|English | Español||January 17, 2017 | Issue #41|
Marcos in Guerrero: “Now We Have Found the People We Were Looking For”
Amid Both the Kindness and Toughness of the Guerrerense People, the Zapatista Rebel Travels Through the State’s Mountains and Pacific Coast
By Bertha Rodríguez Santos
Delegate Zero in Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero
Photo: D.R. 2006 Enlace Zapatista
The Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI in its Spanish initials) imposition of local political bosses (“caciques”), repression, and the lack of democracy led rural educator Genaro Vásquez Rojas to found the Guerrero Civic Association in 1959. The group would become the National Revolutionary Civic Association (ACNR) ten years later, setting off an armed struggle in response to the massacres of Chilpancingo, in 1960, and here in Iguala, in 1962.
The repressive conditions and misery in Guerrero moved another rural schoolteacher, Lucio Cabañas Barrientos, to join the Movement of Revolutionary Teachers in 1964. Three years later, he led the armed struggle in the hills with the formation of the Peasants’ Justice Brigade. The creation of the Poor Peoples’ Party (PDLP) extended these activities into the cities. During this period, the most notable armed clashes occurred in 1967, 1972 and 1974, the latter being the year that Lucio Cabañas died in battle.
Today, these guerrilla leaders’ struggle is very present among the peasant population, the teachers and students. At the same time, the most recent massacres — such as the bloodbath at Aguas Blancas on June 28, 1995, where Judicial Police agents murdered 17 peasant farmers accused of belonging to the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), and the massacre of 11 indigenous people and one National Autonomous University of Mexico student on June 7, 1998 in El Charco — represent a wound that still bleeds.
In this context, history is still moving here in Guerrero and throughout Mexico. Amid an atmosphere of tension — the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) had threatened to move equipment and personnel onto the land targeted for the Parota hydroelectric dam project and to remove protesters who have occupied the zone with camps at five strategic points, thus expropriating thousands of acres of land from these peasant farmers — the visit from Marcos, “Delegate Zero” and representative of the Sixth Commission of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), turned out to be one of the most significant events for the national liberation movement that the Other Campaign is promoting.
For the hundreds of members of members of the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to the Parota Dam (CECOP) who met with Delegate Zero in the town of Agua Caliente, where thousands of people oppose the dam construction, Marcos’ visit was a pivotal moment as well.
Since before Subcomandante Marcos’ arrival, the dam’s opponents were already speaking of how to stop it, as the CECOP manifesto read to Marcos during his visit indicates. Nevertheless, as the dissidents themselves recognized, the presence of the Other Campaign would give “the last little push” needed to topple the project.
After Delegate Zero’s warnings that an attack on the communities that have rejected the project would be taken as an aggression against the EZLN, the state and federal governments demonstrated their desperation through statements by Zeferino Torreblanca — the state governor from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), who denied any military intervention was planned and accused Marcos of being “bellicose” in his statements — and from the Vicente Fox administration, via indigenous affairs secretary Xochitl Gálvez.
One day after Marcos’ visit, according to the Mexican daily La Jornada, the CFE announced that it would suspend construction of the dam in La Parota and move the project to Yescas, located between the states of Nayarit and Jalisco.
Although the dam construction is officially “postponed,” the peasant farmers say they will remain alert and ready to defend their land and resources, “even with our lives if necessary.”
After an exhausting trip down a long dusty and windy unpaved road, the Other Campaign and its accompanying caravan arrived in the village of El Charco, part of the municipality of Ayutla de los Libres, on April 17. Here, the massacre perpetrated by Mexican army troops in 1998 is still fresh in the community’s memory.
A bit behind schedule due to the difficulties the caravan vehicles faced climbing the steep mountain roads, the Other Journalism road team collected testimonies from several speakers.
Erika Zamora, one of the survivors of the El Charco massacre, said that since the slaughter committed by the Mexican army there has been an increase in selective killings, secret forced sterilization of indigenous women and various other violations on the part of the soldiers in the area.
