Working for a Different World Amid Threats of Repression
While Vicente Fox’s increasingly discredited pro-business government provides fuel for social movements working for an alternative world, the Zapatistas continue to inspire these movements, which celebrated their anniversaries in Mexico
amidst threats of repression.
Halfway through his term in office, President Fox’s approval ratings have plummeted. According to polls conducted by the country’s leading papers, less than 60% of the population has a favorable opinion of his government, while the polling group GEA puts the number at under 50%. Fox’s standing is even worse among opinion leaders, with barely 38% approval. Half of those polled feel that the country is “stagnating” and another 19% that it is going backwards.
Unemployment and the dirty warAs for Fox’s handling of the economy and employment, an overwhelming 70% give him poor marks. Although Fox admits that unemployment is high, and his government’s own official figures show it to be the highest since the 1995 crisis, he boasted to a meeting of businesspeople at the start of this year that he would begin laying off some 50,000 state employees with more to follow. He counseled all the dismissed employees to open up small businesses instead.
The International Labor Organization described the country’s poor performance in jobs and productivity in its 2003 report. Half a million jobs have been lost over the last three years. The scarcity of jobs is affecting even well educated people, which is a tragic waste of investments in education.
In the area of human rights, Fox’s government has made mixed progress. The people responsible for the “dirty war” between 1968 and the late 1970s had confidently assumed that the statute of limitations had run out on their crimes. The Supreme Court, however, determined that there is no statute of limitations in cases where a person is illegally deprived of freedom through kidnapping if the victim does not reappear. It thus recognized forced disappearance as a crime against humanity, a decision applauded by the human rights organizations. The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Social and Political Movements calculated that some 1,500 people had been disappeared during the dirty war and announced that new charges would be filed against two former heads of the Federal Security Offices, who promptly fled the country. The Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), however, charged that both the prosecutor’s office and Fox’s government have been dragging their feet to protect former Presidents Luis Echeverría and José López Portillo, the ones truly responsible for the dirty war.
In response to the dogma of the “globally subordinated” Although he was a charismatic candidate, Fox has shown a vacuum of leadership as President that some of the worst figures from Mexico’s corrupt, authoritarian past have moved to fill. The public is generally disillusioned over his unfulfilled promises. At the same time, power struggles have intensified among the country’s politicians, whose eyes are set on the next six years. A recent survey on political culture revealed the persistence of anti-democratic values such as intolerance. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the long-time state party regime, went into a kind of hiatus when it lost the 2000 elections, but virtually all the conditions still exist for it to reestablish itself. After his resignation, former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda revealed that when Fox took office, he made a secret pact with the PRI, offering to pardon their past corruption in exchange for their support for his reforms. Fox held up his end of the deal, but the PRI didn’t.
The PRD has denounced Fox’s economic policies as identical to those of his predecessor, Ernesto Zedillo. The country has been at a standstill for three years, and industry is declining because the government neither promotes economic growth nor distributes income to mitigate the enormous inequalities. According to the PRD, Fox has simply maintained the status quo. It urged the President to use his powers to pull the country out of its continuing morass. Its analysis of the situation is that Mexico’s national self-determination project has been replaced by one of global subordination, as its rulers have accepted the dogma that Mexico can only move ahead through foreign investment and technology. In response to this vision of the “global subordinates,” people have been coming together around the conviction that self-determination is a necessary condition for development.
Catholic bishops from Mexico and the United States have described the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as an unjust system that has excluded Mexican peasant farmers and plunged them into extreme poverty. They believe that Mexico’s rural economy will only recover when food sovereignty and a strong domestic market are fundamental components of national policy. Global Exchange calculates that some 8 million Mexicans have fallen from the middle classes into the ranks of the poor since NAFTA went into effect, and 10 million are now earning less than the minimum wage. Depending on the criteria used to measure poverty, between 53 and 68 million Mexicans are living in poverty, out of a population of 104.8 million.
In defense of the national patrimony
Fox hoped to conclude 2003 by passing two major reforms: in energy and fiscal policy. He calculated that the parliamentary alliance between his National ActionParty (PAN) and the PRI bench, led by Elba Esther Gordillo, would allow him to achieve this. One of his goals is to change articles 27 and 28 of the Constitution to allow private capital to play a role in generating electric energy and to privatize the oil industry through multiple service contracts. According to PRD leader Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, opening up strategic areas of the energy industry to private investment was one of the promises Fox made to the people whose political support and financial contributions made his election possible.
On October 1, with the feisty Mexican Electrical Workers Union in the lead, the country’s main independent labor, peasant and university teachers’ unions held a demonstration urging the President to respect the Constitution. They criticized his servility and warned him that grassroots opposition would stop him from giving away the national patrimony. The demonstrators called for unity to defend the country’s energy sovereignty. At the beginning of November, they formed a civic front to block the President’s offensive and draft and promote an energy and oil policy that would be truly national in character.
Eight points in the “mega-march” In late November, eight demonstrations left several states to meet up in a “mega-march” in Mexico City. Demonstrations also took place in the capitols of nine states. In the nation’s capitol itself, labor and university unions and peasant organizations from all over the country joined together to reject the reforms proposed by the government and supported by private enterprise. What we are now seeing in Mexico is an authentic class struggle pitting two opposing national projects against each other.
The mega-march was also a demonstration against neoliberalism. Participants rallied around eight points:
1. The reassertion, consolidation, defense and full exercise of energy sovereignty. The Mexican Constitution establishes that the exploitation of fossil fuels and the provision of public electricity are activities reserved exclusively for the state. The demonstrators voiced strong opposition to allowing foreign corporations to administer and reap the benefits generated by electricity consumption, and to ceding the exploitation of fossil fuels to private companies through multiple service contracts. This, they say, would effectively hand sovereignty over to private corporations guided by private interests.
2. The building of financial sovereignty, by reestablishing the Economic Development Bank and establishing a new commercial banking system that can respond to the economy’s needs. The demonstrators proposed a tax reform that would increase fiscal revenues, channel funds into investments in national development, and relieve the tax burden on the sectors most impoverished by neoliberal policies.
3. The recovery of food sovereignty by rebuilding the productive capacity of rural areas and improving the living conditions of rural workers.
4. A labor reform that upholds workers’ social and political victories.
5. The defense of the cultural, scientific research and professional training institutions that the federal government would like to do away with.
6. A review and audit of all privatizations of public entities carried out since 1982.
7. The reassertion of policies based on dignity and sovereignty.
8. Fulfillment of the San Andés Accords, the presentation of people “disappeared” for political reasons, and an investigation into the homicides of women in Ciudad Juárez as necessary conditions for a definitive, dignified peace, just and fraternal coexistence and a state respectful of life and rights.
All of these mobilizations—testifying to a labor, peasant and grassroots resurgence in defense of national sovereignty—were aimed not only at the executive branch but also at Congress. The demonstrators proposed establishing an economic and social council to plan actions and promised to assume the leadership the government is apparently unable to provide and to gather forces to draw up an alternative national project to replace the dominant one.
The PRI’s authoritarian traditionAt the beginning of the year, Fox sent his 2004 budget bill to Congress. The proposal allotted more money to paying off the public debt and the bank bailout than to health care and the fight against poverty. Interest payments on the huge bank bailout program established to handle the 1995 crisis would hit their highest point in nine years, while public investment spending remained stagnant. The most controversial part of the budget was the fiscal reform, which proposed applying a 10% sales tax to food and medicine. This broke the alliance between the PAN and the PRI, since many in the PRI were concerned that they would pay too high a price in the next elections if they supported this tax. The PRI’s congressional bench split, with one group lining up behind bench leader Elba Esther Gordillo and Fox while the larger group rebelled to vote her out of her post.
If Fox has been no obstacle to the PRI’s recovery, the party’s own internal conflicts have certainly exacerbated its problems. Even without a single pole to bring everyone in the party together, people could have set aside their differences for tactical reasons, but the presidential race, which began so early, added fuel to the fire.
Two blocs were formed, one behind Gordillo, who is also the PRI’s general secretary, and the other behind the party’s president, Roberto Madrazo. Loyalties are very fleeting, however. The PRI governors also split, and no one has been able to put the pieces back together. The party is notorious for its feudal structure and has been weakened by it, despite its success in the last elections. Still trapped within its authoritarian traditions, the PRI has been unable to resolve its conflicts democratically.
The first victory against a neoliberal proposalThe President’s stubborn insistence on trying to impose a sales tax on food and medicine and privatize the energy sector, along with the split in the PRI’s congressional bench, led to a climate of instability and uncertainty. The PRD criticized Fox’s proposed fiscal reform as regressive and politically nonviable and proposed expanding the tax base rather than taxing food and medicine. The groups that had come together in the mega-march demonstrated in front of Congress, ready to resist, and called for a general strike should Fox’s proposal pass.
The alliance between the PAN bench in Congress and the PRI representatives who remained with Gordillo came up eight votes short, however.
The fiscal reform that would have cut taxes on the rich and threatened the economic survival of the poor didn’t pass, thanks in part to the massive demonstrations.
For the first time, a neoliberal proposal that had been agreed upon at the top was successfully blocked. But it was just one battle, and was followed by the fight over the 2004 budget, which earmarked over a third of total spending to paying off the debt and interest on the bank bailout. The PRD bench in Congress, even supported by the huge demonstrations, failed to cut back the cost of the bailout or to place tariffs on imported corn and beans to benefit national producers. They did, however, succeed in defeating the unjust proposal to tax food and medicine and in redirecting some funds to rural areas and state governments, and to investments in energy, infrastructure, health and education. They also established control over the President’s publicity and prevented the dismantling of 16 public cultural and economic development institutions. None of this would have been possible without the pressure exerted by the grassroots movement.
The final results of this tense course of events: the PAN lost, the PRI was divided and the PRD mayor of Mexico City, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is now leading in the polls as the preferred candidate for the next presidential elections.
A hard hand in ChiapasMost of the legislators in the new House of Representatives appeared to have little interest in Chiapas either in 2003 or in the first few weeks of 2004. They did not even name representatives to the Harmony and Peace Commission (COCOPA), while one PAN senator went so far as to propose that the commission be dismantled. The PRD representatives charged that the PAN and PRI had chosen to make the road to peace and reconciliation even more difficult by neglecting COCOPA. They insisted that the commission would continue to play a key role in resolving the conflict in Chiapas, even though no talks have taken place among the parties for seven years now.
While the Zapatistas continue carrying out activities that have nothing to do with the state, the government has responded with a hard hand against the autonomous municipalities the EZLN has promoted. The government’s commissioner for the talks, Luis Alvarez, participated in a campaign to discredit the EZLN and held meetings with some of its former members. The paramilitary groups remain armed and continue harassing Zapatista communities, while soldiers trained by the Pentagon operate in the area of conflict.
The military has attempted to cloak its counterinsurgency operations under the guise of environmental protection, actions to promote tourism and purported social assistance. In response, opposition to both the military and the police has been increasing in Zapatista communities. To no avail they continue to denounce the illegal actions of paramilitary groups. Some of the nongovernmental organizations in the area speak of a “multifaceted war to wear people down” that, while not officially recognized, affects the indigenous communities every day.
Increased Zapatista presence in societyThe Zapatistas have increased their presence in Mexican civil society in recent months. Subcomandante Marcos sent a recorded message to the international meeting in defense of humanity held in the Siquieros Cultural Center, laying out the Zapatistas’ views on globalization and neoliberalism. They see not only the globalization promoted by those with a lot of money, but also a globalization of resistance. The globalization of money does not respect countries or people, but consumes them and destroys the world. The fight against the globalization of power is a question of human survival. It is in this context that the many groups waging that battle around the world share experiences and provide each other mutual support. At the meeting, Bolivian coca leader Evo Morales explained how his country’s poor and outcast rose up to overthrow their President in October 2003, recalling that the Zapatistas were the ones who said, “Enough to policies of hunger and misery.”
In November, the Zapatistas invited civil society to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their founding and the 10th anniversary of their armed uprising. The Zapatistas have kept the channels of communication with civil society open, and in celebrating their anniversaries, they took a look at their past, at the mistakes they’ve made and the lessons they’ve learned.
The Zapatistas’ two anniversary celebrationsOn November 17, 2003 the Zapatistas celebrated their twentieth anniversary behind closed doors, in the company of the indigenous peoples in resistance. They announced that the “Caracoles”—recently established sites for exchanges between the Zapatista communities and the rest of the world—of Oventic, La Realidad, Roberto Barrios and Morelia would be closed to the press and to national and international civil society from November 15 to 20. At the same time, they invited people to the anniversary events being organized by the magazine Rebeldía and several other organizations in Mexico and around the world. They announced that they would send messages to all these events but no representatives, so no member of the Zapatista leadership would be personally present at the events held beyond the mountains of southeastern Mexico.
In one of these messages, read during the presentation of a video about the Zapatista movement titled The Fire and the Word, Marcos criticized the Fox administration’s disdain for culture and its dissemination among the people. The government’s position, he said, is that if art and culture aren’t profitable, they should be eliminated. He referred to a proposal in Fox’s budget to tax reading and learning and put several state-run cultural institutions up for sale to increase revenues. Marcos felt this would “punish society and condemn the country to ignorance.”
At the celebrations held by civil society, people spoke about how the Zapatistas had shaken up the structures of the Mexican political system and awakened many people’s consciences, how their rebellion had won the right to speak and their movement spoke about new things in innovative ways. People commented on how the Zapatistas had reinvigorated Mexico’s social movements at a time when they were worn out and weakened, upholding dignity even under repression, trying out multiple forms of resistance, always able to manage their weakness with great strength. It was the commemorating of a movement that has restored hopes for a better life and worked through peaceful means in the past ten years to build another world. If Mexico has become increasingly democratic in recent years, the Zapatistas deserve much of the credit. They have acted as a mirror reflecting the country’s indigenous peoples, and for these past ten years, the indigenous movement has walked hand in hand alongside them.
Celebrations were held in 19 of the country’s 32 states. Groups close to the Zapatistas, including human rights, environmental, university and other grassroots organizations, also held commemorative events in seven of the largest Latin American nations, in nine European countries and in Turkey, Japan, Canada and the United States.
Organizations and individuals from 25 countries also participated in the Zapatista celebrations by signing a statement in which they said, among other things, that along with the Zapatistas they would continue to learn how not to mirror power.
The Zapatistas celebrated with cultural and political activities in the Caracoles that were open to the press and the public. At these celebrations, representatives of the Caracoles charged that their food supplies, health, education, production and marketing plans were being affected by counterinsurgency operations. They said they were convinced that only through rebellion and resistance would they be able to build their autonomy.
Throughout the celebrations, the Zapatistas and their sympathizers chose to emphasize culture: there were paintings, posters, music, movies, videos, conferences, round tables and the like. They blamed the government and the wealthy for prostituting culture and spoke about the value of the vast range of popular culture and the cultural aspects of daily life.
Fox: “Chiapas is at peace” A study reputedly carried out by the government found that the EZLN is present in 580 communities in 35 Chiapas municipalities.
The Zapatistas’ recently established Good Government Committees have succeeded in overcoming differences with their neighbors through talks, without federal government intervention, and the Zapatistas continue to reject government programs and projects. When President Fox boasted that “Chiapas has changed and is at peace,” several commentators replied that the first was true, but because of the Zapatistas, while the second was an illusion. There is still no peace in Chiapas but rather continuing displacements, crimes committed in impunity and harassment by paramilitary groups. Although military patrols are no longer regularly scheduled and many control posts have been eliminated, the total number of troops stationed in the Lacandona forest, the Chiapas highlands and along the northern fringes and the border has increased. And six years after 45 unarmed people were murdered while praying in a church in Acteal—including 19 women,18 children and 8 men—no one has been held responsible for the massacre nor has the complicity of military and PRI officials in the crime even been investigated.
A source of inspiration for long-term changeTen years ago, the day the Zapatistas launched their uprising, Mexico joined NAFTA. The promised economic boom never came, however, and inequality only increased. The Zapatista uprising forced Mexico’s ruling classes to recognize the country’s backwardness, and now the movement is a leader in the fight against inequality. The Zapatistas have also imprinted the demand for indigenous rights on the national consciousness. Although the insults and affronts continue and the Zapatista cause remains unresolved, the movement has remained active and grown stronger, always innovating. The Mexican state has refused to understand indigenous demands, but the continuing Zapatista struggle serves as a reminder of indigenous rights.
The Zapatistas know their struggle has not ended. They have shifted it to the arena of words, and especially to building a local and regional autonomy that is separate from the state. In their rebellion for dignity, they have promoted long-term changes that go well beyond the moment. They have shaped a new culture, a new way of doing politics, without seeking to take power independent of the increasingly discredited political parties. They have been a starting point for new social movements that have broken with the old political ways. Their movement has been a powerful source of inspiration for other movements around the world, an example that has encouraged the excluded of the world to organize autonomously.
US agents in Mexico City’s airportAfter announcing an “orange alert” on its own soil over Christmas and into January 2004, the United States next took charge of screening passengers in Mexico City’s airport.
US agents came to supervise the screening, which went well beyond international norms. Travelers reported arrogance, insults, humiliations, arbitrary excesses and abuse of authority. The Mexican government’s actions were not at all clear, as it tried to justify the measure by citing international agreements. It followed Washington’s instructions with no thought to national dignity.
The reaction was quick and came from all sides. Mexico’s cardinal said that Mexicans should be responsible for supervising Mexican territory. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas criticized Fox’s government for bowing down to US demands, and recalled that the only valid alliances in international relations are ones of equality. Opposition legislators demanded the immediate withdrawal of the foreign agents. Several commentators argued that the United States was trying to generate and spread fear as an instrument of political domination and to drum up quick support for Bush’s reelection. Former foreign minister Fernando Solana, for example, said that fear was being used as a political resource.
Fox responded by insisting that collaborating with the United States does not violate national sovereignty, and explained that the 2002 Intelligent Borders agreement empowers FBI agents to play a supervisory role in Mexican airports. Specialists in law and international relations at the National Autonomous University, however, argued that the direct intervention of US agents in the Mexico City airport is a flagrant violation of the rule of law and demanded that the Mexican government put a stop to the insults and abuses Mexicans were experiencing at their hands. The wave of complaints obliged the National Human Rights Commission to open an investigation. The commission verified that passengers had been treated poorly and proposed a charter on the rights of travelers.
Monterrey summit: Business as usualThis controversy served as the preamble to the Special Summit of the Americas called by the Organization of American States on January 12-13, 2004, in the city of Monterrey. At the summit, the participating heads of state discussed matters of good governance and terrorism. Security measures around the summit headquarters reached new extremes. Social organizations charged that the US government was trying to impose its agenda, putting its vision of security above the priorities of other nations. Brazil and Venezuela opposed including the FTAA in the declaration and insisted, along with Argentina, on emphasizing social issues at the summit.
Fox announced that he would try to get an agreement on migration at the summit—responding in part to pressure from both the public and the PRD—but in the end he accepted the plan presented by the United States. Mexico, Colombia and Chile appeared at the summit as trustworthy, docile US allies, while Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina dared to voice their disagreements with the superpower.
