<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Imagine “the Big Hotels, Owned by All of You,” and that, “Newspapers Will Be Property of their Workers”

After Witnessing Capitalism’s Destruction of Nature and Human Beings on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos Sharpens the Call for Expropriation of the Means of Production


By Al Giordano
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Baja California Sur

October 15, 2006

LA PAZ, BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR; OCTOBER 14, 2006: The greedy grab by international hotel chains and real estate speculators, among other industries, for the more than 3,000 kilometers of coastline along the Baja California Peninsula has placed its human residents and nature itself under daily attack. Pristine beaches have turned into expensive tourist traps with skyscraping buildings rising higher each day, condos and waterfront parcels sold in English with prices set in dollars, big plans for golf courses, proposals for casinos, corrupt government functionaries and politicians that steal the lands from the poor and sell them to the rich, while bays and inlets that once counted 217 edible species of seafood are turned into open sewers where the dying fish wash up on shore daily.


Photo: D.R. 2006 Joshua Bregman
It is an environmental and human disaster of epic proportions, irreversible, irrevocable. No slow “reform” or “legislation” could stop this death sentence killing Baja – the fourth longest peninsula on earth – even if it were to be tried, but that is a moot point anyway since the members of the Mexican political class have rented themselves out to make the first attacks and behind them come the big money boys of international capitalism to mop it up: All of it. In every corner of the peninsula’s southernmost tip the destruction is visible but the pain of those who suffer most from it is silenced.

But on Friday and Saturday that silence turned into word. Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos – who arrived in Baja California Sur by ferry boat early Friday morning after authorities backed down from their threats to deny him a ticket – heard the testimony of those who witnessed and must live in the ruins of what happened to this Eden on Earth. By midday Saturday, with urgency in his voice, he suggested a path out of this hell in paradise:

“Imagine if the big hotels were owned by you and if you were the administrators… There is a hotel owned by an indigenous community in the state of Hidalgo… The education of all the children of that community is funded through scholarships from the proceeds through their graduation from universities.”

Is there any environmental organization, public agency, newspaper editorial board, congressional bill, or any kind of “reform” that any such do-gooders or pretenders have suggested that could possibly bring this billionaire assault on the land, the water, the air and their residents, to a stop before the damage can’t be repaired? No. And that is why the simple suggestion – that the people take back what once belonged to everyone – is so irresistible. It is why the model of expropriating land refined in 1994 by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials) in the bottom corner of a country called Mexico, the state of Chiapas, is so relevant to the problems in the upper corner of Baja.

On Friday, in Cabo San Lucas, on the peninsula’s tip, Marcos and all who accompanied him heard detailed testimony of what has occurred up and down the coast at an outdoor forum titled “Capitalism: the land, the water, the air” outside that town’s House of Culture.

“We Have to Retake It”

One of those who spoke, Sergio Rodríguez Aroña, had trekked three hours from the ejido El Centenario near La Paz to explain that in his neighborhood “100 percent of the communal land owners have been expelled from their lands… Now the new owners are building a gringo colony called Lomas del Centenario and the former farmers are the pawns and construction workers for the gringos.” The new owners have buried half the mangrove swamps along the salt-water inlet in landfill to build their estates, he reported, and have turned the bay into “a glass of fecal water.” He invited all present to come and see it for themselves the following day.

Sad, what he said, but true. Saturday’s visit to the waterside by Marcos and a swarm of reporters – independent and commercial media alike – revealed a foul smell, dead fish, and clumps of ugly brown matter floating along the shore as neighbors told him what had happened to this once-beautiful (before capital invaded) place. At one point Delegate Zero grabbed a tape recorder from a member of the Other Journalism Road Team and conducted the interviews himself, then handing the apparatus back so the words could be reported (see Kristin Bricker’s upcoming report for the details).


Sergio Rodríguez Aroña with Subcomandante Marcos
Photo: D.R. 2006 Murielle Coppin
And on the plot of land where Sergio grew up, and from where his father, Manuel Rodríquez Barrajan, was arrested – spending three years in prison in the 1980s for trying to defend the communal ejido – others, still, took the microphone to tell of their pain and to urge resistance. What is interesting about this fight, like others in the region, is that the government says it is over, that those who once worked this land growing cotton, wheat and alfalfa, that those who once hunted the bay’s floor for clams, oysters, scallops and other shellfish, that those who once fished for squid and shrimp and so many other foods, will never own their lands again; that it’s all a done deal, it has been sold to the foreigners, and tough luck.

But that is not how those who live on the sand streets (without pavement, drainage or any other kind of government service) of El Centenario see it: “We have to organize ourselves to retake it,” said Sergio Rodríguez Aroña.

There is a point at each turn of history when the grievances build to a critical mass to the point that the very legitimacy of the system that causes them collapses. Baja California Sur is on a collision course with that fateful day. And – as is the point of the Other Campaign – this time it is not alone.

The Macossay Doctrine

This week marks the first visit by the man known as Subcomandante Marcos (at least since he became that person two decades ago in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas) to Baja California Sur. The busloads of North American tourists, the schmaltzy “spring break” bars along the hotel strips – masking the abuse of impoverished workers, most of them from other parts of Mexico, who clean the rooms, wait the tables, prune the gardens, and do the rest of the grunt work – immediately reminded him of what he had seen last January along the shores of the Yucatán Peninsula at the far other end of Mexico when he began this trek through the entire country.

On Friday, in Cabo San Lucas, he cited the situation in the state of Quintana Roo, where from Cancún through Playa del Carmen, down to Tulum and Chetumal, the “development” (read: destruction) of the Caribbean coast bodes what future money and power have in store for Baja California Sur. And he recalled one of the Other Campaign’s dead: the late Julio Macossay (1949-2006), the labor and environmental lawyer from Playa del Carmen who helped organized this effort ten months ago, only to perish of heart problems later in the Spring. “Julio Macossay said that the destruction of the land is a product of capitalism,” remembered Marcos.

“The development (of tourist resorts) did not generate a single job in Quintana Roo,” the Subcomandante said, noting that “all inclusive” and other resorts bring in workers from out of state and from Guatemala to build and staff their facilities, urging the Baja Sureños to distrust the claims of government and business that tourism development brings jobs and benefits to the locals. (A theme of the Other Journalism’s video newsreel: Delegate Zero Comes to Quintana Roo/A Land of Immigrants.)

But it was in Sergio’s backyard on Saturday that Delegate Zero offered more definition than any moment before along the ten-month Other Campaign trail on the matter of expropriation of the means of production, a theme he had opened up last March in Querétaro, underscored during The First National Workers’ Gathering on April 29, and drove home on May 1.

Specifically, it means entire communities and workers taking back the big hotels in this state and elsewhere. “What this country needs is an uprising, civil and peaceful,” he said. “Out with the hotel owners and may the hotels belong to the people of Baja California Sur!”

Noting that when a situation becomes so severe, as here along this peninsula, “that you either must fight or you will die,” he added: “The people’s instinct is to fight instead of die.”

Then, he expanded the concept beyond that of communities retaking hotels. “Imagine,” said Marcos, challenging the many media workers present, “if a newspaper became property of the workers.”

To be continued…

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America