abel and Unión Hidalgo are one of many in the almost nineteen year history of counterinsurgency warfare employed by the Mexican state against the Zapatista base communities in their dignified path towards autonomy, and towards that better, more free and just world which they represent, and which gives inspiration to so many. The campaign of attrition is just one aspect of this on-going plan to annihilate the Zapatista movement. Since the elections in July, there has been a very alarming increase in this type of attack.
San Marcos Avilés
Earlier this year, another BAZ community, in a different part of Chiapas, sent out a call for help. Two years ago, 170 BAZ from San Marcos Avilés were displaced by an attack group of local political party members with firearms also supplied by the local police station. Although they managed to return after a month, since that time they have lived under siege, with their land, homes, crops, livestock and possessions stolen or destroyed, enduring a constant nightmare of terror, threats and violence. They asked for help because the tension was rising, and they feared another attack at any time, and because “they should not think that they will stop the struggle of the Zapatistas for the construction of our autonomy and for national liberation with provocation, threats, assaults and persecution, because whatever the cost, and whatever happens, we will continue to go forward, as is our right”.
The Echo Campaign
The Movement for Justice in El Barrio, the Other Campaign New York, rapidly responded to this cry for help and launched, in July 2012, the “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas” campaign with an international call to action. The first phase of this campaign, one of collecting and disseminating information, was, most appropriately for the Zapatistas, for whom the word has been their most successful weapon, called “Walking the True Word”. Hence, it was clear from the beginning that words would be an integral part of this Campaign.
As they relay in an early campaign update, “Day after day, solidarity actions and activities are being carried out in communities, neighbourhoods, towns, and villages in many corners of the world. In order to disseminate the histories and realities which our Zapatista compas are suffering, dignified people from many countries have been working on getting the word out and building networks of support and solidarity to contribute positively to the defence of the EZLN Support Base communities … and the struggle to free Francisco Sántiz Lopez.
We can see that, in this way, we are consolidating our forces and exposing the lies coming out of the mouth of the bad government of Mexico, in order to take concrete action in defence of that other possible world which the Zapatista communities have been building through their project of autonomy.”
The MJB have a long and successful history of organising this type of campaign, including having worked on campaigns regarding San Salvador Atenco and San Sebastián Bachajón, and of using the power of the word to raise consciences and inspire rage: “The rage that burns our veins is the force that is given to us to keep fighting. We share a piece of ours with every one of you.”
The Campaign is known as Echo, “because the Zapatistas’ humanizing cry of dignity, their ENOUGH!, has affected all of us who fight for justice from around the world, from our respective trenches of struggle, and has connected very distinct and similar struggles alike… Because this very cry has dwelled in our hearts alongside hope and happiness… We shall let it resound in our echo by adding our voice, our countenance, to ensure that it is heard more profoundly… As if it were said in the very language of our being…”
The video messages
Along with a multilingual website packed with information and other resources, such as an “organising toolkit” of photographs, posters, and fliers, in ten languages, the Campaign’s strongest tool is undoubtedly the video message. The message from the BAZ of San Marcos Aviles, especially from the women whose distress is palpable, contains a raw power to shock and move the strongest audience.
The “Videomensaje de l@s Zapatistas de San Marcos Avilés”, which has now been seen by over 37,000 people on YouTube alone, really kick-started the Campaign. Another video, from the Good Government Junta of Oventic, demonstrates the innocence of the iconic Zapatista prisoner, Francisco Sántiz López, in prison since December 2011 for a crime for which he has been proven innocent.
On the heels of the release of the San Marcos Avilés video message, “Committees of the True Word” (the organic organising cells of the campaign) were being set up not only in Mexico, but in over 22 countries from Chile to Australia, including countries not traditionally involved in this type of campaign, such as Turkey, Panama, Ecuador, India, Uruguay, Portugal, South Africa and Canada. These groups got busy organising public forums, film screenings, distributing informative fliers and pamphlets, publishing articles, reflections, and denouncements, doing translations, holding social media initiatives, art workshops, children’s events, and many others. A Worldwide Declaration in support of the Zapatistas was launched from the United Kingdom.
Soon, well-known intellectuals and activists added their voice. From Peru, the renowned fighter for social justice and editor of Lucha Indígena, Hugo Blanco, sent a beautiful piece entitled “To those who search for a free world”, in which he emphasised: “These attacks, and the continued detention of Francisco Sántiz López, are the spearhead of the attack to crush the zone liberated from neoliberalism, where the people govern themselves through the Good Government Juntas. This is seen as the great enemy by the transnational corporations (the 1% of humanity that crushes the 99%), as they are a living example of the fact that Another World is Possible, A World where Many Worlds Fit….It is in the direct interests of humanity to defend the island of freedom that is the Zapatista area”.
As more informative events were held in places like Germany, Colombia, England and Brazil, news came in of another community under attack – Moisés Gandhi, where, throughout August, the BAZ suffered violent attacks and threats of forced displacement by a group of armed “coyotes” called the Regional Coffee Growers Organization of Ocosingo (Orcao).
“Since the beginning of the “Worldwide Echo” campaign, the dignified and courageous story of our compañer@s has been a source of profound inspiration and transformation. Forcing us to recognize our own humanity and interconnectedness in this world, the pain and resilience of our Zapatista compas continue to inspire and move people of all walks of life to join the struggle to support them.
Although our campaign is indeed made up of many long-time supporters and seasoned social justice veterans, the moving story of the BAZ communities has been so powerful that it has also motivated people with limited exposure to social justice struggles and literally no prior knowledge of the Zapatistas.
This is the power of the true word. It enables us to continue building and strengthening our local and global struggles by reaching out to new people of good hearts to join forces and transform our world.”
Overwhelming interest in the Campaign, along with an increase in repression, led by popular demand to its first phase being extended until 12th October, Day of Indigenous Resistance.
More messages of support for the second phase
As the True Word continued to walk, more and more words joined it on its journey, continuing to inspire others to join the struggle.
From Uruguay, the thinker and activist Raúl Zibechi sent a letter, saying “Those from above have declared a war on the Zapatista communities, aimed at eliminating all resistance at a time when capital is unleashing hunger and misery upon those from below in order to increase and protect its gigantic profits. To safeguard their continued accumulation of wealth, it is necessary to wipe from the face of the earth all obstacles, every kind of resistance. What the media and the “experts” call crisis, is actually part of this offensive to remove from the scene the peoples and the individuals who refuse to give way….
It is not a coincidence that the Zapatista communities are being repressed. They have shown millions, throughout the whole world, a path of resistance and construction that is multiplying in the most remote places. For those from above, destroying the Zapatista movement would be a double victory: against the peoples and communities of Chiapas and against all those in the world who find inspiration in their example. It would mean bringing down a dream made flesh, like the one we can see in the Good Government Junta of Oventic, and in so many other places. For all these reasons, solidarity is as essential as it is urgent.”
One of Mexico’s most celebrated scholars, activist Gustavo Esteva, issued his own contribution entitled “The Time for Resistance and Solidarity”:
“The demons are on the loose. The war is everywhere. But so too is solidarity—that decision to be together in this common struggle that no longer respects territories. In each place it is different. But everywhere the same phenomenon is reproduced: the people affirm their dignity and say ‘enough!’, and they take their path, and the response from above is intimidation, aggression, corruption, continuous war…
It is urgent to show ourselves on the side of our compañeros…..The threat is immediate. We, the Committees of the True Word, must make ourselves known in every way that we can, so that the strength of our solidarity may be seen. It is the time for resistance. And to resist is to struggle in common, together, in the embrace of solidarity.”
Likewise, the great Mexican feminist Sylvia Marcos sent a message to the Zapatista women:
“We can glimpse the daily and painful struggles which are facing our Zapatista compañeras and we join together with them. We demand an end to the acts of aggression from the enemies of this educational, social and political Zapatista project which gives hope, especially to women, who see in the Zapatista women the model of being a woman who defends her rights without forgetting to support the collective rights of her people.
You must know, Zapatistas compañeras, that your project is the hope and the light on the road to the construction of an “other” world, where it can become a reality that “we are equal because we are different”, as you yourselves have said”.
It was now that the urgent news about the forced displacement of the BAZ of Comandante Abel and Unión Hidalgo arrived, and the efforts of the campaign intensified. The world-renowned writer, linguist, and political commentator, Noam Chomsky, wrote “I would like to join in support of the campaign “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas,” and of all of those who are standing up courageously to oppose the repression, and who are calling for justice and freedom for the endangered communities and individuals subjected to persecution and serious threats.”
“Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere”
A powerful new video message was delivered to the Campaign from South Africa’s largest grassroots movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo (the Shack Dwellers Movement), sending heartfelt messages of hope and solidarity to the Zapatistas under attack. In this message, also available on YouTube, two young organizers state: “The government wants to create fear in the community. You must be strong…. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. Your struggle is our struggle”.
Statements of support came in from numerous other organisations including the UK-based National Campaign against Fees & Cuts and the women of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) – GABRIELA USA in New York City.
As the launch of the second phase of the Echo Campaign, “From Truth to Action, Stopping the Repression”, was being prepared, the dreaded news came in that another community was being attacked. Six BAZ from the ejido Guadalupe los Altos had been arrested under absurd charges made by the ejidal authorities of Guadalupe los Altos in collusion with the local organization CIOAC HISTORICA. It was clear that the Campaign was needed more than ever and intensive efforts were put in to making sure that up-to-date information was available.
On October 12th Phase 2 was launched and the Worldwide Declaration, signed by organisations and individuals from 24 countries, was released. Messages of support continued to pour in as more and more people joined the campaign and prepared actions all over the world.
The words of the Second Call to Action, issued for the second phase of the Campaign “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas”, explain the significance of the Word to the Campaign:
“To prevent us from joining hands and rising from this darkness, those from above have committed to douse out all the lights radiating from dignified people. This is why they are deploying their strategies of violence and destruction, and are attacking, imprisoning, repressing, assaulting, violating, robbing, silencing, and lying to us.
“This is also why those from above, the creators of this long night, have chosen as their main target the indigenous peoples of the world, who have made significant contributions to the struggle against the darkness.
“Faced with this threat of planetary extinction, we must mobilize urgently to defend each and every light that illuminates our path towards the construction of another possible world. And as the True Word was and is the first form of light, it is vital that we defend those words which Old Antonio tells us were the first three in every language: ‘democracy, freedom, justice’.
“It is no coincidence that these three words cannot be found in the governments, jails, schools, mass media, or the other institutions serving the privileges of those from above. Nor is it a coincidence that these same three words are alive… among the dignified people from below, especially the indigenous people of Mexico and the world. While those from above continue to attack and destroy these lights, we will continue to defend and create more lights, more solutions, more worlds.
Even though those from above are using the lies which give the night its darkness to keep us divided, in our hearts we carry that which makes the light shine…This is called truth.”
“If those from above believe that they can continue waging their violent war against our Zapatista sisters and brothers without repercussions, they are deeply mistaken. This time around, the dignified peoples of the world will have their say.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
The Echo Campaign:
Video message from the Zapatistas of San Marcos Avilés:
Video message from the JBG of Oventic about Francisco Sántiz López:
For what you can do:
OVER 300 DAYS IN PRISON: FRANCISCO SÁNTIZ LÓPEZ, ZAPATISTA POLITICAL PRISONER, IS INNOCENT!
Originally published by Upside Down World
“His only crime is struggling for his people, telling the truth, and fighting for true democracy, liberty and justice…” says the Good Government Junta (JBG)[i] of Oventic of their compañero Francisco Sántiz Lόpez, who has been unjustly imprisoned in the state penitentiary in San Cristόbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, since 4th December 2011. On 29th September 2012, a week before his 57th birthday, Francisco completed 300 days behind bars for a crime it has been proven he did not commit.
Though all the current news of attacks, threats and sieges faced by the Zapatista communities in rebellion have tended to overshadow Francisco’s story, it is a story that deserves to be told and understood widely. It reflects the recent history of indigenous peoples, their struggle for democracy, liberty and justice, and the unceasing attempts during the last 520 years to wipe them, and all they represent, from the face of the earth. The dignified struggle of Francisco and all the Zapatistas echoes that story to the world.
“Although the bad governments and political parties never tire of saying that there is no injustice or violation of human rights,” comments the Junta, “we wonder what kind of freedom, justice, peace and respect they are talking about, when their prisons are full of innocent people, when our communities and towns are filled with threats, abuse, assaults, harassments, displacements and devastation wrought by paramilitaries and people from different political parties…”
Francisco Sántiz Lόpez
Francisco is an indigenous Tzeltal[ii] campesino from the ejido[iii] of Banavil, in the municipality of Tenejapa in the Highland region in the north of Chiapas. By all accounts he is well respected locally, and is someone community members turn to for advice and support. He has been a Zapatista support base (BAZ) for more than twenty years, since before the uprising of 1994. He is, says the Junta, “an honest person who always fulfils his responsibilities in his community and organisation”. He lives in Banavil with his wife and family, and makes his living by running a fruit and vegetable stall in the municipal capital of Tenejapa. His letters reveal him to be a deeply committed and spiritual person, deriving comfort and inspiration from his faith.
The Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Centre (Frayba) explains the background, “since 2009 there have been acts of harassment by the PRI[iv] group towards families sympathetic to the EZLN, due to their opposition to the arbitrary actions committed by PRI-affiliated caciques[v]. Examples of these actions are: the looting of lands, illegal logging, the imposition of arbitrary taxes and co-operative work, threats and abuse, physical assault, and denial of the right to education…all of which have been denounced by the victims before the appropriate authorities, who have failed to take any action. There has been noinvestigation….or punishment of those responsible and the authorities do not intervene to resolve the situation or guarantee legal or social security in the Banavil ejido”.
This situation of tension and intimidation is not unique to the Tenejapa area; indeed it must be set in the context of similar activities promoted, under the protection and with the encouragement of the three levels of government, by armed political party members, organised in paramilitary style groups, throughout the area of Zapatista influence.
The simmering situation in the ejido Banavil came to a head in the early morning of 4thDecember 2011, when 50 PRI supporters, with firearms, clubs and machetes, made a fierce and prolonged attack on four families “sympathetic to the EZLN”. They surrounded and broke into the house of Alonso Lόpez Luna, who was beaten and taken away. Only his arm has been found. Alonso’s son, Lorenzo Lόpez Girόn, was shot twice while trying to defend his father, and at least six other people were injured. During the confrontation, one of its two main instigators, Pedro Méndez Lόpez of the PRI, was killed.
As a direct result of this assault, the four aggrieved families were, and remain, displaced; they are, according to Frayba, in “a critical situation” with “inhuman housing conditions”and some of the PRI members who attacked them are occupying their lands.
Despite the fact that the true culprits have been widely identified, by the victims, the Junta and even by Frayba, no investigation has been carried out into the disappearance of Alonso Lόpez Luna, the shooting of his son, or the destruction of the homes and the displacement of the four families, even though the culprits have been widely identified. However, two people were arrested, charged and detained, on the very day of the attack, for the murder of the PRI leader, Pedro Méndez Lόpez: these were the seriously wounded Lorenzo Lόpez Girόn, and the Zapatista support base Francisco Sántiz Lόpez, who many witnesses affirm was elsewhere at the time of the incident.
On 4th December, 2011, Francisco was, as usual, working at his market stall selling fruit and vegetables in the town of Tenejapa – a considerable distance from Banavil. The displaced family of the missing Alonso have said clearly, “At the time of the attack, compañero Francisco was at his fruit stall at the county headquarters. Some of us went there to ask for his help”. In addition, they add, “we were not the ones who attacked the party members, they came to our homes and attacked us”.
It was at his market stall that Francisco was arrested. He was accused of homicide, and of“leading a confrontation”. No reason was ever given for his being arrested. There was no weapon in his possession, and, as Frayba point out, there is no evidence of any kind putting him in possession of a firearm or other weapon at any time, despite the accusations against him.
The JBG of Oventic have made clear that there are twelve witnesses willing and able to testify that Francisco was not involved in the confrontation. Since this time, Francisco has been held in the penitentiary the State Centre for the Social Reinsertion of the Sentenced (CERSS) No 5, while “the caciques, who are organising attacks of every kind, are living freely in their homes”.
A new charge
On 22 March, 2012, Francisco and Lorenzo were told that they had been cleared of the charges and were to be released. Just as they were leaving the prison, Francisco was stopped and rearrested, this time on a federal charge: that of carrying a weapon reserved for the exclusive use of the Mexican army and armed forces. The JBG responded: “as we know well, those who carry firearms for the exclusive use of the army are not the Zapatistas, they are the paramilitaries from the different communities”.
This crime is equivalent to that of murder and aggravated assault in terms of sentencing, and conveniently enabled the state government to make a statement to La Jornada [vi] that Francisco’s imprisonment was now outside their control. The newspaper commented that Francisco was being kept as “a virtual political hostage, and possible currency for exchange”. “Independent lawyers, human rights organisations and autonomous Zapatista authorities have confirmed…Francisco’s innocence, and place responsibility on the government for keeping …him imprisoned for political reasons and to cover up for the presence of paramilitary groups…in Tenejapa”.
Lorenzo was able to return home. When he left prison, despite having been detained for over 3 months, the two bullets were still in his body. He had received no medical treatment apart from painkillers, had difficulty walking, and was in great pain.
The criminalisation of autonomy and the repression of justice
In August 2012, Frayba issued a bulletin[vii] of denouncement detailing the violations of due process against Francisco Sántiz Lόpez, and their fears that a judicial sentence will be issued against him. “During the arrest and prosecution of Francisco the following human rights have been violated: personal liberty, presumption of innocence, judicial guarantees, a fair trial, and the protection of the law…..this is evidence of his persecution for the political work he has been performing in the Highlands of Chiapas…”
In this document Frayba issue a stunning condemnation: “the Mexican state is using the system of law enforcement and justice administration to criminalise the support bases of the EZLN, because they are disturbed by their progress in the right to self-determination through Zapatista autonomy, founded in the San Andrés Accords and the international benchmarks: ILO 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”.
This continued imprisonment of an innocent man, they believe, amounts to political persecution and the suppression of justice. They continue to say that in the detention order the judge neither acknowledged the statements of the witnesses, nor of the local authorities, which confirmed “that the arrest took place in the county seat of Tenejapa, which means, therefore, that Francisco was not in Banavil at the time of the attacks”.There is, they add, absolutely no evidence that Francisco “was carrying the weapon referred to”.
The last Zapatista prisoner before Francisco was Patricio Domínguez Vázquez, from the community of ejido Monte Redondo, Comalapa, who was freed without charge on the 6thJune 2011, following worldwide actions in his support. Before Patricio, Miguel Hernández Pérez, Diego Martínez Santis y Miguel Méndez Santis, from Pozo in the official municipality of C’ancuc, were imprisoned for over 3 months in 2010, before also being released without charge.
As the Movement for Justice in El Barrio (MJB) tellingly point out to us all: “We know that it is no coincidence that in Mexico, as well as here in the United States, the jails and prisons are filled almost exclusively with those from below – indigenous, migrants, black, poor, Latino, women and men, and all marginalized groups – since only the true criminals could benefit from this misery: the multinational corporations and their political lackeys. Those from above believe that people who struggle must be crushed and encaged.”
Support for Francisco and for all the Zapatistas
Francisco has become an emblematic figure, representing the struggle of all those who the system is attempting to crush. Are we prepared to look on while this occurs and do nothing? How many more times must this happen?
People around the world have been enraged at the case of Francisco, and at the concerted efforts by the three levels of the bad government in Mexico to demoralise, terrify and coerce the Zapatistas to abandon their struggle for autonomy. To co-ordinate these voices, the “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas” campaign,convoked by the Movement for Justice in El Barrio, the Other Campaign New York, was launched at the end of July 2012 with an urgent call for action.[viii]
As well as the liberation of Francisco, the Echo Campaign also “aims to raise awareness about the dire situation faced by the besieged BAZ communities of Comandante Abel[ix], Unión Hidalgo, San Marcos Avilés, and Moisés Gandhi”. These communities are currently being attacked, or threatened with attack, by paramilitary-style groups who operate with complete impunity under the protection of the government security forces. The groups, which are made up of indigenous members of local political parties, operate at will, destroying the homes and possessions of the BAZ and stealing their land, crops and livestock. Their aim is to dispossess them of their land and territory and take it over for their own use, build their own houses, and indeed, destroy the entire Zapatista organisation, as part of the government’s 19 year campaign of counterinsurgency against the movement.
Of Francisco, the Echo campaign states: “our compañero Francisco Sántiz López has been imprisoned for crimes that he did not commit. His only offence, as has been stated over and over again, is that of being a Zapatista Support Base member. For this reason, he is being held as a hostage of the Mexican State.”
Asked about the progress of the campaign so far, Teresa Lopez, of Movement for Justice in El Barrio, responded:
“Since the launch of the Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas campaign, many Committees of the True Word have formed throughout the world. In fact, many people organising actions have never been active in the struggle before. This shows that support for Francisco and the Zapatistas, in general, is increasing. This growth of organized support will ensure that we achieve the freedom and justice for Francisco that we all seek.”
Why does the Mexican state so badly want to destroy the Zapatistas?
“There is no doubt,” says the Junta, “that the manufacture of crimes against Francisco….was planned, organised and run from the three levels of bad government. They are trying at all costs to prevent the construction of the autonomy of the indigenous peoples in Zapatista territory….and to annihilate our organisation and the dignity of our people.”
To do this, they are intending to steal the Zapatistas’ lands, the basis of everything, and by continual day and night harassment to provoke a reaction from them.
The well- known Mexican activist and intellectual, Gustavo Esteva, explains the situation very well in his message to the Echo Campaign:
“We are in World War IV. It is not a war between countries. It is a war of those from above against those from below. Because we, those from below, are now walking in rebellion… because we are no longer willing to let them continue to destroy our Mother Earth, and to continue to kill and imprison us they have unleashed a continuous war against us, from outside and inside, making it more and more difficult for us to live. They want to turn the whole world into a prison.
“Both Francisco Sántiz López and San Marcos Avilés are frontlines in this great war that escalates daily in the Zapatista communities. It is urgent to show ourselves on the side of our compañeros…. The threat is immediate…..It is the time for resistance. And to resist is to struggle in common, together, in the embrace of solidarity.”
As for the Zapatistas themselves, they have no intention of giving up:
“We want to make clear to the three levels of bad government and the people they have paid, controlled and manipulated, that whatever it costs us, no matter what happens, we will continue, because reason and justice are on our side”.
“It is,” says Hugo Blanco, the renowned Peruvian political activist, in his message to the Echo Campaign, entitled: ‘to those who search for a free world’, “in the direct interests of humanity to defend the island of freedom that is the Zapatista area.”
For more information:
Video-message from the JBG of Oventic about Francisco:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXuVyJ5YdfA&feature=player_embedded
Information on Francisco:
The Echo Campaign:
For what you can do:
[i] Junta (JBG), Council of Zapatista rotating authorities who “govern by obeying” https://sanmarcosavilesen.wordpress.com/communique/
[ii] Mayan language-speaking indigenous group
[iii] Ejido, communal landholding
[iv] Political party
INTERNATIONAL CALL FOR SOLIDARITY WITH THE ZAPATISTA SUPPORT BASES OF SAN MARCOS AVILES
Article published on Upside Down World, Thursday, 02 August 2012 http://upsidedownworld.org/main/news-briefs-archives-68/3793-international-call-for-solidarity-with-zapatista-support-bases-of-san-marcos-aviles
“It is not only the task of the independent/alternative media to circulate the truth, but rather it is the responsibility of us all to do so”
“Our compas from San Marcos Avilés are suffering this violence because they are indigenous, because they are Zapatistas, and because they have opened their own autonomous school.”
Terror hangs in the air of San Marcos Avilés. This small indigenous Tzeltal-speaking community lies in the highland region of the state of Chiapas, in the Mexican South-east. Its population are like shadows; hunger, disease, threats, harassment and violence stalk their days, fear, shouts, gunshots and loud music fill their nights.
Now the women, men and children have sent out an urgent call to the world for support, a call that echoes in our very heartbeat and demands our solidarity, “as if it were said in the very language of our being”.
This urgent message comes from over 200 Zapatista support bases (BAZ) in San Marcos Avilés, who are trying to live according to their own indigenous ways and struggling for freedom, justice, democracy and a dignified life for all, but who are faced with men with high calibre firearms who intend to eradicate all that the Zapatistas represent and believe in.
The nightmare of terror began in August 2010, when the BAZ constructed a small wooden building to house their new autonomous school, ‘Emiliano Zapata’. Zapatista Autonomous Rebel Education is, along with their systems of health and collective work, one of the most well-known achievements of the organisation, and of crucial importance as the BAZ work towards the construction of their own autonomy. Not only can the children learn according to their own culture and traditions, wear their customary clothing, speak their own languages and eat their traditional foods, but they can also learn the truth about their own history and situation. Learning is a shared experience, enjoyed together, without any form of competition or judgement.
“We attach great importance to the autonomous school”, say the BAZ of San Marcos Avilés. “We want a good education for our children, good learning, a good example. We see that the government has its schools, but it is not good education, nor do they teach our children well; they do not provide good learning, and what they teach has nothing to do with us. So we opened our school …”
The attacks on the BAZ began immediately after the construction of the school. Members of the Mexican political parties the PRI, PRD and PVEM, in armed “attack groups”, encouraged by the three levels of government, began to threaten and harass the community, attempting to rape their women, steal their land and possessions, and plunder their crops and livestock.
Within two months the attacks had reached such a level of violence that 170 BAZ, manyof them women and children, were forcibly displaced from the community and had to take refuge on the mountain. Here they lived under pieces of plastic sheeting, sleeping on the ground in the mud without any basic necessities, “we had no tortillas to eat; we had no pozol to drink”, through 33 days of wet, cold and hunger. During this period two of the women gave birth.
“I speak for all my fellow women: we are suffering a lot with our children. They do not take us into account, they see us like animals, like dogs. So I was told when I had my son in the mountains. That’s what really hurts in my heart. We hope to move the hearts of our fellow women when they see this video”.
When groups from neighbouring communities and the local Human Rights Centre assembled to escort the BAZ back to their homes, the BAZ found that their dwellings, belongings, plantations of corn, beans, bananas, sugar cane and coffee, and their few chickens and cattle, had been destroyed, plundered or stolen. Since that time the Zapatistas of San Marcos Avilés have lived in a state of trauma and terror, enduring constant threats, attacks, violations and insults. The state of mind of the women, unable to provide for their children, is one of especially profound concern.
Statement from the Good Government Council (JBG) of Oventic
“We denounce,” they wrote in July, 2011, “the events now occurring in this community. …..Our compañeros and compañeras, the Zapatista support bases of San Marcos Avilés, are living in a very difficult situation, in their own community, caused by people affiliated to different political parties and by the authorities of the same community……they are facing death threats, harassment, loss of their cultivated lands, and evictions from their own community, purely because they started to set up an autonomous education system for their people.
“The aggressors also put our coffee fields up for sale, at a price of 14,000 pesos per hectare, in order to get money to buy more firearms….. The amount of land our compañeros have now been deprived of is 31¼ hectares and 8,500 coffee trees; all of this is now in the possession of the aggressors from the political parties.
“In this situation of aggression, threats and theft of their land faced by our compas …..they have endured many injustices made against them and have shown great patience in not responding with violence. And neither have we….responded violently in word or deed to these attacks and threats, because the Zapatistas are people of reason and principles and we do not want to fight our own indigenous brothers and sisters. But the bad governors of our State and our country seek at all costs that among the indigenous we see our brothers and sisters as enemies and kill each other.
