Banned from Traveling by Sea, Subcomandante Marcos Proposes to Head to Baja California via the Mexican Mainland
After First Denying Zapatista Delegate Zero His Constitutional Right of Free Transit, Baja Ferries Backs Down and May Now Let Him Board
By Al Giordano
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Sinaloa
October 12, 2006
UPDATE: Subsequent to the filing of this story, the Baja Ferries Company appears to have backed down and may now let Subcomandante Marcos travel by boat tonight. Read the update on the Narcosphere.
LOS MOCHIS, SINALOA, MEXICO; OCTOBER 11, 2006: Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos had planned to cross the Sea of Cortés this Thursday night, September 12, at 11:59 p.m. on the only public transportation available; the boat named The California Star, owned by the Baja Ferries Corporation (the company now enjoys a monopoly on the route, ever since it displaced the publicly-owned Sematur ferry service). He was off to Baja California Sur, the 22nd stop along his 32-state marathon listening tour throughout Mexico to hear the grievances of the “simple and humble people that fight.” But on Monday, the CEO of the company, Juan Plata Medina, took to the airwaves and on local radio in Los Mochis, Sinaloa – near the port of Topolobando, from where the ferry leaves – to announce that he will not allow the guerrilla leader to board the boat without taking off his ski-mask and showing identification.
The six-hour ferry ride, which leaves from Mexican soil and lands again on Mexican soil, is a heavily policed route, including by Customs agents although it crosses through no other country, increasingly so in recent years under pressure from United States officials. The peninsula of Baja California juts out into the Pacific just south of San Diego, California. All passengers and their vehicles must pass through metal detectors and luggage searches by customs agents. Although it was a private company that announced the ban on Delegate Zero’s maritime travel, the pretext is that government regulations supposedly require that passengers furnish identification. That turns out to be a lie: a visit on Tuesday afternoon by four Narco News reporters to the Los Mochis offices of Baja Ferries revealed that passengers are not required to furnish ID. Asked if they would need to furnish passports or other identification cards to board the boat, the ticket saleswoman said that had never been required by the company before. Thus, the sudden change in company policy can only be due to instructions from the Mexican government, which, with this maneuver, reveals its increasing worry over the new context and force of the Zapatista Other Campaign now gaining traction in the north of the country.
Shortly after six p.m. (Mountain Time Zone) on Tuesday, Marcos stepped onto the Other Campaign bus with 42 adherents from political organizations and “other media” (including six Narco News reporters aboard the bus with the Other Journalism) and proposed (a word that means that the current plan could evolve into something else by morning) a change in routing: That the other organizations continue on across the ferry boat, as scheduled, to La Paz in Baja California Sur, to represent the Other Campaign there and in Cabo San Lucas, where meetings had been scheduled. Meanwhile, Delegate Zero will travel via mainland the grueling path through the mountains of Sonora and head down Baja California Norte to the town of Guerrero Negro, at the northern tip of Baja California Sur, to comply with his pledge to enter every state in the Republic, inviting adherents from the rest of the state to meet him there on October 15. He then would resume the already scheduled work in Ensenada and Tijuana October 16 to 19 (when the first meeting with Mexicans and Chicanos from the Other Side will be held), also meeting his November 1 date in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua for the November 1 bi-national meeting. From there, the rest of the tour schedule would also remain intact.
Once again, as has occurred repeatedly over the past thirteen years, those above, in their botched attempts to block the Zapatista path, have served to fuel the rebels’ credibility with the public: The forbidden fruit is that which shines brightest.
The maneuver, however buffoonish by the Mexican state and business interests, is also a harbinger of how tensions are rising between the Mexico of above and the Mexico from below.
