The President and the EZLN Issue Their Reports
The Zapatistas are again providing astonishing light
in the midst of the political class’ interminable in-fighting.
They continue consolidating their alternative anti-system position,
breaking all the rules of the grammer of resignation,
offering lessons to Mexico and the world
as they themselves continue to learn.
owards the end of the summer, two reports showed Mexicans two different ways to address the country’s basic problems and two radically different projects for the nation. President Vicente Fox’s annual State of the Union report revealed that the change in government brought about by his election in 2000 was merely formal, a change in groups at the service of the powerful but not a change that would respond to the needs and demands of the majority. In contrast, the Zapatista National Liberation Army’s report on the first anniversary of the Zapatista Good Government Committees showed us how to reach agreements, create shared well-being and design an alternative national project.
All-out political warto worse, there is a general sense in the country that the political situation has already become unbearable. The discredited political parties have been waging all-out war over the still-distant presidential elections, aggravating the dirty wars within, among and outside their party structures. Presidential aspirations have exacerbated divisions and resentments within the parties, while the elections are being decided by money and the media—the powers that rule this country, aren’t accountable to anyone and have no real counterweights. The vast majority of people are fed up with the inefficient, merely formal democracy that fails to respond to the lack of jobs and increasing poverty and inequality afflicting them.
Although things can always go from bad
The unnecessarily early start of the election campaign is polarizing the country. Everyone in the political world is talking about the need for dialogue and agreements, but no one is doing anything to bring them about. The executive and judicial branches are twisting the law to try to get Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico City’s Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) mayor and one of the strongest presidential contenders, removed from office and thus from the race. He has declared that he committed no crime, will not sit by and quietly accept an unjust condemnation, will not barter over principles and will put his fate in the hands of the people, who massively support him. He has urged
that political differences be decided at the ballot boxfor the good of the country.
Most recently, the legislative branch has been brought into the campaign against López Obrador, in a rightwing alliance of convenience between the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the National Action Party (PAN) that is using its own legalistic maneuvers not only against him but also to strike a blow against workers’ rights.
A weak President and The President must report to Congress once a year. When the PRI ran all branches of government, this was the President’s day, and the other powers showed their submission to him. The presidency’s authority has been considerably eroded since the change in government, but the political parties have not yet been able to reach the agreements necessary to reform the state so it can work effectively in a multi-party fashion.
a mediocre political class
The President’s report, presented on September 1, revealed the serious national political crisis through both symbols and substance. In the days leading up to his presentation, large demonstrations were held all around the country, especially in Mexico City, demanding that López Obrador not be removed from office and protesting the government’s economic policies and the attacks on workers’ rights. The day of the report, the police set up an iron barrier preventing demonstrators from getting close to the Legislative Palace, to ensure that the President and congressional representatives would not be bothered on their way there.
This did not guarantee that President Fox could calmly read his report, however. The legislators repeatedly interrupted Fox’s reading of a text that began by invoking democratic principles alien to his practice then manipulated various disconnected statistics to demonstrate purported achievements. Rather than informing, the report disinformed. Just one example: without mentioning the conflict in Chiapas, Fox announced a budget of nearly $2 billion for indigenous peoples but said nothing about how the money would be spent. The President appeared tired and weak, distanced from the people, with a mediocre political class. With no power to formulate viable proposals, Fox only ventured to call for “a truce.” That day it seemed that the political crisis could get no worse.
Several levels to the fightOther voices reiterated the call for dialogue, but days and weeks have passed with no sign of the necessary actions. The political battles go on and people grow ever more weary of the confrontation.
There are several levels to the fight. The most visible is the one involving the many groups vying to win the presidential office in 2006. A deeper level is the fight over different visions and projects for the nation. In his unfortunate report and even more so in his 2005 budget, Fox demonstrated that he remains tied to neoliberal dogmas and recipes despite their global failures. He reaffirmed his loyalty to the powers of wealth that put him in the presidency,
those he wants to repay through further privatizations. He stubbornly persists in trying to increase government revenues by squeezing the poor even harder while privileging the very rich. Nevertheless, disenchantment with his government is so widespread that even the rich on behalf of whom he governs have sharply criticized his presidency as inefficient and lacking in initiative.
