Experiences of Resistance and Rebellion, from the South to the North, During the First Across-Borders Encounter in Tijuana
The Worst of Capitalism Has Also Caused Rebel Dignity to Bloom
By Margarita Salazar
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign on the Other Side
September 17, 2006
TIJUANA, BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO: Tales of the theft of land from indigenous communities, the poisoning of the territory by multinational gas and energy plants, the mutilation of working men and women in sweatshops, the daily struggle of youths to save their spaces in these “transitional” cities, the construction of autonomous governments in the Zapatista communities of Chiapas and the popular struggle in Oaxaca, as well as the battles by immigrants in the United States to be treated as humans, were shared during this First Across-Borders Encounter of the Other Campaign, taking place September 15 to 17 in this city.
In this border zone where capitalism’s practices demonstrate their maximum expression and human dignity blooms in reaction, about 250 Other Campaign participants from the Pacific region held, for the second day, diverse work roundtables to share testimonies of suffering but also experiences of struggle and resistance.
Traditional authorities of the Kumiai indigenous communities spoke of the loss of their lands; the same happened to the Kukapá, Paipai, Kiliwa and Cochimí in the state of Baja California, where they have suffered at the hands of plantation owners supported by government agencies such as the Agrarian Prosecutor. Similar problems, it was said, are confronted by the Mayo, Seri and Yaqui communities of Sonora who have ancestrally inhabited the region but who in recent years have shared their suffering with Nahua, Triqui, Zapotec and Mixtec communities (from southern Mexico) who migrated and who work in conditions of semi-slavery.
Germán Flores, of Sonora’s Mayo community, said that the “silent resistance” of the indigenous people of the region exists from top to bottom of Northern Mexico, and so the government is opening a regional offensive against the communities. The Mayo and Yaqui peoples, he said, have been invaded by genetically modified soy and cotton seeds from the Monsanto corporation. The agrochemicals on the farms are contaminating the well water, which is causing cancer among children.
In the Indigenous Resistance Roundtable, Flores denounced that the federal Commission for Development of the Indigenous Peoples (CONADEPI, in its Spanish initials) has imposed tourism mega-projects in the region such as the Nautical Stair and the installation of aqueducts.
Tiburón Island – defended by the Seri peoples and counting with numerous archeological vestiges – is practically under invasion by US cruise ships and investors who want to turn it into an exclusive tourist center. “On the coasts of Hermosillo there is an invasion by North Americans who come to hold their raves (parties by youths, often with synthetic drugs and techno music): many of those who come to these tourist zones are former military soldiers. They come with guns and intimidate the local population,” he said.
In Zitovac, Sonora, the Pápago people confront the mortal effects of a toxic waste dump (for wastes generated in the United States). “The chemicals are burning the earth,” he said.
“The Pima, Guarijío and Sópata peoples are isolated in remote communities. However, we know that they also confront problems of the looting of their territory (and its natural resources) and they also lack medical services.”
Since the governments of Baja Califronia, Sonora and the United States have not respected the decisions by the local authorities of the effected communities – who have demonstrated their disagreement with the situation – their representatives have solicited the Indigenous National Congress to help them be recognized as autonomous peoples.
Wambli Watakpe, of the Lakota nation, called “the only survivor” of the armed indigenous uprising against the US government in Wounded Knee (1973) and Pine Ridge (1975), in South Dakota, in a struggle to recoup lands stolen by the government, said that the movement did not succeed in united the indigenous peoples and that’s why “the indigenous revolution” went no further. He opted to seek exile in Mexico because “it is here that I see life, struggle and hope.”
Señoras Laura Mesa and Josefina López commented: “The government has cut off our sustenance in the communities. In the rivers, there is no water. They invade communal lands and fence them off. The young people have to migrate. Many people are going, unable to fight better, but we don’t want to abandon our territory.”
Yolanda Mesa said that in the community of Juntas Denejé of Tecate, the Kumiai have possession of 11,500 hectares (28,400 acres) of communal lands that were granted them in 1976 by a presidential order, but for the past 30 years they were invaded by María de los Angeles Ballesteros who took possession of 40 hectares, dividing the land, and has recently mentioned plans for a tourist development.
During the Environment and Natural Resources Roundtable, Oscar Montaño of the Citizen’s Committee Against Gas Plants, said that in Mexicali the population has fought hard against the existing gas plants and against the gas storage tanks that are proposed for Ensenada. At the same time, they are fighting against the project to establish a mega-port in Punta Colognés, where corporations want to anchor large commercial tankers and ships and have denounced “the looting of minerals by US businesses.”
Journalist Gloria Muñoz, author of the book, 20 y 10, El Fuego y La Palabra (“20 and 10: The Fire and the Word,” coming out later this year in English) and who has lived for 13 years in the autonomous Zapatista communities of Chiapas, spoke during the roundtable on Autonomy, Self-Management and Self-Sustainability. She said that she is often asked, “Where are the Zapatistas? They’re practically unseen on TV.”
“The Zapatistas are more alive than ever,” she said, after speaking of the achievements of the 38 autonomous municipalities in the areas of education and community health. She said that although the indigenous children often attend classes under a tree or a plastic awning, they are now learning to read and write in autonomous schools, although these schools don’t have walls or ceilings. She said that in spite of the fact that conditions in Zapatista areas are not “idyllic,” they are clearly better than those that the towns suffered prior to the armed uprising of 1994.
During the roundtable on Workers from the Country and the City, the testimonies of working men and women from maquila sweatshops hit home, as people spoke of “losing eyes, legs and hands, which in the maquiladora industry is something that occurs daily.” During a visit to a factory, one participant of the Other Campaign found six workers who had lost a hand, 26 who had lost a finger, and “nearly 80 percent with some kind of scar on their bodies.”
One of the workers – her name remains confidential because she continues on the assembly line of a sweatshop in Tijuana – spoke of the abuses that the working women there confront daily. Among them: the fact that they are practically forbidden to drink water or go to the bathroom. Those who protest against the abuses are put on different shifts and sometimes fired.
According to the Workers Information Center (CITTAC, in its Spanish initials), the number of sweatshops in the border region constantly changes, depending on the condition of the economy in the United States. Currently, there are two million Mexicans who work in sweatshops along the border between Matamoros and Tijuana.
Most of the sweatshops are in Ciudad Juarez in the state of Chihuahua and Tijuana, Baja California. In the latter there are nearly 200,000 workers who work in these factories making electronic equipment (it is said that Tijuana had been considered the world capital of television production, prior to China’s growth in that industry, and that the Sony corporation is the most powerful in the region).
Most of the work is done by women, many of them migrants from other states in the south of Mexico.
More recently, the pharmaceutical industry has arrived in the area, as well as the so-called Medical Clusters (groups of businesses like Cardinal Health and Sola Optica, among others) that constantly violate labor law and the human rights of the workers.
The participants in the Across-Borders Encounter denounced the project to install an industrial corridor “that would end in Ensenada” by automobile corporations, among them Toyota, Ford and General Motors.
Young people from both sides of the border spoke (at times accompanied by a capella hip hop rhythms) about their problems and the resistance struggle they seek to coordinate with all the people below and to the left.
The struggles of Atenco and Oaxaca were held up as examples of resistance to emulate throughout the country.
The presence of “intergalactics” from the Other Side, from Germany, from Italy, could be seen on Saturday night during a dance in which the less timid moved to the beat of jarocho and later to European punk rock.
Today, the gathering continues with the interchange of all that is interchangeable.
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