Efrén Cortés, another one of the survivors, described the scene of the massacre: “The majority of the eleven people were killed, some of them dumped there under that basketball hoop” (he pointed toward the basketball court near where the group was meeting). “That is what they train the army to do; to kill. They made fun of our compañeros as they were standing there with their hands up, ‘because you’re all guerrillas,’ ‘we’re going to kill you for being Indians,’ the bastards shouted,” he said, and then pointed toward other sites where farmers were murdered in cold blood.
The residents of El Charco, which include indigenous Mixtecs, M’ephaas and Tlapanecos, said that they are tired of government repression, of the militarization of the region and the rapes of indigenous women, such as occurred in Barranca Tecuani, Barranca Guadalupe and Barranca Bejuco (among the victims was Inés Valentina, an indigenous woman from the area).
The people here consider these conditions to be part of a low-intensity war waged by the state and federal governments.
“They don’t just want to get rid of nature here, they want to get rid of the communities as well,” said one of the participants. He said he felt the federal government was seeking to exterminate the indigenous who resist their repressive policies.
When his time came to speak, Marcos said that the governments have us trapped between two fears: “The fear of dying in poverty and the fear of dying if we rebel.”
He explained that the scorn the government and the rich show toward the indigenous exists because “we disgust them; because we are dark-skinned they despise us… They are humiliating us, laughing at us, ‘fucking Indian,’ they say, ‘slackers,’ ‘sluggards,’ ‘the indigenous man is poor because he never works.’”
“Let’s see them come and work from sunrise to sunset. They are there in their big houses, palaces, hotels… They fixate themselves on the trees, the water and the land, which they see as a commodity that they can sell… They want to destroy us to sell the land,” he added.
He said that the Spanish arrived to Mexican lands to impose their domain, and now the powerful do the same thing using the political parties. Right now, Mexicans often have to go to the United States to find work, and there are entire villages of nothing but young children and elderly people. Of those that leave, “we don’t know if they are alive or dead… just as if there were a war going on.”
The Zapatista delegate compared the history of the indigenous people’s suffering with the rest of the population’s history of pain, without distinction as to race or skin color.
He spoke sarcastically of former governor René Juárez Cisneros, who then-president Ernesto Zedillo called “my spoiled negro,” due to his dark skin. Marcos reminded that the ex-governor now lives in opulence, “so it is not all about one’s color,” he concluded.
“We, as people who have been screwed, have the same history,” he said, and contemplated the fact that this resistance struggle does not just belong to those who are the “color of the earth,” but is rather a struggle of all different colors. “There are güeros (whites) who are also in struggle,” he said.
“It is the rich man who commands the army, who sends people in here to perform sterilizations,” the rebel said. Reflecting on the fact that those who hold power are few while we, the ones who get screwed, are many, Marcos called upon those present to join forces and make one single uprising, not separate ones.
The paved highway pierces into the hills of this colorful land like a giant serpent; the various trees are a giant gift whose branches rock in the fresh breeze.
The little houses look indifferent, sharing space with plum tries and the enormous roots of trees of other, unknown species. Outside of the houses, sometimes right up against the doors, the indigenous women, busy embroidering, take in some fresh air while small groups of young people spiritedly chat.
As always, we try to arrive before the caravan that accompanies Delegate Zero, which sometimes allows us to get to know the local struggles a bit better and interview the people of the community. It also lets us avoid getting trapped in the caravan’s confusion and chaos.
On April 17, after two hours traveling down the Costa Chica, passing through San Marcos, Copala, Marquelia, Ometepec and other small towns, we arrived in the “place of the flowers,” as the Aztecs called this village now known as Xochitlahuaca, or Suljaá in the Amuzgo language.
On the main street, a large group of indigenous people was waiting for Marcos. Two old men among a group dressed in ponchos and huarache sandals held a violin and a guitar. The women wore white huipil blouses with flower patterns, some breast-feeding their babies, others looking shy and expectant. Their presence is so subtle that it only attracts looks from visitors for the striking beauty of their black hair and colorful dresses.
When Marcos stepped out of his vehicle, joy could be seen on the faces of everyone present. Two older women ran to embrace him. Time seemed to stop, as if we had been pushed back into an ancestral Mexico. Doña Florentina López, a small and friendly woman, grinned widely; Marcos put his left arm on her shoulder and they walked together, accompanied by the bare feet of the indigenous people and sudden cries of “Viva EZLN!”
As they walked, Marcos held the woman with such tenderness that some were nearly moved to tears (the insurgent subcomandante walked as if taking care of a fragile being he did not want to see hurt; as if she, a stranger, were someone very beloved to him).
The music of a violin accompanied the brief march to a chapel, where Marcos gave thanks for the indigenous hospitality. Later, the traditional authorities and other residents of the community would expound upon the history of the looting of their lands.
Evangelina Domínguez of Radio Ñomndaá, “The Voice of the Water,” reported that two years ago her community radio station began broadcasting with the goal of spreading the culture of the indigenous peoples, “to know our suffering, our way of life, and to cheer up people’s homes.”
Speaking of the privileges that the government has given to the media monopolies in Mexico (especially the recently approved Federal Radio and Television Law, also known as the “Televisa http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Televisa Law,” which according to community radio workers puts them at greater risk of being shut down), the young woman quipped: “Now it turns out that we are criminals for broadcasting our word and our songs.”
“With a nod from the president,” she added, “the congressmen and senators want to please and impress the rich… they want to show off to the owners of Televisa, TV Azteca and Telmex, who control the advertising space they need for their political campaigns.”
As indigenous people, she said, the communities here have the right to benefit from all the resources on their land, including the radio waves, as these “belong to everyone, and no one can sell them just to get rich.”
“They can’t forbid us from drinking the water, from breathing the air… or from sending out our clear, free and true word, the word of the people,” she concluded.
Members of the Rebeldía Collective, from Suljaá, also denounced the government’s imposition of government officials, undermining the strength of traditional authorities named through the system of usos y costumbres (the custom of holding town assemblies in which the people decide who to trust with positions of authority).
Now, they complain, “with the arrival of the political parties, the government has turned politics into a business that they invest in but that the citizens pay dearly for.” For that reason, he said, it is necessary to win autonomy for local communities.
After presenting a summary of what he considers the government’s betrayal in not carrying out the San Andres Accords on indigenous rights and culture — whose essence was summed up in the Law of the Commission on Peace and Harmony (COCOPA) that was voted down by legislators from all the political parties — Marcos put forward the idea that the “new Mexico” the Other Campaign’s liberation movement will build “has to have a place for the indigenous peoples… They must be respected, or it is not going to work.”
He reminded the crowed that on May 5 and 6, in the town of San Pedro Atlapulco, Ocoyoacac municipality, Mexico state, the Forth Indigenous National Congress will be held, where a national plan will be agreed upon to exercise the rights of the indigenous peoples.
In front of the leaders and comandantes of the Community Police, more than 100 members of this popular security organization presented arms to Insurgent Subcomandante Marcos upon his arrival in the community of Santa Cruz El Rincón, on April 18.
Dressed in worn-out green and black uniforms and huarache sandals, officers of the Community Police, carrying their rifles, formed 26 columns of four men each throughout their presence at the meeting.
After saluting the flag and singing the national anthem in the M’ephaa language (sometimes called Tlapaneco), and after Abad Flores Herrera, the local communal lands commissioner, welcomed the members of the Other Campaign, Community Police Executive Committee Commander Florentino Gacía reported that the group now includes 612 police officers organized into 59 groups. Each group is responsible for a single community in the municipalities of San Luis Acatlán, Malinaltepec, Metlatonoc, Marquelia, Iliatenco, Cochoapa el Grande, Atlamajalcingo del Monte and Tlapa de Comonfort.
The townspeople told of how, just before 1995 (the year the Community Police was founded), they began to face a wave of muggings, rapes and burglaries committed by some of their neighbors. The victims solicited help from the municipal authorities, but never got any response. In fact, sometimes the residents of the community would capture criminals and turn them into the authorities, only to see them released. So, they decided it would be better to form self-defense groups.
The people chose the bravest and most honest members of the community, commented Catalina García Castillo, an indigenous woman who spoke of all the suffering her town has endured. Taking into account all the different experiences in the community, she came to the conclusion that “we don’t need more guns, because a good organization of men and women has the strength of the people… We don’t need the government’s guns to defend ourselves.”
