Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 318 | Enero 2008



Warning the World that Zapatismo Is in Danger

The Zapatistas have flashed a red alert to Mexico and the world. The problem is not just the growing military aggression, but rather that important sectors of Mexican society are ignoring the danger. Mexico will not be the only loser if Zapatismo is destroyed. Latin America and all of humanity will lose as well.

Jorge Alonso

Signs that the Mexican government is gearing up for war have led the Zapatistas to launch a red alert to the world. Increased activity is reported in the 56 permanent military bases in Chiapas, which are receiving modern weaponry, equipment and special forces. Activity by rightwing paramilitary groups operating in Chiapas is also on the rise. Those aligned with the PRI, the army and state officials from the Agrarian Reform Office have mounted a series of attacks recently on Zapatista villages on lands liberated during the 1994 uprising. The attacks are of such intensity that the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) recently postponed its ambitious plans for participation in the Other Campaign.

Several years ago, after the government reneged on the San Andrés Accords, which among other things had recognized the indigenous peoples’ right to large areas of land that had been taken and collectivized by the Zapatistas, the Zapatistas devised a peaceful de facto solution: they simply exercised their right to the land in question by creating autonomous municipalities. The government’s violent response through paramilitary activity against many Zapatista towns, particularly since last September, has been documented and made public, but the Zapatistas’ call for support has largely been met with disinterested silence, especially in Mexico, where the Zapatistas refused to back Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) presidential candidate López Obrador against Calderón of the National Action Party (PAN).

The PAN federal government, the PRD state government in Chiapas and local Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and PRD municipal governments and political bosses are calculating that the time is ripe for smashing the Zapatistas. The key is in wresting away the lands on which their Caracoles and autonomous municipalities have been built. Plans sponsored by international institutions, in which the US government’s hand is hard to hide, are designed to dislodge Zapatista communities by turning resources over to transnationals in the guise of defending the environment.

The alert was issued
in a symbolic setting

The Zapatistas reiterated the alert in December 2007 at an international colloquium organized by the University of the Earth, the EZLN and the magazine Contrahistorias to discuss the planet’s future and the situation of what are becoming known as the anti-system movements. The event was held at the university itself, which could not be a more symbolic locale. This non-formal learning center for indigenous communities fully living their autonomy receives nothing from the Mexican government; it even produces its own energy and controls its own water supply. Students from the communities gain hands-on experience cultivating organic products and there are also electricity, blacksmithing, mechanics and handcrafts workshops. They decide what they want to learn and how long they can stay.

Among the numerous speakers at the colloquium, the EZLN’s Subcomandante Marcos made a seven-part presentation on behalf of the Zapatistas, the final one of which was titled “The Calendar and Geography of War.” He began by referring to capitalism’s warlike nature, its use of war as a profit-making venture. But rather than spend time on that point, he recommended The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, a recent book by journalist and “other world” activist Naomi Klein, who also spoke at the colloquium.

He then warned that the Zapatista communities were being attacked to a degree that had not occurred for some time, adding that this is the first time the aggressions are openly coming from a “supposedly” leftist government—a dig at the PRD government in the state of Chiapas. In fact, newspapers reported that same day that Chiapas’ Governor Juan Sabines had just appointed Constantino Kanter, the representative of Chiapas’ big farmers and an ally of López Obrador, a post in his government. Marcos noted that this would give Kanter the opportunity to provide even more resources to paramilitary groups, offering as evidence for such collusion Sabines’ accusation that the Zapatistas had caused López Obrador’s electoral loss and that his “institutional Left” party would never forgive them. He charged Kanter with having coined the phrase, “In Chiapas a chicken’s worth more than an Indian.”

Marcos listed many incidents squelched or ignored by the media that had occurred in his last trip to Vicam, Sonora, for the gathering of Indian Peoples of America. He acknowledged that the EZLN was itself an army, albeit a very different one, but said that the Zapatistas were continuing their peaceful Other Campaign while preparing to resist the army, police and/or paramilitaries. He also announced that this was the last time, at least for a good while, that he would be appearing at colloquiums, roundtables, conferences, interviews and other activities of this sort. He added that this was hardly the first time the government had determined to wipe out the Zapatistas, but was, worryingly, the first time the national and international social response was insignificant and in some cases non-existent. Marcos concluded by warning that the stench of fear and war could be smelled in the Zapatista lands.

In the nineties, any danger to the Zapatistas triggered huge civil society demonstrations, which in Mexico City always included a sizable PRD contingent. Today, however, the prevailing feeling in that party is one of revenge because the Zapatistas didn’t line up behind López Obrador.

Blaming them for the PRD’s electoral defeat is way off base, however, because it ignores the fraud employed by the winning National Action Party (PAN) with help from the powers behind the throne: Mexico’s big money and influential media. Even if the Zapatistas hadn’t chosen to boycott the elections and criticize López Amador as just another cog in the system, it would not have altered such immense fraud. At the end of 2007, a prestigious polling firm found that if the presidential elections had been held at that moment, 69% of the population would have viewed them as either not very clean, not clean at all or frankly fraudulent.

Andrés Aubry: Zapatista Doctorate

At the colloquium, Andrés Aubry was named Primus doctor liberationis conatus causa, which freely translated could be interpreted as a doctorate for his commitment to the effort and substance of liberation. This new doctorate was outlined in a paper signed by the EZLN’s Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee and by indigenous authorities of the Oventic Caracol and autonomous municipalities.

Historians Jerome Baschet and Jorge Santiago, both of whom spoke at the colloquium, briefly summarized Aubry’s life, above all in Chiapas. He had come to Mexico after the massive uprisings of May 1968 and following an anthropologists’ meeting in Barbados that had condemned missionary ethnocentrism, come out in favor of indigenous liberation, and argued for a liberationist anthropology. Aubry, who had an authentic spirit of liberation and was committed to the people, became a respectful apprentice in their struggles and wisdom. He accompanied the Zapatistas deeply and fraternally and because of that loyalty could look beyond appearances and live the secret of never being disillusioned. In September 2007, at the age of 80, he planned to drive to the meeting of indigenous peoples in Vicam. His doctor gave him permission to make the long trip, but he died in a highway traffic accident on his return to San Cristóbal de las Casas, just days before his planned journey.

The EZLN’s Comandante David, his voice breaking at one moment, declared that Aubry had been a constant, untiring friend and comrade. The Zapatistas would always remember him and his wife, who died some years earlier, with respect, honor and admiration. Diverse Zapatista groups, speaking in their native Totzil, Tzeltal, Chol, Tojolobal and Zoque tongues, explained that they had awarded this original doctoral honor to Aubry because he had genuinely accepted the lessons of the struggles and wisdom of the different peoples and cultures of Chiapas, Mexico and the world. He had learned from them, conceiving intellectual effort not as a privilege, a form of personal self-affirmation or a source of power over others, but as a collective experience that is necessary to resist, to nourish the good life and to change the world.

A time of tough questions
and weak answers

An ongoing seminar in the University of the Earth bears the name of social scientist Immanuel Wallerstein, a theoretician of the “Another world is possible” school, who also delivered the colloquium’s opening speech—mainly an overview of today’s anti-system strategies. He argued that before the 1968 world movement such strategies had centered on taking state power to transform the world, while today alliances are being sought among anti-system movements, in the style of the Zapatistas’ “Other Campaign.” He urged that the World Social Forum be kept alive as the only multi-varied international response to capital’s global power.

Contrahistorias director Carlos Aguirre Rojas lauded the Zapatista movement as one of the most advanced anti-system movements in the world, adding that these leftist movements no longer lean toward a central actor and do not have hierarchical structures. Rather, they are creating organizations from the ground up, generating a greatly varied resistance to capitalism.

Both during the sessions and in the corridors the discussion was lively among presenters and the many and varied groups of concerned young people from all over the world. There was general agreement that the existing frameworks don’t adequately explain what’s happening in the world or how to halt it. There was also basic agreement on the need to break with Euro-centric and metropolitan visions and to learn from the anti-capitalist movements, and most of the speakers acknowledged different aspects of the Zapatistas’ experiments with alternative political structures and social relations as inspiring and thought-provoking. Nonetheless, the prevailing atmosphere among these movements is still one of searching how to create an inclusive “other possible world” that is forged from below, and this search for new, useful theories and concepts for transforming from the grass roots was also a constant in the presentations, with questions generally in greater supply than answers. In other words, everyone agreed that something is dreadfully wrong with today’s world and shared a broad brushstroke vision of what a better world should look like, but ideas on how to get from here to there seldom exceeded principles of behavior, although several speakers are working with young anti-system movements of a whole new kind. Conspicuously absent, however, were any viable economic alternatives that reach beyond isolated pockets of resistance.

We can’t let ourselves be
immobilized by perplexity

Although he couldn’t attend, one can intuit from his latest writings what Portuguese researcher Boaventura de Sousa Santos would have said from his South perspective. Like the other presenters, he sees neoliberalism as the most anti-social form of capitalist globalization, and has denounced the exclusion, oppression and destruction of the means of subsistence and sustainability of huge populations
in the world. In this sense he has also criticized the conversion of Chinese communism into an extremely savage
form of capitalism that he calls market Stalinism. But he is optimistic because the new information and communication technologies have enabled these situations to spark resistance actions that have led to the creation of alliances and struggles through local and global ties in distant parts of the planet. As a result, an alternative globalization is being built from the ground up.

Boaventura argues that understanding these new movements requires a new social theory and new analytic concepts because the Western modernity paradigm sheds little light on today’s world. He holds that we are witnessing the final crisis of the hegemony of that paradigm, and that in this era of transition tough questions and weak answers are inevitable. The questions are probing the future of the possibilities before us, each with its own roots and underpinnings, while the inevitably weak answers cannot assuage the perplexity generated by this uncharted territory and the frustration of wanting to change what is so seriously wrong without any models or precedents for how to do so.

He warns against pretending that this discrepancy between the force of the questions and the weakness of the answers is absurd or can somehow be eliminated. Instead we must recognize it as a symptom of the underlying complexity, of a new open field of contradictions in which the different possibilities compete, but in which there is also room for innovation. We must accept the invitation to mobilize, assume the risk of testing out new answers rather than allowing ourselves to be immobilized by the perplexity.

In this setting, practice resorts to a kind of theoretical bricolage according to the needs of the moment. Radical democracy is conceived as the transformation of unequal power relations into relations of shared authority in all fields of social life,
a struggle for equality and recognition of difference that privileges rebellion over conformity, and an effort to stop activists turning into functionaries. Rather than an obstacle to unity, diversity becomes a condition for it, although fragmentation and atomization are the hidden face of diversity and multiplicity. Theoretical disputes must take place in a context of concrete collective actions, because resistance doesn’t occur in the abstract. Transformative collective actions begin in response to conflicts established by the oppressors, and their success depends on their ability to change the terrain and the terms of the conflict in the course of the struggle.

A new post-capitalist utopia

The Belgian priest François Houtart, founder and member of the World Social Forum’s international council and distinguished representative of the “other world” movement, presented his vision of 21st-century socialism, at the same time acknowledging that discussing socialism at all is controversial. Most of those who have been defined as “anti-system” believe the idea of both capitalism and socialism must be abandoned because they are two sides of the same coin. Others repudiate the term socialism because of its baggage—Stalinism, for example.

Houtart argued that actions without prior reflection lead to revolts with no future and that social processes are not decreed, but result from concrete actors. He said that capitalism’s destructive approach to nature and human labor has never been as intense or rapid as in the neoliberal period. The experience of social movements and convergences are delineating the focal points of a post-capitalism or new socialism. These include sustainable natural resource use, privileging use value over exchange value and establishing a representative and participatory democracy generalized in all social and economic relations rather than just political ones. This involves another philosophy of power and the construction of true multiculturality.

Hope is the conviction
that struggling makes sense

Gustavo Esteva, a promoter of Iván Illich’s work and an activist and ideologue of grassroots movements such as that of the Oaxacan peoples, posited that the era of the world capitalist economy is over and US imperialism is reaching its end, given that, while it can still capture hearts and minds, it no longer has cultural hegemony. With neoliberalism now an empty shell, its end is generating chaos and producing new reactionary waves and religious fundamentalisms. He explained that some want to return to the now impossible welfare state modalities while others want to bring back socialism, which is equally non-viable because of the economistic perspective of both its philosophy and practice. Noting that the new social movements are having difficulties becoming anti-systemic because they were born in the old era, he exhorted his listeners to renounce socialism.

Esteva analyzed the Grassroots Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca and Zapatismo as a source of inspiration for such anti-system movements. He proposed channeling the general discontent from this perspective, transforming protests and denunciations into viable initiatives, and resistance into liberation by linking up pockets of resistance, building autonomous ways of organizing social life beyond the logic of capital. While it seems impossible to propose the convergence of all organizations attempting to situate themselves on the left, he counseled against accepting division and turning friends into the main enemy. Quoting British writer John Berger, he said that naming the intolerable in an increasingly desperate world is in itself hope, which he defined as the conviction that struggling makes sense, no matter what happens, rather than that things will happen as one thinks they will .

Redefining the concept of power

For my part, I analyzed the social movements that are constructing a profound critique of neoliberalism and capitalism, and posited that there is a diversity of powers, the best known being that which is used by groups or individuals to get others to do what they want. This type of power can be backed by force or by subtle forms of acceptance based on the asymmetric construction of consensus, but it is always oppressive, a zero-sum game in which what is gained by one is lost by the others.

Another kind of power is one that does not hoard but shares, multiplies. An example of this is the power of common decision-making. The Zapatistas’ “lead by obeying” concept is a very different kind of power from that to which capitalism is accustomed.

A basic rule that has come out of the study of social movements is the need to learn from what people do. We mustn’t fall into a Manichean way of thinking, because the dominant ideology can easily be interjected and assumed in our social expressions given that we have all lived and absorbed capitalist alienation, but we do need to distinguish the remnants of oppressive power in incipient forms of alternative power.

I looked at how the movements are demonstrating that one important instrument against concentrated and ubiquitous powers of domination is the convergences among the emerging movements. I wasn’t talking about convergences between movements and parties, both because the political class has fallen into an irreversible deterioration and because the party form corresponds to now outmoded structures of the industrial model. It is thus imperative to seek new ways to engage in politics, as the Zapatistas are doing. Convergences are part of a process in which it is no longer possible to postulate a privileged actor of change; it now has to be a kaleidoscopic panoply of agents, in our case a pluralist set of subjects that are working toward identifying, proposing and finding agreement on a common goal of transformation.
This essentially new mass is surmounting dispersion, fragmentation and merely spontaneous expressions by experimenting with new and innovative organic forms, thus forging a diverse and pluralistic conglomerate. Many social movements have been demonstrating how such convergences are needed to access other possible worlds in which justice, freedom, equality and respect for life reign.

The Landless Movement
and the Peasant Way

Brazilian lawyer Ricardo Gebrim, a member of that country’s Landless Movement (MST), described a grassroots consultation process in Brazil similar to the Other Campaign promoted by the Zapatistas, stressing that Zapatismo has been a pedagogical example for many movements. He explained that many processes, such as the one in Bolivia, are not so much electoral events as insurrectional acts resulting from resistance struggles of many years. He explained that, while the MST had supported Lula, it was now building alternatives of broad-based unity and emerging strategic thinking, given that the current democracy is still nothing other than a set of mechanisms of capitalist domination.