“The bad government has done absolutely nothing to resolve and prevent the serious problems which could happen in this community; what the state and municipal governments have done is to support and back the attackers so they can continue provoking, threatening and stripping our Zapatista support bases of their belongings. There are no signs of this aggressive and arrogant attitude of the bad governors and their people coming to an end.
“All the aggressions, persecutions and provocations are committed by those people affiliated to the different political parties, and by the paramilitaries supported, advised and paid by the municipal, state and federal governments who are the masterminds of these human rights violations.
“Our support base compas of the community of San Marcos Aviles …….have the right be in their own community and to work the land which belongs to them…….They should not think that they will stop the struggle of the Zapatistas for the construction of our autonomy and for national liberation with provocation, threats, assaults and persecution, because whatever the cost, and whatever happens, we will continue to go forward, as is our right…..And we demand that they [the BAZ] be respected and that their stolen belongings be returned to them”.
What are the issues here?
The words of the newly released Call to Action leave no room for doubt:
“We stress here that these attacks are not isolated incidents, but rather are integral components of the prolonged war of extermination that the bad government of Mexico, together with capitalist interests, has carried out for the past 18 years to wipe out the Zapatista movement and all it has given to the world.
“The objectives of this war have been and remain to continue the colonial project and destroy at any cost indigenous autonomy and resistance, and take over their ancestral lands, and in this way, exploit for the exclusive benefit of those from above the natural resources with which our Mother Earth provides us.
“Repression, violence, and death are meted out by the bad government of Mexico to those who resist this, who defend their lands, their identities, their cultures, and autonomy – their very existence.
“Our compas from San Marcos Avilés are suffering this violence because they are indigenous, because they are Zapatistas, and because they have opened their own autonomous school.”
There is also the issue of land, the most basic and essential resource, vital to people’s sense of history and identity, home of their ancestors, source of their culture, and means of their survival. In this case, the BAZ of San Marcos Avilés bought the land twelve years ago and have the title deeds to prove it. As throughout Zapatista territory, however, this does not stop the governments from giving the land to others in return for driving out what the powerful most fear: the threat of a good example.
“We want there to be happiness in our lives and in the lives of our children. We want to have corn that is no longer stolen. We want tranquillity to be able to grow our pumpkins on our land. We want to find peace again in our hearts, and we want to eat with love what we have”.
The current crisis
In recent weeks, the situation of threats and aggressions has intensified to the point where a repetition of the events of 2010, or worse, is feared at any time. The lives of the BAZ of San Marcos Avilés are seriously at risk, along with their dignified struggle for a better world.
Their urgent call for solidarity has been taken up by one of the most effective, experienced, admired and inspiring campaigning organisations struggling for justice at a grassroots level, the Movement for Justice in el Barrio (MJB), of the Other Campaign New York.
“Particularly in the past few days, more threats against the Zapatista support base members have taken place in San Marcos Avilés. The culprits remain an attack group of political party members, who have stated that they will kidnap authorities of the Zapatista community, and in this way, forcefully displace the support base members from the ejido. They have also made threats against those who denounce these acts of aggression and harassment, claiming that they will incarcerate them. It is feared that another wide-scale displacement of the community, similar to the one that took place in 2010, will occur”.
The MJB first released a powerfully moving and shocking video, in Tzeltal with Spanish and English subtitles, in which the compas of San Marcos Avilés tell their own story.
“They think we are worthless. They treat us badly, like animals. They do what they want with us. That is still happening now. When we sow our maize, we cannot take it home. They come to steal our beans, cane … bananas, they steal everything. All we do is sow and work and there is nothing….
“We cannot enjoy the fruits of our labour with our children, because…members of the political parties PRI, PRD, and PAN are eating it ….on the orders of bad government.
“The parties do not want the Zapatista organization in the ejido San Marcos. According to them, we set a bad example. They showed they want the organization to disappear. We will continue our struggle, there is no choice, because we are not committing any crime … because we have the right to struggle to be taken into account. Freedom, justice and peace is what we are asking for. But we are not afraid because we know quite clearly what we are looking for and how we want to live”.
This story evoked a response from all corners of the world. The MJB followed it up on July 27th, 2012, with the launch of a worldwide campaign: “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas: Freedom and Justice for San Marcos Avilés and Sántiz López”
The campaign will be in two phases. The first, an intense period of education, of whichthis article is part, is to be followed by a phase of direct action.
The call also symbolically includes all Zapatista support bases, especially those from other communities which are also under attack. For this reason the MJB also calls for freedom and justice for the Zapatista prisoner of conscience Francisco Sántiz López, who has been imprisoned since October 2011 for crimes it has been proved he did not commit. Francisco comes from the community of Banavil, Tenejapa. In the video message, the BAZ of San Marcos Avilés call for the liberation of all political prisoners.
In true Zapatista fashion, the MJB call on the people of the world to set up Committees of the True Word, in whatever ways they can, in order to inform, educate and help raise awareness of the current situation of crisis in San Marcos Avilés. The Movement also undertakes to “share all reports we receive with the community of San Marcos, so that they know they are not alone”.
“We believe that the true word and knowledge are very important for the struggles of those from below—it is not only the task of the independent/alternative media to circulate truth, but rather it is the responsibility of us all to do so…..Education and knowledge are also tools and weapons in the struggle for justice, dignity, and democracy—they are nothing less than the forms in which we will construct this new world we seek.”
And in the words of the Baz of San Marcos, “perhaps one day, together, we may attain what we are fighting for – that there be a dignified justice”.
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW
– Watch the videohttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rY-8CBt3Vkg
Show it to everyone you know. Organise a screening.
– Inform yourselves. Look at the website https://sanmarcosavilesen.wordpress.com/
Circulate the Call for Action to all your contacts
– Set up a Committee of the True Word
Let the MJB know you have done so on
THE ASSAULT ON AUTONOMOUS EDUCATION IN SOUTH-EAST MEXICO
15, November 2011
“As a direct result of asserting their legitimate right to education, they do not have food, shelter, or water for their children”
This article was published to coincide with the issue of the Worldwide Declaration in Support of the Zapatista Support Bases of San Marcos Avilés, Chiapas, Mexico by The Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) and the Movement for Justice in el Barrio, the Other Campaign, New York (MJB), November 2011
Zapatista Autonomous Education
Before the Zapatistas set up their own education system, many communities had no schools at all. Others had poorly funded and run government schools, many of which had teachers irregularly, if at all. Often, lessons were not taught in the communities’ indigenous languages, nor were they based on the local customs and traditions. The children had to wear uniform. So, “we decided to set up our own autonomous schools”.
“The difference between the government schools and the autonomous schools is that in our schools we are working for our brothers and sisters. The government imposes education designed for the rich, it imposes its own ideas. It imposes another language. We develop our own language, our own culture.” In their own schools they can learn their own history, how to care for their land, in their own way and according to their own needs.
Education in these schools is free and is open to all ages and all people, whether or not they are Zapatistas. There is no competition, learning is a shared experience. The schools are staffed by education promoters, based on the belief that education is a collective experience. “The education promoters work voluntarily. They are not working for a wage or for personal interest, they are acting on their conscience, teaching for the sake of the community”. Usually, the community provides food and shelter for the promoter. “Here we share learning and learn from each other, it’s not like the promoters know everything. Even the youngest child can contribute”.
Education is based on the needs of the community, and hours are agreed accordingly. Pupils are educated to take up positions of responsibility and to work for the good of the community. “We want our children to learn about freedom and dignity and to value all human beings”. Agro-ecology is an important part of the school programme, how to work the land and to care for the earth, how to save seeds, how to use and prepare natural remedies, the importance of conserving water sources and forests, the need to work together to build and strengthen the community and the resistance. Both the indigenous languages and Spanish are used. It is forbidden to hit, punish or disrespect the children.
All this is undertaken despite seemingly overwhelming odds: grinding poverty, no resources or equipment, and, increasingly, direct attacks conducted with total impunity aimed at breaking the will to resist and thereby destroy the entire movement.
The current situation in the communities
For nearly eighteen years now, the Zapatista communities in resistance have been enduring a counterinsurgency war designed to put an end to their movement. In recent years, acts of aggression, repression, intimidation, violence, theft, land eviction, and provocation have increased, and in 2011 their frequency and cruelty have markedly intensified. In August and September, 2011, therefore, an Observation and Solidarity Brigade visited some of the communities to listen to the voices of those under attack, to document the repression, to witness continuing advances in autonomy, and to show solidarity with the men, women and children surviving this daily reality.
The Brigade reported the testimonies of communities who have no doubt that, while the attacks represent a concerted effort to take their land, crops and possessions, they also represent an attempt to destroy and put an end to all the progress these communities have made in the construction of autonomy, and in the development of their own services of education, healthcare, justice, government, community work, co-operatives, the participation of women, appropriate technology, and other social and economic projects. They believe that the aggressions are also aimed at provoking a response from the EZLN, and are determined not to respond with violence: “We are all brothers and sisters here”.