These peasant farmers’ struggle cost them several lives. Nevertheless, the indigenous say of the fallen that “we no longer see their faces, but in spirit they are alive.”
Accompanied by 13 representatives of the Regional Council of Community Authorities, active comandantes and former members of the Community Police who sat behind a long table, Marcos introduced himself as the military chief of the EZLN’s officers and troops, and concluded that what had been done in El Rincón in response to crime is the same thing that must be done at a national level against “the bunch of criminals and rapists” that govern the country.
Near the mid-point of the Other Campaign’s tour, on April 19, representatives of Tlachinollan, the La Montaña Human Rights Center, presented Marcos with a list of offenses that had been committed against the region’s indigenous population.
“The word of the Naa Savi, M’ephaa and Nahua people of La Montaña has been the sacred word makes the corn and the flowers sprout in our land; it is the word of respect that forges the life of this community… This word has been repressed and silenced by political bosses… stigmatized and criminalized by racist governments, domesticated and subordinated by imposter governments that, with their ‘indigenous policies,’ have sought the destruction of our people.”
They criticized the judicial system as a “whip of the oppressors that is used to hurt us, to extort us, to criminalize us.”
Despite the fact that the Balsas River provides water throughout the area, the residents condemned the fact that the government denies them the right to drinkable water. They also rejected Vicente Fox’s policy of delaying any solution to agrarian conflicts.
“Our people continue to be historically forgotten. Our basic rights such as education, healthcare, housing and nutrition remain unpaid debts,” they said in a speech read to Subcomandante Marcos and signed by 16 social and human rights organizations in the La Montaña region.
They condemned “the shameful fact that in our villages the second most common cause of death is stomach infections, which could be treated with a basic medical infrastructure.” They lamented that the only hospital with basic medical equipment is located five hours away from most of the communities. There is only one gynecologist here to attend the region’s 17,000 women.
Speaking of the unemployment and misery prevalent in the area, they said: “Today, 45.7 percent of our indigenous brothers have no monthly economic income. This obliges us to emigrate or die, that is why between the months of November and April we have to move to Baja California, Sinaloa, Sonora and other states to sell ourselves as cheap laborers in inhumane working conditions.
They also denounced the militarization of the state, “promoting a low-intensity war that seeks to intimidate, demobilize, persecute and criminalize all the men and women who fight for justice, equality and democracy. The war on drugs has transformed into a war on the poor. It has devastated indigenous lands, fragmented communities and imposed the law of the strongest.”
On April 15 in Atoyac de Alvarez, which should have been the second stop for Marcos in the state after appearing that morning in Zihuatanejo, there was a clash between members of the Lucio Cabañas Barrientos Community Civic Council (CLCB) — which was among the organizers of the meeting there — and members of one faction of the Organization of Sierra del Sur Peasant Farmers (OCSS).
There had been a brief public event planed in the central square to be followed by a meeting with adherents in a high school. Around 6:00 pm, the organizers had nearly everything ready to receive Delegate Zero in the square’s gazebo, where there is also a statue of Lucio Cabañas. Suddenly, nine girls, along with a few men, appeared in front of the statue, waving signs demanding punishment for the murderers of Tránsito Mesino Lezma. They were Mesino Lezma’s daughters, accompanied by other relatives, also members of the OCSS.
They hung an enormous plastic sign celebrating the OCSS’ struggle, which José Luis Arroyo Castro, a member of the CLCB, removed. This provoked hysteria among the girls, who began to sob and accuse the CLCB of being a “paramilitary group” and part of the Revolutionary Democratic Tendency (TDR, a political movement connected to the EPR guerrillas).
Both groups hurled insults and shouts at each other until Arroyo Castro took the microphone to explain himself to those present. Just after he began speaking, the girls walked over to face the other group and an exchange of blows, slaps, and hair-pulling began between the women of both camps.
The OCSS women were demanding punishment for the murders of Miguel Angel Mesino Mesino, Tránsito Mesino Lezma, Pascual Mesino Cruz, Alfonso García Rosas and the young boy Carlos Gómez Mesino, “all murdered by the paramilitary group La Patria es Primero-TDR.”
The other side, for its part, accused the demonstrators of having used the deaths deaths of the farmers killed in Aguas Blancas as negotiating chips with the government. Proof of this, they claimed, lies in the fact that one of the members of this faction of the OCSS, Rocío Mesino — who was there among the demonstrators — is also the municipal head of rural development for the PRD party. “This family showed up to sabotage the Other Campaign,” said the CLCB members, who later explained that the OCSS is divided into three factions due to the government’s cooption of the group after the massacre.
After that small riot, the adherents moved to the school to wait for the scheduled meeting, but after several hours the Other Campaign coordinators in Atoyac announced that the meeting had been canceled due to the incident.
The crisis within the state’s main guerilla organization, the EPR, is evident in the existence of at least six splits in the group. According to press reports (obviously not confirmed by the people in question), these include the Insurgent Revolutionary Army of the People (ERPI), La Patria es Primero-TDR (roughly, “Fatherland First”), the Lucio Cabañas Justice Command, the June 28 Command, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the People (FARP) and the EPR itself. It still unknown to what degree the confrontation in front of the gazebo had to do with the guerrillas’ supposed internal war.
Faced with such a scenario, it seems that Delegate Zero decided to take an impartial position toward the conflict in Atoyac. It should be mentioned that since its fist public appearance, the EZLN has opted not to form relations with any other armed group.
Another event that held back Marcos’ appearance and put the realization of the meeting planed for April 19 at risk occurred in the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural School in Ayotzinapoa, “the cradle of social conciseness” and the institution where rebel teachers Lucio Cabañas and Genaro Vásquez studied.
Members of the Federation of Campesino Students, United Socialists of Mexico (FECSUM) hoped to stop militants carrying both Communist Party and anarchist flags from entering. Finally, the flags were allowed to enter.
Later, Marcos made a comment that may have been directed to the communists, anarchists and Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR) militants, who throughout all the Other Campaign events have flaunted their flags. Some observers consider this to be a protagonist attitude on their part. Marcos remarked that the Zapatistas had retired their own banner, the black flag with a red star, to fly the Mexican flag instead, which embraces all those who want to build a free, just and democratic country from below.
For their part, the students — who sang classic leftwing hymns like “Venceremos” and “L’Internationale” — denounced the policies of the Fox administration, which wants to get rid of the 33 such “normal rural schools” across the country, to make way for education privatization. In particular, they singled out Governor Zeferino Torreblanca Galindo for his intention to close the school.
Fists in the air, the students shouted a number of political slogans: “When the people rise up for bread, land and freedom, the powerful tremble, from the coast to the mountains!” “Education first for the worker’s child, education later for the bourgeois child!” “Third article of the Constitution: free education for the entire population!”
CECOP spokesman Marco Antonio Suástegui introduced himself to the students to offer the farmers’ support, thus guaranteeing that the school would not be closed.
Taking the floor around 10:00 pm, Subcomandante Marcos thanked the students for “the signal you have given us in receiving everyone… it is something we will not forget.”
The Zapatista said that the Other Campaign found Guerrero to be “the most repressive, most bloody state with the highest level of misery.”
Among other things, the Zapatista spokesman warned the students that despite the power of the power of the capitalist businessmen and the politicians that serve them — as well as their mass media that dismiss all who seek a more just country, accusing them of being “troublemakers” and representing a “minority” — “a day will come when they will see us; a day will come when they will hear us. A day will come when they will no longer fit in this country for all the damage they have done, when they will say that neither Lucio, nor Genaro, nor Villa, nor Zapata have died… The streets will shine again with the people from below,” he announced.
Before marching down the streets of the state capital on April 20, 214 adherents from 14 political and cultural organizations that support the Other Campaign held a forum in the facilities of Section 14 of the National Education Workers’ Coordinator (CNTE). There, they spoke of the necessity of promoting a change in the relations between men and women in the process of building a world without violence, for which is needed “democracy, from the intimate spaces to the public plaza.”
Several speakers condemned the macho attitudes that rule society, while women “have been marginalized, raped and murdered.”
One of the speakers challenged those who ask Subcomandante Marcos to take his mask off. “Those who I see as masked are in the government, because they say one thing and do another… They are the ones who should take their masks off. They sell us democracy at a steep price. Democracy here costs us more than war.”
“You are welcome here in our thoughts, in our hearts and without guns,” Marcos’ supporters told him. The Zapatista said that “once in a while the people raise a generation of dissidents, and every once in a while that generation of men and women begin to say ‘no’ and to say ya basta, enough already!”
Marcos went on: “The question that causes history to give birth to its luminaries is, what is to be done? It is not just about suffering from one injustice. The people from below must begin to listen to their own pain. Some opt for the easier path, but others decide to build something new.”
It is not enough, Marcos added, to look only to the brilliance of Lucio and Genaro. Other, unknown people who have also struggled must be seen. “It is not enough just to look back, to their refusal to surrender.” Looking backwards, one discovers that he is missing the tools to build the path, “and we realize that we have to build these tools. It is not enough to say ‘no’; we must build something new.”
He clarifies: “The Other Campaign is not for just anyone. The Other Campaign is searching throughout the country for that generation of men and women,” who from their own homes raise the banner of rebel dignity. “It has fallen to us to raise up this country, just like in 1810 and 1910… Those of us in the Other Campaign are the best sons and daughters of this country.”
The “march for the other Guerrero and the other Mexico” advanced down René Juárez Cisneros Boulevard — named for the former governor that Marcos called “the precious black man,” who repressed the peasant movements — amid cries of support for the Other Campaign, the EZLN and Subcomandante Marcos. There were also calls for freedom for all the country’s political prisoners.
From the balconies of houses and other buildings, many families saluted the rebel leader, who responded by smiling and waving his left hand.
Upon his arrival in the city’s central plaza, more than 1,000 people received the Zapatista delegate with applause. Some woman hung a cempasúchitl flower necklace around his neck and nearly swallowed him with kisses. The subcomandante promptly delivered his address and deposited an offering of flowers at a statue of José María Morelos y Pavón, the hero of Mexican independence.
Some 1,500 people from the Tierra Caliente region congregated in the Iguala central plaza on April 20. Despite the stifling heat, the interest in hearing Subcomandante Marcos kept people there for the hour that the event lasted.
The speakers reproached the state’s past governments, such as that of Rubén Figueroa Alcocer, who they blame for the Aguas Blancas massacre, as well as his father, Rubén Figueroa Figueroa, who in the late 1970s relentlessly persecuted the state’s social fighters, many of whom were kidnapped and disappeared.
The young Pavel González gave a speech that passionately criticized the current role of Mexico’s political parties. “The political parties are the principal and only actors in the fight for power. They have stopped being bureaucrats of the masses and have become professionals at getting elected. They have abandoned the banners of ideology and class struggle; their leaders have gathered more and more power and they have focused solely on winning peoples’ votes.”
“The parties and their politicians boast of being democratic but the democracy that they claim is sustained by corporate money and imperialism. They accept alternating politicians but not political alternatives. For them, a president — whether or not he is ‘democratic,’ whether or not he was elected at the polls or has popular support — maintains the system of capitalism,” he emphasized.
He pointed out that many men and women from Guerrero have lent ideas and blood to build a different Mexico, with democracy and social justice. “Genaro Vázquez, Lucio Cabañas, the farmers of Aguas Blancas and others, some anonymous and some not, always fought to the end.”
Addressing those present, Marcos denounced the system of political parties, saying that they “have made politics into the most expensive and useless whore in the world.”
On the other hand, he said that “the Other Campaign has found the men and women it needed in Guerrero, the people who feel Vicente Guerrero, Emiliano Zapata, Villa, Lucio Cabañas and Genaro Vásquez’ flowing in their veins.”
Aside from presenting the ideas that he had taken from his various meetings with the people of Guerrero, Marcos, sweating profusely, asked those present to join the Other Campaign to build a country where the government obeys rather than commands.
“We are not promoting an armed uprising but a civil and peaceful one, an uprising of our pain, an uprising to unite our dignity, to unite our rebellion and make them tremble… The hour has come to decide if the Mexico we have now will continue, or if we will raise up another country,” he concluded, amid a throng of journalists, photographers and followers who followed him to the truck that carried him to the state of Mexico, where he continues promoting the national rebellion against the capitalist system.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism