It’s going to be a long struggle
The struggle, efforts and commitments to change things in Mexico
—its abysmal inequality and ceaseless violence—
will take a long time, but the route is open.
Today it’s being traveled by original peoples in resistance
Mexico’s economic, political and social situation has gone from bad to worse. This year opened with aNew York Times editorial criticizing the Mexican President for “stubbornly resisting accountability” and for having “swiftly and systematically whitewashed ugly truths and played down scandals.”
Concretely, it referred to the decision not to penalize the corruption of top bureaucrats with their juicy businesses, the cover-up of the gift of a lavish home to the President and his wife by a government contractor, and suspected complicity in the second prison escape last July of “El Chapo” Guzmán, who boasts of being the world’s greatest heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana dealer. It added to the list the forced disappearance and presumed massacre of the 43 teaching students from Ayotzinapa in September 2014, seen as one of the largest and most atrocious human rights violations in Mexico’s recent history.
Days later El Chapo was caught again, and the government tried to present it as a great triumph meriting applause. And despite the plunge in the price of Mexican oil in December and the peso’s huge devaluation compared to the dollar, President Peña Nieto reiterated that the national economy was doing well, as if he had achieved a huge mission.
Despite the firing of the journalists who had broken the story of the governing couple’s luxury house with what the Times editorial called “meticulous, unimpeachable reporting,” the independent press still hammered away at the fact that the corruption in the upper government spheres isn’t being penalized. It also claimed that the staging of the drug dealer’s capture was fictitious. Academics specializing in security issues called attention to the fact that the investigations and information about this event should have focused on both the national and worldwide network of business and political accomplices that had allowed El Chapo to become such a powerful drug distributor, instead of being distracted by the banalities of his dialogues with movie actors.
The unresolved case of Ayotzinapa and the evidence that the work of a group of experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is being hindered is still more baggage for the President. The parents of the teaching students called the progress in the investigation of this tragedy presented by the government in mid-January “insufficient.” New facts about the case arising at the beginning the year left no room for the government lies that the cohort of servile media tried to peddle.
Mexico’s disaster in brief
•Worldwide, Mexico is in third place among countries that export laundered money.
•Seven of every ten Mexicans feel unsafe in the cities where they live; poverty has continued to increase and the vast inequality is deepening the differences as a very small minority accumulates most of the country’s riches while the majority barely has enough to survive.
•Corruption and impunity, which has gone untouched, is increasing. The violence is ceaseless and forced disappearances with the participation of the armed forces don’t end. People cried out against a new Ayotzinapa this January, with the disappearance of 17 people in a town in Guerrero,. Amnesty International has noted that Mexico suffers from an epidemic of forced disappearances with a full half of the 27,600 recognized disappearances occurring during Peña Nieto’s term. The ruthless war against indigenous peoples and the poor is also continuing at an overwhelming pace.
We live in dark times
The conclusions of a just-issued independent human rights commission analysis of the fight against crime in the context of the neoliberal Mexican State argued that true public safety should prioritize the rights of the majority of the people over the economic and political interests of the privileged minority. It emphasized that decisions cannot be made without consulting the people and that safety cannot be guaranteed only by increasing police and military forces. Social order imposed solely by force turns into a regimen that is the opposite of the rule of law and sends out the message that order is established through the law of the jungle. The fact is that the economic power of crime remains intact in Mexico because it suits capitalist interests. The report criticized the government for making the Mexican people have to choose between public safety and human rights, which is a false quandary.
The last report from the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center points out that the defense and promotion of human rights in Mexico is becoming more and more complex because the national context makes this kind of work harder. It describes the practice of torture as deeply seated and generalized throughout the country in a reign of cynical impunity. The situation in the state of Chiapas, where this center is located, is even more overwhelming given the atrocious war against the people resisting eviction and defending their autonomy. The report, which is full of data, concludes that the Mexican context is in dark times due to the implementation of repressive methods definable as state terrorism, but that the struggle will continue as long as the resistance continues to build community, hope and life throughout the country.
massacre of Acteal
At the end of last year, the organization called Las Abejas, in the small village of Acteal in the municipality of Chenalhó, Chiapas, again commemorated the December 22, 1997, massacre, which remains unpunished to this day. They recalled how paramilitaries came onto their lands to kill 45 men and women, four of whom were pregnant and were found stabbed and shot in the belly, during a day of fasting and prayer to ask for peace in their municipality and Mexico in general and to implore the State to end the war against organized communities.
