<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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Subcomandante Marcos Invites the Braceros to Go with Him to Meet Mexicans that Live and Work In the United States

Gatherings Set for June in Tijuana and Juárez: “The Other Campaign Is also on the Other Side”

By Al Giordano
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign, Reporting from Tlaxcala

February 20, 2006

ZACATELCO, TLAXCALA, MEXICO; FEBRUARY 20, 2006: More than a thousand “ex-Braceros” – who once worked the fields and railroads in the United States, only to see their earnings stolen by the Mexican State – gathered today in Zacatelco, Tlaxcala with Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos. There they received a special invitation to go with him to Tijuana and Juárez in June to meet and listen to the word of those Mexicans who today live and work on “the other side.”

“The other campaign is not only in Mexico,” the rebel spokesman explained. “It is also on the Other Side.”

Photo: D.R. 2006 Mauricio Ocampo Campos
Marcos – now in the ninth of 31 states plus the Federal District of Mexico City that he is visiting between January and June to listen to the grievances of the people and sew many struggles into one big fight – also asked the Braceros to march with him en masse on May 1st in Mexico City (Labor Day here and in much of the world). “Right now, it’s just me going,” he quipped. “Let’s go together and march.”

The proposals by “Delegate Zero” were met by thunderous applause and shouts of agreement; there is no doubt that both his invitations will be accepted and that the border meetings are gaining traction and importance in the Other Campaign. And thus, today, the historic journey of Marcos from Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas to the United States border takes on a new context with the news that he will be joined by many Mexicans who once crossed the Rio Bravo, but decided to come back.

“We Listen to Our Elders”

They came from many parts of Mexico, but especially from the central farming regions: elder men in cowboy hats; gray-haired women carrying plastic tubs and clay vats of food; rice, beans, eggs, nopal cactus, chicken, beef, red and green salsas to be folded into hand-made tortillas of locally grown (non-transgenic) corn… Broad-shouldered, brown-skinned, beaten down for decades but never defeated, these men and women are of the age group that in gringolandia is referred to as “senior citizens.” Here they still chop the firewood, pick the crops, care for the grandchildren (whose parents, in many cases, left to do the heavy lifting from California to New York that North Americans don’t want to do), and on top of all that, they do something else: Organize and fight to change their country.

Marcos was visibly happy to be among them. Bringing them greetings “from the men, women, children and elders of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation” (EZLN, in its Spanish initials), the Subcomandante began, “Your story is a lot like ours as indigenous people. We have also demanded that the government recognize us. We have also received the same disparagement and mistreatment that you have received. The EZLN is already in your fight.”

“We see that the majority of you here are of age. In our land, those who have age lead. I’m not a comandante. I’m a subcomandante. I take orders from people very much like you. In Zapatista lands, we always listen to the word of our elders. We see people for what is in their hearts, their word, and mostly through the work they do.”

“None of us were born as elders,” Marcos continued. “But what they do to the indigenous, they do to you, too. They use you to produce wealth for them and once you are done they want to push you aside, to make you disappear. The mistreatment you received at the hands of your gringo bosses we see here in our own country. Here, we also pick the crops and build the railroads, but they only pay us a small part of the money our labor makes for them.”

“In all these struggles, those of workers, of farmers, of indigenous, of the youth, of women and even of those who live on the Other Side, in every case the problem is a system.”

An Open Wound of 64 Years

What brings more than a thousand old folks across regions on a Monday to tell their story to a 40-something man wearing a black ski mask? And then to vow to accompany him to march in Mexico City? And later to say they will travel northward once more to join him in his fight?

It is a story that began in 1942 – but is clearly not over yet – when the United States entered World War II, and that nation’s young men stormed overseas to fight, leaving crops unpicked and railroads unfinished. The United States government decided it needed workers to do those jobs and made a deal with the Mexican government to import thousands of Mexican workers. That program – the legendary workers were known as braceros because they arrived in railroad trains with engines that burned coal embers, or brasas, that glowed red hot – continued through 1966.

As they worked the railroad and put food on North America’s table, ten percent of their salaries were withheld by the Mexican government with a promise they would be paid upon returning to Mexico. Some didn’t even know it because the contracts they had been told to sign were in English, and only found out about these monies owed upon returning home. Today, 64 years after the program began, they still haven’t been paid. In many cases, these men have already died and their wives and children continue the fight. The money owed amounts to billions of dollars. Bracero fighters have uncovered documents that prove that the Mexican government had received the funds and deposited them in the National Bank of Mexico (later to be known as Banamex, now part of the US-owned Citibank), then switched the deposits to other banks, in a shell game (perhaps a pioneering example of money-laundering) that denied these workers what they were owed. “That’s where the money is,” Marcos, indignant, told the workers and their families today. “It is yours and your ancestors’.”

What is clear after a day of listening to the testimonies of these elders is that their fight isn’t about the money. It’s about dignity. It is about a 64-year-old wound alongside other injuries and injustices that today, even generations later, seeks to be healed through rebellion. Other Journalist Bertha Rodríguez Santos (graduate of the 2003 Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec) was also in Tlaxcala today interviewing the Braceros and investigating the facts of their history. Her report is forthcoming. Stay tuned.

And on a related note: Other Journalists Sarahy Flores Sosa, Quetzal Belmont, Giovanni Proiettis, Roberto Chankin Ortega Pérez, Mauricio Ocampo Ocampo and other members of the Other Journalism’s Road Team were also present today interviewing, filming, audiotaping, taking notes. We returned to our mobile headquarters and began uploading video to computers to find there is no space left on our hard drives – the most recent purchased for $400 just three weeks ago – to render and digitalize this video and audio work, which we had hoped to produce into video newsreels (along with still unreported material from previous Mexican states along the journey of Chiapas, Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Oaxaca) this week. Any bright ideas out there to assure that our readers don’t have to wait as long as the Braceros have waited in order to see and hear their stories told?

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America