A different national projectMeanwhile, grassroots demonstrations continue around the country, offering proposals for an alternative national project that would redirect development in an egalitarian way and decrease the enormous social inequalities. Such a project would involve many urgent measures, addressing everything from such small but vital issues as renegotiating the unjust, deceitful bleeding of bank depositors’ resources to a thorough reform of the political system as part of a larger reform aimed at creating a strong, democratic state that encourages the exercise of civic, political and, above all, social rights.
In such a new state, the aspirations of the country’s indigenous peoples would have to be taken into account. A sharp contrast to the President’s report and the political crisis afflicting all branches of government was offered by the Zapatistas in their report, which demonstrated how they have been dignifying politics by creating a new kind of politics and building the nation and a national project from another perspective, from the bottom up. Before looking at this report, it is worth summing up what the Zapatistas have done in the past year, the dangers they have faced and the progress they’ve made in developing their autonomy.
Challenging the The Zapatista movement has been emblematic in the fight against neoliberalism. It has no interest in acquiring the kind of power that now exists, but rather in helping shape a new kind power from below. The Zapatistas are busy designing the framework for a new national project and trying out new forms of organization, namely the Caracoles they established in August 2003. As Pablo González Casanova sees it, the Caracoles bring together the experiences of the Paris Commune, the indigenous communities in their 500 years of struggle and the new social networks. Other analysts have noted that the Zapatista movement is the only one that has succeeded in consolidating an anti-systemic position, creating new spaces for political action that are breaking all the rules of the grammar of resignation. For this very reason, it continues to be harassed by power, in both regular and irregular ways.
grammar of resignation
The Zapatistas have been working to develop their Caracoles over the past year, and after the first six months they put together an initial report on their experiences. In addition to dealing with some difficult conflicts, they saw that they had been learning to operate under existing conditions, testing the feasibility of organizing a government in such a way that local and regional authorities obey the people. For a year now, they have used their efforts not only to implement such mundane but vital tasks as improving roads, but also to increase understanding and find mechanisms for peaceful coexistence among people with different points of view, and they have done so with authentic solidarity, generosity and dignity.
Caciques of all colorsThe obstacles Zapatistas have faced come not only from traditional PRI and now PAN adversaries in the federal government, but also from local PRD representatives. In April, a peaceful march of 4,000 Zapatista supporters demanding that they not be denied their right to water was violently attacked by a group of people who had switched allegiances from the PRI to the PRD, resulting in several people wounded or displaced from their homes.
The attack was an effort by local powers to halt the advance of autonomy and the progress made by the Good Government Committees. in a report to national and international civil society, Oventic’s Good Government Committee released the results of its investigations into the case, accusing the PRD of joining the war waged by “bad government” against the indigenous Zapatista people. They belied claims by the local PRD that the problem was social rather than political, noting that it was triggered “by people who see politics as a business and are ready to commit crimes to win.”
The Committees, they said, do not operate to earn money or do business by violating human rights, but rather try to solve any problems that arise between Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas, and between autonomous and governmental municipalities through dialogue. In this specific case, they had sought a civil, peaceful solution to resolve differences of opinion over payment for government services. When this failed, the Zapatistas held a peaceful demonstration and were attacked.
The Good Government Committee said that the war being waged against them by bad governments has been intensifying, as local caciques, municipal leaders and paramilitary forces continue to attack the communities in resistance and their autonomous authorities.
During the attack, water tanks were destroyed in the Zapatista communities involved in the dispute, and several houses and stores were sacked. The Good Government Committee took steps to ensure the safe return of those displaced by the conflict. Two weeks after the attack, people returned under civil and state protection, accompanied by Zapatistas from other towns who had come to escort their brothers and sisters back to their communities. Camps of national and international volunteers were set up nearby to help people reinstall water and electricity services.
Failures and achievementsThe international campaign against the repudiated 2001 constitutional reforms on indigenous issues has won victories and suffered defeats. Among the latter was the Inter-American Human Rights Commission’s rejection of an indigenous petition against the reform. Among the victories, the Tripartite Committee of the International Labor Organization ruled that Mexico has violated Convention 169 on indigenous peoples, and recommended that the ILO undertake comprehensive, long-term monitoring of the Mexican government’s behavior with respect to compliance with this convention, and conduct a thoroughgoing study of the constitutional reforms’ compatibility with the convention.
