<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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The Zapatistas Activate a New Kind of Bomb in the Mexican Southeast

Listening to the Voices of an Army (of Organizers) in Formation


By Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

August 23, 2005

DOLORES HIDALGO, CHIAPAS, MEXICO, SATURDAY, AUGUST 20, 2005: It is High Noon in the Lacandon Jungle. After a half-day under the Mayan sun, where the shade, too, is a kind of oven, your correspondent traded his guayabera shirt – a garment that, in most places, keeps one cool from the heat – for a more comfortable, if less dapper, tank top. But those representatives of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation that are sitting at the front table in their boots, long skirts or pants, long sleeves, and itchy ski masks, seem not to be sweating at all. They’ve been listening, now, for various hours to presentations by representatives of social organizations that have traveled from all parts of this Mexico to tell of their struggles, offer proposals, and speak their word.

Rejoining the parade of words, here is a small sample of the truths spoken under the assembly roof:


Wendy Primavera Pantoja of Yucatan denounces Roberto Hernández Ramírez of Banamex-Citigroup and other ‘foreigners’ speculating ancestral lands.
Photo: D.R. 2005 Francisco Alvarez Quiñones
A spokesman from a neighborhood association from Tlalpan in Mexico City told the Zapatistas and the other 500 or so folks here that his group, too, wants to govern its area autonomously from impositions by the powers from above. His neighbors and he admire how the Zapatistas have formed their own democratic governments from below, without asking permission from the State. “Autonomy isn’t a demand only by the indigenous,” the young man said, “but also in urban areas.” Next came a woman from the Intersindical Primero de Mayo: women workers. They – as others throughout the day and night would do – proposed a meeting “just for women” as part of this Zapatista information-gathering process. There was strong applause each time this idea was raised.

Next up was a spokeswoman for “the MUP” – Movimiento Popular Urbano (or “Popular Urban Movement”). The coalition, now two years old, wants a national meeting – in fact it has already scheduled one in Mexico City at the same time as the September 10 Zapatista meeting in this jungle. And that is what some national or regional groups also declared. They want meetings, meetings, and more meetings…. Their language, as one young observer told Narco News, seemed very bureaucratic, very “Old Left. “ As if to underscore this caricature, one of the older left groups in Mexico – the Communist Party – hung portraits of Marx and various Soviet leaders – including of the disgraced Joseph Stalin – along the sides of the open air assembly hall under a hot tin roof. “Who put the photo of Stalin up there?” a journalistic colleague asked your correspondent in disgust. Grumblings could be heard all weekend from other corners about the apparition of Big Joe. “It’s a provocation, a hostile act toward the anti-authoritarianism of the Zapatista movement,” whispered another attendee.

Abigail Morita, 23, a mural painter from the nation’s capital explained to Narco News: “We young people don’t identify with these Old Left groups. If we are not at their service, they don’t look for us. They aren’t interested in us. We are just cannon fodder for them. It enrages me. Many of these organizations don’t do anything. The Zapatistas and the indigenous movement are different. The Zapatistas speak our language.”

Morita refers to herself and to her peers as the “post-99 generation” that came out of, or after, the strike that closed the National University for 10 months and polarized the political left, for and against. And yet, as the day marched on, the many young people present – some who came as “observers” rather than as delegates of organizations – leaned closer in from their benches. They listened more and more closely to the words being spoken by many middle-aged and elder delegates from unions, neighborhood organizations, and others like them, and found much in common. For these “older” groups were not primarily from the ancient left, but, most (not all, but most), in fact, are younger as organizations than the student strike committee of ’99. By the end of the weekend, a kind of ice had been melted under the Chiapaneco sun. People from different generations – indeed, different universes, it seems – had found paths to understand each other and reason to fight together.

Most of the organizations present were formed in the past five years by sectors of Mexican society that have been ravaged by the privatization of government tasks as imposed by the rules of the market. Their demands have been ignored and their people made into outcasts by political parties and institutional organizations and leaders, including those of the Old Left that, according to some of younger folks like Morita, they sounded like. They are at the margins. And it is through the margins and the marginalized – who together in this country and this world make for a majority of minorities – that the Zapatistas have begun to arm a kind of bomb and a corresponding explosion to come. The bomb under construction is, among other qualities, inter-generational. That is one difficult bomb to arm. But – lookey here – it is yet a more difficult one for the powerful to deactivate once it begins ticking.

At times the distance between margins and marginalized stretched the fabric of unity that was being woven here. A young spokesman for the Movimiento Humanista stood and called for a “spiritual” awakening of human beings. He also offered dozens and dozens of “nonviolent” solutions on how to fix every problem on the laundry list of issues, and spent about 20 minutes listing each and every one. But the tone, whatever claims to spirituality are made, was not one of listening but, rather, of announcing the group’s solutions to every other sector’s problems, before even hearing what the members of those sectors had to say. His speech seemed to never end. He received one of the only rough receptions of the day. “Is he from the illuminati?” asked one young woman aloud from your correspondent’s section of the seats. Pedro Rivera, a mulatto-mestizo from the state of Oaxaca who had previously expressed a harsh critique of political parties and institutional left organizations commented from the bleachers during the presentation, “he seems to want everything except class struggle.” When the Humanist said that he’d finished his presentation, Pedro quipped, “Qué bueno!” (“That’s great!”). Behind him a member of the aforementioned Communist Party joked toward Pedro, “If you don’t support him it’s because you haven’t opened your heart enough.” (Who says commies are humorless?) Cackles ensued from some parts of the peanut gallery. The speaker then went on another five minutes speaking. When he finished, it’s not clear if the scattered applause was for the content of his remarks or because he had finally finished them. Despite the grumblings – and this is part of the Zapatista way – he was able to finish, to speak his truth, and his truth then joined with those of others to make a bigger truth.

Throughout all this hub and bub, and the delicate effort to have people of very different stripes listen and speak to each other, the Zapatista delegation – Marcos and others – listened politely in their ski masks in the afternoon jungle heat. I kept wondering – as I have for so many years now listening in this jungle – how can they do it? Those ski masks itch terribly when one sweats. But the men and women of the Zapatista committee leading this “Other Campaign” showed no visible signs of discomfort. There seems to be no end or limit to the sacrifice they are willing to make. And what of the rest of us?

All day and for much of the night, the word kept being spoken: The workers from metallurgy factories in the Pacific port of Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán took the microphone and told the history of their organizing as workers, their current strike, and the strong repression against them. They invited the Zapatistas – who’ve announced that they’re coming out so we’d better get the party started – to their factories to visit and speak with the workers. Then came an organization of small business salespersons, inviting the Zapatistas to come to the largest wholesale marketplace in Mexico City, known as La Merced.


Photo: D.R. 2005 Francisco Alvarez Quiñones
A jovial, bearded fisherman from Manzanillo, Colima got his turn. “We are struggling against very rich and important men.” He received an especially roaring applause when he cut his presentation short, allowing others to speak. (Later, Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos, after listening to more than 100 such presentations, mentioned, specifically, the desire of the out-coming Zapatista delegations to join the fishermen on their boats.)

A youngster representing 300 rebel students that were kicked out of the Politech University in Mexico City proposed that the Other Campaign follow the example of the people of Venezuela. Marcos and his masked colleagues remained poker faced through this and virtually all other presentations. The young man representing this group launched into a fire-and-brimstone oration calling for “a minimum of eight-percent” of the Gross National Product to go for free and public education. And he called for a 24-hour national general strike on September 1 – the day of President Vicente Fox’s State of the Union report – as a show of force.

The Foro Sindical Democrático (“Democratic Union Forum”) of the ISSTE (Social Security Institute for Government Workers) rose to denounce the effects of privatization of their health care and social security and pled with the Zapatistas to take up their cause. These folks are really up against the wall, seeing their health care and their pensions being slashed violently, and those workers who supply those services plunged into poverty. (At the end of the session, Marcos obliged and specifically mentioned the importance of their cause.)

More and more speakers rose to give their word. Virtually all of them adhered to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle (known in Mexico simply as the “Sexta”) and “The Other Campaign” proposed by the Zapatistas.

The Francisco Villa Popular Front – a rowdy and well-organized bunch at many political demonstrations that have taken over entire neighborhoods, sometimes by squatting private property, and which also have had leaders arrested and imprisoned, known in Mexican left circles as “The Panchos” – got their turn at the mic. Their spokesman expressed that his and other movements with strong bases in the north of the country “have always looked toward the South for inspiration… but the South has not returned to look at the North.” (They also got a specific pledge, from Marcos at the end of the weekend long session, for a Zapatista visit to the Panchos’ neighborhoods when they come out.)

Next came the workers of the Euskadi tire factories, who have fought a long battle against corrupt union bosses and the (mainly foreign) owners of their plants and went on strike in 2001. “We’ve been fired,” they announce with a smile, inviting the Zapatistas to their factory which, as a result of their struggle, is now half-owned and managed by them. They propose launching a “candidate without a party, a socialist from the left” for president. They also explain that they have formed a cooperative to replace a union that was successful enough to make its workers – all of them – management, too.

The independent teachers’ union of the state of Puebla was next: “The political parties – the PRI, the PAN and the PRD – don’t respond to our struggles.” The Frente Sindical Mexicano (Mexican Union Front), born in 1998, spoke of its failed attempts to organize the nation’s workers. “We didn’t know how,” they confessed. “Our hopes are with you (the Zapatistas) now. You are the most important thing to us.”

Then come the “Braceros,” those immigrant farm workers who from 1942 to the 1990s went to the United States to pick crops as part of a program managed by the Mexican government and allowed by the government to the North. They came back only to find that in many cases these workers never got paid for months of back-breaking work (one study counts $80 million dollars stolen from immigrant workers like them, by the Mexican government, between 1942 and 1974). “We want a country where we don’t have to cross over to the other side to find work.” (Filmmaker Arturo Lomeli of Chiapas would later note to your correspondent that this organization, too, although its demands are more than 60 years old, only formed in this young century to begin to demand that its workers be paid what they are owed. They, too, are part of something new that is happening and yet not oft reported.)

Then came José Eladio Delgado, known as Lalo, an affable man – and one of those pesky Braceros who came home unpaid but radicalized and now in the fight – from the state of Guerrero, telling the horrible story of how 22 entire towns are about to be wiped off the map by a giant hydro-electric project along the Papagayo River upstream from Acapulco. “17,000 hectares will be flooded,” he explains (that’s 42,000 acres, or 65 square miles). “Twenty-two communities will disappear. The ecology will be damaged. Less oxygen will be produced. The rare Papagayo frog species will be endangered. And, don’t forget, this is in an earthquake zone. One strong earthquake could cause chaos as it floods the city of Acapulco. All this is to generate electricity in a state that already exports more electricity than it uses.” (See this summary of the threat in English, or this one, which points the finger at the Inter-American Development Bank as the perp behind this boondoggle.)

After more Mexican Social Security workers presented on their plight, a colleague for the media workers of El Machete – a Mexican newspaper with a long and proud history dating back to the times when photographer Tina Modotti, martyred organizer Julio Antonio Melia, and muralists Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros and José Orozco agitated through its pages – stood up and said, “a newspaper or an organization is not built in a day,” and also complained that for 12 years her newspaper has sought an interview with Subcomandante Marcos but has never been granted one. (As the Zapatistas explained later in the weekend-long meeting, this is not an hour for them to speak, but, rather, to listen. In other words, the Zapatistas – we consider them Authentic Journalists, too – are conducting the interviews now.)

Later in the afternoon it was time for a two-hour break for the 500 assembled to eat and rest. Marcos stood up and deadpanned: “About the proposal for a meeting of only women. We are not in favor. Signed, Subcomandante Insurgente Pedro Infante.” The assembled howled in laughter (Infante was a comic actor and singer from the Golden Era of Mexican film whose characters often expressed similar attitudes toward the majority gender). “No,” he corrected, “of course we are in favor of that and similar things…”

Later came organizations of peasant farmers from various states of the country, more women’s groups, more neighborhood associations, more unions and workers’ organizations… One after another they spoke up. (Oh, woe to the missing Commercial Media reporters who, through their absence, missed a hundred solid story ideas.)… The International Front Against Femicide spoke in detail about the serial assassinations of hundreds of women in the border city of Juarez and their efforts to put a stop to it… A representative of an independent teacher’s organization formed in the state of Mexico in 2000 said his group now boasts 80,000 teachers “from pre-school to graduate school” and has adhered to the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign… Wendy Primavera Pantoja came all the way from the Yucatán peninsula to denounce, among other problems, the way that banker Roberto Hernández Ramírez of Banamex-Citigroup and others she considers to be “foreigners” are gobbling up land in Yucatán and aiming even for that sacred soil under the pyramid and temples of Chichén Itza… The General Strike Committee (CGH, in its Spanish initials) from the national university – supported vocally by the Zapatistas during its aforementioned 1999 and 2000 strike even after other celebrities of the left turned against them – expressed its thanks and explained the democratic process underway by which the group expects it will decide to adhere to the Sexta… The Mexico City Assembly of Neighborhood Organizations, announced its spokesperson, “adheres to the Sexta” and called for “a new constitution, as allowed by Article 39 of the Constitution which provides for a Constituent Assembly”… A spokesperson for the Cuernavaca-based peace organization Paz Morelos noted in her comments to everybody present, “Analysis isn’t only made by academics, but also by living this life… What do we need to do? Organize!”

Indeed, it occurred to your correspondent, listening to all these wonderful and varied remarks, many by inspiring social fighters, that an Army of Organizers – which is to say, a kind of bomb – is being constructed here in the Mexican Southeast. Or, better said, already existing organizers and fighters from throughout Mexico’s 31 states and its federal district are flexing their muscles and expressing their will, their necessity, to join together into such an army. As one youth from Veracruz put it: “There is nobody with the moral authority better to lead this fight than the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.”


Photo: D.R. 2005 Francisco Alvarez Quiñones
The Commercial Media appeared on Saturday morning to take Marcos’ photo and hear his opening remarks, and then left. Its mercenaries and paparazzi came again on Sunday morning to elbow each other – and a considerable number of citizen-photographers and home video makers – out of the photo angle and to record Marcos’ closing remarks for brief sound-bites on the airwaves and quotes in the written press. Indeed, Marcos had some very interesting news to announce, and we will address those items in a future report, as will other media, we are sure. But these “journalists” (with the eternal, it seems, exception of La Jornada envoy Hermann Bellinghausen, an Authentic Journalist of flesh and blood who we suspect never sleeps, and a few and proud others cut from authentic cloth, who remained day and night through the sessions) simply did not stick around to hear the meat of the day’s story: the testimonies, one after another, by inflicted citizens and their delegates who came to the same table largely unaware of each other, spoke their word, exchanged contact numbers and emails, conversed over coffee, tortillas and beans, sought and built alliances with each other, and talked frankly with the few reporters there to listen to them.

And yet these testimonies here provide only a glimpse into the breadth and depth of this national movement – last week it was 92 indigenous organizations at the microphone, the week before it was 48 political organizations of the left, next weekend more than 300 non-governmental, artistic, and cultural organizations will send delegates – being activated: a social tsunami gathering force, far off the shores of election campaigns and mass media simulation.

And those who look only to the powers from above – to the Commercial Media, to the owning-class, to its politicians and parties – will be the last to see that great wave rolling over what they mistakenly thought to be real, static and permanent. But here it comes, from an ocean of humanity that is today on a mountaintop in the Mexican Southeast, striking out toward… well… kind reader… moving toward… the unwanted and seemingly invincible impositions all around you, too.

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