<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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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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Marcos Rips Up the Script: “We’re going to Chichen Itzá”

A Clamor by Maya Indigenous Inspires Delegate Zero to Change Friday’s Program

By Al Giordano
The Other Journalism With the Other Campaign in Yucatán

January 20, 2006

MERIDA, YUCATAN, JANUARY 20, 2006: After two long days of sedentary meetings in an idyllic religious retreat center outside of this capital city, in front of hundreds of sympathizers, Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials) announced a sudden change in Friday’s itinerary: “We’re going to Chichen Itzá tomorrow,” he said – provoking a thunderous applause from below and to the left.

“That blows up everything else planned for tomorrow,” one of the local organizers of the Other Campaign whispered to your correspondent. (The published schedule had set “bilateral meetings with individuals and organizations that by previous, direct request… demonstrated their interest in exchange agreements and specific work with the EZLN,” to begin at 9:00 a.m. today.)

“We invite everybody to come with us,” Delegate Zero told the assembled, without specifying the hour. Much later, at 2:22 a.m., the media commission of the Other Campaign in Yucatán announced the revised agenda:

13:00 hours: Meeting in Chichen-Itzá with artisans.
18:00 hours: Political-Cultural Event in the Central Plaza of the City of Mérida

Chichen Itzá is home to perhaps the most globally famous ancient Maya pyramid, among other ruins to which tourists flock each day from hotels in Mérida, Cancún and the Riviera Maya. But the indigenous Maya of the town of Piste where the ruins reside are caught in a pincer grip between real estate developers and the Mexican government’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH, in its Spanish initials), the bureaucracy that manages archeological zones throughout the country and that runs roughshod over the descendants of those who built the pyramids, these ones almost a millennia ago.

D.R. 2006 Revista Rebeldía
Last August, during a jungle meeting with social organizations in the town of Dolores Hidalgo to plan this Other Campaign, Marcos promised some Yucatecos who had come 13 hours to explain the plight of the local indigenous: “we will come to Chichen Itzá” (Narco News was there, reporting.)

But in the five-month Ulysseian slip twixt the cup and the lip, the state organizing meetings of the Other Campaign in Yucatán, in which members of the professional class of Mérida – activists and non-governmental organization functionaries, some of whom have fought bitterly with each other for decades – outnumbered indigenous fighters and other simple and humble people who struggle, an internecine rift led to a series of confused internal letters to and from the Lacandon jungle and a breakdown of any consensus as to where Marcos would go during his three days in this state. The promised visit with the indigenous of Chichen Itzá got lost in the shuffle, and the original schedule had Delegate Zero in just one location – the Catholic retreat center of Uay Ja in Chablekal – for 72 marathon hours of meetings.

There may not be any way to say this delicately, but your correspondent will try: In stark contrast to the arms-opened spirit of welcome and solidarity that the Other Journalism found in all three bases of the Other Campaign in nearby Quintana Roo, where local organizers in Chetumal, Playa del Carmen and Cancún created the conditions for a an indisputable revolutionary leap forward for their state’s struggles during Marcos’ three days there, in Yucatán state the vibe has been much more exclusionary. Some of the professional class activists had built a kind of fence around Delegate Zero’s visit, exuding a smug sense of possession: He’s ours, we’re the gatekeepers, the rest of you get in line and wait for our permission to touch the statue of the saint.

The first day and a half of meetings in Chablekal with adherents to the Zapatistas’ Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle were dominated by academic discourse by “educated” people, expounding on the plight of the indigenous or merely offering self-referential speeches about how long the speaker had supported the Zapatista cause. Certainly, there were some other voices, indigenous and mestizo, telling stories of authentic struggle – these will be reported in detail by the Other Journalism in the days to come – but one had to listen much harder to hear them in between so many presentations by individuals and organizational representatives that clearly had more experience attending meetings than struggling at the grassroots.

Then, at 5:40 p.m. on Thursday, the dam broke.

The Caste War Is a Class War

It was at Thursday afternoon’s meeting for “sympathizers” (those that have not yet signed the Sixth Declaration, and who were not invited to the previous meetings) that indigenous Maya social fighters came out in force.

First up was a Maya artesan from Chichen Itzá: “We are not supported by any political party,” he began, answering rumors spread by other organizers seeking to exclude them that these artisans are merely pawns to political machines. “We invite the Subcomandante to visit us. We are waiting for him to come and experience our problems. The Maya are here. We are present. How is it possible that the government says we don’t live there (in the Chichen Itzá archeological zone) when we have lived there for generations? We are humble people, artisans. We make hammocks. I earn my living by making hammocks. How is it possible that the government wants to take away from me what is mine? But we will not leave our lands. We are going to fight even though it is impossible.”

At the core of the plight of the artisans of Chichen Itzá are governmental regulations determining which artisans can sell their wares near the ruins and which cannot (usually corresponding to political party allegiances), and a public relations campaign by flaks for the INAH to discredit the local indigenous population as somehow a danger to the precious ancient ruins.

Another Chichen Itzá artisan, Teresa Díaz, then came to the microphone in tears: “We are waiting for help, for a response. Do us the favor, Subcomandante. Make a little space in your time to visit us. We don’t have luxury spaces,” she said, looking around at the pristine, neatly kempt retreat center in Chablekal, “but we do have a small piece of the earth. Please, compañero, visit us!”

Eliseo Pak took the microphone, speaking in Maya, with the help of a Spanish translator: “We are not asking for money from the government. We just want it to allow us to do our work, and that it not throw us off our land. If we can demonstrate through being near you that you support us they will respect us more. The INAH goes promoting the Maya region as patrimony of humanity. But those of us who live under the pyramid, we were born inside the archeological zone. This is a displaced people. The propaganda that the INAH puts out humiliates us, says we are crooks, looters and molesters, but I am an artisan, proud of my culture, my work was born in my heart. I take care of what are my roots. They treat us like crooks. They put this message out to the rich to destroy our work as honest people. We are the entire community and we want to give our kids something, their patrimony. What will we do if the government takes this all away and expels us from here? I want to thank you for listening to me.”

Other indigenous, workers and campesinos came up to the microphone one after another, including those from Oxcum, where the state seeks to take away farmlands to build a new airport… Where, with machete swords risen up into the air (such as what occurred in response to airport land grabs in Atenco and may soon occur in Chetumal, the citizenry has blockaded the road to the lands in conflict.

Some of the more urban activists present expressed solidarity for the indigenous demands. “I would like to listen to what response the artisans will receive. As a Yucateca it really interests me,” said Cristina Cantillo to Marcos. “I want to know what reaction you have to the demands that have been voiced here by the artisan compañeros.”

Another woman, clean-cut and obviously educated, was clearly not happy with the demands of the campesinos. She said, “I want to add my grain of sand so that it will be understood better what the Other Campaign and the Sixth Declaration are. They (the Zapatistas) come to listen to what others are already doing. They don’t come to collect petitions for solutions. There is some confusion. I plead to the communal farmland councils and the towns who come here to ask Marcos for help that they come instead to reach agreements and organize ourselves to solve our own problems.”

But the Caste War – then and now, a class war – inside of the Other Campaign was over as rapidly as the campesinos had won voice at the microphone. As one man said through that microphone:

“Oxcum and Chichen Itzá are not the only struggles here. Yucatán is one of the states that suffer the most poverty, misery, hunger and unemployment. Although it seems well cultured, it is more like Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero: A state totally abandoned. This is a state where one powerful business class has looted everything. Really, this meeting, like the one yesterday, is important, and we see new faces that seem to want to enter the fight.”

The Other Campaign in Yucatán had finally begun to move out of the language of the “educated” classes to speak more coherently “from below and to the left.”

Marcos: Enter the Other Campaign! Enter!

After listening to the parade of words that flowed from the overflow crowd, it was Delegate Zero’s turn at the microphone. He did not mince words:’

“We suppose that the majority of you here are sympathizers and are thinking about entering the Other Campaign. First, we want to say you that tomorrow we are going to Chichen Itza. We invite everyone to go there, to go together with us to listen to the word with these compañeros and compañeras.”

Many – but not all – of those assembled broke into strong applause. One could feel a kind of wall – the sense that many social fighters had that this cause would exclude them – evaporate.

“We have all the fears,” Marcos continued. “Even we (the Zapatistas) are the first to be afraid when we are going to do something. We fear losing life, or the people we love, but there are also other fears. There are fears of entering something bad or that has dark interests behind it or that will go in another direction, or of entering something badly organized… It is a legitimate fear. One has to have clear view of what one enters before doing it. There are always causes whose leaders take another path and what always happens is that somebody uses a movement for his own benefit. This is already happening. But there is also this restlessness in many humble and simple people – I’m not speaking just economically, because there are people who live comfortably but who can also be humble and simple – who feel something should be done.”

“And we are going to tell you the story of when Emiliano Zapata made the Plan de Ayala… Zapata made the document and signed it and said “he who is without fear pass here and sign.” At the hour to sign, this person is not just signing a paper but putting his heart on the line. We have seen it in Mérida and in Quintana Roo and all of Chiapas. Now we’re going to Campeche, Tabasco, Veracruz, Oaxaca, imagine that, the entire Southeast. Everything here is being risen up. This commitment – the word we are receiving from you – we are going to do it together with you. We are not just inviting you to come to other states. We are asking that you receive us and go to Chichen Itza… to Oxchum, to the UADY (Autonomous University of Yucatan), to go with the women, with the children in school, with the housewives discussing the problems of homes and neighborhoods, and to begin to unite our struggles with others.”

“Let me tell you a secret,” Marcos said to more than 400 people listening. “It is already known that we are going to win… This is what the Other Campaign is about. You’re invited. Enter it.”

And with that, the first Caste War of the Other Campaign in Yucatan was won without anyone having fired a shot. Your correspondents are off to Chichen Itza to report the day’s story. To be continued…

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