The Tripartite Committee also proposed that the ILO encourage the Mexican government to make additional, ongoing efforts to overcome the feeling of exclusion created among indigenous peoples by the constitutional reforms. Magdalena Gómez, an indigenous rights lawyer, said it would be appropriate for the ILO to set up on-site missions in autonomous communities so they could see the difference for themselves between receiving official reports that praise cosmetic achievements and directly observing precisely how the governments apply Convention 169.
Another important victory was the recommendation of the United Nation’s special relateur for indigenous peoples that the Mexican state respect the Caracoles and Good Government Committees.
Autonomy inspires In May, the Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee-EZLN General Command, issued a statement they “never wanted to write.” Amado Avendaño, a committed social activist who had supported the Zapatista cause from his political and journalistic trenches, had died in April. Subcomandante Marcos wrote an original, sad but hopeful obituary, showing once again that Zapatistas remember and appreciate solidarity.
other indigenous peoples
In August, Oaxaca hosted the First National Autonomy Conference. In addition to indigenous people from that state, others came from Michoacán, Guerrero, Veracruz and Chiapas. The Zapatistas, still under siege from the government, could not attend, but the conference demonstrated that the Zapatista example has taken root and inspired actions in other indigenous communities. The participants shared experiences and plans to consolidate their autonomy. The conference provided a forum where indigenous peoples could once again denounce acts of official repression. Indigenous lawyer Francisco López Bárcenas recommended that a list be kept of the government’s aggressive acts against indigenous peoples so they won’t be interpreted as isolated events but rather as what they are: a preconceived plan to force submission, especially in regions where the rebellion has blossomed into an alternative life project that challenges authoritarian powers.
The participants in the meeting agreed that they are becoming increasingly skeptical of political parties and saw the decision made by several communities not to receive government charity as a positive step. They reaffirmed the value of collaboration and of accountability by local governments in providing for the indispensable needs of those without. They insisted on the right to use their own languages and defended the cultivation of corn as their proven way to achieve food self-sufficiency. They addressed a variety of other topics as well, such as the relationship between autonomy and spirituality, the role of autonomy in the daily lives of women and young people, and a number of organizational issues.
The conference again demonstrated that indigenous peoples are working to defend their dignity and their right to decide for themselves how to live. And they are learning, identifying and correcting their mistakes along the way. This is how the inspiration of autonomy is having an impact.
Zapatista reports: At the beginning of August, Zapatistas, solidarity activists from Greece, guests from the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina and Ecuadorian indigenous people all came together to inaugurate a school in Chiapas. It was one of the first events celebrating the first anniversary of the Good Government Committees and the Caracoles. The Good Government Committees held other events that month to celebrate their anniversary, and then in September, each gave a detailed report on its first year of work—reports that are open and available to the communities and to anyone else who wants to examine them.
Analysis, achievements, critiques
The communities have made progress in building autonomy and fulfilling the San Andrés Accords that the federal government refused to respect after having signed them. The Caracoles are proving that indigenous people are capable of governing themselves well, while the Good Government Committees have become important factors in achieving governability in indigenous regions. The reports noted that some Committees have suffered daily adversities because of the PRI and paramilitary aggression, which the federal government has amply rewarded. They also severely criticized the work of the ill-named Federal Dialogue and Reconciliation Commissioner in Chiapas, reporting that he has been doing ridiculous things with public funds, for example his failed attempt to recruit a force of peasant PAN supporters by handing out roofing materials and solar cells. The Zapatistas advised the government to redefine the Commissioner’s work; instead of mandating him to seek dialogue with the Zapatistas, which he hasn’t done in any case, it should officially assign him the job he has been doing: paying the bills of anti-Zapatistas.
Learning to govern by obeyingThe reports discussed how the federal government tried to weaken them with aid programs and counterinsurgency policies. But though the government kept up its assault, the Zapatistas governed in their territories. They have learned to walk on their own without government help, recovering traditions, culture and customs. In their celebrations and reports, the Zapatistas shared their joy and concerns with those who accompanied them on behalf of national and international civil society. Without trying to hide what they suffer from living in rebellion and resistance, bearing the blows of the country’s bad governments, they listed their achievements proudly. After one year, the fruits of autonomy are visible in many ways: they have been building schools, installing electricity, making progress with alternative sanitation projects, successfully trying various forms of fair trade and demonstrating that rebellious people can conduct their own development independent of bad governments.
