|English | Español||May 24, 2017 | Issue #41|
Marcos in Zapata’s Morelos: “Democracy, Liberty and Justice, but This Time for Those from Below”
Repression and Death Continue in the Cradle of the Mexican Revolution, but So Does the Popular Struggle
By Bertha Rodríguez Santos
Photo: D.R. 2006 Yael Gerson Ugalde
On April 9, the comuneros (peasant farmers who work their land communally) of Tlalnepantla spoke of the harsh repression they have suffered for decades but which has intensified in the last two years due to their demand that the state government respect their traditional ways of electing representatives. These practices are known in Spanish as usos y costumbres, or “customs.”
Raymundo Pacheco, one of the members of the communal leadership, explained that elections for mayor were held in 2003 under the imposition of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI in its Spanish initials), ignoring the will of the citizens who until then had named their representatives through assemblies.
As expected, PRI candidate Elías Osorio Torres came out the “winner” of these elections. The community opposed this and began to demonstrate for their right to continue their practice of usos y costumbres. Amid fierce protests, the townspeople occupied the town hall and forced the mayor to resign.
On November 26, 2003, they held a protest march and blocked a highway. At that point, say the comuneros, the police arrested 60 people and several were injured. This was when Felipe Neri was murdered.
According to the peasant farmers, Morelos governor Sergio Estrada Cajigal sent in elite combat police to repress the dissenters and named José Luis González Barro as a substitute mayor.
About 200 men and women occupying the town hall were forced out during the intervention by approximately 2,000 municipal and state police. The townspeople continued their resistance and forced the authorities to abandon the government buildings and rule from a residential house.
The town remained under siege by police, and on January 13, 2004, there was “a pitched battle” between townspeople and the mayor’s supporters; Gregorio Sánchez Mercado died, murdered “by the police,” say the people.
“We all ran, to save our own skin,” said Rumualdo Espíndola, who described the terror the comuneros faced during those days when men, women and children had to hide in the hills. At times, they went for two days without eating for fear of being attacked by the police or PRI members.
Farmer Alfredo Dimas Zavala also remembers how people running into the fields were “shot at from two helicopters that belong to Governor Sergio Estrada Cajigal.”
The conflict between PRI supports and the rest of the community led to another confrontation on January 1, 2006, between the “foxes” (as the PRI’s followers are called) and the community members that the government labels as “agitators and guerrillas.”
Alfredo Dimas spoke of the poverty that touches farming families throughout Morelos, which has forced nearly 60 percent of the population to leave the state. “In many of our homes there is not enough money to feed our children, our families, because of the capitalist government.”
He reported that local comuneros formed five rural production societies, comprised of 400 nopal cactus farmers. (Nopal, or “prickly pear” cactus pedals are a popular vegetable in Mexico.) Nevertheless, in search of a market to sell their products at a fair price they have run up against middlemen and hoarders who keep the profits for themselves.
With respect to the political situation, Dimas explained: “We became agitators to demand respect for our customs.”
Daniela Camargo, a young member of the Network for Community Support of Human Rights in Morelos (RACDHM in its Spanish initials), which has accompanied the communities in their demands for justice, laid out the situation very clearly.
Taking the floor, she said that it has been “eighty-seven years since the assassination of Emiliano Zapata, who declared the Plan de Ayala to reclaim peasant land and lead the Liberation Army of the South with his slogan of ‘land and freedom.’ Forty-four years since the assassination of the driving force behind the Plan de Cerro Prieto, Rubén Jaramillo, together with his wife, Epifania Zúñiga and his sons Enrique, Filemón and Ricardo, at hands of the administration of PRI governor Adolfo López Mateos.”
Reading a communiqué, Camargo said: “It gives us great pleasure that you have arrived safely to their land, as any kind of organization is repressed, jailed or killed here. Before your arrival, our government prepared a welcome for you with intimidating police roadblocks, military movements and the activation of their network of military intelligence spies.
The people of Morelos, she said, have focused on struggling against “the laws, judges and courts that only protect the interests of the ruling class, allowing drug traffickers and gangsters to remain in power as in the case of Sergio Estrada Cajigal, (Puebla Governor) Mario Marin, and former (Mexico state governor) Arturo Montiel, among others.”
The struggle has also been against “the various police operations in the towns of Amilcingo, Huazulco, Temoac and Yautepec and the violence against trade unionists, lawyers’ groups, environmentalists such as the Civic Front for the Defense of the Casino de la Selva and the communal farmers of the town of Tetela del Monte who are fighting against the construction of a highway that would completely destroy their forests, which form one of the few natural reserves that supplies local aquifers…”
In addition, there is the “constant hostility toward environmentalists and residents who are opposed to the Teopanzolco-Ruiz Cortinez highway project, the people who have formed the Front for the Defense of Water in Cuautla; and the pollution suffered by the towns situated on the edge of open-air garbage dumps.”
She mentioned the murders of “Inocencio Pérez, assassinated for defending the communal lands of Santa Catarina; David and Juan Jiménez, for demanding democracy in Xoxocotla; Vinh Flores Laureano, killed by police in Teomac for his fight to build the “Normal Rural School”; Marcos Olmedo, for opposing the Tepoztlan Golf Club; Benjamín Medina Barrera, for defending the autonomy of Tlalnepantla; Gregorio Sánchez, for defending traditional ways of electing officials; and the murder of a woman that occurs every 48 hours in this state.” (A string of eight violent deaths of Morelos women in the past 15 days has been widely reported in the Mexican media.)
Marcos with Virginia Mercado Garrido
Photo: D.R. 2006 Nives Gobo
“I am 76 years old and I had never seen the government come in here by force. The mayor came in around one o’clock in the morning, killing and spilling blood… We waited for him here all day and night with clubs because we are poor and have no guns.”
After declaring that the “foxes” killed her son — for which the government rewarded them with new trucks — the old woman asked Subcomandante Marcos for help.
Soon, overcome perhaps by the weight of her pain, she asked for the Zapatista spokesman’s help as she fell into his arms, her tears falling onto his worn-out rebel uniform.
Later, the event’s host remarked that the government offered Virginia Mercado a check for 2,400,000 pesos ($215,000 dollars) as compensation for the death of her son, but later gave her only 1,600,000 ($145,000).
Many other peasant farmers spoke of the total ruin in the Mexican countryside. Everything they plant, from corn, grains and cereals to fruits and vegetables, has lost its market value.
A man of the plow, Sereno Osorio Lizalde was more direct as he spoke of the opportunities many Mexicans have missed: “If we farmers have so much strength together,” he said, we shouldn’t supply the country’s centers of consumption. “We have the solution in our hands but we campesinos maintain this entire bureaucracy.”
On April 8, in the community of Ocotlán, Marcos came to know the experience of the self-government that the people in that Morelos town — where the police must ask permission to enter — have been building through popular assemblies.
Here, the voices of the peasant farmers were clear: “we are going to give our lives if necessary to defend our town.”
Residents of the city of Cuernavaca, once known as the City of Eternal Spring, said that now they call Cuernavaca “Pemex City” because it is filled with gas stations built with no regard to the risk they pose to neighbors.
The people of Morelos warned that they will fight “bare-fisted” on these issues.
For more than four hours, Delegate Zero listened to the people in Tlalnepantla, “people of beautiful words” who are descended from the Aztecs, speak about their experiences as cooperativists, organizers of neighborhoods that live in extreme poverty, and defenders of the land, such as those that presented the struggle of the farmers of Comalco, a community affected by the new “21st Century Highway” being built.
The Comalco farmers accuse local agrarian authorities of “negotiating the sale, for 23 pesos ($2) per meter, of these lands without taking the farmers into account… We are firm in our opposition to selling our land to these thieves. The price they offer is an insult to the blood our mothers and fathers shed. Our land is not for sale and has no price.”
Another story was told of how “Javier Rea Morales was riddled with bullets for having opposed a 70-peso-per-month payment for using his land.”
Addressing those present, Marcos questioned the capitalist system, in which woman are as objects of violence, aggression and scorn to the point of murder, where Indian peoples are seen as quaint folk objects that exist to satisfy tourists’ curiosity, where children live in complete abandonment and where young people are persecuted as if how they thought, dressed and acted were a crime.
He said that the Other Campaign’s interest in encountering other struggles that exist in this country lies in learning from those experiences. Responding to questions on what would happen if a popular movement were consolidated, he said: “We speak of rebellion for this simple reason: the moment will come to ask whether this is a revolution or not. For this to be a revolution, there will need to be support from political organizations on the left, the workers’ movement, the peasant farmers’ movement, and all of us who are the Other Campaign. It will not be a decision by someone who is classifying what is reformist and what is revolutionary. When the movement comes and we are faced with the throne of power, we Zapatistas will do the same thing that our general and chief, Emiliano Zapata, did: turn around and return to the mountains and to what we are — the guardians of the night, the watchmen of the shadows. We will go back to being the guerrillas we are, to wait for the day in which we must rise up again, to remake this country again. We do not struggle for power. We repeat this again and again. We have come that far, but the time is also going to come when we are going to have to ask this question, and all of us who make up the Other Campaign will participate; fundamentally, the entire Mexican people. That people that everyone claims to represent and lead and which no one, until today with the Other Campaign, had bothered to listen to…”
Marcos answered questions about why he had waited until now to do his tour: “It is now that we feel ready to see this through to the end… to its ultimate consequences, whether or not anyone supports us…”
The struggle, he said later in Tlalnepantla, will be waged through a civil and peaceful movement until there is Democracy, Liberty and Justice in our country.”
He predicted that in these lands of Morelos, the Zapatista spirit the people carry with them will rise again, and be followed by all the people who have dignity in this country. “We are going to raise up another country, where there is Democracy, Liberty and Justice, but this time for the people from below.”
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism