<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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106 Hours of Listening in the Mexican Southeast

An Expanded Zapatista Movement Is On the Verge of Coming Out


By Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

September 13, 2005

For my grandmother, María Luisa Tomasini

AUTONOMOUS MUNICIPALITY OF JAVIER HERNANDEZ, CHIAPAS, MEXICO, SEPTEMBER 2005: In this sixth meeting in six weeks of the Other Campaign launched by the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, a rainbow began to form in the shape of a fist: a fist with a punch that rings in the ears.


Photo: D.R. 2005 Francisco Alvarez Quiñones
Five previous meetings grouped rebels, like fingers, in five units: political organizations as one, social organizations as another, collectives, non-governmental and artistic organizations as yet another; individuals without organizational title brought new strengths and ideas together to constitute a fourth digit in this evolutionary leap. The thumb on this hand – the left hand, the one closer to the heart, of course – consists of indigenous organizations (what the Zapatistas have called the “spinal column” of the fight to come), themselves a diverse mix of 62 ethnic groups each bringing 513 years of experience resisting impositions from above.

This past weekend all those of each of the five categories (or fingers) that couldn’t attend the previous meetings set for their genres were invited, in a second and last chance to help form this phase of the rebel Other Campaign. In this canyon between Ocosingo and San Quintin, what seemed to be a mere rainbow – one of those colorful but intangible lighthouses of the heavens that conjure dreams out of human beings and point the way to so far undiscovered treasures – took solid form. Its prismed rays agglutinated and the boundaries between “identity groups” and distinct political tendencies dissolved into one living organism with thousands of feet that will soon swarm over all that is dead and dying about electoral politics and other charades from above. There is no historic model to copy or imitate here. The path to the end of that rainbow does not yet exist. It will be tread, Zapatista style, by those who walk it.

Zapatista solidarity groups (and individuals, and entire families) from throughout Mexico came to adhere to the Sixth Declaration (“La Sexta”), to speak and to be listened to by the masked comandantes of the Zapatistas’ “Sixth Commission”: Gabriela, Rosalinda, Keli, Delia, Ofelia, Yolanda, Ana Berta, Graciela, Gabino, Gustavo, Eduardo, Simón, Masho, Omar, Pablo… and their (and our) Subcomandante-spokesman Marcos, with his pipe dangling from his mouth and his pen and paper in hand.

Students, teachers, Mexican immigrants that came from various United States from California to Ohio, mothers of today’s political prisoners, children of yesterday’s imprisoned and disappeared – “born,” they reminded us, “of revolutionary love” – farmer organizations, unions, abortion rights defenders, leftist think-tanks, workshops, collectives, lesbians, gays, unrepentant machos, feminists, doctors, veterinarians, artists of every hue, no small number of singers and guitarists, poets, a rooster named Penguin, a grandmother named María Luisa, architects, urban planners, anarchists, socialists, communists, small-d democrats, alternative media workers, and many others joined in this weekend’s more than 20 hours of presentations… including one proposal that came from a colleague that used the until now unheard words “journalist adherent to the Sexta,” a “Proposal to Plant and Cultivate Authentic Journalism in the Other Campaign,” something about possible “scholarships of tortilla and bean” for journalists to report on the Zapatistas’ imminent forays into the Mexican Republic… but that is another story yet to be completed and to be told on another day.

The immediate task at hand is not to speak, but to listen. Here is a sample of what was heard and seen…

A Nation Reborn

One of the first organizations to present at the microphone was the Workshop of Construction of Socialism. With them came professor Alberto Hijar of the Autonomous University of Mexico (UAM) of Xochimilco in Mexico City. Hijar – a former political prisoner and survivor of the Mexican left who recently evaded yet another kind of bullet, when doctors removed from him a tumor that weighed more than ten pounds – spent a very nervous 1994 after he heard, through the media, what sounded like the voice of one of his former students emanating from the mouth of the clandestine Zapatista spokesman while the Mexican State flailed for 13 months to figure out “who was that masked man?” Then, as always (including back in the 1970s when he was tortured), he never gave anybody up. Hijar was on his feet, smiling, and evidently of good health, while a spokesman for his Workshop told the assembled, “the Zapatista slogan of ‘Freedom! Justice! Democracy!’ also defines certain limits.” The group called for a more elaborate platform that includes positions on protecting the public water supplies, biodiversity, natural resources and health care from the onslaught of privatization and sale to foreigners and other wealthy interests.

Next came the students of the national university in Chiapas (UNACH), many of whom have to work their way through college: “We’d like to speak of our experience living on the minimum wage,” They brought a guitarist and some singers that led the crowd in a chorus of “Nos Han Robado La Voz” (“They’ve Robbed Our Voice from Us”). “We no longer want,” they said, “a university that is a mechanism of control over us.”

Another UAM professor later spoke about how so much of what passes for academic investigation in this land is limited to “the unconscious application of technologies developed in other countries” to Mexican realities. He praised the creation, in Zapatista communities of Chiapas, of schools independent from government funding or meddling “as an example to be followed throughout the entire land.” (Not surprisingly, New York Times correspondent James W. McKinley – the latest nominee for King of the Planet of the Stupid People – neglected to visit any of these schools, or interview any of their students or the parents of them in his recent smear job based on a few days in just one Zapatista zone where McKinley continues to struggle with a Spanish language that he does not fully understand, not to mention the native Tzeltal tongue of the valley where he did his malicious byline toe-touch.)

One man took the microphone to note that “sixteen percent of the corn now consumed in Mexico comes from the United States, the majority of it transgenic.” He called for formation of a front to oppose its importation. A representative from the Ricardo Flores Magón Collective of Mexico City’s Tlalpan borough explained why he and his neighbors don’t find the electoral campaigns of any of the political parties appealing. “The only other option that exists for us,” he said, “is the Other Campaign.” He rattled off a list of some of the threats that the neighborhoods there now face: construction of a golf club, of housing for wealthy people, and other projects that threaten “to expel us from our lands.” He, like most speakers, invited the Zapatista’s Sixth Commission to visit these areas when they come out of the jungle in the national Other Campaign to listen to and learn from the simple and humble people who struggle.

A common theme was voiced again and again from the same microphone. In a word: Nation. A significant and growing sector of Mexican society – like many from other lands, too – is just plain tired of the impositions from outside and from above. Nationalism – in its best anti-authoritarian and non-racist form – is on the rebound in the land of the Eagle and the Snake. Let’s take a look at a few more colors of this rainbow and watch it materialize into practical form…

Sexta Appeal

Jalisco-born and Chiapas-emigrated Gustavo Pérez Basulto, who had listened patiently at all the previous five meetings in this series (and who drove the Narco News team back and forth), after reading a brief quote from Noam Chomsky about the Zapatistas’ potential to “change the history of the world,” came armed with various proposals. Recalling how in the 2001 Zapatista Caravan to Mexico City the Mexican rebels utilized an Italian solidarity group, the “Monos Blancos” or “White Monkeys” (who wore white overalls) to form human security belts around 24 rebel delegates, Pérez suggested that in place of White Monkeys from another country the Zapatistas convene brown-skinned “Saraguatos” (a native species of Howler Monkeys) to do the job of protecting them. His proposal was roundly applauded and cheered. Pérez spoke as a landscape architect who wants to “materialize the utopian vision in the real world” through “bio-architecture using organic materials.” In that light he presented some economic development proposals that ranged from building greenhouses of exotic flowers to planting orchards of exotic fruits, to reforestation of rare hardwoods in the Lacandon Jungle, to the production of pure bottled water from the Blue Mountains region of the state, and “the rescue of ancient medicines” that could be implemented to provide jobs and resources for those in the struggle.


Gustavo Pérez Basulto
Photo: D.R. 2005 Francisco Alvarez Quiñones
But it was perhaps his next and final point – “an 11th hour proposal that I just thought of” – that will probably mark his testimony for years to come. Citing a recent report in La Jornada titled “80-percent of rural Mexican women suffer without orgasms,” Pérez decried it as a national disgrace. “Maybe we need some kind of ‘Zapa-Sutra’ manual so the men can learn how to properly respect the women,” he commented to a mix of guffaws, shock, and particularly strong applause from many women present. “With humor we can conquer all, but seriously, boys, get to work!”

“Revolutionary love” was also mentioned in the next presentation, by women and men of the international organization HIJOS – the sons and daughters of rebels assassinated, imprisoned and disappeared in particular during the wave of South American military dictatorships of the 1970s – many of whom from Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and elsewhere found refuge in a Mexico more open than it is today to receive those persecuted in other lands. “State terrorism,” said one, “still happens,” listing the various massacres and assassinations of social leaders and activists in recent Mexican history. “We were born of revolutionary love,” they said. “And we recognize in Zapatismo the struggle of our parents.”

A women’s network later gave a multi-voiced presentation with concrete proposals for the other campaign: “One, we want to meet first among women. Two, there we will create an action plan. Three, then we will meet with the men to talk about gender. Four, we see how they can take action with the women. And five: That we embark on a caravan to Ciudad Juárez with Zapatista women to show the women murdered and threatened there that they are not alone.”

The women explained that “governors, legislators, and political party officials will not be invited to participate,” and that they would like the caravan to leave from Mexico City on November 1st (the national Day of the Dead).


Presentation from “Abortion Without Shame”
Photo: D.R. 2005 Francisco Alvarez Quiñones
The next presentation came from a woman from the state of Morelos from the organization “Abortion Without Shame.” In this country where abortion is still illegal (with the exception of the state of Yucatán) she explained her own story as the mother of three – ages ten, eight and five – with her husband, a gardener that earns 800 pesos (about $75 dollars) a week. “It’s a lie that two can eat as cheaply as three,” she said, explaining how children suffer most when there are more mouths to feed than there is food on the table. “But in my state the doctor can be punished by a year in prison for practicing an abortion, and the woman patient is punished with two years in prison. Women with money can go to a clinic and do it expensively with no risk. But the poor women have no such option. This is called social injustice. Therefore, we propose to put the word abortion on the table.” (The Zapatista Women’s law, made public in January 1994, states that, “married women have the right to use family planning methods – natural or artificial – whichever they decide,” and that, the man “has to agree with her decision,” but it does not mention abortion explicitly.)

One man read aloud a letter to his goddaughter: “It is for you that I adhere to the Sexta.” A teenager from the city of Nezahaulcóyotl took the mic to say that his whole family had come together to this meeting although they did not belong to any organization. A father and (about five-year old) son team came from the mountains of Veracruz. “You can see our house from Orizaba peak,” said Adolfo Figueroa, Jr. The human touch of real people infused this meeting as it did last week’s. And this had a humanizing impact on more experienced political organizers, too.


Erasto Molina
Photo: D.R. 2005 Francisco Alvarez Quiñones
Erasto Molina, the grandson of the legendary Chiapaneco farmworkers’ organizer Erasto Urbina, donated a portfolio of photos to the Zapatista Commission; some taken by him, others of “my grandfather.” A longtime friend of Narco News, Molina was a 20-something organizer in Amado Avendaño’s 1994 Zapatista-supported rebel campaign for governor of Chiapas (see The Last Interview, Narco News, April 2004). In the late 90s, he was the go-to guy at the NGO Enlace Civil, training foreign observers to live in Zapatista communities. “My grandfather died very disillusioned” with electoral politics, lamented Erasto the grandson (who, it has long impressed this correspondent, carried the same charisma and stigmata of born leadership, or, as Gandhi said upon meeting Nehru, “he has the devil’s own charm!”). “I was born in Mexico City during the student movement of 1968 amidst all the paranoia and repression. My politics were formed in the street, as a child and ambulant salesman.”

Molina spoke of his recent opportunities, as an established painter and artist, to travel abroad, including to Palestine, “where I realized that we Mexicans are, as a culture, very Western.” In the spirit of the aforementioned Gandhi, he devoted his presentation – using charts, visual aids and props like a cacao bean – to the theme of micro-economics regarding food, nutrition and medicine. He proposed the formation of “non-profit economic bartering circles” nationwide as part of the Other Campaign.

“América Is Right Here!”

One of the longest – but worthwhile – presentations was made collectively by a network of Mexicans who live and work, or once did, in the United States, under the banner of a group named Braceroproa, and calling its effort “La Otra Campaña en el Otro Lado” (“The Other Campaign on the Other Side”). Emceed along by Rosa Martha Zarate Macías, born in Guanajuato, now of Colton, California (who animated the presentations by intervening in song with her lilting Mariachi-style voice and brief excerpts from her uplifting protest songs), she began by pronouncing: “From here on out, this political border doesn’t exist between us.”

Her organization, the Bi-National Braceroproa Alliance, is one of two large organizations advocating for the thousands of Mexicans – known as “Braceros” – who, between 1942 and the 1990s, picked crops in the United States as part of a joint governmental program, but who, upon return, saw their wages stolen by the Mexican state. One of them, an 81-year-old man named Livorio, noted that “I have only five centavos in my pocket but I came here nonetheless.” He spoke of his and his family’s long suffering economic struggles. A younger woman, Melody González, a United States-born daughter of parents from Michoacan, spoke of those “who were forced off their lands and had to go to the North to find work.” Juan Antonio Zuñiga, a 50-something U.S. military veteran, decried the current Bush war and explained, “I am a clear example of slavery, of Mexicans who joined the U.S. Army.” He begs the youth to listen to him, and to not enlist in the Armed Forces of the North. “América is Chiapas. América is México, is Argentina… not the United States. The American Dream is right here!”

Not to be unexpected, there was a slight tint of gringo activist-style turf war in the presentation. The Braceroproa group was under the impression that the distinct network of Braceros that came to the August meeting of social organizations here in this jungle had badmouthed them, and returned the favor. (At the end of this weekend’s session, Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos began his closing presentation by addressing this organization: “Nobody spoke badly of you at the social organizations meeting, at least not in front of us.” In other words, here on Zapatista lands, check your internecine rivalries at the door, please.)

Soon up was a young bespectacled man from the Citizen Defense Committee of Oaxaca, specifically from that state’s northern border region with Veracruz, where the Chinanteco indigenous ethnic group is plentiful. He spoke of the revolutionary duty of self-criticism. “As social organizations,” he said, “we also have vices: opportunism and the rest of the practices of the political class. In Oaxaca, the fight to free political prisoners too often gets reduced to a kind of ‘banner-ism’ in which groups negotiate other things than the freedom of the prisoners with the state.” He proposes “a more self-critical process” in the Zapatista Other Campaign. “Governments use our divisions, our weaknesses, against us,” he said. “They combine the politics of co-optation with the politics of repression to defeat us.”

One of the most moving presentations for this correspondent came from a man from the Southeastern Gulf state of Tabasco. “I feel very small,” he said, noting that his Colectivo Corazón (“Heart Collective”) counts with just four members. “I’m already a little bit old, and after listening to everybody here, I see how much needs to be done.” His organization works in the communities of the indigenous Chol and Chontal ethnic groups, giving workshops against a Mexican social program named Procede (which hands out about 250 pesos or $25 dollars a month to peasant farmers, often abusing the program by channeling its access through political party operatives) and against Plan Puebla Panama, the “dry canal” of various highway routes under construction to loot the last agricultural and natural resources from Southern Mexico and Central America.

“In the 1940s,” he recounted, “banana production was stopped and our lands were turned into cattle ranches. In the 1960s, oil was discovered and now we Tabasqueños live in a state that is totally devastated environmentally. Corn isn’t planted anymore because the land already won’t produce it. Our marshlands are being covered by mega-projects, big hotels to offer mojarra and tengoyaca fish to wealthy tourists.”

He tells his own story of struggle and sacrifice. “In 2001, as retaliation for a campaign we organized to bring supplies to the Zapatista Caravan, my house was burned down. My six-year-old daughter suffered first-degree burns disfiguring her face,” he told the now hushed crowd. “I admit I was scared. I was terrified and terrorized. But over time I realized that we were right. My daughter is now 11. She sends a hug, a salute and a kiss. Her facial wounds, maybe, will continue to heal.” With this, he adhered to the Sexta and entered the Other Campaign.

Then came a former Zapatista political prisoner from the paramilitary-infested Northern Chiapas town of Tila who had served two years in the prison in Yajalon, Chiapas, and then two more after he was moved to a jail in neighboring Tabasco. “When I got out of jail my town supported me a lot. I’m someone who never got farther in school than junior high school, and I have already served a sentence for a crime I never committed, but I’m not giving up because I know that we are not alone.”

It was just five nights before all of Mexico would again, for the 195th time, celebrate its declaration of independence from Spain through the “Grito de Dolores” (“the cry of pain”) by shouting from every town and city square, “Viva México!” Almost two centuries later, as one hears from these stories told by simple and humble people who struggle, the pain caused by being imposed upon from above is still omnipresent.

But here over the past six weeks, we have not just heard cries of pain, but also of new ideas, of ways to fight, and we have seen the melting of walls between demographic “identity groups,” between individuals and organizations, between indigenous and not, between young and old, between women and men, between heterosexuals and others, between sectarians with tendencies to hide inside groups out of “fear of the other” but that have come here out of an at least subconscious, often conscious, desire to leave fear behind and join with that often misunderstood, sometimes frightening, other.

There comes a moment in all such revolutionary processes when the disparate forces become one force. Sometimes it occurs with a cry of pain. Other times with the ringing of a bell… A sound… A word… A turning point…

This time it came with a song accompanied by an uncommon – but maybe soon to be more common? – type of rhythm section: the grating but glorious sound of machete swords colliding…

“We Have No Other Path But to Walk Together!”

Adriana López Monjardín, the assistant editor of Rebeldía magazine, in her tireless role as meeting EmCee, called up the next group in line to speak: the citizens of Atenco.


Cayo Vicente
Photo: D.R. 2005 Francisco Alvarez Quiñones
San Salvador Atenco, in the state of Mexico surrounding Mexico City, is the land where peasant farmers in 2002 put a halt to the national government’s plan to take their lands and build an international airport. (Last month, to celebrate the third anniversary of the triumph, in the Salón Chingón Cinema of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, we opened the world Internet premier of the documentary movie about this struggle: “Tierra Sí! ¡Aviones No!” (“Land, Yes! Airplanes, No!”) directed by Atenco movement participants Adan Xicohtencatl and Constantino Miranda, and produced by J-School graduate Gregory Berger, in case, kind reader, you would like to know more about, or relive, this seminal victorious struggle.)

From the back of the makeshift assembly hall under a gigantic tarp came the campesinos of Atenco, machetes raised high into the air, with folksinger Cayo Vicente (like the protest songs of the late Woody Guthrie, Vicente’s songs are formed from the front lines of people’s struggles). As he led all in a rousing sing-a-long of “Labradores de mi patria” (“Laborers of my Homeland”), with a chorus of “sin maíz no hay país” (“without corn there is no country”) the veterans of the Atenco fight banged their sharp steel machetes against one another: work tools that are weapons and are also drums:

Del campo viene un tremor,
i la tierra no espera más! :
produces lo que te comes
o estas perdiendo tu libertad.
Forjamos nuestro destino
o esclavos somos…
decide ya.

Por que sin maiz, no hay país….

¡Juntemos todas las alas,
mi canción, sola, no vuela!

Vamos rompiendo cadenas,
destrocemos todo miedo,
que nuestros pasos caminen
por noble y justo sendero.

Que escuche el terrateniente
y los criados del imperio,
sépalo el yanky asesino
que su poder no es eterno.

Con Dignidad Y Esperanza
mi pueblo ya se levanta,
con su paso de gigantes
está pariendo la Patria.

¡Juntemos todos los puños,
mi canción, sola, no basta!

Por que sin maiz no hay pais…

Which translates as…

From the farmlands come an earthquake
The earth can wait no more
Produce what you eat
Or you are losing your freedom
We sculpt our destiny
Or slaves is what we are
Decide already! Because…

Without corn, there is no country…

Join our wings together
My song, alone, won’t fly…

Let’s go breaking chains
We’ll destroy all fear
So that our steps walk
A noble and just path

May the plantation owner listen
And the spoiled brats of the empire
May the Yankee assassin know
That his power is not eternal

With dignity and hope
My people have already risen
With its giant steps
It is shaking the country

Join all fists together
My song, alone, is not enough

Without corn, there is no country…

The crowd rose to its feet, clapped and sang: there were no longer a thousand disparate voices, but one voice. The machetes collided near eyes and ears and faces and yet with precision and not a drop of blood spilt: there is, after all, a class that knows how to use a weapon as a work tool and also as a drum. As the song ended, Nacho del Valle, one of the grand strategists and fighters of the Atenco battles, spoke and synthesized so much of what has occurred here over six weeks.


People of Atenco, machetes in the air
Photo: D.R. 2005 Francisco Alvarez Quiñones
“We all have differences,” he said. “We should have them, because we come from different circumstances. But we have no other path than to walk together.”

He then introduced the small marketplace vendors that the government is trying to expel from their posts at the Wholesale Market of Ecatepec, in the state of Mexico, known as “La Pulga” or “The Flea Market.” Nacho handed them the microphone and they told their story: of how three weeks ago, on August 18, the government sent 300 police with a judge’s order to evict them. “We did not move” they announced. And the cops backed down.

They invited the Zapatistas and everybody else to come to La Pulga and listen to them, to hear the details of their struggle.

From the perspective of your correspondent, this was the agglutinating message: We all have our differences. So what? Let’s go!

And this is the story about how a left hand of a nation and of a planet was made out of a hazy rainbow of dream, and how it is closing into a fist.

Later this week, in the Zapatista regional capital of La Garrucha, along this same muddy mountain trail, to the cry of pain of “Viva México!”, the grand plenary session will begin where the many and varied adherents to the Sexta will decide, together with the masked rebels, and with live Internet participation for those who cannot be there (stay tuned for details), where and how this fist will begin to punch.

It is a punch that rings in the ears, for it strikes its blow every time it opens a space for authentic listening to occur. The afflicted are learning from each other a new way to fight. For every time a space is cleared for the people to be heard, a punch is landed against those who rule by imposing silence and marginalizing speech. And yes, kind reader, even some who call ourselves authentic journalists have long been on the side that gets punched, on the side of the afflicted. We have our own grievances, we have our own cry of pain, too, but after listening as hard as we can to others like us who struggle, we see the hour drawing closer to that when we will deliver punches of our own – with a mighty left hook that comes from below: ¡Ojo! – for freedom, for justice and for democracy, for the duty to hear and the right to be heard. Mexico and the Zapatistas continue to teach even journalists, too, how to fight from below. ¡Viva Mexico!

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