Yet again they charged that instead of investigating the masterminds of the massacre, the country’s infamous Supreme Court of Justice simply ordered the incarceration of the paramilitaries directly involved in the massacre. The people say they have learned an important lesson: if they want true justice, Mexico’s organized communities have to construct it themselves from below.
They said that last October they had delivered an investigation of the massacre to the IACHR during a public hearing and had clearly stated to the representatives of the Mexican State that the families and friends of those killed reject the “friendly solution” they were offered because the blood of their people is not to be played with. They reported that members of political parties, paramilitary groups, and government officials in their region attack them even though their struggle has been and will continue to be nonviolent. They reminded the hearing that Father José María Morelos, a leader of Mexico’s War of Independence, had written in “Sentiments of the Nation,” a document containing 20-odd points he wanted the incipient Congress to consider in the drafting of a Constitution, that laws were needed to moderate misery and opulence. However, in today’s Mexico, while the government rhetorically exalts Morelos, it’s helping the rich become immensely rich and impoverishing the poor to scandalous levels.
They concluded their statement by highlighting that impunity is so widespread in Mexico that it can’t even be measured. They pledged that they will continue to speak out against the State’s crime in Acteal, as well as the one against the teaching students of Ayotzinapa and many others that are multiplying in every corner of the country
Building from below
At dawn of the first day of 2016 in the Zapatista region of Oventic, where hundreds of EZLN sympathizers, supporters and aspirants came together to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the insurrection with cultural activities, the Zapatistas issued an important communiqué. It stressed that for over 500 years indigenous peoples have suffered the war to annihilate them waged by the powerful of different nations, colors, languages and beliefs. Even though these powerful have tried to extinguish the different original peoples by killing their bodies and their ideas, they have resisted as guardians of Mother Earth.
The Zapatistas recalled that 22 years ago they shook up “the stupor of a world resigned to defeat.” Once again, they presented their eleven demands: land, work, food, health, education, decent housing, independence, democracy, liberty, justice and peace. They recalled how for the rich and powerful, indigenous peoples could only serve as slaves to make them ever richer. After the Zapatistas took up arms and fought, “dignity” took to the streets and asked to speak in Mexico and around the world. The Zapatistas understood that calling and changed their way of struggle. Their ears are attentive and their voice open, because they know that the people’s just struggle is for life and not death. Nevertheless, they warned that they still have their weapons and will not give them up because even though they offered an open heart, they have realized that those from above only opt for deception, greed and lies.
The war of those above against those below continues and is worsening. One of this war’s objectives has been to exterminate the Zapatistas. That is why, instead of simply resolving their fair demands, the government hasn’t stopped waging its war, still financing the paramilitary groups while handing out crumbs, taking advantage of the ignorance and poverty of some. The Zapatistas have confirmed that those above thought their war plans would make the Zapatistas give up and sell out, but it was a miscalculation. Zapatistas are “not beggars or good-for-nothings who hope everything will simply resolve itself” on its own. The communique highlights that the Zapatista struggle isn’t local or even national, but universal, because the injustices, crimes, looting, disdain and exploitation are also universal, as are rebellion, rage, dignity and the eagerness to live better.
The Zapatistas understand that they need to build their own lives autonomously. Thus, despite great threats, military and paramilitary harassment, and constant provocation by the government, they’ve taken on the task of forming their own governing systems, their own education, health and communication, their own way of caring for and working with Mother Earth. As a people with a different culture they have promoted an autonomous politics and an ideology of how they want to live. While others wait for those from above to solve the problems of those below, the Zapatistas have been building their freedom from the bottom up. They acknowledge that their world isn’t perfect, but it’s different and has been created with patience and determination by women, men, children and the elderly.
