Thousands Rebel Against Neoliberalism in Chiapas
Almost 13 Years After the Armed Uprising, Achievements of the Autonomous Governments Are Illustrated
By Hermann Bellinghausen
January 12, 2007
Oventic, Chiapas, MX. December 30, 2006: One day before the 13th anniversary of its armed uprising, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) welcomed followers from 30 countries, all adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, which Lt. Colonel Moisés, in name of the “Zezta Internazional,” called “an encounter of resistances and rebellions against global capitalism and neoliberalism, which has prepared for and planned the death and destruction of humanity and the natural environment.” Or, how to prepare ourselves and continue organizing to resist and combat the “common enemy” of humanity.
“This meeting is necessary and urgent,” he added before more than 1,000 international visitors, and at least as many supporters coming from all the Zapatista autonomous regions, as well as the five good government juntas (JBG) and another 200 authorities from the autonomous municipalities in Chiapas.
With the Peoples of the World
The search for the path to “construct a better world, where all worlds fit” unites them. After declaring the commencement of this meeting of the Zapatista people with the people of the world this afternoon in the esplanade of the caracol of Oventic, Lt. Colonel Moisés added that its purpose is “to get to know each other and share the experiences of how we are organizing and pushing forward the struggles of each group, each movement, each sector and each person.” A place where the struggle of one person, and those of many, will be one struggle.
The JBG of the highland region, “the central heart of the Zapatistas before the world,” in its role as host, welcomed the participants “to our territory, which is also your home.” Today “we begin to listen to each other, about our forms of resistance against the bad governors, and thus construct alternatives for the world where those who rule, rule while obeying.”
The principal focus of the encounter, which [lasted] until January 2nd, is the detailed exposition of the governing experiences of the Zapatista communities. As such, the inaugural table gave the floor to the five JBGs, who during two hours described what it means to govern autonomously, and how the Zapatistas understand this practice.
With the spacious auditorium of the caracol completely full, the voices of indigenous men and women who govern in the Zapatista way, and who learn while teaching, were heard. “Some of us do not know how to read or write, but we know how to think,” they said. Beneath their “pasamontañas” masks, the young age of the majority was evident, those who belong to a new generation of Zapatistas; in fact, some are already products of the rebels’ autonomous education. And on this afternoon some acute and very alternative definitions of presumably established concepts were heard, concepts such as government, politics, autonomy and democratic participation.
In a markedly indigenous Spanish, Miguel, member of the JBG of Roberto Barrios, explained: “We are not paid to govern, because we are poor.” Here the ancient axiom of professor Carlos Hank González trembles, that which says “a poor politician is a bad politician,” which was taken to its grossest extreme by Salinism and Foxism. To govern the people, Miguel said, one must be like the people, “because there is no difference.” He considered that the way that power “mocks” the execution of public responsibilities, that “it doesn’t respect us.”
The Tojolobal Commander Brus Li, who coordinated the exposition of the JBGs, gave this definition: “Autonomy is a form for us to take account of ourselves,” because here “the government is other.” “We do not depend on politicians. We decide how we want our communities to work.” And this “does not exist in the neoliberal capitalist system where the government rules and the people obey.” He admitted: “when we rose up in arms we did not have this experience. There is no manual that tells how one creates government,” but the Zapatistas insisted in making sure that it “governs while proposing, not imposing.”
With growing interest and enthusiasm, the extremely varied audience continued listening to the testimonies and definitions which, despite coming from the well known Zapatista ideology based in the famous “govern while obeying,” showed a revealing vitality. “We want to be different than the bad governors, who make decisions for their own benefit,” expressed Jesús, of the JBG of Realidad. Like some of his compañeros, he admitted that it is not easy, but “the people support us and take care of our families when we leave to work” the three years that the positions last. “We’ve had successes, and also obstacles and mistakes. Weakness enters into the picture, as we are human beings, but the people have to see this and they push us to overcome it. We are proud of being autonomous.”
Roel admitted that “one of the most important challenges is the participation of women in autonomy.” The first JBG of La Realidad only had one woman. Three years later, the new junta is now composed of seven men and six women. Ofelia, from the caracol of Morelia, described the construction “of the fabric of the system of education, health care, production and appropriate technology,” and Beto, also from the JBG “rainbow of hope,” said that this type of autonomy is not listed in dictionaries, nor the constitution. “We live it in our homes, in our communities, and from there through the whole society.” As many of the Zapatistas who participate in indigenous self-government, he offered some examples of how agrarian conflicts, or cases of crime and rape that occur in autonomous territories, are resolved, contrasting them with the systematic impunity or abuse of the official justice system. “We seek dialog and agreement between the parties, and we do not confuse dialog with negotiation. The challenges “are many,” he said. “Although we can’t change the world, we struggle so that the world does not change us.”
Josefina, a Chol from the autonomous municipality of Akabalná and member of the JBG of Roberto Barrios, remembered that the elections for the first autonomous councils were held on November 19, 1994, and that with time “we have learned what we did not know; we have new struggles, new ideas.” She clearly described the hostility of paramilitaries in the northern zone and the role of the cacique bosses, in contrast to the “other government” which thousands of indigenous communities in Chiapas are putting into practice, despite the successive “betrayals” of the governments of Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox. Or the case of the breaching of the San Andrés accords, signed in 1996 by a presumably drunk Secretary of the Interior, or the “15 minutes” (in which Fox said he would bring peace to Chiapas) and the pathetic indigenous law that Fox and his manic presidency will take to the tomb.
Elías, a Tzeltal of the JBG of La Garrucha, in an economic example of national sovereignty declared: “We have the right to be autonomous within this state and this country. We have the right to our own thoughts, that being indigenous makes us different from other Mexicans.” And he made clear: “We are not against the sovereignty of México, as the enemies of the people falsely declare.”
At the conclusion of the inaugural table, the New Horizon Cooperative of Guatemala, which has its origins in the guerrilla war of the 1980s in that country, shared its own experiences of government in an announcement which in the next few days will be heard here, under the auspices of those, according to Miguel from Roberto Barrios, consider that “the work of the government is to energize the people,” not the other way around, as happens on the national level.
Originally posted in Spanish January 5
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