A Market System Designed to Prosper from Misfortunes
In Culiacán, Sinaloa, Delegate Zero Hears Testimonies from People Pushed to the Margins by Capitalism
By Ginna Villarreal
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Sinaloa
October 17, 2006
CULIACÁN, OCTOBER 11, 2006: The basketball court of this park, surrounded by clumps of weeds, is transformed into a small stage: chairs for the audience, a small platform, a table and microphones for the speakers. At 5pm the delegation pulls in. First, the red van marked with the letters EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) carrying Delegate Zero and other members of the Sixth Commission. An assortment of trucks containing activists from below and to the left follows. The bus, filled with reporters from alternative media and adherents to the Other Campaign, arrives last.
The gathering – another in a marathon series of meetings held along the Zapatista Other Campaign tour to hear directly from the people – is held in the community of Vicente Lombardo Toledo in Culiacán, the state capital of Sinaloa. As the namesake implies, the community of Toledo carries the struggles of labor: Vicente Lombardo Toledo (1884-1968) was one of Mexico’s most persistent labor leaders and founder of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) and the Socialist Popular Party. Those community members that speak at this occasion, like many that are invited to speak at these events, are voices from the margins. They are the voices of those that struggle: members of labor movements, youth activists, indigenous leaders, and a population of citizens that have come to be heard. Their concerns are shared, but uniquely felt. Each is touched by issues of security, privatization and commercialization of community resources. All suffer the discrimination that comes with living at the margins.
Miguel Angel, an ambulant street vendor, expresses the sentiments of many when he speaks of the struggle to “find our daily bread. Many of our people, because they search for work, are prosecuted by our own government…. Those that work in open and public markets are persecuted; many times they are put in jail.” Many workers, here as elsewhere, lack a sense of personal security related to the pressures and risks of employment. For many, searching for ways to fulfill basic needs leads to a familiar scenario: migration, to the United States or to other parts of Mexico. Long-term migration splits families and leaves migrant workers alone without a strong support base. Migrants also undergo the limbo-like uncertainty of living without legal status. In a market system designed to prosper from misfortunes, migrants are vulnerable to discrimination and exploitation.
The speakers also share their concerns and grievances about the lack of personal safety and job security. The security of those who speak out is dangerously absent in Mexico. On the topic of disappearances, Martha Camacho, herself disappeared in the 1970s during Mexico’s dirty war against social fighters (see Simon Fitzgerald’s story for more details), curses the impunity for torturers and the lack of respect for human rights.
Ernesto López speaks of the difficulties and dangers of working in Mexico’s press. “We suffer the most, the beat reporters.” Lopez works in the formal system of radio communication. He speaks of his missing companion Alfredo Himénez Monta, disappeared by the narco-government. “We have not heard from him.” And when his Sunday program recounted thirteen of the testimonies of the women arrested and raped last May in Atenco, there was an abrupt “change in the programming” the following Sunday. There is no security of employment here, either.
In the face of the changing role of national institutions, income security continues to be a point of concern. As national institutions are turned over to private companies, the promise that your pension will be waiting for you at the end of your working career is disappearing. Carlos Ramon López Torres from the National Front of Pensioners of Social Security Workers explains that privatization has gone as far as reforming the law of the Institute of Social Security and Services for State Workers (ISSSTE in its Spanish initials). The ISSSTE is the social security institution responsible for workers’ health care and national retirement coverage. The government of Vicente Fox has pushed especially hard to modify the laws regarding pensions. Every day they treat the funds in the treasury of ISSSTE “like one business more.” The privatization of 4.5 million pesos in a pension system is just one more resource on which to build capital. In this neo-liberal system, nothing is safe.
Whether privatizing the Mexican pension system or commercializing the wind and water, liberalization has affected the daily lives of the people of this country. In his return to the community of Vicente Lombardo Toledo, Marcos speaks of the commodification and privatization of natural resources. “Maybe some of you remember how before you could pass by and ask for a glass of water and now you have to buy a bottle with a label and it is often more expensive than a soft drink. The water, not to mention the earth, is being converted into a commodity.”
As he has done throughout the Other Campaign tour, the Zapatista spokesman cites examples of struggles from other parts of the country. On Oaxaca’s Isthmus of Tehuantapec, he explains, there is an installation of wind turbines. Most would not argue against the creation “clean energy.” But this clean energy comes with its dirt. It is an initiative of a Spanish company, with plans to construct thousands more – with French, US, and Mexican corporations – such towers in the Isthmus region. That was done without consulting those that live and work the land below the giant fans. The power generated by the wind will not go to the people who have worked the land for millennia, but to the owners of the large factories. There will be no light or power for those who live below. This is discrimination at a corporate level. The water and the air, he says, are turned into commercial possessions to be sold.
These concerns are those that are heard in all parts of the United States of Mexico. They are the familiar worries of workers who are with outsecurity, political activists that encounter brutality, and indigenous peoples of Mexico who face discrimination in their employment and the expropriation of their lands and the resources. To these people the Other Campaign offers the possibility to construct an infrastructure of mutual support and a place for marginal voices to be heard.
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