Rewinding the Tape
Rewind the tape ten months: Last January 1st, Marcos hopped on the back of a black motorcycle (most likely without possession of a driver’s license; the uniformados in five federal police vehicles trailing him pretended not to notice) and rode it down the jungle path from the autonomous municipal seat of La Garrucha to the colonial City of Homes known as San Cristóbal. From there he began his fact-finding mission in a grueling state-by-state trek. Later that month, in Yucatán, he and all who accompanied him entered the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza without having to pay the 75-peso (seven-dollar) entry fee charged by the National Archeology and History Institute (INAH, in its Spanish initials). The INAH – famous for being an anally-retentive agency to extremes – simply looked the other way when the Other Campaign walked in through a back-door gate. A week later, in Tabasco, the masked guerrilla commander entered a state prison to visit political prisoners. He repeated that mission in Oaxaca, in a federal penitentiary and then in a state prison, last February. In none of these places did authorities require him to show ID nor remove the mask that makes him recognizable the whole world over.
But by March, the powers above began to show worry. Marcos’ tour 2006 tour did not turn out, as the State had hoped, to be merely a media spectacle of the kinds that occurred in 2001 during a bus caravan by Marcos and 23 comandantes of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials) that convened mass rallies along the path and culminated in a nationally televised session of Congress in which the masked Comandanta Esther spoke from the podium, advocating an indigenous rights law.
This year, instead of looking above to the media’s attention or attempting to lobby the State, he focused his attention on the voices and the faces from below. “Stories of pain,” he termed what he had heard, and what he heard told him that the country was on the verge of “a national rebellion.”
It was in the state of Puebla – the next stop after Oaxaca – that the rural Zapatista movement visibly crossed over and found fertile ground among the New Proletariat of sweatshop factory workers, many of them single mothers, displaced from their native indigenous communities, working under abusive and dangerous conditions, 14 hours a day for substandard pay, to make blue jeans and other products for sale in the United States and elsewhere. In all the urban centers of the 20 states he traversed between January and early May, other sectors of that New Proletariat flocked to the Other Campaign: ambulant street vendors, industrial workers, ex-braceros and others who had crossed the Rio Bravo to work in the United States only to later come home, older, wiser and more radicalized by the ordeal… Marcos pointed his international microphone toward them and they spoke, thousands of them.
By the time he entered Querétaro in March he was openly suggesting the “expropriation of the means of production” (that is, that workers in each factory and workplace take over from the bosses, just as the indigenous farmers of the EZLN had taken the plantations they work back from the big landowners in 1994) and predicting that the national rebellion would “leap over the border” into the United States.
It was around then that the political establishment in Mexico began to recoil and moved from ignoring or patronizing the Other Campaign condescendingly to place obstacles in its way. It is one thing for a marginalized minority to advocate its own rights, but another altogether when one small sector of society joins forces with another, then another, and so on, and so forth, until suddenly there are not hundreds of minorities but one agglutinated majority, angry from centuries of injustices and unmet grievances, and ready to turn the tables. In Fox’s home state of Guanajuato, in March, authorities denied Marcos access to another jail where political prisoners are held. In April, in the State of Mexico, they locked him out of yet another. The very same forces of the political right that have openly advocated putting the Zapatista Subcommander in prison now felt it paramount that he be kept from visiting it.
The queasiness about the Other Campaign and the way it was shifting the sands below the political sandcastles was not just an infirmity of the political right; some left intellectuals, particularly academics and those with electoral political passions, began trash-talking the Zapatista movement and with a peculiar venom toward its spokesman. They included the Argentine-in-Mexico Guillermo Almeyra, the German-in-Mexico Heinz Dieterich, the gringo-in-Mexico John Ross, and the Mexican author Elena Poniatowska, among others. Their intellectual sloth led each to either invent or accept as gospel demonstrably false claims about the Other Campaign and the EZLN, which we have vetted in these pages in recent months. But that sideshow pales in comparison to the increasing repression coming from above and to the right. The real nail biting has occurred higher up, among the barons of government, industry and media, who as the Other Campaign marched on began to take note that the bells were tolling from below, and that they were tolling for them.
And so on May 3 and 4, the forces from above attempted a smackdown against the Other Campaign bastion of Atenco, in the State of Mexico, outside of Mexico City, assassinating two – Javier Cortés, 14, and Alexis Benhumea, 20 – and imprisoning 217 others. Yet all the bestial police violence, sexual torture, rape, invention of false criminal charges and the continued imprisonment of 30 Other Campaign adherents over the past five months has only served to turn the word “Atenco” into an international symbol of resistance (and a fountain of hope about the power of the people from below to topple an economic system and its governments) on the level that the word “Chiapas” had been for the previous 13 years.