Pains near and far
Looking back on past years, the Zapatistas congratulate themselves for constructing another way of life, governing themselves as collective peoples through a dynamic of ruling by obeying, in a new system and another way of life. And when they refer to this, they can’t help but make comparisons and confirm that where people bought the bad government lines, there’s helplessness and misery. Laziness and crime rule; community life is broken. Those who sold out to the government haven’t seen their needs met and instead more horror has piled up, because where there was once only hunger and poverty, there is now not only those same evils but also hopelessness.
Summarizing what one can see in the communities that sold out to the government, there’s no longer a work spirit but rather a dependency on handouts, above all during electoral campaigns. In contrast, the Zapatista zones may not have cement houses given by the government, or digital televisions or the latest model trucks, but what’s important is that the people know how to work the land. They live from what they produce and not from handouts from anybody. The Zapatista communities live better that those who sold out to the politicians. That being said, however, the Zapatistas aren’t yet satisfied; they admit that there’s still much to be done, above all to organize themselves better.
The Zapatistas also listen to the pain and suffering from near and afar, particularly in these times in which “a bloody night extends over the world.” Those who really rule in capitalism aren’t content with continued exploitation, repression, despair and looting, but “are determined to destroy the entire world if in doing so they can create profits....” The rich multimillionaires of a few countries continue in their objective of looting the entire world’s natural wealth, everything that gives us life, such as water, land, forests, mountains, rivers, air— and everything that’s below the ground: gold, oil, uranium, amber, sulfur, carbon and other minerals. They don’t consider the earth a source of life, but a business, turning everything into merchandise. Real solutions cannot arise from the same place the problems do.
Facing the approaching storm
The Zapatistas reflect not upon what was taught to them but upon what they have learned from their own experience: that nobody will solve their problems, relieve their pain or give them justice. All that will only come from what they do collectively in an organized way. And they also know from experience that this is extensible to others.
They say that when many become outraged, a light turns on in a corner of the world and illuminates the face of the earth for a few moments. However, they’ve learned that if that same outrage is organized, that light, which might be ephemeral, could shine for a longer time. That’s why they insist on the need to organize themselves for the struggle to change things, to create a new way of life and other forms of self-government by the peoples themselves. They know that if peoples don’t organize, they’ll be enslaved. There’s no salvation in capitalism.
Another lesson they’ve learned is not to trust leaders. Instead each collective must think how to solve its own situation. That’s why they recommend strengthening the areas of collective work as they face “the approaching storm.”
A route is open
This communiqué delves into what I call “demoeleuthery,” the untiring search for the freedom of those below. It also confirms what Colombian anthropologist Arturo Escobar recently said in his analysis: that it is the knowledge of the peoples in movement and those in communities of resistance that are confronting the current grave ecological and social crisis. He praises the Zapatistas’ autonomous thought, their struggle from below, from the left and with the Earth. He calls attention to the fact that the struggle for autonomy is that theoretical-political force that’s boiling throughout all of Latin America, a wave created by the condemned of the earth in defense of their territories faced with the threats of global neoliberal capitalism.
Escobar highlights the fact that the construction of autonomy by Zapatistas and other peoples is establishing that the Earth rules, that the people give the orders and the government (self-government) obeys. He adds that the knowledge of the peoples who are resisting from their own worlds are in fact worlds in movement that are disrupting the globalizing project. That projecdt wants to create a homogenous world, and is opposed to the idea of many different worlds founded upon people’s ancestry and open to the future in their autonomy.
What’s urgent now is that these autonomies get to know each other, enrich each other with their own experiences and connect without any rigid or vertical structure. They need to spread out like rhizomes, creating a network in which the plurality of nodes connect and strengthen each other.
The Zapatistas have shown that there is a route that can confront capitalism and all the disasters of planetary destruction, a route that is open and ready for walking in freedom.
Jorge Alonso is a researcher for CIESAS West and envío’s correspondent in Mexico.