In Quintana Roo, Marcos is Met by a State on the March
The Zapatista Subcomandante Listens to Local Stories of Tireless Struggle and Desire for Change
By Teo Ballvé
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign
January 17, 2006
“In the cemeteries and jails are those that fight for social justice, while in the government are the criminals,” said Delegate Zero Marcos to a meeting of sympathizers on Sunday in the city of Chetumal, capital of Quintana Roo. “It should be the other way around, and one day everything is going to flip.” Until it does, Marcos urged those in attendance “to not give up, and to keep your fights going.” Throughout the day he met with sympathizers and adherents to The Other Campaign, so that they could share with him their stories about local struggles.
In a speech later that night in La Alameda Park, his first public event outside of Chiapas in years, he zeroed in on the struggles he heard about during the day’s meetings. He told the crowd of some 700 people that he did not come here to lead the movements that have fought long and hard in the area, but to learn from them, because the Zapatistas “need their help.”
“There’s a lot of pain here,” he said, “I heard a lot of stories today about pain.” Specifically, he mentioned the pain of the Maya indigenous campesinos of Nicolás Bravo, the illegal seizure of hundreds of acres from the Chetumal ejido and the violent efforts of the state against the beachside community of a Mahahual, which is fighting against the taking of their land.
These Lands Are Not For Sale
Two campesinos (peasant farmers) from Nicolás Bravo were the first to speak with the Subcomandante in the first of two meetings, which lasted most of the day. More members of their ejido (communal lands) would have attended the meeting, but like clockwork trailers sent by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, in its Spanish initials) arrived in their town that morning to distribute food, blankets, clothing and despensas, or monetary handouts, to entice the farmers to stay put. Determined not to miss face-time with Marcos, the campesinos came to Chetumal to explain the problems faced by the people of their ejido.
The younger of the two campesinos began: “My particular worry is about the Article 27 of the Constitution that reformed agrarian issues. And here, in Quintana Roo, many ejidos have been holding meetings to see if we’ll enter into the PROCEDE (the government’s program to manage communal land privatization), and many indigenous don’t want to enter into it. And not all the ejidos are accepting the government’s proposal. So I wanted to ask you what would this project do to our community.”
Marcos explained, “Since the reform by (former President) Salinas, and then followed by Zedillo and Fox, the state has been putting an end to the ejido and communally held property… by converting it into land that can be bought and sold. And so begins the economic offensive that impoverishes the campesinos until they have nothing left other than their land. And the reform allows people to buy and sell it, but the campesinos are poor and they can’t buy, which only leaves them the option to sell. So the people sell.”
Huddled around a small table, the exchange about PROCEDE continued for more than 20 minutes: they conversed about Mexican history, land issues, the Zapatista experience and conflicts with the government. “Before, the land did not belong to those that worked it,” said Marcos, “now the situation is the same. The land is no longer for those that work it. In those years, General Emiliano Zapata rose up, now it’s our turn to fight for our lands.”
The two campesinos jumped in at times to ask questions, nodding their heads in agreement with the Delegate’s response. The old men explained that any time the community has tried to organize itself independently of the political parties, the government swoops in to put them down or to give more handouts, so that everyone keeps quiet.
“Are you Marquitos?” asked another, much older campesino. “Yes,” replied the Zapatista. “Good. Well then, for thirty years we’ve been fighting, and we’re tired. And there’s no help.” The old man began speaking about how, no matter which government is in charge, there are never any lasting changes in his community. He grew more and more frustrated as he spoke about the politicians that have solicited the community’s support. Finally it seemed that he couldn’t take it anymore, and he began fishing business-card-sized campaign propaganda out from his pocket. He angrily began throwing the cards one by one on the table before the Subcomandante as he cursed out the politicians’ names.
Land, Yes! Airplanes, No!
Indeed, land conflicts and Mexico’s decaying political parties were recurring themes. Among the most heated land conflicts of the area is a controversy over the planned expansion of the Chetumal international airport. The airport was built in the 1940s, but the displaced campesinos that lived on the ejidal lands where the airport now stands were never compensated for their farmland. Under the banner, “San Salvador Atenco marcó el camino” (“San Salvador Atenco led the way”) – in reference to the successful opposition by campesinos to the construction of an international airport outside of Mexico City – the campesinos of the Chetumal ejido are demanding compensation for the 229 hectares that were illegally seized.
After meeting with the campesinos in 2001, then-governor Joaquín Hendricks Díaz, told El Día that the airport was the centerpiece of his plans “to integrate with Belize, Guatemala and Central America, and it would accomplish the longtime aspiration of making Chetumal the strategic heart of the Mayan world.”
The implementation of Plan Puebla-Panamá (PPP) – a World Bank-funded initiative for Central America and southern Mexico – calls for the expansion of Chetumal’s airport, so the city can serve as a regional hub for tourism and trade. The move to expand the airport under the auspices of the PPP only emboldened the campesinos’ demands. “Plan Puebla-Panamá is nothing more than a perfect definition of the interests of a few foreigners in our country,” said Alvaro Marrufo, who came to speak with Marcos as a representative of the Chetumal ejido.
Marrufo told the crowd the government intends to expand and then privatize the airport and that despite the handsome profit it will surely reap from the sale the community will be left landless. “I think it’s obvious that the intention of the federal and the state government of Quintana Roo is to kick us off the land for its commercialization and future sale at a juicy profit for transnational corporations.”
Recently, the government moved to take 220 acres of land from the residential area surrounding the airport. Once again, says Marrufo, the proper proceedings were completely disregarded, and the residents were forced to take a token payment. “In an unmasked effort to take our lands, this land is being illegally commercialized by the state agency, which is the very authority that should, by law, be fighting for our rights as ejiditarios,” he added.
Fernando Cortés de Brasdefer, an archeologist that hosted Delegate Zero and the meetings in his home, commented, “The campesinos have resolved to not cede any ground on this, because they have not been paid, and until then, their fight will continue.”
“When the Government Sees Me Coming, They Close the Door”
The beachside town of Mahahual faces a similar problem. In 1979, a group of families joined together in the Asociación Hermanos Flores Magón to put up a fight against land grabs by developers as the tourist boom began to creep southward from Cancún to Chetumal. A swath of land in Mahahual was sold from beneath their feet to Isaac Hamui Abadi, a wealthy developer with ties to former governor Joaquín Hendricks Díaz. Already, Abadi has built a wall around his property to prevent Mahahual’s residents from accessing the beach near his land.
One of the Asociación’s leaders, Sergio Benjamín Carvajal Rejón, showed your correspondents a stack of letters he sent to state authorities demanding that the government step in to resolve the conflict. The stack also had a smaller number of reply letters. One reply from the state government said it was “technically” and “legally impossible” to intervene. Another letter, this one penned by Carvajal, denounces the campaign of violence and intimidation directed at members of the Asociación.
Carvajal addressed the audience of the meeting: “When you all leave,” he said nodding to the press and to the table where Marcos was sitting, “when the press is gone, when all of this is over, and everyone goes back to their houses, we’ll be left here to receive the repression that the government, political operatives or those in collusion with the government will surely hand out.”
Caravajal added that the people of Chetumal are forced to constantly face off with the government and that they need to have modes of communication or media that can alert the rest of the country and the world about the “load of reprisals, the load of injustices that the government sends our way.” One of his biggest complaints, besides the violence directed at him and his colleagues, was that the government literally shuts them out: “When they see me coming, they close the door at the public ministries as if they’re closed.”
One Door Closes, Another is Opened
In Chetumal, and the rest of Quintana Roo, Delegate Zero is being told of these and other fights that the people of this state have carried forth. Here, there is no shortage of stories for the Subcomandante, stories from and about people fighting from below and to the left. He came to this land of the Maya to carry forth the Zapatistas’ newest mission outlined in the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle:
“What we are going to do is ask you how your lives are going, your fight, your thoughts about how our country is doing and about what we can do so that they (the neoliberals) don’t defeat us. … And depending on what we hear and learn, we will construct … a national fight plan, but a plan that will, clearly, be of the left, which is to say anti-capitalist, or anti-neoliberal, or which is also to say in favor of justice, democracy and freedom for the Mexican people.”
On stage in La Alameda Park, Marcos calmly told the crowd, “We have to decide if we are going to continue with the current country that excludes us, or if we are going to build a different one. This is the other option.” And he clarified, “We did not come here to invite you to die or to kill, instead we came here to invite you to live by fighting, but no longer alone, apart from each other, so that there won’t have to be another January 1994, so that no one else will ever have to cover their face to be seen.”
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