<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
 English | Español November 17, 2017 | Issue #33


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Oventik, Where Freedom Breathes

The Zapatistas of the Chiapas Highlands Begin to Unite their Autonomous Municipalities


By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Narco News South American Bureau Chief

April 25, 2004

“Scotol schiiltactic te Periodismo Auténtico taj can chcalboyuc”,
Tzotzil words meaning
“To all our brothers and sisters of Authentic Journalism, we salute you,”
-Abraham, of the Oventik Zapatista Reception Committee

Oventik, Chiapas, Mexico, Abril 24, 2004: “You are in Zapatista rebel territory,” reads a large sign on the highway from the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas and the village of Oventik, in the Mexican state of Chiapas. “Here, the people command and the government obeys.”

The indigenous men and women here, most of whom have their faces covered, are building a new society based on liberty, democracy and equality.


Two Zapatista Soldiers from the Oventik Reception Committee
Photo: Alex Contreras Baspineiro, D.R. 2004
“Our organization is not only a response to bad government, but also to the neoliberal model and the imperialist policies mercilessly applied in our communities,” says Abraham, one of the leaders of the Oventik Reception Committee.

Abraham explained, full of conviction, that there is a common situation across Latin America, a product of the impositions of the United States and other countries. These impositions affect not just local agriculture, not just education, culture and health, but also economic policy.

In Oventik, which also bears the Zapatista name of “Resistance and rebellion for humanity,” everyone does their fair share of work, because they are all considered equals. The men work in construction or carpentry, and the women in cleaning or craftwork. As a result, a series of wooden buildings lines both sides of the main road through town, nearly all covered with murals of revolutionaries like Emiliano Zapata, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and Subcomandante Marcos.

When they see an outsider, most of the Zapatistas, though very reserved, greet him or her cordially. Before answering any questions from a journalist, they ask their own questions. They don’t just want to know the journalist’s background, but also what’s happening in other towns.

Three Zapatistas known as Ezequiel, Javier and Abraham received this reporter in Oventik.


The author in the office of the Oventik Good Government Council
Photo: Narco News Agency, D.R. 2004
Javier explains a new stage of resistance began after the government failed to comply with the San Andrés Accords of 1996, which guaranteed rights and autonomy for Mexico’s indigenous people. The people of the Zapatista communities now reject all government programs. They have built their own central health clinic here in Oventik, where they provide free treatment and medication, and are in the process of building “micro-clinics” in all their other towns. They also receive help from volunteer medical workers. They have their own education system here, including a local high school with 150 students. When they graduate, these students will become the teachers for the youngest children, and build new schools.

On the economic front, the Zapatistas have formed collectives to export coffee directly (instead of going through middleman distributors who have helped impoverish the coffee growers of Chiapas). They have created a source of income for Zapatista women by also helping create collectives for corn, beans and crafts production. These collectives are now moving on to the stage of selling to national and international markets.

Good Government Councils

The Oventik Good Government Council is the highest Zapatista authority in the Chiapas highlands. There are seven autonomous Zapatista municipalities in this region – San Juan de la Libertad, Magdalena de la Paz, San Pedro Poló, 16 de Febrero, Santa Catalina, San Juan Apostol Cancuk and San Andrés de los Pobres.

Fourteen representatives – two from each of the municipalities – sit on the council, each with the same rights and responsibilities. They serve a term of three years, but can be switched before that time if the town decides they have served badly.

“We have a ton of work every day, but because the people sent us here, we must obey the word of the Zapatistas community,” Roberto, on of the council’s members, tells us.

“A Good Government Council is not like the bad federal government, “ he adds, “because in all aspects of our organization, the first thing we do is complete our promises.”

The people here follow the motto “everything for all, nothing for ourselves” every day, says Samuel, another council member.

This area, at 2,400 to 3,500 meters (7,900 to 11,500 feet) above sea level, is one of the highest and coldest parts of this region. From here, one feels as if one could see all the Zapatista territory.

Since August 10, 2003, the previous system of Zapatista leadership, based in the five “Aguascalientes” bases was replaced by the system of Caracoles (Spanish for “spiral,” or “snail”). These are in the towns of La Realidad (also known by the Zapatistas as “Mother of the caracoles from the sea of our dreams”), Morelia (“Whirlwind of our words), La Garrucha (“Resistance towards the new dawn”), Roberto Barrios (“Caracol that speaks for all”) and Oventik.

A New Society

In Oventik, all the Zapatista soldiers wear the traditional ski mask, bandana and combat boots. The civilian support groups, however, wear nothing to distinguish themselves as Zapatistas.

On first impression, most people here are serious and stiff, but sincere. They are well trained. When they speak, they get right to the point and say nothing more. But when one is considered “one of them” the situation changes; there is more communication.

Many people here spent most of today at a party to inaugurate the new municipal offices for the Caracol of Oventik. Dozens of Tzotzil, Chol and Tzetzal (the three main indigenous groups in the area) people, with their traditional clothing and musical instruments, arrived to celebrate with the Zapatistas. For them, small projects like these new offices have a special meaning, because they signify the integration of the seven municipalities of the region.

While the guests celebrated the inauguration (without alcohol, which is prohibited in all Zapatista communities), the rest of the people here continued their work, only pausing briefly to observe the event.

Esequiel says that Oventik is different than usual today, because of all the people here for the celebration. Usually, the days here in rebel territory are very tense.

All of the Zapatista soldiers have jobs, and don’t have time to answer every question. But with a simple look from their covered faces, the Zapatista men and women have much more to say, write and build…

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