The Zapatistas said that while they know they still have a lot of hard work to do to meet the many remaining needs, they are happy with the progress they’ve made. The most important result is that they are learning to govern by obeying, to be accountable and to discover what is good and what isn’t in the exercise of autonomous power.
Not without difficulty, the Good Government Committees are consolidating projects for the future. Determined to make the idea of peaceful co-existence a reality, they have been making progress because they know how to ask and listen, and while they don’t have all the answers they are building by encouraging everyone to participate as they strive to bring about the free self-determination of indigenous peoples.
Profound, ironic analysis of MexicoIn late August, Subcomandante Marcos issued a series of statements titled “How to read a video,” in which he reported on the achievements of the Good Government Committees and shared his lengthy interpretation of the country’s current situation. He spoke of what the Caracoles had done by framing them in the context of an in-depth and ironic analysis of Mexico’s political and economic situation.
Regarding the pending reforms in Congress, Marcos described the government’s social policy as laughable, since government agencies have become mere charity institutions. The workers’ conquests are being struck down through secret pacts accompanied by strident media campaigns. The national economy is a bad joke, nothing more than survival commerce for most people. The country’s productive infrastructure is a mound of industrial waste. Transnational companies monopolize business, while foreign capital controls the banks, which live off financial speculation whose ups and downs respond to global rather than national variables. All of this translates into more precarious jobs, more under- and unemployment, higher prices and lower salaries. Mexico imports what it could produce and produces for the global market rather than domestic consumption. Poverty is already penetrating the middle class and medium-sized businesses, while inequality is alarming and insulting. There are fewer and fewer rich Mexicans, but those remaining are richer than ever.
Marcos’ penetrating, self-critical and inspiring report contrasted with President Fox’s embarrassing and tragic inability even to understand the disastrous state of the country, much less point towards any solutions. Marcos began by making fun of the scandals sparked by the release of videos showing two PRD Federal District officials receiving stuffed money belts from accused embezzler Carlos Ahumada—whom Marcos described as a “corrupter
of adults”—which they then slipped into plastic bags and briefcases. He criticized what they did, but put it in context: the difference between the left and right parties, he said, was that the right doesn’t get filmed in such videos because it illegally moves far greater sums of money through cyberspace, a route that remains hidden
to the public eye. Marcos recalled the PEMEX-gate scandal over the diversion of funds from the Mexican oil company, in which there was more than enough proof against the PRI but no video. He noted that there has been ample proof of the PRI’s election frauds, but no one has ever been accused. “Corruption in government has legal protections,” he said. Going after the other rightwing party to be evenhanded, Marcos also recalled the PAN’s diversion of public funds to support a group organized by President Fox’s wife and a far-right organization called Pro Vida.
After noting that the beginning of the fight for the presidency had been moved up from 2006 to 2004 and was taking the country back to a period that should be past, Marcos pointed out another important change: “We’ve gone beyond the conviction that it’s necessary to use the media to govern, and are now being governed by the media.” Politicians submit to the rules of the spectacles and agendas marked out by the media, and this tight relationship between politics and the media is deadly. Shipwrecked in the neoliberal sea, the Mexican nation is sinking, while some resist and build “small islands” for a future Mexico that will be the country and nation of all.
Three big mistakesAfter his quick historical survey and biting, ironic analysis of the country’s current situation, Marcos described one of these islands of resistance in the autonomy of the Zapatista communities.
He recognized that the Caracoles had made three big mistakes. The first, very regrettable one has to do with the place given to women. The second is the relation between the Zapatistas’ political-military structure and the autonomous governments. And the third has to do with the lack of courtesy shown to people who travel from afar to meet with the Caracoles. All three, he said, should be corrected.
Marcos talked at length about the serious problem of women’s scant participation in community government and especially in the Autonomous Councils and Good Government Committees. While women made up 30-40% of the members of the Zapatistas’ zonal Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committees, they averaged of only 1% in the other two entities. Marcos lamented that women are still not considered in nominations for community and municipal representatives and said it is unacceptable for the work of governing to be men’s prerogative. He noted that women play a fundamental role in resistance, yet respect for their rights often continues to be found only on paper. Women’s participation in activities that involve leaving their communities continues being circumscribed. To create a new culture, everyone must recognize that women, too, have capabilities and aptitudes that are supposedly exclusive to men.
