<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Zapatistas: “A Totally New World”

The Narco News Interview from Chiapas with Mexican Rocker, Roco, of Maldita Vecindad


By Ricardo Sala
Narco News Authentic Journalism Scholar

August 18, 2003


Roco

“I love all kinds of cultural or spiritual gatherings that permit us to generate a more just world, with more dignity, and with justice and peace. That’s what I’m advocating, and there are many tools that allow us to work with others, with everyone, building this path. The tools that I like to work with are music, writing, dance, work in the community, inner and shared spirituality, and also broadcasting in all kinds of media: video, radio, and writing, that’s what makes me tick.”

– Roco

Publisher’s Note: Roco is the vocalist and a percussionist for the musical group Maldita Vecindad (loosely translated as “Damn Neighborhood”), known simply among millions of Mexicans as “Maldita.” Since their self-titled premier disk (1988, BMG Ariola), and following on the massive (700,000 copies sold in Mexico alone) success of their 1991 “El Circo,” Maldita remains as one of the top Mexican music groups with daily airplay throughout the country.

Roco and his band have toured with Bob Dylan, Sonic Youth, Leonard Cohen, Sargento Garcia, Ampáro Sánchez of Amparanoia (your publisher is especially impressed by the latter collaboration), and have collaborated with Perry Farrell, among others, but one senses from today’s interview published in Narco News, that he’s proudest to have collaborated with the musicians and peoples of Zapatista base communities in the Mexican Southeast. He’s no mere “Zapa-tourist,” no way: Roco has put in the time and labor over the past seven years to sit, to listen, to learn, to be inside and with the communities. His perspective on the continuing surge of “zapatismo” in Mexico and the world, and the refinements underway in the construction of authentic autonomy in Chiapas, is, like him, soft spoken, respectful, not protagonist, but, rather, in a word, one of big-hearted and intelligent solidarity.

Indeed, Maldita was one of the musical groups thanked publicly by Marcos in a February 1999 communiqué addressed “to the musicians of the world.” He told Narco News Authentic Journalism professor Andrea Daugirdas, while in Chiapas, that he had studied journalism in his youth, so as to be able to study everything, everywhere.

Narco News Authentic Journalism scholar Ricardo Sala caught up with Roco last weekend in the Chiapas highland community of Oventik (see today’s related photo essay from that historic gathering), where he offered a thoughtful analysis of “this totally new world” under construction… from below.

Narco News: Why did you come to this gathering in Oventik?

Roco: Ever since January 1, 1994, when the Zapatista uprising began, I think that like every other Mexican this took us totally by surprise. And something that surprised from the start when I began to read their words, the communiqués, and through the communiqués I found a voice that never in my greatest Jarocho (that is to say, someone from the state of Veracruz) dreams I had imagined could be expressed so clearly: This conjunction between a totally humanist or spiritual vision in search for a more just world and, on the other hand, a political-social community action rooted very much in indigenous tradition, and, at the same time very much in present times. From that moment I worked with other compas for whom this way of speaking – the Zapatista word – also resonated, including in the band in which I play – Maldita Vecindad – and we began to work with students from the very first demonstration to stop the war. And, at the beginning, we began to put on concerts. And from the concerts, we came in caravans to deliver aid, and to come and get to know these communities of resistance that from someplace, here, lost in the jungle could, with their word, shake up the entire country and also the world.

And, from those caravans I began to come again, continuing the work, and I could also connect with new friends, with different projects being generated here. As with the project we created called “Old Tlacuilos, New Tlacuilos” – a graffiti mural project with a Chicano friend named Anuk, of the “crew” from there named “YUTIAI,” and we did this in the “Aguascalientes” (“Hot Waters,” the name of Zapatista international meeting-places of recent years) in the towns of Morelia and La Realidad.

I also developed a workshop called “Peace Dance and Resistance” in homage to the collective that, at this moment, we were working with: It was a workshop in music in which, first, I played music from around the world that had these characteristics: that sang in native tongues, that took back its cultural tradition with its traditional instruments, and that mixed with contemporary instruments and musical forms, and at the same time that spoke of Zapatismo!


Roco with Maldita Vecindad
Thus, I played music from Italy, Brazil, the Basque country… From Italy, people who sang in Piamontés, in Napolitano, in their own languages… all this music spoke of Zapatismo, thus, I played songs to the compas that they liked and they taped a cassette. And from there the cassette was reproduced and distributed in the communities.

And that was one part of the project. The second part was to record, with a mini-disk, “demo tapes” to provide witness to the music of the communities. Then I recorded the San José Marimba that played in the Aguascalientes of La Realidad. I also recorded the “Freedom Sound” of Guadelupe Tepeyac in exile, which they also created – you can already hear the Cumbia, Ranchera and Norteña music here in the communities, no? That is what has taken root here in a big way. Then I also recorded a demo tape for the local musicians. And in the Aguascalientes of Morelia, apart from the murals that we made, y also worked with the group named “Grupo Rebelde.”

I’ve told you a little of this because this is the series of projects that I’ve been connected with and participated in since 1996, the first time I was here.

Narco News: How do you define the event, today, on this occasion? What’s it about? Why are we here? To what have we been invited?

Roco: Well, I think that like everyone else we are here, and I am here too, to listen directly to the word: accepting the invitation made in the communiqués that were published last month: Since I also feel very connected to everyone that is part of the Zapatista project of the Aguascalientes, well, I’m also very happy to have been invited to the closure – to the death, as they say – of the Aguascalientes, and very intrigued and curious to be able to come here and listen to the word about what the Caracoles are about.

Although one of the metaphors that is repeatedly used by the compas is the caracol, precisely: In fact, the amphitheater at the National Democratic Convention was in the shape of a caracol, of a spiral. And I very much liked how they said that the caracol is a spiraling path into the heart, and to the outside, of words. It seems to me to be a lesson that they keep giving the compas here, in the sense that since they have the impressive capacity for self-criticism, of reflecting upon themselves and what they are doing, and how they have this ability to see themselves and to be transformed, and continue transforming.

This seems, to me, to be a very important step in the transformation of the entire struggle that has been waged, and also a very important step for the matter of what, since 1994, has been lived in the autonomous regions, with Autonomy. In fact they’ve done it, but from this moment with the Good Government Councils that are established in all the caracoles they’ve practically made it a fact. Already they are, in fact, being autonomous, as they have been but now with authorities, and this is a highly radical proposal in the world in which we live, where the State controls all manners of organization. It’s a way of saying, “thank you, but we have our own way of living,” as they have been doing all along. And these Good Government Councils not only raise the question of authority – that, here, the idea of authority has been radically transformed from what we’ve understood because it is all based upon assemblies, it is communitarian authority – but they also imply that they have an autonomous education project, as we’ve been able to see, an autonomous health project, and including projects of autonomous art and cultures. And now, well, there is the matter of autonomous authorities.

Thus, what I believe is that this is a very important step that is felt as a precedent once and for all at the global level. In contrast with other movements of communities that struggle for autonomy in which first they fight for autonomy – against the authorities, let’s say – and afterwards autonomy is understood as a separation from the country. Here, it’s really interesting how there has not been an external fight for autonomy, but, rather, that they’ve been autonomous from the beginning!

From the time when the uprising was decided they succeeded with their own autonomy and consensus in the communities. And later, the other thing that seems very important to me is: That they can be autonomous but at no moment do they propose separating from the country and its people – from the State, of course, they’ve drawn a line, but with the country they continue communicating with everyone else and they are part of us. They’re simply seeing us as human beings and how we can live another way. We can collectively decide the way in which we want to live and to be able to have our authorities or organizations that surge directly from the people. This is another of the questions for which it seems very important to be here. And to continue constructing bridges! In fact, from throughout the country they continue inviting Civil Society and everyone to come here, to continue establishing this bridge so it can be crossed from one side or the other.

Narco News: What do you suggest to the people who are geographically distant from zapatismo because they live in Mexico City, or in the United States, or in other parts far from Chiapas? What do you suggest that we do in response to zapatismo? Should we take it as an example as you are saying to create our own models of life? Or should we come to visit? Or should we simply be on call? What lessons do we have to learn here?

Roco: Oof, who knows? I say what my heart orders me to say. In general, as you can see here, there are people from all over the world and all over Mexico. The Zapatista word has that resonance. I would say that this is an example because in the entire world there is a discussion or polemic about autonomy. We can see this in the case of the Basque country, and in the cases of the autonomies of the indigenous communities throughout Latin America, with what happens in the United States with the Indian reservations. It is a question that keeps appearing in our times, this matter of autonomy. The question of what about culture is the strongest connection for communities, and how the States impose, at times, one vision – what they now call a universal philosophy, they try to break and shatter the traditions, no? And that includes language: every language is poetry. It is music. In the moment that they destroy a language they are killing one vision of the world. That’s why language and culture go hand in hand in defense of autonomies, as can be seen in the Basque country, and with the Catalans, as can be seen with the Piamontés, or the Napolitanos in Italy, or with the different indigenous languages in our country and all of Latin America.

That’s why I say it’s an example: Because in various parts of the world there are different ways that the situation has been confronted and I think that the way it has been done here in Chiapas is an incredibly peaceful, creative, manner, that doesn’t seek to take power to change things, but, rather, where people are changing their own daily lives. And from here the dignity is so strong that it brings an impeccability, as their anthem says, to be impeccable in the sense of totally committing to the manner in which they want to live. Then, to do it themselves, their word has an uncontainable force because it really is a union between word and deed – theory and praxis go together in complete union. That’s why they have a resonance on the global level.

What I can say to the people of all the world who hear this or read it on the Internet is that in this world that we live, if the entire world in a given moment in its heart feels that this world can be better, if in a given moment in their hearts they see that it is already impossible to accept so much injustice, death and hunger, if in a given moment in their hearts they wonder how it is possible that countries are like they are today, powerful countries, coming to destroy others and they destroy them only to loot their natural resources? What is happening right now, if they are moved in their hearts and they look toward here, toward Chiapas, toward the Zapatista word, because here are human beings with the absolute power of dignity with a well developed heart – not with the other powers, because the other powers are false ones: weapons and the power of money are false powers – the true power is in this: The community, the children, the people, and the well developed heart to construct, day to day, a new world, like this one.

This is a totally new world, where all the colors exist, all languages, all nationalities, including the grand diversity of indigenous who are here – Tojolabales, Tzeltales, Choles, Tzotziles – there is a lot of diversity, all living together in impressive diversity but with a unity of heart that continues constructing a more just world.

And they do it, not from outside, not to conquer anyone, but here, on the small scale, in daily life, first with one’s self, later with those one loves, later with your community, and now, hopefully, we’ll continue doing it throughout the world.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America