Weeks later, a similar crackdown in Oaxaca backfired when 15,000 striking teachers, joined by indigenous, labor, political organizations of the left, anarchist youths and other collectives and individuals, fought back against another repressive attack and sent 3,000 riot cops running for their lives. And then the word “Oaxaca” became another of Mexico’s international buzzwords representing the fight for liberty, justice and democracy.
What has changed between May and October is that “Chiapas” no longer bears the weight nor the glory alone: Chiapas… Atenco… Oaxaca… If global “spectacular terrain” (Debord dixit) were bought and sold on the stock market, all three would be registering a marked rise in value.
Few people anywhere mention the word “Sinaloa” in such context, not even much in Sinaloa. But here we are, the Other Campaign has restarted, it is on the Pacific coast and closer than ever to the US border. Here, the same seeds planted in Oaxaca and 19 other states earlier this year are landing on distinct but equally fertile land. And the idea is that someday, sooner than the press, the pundits, the academics or even the activists can imagine, “Sinaloa” will also be an international symbol of resistance and hope.
And if it can happen in the fishing villages of Teacapan and Dautillos here, if it occurs in the Vicente Lombardo Toledano colony of Cuilacuán, and at the state universities, and in all the other places where real people work and suffer on the orders of the few, well, that is also the reason that those above must try to block Marcos from entering Baja California and the rest of the border states. Yes, they have good reason to keep him off that boat. But, no, if they think that will serve to keep him away, well, they will have to think again…
The Other Boats in the Sea of Cortés
“The sea is like the land,” Delegate Zero said in the fishing community of Teacapan on Monday morning, on the first Other Campaign stop since May 3rd, after explaining from the kiosk in the town square how the indigenous Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal, Chol and other ethnic groups of rural Chiapas organized to take back their farmlands (see Kristin Bricker’s report for a more detailed account). “If one thing is changed, everything changes,” he said to a small crowd gathered under hundred-degree sun. Those above, who want the shrimp fishermen there to leave in order to build tourist developments, “are going to destroy everything,” he said, unless the people self-organize to stop them.
Photo: D.R. 2006 Murielle Coppin
Before a shrimp becomes a scampi piled onto pasta, before it is breaded, or fried, or inserted into a shrimp roll in Los Angeles or piled into a cocktail with ketchup and horseradish in Miami, before it is rolled into sushi in New York, before it is wrapped and plastic and sold for $13 dollars a pound somewhere far from where it was fished from the sea, it must be harvested. For generations, simple and humble people along this Sinaloa coast have turned these bottom-crawling sea creatures into food, lifting them gently off the bottom of the sea or the mouths of rivers that feed it, or inlets, or bays. They did this year-round for hundreds, probably thousands, of years. And they always left more shrimps there to breed and to ensure new generations that would feed subsequent generations of humans.
But in recent decades came gigantic multi-national trawlers from the United States, from Spain, from Japan, from other countries, scraping not just the shrimp from the ocean floor, but also the plants and eco-systems that feed them and allow them to live and to reproduce. As a result, shrimp now is scarce for certain parts of the year. Instead of telling the foreign seafood merchants to stop raping the Mexican coastlines in this way, the government of Mexico created a policy called the “veda,” the imposition of entire seasons in which shrimp fishing is forbidden (the same policy has been imposed upon those who catch others kinds of fish and seafood along other Mexican coastlines up and down the Pacific, the Gulf and the Caribbean). This, to ensure that during the seasons when the big shrimp boats come to scrape again, there will be product for them to harvest.
The family of the small fisherman, in his rowboat, sometimes with an outboard motor, more often without, can’t stop eating during the “veda” seasons. Food has to be put on the table. And so he either has to leave town, head north to the United States or to some Mexican city to find work, or perhaps, as in a small minority of cases, become a drug trafficker or some other kind of outlaw… but most have so far stayed where they are and go out, again, for the daily catch. It’s what they’ve always done. It’s what their fathers and grandfathers did before them. Because of the “veda” ban on shrimping, according to what the shrimp fishermen and their families told Delegate Zero this week in Sinaloa, a whole raft of problems begin to pile up: Along comes a cop, or a navy sailor, or an “environmental” inspector, or someone else with a badge, and finds him with, say, 10 kilograms of shrimp. The police or military officer takes nine of those kilos to eat or to sell or to give as an offering to his commanding officer, and then charges the fisherman with an “environmental crime,” the illegal possession of one kilo of shrimp, putting him in jail until his family can find the money to pay a steep fine to get him out.
A kilo of medium-sized shrimp brings the fisherman eight pesos (about 75-cents), 10 pesos, almost a dollar, for the jumbo shrimp he finds. “When there is shrimp to be caught,” one fisherman from the village of Dautillos told Marcos on Tuesday, “it’s not worth anything because, they say, there are a lot of shrimp.” So, for seventy-five cents worth of shrimp (at least in terms of what the fisherman receives for his labor), a lot of these men, of late, have found themselves in jail.
Dautillos garbage dump
Photo: D.R. 2006 Murielle Coppin
In Dautillos, injury was added to insult, when in nearby coastal towns vacation spots began to pop up. The highway from Navolato, Sinaloa to the coast sports billboards inviting the visitor to come eat and swim at such places as the town of Atata, the municipal seat that governs Dautillos among other small hamlets, restaurants and resorts that then generate garbage that must be brought somewhere else. The bad luck that Dautillos has is that it is the last town up a dead-end coastal road; out of sight, out of mind, and most importantly, out of smelling distance from the tourist havens. And so the municipal president put a garbage dump along that road. Driving along it, entering Dautillos, one can see across the horizon what at first appears to be a scenic mist over a body of water. Suddenly, if the car windows are rolled down, one’s nose is assaulted by a foul stench, that of garbage, plastic and all, burning. Then come the flies, one, two, hundreds, thousands… millions of them.
If one is an authentic journalist, or with a group of them, one pulls out the cameras, stops the car alongside the garbage dump and opens the door, and is soon covered with flies as he and she adjust the video camera tripod or the settings on the digital camera. The photographers cover their mouths with their shirts so as not to gag on the smell. One takes the pictures and the video images in a hurry, before one’s stomach revolts, all the while swatting back the hordes of ugly flies that land on one’s neck, face, arms and clothes.
“The municipal garbage trucks don’t come here to pick up our trash,” a woman named Cecilia told Delegate Zero at Tuesday’s meeting of a couple hundred men, women, children and elders at the Ribereño Fishing Cooperative in Dautillos, amidst the wooden tables where the shrimp is separated by size and cleaned. “There are too many flies that now enter the village. Isn’t that true, sirs?” Her question is greeted by shouts of “that’s right!” Wives, mothers and daughters of fishermen take the microphone and echo her worries and grievances.
At first it was mainly the women who spoke, “Where are the men?” asked Alfredo Arroyo, one of the Sinaloa state coordinators of the Other Campaign. “Only the women are speaking!” Soon, though, every kind of citizen took the microphone in Dautillos and reported the facts they know because they live with them: that with so many flies and that foul smell floating over their town that their children and elders get sick more often. “Fishermen don’t receive social security,” one shrimp fisherman explains. “They don’t count. When there is no money because the price of shrimp goes down, poor people can’t have medicines.”
Once all had spoken their word, the microphone went to Marcos. “Here, there are at least two TV stations and one newspaper present,” he said, pointing out that these are media workers, that “their bosses then hide the news. But there are also others here from alternative media… They are here to make sure that your voice, your image, gets out there … They are unpaid. They don’t receive anything. They make sure your word goes to the entire country and to other parts of the world, particularly the United States and Europe.”
“Your word goes to where the people speak of those who work, who will know that Sinaloa does not mean narco-trafficking; Sinaloa is the farmers, fishermen and workers… This country has gone crazy. Because the people who work don’t steal and the people who steal are the ones who make the money… They want your lands so instead of just running the people out of here they lower the price you are paid for the shrimp so that it costs more money to work than not to work.”