In preparation for the summit, forums were held by businesspeople, academics and social organizations. Hundreds of civil society organizations presented initiatives on economic growth with equity, social development and democratic governance. Some 150 of their representatives spoke with delegates to the summit, presenting specific proposals on each of the issues discussed and proposing that the OAS establish a permanent consultative commission representing civil society in the Americas.
In the vague final document, the United States succeeded in imposing most of its points of view—on the FTAA, for example. The summit achieved nothing new; it was merely one more venue to promote Bush’s reelection. One achievement, however, was increased unity among Latin American countries in response to US agricultural and commercial protectionism. Bush got Fox to go along with his interventionist position—against Mexican foreign policy norms in the case of the referendum on Venezuela—and Fox came off as adulating and servile to US interests.
Two ways of making oneself heardAs at other international meetings, civil society organizations chose to participate in two ways. Some tried to make their voices heard in the official discussions. Another, larger group held demonstrations around the official site of the summit. The nongovernmental organizations that had participated in the earlier consultations charged that civil society’s voices had been excluded from the meeting and that the governments were ignoring the commitments made in the 2001 Quebec summit to listen to civil society and involve the continent’s social movements in defining public policies. The established procedures at Monterrey were anti-democratic, and unlike at other recent events of this kind, the NGOs were denied access to drafts and discussion documents, limiting their opportunities to present observations and alternatives.
Over 350 civil society organizations demanded that the US security operations in Mexican airports be discontinued and Bush’s visit to Monterrey declared non grata. Some proposed establishing a people’s court to judge Bush for his crimes against humanity and peace. Members of 41 peasant and indigenous organizations from 32 countries charged that free trade had battered Latin America, spoke out against NAFTA’s agricultural chapter and expressed their concern over the hostile US attitude toward Cuba.
Tlalnepantla: Brutal repressionSecurity forces blocked the first of their demonstrations in Monterrey, preventing it from reaching the site of the summit, and the large number of police around the site also kept other demonstrations at bay. “Alternative world” activists held parallel marches in the surrounding area and in front of the US embassy in Mexico City. The Mexican government, aware that international attention was focused on what was happening in Monterrey, took great pains to ensure both that the demonstrations would not make it through the protective cordons around the meeting where some 30 heads of state were gathered, and that there would be no repression. Fox boasted of successfully containing the demonstrations without violence.
The government’s best attempts to ensure good publicity were undermined, however, by a separate event that unfolded in those same days in the municipality of Tlalnepantla, in the state of Morelos, linking anti-terrorist hysteria with government opposition to indigenous autonomy through the brutal repression of an indigenous community of prickly-pear cactus producers.
Following traditional customs, this largely indigenous municipality had always elected their own municipal leader. When the PRI was in power this had always been followed by their choice presenting his credentials to the ruling party, who then ran him as their candidate. When the new leader did not do so this time, the PRI ignored the municipality’s will and ran its candidate, as did the other parties. Elias Osorio, the PRI candidate for mayor, was widely repudiated for previous acts of corruption, including electoral fraud. With many of the voters abstaining, Osorio was able to win the elections with a slim margin by buying a number of votes. In a plebiscite in October the townspeople elected their choice again by 1,357 votes to 1 for Osorio, but the results were not officially recognized. When Osorio was to take office on November 1, his opponents occupied the municipal offices and would not let him enter.
After fruitless attempts to negotiate with PAN state officials in Morelos, they decided to establish an autonomous municipality, but the federal government secretary declared that such governments would not be permitted, and in mid-January the state government ordered its security forces to violently dislodge the protesters. The result was one dead, several wounded and many more arrested. The state security forces chased people down in the hills and neighboring villages, trying to weed out everyone who had promoted municipal autonomy. Terror reigned, as police searching house by house without court warrants besieged the town. Families were afraid to go out, and food and medicine ran short. The police also beat back a solidarity caravan heading into the town.
