|English | Español||February 24, 2017 | Issue #67|
Civil Resistance in Tepoztlán, Mexico: What Can Social Movements Learn Today?
Writer María Rosas Tells the Story of How Residents Defeated Big Business Interests
By Aldo Orellana López
María Rosas at the 2011 Narco News School of Authentic Journalism. DR 2011 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky
María Rosas, a humble woman who was around 35-years-old in 1995, said that at that time a group of businessmen who were supported by local and federal authorities wanted to build a luxurious golf club inside of El Tepozteco National Park, an environmentally protected area. Promoters of the project used the argument that it would bring jobs and progress to Tepoztlán, but the local population opposed it because it would put the ecological balance and integrity of the national park at risk. Even worse, decisions were being made behind the community’s back.
At a time when the Internet was barely born and social networks didn’t exist, Tepoztlán residents coordinated an autonomous movement capable of resisting and eventually stopping the business interests that were attacking the interests of the people and the environment. They were threatened, jailed, and one person was even murdered, but they asserted their right to decide their own future and came out victorious.
According to Rosas, one thing that is impossible to separate from the explosion of the movement against the golf club is the fact that the 1994 January indigenous uprising in the state of Chiapas had just begun. As she said, “The echos of the uprising hit the population of Tepoztlán hard. It had always had a strong community identity, a strong attachment to the land… but the emergence of the indigenous in Chiapas did a lot in helping the people of Tepoztlán remember their indigenous roots and to feel indigenous as well.” In fact, in one of the first public demonstrations in the streets there were phrases like “No to the golf club. We are tEpoZtLaN,” capitalizing the Spanish initials of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
Just like how Zapatisa liberation in Chiapas inspired the Tepoztlán struggle, more than 15 years after the struggle a question can be made today as to what lessons can be learned and applied to other struggles around the world?
One of those lessons concerns the clear goals made by the movement. With both Tepoztlán and the current Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity there were and are clear goals that go beyond ideological differences. Likewise, the discourse and slogans of each movement appeal to a broad range of sectors in society who are fed up and outraged. In the case of Tepoztlán it was “No to the golf club. We are tEpoZtLaN,” and in the current civil movement it is “We’ve had it up to here!” and “Stop the war! Peace with justice and dignity.” All of them are slogans that express the desire to solve problems that affect everyone. Therefore, they serve to grow coalitions of social and civil groups as a basis for achieving their goals.
The drug war has killed more than 40,000 people across the social spectrum. It’s evident that the government’s anti-drug policy is killing the population and there is little distinction between the social classes when doing so. It’s clear there are groups that are more vulnerable than others, but that has not stopped death from affecting all Mexicans. Just as the loss of El Tepozteco National Park would have undermined the environment for all residents, the war against drugs is touching everyone’s lives and that is a unifying factor that is driving the success of the current movement.
There are many opinions about the current social movement that is looking to end the murders from the drug war. However, one of the most repeated ones says that this is the first time that people from all political backgrounds have joined together for a common cause.
The Tepoztlán struggle and the current Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity have one thing in common: they have arisen through a general and unifying social clamor. The same phenomenon has occurred in pro-democracy movements that have overthrown dictators and authoritarian governments throughout history, with Egypt being the most recent case. It’s about the unique and historical opportunity of when an entire people and nation put aside their differences and give an indignant cry of “Stop!” “Enough already!” or “We’ve had it up to hear!” Like with the Tepoztlán struggle and the Zapatista spirit that inspired it, successful social movements are capable of creating an inclusive, humanizing, dignified, and hopeful discourse, which appeals to the common, moral and ethical sense of broad social sectors. Therein lies the strength of the peace movement in Mexico and the challenge for the rest of the struggles that are happening around the world.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism