An independent indigenous candidate to mobilize the dispossessed
After amply consulting its supporters,
Mexico’s National Indigenous Congress
decided to shake up the nation’s conscience
by assuring that indignation, resistance and rebellion
will be on the ballot of the 2018 presidential election.
While neither the Congress nor the Zapatista movement
will directly run against the other political parties
This year began in Mexico with growing waves of discontent among much of the population with the “gasolinazo”: a huge hike in fuel, electricity and gas prices, with consequent increases in the cost of all basic goods and services, transportation foremost.
This new crisis is proof that the Peña Nieto regime’s structural reforms, which he boasted would improve people’s lives, have failed and that his promise to keep fuel prices from rising was not to be trusted.
In reality, the only ones whose lives have increasingly improved are those linked to the large corporations as well as the political elite mired in corruption while common folk suffer scarcities and a dizzying drop in the value of Mexico’s peso.
The government is attempting to assuage the discontent by reiterating false speeches, but they deceive hardly anyone. Completing this picture is yet another offense that stains our sovereignty: the selection of Luis Videgaray, Peña Nieto’s close ally, as Mexico’s new foreign minister. Videgaray, inexperienced in international relations, was the one who promoted Donald Trump’s visit to Mexico.
To mobilize the discontented
Despite repression, protest marches haven’t ceased. It’s an enormous challenge to organize people’s discontent and anger with a government unable to perceive reality and the signs of social upheaval.
In October of 2016, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), which is made up of 66 different ethnicities, proclaimed during the celebration of the CNI’s 20th anniversary that the time had come to make Mexico reverberate with Mother Earth’s ancestral heartbeat. In that gathering, they went over each of the grievances and abuses they had suffered, insisting time and again that their resistance and rebellion should strengthen collective decision-making arenas, operating independently from political parties that only generate corruption and sell out their dignity.
They declared themselves in permanent session to continue discussions aimed at creating an indigenous government council to be led by an indigenous woman who would become its independent presidential candidate for the 2018 election representing both the CNI and the EZLN.
The idea sparked an intense debate
The two groups proclaimed that this initiative isn’t about taking power but about uniting all of the dispossessed in order to put a halt to capitalist destruction and build a new nation for all, women and men alike.
Their decision produced considerable unease throughout the country, triggering an intense and prolonged debate. The Zapatistas discerned racism even in the reactions of the forward-thinking media.
Since the mere suggestion of an indigenous woman representing the nation had caused something of an uproar, they wondered what would happen if her words were to catch on with those at the bottom of Mexico’s society.
As the CNI would make no decision prior to consultation, the Zapartistas encouraged people to read its proposal carefully. They recalled the words of the indignant movement, that “the dreams of the disadvantaged do not fit in the ballot boxes of those at the top” and emphasized that the CNI is the only space where native voices can be heard. They were proud that the CNI members had taken the offensive by proposing that the country could be governed with an indigenous woman as the helm, even when they knew that Mexico’s electoral system is designed to bene fit only the traditional political parties.
The initiative’s relevance
The relevance of this initiative lies in its capacity to unleash a combative reorganization, not only among indigenous Mexicans, but also workers, farmers, employees, settlers, teachers, students and other sectors whose silence and immobility may well be less a sign of apathy than the absence of a call to action. Moreover, whether they win the electoral race or not, the relevant feature is the challenge, the total collapse of the image of indigenous peoples as objects of pity. The daring challenge underlying this initiative would raise hopes not just among Mexico’s dispossessed but also those in other parts of the world.
There is relevance in making the CNI a crucial point of contact with the chosen indigenous woman. This contact could generate a great movement, one that could shake the nation’s political system. Zapatistas agreed to respect the CNI’s decisions, steps and pathways, seeing themselves as just one more force called upon to support this challenge, and to do so fully.
Zapatismo and the scientists
While the CNI was consulting Mexico’s different indigenous peoples about this daring proposal, the Zapatistas organized an innovative eight-day meeting with interested scientists from 11 countries between December 25 and January 4. Some 80 distinguished biologists, mathematicians, astronomers, ecologists, bio-technicians, doctors, agronomists, geologists, computer scientists and others gave up their holidays to participate in those eight intense days in which a great deal of wisdom was shared.
Behind the invitation was the Zapatistas’ desire to know if science can be considered a common property and what its role might be for or against either the forces of oppression or those of liberation. They wonder if it can contribute to the world’s transformation. They want to know if capitalism uses science to destroy nature, to make the rich richer and whether and how they can use “good” science in the struggle against capitalism. The scientists attending the event were asked to prepare not just technical but scientific studies demonstrating a use of science and technology capable of making life prevail over death. They want to understand the world, for only then can they make it new and better.
The Zapatistas didn’t take this event lightly. They prepared themselves ahead of time with community and area assemblies where they elected representatives who would participate in the meeting. The communities sent a hundred women and a hundred men as students. They didn’t intervene individually but worked collectively to understand the presentations and then transmit them to their communities.
The collective questions referred to genetically modified materials, to the harm foods and chemical medicines can do, and how production can be improved. They wanted to know the causes of earthquakes, and the advantages of vaccines. They wanted to know if cell phones are harmful and if illnesses can be prevented through the study of the human genome. They asked about the cloning of people and animals and about science’s ethical principles. They were interested in knowing if one can live without capitalism, if we can put a halt to the destruction of Mother Earth and if there is a purely human science in which inhumanity is not implicit. They also wanted to familiarize themselves with the best methods to teach science to children and youth in the Zapatistas’ autonomous schools.
They want to learn in order to advance
With growing concern in the Zapatista movement that pseudo-science is attracting ever greater numbers of adherents, the communities looked for scientific proof, not slogans. They know they need genuine scientific investigation to confront the challenges before them.
There is now education and agroecology in the communities, and community radios over which knowledge is shared. Children are born into a context in which the construction of their autonomy requires science. The communities have learned to use ultrasound equipment and read X-rays, and now there are dentists and laboratory experts. Young people who are concluding their formal studies want to learn more. The coming generations want to know more in order to move forward. They understand that they need classes, workshops and laboratories to improve their diets, health and production and to confront the capitalist hydra. They also know that uniting original peoples’ wisdom with the expertise of scientists and artists is required to achieve an alternate form of seeing, thinking and imagining to produce change given the dimensions that the world’s structural crisis has reached, with today’s criminal violence, natural catastrophes, growing scarcities and unemployment, lack of basic services, collapse of energy sources, migration, illnesses and dehumanization.
They need science
At the end of the Congress, the Zapatista women students representing each of the communities in the different Caracoles (the name given to the seat of the geographic territory where the five Good Government Juntas in the autonomous municipalities officiate) stressed that although science is the task of both men and women, they perceived machismo in the scientific community. They said it was the first time they had met with female and male scientists and that what they had learned awakened still more questions and concerns and that there was much they didn’t understand.
During the Congress they had realized that the injustices suffered by their communities are justified in the name of “progress,” and that this makes ever more pressing the need to master a “Science” that can overcome the weight of gravity of a system that smothers those below. They wondered how they would be able to explain the scientific words in the languages of their different peoples, acknowledging that, despite the great value of their native knowledge, they also needed scientific data to improve their health, education, production and nutrition.
Sub-comandante Galeano underscored the importance of scientific teachings. The other Zapatista sub-comandantes invited the participants to another meeting, scheduled for a year from now in Zapatista lands so that the scientists—again both women and men—can reflect among themselves on the tasks that lie ahead, offering proposals and discussing them with each other, so the Zapatistas can observe the scientific process of coming to agreement.
Shaking up the national conscience
Simultaneous to this meeting, the second stage of the work of the Fifth National Indigenous Congress was conducted on December 29-31, which involved a review of the results of the internal consultation among the communities. In the end, the CNI decided to shake the conscience of the Mexican nation by making sure their indignation, resistance and rebellion is inserted on the ballots of the 2018 presidential election. The CNI and the EZLN announced that, while it is not their intention to compete with political parties, they will indeed run an indigenous woman as a candidate.
They appraised the fact that while the country remains submerged in fear and terror generated by the thousands of deaths and disappearances, security exists in indigenous communities. While destruction reaches all corners of the country, many towns are defending their lands, water and territory. And while inept governments are leaving education in the hands of capitalist corporations so that it’s no longer a right, the native communities have created elementary and secondary schools with graduates who go on to universities that have their own educational systems focused on the protection of Mother Earth, defense of their territories, production, sciences and the arts. And while the major capitalist media deceive people and keep them asleep in rural and urban settings, defining as delinquents those who defend what is theirs, people’s own forms of communication are being created in indigenous towns and villages to strengthen their grassroots organizing.
While representative “democracy” in the hands of traditional political parties has become a mockery of the people’s will, in which votes are purchased and poverty is manipulated, indigenous peoples continue strengthening consensus and assemblies as local government bodies in which agreements are truly democratic because the voices of all are heard.
While governments impose their decisions to benefit just a few, ignoring the collective will of the people, criminalizing and repressing those who oppose their deathly projects, indigenous peoples constantly defend prior, free and informed consultation.
The response of both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples is growing ever stronger to the bad governments whose privatizing projects are giving away the nation’s energy sovereignty to foreign interests whose high gasoline prices reveal the capitalist lie that only leads to inequality.
Closing ranks and taking the offensive
Based on these perspectives of struggle and hope, the CNI reported that 43 indigenous peoples had finally agreed to designate an Indigenous Council of Government with representatives from each of the member peoples, tribes and nations. This Council proposes to govern the country under the principles of obey, not disobey; represent, not supplant; serve, not be served; convince, not conquer; reach down, not rise up: propose, not impose: and build, not destroy. Its representative will be an indigenous woman associated with CNI who will be the independent candidate for President of Mexico in the 2018 elections.