The governor of Morelos initially attempted to justify the brutality by alleging that a terrorist training camp was located in the town, but police officials themselves quickly belied this.
As in the most repressive timesTlalnepantla’s popular autonomous council and neighborhood commission issued a statement “from exile” denouncing the repression and the atmosphere of persecution. They demanded an end to the repression, harassment and hunting down of their members, as well as respect for their autonomy. They asked for talks
to resolve the problem.
Members of autonomous municipalities from other states spoke out in defense of the rights of indigenous people and demanded that the government stop the illegal police actions. Indigenous people from 13 neighboring communities came out in defense of those being pursued. The peoples of Milpa Alta, visibly offended, told the government that indigenous people were not terrorists but were simply exercising their right to choose their own way of life and govern themselves in their own manner. They demanded the immediate departure of security forces from the community of Tlalnepantla, the release of those detained, free passage for people in hiding out of fear of being captured, removal of the imposed municipal authorities and respect for indigenous autonomy. The Zapatista National Liberation Movement network organized an event to defend the right of Tlalnepantla to be an autonomous municipality. Other events took place in the state capital and Mexico City to protest the human rights violations.
The governor was finally forced to back off; he called a halt to the persecution and announced that arrests would be temporarily suspended. Nonetheless, some 20 people remained in jail, accused of insurrection and rioting, subject to procedures similar to those established in the most repressive times of the PRI. Popular pressure succeeded in containing the authorities’ vengefulness, but the conflict had escalated and no immediate solution was in sight.
Governments such as Fox’s, with a strictly pro-business mentality, are incapable of thinking in terms of social health and the construction of a citizenry. And the public’s patience is being stretched thin by the clumsiness and frivolity of many of those in power. The economic and political situation of the country’s poor will inevitably lead to conflicts, and repressive responses will only create a spiral of violence.
A brief moment of dignity now forgottenIn the final weeks of 2003 and first few weeks of 2004, there was an increased feeling of social insecurity and brewing social unrest. People no longer believe in the change promised by Fox’s increasingly discredited government. It appears to be regretting its brief burst of national dignity in opposing the war against Iraq, and is increasingly servile towards a government that is using its war on terrorism to set itself up as the most powerful terrorist in the world.
Its economic policy favors the groups in power and is leading to high unemployment. People are coming together in opposition to neoliberal policies. Some have chosen to confront the government, to try to halt passage of its anti-national, impoverishing reforms. Others have decided to try to escape neoliberal globalization by turning instead to the local arena, prioritizing the exercise of autonomy. But they are constantly threatened by crazed repression under the guise of anti-terrorism. Still other citizens, those who can afford air travel, suffer from agreements that do not respect constitutional norms in a situation where sovereignty no longer matters.
There is resistance and solidarity, but it’s not enoughThere are many examples of resistance and solidarity, but these two ingredients must be combined in a broad convergence to build the capacity to oppose, to begin changing the correlation of forces. The movements challenging the state have been forming an incipient convergent network, while the Zapatistas have evolved several forms of organization and are now focused on building autonomy, with a network of national and international sympathizers. Their example has reached far beyond their territory. They have demonstrated how resistance generates alternatives. But while resistance is extremely important, it’s not enough. Because people have to confront strong, concentrated powers, there continues to be a need for broader organization. In this fight for hegemony, even if the goal isn’t to take state power, it is nonetheless necessary to limit state power and build a new kind of power from below, in new forms.
Dispersed struggles will be crushed. We have to keep seeking out the features of a counter-power that can bring forth a new kind of power that encourages both autonomy and convergences. The vast spectrum of anti-neoliberal and “alternative world” movements has shown us the need to judge the reigning reality from an ethical vantage point to free ourselves from the subjection that global power would like to impose on us.
Jorge Alonso is a researcher with CIESAS Western and envío’s correspondent in Mexico.