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The Earth, the Land, Our Mother

A Report About Land and Territory in the Encounter Between the Zapatista Communities and the Communities of the World


By Rodrigo Ibarra
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

January 19, 2007

Oventic is a village buried between two mountains in the middle of a sea of steep peaks. It is hidden, blanketed by a thick fog that comes and hides everything or leaves to uncover brilliant clarities.


Photos: D.R. 2006 Rodrigo Ibarra
The Encounter of the Zapatista Communities with the Communities of the World took place here, in this small town, which in all is one street, ending just a little further down in a small flat area with a basketball court. At the halfway point in the road, on the left hand side, is the auditorium: a large shack with wooden walls and a pine roof.

There were 2,000 of us there in that auditorium on January 1, with the authorities of the Caracoles and the Zapatista Juntas of Good Government. The topic at hand was: Territory. Its significance, the history of slavery and rebellion linked to it and the manner in which autonomy has permitted the indigenous Zapatistas to relate with it in accord with their culture were all themes that were discussed.

Land and Territory

The topic of territory is exceptionally important. It has strong economic implications and since, as is well understood by the Western world, land has everything to do with production: agriculture, GANADERIA, wood, natural resources. But not only this. This is where the terrible conflict arises between Western thought and the way the indigenous sees and understands this world. Territory is the root, it is where everything emanates from, it’s the mother, and it is to what we belong. “The earth, our mother, is what COBIJA us, giving us food, giving us sustenance. Land is not a business,” said Saul in the name of the Junta of Good Government, Number 1, Hacia la Esperanza, Caracol Madres de los Caracoles del Mar de Nuestros Sueños, UBICADA in Realidad. Lorenzo, another authority, but from Junta 4, Corazón Arcoiris de la Esperanza, in the community of Morrelia, also explained later: “The earth is for those who work her,” he said in Catillano and then in his language, tojolabal. He continued: “The land cannot be sold. We care for her and love her. In her we are born. From her we eat. Those who sell her, sell their own mother.”

“With this and no more we understand the world,” whispered someone from within the attendant crowd, which was turning on their seats of wood, pliable and foldable.


Photo: D.R. 2006 Rodrigo Ibarra
Five hours came and went fluidly, ordered, as the smooth compass of the Castellano of the Zapatistas singing in the LECH of their indigenous accent. The authorities from the five Juntas of Good Government succeeded one another in small, diverse groups on men and women. Saúl, Jesús, Elisa and María on behalf of the Junta of Good Government (JBG) 1. Marcelo, Abraham and Zenaida for JBG 2: Corazón Céntrico de Los Zapatistas Delante del Mundo, in Oventic. Next from JBG 3: Camino Hacia el Futuro, in Garrucha: Samuel, Esther, Alex and Lidia. For JBG 4, Lorenzo and Minerva. And for JBG 5: Nuestra Semilla Que Va a Producir, in Roberto Barrios, Compañeros Pascual and Anabel. Covered by masks, they read or spoke clearly and simply, each one touching on various aspects, always within the appropriate topic.

The History

From distinct voices we heard the history of exploitation, disdain, humiliation and deprivation, abuse and injustice. That which, today and for centuries past, a history that is breathed and drunken in every place and corner of our México. For the Zapatistas it is already an interrupted and exiled destiny, laying life on the line and proclaiming with determination, “Ya Basta”.

Esther from La Garrucha explained to us: “In the times of Porfirio Díaz we suffered the mistreatment of the landlord. We worked but they never paid us. We bore chingas and beatings. The government favored the farm owners. They didn’t allow the indigenous to organize. They sent the indigenous to jail or to be killed. They said that the indigenous have no right to the land. They treated us like animals and we did not know our rights. We didn’t know how to read or write.

Samuel, also from JBG 3 continued: “The women also worked in the boss’ farm, watched by the foreman. If they didn’t do the work well, they were abused. The work was to grind the boos’ cord, bring firewood to the boss, grind the salt, put the mixtamal for the boss. Everyday the men and women did the same work. They didn’t pay them. They gave them a liter of liquor so that the poor little indigenous would remain content.”

Before, Saúl, authority from the Junta Hacia la Experanza also gave a brief account: “Before ’94, we thought that the land was for those who had money. We then understood it belongs to those that work it. We decided to rise up in arms. We, the poor, don’t have anywhere to work.”

The Uprising and the Redistribution

Alex, from Junta 3 commented: “In 1994, for this reason, the entire community rose up in arms. That is where we said, “enough already!” to the abuse. To shed light to the world because we are already organized well enough to take the land.

The great rich men, landowners, coffee growers and cattlemen generally abandoned the land. This was then distributed between the Zapatistas and was considered recuperated land. Saúl, from JBG 1, told on of how the uprising “put fear into the farm owners and they left the land. These are lands recuperated through the struggle. We see that with organization and strength from everyone, we could take the land that we are now working.” Alex, from Camino hacia el Futuro, was more detailed: “In 1977 the authorities from the Agricultural Commission (of the EZLN) gave this land to its bases of support. They also acquired parcels of 50 square meters for homes in which to live.”

Minerva, from Junta 4, wears a white blouse with a border of flowers. She speaks with bravery: “we succeeded in recuperating the land, thanks to those compañeros that gave their blood. We worked this land and we are ashamed to have had to recuperate was really was ours. The farmers did not know how to use (the land) the way she deserves. Now, we work collectively and with organic fertilizer, as did our grandparents.”

Agricultural Rebellion

Minerva refers to inter-subjectivity, a concept explained by linguist Carlos Lenkersdorf in his study on tojolabal entitled The True Men. The relation between subject and subject espoused by the indigenous chiapanecos makes each person and each object within its environment. The land deserves better, says Minerva. The treatment received from the farmers was typical from westerners, who consider land as an object, an exploitable resource. When Saúl and Lorenzo spoke of land as their mother, they weren’t making a metaphor. For them, as for the whole indigenous world, the land is a subject, with life, with a proper consciousness, and as such the relationship of man with her is one of profound veneration, respect and gratitude. She deserves a treatment, as we say in Castellano, humane, in the best of words. The ecological consciousness of the indigenous peoples is ancestral and profound and so the caring for nature is related intimately with their own dignity and integrity as a people and as a community.

Consequently, the Zapatistas, in exercising autonomy, they have also revolted with agriculture. In their territories, they have overthrown the so-called “Green Revolution” of Norman Borlaug and the Rockefeller foundation, imported from the United States, imposed in our country during the 1940s and which still reigns in México and the world. A mode of intensive production based on the greatest genetic denomination (and also on genetic engineering), technology, mechanization and the abuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides; fundamental cause of ecologic disaster and health that we are enduring at a global level. The Zapatistas have explained to us how they have prohibited the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides: “they do not understand what they are doing,” explaned Alex in reference to the use of chemicals, “with fertilizers there is always something to harvest but they don’t understand that it is killing mother earth. We work with machetes and irregardless of how much it costs, we have a healthy product.”

The Ecology

Zapatistas have promoters of health and education, whom are part of their communities, and have also formed Promoters for Agro-ecology. “We have created workshops. The promoters of agro-ecology learn about the study and conservation of the lands: about nurseries, reforestation, how to take care of young domestic animals. They learn and disseminate methods of recuperating and taking care of our resources, to recover the strength of our earth. They care for the seeds and avoid the use of genetically modified ones,” explained Maria, from Junta 1.


Photo: D.R. 2006 Rodrigo Ibarra
But not alone. The Zapatistas further work the earth in collective and gender equality. Elisa explained to us: “We have not abandoned out mother earth. As women, we have the same right as the men. We work in colectivos.” Lorenzo added: “The harvest is distributed into equal parts for our family and for our commissions (those compañeros who participated in some responsibility) since we know that they don’t have salaries and they work with heart. The women also work the land. We distribute the vegetables in equal parts. We plant organic seeds. We do not want genetically altered seeds. We take care of the seed because it is the inheritance for our children.”

Agrarian Justice

However, within their territory, the Zapatistas live with a population that is not Zapatista. Indigenous and mestizos that have not participated in the movement, but are themselves owners of land, communal properties, ejidos and small properties, live adjunct to them. “We share a territory with different cultures, Zapatista and non-Zapatista. We are the same with different philosophies. We respect them and their mode of being. Sometimes there are problems over the land. We look for a solution, not make the problem any larger but instead to resolve it through dialogue. We want to be an example for all others, building a different world from which we live in now,” affirmed Saúl during his turn. “The Zapatistas have also created an Agrarian Commission in charge of those type of land issues. “The Agrarian Commission attends to other groups and religions,” commented Alex. He continued, “when there are problems, we send two subpoenas. If there is no response (from the person cited, party to the conflict) we look for a leader (from the organization that that person belongs to) so that the leader may get that person’s attention in a proper manner.” Also, there have been conflicts between two or more organizations that are not Zapatista, that “fight amongst themselves. Then they come to the Juntas of Good Government. There, we investigate and see who is in the right. To the person who is in the right, we give them their piece of land,” explained Jesus, Saúl’s compañero in Junta 1.

Abraham is Tzotzil. This is noted because he is wearing a black heavy coat, the Chui, and a round hat with flowing ribbons of all colors. He belongs to Caracol 2. “The government has provoked conflict in order to confront the communities and justify its violent incursion. We have tried to look for solutions as the Junta of Good Government does, through dialogue and investigation. Justice is applied without taking into account affiliation, creed or religion.” The small properties of those who did not leave in 1994 and have 50 hectares or less are respected (lands that are private property that do not exceed a certain area, in accord with the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico) by the Zapatista laws,” noted Alex.

The Bad Government

More conflicts with the Bad Government persist. The roots of these conflicts can be found in the changes made to Article 27 of the constitution, that gave way to the Program of Certification of Property Rights and Urban Land Titles (PROCEDE, in its Spanish initials). In accord with diverse specialists and farm worker organizations, this program, initiated in 1992, is a trap laid by the government for the communal land owners and communities to dismantle the community land properties and the ejidos (ancestral communal lands). The program grants titles to individual properties and is one more step in the formal disintegration of the ejidos. Furthermore, through these reforms, the land, that before was nontransferable by law, now can be etched out and sold or leased.


Photo: D.R. 2006 Rodrigo Ibarra
The Zapatistas, as well as many other groups, communities and peasant organizations in México, are conscious of this. “We do not want PROCEDE,” affirmed Saúl in the Encounter, “we will defend our mother. We have given life to defend her. Zapata said that the land, seas and that below the ground is of the people. (Carlos) Salinas (the president at the time of the reforms to Article 27) said no. There are peasant compañeros in all states that know that the best lands are held by the landlords, but the day will come when these lands will belong to the peasants.” Minerva also touched this point: “The Bad Government has the land controlled and has entered the communities to convince us to change. PROCEDE serves to divide; to lose the culture and collectivism.” She continued to affirm: “We have promised to struggle against this bad idea.”

Pascual, from Caracol 5, also entered into this topic: “(Carlos) Salinas has entered a new deception. He measured all the land. Many fell into the trick and accepted to parcel the land and live paying taxes. We do not accept this. For this reason we rose up in arms. For this reason our enemy is PROCEDE. The government wants us on its side, but it’s now difficult because we have already constructed our autonomy.”

Minerva’s words serve as an example when discussing the conflicts generated by the government against the Zapatista communities: “They continue to want to enter with their projects. They want to destroy us and return us to slavery. We will not allow it. Nor will we allow that our children suffer exploitation and scorn. We made a promise to defend the land, whether Zapatista or not. Never again will we allow them to come and tell us how to work.” In this sense, Anabel made a denounce over the territory in Roberto Barrios. “In our autonomous municipalities, the mad government has a plan to displace the communities in 2007 with paramilitaries. There are water, petroleum, wood, land, mine and biodiversity interests. We will defend throughout the world with information. We will unite with other organizations such as The Other Campaign to defend the land.

Accounts of Other Participants

The following is a brief summary of other participants:

The National Indigenous Congress

After the participation and ample explanation given by the Juntas of Good Government followed the participants of those that were on “this side”. First came the National Indigenous Congress. The representatives were: Juan Dionislo, Ñahñu, from San Pedro Atlapulco, State of México, and Yolanda Meza Calles, from the Kumiai Nation, from Tecate, Baja California.

They reaffirmed the importance of land as our mother and the importance of protecting her as the only way to survive. They gave a historic account of their own history, united with the history of the EZLN. They reaffirmed points from their 4th National Indigenous Congress:

Reunited in the indigenous community of N’donhuani-San Pedro Atlapulco, State of México, the representative delegates of the indigenous communities of nahua, zapoteca, wixárika, mazahua, amuzgo, cuicateco, kumiai, kikapu, purhépecha, tlahuica , chocolteco, chinanteco, ñu saabih, hñahñu, tenek, maya, totonaco, mayo, tlapaneco, coca, trique, tepehua, rarámuri, ch’ol, tzeltal, guachichil-chichimeca, zoque, matlatzinca, mixe and popolucas declare:

  1. We will continue to exercise our autonomy in action.
  2. We ratify the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandona Jungle and claim The Other Campaign. We are in solidarity with our brother and sister political prisoners of San Salvador Atenco.
  3. We demand the immediate retreat of the police and repressive bodies of the State in the region of San Salvador Atenco, and also in all other regions of the country where military and police control is maintained to harass and intimidate the people and communities that fight in defense of their territory and their ways of life.
  4. We denounce the assassins of compañeros Javier Conté, killed by the police that repressed the people of San Salvador Atenco, compañero Concepción Gabiño, from the indigenous community of Cuzalapa, who fought in defense of the land in the region of Manantlán, Jalisco, and compañero Faustino Acevedo of San Blas Atempa, in the ISTMO of Tehuantepec, when he led that community to participate in the jobs of this fourth congress.
  5. We also denounce the rape and violation of all the compañeras apprehended in San Salvador Atenco, by the police and the systematic and fascist violence that the state exercises against all women; that through their work they are reinvigorating the struggles of resistance and dignity throughout the country.
  6. We are calling to strengthen the National Indigenous Congress in all regions and the frequent celebration and periodic meetings to communicate, to reflect, to act and to propose.
  7. We denounce all the laws that the state uses to try to deprive us, to legitimize their take-over of the country and to impose controls that restrict the action of peoples and communities and give broad freedoms to transnational countries that allow them to devastate and take control of the material and spiritual richness of our people and all Mexicans.
  8. We denounce the government programs that orchestrate the abovementioned laws and that try to divide the communities.
  9. We will reinforce the mechanisms of communication between the different regions and communities of the National Indigenous Congress.
  10. We will reinforce and make viable those mechanisms of solidarity and promises with the struggles of each and every one of the indigenous communities, organizations and people.
  11. As a final point in our declaration, we challenge the Mexican State and call on all indigenous peoples, communities and organizations, and all oppressed sectors, to form a broad anti-capitalist front that will propel a process that moves toward a new constitution and another form of government that permits the recognition of our rights and a just, free and democratic society.

And these accords that are born from our hearts are the flowers of our trees, ready to give new seeds; seeds of life and hope.

Next, they spoke in defense of the mother earth and the indigenous autonomy realized in Mezcala, in the state of Jalisco, in which “we ratified our promise with the struggle of our indigenous people, from below and to the left, and manifested our complete support for the struggle of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca and their demands, and reaffirmed that our mother earth and all the life that is born from her are sacred, and as such are neither bought nor sold and no one can appropriate from others that which benefits only a few, and for which reason we declare ourselves anti-capitalist and ready to construct a great force that will surge up from below, from our peoples and together with other brothers and sisters from the country and the cities that are deprived, exploited and oppressed. To put an end to this system of death and to those governments that sustain it.”

They finished reaffirming the importance of the exercise of autonomy in territory that belongs to them and offered this experience as a contribution to the National Plan of Struggle.

Kurdistan

A male, thin and tall, passes to the front. He says, in a slow Castellano, that he comes from Kurdistan, the ancient Mesopotamia. He asks permission to speak in French and that an interpreter will translate simultaneously. “The sun and the earth are for my people, the most sacred.” He explains how they have suffered repression, colonization and dearth. He denounced England and the United States and the new colonialists that invaded Iraq, a country that is part of his territory. He speaks of the destruction of the environment caused by capitalism. He says that in Kurdistan, many things occur similar as to in México. He then gives an invitation to an encounter on March 21 as an encounter of peoples. “I hope to see all of you there” he says, and the people laugh. He ends saying: “ Biji Kurdistan, biji Chiapas.” Biji means Live.

SCLC

A woman from San Cristóbal de las Casas speaks of a popular neighborhood in the city, the 5 de Marzo. It was formed with recuperated land, she says. She speaks of the repression that they have suffered and how the women are those that have fought the most. The government has economic interests and wants the property. “We do not have the authority to allocate the land, but yes, we do have the strength, and we are organized.”

Los Pames

Another compañero denounces the seizure of lands in La Palma, a municipality of Rayón Tamazopo in San Luís Potosí. It is a conflict about 1800 hectares. The community has a decree from the restitution of 1922. They have begun the recuperation process and are asking us to stay alert.

Tabasco

In the municipality of Tacotalpa there has been an agrarian conflict since 1995. It is the fault of the government which has established one ejido on top of another. Political prisoners are being held and there have been confrontations where some have been injured. Also, they denounced the contamination caused by PEMEX.

Guatemala

A Guatemalan youth explains how the government in his country broke a promise after the pacification. They threatened them with a massacre at the hand of the ANTIMOTINES. There are 20 communities and they have been given ten days to leave the land. They are organizing.

Comachuen

In Michoacán there is an agrarian conflict between neighboring ejidos. There are threats and trickery on the part of the government.

France

The community El Arca de Lanza del Basto was founded by a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi 50 years ago. They participate in various struggles in Europe. The have been repressed also. “Peace, strength and happiness,” are their words of farewell.

Canada

An elderly indigenous male from British Columbia takes the microphone. He speaks to us. There they too fight for their land. Their original representatives were robbed of their power and then they were displaced from their land in 1875. In 1995 they were confronted by elite police forces from their country.

Atenco

One compañero from the Front of Peoples in Defense of the Earth explains what occurred in San Salvador Atenco in the first days of last May. He explains the situation of our compañeros, the political prisoners. “We continue onward. We need to unite ourselves all together, all the people of the world.”

Madrid

The collective Bajo el Asfalto Está la Huerta. They are a type of occupation, but those that took the land gather vegetables in a communal way and distribute the products in an equitable manner. They make their decisions in assemblies. They are reproducing their experience in other parts of Europe.

England

A man, young and thin, takes the stage. He brings pasamontañas but speaks Spanish, strongly accentuated. He says that he is from England and has good reason to cover his face. He explains how in his country, for reasons related to the next Olympics, they are displacing people from their homes.

The United States of America

A student collective, El Kilombo Intergaláctico. They explain how they grew with the Zapatista, Argentinean and U.S. leftist struggles, as that of the Black Panthers. They are people of color and they tell us how for them, to be people of color is to be marginalized. Hurricaine Katrina showed the disdain of their government for all those of color. They explain that NAFTA is not a conflict between producers in the north and the south, but between the small producers and the great agro-industrialists. They work in their local communities.

Jalisco

It is explained that there are new criminal laws that continue to displace the Mexican people from their territories. They warn of a new law initiated by Eduardo Sojo and Luis Télles that will affect Mexican coast.

South Central Farm

We are told of what has happened in Los Ángeles, California, with a social experiment called the South Central Farm. A large community of Los Angelinos produced organic vegetables in this garden. The mayor of the city, Antonio Villaraigosa, the first Mexican mayor, sold the garden property to Howards, which has interests regarding the company Wal-Mart. Then, the government unleashed an inhumane and brutal repression in July of 2006. 55 compañeros were arrested. The farm no longer exists. The compañeros continue to organize and are creating a new center.

Barcelona

The Assembly for the Right to Dignified Housing in Barcelona. With this association, the compañera and others work to defend homeowners that are being displaced due to economic interests of real estate companies. They hold protests and occupations. They help neighbors to defend themselves from the great infrastructural works of the government.

Comandante Abraham, who was the moderator for this table, advises that their time has completed. There were more participants, but it is eight o’clock at night. The meeting started at four o’clock in the afternoon. “He finished by saying “we must fight for the land. Zapata lives, the struggle continues.”

Originally published in Spanish January 11

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