Another serious problem that emerged in the first year of the Caracoles is the relationship between the Zapatistas’ political-military structure and the autonomous civilian governments. The original plan was that the EZLN would accompany and support the communities in building their autonomy, but this accompaniment has often taken the form of leadership, and orders have taken the place of advice. Marcos talked about how the military organization’s hierarchical structure is not that of the indigenous communities, and
how the fact that the EZLN is a clandestine political-military organization has affected work that should be democratic. In some Committees and Caracoles, EZLN comandantes have made decisions that weren’t theirs to make, and this has caused problems for those organizations.
Only eight pesos a dayThe communiqués also noted other points that had caused problems but are not exactly mistakes. For example, some have criticized the constant rotation of Good Government Committee members. Marcos explained that this was not a mistake, but a consciously planned and very wise move. The communities chose to make the work of government something that does not belong exclusively to one group, so there would be no professional politicians and everyone would learn, because the more people who know what government involves, the harder it is to deceive them or commit acts of corruption.
Marcos explained that when autonomous authorities take their turn on the Committees, the communities or EZLN support their personal needs for food and housing. The average per-diem expense of a Committee member, excluding transport from their community to the Caracol, is 8 pesos, or around $0.75. Marcos compared this to the salaries of top government officials and legislators—which range from $10,000 to $20,000 a month, paid for by taxpayers—and concluded that there is no reason for government to cost so much.
The communiqués provided a detailed report and analytical sum-up of the first year of government by the Caracoles and Good Government Committees, while the five Committees themselves offered an itemized report of the resources they received and how they have been used.
In total, they received nearly $1 million, of which they have so far spent around $850,000. Marcos thanked the communities of Mexico and the rest of the world that have supported the Zapatistas and embraced the cause of building a world where there’s room for many worlds. He reported that individuals and organizations from 43 countries had contacted the Good Government Committees in the past year,, coming to Chiapas with productive projects, donations, scientific interest and even justified curiosity. He acknowledged that the Committees have sometimes taken an inexplicably long time to respond and that this lack of courtesy should be rectified.
Is Mexico disintegrating?Marcos referred to several fallacies about the Zapatistas. One used by some intellectuals, judges and legislators to oppose the San Andrés accords, the COCOPA bill and implementation of those agreements by Zapatista communities through the creation of the Caracoles and Good Government Committees is that autonomy would lead to the disintegration of the Mexican state and creation of a state within a state.
The Supreme Court of Justice, which distributes impunity to the powerful, argued that autonomy would lead to the fracturing and Balkanization of the Mexican state. Marcos suggested that perhaps the Court meant to refer to the problems caused by drug trafficking and the officials and judges involved in it. In fact, the Zapatistas have proven that they want to be a part of Mexico, while those in power insist that they can only be part of Mexico if they stop being who they are. A year after the establishment of the Caracoles and the Committees, the country is indeed disintegrating, said Marcos, not because of indigenous autonomy, but because of political battles and neoliberal policies. Marcos summed up the national disaster: the federal government has renounced its basic functions and is reeling from the blows struck by those from above while acting without consensus or even consulting those from below.
Another fallacy has to do with purported evidence periodically produced to argue that the Zapatistas are preparing a new military offensive. On the contrary, the Zapatistas have proven that they have opted for the political route. Their autonomy only amounts to putting into practice what was agreed upon by the government and the EZLN in the accords signed in San Andrés in February 1996.
Predictions were confidently put forward that the Caracoles would fail. Not only have they not failed, they have significantly improved the indigenous communities’ living conditions without showing any signs of separatist tendencies. All this has undermined the basis for the fallacies used to justify the rejection of COCOPA’s bill.
Including and respecting everyoneMarcos insisted that those who want to govern well must do so for everyone, not only their sympathizers or members of their own organization. And he showed how, in the Zapatista conception, the fight for inclusion is not a fight to exclude the other. If the mestizo’s existence should not imply the disappearance of indigenous peoples, recognition of the indigenous as they are does not imply negation of those who are not like them. The Good Government Committees are proof that the Zapatistas do not seek to achieve the hegemony of their ideas or to shape the world in which we live according to their views alone.
Marcos reported in detail on how the Good Government Committees were created to attend to Zapatistas, non-Zapatistas and even anti-Zapatistas. They were established to mediate between the authorities and the citizens, and among the authorities at different levels and in different areas.
The Good Government Committees have open and respectful communication with many social organizations, a good number of official municipal governments with which the autonomous governments share territory, and even in some circumstances with the state government. They try to resolve problems through dialogue and exchange recommendations. Marcos emphasized that the Chiapas state government, knowing that the Zapatistas’ critiques are aimed primarily at the federal rather than the local level, has chosen to try to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, and has established a true communication channel with the Zapatista communities.
He listed numerous examples of how dialogue between the Zapatistas and the Chiapas government has led to solutions—cases of people kidnapped by organized opponents, the compensation agreement for those attacked in the water dispute, compensation of peasant farmers affected by the building of a road, a problem related to bicycle-taxis and several others. In each, they sought to avoid confrontations among indigenous people.
Marcos said “to respect is to acknowledge.” The Good Government Committees recognize the existence and jurisdiction of the state government and municipal officials, and in turn, most of those entities recognize the existence and jurisdiction of the Good Government Committees. The Committees also recognize the existence and legitimacy of other organizations. By respecting, they demand respect. This is the only way to reach agreements and fulfill them. An inclusive, negotiating Zapatista movement has nothing to do with the separatism and divisionism some have tried to attribute to it.
When does Zapatista Marcos emphasized that, although it took time, a year after the establishment of the Good Government Committees, non-Zapatista and even anti-Zapatista people and organizations know they can turn to these Committees with their problems because the Committees are bodies for dialogue and not sanctions, where their case will be evaluated and justice will be done. If someone seeks punishment, they go to a municipal or even an autonomous oficial, but if they want a solution through dialogue and agreement, they turn to a Good Government Committee.
justice go into action?
This process is beginning to produce positive results in both the autonomous and official municipalities. When social problems arise among groups, communities or organizations, people are less likely to resort to the use of force or exchange of hostages. People are trying dialogue instead. If people previously believed that all aggressive acts were politically motivated, now they first investigate whether the motivations might have been sparked by something else. Often the problems turn out to be merely individual disputes.
The Committees have a communication channel with the state government through its Secretariat for Indigenous Peoples. When an act of aggression has been committed against Zapatistas and they have been unable to communicate with the aggressors to determine the cause of the conflict, the Committees ask the respective autonomous municipality to begin an investigation and send information to the state authorities as well. Until the situation has been cleared up, they do not issue denunciations or hold demonstrations. If the problem turns out to be a criminal rather than a political matter, they give the state government’s justice system a reasonable amount of time to do its job. Zapatista justice goes into action only if it fails to do so.
Marcos complained that the state government’s justice system has been slow and inefficient, even though it can act expeditiously when it comes to penalizing its political enemies.
The most important thing the Zapatistas have is their word, and they keep it, which is why they’ve gained so much moral authority. Because of the long and ongoing history of discrimination against indigenous peoples—in which even the name “indio” has been used as an insult—the Zapatistas have “waged a war against forgetting.” At the same time, however, Marcos presented a great deal of evidence to show that they want to reach agreements and live in good accord with those who are different.
The aims of good governmentIn his statements, Marcos noted that the main aggressions suffered by the Zapatistas in the first year of the Good Government Committees have come from organizations and governments affiliated with the PRD. The difference is that now, when conflicts occur, the first thing they do is try to talk and learn the versions of those involved in an effort to solve the problems, and they have been able to resolve many conflicts this way. Marcos reported that conflicts among communities and organizations have been waning, that crime and impunity have decreased in the areas covered by the Committees and that the causes of crimes are being addressed. He insisted that a good government does not seek to grant impunity to those who sympathize with it or to penalize those with different ideas and proposals. And he argued that not only do the laws ruling the autonomous Zapatista municipalities not contradict the basic norms of justice in the state and federal legal systems, but they often complement them.
Marcos emphasized that the Zapatistas practice what they preach and invited people to visit to verify that. He boasted that the Zapatistas have not violated any individual rights in the exercise of their rights as indigenous peoples. He argued that collective rights—such as the right to use natural resources—do not conflict with individual rights, and in fact allow these rights to be extended to everyone, not only to a few. Among the benefits brought by the exercise of autonomy in Zapatista territories, he counted the decreasing number of individual human rights violations and improved living conditions.
The right to live freely, exercise freedom of religion and party affiliation, be presumed innocent until proven guilty, exercise reproductive freedom, demonstrate, dissent and be different are all respected. Instead of discussing these rights in legal terms, the Zapatistas have chosen to demonstrate through actions that recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples involves none of the dangers alleged by those in power.
On behalf of forests and emigrantsAnother achievement of the Good Government Committees has to do with forest conservation. Any inhabitant of a Zapatista area who cuts down a tree must plant two in its place and take care of them. The Committees have also been
very careful to prohibit drug cultivation, trafficking and consumption. They have required vehicles passing through their territory to register so as to prevent trafficking in drugs, weapons, lumber and human beings. Marcos wrote at length about the problem of trafficking in undocumented people and the deceitful practices of the “coyotes,” presenting several examples of what the Zapatistas have done on behalf of Central American migrants who pass through their land, and against those who traffic in them.
He also reported on the actions of the Caracoles in the October 2003 municipal elections, starting with the fact that the Zapatistas don’t believe that elections are a viable path for pursuing the interests of the people. Nevertheless, he also knows that some people still trust in the parties and believe in elections. The Caracoles worked to ensure that all ways of thinking were respected; they don’t aim to make everyone a Zapatista by force. They let the state election board know that, just as they respect those who want to vote, the board should respect those who choose not to participate in elections.
Life has improvedA wealth of figures, facts and evidence all lead to the conclusion that living conditions in the Zapatista communities are better than in the communities that have chosen to receive federal support. With well-earned pride, the Zapatistas never tire of inviting people who want to verify this to come and see for themselves. Marcos’ statements provided information related to health, education, food, housing and land. He thanked civil society for the support that enables them to provide free medical care and medicine. The Committees have worked hard to conduct preventive medicine and hygiene campaigns and have ensured that a basic community health structure exists in each autonomous municipality.
In education, they have worked from the bottom up, building and equipping schools in all the communities. In each of the Caracoles they have established consumer and producer cooperatives and workshops, and have made progress in improving the land, housing and food situation.
Two reports, two countriesPresident Fox’s fourth State of the Union report tried to ignore the disintegration and serious national divisions promoted by an irresponsible political class in which the President plays a very active role. The divisions were made evident, however, through some highly symbolic facts, the most striking of which was that Fox had to read his report from behind the protection of an iron barrier separating him from the people. Fox fled self-criticism, made empty, groundless appeals and was incapable of offering proposals. He tried to justify his neoliberal dogma under a questionable democratic guise.
From Chiapas, on the other hand, the Zapatistas evaluated both the situation in the country and their own experience of autonomy. They recognized mistakes and offered detailed information on their progress. Upholding their well-founded rejection of the federal government, they displayed openness to the state and municipal governments that have shown them respect, and in this way belied those who accuse them of fomenting separatism.
Coming out of a war, they have emphasized dialogue and democracy and shown that these are useful and viable ways to solve conflicts and attain peaceful coexistence. Facing marginalization, exclusion, poverty and above all, enormous inequality, they have made progress based on their own organizational efforts and the solidarity of civil society rather than through state policies. Instead of dividing, they integrate. They insist on maintaining their identity as peoples, demanding equality through respect for differences, along with their right to be recognized.
They have established and strengthened their own normative systems. They have made progress in designing and applying basic social policies. They understand autonomy as a specific way to exercise the right to self-determination within the national framework, and have spread the benefits of autonomy to other peoples from other states, who have also been developing it with success.
Mexico can escape this labyrinthCriticizing the formal state powers and their disruptive effect on national unity as well as the discredited but still pernicious neoliberal model, the Zapatistas have called for a re-founding of the nation with a new social pact, a profound and extensive reform of the state, an adequate Constitution, a renovated political class and a new way of doing politics. They have shown the need for a program of struggle built from below, based on a truly inclusive, consensual and democratic national agenda.
This requires abandoning the path imposed by the powers of money, the media and the politicians. The Zapatistas have proposed that if the forces from below succeed in promoting a new kind of politics and an alternative national project, Mexico can find its way out of the labyrinth, the trap that those who govern have imposed on it and in which the parties themselves are ensnared.
The Zapatistas’ conviction is shared by broad sectors of society that are tired of what the traditional politicians, including Vicente Fox, have done to the country. With their new and honest practice, the Zapatistas are winning an important cultural victory.
Jorge Alonso is a researcher with CIESAS Western and envío correspondent in Mexico.