With this initiative, the CNI and the EZLN call upon Mexico’s native peoples; the collectives of the “Sexta” (referring to those who observe the EZLN’s Sixth Declaration of Lacandona, issued in 2005); the country’s working men and women; urban and rural committees; student, intellectual, artistic and scientific groups; informal civil society and all good-hearted citizens to close ranks, take the offensive and bring down the powers on high, reconstituting themselves from below and to the left not just as separate, distinct groups but as one organization.
Bridges to civil society
With this announcement, the CNI and the EZLN are extending bridges to civil society, the media and native peoples, encouraging them to overcome their fear and fight for the recuperation of their invaded or destroyed lands, the whereabouts of those who have been disappeared by the government, the release of political prisoners, the dignity of the city and countryside, and truth and justice for those who have been killed.
The presidential candidate will be chosen in May 2017 at the constituent assembly of the new Indigenous Government Council of Mexico. There is a firm conviction that both the indigenous peoples and Mexico’s society at large will see this as a last opportunity for a radical and peaceful change in the nation’s form of government.
A final opportunity
Upon marking 23 years since its birth in January 1994, the Zapatista movement sees that Mexico is in worse condition now than it was that year when the EZLN cried out, “Enough is enough!” and is thus pleased that the CNI has approved the proposal to embark on a new path. If in 1994 not everyone could support the Zapatista uprising, everyone in Mexico’s cities and rural areas can participate in the struggle suggested now by the CNI, thus opening the way to unity in the struggle of the dispossessed.
The struggle undertaken by the CNI encourages participation by everyone, wherever they are, using their own methods and at their chosen times. The Zapatistas will support the CNI with all its forces, aware that its proposal is their last chance to prevent the destruction of Mexico’s soils and skies. They are confident that this initiative will animate, organize and mobilize the Mexican people and the peoples of the world with dignity.
An audacious gamble for life
At the start of this year, Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos wrote that the engine of capitalism has led to a radical crisis, in which the sustainability of life on earth is threatened. He singled out as interrelated proof of this devastation the increase in droughts and floods, the ongoing threat of food shortages, the migratory waves of environmental refugees, the increase in illnesses caused by contamination of the environment, the ever more voracious exploitation of natural resources and the stripping of native lands from indigenous peoples to benefit huge mega development projects and the violence they produce.
The proposal of the CNI and EZLN hopes to be the answer. According to Raúl Zibechi, it is an attempt to create conditions to organize and overcome the fear caused by the march of genocide. The proposal will embolden diverse grassroots sectors of Mexican society to organize, giving them an instrument with which to join forces. The shift from indignation and anger to organization is the key to any process designed to produce deep and radical changes,The Zapatistas and the CNI propose the joint election in order to favor their linked organization. It is a gamble, an opportunity for power from below to express itself in different ways, including in electoral ballots.
Diana Itzu, a member of the Chiapas branch of the General Confederation of Labor and an adherent of the Sixth Declaration of Lacandona sees the process of constructing the Council with an indigenous woman as its spokesperson and independent candidate to confront patriarchal and colonial institutions and their forms of domination and extermination as a challenge for and by life. The initiative doesn’t arise from the cult of personality but rather elevates the essence of life into view. The figure of the indigenous woman symbolizes Mother Earth and the Communal House.
With struggles that already exist
Faced with the degeneration of politics as practiced at the highest levels, some of us had begun to think we would have to let that segment of political activity rot away on its own while those below attempted to create another form of democracy that would lead to their autonomy. Now Zapatismo and the CNI are showing us that democracy is another of the most serious losses the people have suffered, and that the power exerted from above with its defective democracy is causing immense ills.
By proposing an indigenous CNI woman as an independent candidate for the 2018 presidential election, we’re not being invited to dispute power wielded from above but to use this process so that peoples and collectives can renew their resistance and rebellion with organization. We are being invited to join hands to create an alternative democracy to thus defend ourselves from so much plunder and destruction.
The discontented are called up to expand their organization to halt that plunder. Since these struggles already exist, their growth and multiplication must be supported especially in the areas of organization and linkage with the Council as their instrument.
The very consultation conducted by the CNI will reactivate and revitalize its organization. The process that follows will be a form of defense of the rights of the dispossessed and the creation of another form of democracy. But that isn’t all. This new phase of the struggle has features that will lead to promising innovations. Without doubt, it is a risky undertaking, but one that could generate a dynamic that by crushing old routines and dogmas could provide the momentum for the transformation Mexico so urgently needs and for which it can wait no longer!
Jorge Alonso is a researcher with the Center for Higher Studies and Research in Social Anthropology (CIESAS West) and the envo correspondent in Mexico.