Food expert Peter Rosset, a member of the world organization Vía Campesina, stressed that capital’s re-territorializing processes are in effect a genocidal war against indigenous peoples, peasants and fishing people. He described the destructuring and privatizing of the countryside and its control by transnational corporations that espouse a false environmentalism to justify dispossessing indigenous peoples of their lands, water and other resources. He reported on the alliances being built among traditional peasant movements and the newer anti-system ones and said that sharing experiences and debates has the potential of turning pro-system movements into anti-system ones. He also reported how the Zapatista example had spread to faraway lands, with Zapatista-style Caracoles being created in Thailand, for example.

Subversive words
and eyes that speak

Architect and energy specialist Jean Robert spoke on anti-systemic action in times of crisis, like the one affecting the capitalist system right now, but added his voice to those who do not believe it is on its last legs. It is surviving through inertia and as it becomes illegitimate is basing its power on violence. He then posed a fundamental question: how can we prevent the system’s feedback mechanisms from devouring the pockets of resistance? He challenged the audience to examine whether the system of domination doesn’t learn from resistance movements and whether this learning doesn’t actually reinforce it.

Another aspect he dealt with was language. Western languages, he explained, make us speak of “capitalism” in a way that makes it seem like the only possibility. Daily language feeds a vision and a way of thinking that reinforces the system, while those who do not speak Western languages can have subversive words. He urged us to “de-capitalize” our minds.

John Berger himself counseled looking beyond words altogether, since what we perceive is more important than the name we give it. He related his visit to the Oventic Government Junta and listed four things that caught his attention: 1) they have an authority stripped of authoritarian features; 2) rather than making them less human, the balaclavas the Zapatistas wear actually make them more visible, since the expression revealed in the eyes is hardest to control, and in those eyes he saw sincerity; 3) resistance can produce fatigue and that fatigue needs to be consoled; and 4) by telling their local history and their place in the world, the Zapatistas represent the antithesis of all politicians of both Right and Left, and that opposition is in their bodies, minds and souls.

Systematic lies and blinding fears

Pablo González Casanova confessed that something happens to him with the Zapatistas that never happened to him in the world’s great universities: he worries about whether or not it’ll pass the test. He spoke about coherent, scientific lies—such as those used and justified by the World Bank under the principle of authority—which he wasn’t sure whether to call deceit or self-deceit. He called salaries a systematic lie, as paying for “free” labor, paying what that merchandise is worth in the free market, hides the exploitation. He valued “prohibited” knowledge, much of which is very important if those from below are to advance, explaining that prohibitions exist precisely to stop people thinking differently.

González Casanova also referred to psychological violence and violence by intimidation, which lead to ambiguities, and explained how fear is an epistemological problem because it stops people from gaining knowledge. He alluded to the differences between what people say and what they do, such as self-proclaimed socialists who support neoliberal policies. He also provided current data to prove that those proclaiming imperialism’s death have gotten way ahead of themselves; the only thing that has died is socialism, asphyxiated by the bureaucrats.

Disaster capitalism

Journalist Naomi Klein, whose book on the current rise of what she calls “disaster capitalism” was lauded by Subcomandante Marcos, repaid the compliment by recognizing that the world anti-system movement had been born in Chiapas. She also spoke of the movements in the North that oppose the dominion of the huge corporations, but acknowledged that after September 11 some resistance movements in the North had been weakened and even splintered. In that regard, she explained that the mechanism of disaster capitalism is to use the state of shock or exception to impose its neoliberal measures. With public policies abandoned, disasters are exploited to privatize, weakening the state and strengthening the corporations.

Shock resistance is a powerful force that is confronting this, with some peoples using their historical memory to resist. What happened in Argentina in 2001 and in Madrid in 2004 were examples of resistance to shock. Because today life itself is under threat, she made a call to combat the capitalist narratives with anti-capitalist ones.

Women’s equality as part
of the Zapatistas’ definition

Feminist Sylvia Marcos called for an assessment of women’s contributions to the anti-system movements by their refusal to subordinate themselves to the kind of subjugation women suffer under capitalism and by generating new conceptions and new practices. She critiqued patriarchal contradictions, such as thinking that anything relating to women has only to do with them and not with everyone. After defending the need for alliances with other movements and for embracing other problems as part of a viable common agenda, she expressed appreciation that a guerrilla movement such as the Zapatista one had taken on women’s equality as part of its own definition.

In fact, on January 1, 2008, the 14th anniversary of its uprising, the EZLN took pride in the fact that the celebrations took place under the sign of transforming the role of women in the communities in struggle. urthermore, the Third Gathering of Zapatista Peoples with the Peoples of the World, held in the Caracol La Garrucha in late December 2007, was
an international meeting exclusively for women. Over 2,000 people from 30 countries participated in the three-day event. Women delegates from Vía Campesina in Asia, Europe and the Americas joined others from Brazil’s Landless Movement and from many other collectives around the world. Comandante Dalia, who spoke for the Zapatistas, said that women will never forgive what capitalism has done to them and affirmed that the Zapatistas were organized to defend their lands.

Zapatista Women led workshops on the history of their movement, women’s role in the rebellion and the future of women’s participation, while men were assigned housekeeping tasks. The Revolutionary Women’s Law, promulgated in Zapatista communities in 1992, underpinned the gathering, which celebrated women’s rapidly changing roles in Zapatista communities.

By the evening of January 31, the official 14th anniversary celebration of the Zapatista uprising, more than 5,000 people crowded La Garrucha, enjoying speeches, songs and dancing. The meeting ended with the warning that Zapatismo is being attacked in a hidden war with paramilitary forces made up of peasants co-opted and trained by the federal army who are trying to dispossess the Caracoles and autonomous municipalities of their land base. In fact there were precarious security conditions in Zapatista communities, especially in the North and Selva regions, at the time of the international gathering.

Neither Center Nor Periphery

Subcomandante Marcos’ seven talks under the general title of “Neither Center Nor Periphery,” offered a sharp and lucid counterpoint to the other presentations.

“Geography and the Calendar of Theory.” In this first topic, Marcos announced that he was presenting the basis of a theory so different that it is actually practice. He went on to explain that when the conceptual stone touches the surface of theory, it produces a series of concentric waves that affect different scientific and technical activities. This continues until a new conceptual stone drops and a new series of waves changes theoretical production again. The density of the theoretical production determines whether these ripples reach the shore of reality.

He criticized the aseptic zeal imposed on the social sciences, which leads to the idea that if reality doesn’t conform to the theory, tough for reality. Such theory is used to hide reality and ensure impunity. He said that Calderón, the man who currently passes himself off as President in Mexico thanks to an electoral fraud, hid his responsibility and that of those who preceded him for the catastrophes that battered Tabasco and Chiapas in late 2007 by blaming them on the moon. He also bitingly criticized supposedly progressive intellectuals who argue that social relations can be transformed without struggle and without touching the privileges enjoyed by the powerful.

Marcos then presented seven theses on the anti-system struggle. First: the capitalist system cannot be understood and explained without the concept of war. Second: the forms capitalists use to increase their earnings are to increase productivity, produce new merchandise and open new markets. Third: they achieve the latter by conquering or re-conquering territories and social spaces in which they previously had no interest, such as ancestral knowledge and natural resources. Fourth: he refuted the thesis that capitalism will collapse by itself. Fifth: he defended the idea that the capitalist system will only be destroyed if one or many movements confront and defeat capital’s central nucleus: private ownership of the means of production. Sixth: a society’s real transformations are those directed against the system as a whole. And seventh: the great transformations
do not start at the top but with small movements and with the organized consciousness of groups and collectives that mutually know and recognize each other below and on the left and construct another kind of politics.

“The Calendar and Geography of Difference.” In his second intervention, Marcos described how theories that emerge in the metropolis are exported to the periphery, where they suffer the blockages of those geographies. He
cited the example of trying to impose a metropolitan feminism on the communities without consulting them or understanding what’s already being done. He contrasted this with what women from the Zapatista movement and The Other Campaign are doing in one of the weightiest, most complex and ongoing anti-system struggles for equality and difference. These struggles would rock not only the whole patriarchal system, but also those who are barely beginning to grasp the strength and power of that difference.

“The Calendar and Geography of Destruction.” Here Marcos criticized people who suggest we stop worrying about those who exploit, dispossess, repress and deprecate in order to debate and agree on what comes after this nightmare. He said that arrogance is usually a bad counselor on practical and theoretical issues, and spoke of the destruction of nature—deforestation, contamination, ecological imbalance—
and the misnamed “natural” catastrophes, which hide the bloody hand of capital accompanying these adversities.
He analyzed the catastrophe in Tabasco and Chiapas that affected a million people, recalling that the “self-declared” President Calderón had painted a picture of a nearly divine tragedy that had nothing to do with the development model that led to the closing off of old water routes. The inundations were a crime given the opening of the Peñitas dam, monopolized by individual interests for electricity production. In contrast with the politicians’ actions, Marcos highlighted the population’s solidarity, above all by the poor for the poor. On this point he told how the Zapatistas got help to stranded communities, which of course was not reported in the major media.

He also talked about Cuba and its history, which is one long braid of pain and dignity, and about the extraordinary challenge of building its own destiny as a nation, its own socialism. He stressed that its rebellion had come at the cost of an economic blockade and a massive demonizing campaign by the United States.

“The calendar and geography of the land.” Marcos described the uses and abuses by the big farmers in Chiapas before the Zapatista uprising. He recalled that in 1994 the Zapatistas fought against the federal army and central government of the time, which included various figures who now back López Obrador. The Zapatistas will keep talking about their persecutors, executioners and killers, adding that if they had supported the PRD’s supposed alternative to the Right, it would have been a betrayal of those who had died.

He referred to the revolutionary women’s law and the revolutionary agrarian law. Because of the latter, ranchers had been expelled from their huge holdings, which were then divvied up among the indigenous. The passing of the land into the hands of the Zapatistas was accompanied by processes that can now be seen in their territories: advances in government, health, education, housing, food, trade, culture, communication, women’s participation, etc. The Zapatistas have recovered the capacity to decide their own destiny, which among other things implies the right to make their own mistakes.

“The calendar and geography of fear.” In this segment, Marcos said that freedom must be built collectively, and not on the fear of others who, although different, are our equals. A movement’s ethics are more important than the number of people it has, its media impact, the forcefulness of its actions or the clarity and radicalness of its program. He pointed to the lack of ethics at the top, which is the ethics of fear. The capitalist system can be defined as the empire of fear. There are many fears: fear of gender, which not only implies women’s fear of men and vice versa, but women’s fear of women and men’s fear of men. There’s also fear of different generations, fear of others, fear of race…

He stated that the Zapatistas have no hierarchy of spheres and don’t claim that the struggle for the land has priority over the gender struggle, or that the latter is more important than recognizing and respecting differences. The Zapatistas want a broad movement with clear objectives: a radical transformation that involves the destruction of the capitalist system. They ask that their rights be recognized, to be allowed to be what they are and how they are. They aren’t interested in positions or posts or awards or honors. They simply want to be able to get up each morning without fear of being on the day’s agenda: fear of being indigenous, a woman, a worker, homosexual, young, old, a child… and that’s not possible in the capitalist system.

“The calendar and geography of memory.” In this intervention, Marcos underscored that the Zapatista uprising had been against being ignored and forgotten. He distinguished the way Zapatistas look from the way they are looked at, detailing the respectful look that anthropologist Andrés Aubry always had for them. He warned that those who look at them are incapable of taking in all that the Zapatista movement has been, is, means and represents. The way they are seen by social scientists, analysts and artists is a window through which others look at them. We need to be aware that this window only shows a small part of the Zapatistas’ great house, leaving aspects such as the communities’ heroic daily resistance unseen.

Cuba: A revolution that
knows how to dance
Another position shared by the immense majority, Zapatistas at the head, was recognition of Cuba’s heroic role in the liberating process.

Cuban speaker Gilberto Valdés, who collaborates with Havana’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, talked about his country’s culture of resistance, which has forged a very participatory people. He analyzed the current debate on the island, in which the people are seeking solutions to problems of all shapes and sizes. At the end of 2007, over two million specific proposals for responding to the daily problems and bureaucratization had been gathered. He proudly claimed that the Cuban revolution has continued to exist because it “ knows how to dance and sing,” referring to an anecdote by Marcos of a young woman who had told him she didn’t want to be invited to his revolution if it didn’t know how to dance. Valdés noted that one huge challenge in the new Latin American panorama, with its anti-imperialist, emancipationist and libertarian logic and its search for a response to the perverse mercantilist logic, is to figure out a model of alternative well-being.

Awareness of danger

At one point, a presenter respectfully inquired why a hard-line, sell-out and illegitimate rightist presidency such as Calderón’s hadn’t been prevented from taking office, referring to the Zapatistas’ decision not to back the PRD candidate. It was explained that former PRI members who were the Zapatistas’ main persecutors and the instigators and organizers of paramilitary groups in Chiapas were now with the PRD in Chiapas’ state government, where they were continuing to attack the Zapatista peoples. This was presented as proof of Marcos’ argument that the Zapatistas cannot make alliances with their executioners.

The participants were deeply disturbed when they realized the grave danger the Zapatista communities are facing today. Colloquium organizers and participants signed a declaration stressing that the Zapatistas had honored their word to put aside their weapons despite the formation of paramilitary groups, the massacre in Acteal and all the other terrible things the army had done in Chiapas. They had created the Caracoles and their peaceful activity was exemplary, yet in recent months paramilitary groups had been harassing them to get them off the land. The declaration demanded that the state and federal governments cease the aggression, since peoples should not be forced into using violence to defend against the violence they are suffering.

The Acteal massacre is a symbol

The gathering culminated on the tenth anniversary of the Acteal massacre, when the government and its intellectuals attempted to twist history to elude what had happened: a state crime. Jesuit Ricardo Robles wrote at the time: “Although governments, and behind them the de facto powers, are attempting to cover their crimes with silence, obscurity and oblivion, the dead continue their work; they care for their struggles so they don’t die with them. And their protests, proposals, utopias and slogans remain alive in truth. However much they are denied, the flames of Acteal remain alive. Acteal’s horror goes beyond today’s dirty war; it has become a symbol of all the horrors.”

Zapatismo is the
whole world’s patrimony

After the colloquium, several participants used different media to call on people to mobilize to defend Zapatismo. Wallerstein stressed that the Zapatistas had set up de facto autonomous indigenous municipalities that are functioning well despite being under siege and constantly threatened by the Mexican army. He admitted that world support for the Zapatistas is suffering from some degree of fatigue and that the colloquium sought to resuscitate alliances.

Naomi Klein also echoed the Zapatistas’ red alert, given the evident signs of war on the horizon. She warned the world and Mexico in particular that new massacres such as the one in Acteal must be avoided. John Berger also demanded immediate support for the Zapatistas from Mexican civil society, arguing that everyone will suffer the consequences if this threatened project disappears.

There’s still time to
stop the aggression

The political parties, now hugely discredited for having acted against people’s needs, have lost the support of a large proportion of the population. The Zapatistas are legitimately seeking other paths and other ways of engaging in politics and that search has to be defended. Leaving the Zapatistas to their fate would be enormously shortsighted and an act of terrible complicity. There’s still time to raise voices from the media that claim to be democratic to halt a massacre of the Zapatista option.

If the political polarization in Mexico is tolerating this crime, there is still the international option. It is urgent that individuals and groups around the world be made aware of what is happening and act in time to halt the aggression against the Zapatistas. Zapatismo is the patrimony of those at the bottom everywhere in the world. It belongs to us all.

Jorge Alonso is a researcher for CIESAS West and envío correspondent in Mexico.

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