Marcos told the story of the coffee growers of Chiapas, a story in which the prices paid to the farmers dipped so obscenely low that people had to leave coffee farming and leave their communities altogether. “Just as with the coffee growers, you get ten pesos for a kilo but it sells in the market for forty. The ones who make the rest of that money, who don’t farm it, are those who can send their children to school.”
But, he said to the shrimp fishermen and their families, in Chiapas the farmers organized and fought and Chiapas is now a place on the map. If you do the same, he pledged, “You will begin to appear on the map.”
The Other Campaign Is About Mutual Aid
Later that afternoon, in a working-class and poor barrio of the Sinaloa state capital of Culiacán, other kinds of people take the microphone and speak to an Other Campaign meeting on a basketball court. Teachers, students, ambulant street vendors, self-described “punks,” a lawyer, a former disappeared woman from Mexico’s “dirty war” of the sixties and seventies, even a media reporter, spoke, one after another, to air their grievances. Their stories were so similar to those heard from Chiapas to Mexico City during the first four months of the Other Campaign, back in January, February, March and April. On this leg of the tour, Marcos has brought along representatives of the Indigenous National Congress and a young man, Octavio Colorado, from the town of Atenco, who also told their stories to the assembled.
“This is a state known for narco-trafficking,” a teenaged anarcho-punk spoke from the podium. “But it is we, the youth, who are persecuted here.” Complaining that few listen to his friends and him, he noted, “but Zapatismo, yes, it did listen to us! It might seem illogical, but we, the punks, have found that we have many similarities with the indigenous.”
Here, as in every stop along the Other Campaign trail, Delegate Zero is the last to speak. After listening to the various struggles and trials of those who spoke, he ties their fights together.
The sudden appearance of a media worker at the microphone, a representative of the Alfredo Jiménez Journalists’ Union (named for a journalist disappeared in 2004 for his reports linking government officials to drug trafficking), seemed to shake the Subcomandante.
“In Sinaloa,” Marcos said when his turn came up, “it is more dangerous to be a journalist than it is to be a guerrilla soldier! It is also more dangerous to be a woman, a punk or a young person….”
As he has all year in his ever-changing “stump speech” (never the same in any two places) Marcos made it clear that he is not asking for anyone’s vote, nor is he making campaign promises. But this week, at each stop along the road, he has made one offer to those who organize and fight for their rights in each place: that they will not fight alone.
He then launched into the story he heard earlier in the day, in Dautillos, about the plight of the shrimp fishermen that must now contend, also, with the garbage dump that contaminates their air and water, and comments that probably those who live just an hour away in Culiacán have never heard their story.
But now that the shrimp fishermen have entered the Other Campaign, they are “on the map.”
“These compas from the alternative media will tell their story,” Delegate Zero told the assembled. The Other Media “are of the Other Campaign, too. It is their way of fighting. Those who come as reporters of the commercial media, they’re not the owners,” he concluded, “but these other media, they don’t have an owner, they write what they want. Another form of communication does exist.”
Big words, compañeros and compañeras, words that will mean little unless we live up to them… But after spending half a week in Sinaloa, a state from the allegedly “conservative North,” where supposedly the Other Campaign was not long or well organized, an alleged “hotbed of social rest” – after seeing and hearing, concretely, how very easily it could explode into becoming “another Chiapas” or “another Atenco” or “another Oaxaca,” the experience leaves little doubt as to why the bosses of Mexico and of Capital don’t want Subcomandante Marcos to cross the Sea of Cortés into Baja California and head up to the US border, where, on the Mexican side alone, two million sweatshop workers – the New Proletariat that supposedly doesn’t exist – await the seeds of rebellion that have been carefully cultivated and defended for 22 years now from somewhere in the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
Another Sinaloa is here (more meetings are scheduled here in the Los Mochis region for Thursday, and what happens at the boarding dock of Baja Ferries on Thursday night, the company that violates the Mexican Constitutional right to free transit, remains to be reported)… Another Baja California comes next…
By sea, or by land, the Other Campaign’s arrival to the US border is only days away…
To be continued…
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