<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 Salutes the Community Police in Guerrero

Unpaid and Armed with Rifles, They Chased the Robbers and Rapists Out of Their Towns: “That is what must happen in this country!”

By Al Giordano
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Guerrero

April 19, 2006

APRIL 18, 2006, SANTA CRUZ EL RINCON, GUERRERO, MEXICO: One hundred policemen, armed and in uniform, waited along the side of the road on Tuesday for Subcomandante Marcos. When he saw them, he stepped out of his vehicle and approached them. The commander-in-chief of the soldiers of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials) – twelve years into its declaration of war against the Mexican state – stood at attention… and saluted.

Later, the guerrilla spokesman confessed, “That was the first time that we, the Zapatistas, have ever saluted police officers.”

The Guerrero Community Police
Photo: D.R. 2006 Escuadron Charlie Parker, Enlace Zapatista
Throughout Mexico and the world, police in uniform inspire fear among the poor and the workers. Not here. The Community Police movement of this mountainous indigenous region on the Costa Chica of Guerrero celebrated its tenth anniversary last year, stronger and more popular than ever. These officers are unpaid, chosen by their neighbors in public assemblies. These 612 men have succeeded at what the government failed to do: they chased the robbers, rapists and predators out of their towns, off their country roads, and restored peace and tranquility to their families.

For various hours on this breezy afternoon, surrounded by scenic mountains in front of the town hall of El Rincon, Zapatista “Delegate Zero” listened to their stories of struggle, taking notes.

“In 1995 we were attacked by a wave of delinquents,” explained Gelacio Barrera, one of the civilian Community Police Councilors, a soft-spoken man sporting eyeglasses and a sombrero as he addressed hundreds of local residents and Marcos. “These delinquents stole cattle and goats from the farmers. They assaulted us on the roads when we brought our goods to the market in San Luis Acatlan. They took our money when we traveled to the market to buy food. They stole a fuckload of money from us. They raped women in front of their men and their children, right there on the roadside. Sometimes they would be arrested but they had money so the prosecutor would let them go. The criminals then felt braver because they knew they were protected.”

“We, the women, together with our men, decided to act,” explained Catalina Garcia Castillo, one of the civilian councilors, also volunteers, that the community selects to guide the work of the community police. “On the 15th of October in 1995 we formed the Community Police. We learned from the ants: when faced with a bigger enemy, the ants join together and unite to kill it. That’s what we did: we routed out the bad weeds.”

The community police officers traveled on the backs of trucks, armed with shotguns and hunting rifles, most of which are decades old (one carries a 30-30 rifle from the early 20th century), patrolling the roads that connect these mountain towns, chasing out the bad guys, explained Augustín Barrera, a former commander of the Community Police, “The federal army came in here, intimidating us, accusing us of being guerrillas. But the assembly chooses us because the people have watched the behavior of each one of us.”

Despite threats by the federal army and state government of Guerrero, despite arrest warrants issued against some of their ranks, there are, today, 612 community police officers in this project. They are organized in 59 groups, each with a commander and a subcommander, the rank of each one indicated on their caps and their printed tee-shirt uniforms. They patrol 14 routes from the coastal beach city of Marquelia to the mountain city of Tlapa, four hours away. The main road – formerly a haven for nighttime bandits – was, for many years, considered unsafe to drive after dark. Late Tuesday night the road team of the Other Journalism traveled it three hours freely and without incident.

The growth of the Community Police movement has brought a sea-change for the people of the region, of which the officers consider themselves part. “We are of the people. We are with the people. We work for the people,” said Commander Florentino García.

On Tuesday afternoon, the men – about 200 of them lined up in formation to greet the Zapatista Subcomandante at the meeting in El Rincon – are quiet, serious, and yet relaxed. They don’t glare menacingly at citizens as so many government police officers do; outsiders also feel at ease in their presence. Apparently, only those who would otherwise seek to harm others fear them.

“They,” said Augustín Barrera of the community police officers, “are the reason why we feel the air of freedom on this mountain.”

After a long sunset of listening to the stories of the people of this town and region – the meeting began at 5:40 and ended at 8:45 – Marcos took the microphone in the dark of evening: a silhouette in front of a gigantic Mexican flag that served as backdrop to the meeting. He explained why he offered the military salute upon arrival. “I gave you the military salute because I am a military commander. I saluted the compañeros who are doing service for the community and who do it without being paid, like us.”

“Your experience of ten years has not only brought peace to your territory. It has given all of us something to learn from you. You have legitimacy,” he said. “That’s what the governmental authorities do not have.”

Marcos reminded the assembled that the second phase of the Zapatista Other Campaign that begins with his six-month tour of all of Mexico (now three-and-a-half months into its voyage) will come next autumn, when his bosses – the indigenous Maya comandantes of the EZLN – will fan out, two by two, to every state in the Republic. “My comandantes will come as a listening ear for their communities. And I will bring them here to see how we can learn to do what you do in our own communities.”

Coming from the man who leads a guerrilla army that has amazed much of the country and the world – and worried others, up above – with its discipline and capacity for self-organization, these were not empty words. As a reminder that the Zapatistas, beyond the wide support they receive throughout Mexican society, count also with a functioning rebel army, the Subcomandante repeated his warning to the government of president Vicente Fox if he sends troops to Guerrero remove 25,000 people from their homes to build a gigantic hydroelectric dam in the La Parota region, “I repeat: If the army enters La Parota there will be a war throughout the Mexican Southeast.” The assembled thundered in applause.

“In every part of this Republic there is a struggle and there is a corresponding lie imposed upon it,” said Delegate Zero, who emphasized that the Zapatista “Other Campaign” is weaving the many struggles into one. “Everybody,” he told them, “is going be become your students of how you police yourselves.”

“There is a rage in this town that doesn’t fit in this town. It doesn’t fit in this state and it doesn’t fit in this country. It sure does not fit in a ballot box,” said Marcos. “What you have proved is that if one person joins with another, with a whole family, with a community, with other communities, you can chase away the criminals.”

“That is what must happen in this country!” he exclaimed, repeating his oft-stated axiom that “the guilty party” for all the pains and miseries of people from the countryside to the city is a system: capitalism. “People ask: Why doesn’t the government do anything to help us? And why, when I organize myself to do it, is the government the first to attack me?”

The masked spokesman for the Other Campaign – an anti-electoral movement to build a national anti-capitalist rebellion – called on the community police and other residents of this region to join with those who struggle throughout the country, in “mutual aid, is what we call it.”

The community police officers, their rifles at their sides, the housewives, the children, the elderly, the indigenous Mephaa and Mixtec residents of this region, have joined in the Other Campaign.

“We don’t worry ourselves over who will win the presidential elections,” concluded Marcos, sounding increasingly optimistic along the Other Campaign road after listening to the people in each town and region. “Whichever party becomes the government, we will topple it.”

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