Primary schools targeted
An area of extreme concern highlighted by the Brigade was that the Zapatista autonomous education project has become the pretext and focus of attacks in the escalating level of violence. In August 2010, the EZLN General Command called for the building of autonomous schools in all Zapatista communities. Several communities did not yet have a school, and the need was recognised to offer all children the opportunity to be educated in their own language and culture, according to their own customs and traditions. Immediately after this call was made, the attacks on communities proposing to set up a school began. The majority, though not all, of these aggressions have been in communities in the highland region, the Caracol of Oventik, leading to situations of acute emergency in these areas.
San Marcos Avilés
The Zapatista Support Bases (BAZ) within this community started to set up their autonomous education project in August 2010, with the construction of the first Zapatista Rebel autonomous primary school Emiliano Zapata. They informed the official ejido authorities that they would be withdrawing their children from the official school. The response was one of taunts, threats and harassments, and a promise to destroy the new school. On 21st August, two BAZ were tied up and held hostage for 25 hours in an attempt to force them to renounce the school and the Zapatista movement.
The next stage was to threaten to steal their land, and to increase the level of intimidation. The aggressors, who are members of three Mexican political parties (PRI, PRD and PVEM), stationed themselves at locations throughout the community on 22nd August, firing gunshots into the air until late at night. On 24th and 25th August they carried out their threats to steal the land, taking over 29 hectares of BAZ recuperated land throughout the community. 8500 coffee plants (equivalent to 360 sacks of coffee) were also stolen, along with 10 hectares of corn and beans, a hectare of bananas, seven cows, six horses and three humble dwelling-houses.
The BAZ wrote a polite letter to the community officials, asking for the attacks to cease, but this was met with more humiliations and insults. The threats and harassments continued, culminating, on 9th September 2010, in the forced displacement of 170 BAZ from San Marcos Avilés: to avoid responding to another act of aggression when their homes were broken into, 47 men, 50 women and 77 children took refuge in the wild bush and mountain area without any food or belongings, “enduring the cold and rain, without a roof to protect them, with very young children and two pregnant women who had to give birth on the mountain”.
This they endured for 33 days, before an accompanied return to find their homes looted and their possessions stolen, their lands taken over, their fences broken down, their animals killed and their crops burned. The death threats, bullying and harassment from the political party supporters have continued, preventing members of the community from performing their daily activities, and severely undermining their mental and physical health.
The aggressors are heavily armed with guns of different calibres and semi-automatic pistols, allegedly provided by an ex-member of the local Chilon police. They behave exactly like a paramilitary group, carrying and firing arms openly and threatening to take the Zapatista women as spoils of war. It is reported that much of the land of the BAZ has been put up for sale, and when it is sold, the money is used to buy more weapons.
As negotiations with the official authorities completely broke down following the eviction, the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Centre (Frayba) has been monitoring the situation. They helped set up a Civil Peace Camp in April 2011, to observe and report occurrences; this has since also been the victim of unprecedented threats and hostility. Frayba have on several occasions informed the government authorities of the situation, to request compliance with the government’s obligation to ensure the integrity and personal security of the inhabitants and to seek a solution to the conflict. There has been no response. On 27th June 2011 they issued an Urgent Action about the situation.
For the simple action of asserting their right to self-determination, to set up their own school, the BAZ of the ejido San Marcos Avilés are now in a desperate and critical state. The theft of their crops and the plundering of their land have left them without access to food; they are threatened if they try to go to work on their lands. They are thus being deprived of their basic right to food.
The lack of food and free access in and out of the community have contributed significantly to a state of acute malnutrition, and to what the observers describe as a ‘severe health emergency’. There have been outbreaks of acute fever, and Frayba refers to a ‘rampant typhoid epidemic which has led to the death of at least one child’. While the Brigade was visiting the community, a 10-year old girl, Maria Ignacia Velasco Martinez, died during a very high fever. The Brigade commented “the health of indigenous children is not a priority for this government….It is clear that in the 21st century the children of Mexico are still dying of curable diseases”.
All reports comment on the very severe psycho-emotional toll the daily threats are taking on the BAZ community; that all the men, women and children are living in a state of constant fear and anxiety, reflected in their very tense mood, and depressed state of mind. “The women in particular express the suffering resulting from their displacement, and the pain and suffering caused by having no security of any kind, neither for themselves, nor, above all, for their children. As a direct result of asserting their legitimate right to education, they do not have food, shelter, or water for their children”.
Because of the continual threats and aggressions, the primary school is still not functioning. Between 60 and 80 children are therefore denied their right to education.
Tentic is another ejidal community situated in very poor lands in the Caracol of Oventic, and is split between BAZ and supporters of the PRI political party. For a long time, children of Zapatistas and non- Zapatistas had received education in the same school. In 2004, the Zapatistas and the PRI agreed to have separate schools for the primary education of their children, and different sites for the schools were agreed. The Zapatistas were to keep the original school and the government would build a new one for the PRI. However, problems emerged in 2010, following the call to build primary schools in all the Zapatista autonomous communities.
On the 10th of May, 2011, a group of about 50 PRI party members from the community of Tentic arrived at the autonomous school Compañero Salvador where they broke down walls, put chains and padlocks on the school doors to prevent access, and stole the hoops from the basketball court. Since that date the school has remained closed, and there has been no education for the children of the BAZ, who do not want to break the chains and padlocks for fear of provoking more aggression. No representative of the BAZ has been invited to, or present at, any of the meetings held to discuss the situation, despite their children’s right to education being denied.
The Brigade reports: “The BAZ of Tentic have stated that if the problem is the small piece of land where the school buildings are, they only ask that both sides have the goodwill to resolve this conflict peacefully, because as BAZ, they do not want problems between brothers and sisters from the same community”.
Las Mercedes, in the municipality of Tenejapa
As in the previous two communities, the BAZ in the community of Las Mercedes, which also comes under the Caracol of Oventik, have, since the call to build primary schools in all the autonomous communities in rebellion, found themselves under threat of displacement and loss of their lands, as well as experiencing persecution and harassment, mainly from members of the PRI. Criminal proceedings have been instigated against some of the BAZ, their supplies of electricity and water have been cut off, and the road to their homes has been blocked. The threats and hostile actions are constant, and the authorities and PRIistas are waiting to take over the Zapatista lands. The BAZ see these actions as an attempt to prevent the progress of their autonomy, and as acts of provocation.
In the words of one of the BAZ compañeros: “We are continuing to resist even though we do not have electricity, water or land, we will still continue the struggle….Even though they take away our land, if we have to die we will die, if we can live, we will live”.
San Juan Cancuc, in the community of Cruzton, Caracol of Oventic
Since the call to build autonomous primary schools, the 13 BAZ families in this community have been deprived of electricity and drinking water. They have been forbidden to travel on the road or to leave or enter the community, yet they are denied service in its shops. This means they have no water or electricity and have difficulty getting food because they are forced to get it from other communities.
Other schools under threat
In the ejido Tierra Madre in the Caracol of Morelia, members of the paramilitary-style group ORCAO have prevented access to a women’s collective shop and autonomous kindergarten. In the ejido Patria Nueva, in the same Caracol, ORCAO are threatening to destroy classrooms, houses and a shop. Meanwhile, in the community of Peña Limonar, in the Caracol of La Garrucha, PRIistas have stolen land and school supplies, such as blackboards, chalk, desks and benches. PRIistas in the ejido Arroyo Carrizal, La Garrucha Caracol, attacked the walls of the Emiliano Zapata school with a hatchet, took the tin off the roof and destroyed the door. A child was beaten there by a PRI activist “just for going to a Zapatista primary school”.
Response from the Zapatista authorities
“We will not remain silent about any threats or aggression against our compañeros…….we want to make clear to public opinion that we are going to continue with autonomous education throughout all Zapatista territory, our sons and daughters will not go to government schools because they will never teach them the truth about how we live as indigenous peoples….” JBG Central Heart of the Zapatistas before the World, Caracol II, Oventik, July 2011
Conclusions of the Observation and Solidarity Brigade
“It is clear that the Zapatista Autonomous Education is a threat and a hindrance to the national project of the bad government. In all reported cases, the attacks, threats, humiliations, dispossessions and displacement, have as their sole cause the implementation of the Zapatista autonomous education project. Apparently, the 3 levels of the bad government: municipal, state and federal, are afraid to see the autonomy project strengthened, perhaps for the reasons suggested by the BAZ compañero/as:
“Because the indigenous have the right to better education, because with autonomous education we better understand our life, and our situation for the development of our struggle. It is important that our young people understand the reason for our struggle, why we live in this condition of poverty and misery, the reasons for their own life. We know that the country’s wealth is appropriated by the bad government, so it is important that the children understand the causes of this plunder. It is important to understand that official education is opposed to the Zapatista project. The official education is a form of domination, making us believe it is intended to make life better.
“Right now the Zapatista autonomous education project is the focus of attacks from the bad government. By attacking Zapatista autonomous education, they are attacking the fundamental human rights, not only of adults, but above all of the indigenous children of the state of Chiapas, that is to say that Mexico is violating the rights of children.
“Moreover, it is urgent to denounce the alarming situation of extreme poverty in which indigenous communities are still living in our country. As for the speeches about progress and welfare in the state of Chiapas, we observed the facts, the conditions of marginalization in which the autonomous communities live due to the blockade of food and products that the repression and harassment of these same communities generates, simply because they want to defend their autonomy”.
At the same time the Brigade were inspired by the Zapatista achievement: “we found that the Zapatista autonomy project continues to advance in gigantic steps. The equal participation of women in various areas of work is increasing every day, clothing and crafts cooperatives are being brought to fruition by the women themselves. Organic coffee cooperatives sell their produce in Mexico and the world, new agro-ecology projects are being implemented in each of the caracoles, where people can obtain organic produce friendly to Mother Earth. In all the autonomous communities there is at least one health house (casa de salud) or microclinic, in addition to the central clinic in each caracol.
“We see that, in fact, the Zapatista autonomy project asserts the rights that are enshrined in the declarations, conventions and treaties related to the rights of indigenous peoples, especially those related to autonomy and free determination. We witnessed terrible humiliations perpetrated by the bad government, but we also saw with our own eyes that despite the threats of repression, suffering, pain and poverty, not one of the compañero/as wants to give up. This belief in the process of liberation means that the Zapatista movement is stronger than ever.”
Frayba have stated clearly: “indigenous peoples have the right to construct their autonomy, to defend their ancestral territory and to create an educational system that supports and reflects their cultural and intellectual practices”.
In response to the desperate situation they have witnessed there, in November 2011, Frayba, in conjunction with the Movement for Justice in el Barrio (MJB), issued the Worldwide Declaration in Support of the Zapatista Support Bases of San Marcos Avilés, Chiapas, Mexico. This powerful document, signed by organizations, groups and individuals all over the world, concludes:
“It is clear that violence is utilized against the exercise of Zapatista autonomy, as embodied in its educational system, in order to undermine this historical process which the Zapatista Support Bases continue to develop via this new institution of learning. As indigenous peoples, they have an undeniable right to build their autonomy, defend their ancestral lands, and create educational systems that support and reflect the cultural and intellectual practices of their own community. This right, furthermore, is endorsed by the San Andrés Accords, Convention #169 of the International Labour Organization, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”.
“In light of the ascending severity and frequency of these acts, we demand the following:
1. An immediate and permanent end to the harassment, death threats, plundering, dispossession, sexual violence, and forced displacement perpetrated against the Zapatista Support Bases of San Marcos Avilés.
2. Respect for the right to self-determination, particularly as expressed in the construction of autonomous governance, justice, and education of indigenous peoples.
3. That the right to adequate nutrition be guaranteed and upheld, as it constitutes the foundation of the right of all human beings to enjoy the highest level of mental and physical health.”
 Forcing indigenous children to wear uniform means that children cannot wear traditional Mayan clothes and so is an attack on their identity.
Death threats, harassment and risk of forced displacement in San Marcos Avilés
According to information documented by the Centre for Human Rights (Frayba), in the ejido of San Marcos Aviles, Chilon municipality, there are death threats, harassment, looting and the risk of forced displacement of support bases of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (BAEZLN) at the hands of some residents of the same ejido, members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and Green Party of Mexico (PVEM).
In response, Frayba is making known its concern at the imminent risk to life, personal integrity and security faced by BAEZLN, inhabitants of the ejido of San Marcos Avilés, as these death threats and harassment have increased during recent days, further, the plundering of land is preventing work in the fields and the harvest of their crops, which results in those affected suffering from a lack of food, causing serious damage to the health of children, women, men, and the elderly.
Given these facts, BAEZLN families fear being displaced again, for which reason the Centre of Human Rights states:
The responsibility of the state by default, as to date government authorities have not acted to ensure the integrity and security of BAEZLN and access to land despite the many interventions submitted by the Centre for Human Rights;
* An end to death threats, harassment and theft against BAEZLN by members of political parties in the ejido San Marcos Avilés;
* To protect and safeguard the life, integrity and personal security of the members of BAEZLN, respecting their autonomy process that they have been building for years under the right to self-determination of peoples, established in the Convention (No. 169) concerning Indigenous and tribal people in independent countries, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
UNITED NATIONS DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, 2007
Ratified by Mexico, 2007
Article 14 1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
Article 1 Indigenous peoples have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and international human rights law.
Article 3 Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
Article 4 Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.
UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 26 (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
ILO 169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 1989,
ratified by Mexico 1989
1. Governments shall have the responsibility for developing, with the participation of the peoples concerned, co-ordinated and systematic action to protect the rights of these peoples and to guarantee respect for their integrity.
2. Such action shall include measures for:
(a) ensuring that members of these peoples benefit on an equal footing from the rights and opportunities which national laws and regulations grant to other members of the population;
(b) promoting the full realisation of the social, economic and cultural rights of these peoples with respect for their social and cultural identity, their customs and traditions and their institutions;
(c) assisting the members of the peoples concerned to eliminate socio-economic gaps that may exist between indigenous and other members of the national community, in a manner compatible with their aspirations and ways of life.
1. Indigenous and tribal peoples shall enjoy the full measure of human rights and fundamental freedoms without hindrance or discrimination. The provisions of the Convention shall be applied without discrimination to male and female members of these peoples.
2. No form of force or coercion shall be used in violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples concerned, including the rights contained in this Convention.
1. Education programmes and services for ITPs shall be developed and implemented in co-operation with them to address their special needs, and shall incorporate their histories, their knowledge and technologies, their value systems and their further social, economic and cultural aspirations
3…governments shall recognize the right of ITPs to establish their own educational institutions and facilities…
DISPLACED ZAPATISTAS RETURN HOME
21, October, 2010
San Marcos Avilés is a Zapatista village in the Caracol of Oventic, located in the official municipality of Chilon in Chiapas. Like many other communities, the inhabitants have built a school as part of the Zapatista autonomous education project, and from 60 to 80 girls and boys participate in the classes.
The official authorities of the ejido San Marcos Avilés, Chilon, and the official authorities of Pamala, in the official municipaliy of Sitala, along with members of the PRD, PRI and PVEM political parties illegally detained two Zapatista support bases (and education promoters) at the beginning of September, demanding that they destroy the autonomous school, put an end to autonomous education, and resign from the Zapatista organization. They threatened that if these demands were not complied with, the support bases would be forcibly evicted.
Accordingly, on September 9th 2010, at 2 am, 30 people from the political parties PRI, PRD and PVEM, armed with machetes and firearms, violently broke into the houses of the Zapatista families in San Marcos Avilés, forcing these families to leave their homes and abandon all their possessions. 170 men, women and children became refugees in the mountains, enduring, throughout the recent torrential rains, hunger, cold, sleeplessness, mud and the fear of attacks on women and children
‘If you touch one of us, you touch all of us’
The international network quickly mobilised in support of the evicted community. The campaign ‘Thousands of Rages, one heart: the Zapatista communities live!’ organized a support caravan which departs from Mexico City on October 22, and leaves San Cristobal de Las Casas on October 23, to go to San Marcos Avilés, bringing items such as non-perishable foodstuffs, clothing to provide protection from the cold, blankets, medicines, and school materials, which they have been collecting for the displaced people. This caravan arose from the 5th National Forum of Solidarity with the Zapatista Communities which was convened following the evictions. Other solidarity actions, including a travelling photo exhibition, were organised in Switzerland, Italy and Spain. The Italian group said:
“There exists a world where children can learn without hierarchies being imposed, without having to buy a uniform to go to class, without having to pay for their schooling. Where, between games and songs of struggle, they can learn along with adults how to be free, how to make collective decisions, how to respect Mother Earth, the elders of the community, the other”.
“One world, one space, one small school where children can learn in the same language as they speak at home, a place where their culture, their customs and their history from below is the basis of their learning. Where there are no teachers, but education promoters, in other words, teaching is a circular process”.
“This is not utopia, this is the Zapatista Rebel Autonomous Education System, painstakingly constructed in hundreds of indigenous communities in Chiapas, which has educated and continues to educate thousands of young Zapatistas in the struggle!.
“Autonomous Education is one of the main pillars of Zapatista autonomy, the heart of the tomorrow which is already being constructed. Along with other advances in healthcare, justice, work, transport and agro-ecology,
autonomous education is an important part of Zapatista indigenous autonomous government”.
“That is why it is attacked. The latest in a long series of attacks has been made specifically against the residents of the community of San Marcos Avilés, who are guilty, according to the political parties and the bad government, of wanting an autonomous school and of being Zapatistas. The attack clearly represents not only aggression against the support bases of that community (and another community, Pamala) but is also an attempt to put an end to the autonomous projects inspired by the EZLN”.
This is not by any means the first attack directed against an autonomous school. For example, according to La Jornada, in July 2010, members of the PRI “took over” the autonomous school in the community of Amaitik in the caracol of La Garrucha.
In a communiqué issued on the 13thOctober 2010, the JBG of the highland zone said that the displaced Zapatistas had finally, after just over a month, returned to their homes and lands on October 12th. The significance of this date, 518 years after the disastrous arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas, will not have gone unnoticed. This day is, for the indigenous peoples, the day of resistance, the day of solidarity with mother earth. The return was accompanied by Zapatista supporters from nearby communities.
“Now our compas are back in their community, because it is not justice for so many children, women, elderly and sick people to be suffering need and deprivation, away from their homes, while their aggressors are enjoying their freedom, receiving full support from the local, state and federal governments” .
“Our companer@s are already back in their humble homes, although they have been looted and partially destroyed by the attackers, but our supporters are going to stay there because our brothers and sisters are entitled to live in their home village and work on their lands; they are not going to disturb anybody, they just want to live in their own community and to work in order to survive, because they will not be begging for alms from the bad government, our compas will live and eat by their own work and sweat”.
“Our compas are going to carry on working to build their autonomy in health, education, collectively working and electing their own authorities, but with respect for others, if their rights are also respected. They will not be submitted to the will of the official authorities or of people from the political parties”.
“If anything happens to our brothers and sisters now they are back in their community, it will be the municipal, state and federal governments who are responsible, by advising, financing and arming paramilitaries and manipulating the poor and miserable”.
“We the Zapatistas do not bother anybody, we do not evict our compas from the political parties, we do not persecute anyone, we do not steal the land of our brother and sister farmers, nor do we take any other property from other poor people; we only defend what is ours, what are our rights; we live and eat through our own work and sweat, and we want to fight for true democracy, freedom and justice for everyone. These are our crimes as Zapatistas”.
The JBG go on to say that their supporters in El Pozo, in the official municipality of C’ancuc, have also been attacked and assaulted by members of the political parties for asserting their rightto water and electrical services. Three of their companeros, Miguel Hernández Pérez, Diego Martínez Santis and Miguel Méndez Santis, have, they assert, been unjustly arrested and imprisoned for a crime, the killing of a PRI-ista during the attack, of which they are innocent. They are now imprisoned in CERESO 5.
“It is clear that the bad state, federal and municipal governments at all costs want to destroy us, want to wipe us out, because the Zapatistas speak the truth, because we do not lie, because we say clearly that the murderers, the aggressors and unjust destroyers of humanity are the bad governments and the powerful, because it is they who are plundering the wealth of our country, destroying nature, massacring our people, killing and putting in jail innocent people.
“It is the bad governments who hand over the wealth of our country to large national and multinational corporations, they are the ones who invade and occupy our territories. And now the bad government says that there is no land for the peasants, no water and electricity for the people, and when they get a tiny bit of services, our people have to pay taxes and those who do not pay are deprived of light and water ….and their land is taken from them and given to the paramilitaries and the chiefs”.
“The bad government encourages poor indigenous people to threaten, attack and evict people who struggle and defend their rights …… in exchange for social and economic incentives such as housing, toilets, food stores and cash”.
But, they say,” Mexico and the whole world knows that it is a crime in Chiapas and Mexico to exert people’s right to education, health and autonomy”
The communiqué ends by asking people to remain watchful of the situation in these and other threatened communities.
170 ZAPATISTA SUPPORTERS EXPELLED FROM THEIR LANDS AND HOMES IN RETALIATION FOR BUILDING AN AUTONOMOUS SCHOOL
In the early hours of the morning of Thursday 9th September 2010, 170 Zapatista supporters were expelled from their homes in the Tzeltal community of San Marcos Avilés, in the municipality of Chilón, Chiapas. They were attacked by members of the Mexican political parties PRI, PRD and PVEM (the green party), in retaliation for the construction of an autonomous school.
The Zapatista Good Government Junta (JBG) based in Oventik, denounced the attack, which was led by Lorenzo Ruiz Gómez and Vicente Ruiz López, and said the attackers were armed with guns, machetes and sticks, and broke into two houses where they tried to sexually assault two women. So as not to respond with violence to these acts of severe provocation, the Zapatista men, women, children and old people left their homes and belongings and fled to the mountain “where they suffer hunger, cold, sleeplessness and fear”.
Zapatistas from Pamalá, in the municipality of Sitalá, had previously informed the JBG that, at the end of August, a compa from their community, Manuel Vázquez, had been forcibly ordered by the authorities and leaders of the political parties in San Marcos and Pamalá to dismantle the autonomous school. The authorities told him that they were then going to attack other communities which had autonomous schools. The JBG stated that “the purpose of these attacks is to prevent the education of our children and to stop the progress of construction of our autonomy”.
Manuel Vázquez was thrown into prison on the 21st August, where he was threatened, harassed and intimidated in an attempt to force him to abandon the project of autonomous education. When Pedro Cruz Gómez came from another nearby community to try to help Manuel Vázquez, he was also imprisoned. A knife was planted in his trousers in an attempt to accuse him of intention to murder. When the prisoners were freed, they were told to abandon the Zapatista organisation and to leave the lands they had bought ten years ago. Threats were made to cancel the land rights of fifteen families.
On the 24th and 25th August the aggressors seized 29 hectares of land with 5,850 coffee trees, 10 hectares of maize, along with beans, cattle, horses and three houses, and destroyed a banana plantation. On the 8th September, they took cattle, pulled down fences and fired shots into the air. They threatened to “take the land next, and to evict the men, kidnap the women and children, and burn the houses”.
“The three levels of the bad government don’t know how to stop the Zapatista struggle for national liberation, so they are trying to stop our autonomous education”, stated the JBG. “However, we are going to continue with autonomous education throughout Zapatista territory; our sons and daughters will no longer attend the official schools where they will never be taught the truth about how we live as indigenous people, and how all the poor of Mexico live. We demand that our evicted companer@s be allowed to return home and be treated with respect”.
The Network for Solidarity and Against Repression immediately issued a statement “This act of barbarity, designed to destroy the autonomous school, has led to the displacement of 170 people from the lands they have worked for ten years….If it were not for our Zapatista compas, there would be no schools in these indigenous communities…..Lies, deceit and repression are the way the state government constantly behaves….Zapatista education in the autonomous communities is an example of how another Mexico is possible, where with honest hard work a level of community development can be achieved which those from above neither understand nor accept. To fight power and its money with learning and knowledge is the best way to build the foundations of a new Mexico”.
On Monday 13th September, Other Campaign adherents set up roadblocks in Chiapas as a protest against “the threats, robberies, evictions and attacks being made against Zapatista communities by the government, ….. paramilitaries, political parties, local leaders and businessmen”.
A march took place in Tonalá, in the coastal zone, to demand that the Zapatista supporters from San Marcos Avilés be allowed to return to their lands, and to insist that “their way of life and process of autonomy, with their schools and clinics, must be respected”. They also demanded “the expulsion of paramilitary groups from Chiapas and the punishment of the material and intellectual authors of the attacks on the communities”.
Another roadblock was set up near Mitziton, where, along with the departure of the paramilitaries, the participants also called for “the cancellation of all the projects, such as the highway from San Cristóbal to Palenque, and the ecotourism park in Bachajón, which cause conflict in the indigenous communities, and threaten the environment and the traditional ways of living of the communities “.
Autonomous Education in the Zapatista Communities: schools to cure ignorance
“Antonio dreams that the land he works belongs to him. He dreams that his sweat earns him justice and truth; he dreams of schools to cure ignorance and medicines to frighten death. He dreams that his house has light and that his table is full; he dreams that the land is free and that his people reasonably govern themselves. He dreams that he is at peace with himself and with the world. He dreams that he has to struggle to have this dream…” – from‘Chiapas: The Southeast in Two Winds – A Storm and a Prophecy’
In July 2010, a European Solidarity Brigade visited the Zapatista communities andCaracoles of Chiapas and reported on the current situation there[ii]. One aspect of their reports was autonomous education, which is for the Zapatistas an important part of their “construction of autonomy and resistance to capitalism”. The school is only a part of the education process, along with “sharing and working in the community throughout life”. It is based on “the ancient and fundamental principle of caring for the earth and its natural resources. Food sovereignty depends on the principles of agro-ecology, the rejection of chemicals and the conservation of native seeds”. “Everything we take from the earth, we must return”.[iii]
A letter written by the Zapatistas in 1994 to some schoolchildren in Guadalajara describes the life of an indigenous child in Chiapas: “For our children there are no schools or medicines, no clothes or food, not even a dignified roof under which we can store our poverty … For our boys and girls there is only work, ignorance and death … Our children have to begin work at a very young age … our children’s toys are the hoe, the machete, and the axe; when they are barely able to walk, playing and suffering, they go out looking for firewood, clearing brush and planting …They cannot go to school to learn Spanish because work kills the days and sickness kills the nights. This is how our children have lived and died for 501 years”.
Indigenous peoples suffer from a lack of proper education, in particular education based on their own languages, traditions, customs, history and beliefs. “In the bad government schools they do not teach the language and culture of the peoples. The bad government sends teachers to government schools for two or three days and then the teachers leave without worrying about the children left without classes. They also make them wear uniforms.”
“The bad government didn’t give us our schools, we built them ourselves”.
So the autonomous communities set up their own schools, where “children learn their own language and become aware of their own culture”. They can wear traditional dress. They are taught in their own language and learn their own history, rather than the version of their conquerors. They learn “not to pollute the environment and to care for the forests, because without that there is no life”. “The stories of the older people play a vital role in education”. People can go to school at any age, and children from non-Zapatista communities can also attend.
Teachers are known as ‘education promoters’ because all work together and teach each other, based on the belief that everyone has something to contribute to the understanding and teaching of every subject, so the promoters are learning alongside the students. Promoters receive no salary. They are chosen, housed and fed by the community, and the position is an honour. It is seen as a cargo, based on the ancient Mayan idea whereby individuals are chosen to provide unpaid service for the good of the community. The cargo of ‘promoter’ is especially demanding; the communities are very poor, and the work to raise consciousness in the communities is very hard. Experienced promoters go on to teach new promoters and so the system grows. “Being in resistance we have severe shortages of school supplies, but that does not prevent us from organizing our educational system”.
The Brigade visited all five regional areas, or Caracoles, and found each area had its regional differences, while being based on the same principles.
CaracolI, La Realidad
The promoters explained to the Brigade that here they have four levels of education, each level lasting as long as the individual needs. The pre-school level is called ‘Wake up’, and starts at the age of 4-5, with songs, games and group activities. The second level is called ‘New Dawn’, the third ‘New Creation’, and the fourth ‘Path towards the Future’.
From the second level, students learn reading, writing, maths, life and environment, languages and history. Classes are held three days a week from 7am until 1 pm, with a break for breakfast. Classes are organised according to people’s needs, so sometimes there is a holiday during the coffee harvest. All classes are open to children from non-Zapatista families.
Education promoters receive two levels of training over six years, in the fifth year they learn how to teach reading and writing to adults. “The promoters do not work for money, but through their sense of responsibility”.
“We have spent a long time discussing and analysing the subject of education. Education is essential for the construction of autonomy, to prepare for the struggle. “It is easy to deceive someone who cannot read”, so classes are compulsory for children and adults, all learning together.
Caracol II, Oventik
[i] Oventik has two levels of education: primary, lasting around six years, and secondary, which takes another three. The secondary school opened in 2000. After completing secondary school, a student is ready to take on the role of promoter, and this is why since 2003 they have had a primary school in every municipality.
The promoters emphasised to their visitors the need to provide a model of education which will meet the needs of the people in the communities. The government schools force children to speak Spanish even though they have no knowledge of the language. The result is a failure of education in indigenous communities and impoverishment of the native languages.
In the autonomous schools, the children speak their mother tongue (mainly Tzotzil in this area), but the students also learn Spanish in order to speak with people from other communities who speak other languages. They believe that the autonomous schools must take on the role of preserving the indigenous languages in their spoken and written forms.
The promoters emphasised to the Brigade the prime importance of developing political, economic and cultural awareness through the development of analytical, critical and creative skills. Studying their own history is extremely important: knowledge of their origins, their traditional culture, ways of living and beliefs, and the history of colonisation and resistance, the history that is hidden in the official schools. The autonomous schools also teach social and natural sciences, rooted in the reality of the community, learning to work the land, and to cook the food they have grown.
In Oventik, schools are open five days a week. Breaks in the school year are known as ‘change of activities’, when the children are needed to help with work at home or in the community. Primary education is compulsory for young children and adolescents, but at present secondary education exists only within the Caracol itself. Each secondary student goes home every fifteen days and brings back enough food to cover the following two weeks. Classes last from 8am to 3pm, and in the evening students do sports, art and craft activities or read. In the future, the compas hope to extend secondary education to all, and to develop a third level of learning. They would also like to offer adult literacy classes to everyone.
Caracol III, La Garrucha
The members of the Education Commission from La Garrucha explained to the Brigade members that their education arose from the needs and demands of the rebel communities, providing an alternative model of education in resistance. This means that education, as part of daily life in the communities, is anchored in the daily struggle. Within all the four municipalities, the main aim is one of sharing, of learning together, of learning from everyone.
Education in this zone has since 2008 been called ‘Little Seeds of the Sun’, and is being organised on three levels, although only two are functioning in all the schools in the communities. At the first level, children learn to read, write and draw. The second level covers the Zapatista demands, and in the third level texts, reports, communiqués,denuncias, government strategies, ‘why we fight’, and the construction of autonomy are all studied.
All levels cover four main areas: history, languages, life and environment, and mathematics. History shows how the ancestors cared for the earth and the natural world, and how this tradition must be continued, preserving indigenous culture. They study past and current history, different ways of working, how to save native seeds, and the need to work together to build and strengthen the community and the resistance. Life and environment covers the care and conservation of the land and nature, natural resources, pollution, and sustainable land management. In mathematics the children learn from attacks and exploitation of indigenous peoples.
The study of languages starts with the mother tongue; in this zone four indigenous languages are spoken – tzeltal (the most numerous), tzotzil, chol and tojolabal. Texts are studied in all these languages as well as in Spanish; studies include law, autonomy, defence of natural resources, writing reports and translations.
Schools are open Monday to Thursday from 8.30 am to 2pm, with a break from 11 until 12. There are no exams or grades, and children or adults can join at any age. It is forbidden to hit, punish, or disrespect the children. “Education is a right and a duty”. If parents fail to send their children to school they must explain why to the authorities. “Children go to school in order to serve the community, not to go away and work for the capitalists”. They hope to implement the third level (secondary) education throughout the zone as soon as possible, at the request of the communities.
There are two levels of training for promoters and two training centres – one in the Caracol of La Garrucha, and the other ‘Companero Manuel’ Centre in La Culebra, autonomous municipality Ricardo Flores Magon. After completing the two levels, promoters can train new promoters. Four one-month periods of training are run each year at each centre, and promoters need to study for two years. They work together collectively, sharing their knowledge ready to take it to the community. All are equal, and all learn the same things. “We believe that we do everything for everyone. We have to do it together”.
Caracol IV Morelia
“Education”, the promoters told the Brigade, “is compulsory until old age”, as it is essential for the construction of autonomy. Education begins at the age of three or four and is also available to adults. There are three compulsory levels of primary education, and three more of secondary. Each level takes as long as the student needs. Each child must complete at least two levels of primary education. After completing secondary school, students can become education promoters.
The schools operate through the community assembly, which is where the people choose their own education promoters who receive special training workshops. The community works together to provide for the needs of their promoters, such as beans and maize. Some communities also work the fields of the promoter.
Classes are held from Monday to Thursday. Each region has its own secondary school, with dormitories for the students who often have to travel a long distance to the schools. Every two weeks, the students return to their communities for a two-week period. Classes are in the student’s own language, but at a later level they can also study Spanish. The areas covered are reading and writing, maths, natural history, geography, political studies, traditional history and culture, art and music. In the secondary schools there are gardens for growing vegetables and plants. This system of education began in 1999.
Caracol V, Roberto Barrios
“The teaching is not good in the bad government schools, and some areas don’t have schools at all. This is why, in 1999, each community chose its own education promoters… The promoter comes from the community, and it is the people of the community who decide what is taught”. Now every community has promoters to co-ordinate the work, and every six months they all meet together to share ideas and discuss how things are going.
There are two levels of education. The first is called ‘Little Seeds of the Sun’, and the second is CCETAZ (the Zapatista Cultural Centre for Autonomous Education and Technology). School starts at the age of four or five, with pupils studying three levels. After six years of primary education they can progress, if they wish, to the second level. There are no comparisons, no tests, no final scores and no failures. Education is open to all.
The CCETAZ has only been open for a year, so the levels have not been defined yet, but there are to be six terms, of which so far only two have been completed. The college is for young people up to the age of fourteen.
Teaching is in Tzeltal, Chol and Zoque, “if we lose our language, we will lose our culture, beliefs and customs. Craftspeople are being trained as their grandparents were”. Young people learn to be critical of the way of life that is being imposed on them, and of the problems of the communities. They are taught maths and history, but also how to work the land, how to improve the harvest. The schools have a small field where they grow corn and beans to eat. They do not use chemicals or genetically modified crops, “because these are the tools of a system which threatens the campesino” They value working in the field so as to have good food to eat.[iv]
Education open to all, with no failures – “We learn as we walk, side by side with our education”
The Brigade’s reports reveal an astonishing achievement. All this from a people living in dire poverty, many of them under constant attack and harassment, never knowing when their crops and houses will be burned, and many of them unable to read or write or to speak Spanish when the rebellion erupted in 1994. They know they still have a long way to go; they would like to extend secondary education throughout, to have more materials, supplies and equipment. In many communities, there is only one promoter, so the older children teach the younger ones. There are no resources to build new schools, but one day, they dream there will be a Zapatista university.
Throughout the process of building schools the communities have been supported by national and international civil society. Groups from many countries including Spain, Italy, Japan and the USA have been involved.
The strength of the system is in the community, the collective way of living and working. Children go to school carrying maize, beans and firewood. They know that if they go to the government schools they will lose their identity, their culture, language and tradition. In the government schools they are taught as individuals, in order to lose their sense of community as the basis of life. “The government teachers don’t teach what our children want to learn”. “We want our children to learn about freedom, dignity, and to value all human beings, both men and women”[v]. This is truly education from below.
An education for the world
The Zapatista Rebel Autonomous Secondary School (ESRAZ), at Oventik, also operates the Zapatista Rebel Autonomous Spanish and Maya Languages Centre (CELMRAZ) where students come from throughout the world to study Spanish and Tzotzil in “the context of the reality of the indigenous people in resistance”. All the fees paid go towards supporting the secondary school.
In presenting the project, the statement reads: “To educate is to learn, which is to say, ‘to educate by learning.’ We can educate students –who educate us- so that those of us who are in favour of life can educate each other mutually and so construct those many worlds of which we all dream. We can say that we know how to educate those who educate us, that is why our school is for the entire world and is why we say ‘for everyone everything, nothing for us’.
“This is the form of the autonomy of our people, of our culture, and in this way we can recreate the different languages that have never existed for those who dominate, while our faces have been denied for being the color of earth”.[vi]
iii http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2010/07/17/index.php?section=politica&article=017n1pol Resistencia al capitalismo, escuela para la libertad zapatista: brigada europea.