<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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“In Our Education the Young Have Been Able to Hear the Real History, not that of the Oppressors”: Soraia Soriano

A Meeting About Education Projects with a Member and Representative of Brazil's Landless Workers’ Movement

By Juan Trujillo
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

August 13, 2007

Oventik and Morelia 23rd and 25th July 2007: Within the themes worked on with major interest and intensity in this second encuentro between the Zapatista people and the people of the world is that of autonomous education. This social right is essential for the development of the people, particularly for social movement struggles. For the Zapatista education promoters, as for Soraia Soriano, Landless Workers’ Movement (MST in its Spanish initials) representative, education is an instrument of “raising awareness and freedom.”

In the different working sessions of the autonomous Zapatista presentation, from the Oventik caracol to the Tzeltales and Tojolabales areas between the mountains of Morelia caracol, education is discussed at the tables.

Photos: D.R. 2007 Moysess Zuñiga
Caracol Morelia
Since the first caracol, where this encuentro started, the Other education, realised in diverse autonomous councils, is dedicated to reaching displaced students in San Pedro Polhó. According to education promoters, this autonomous education project is intended to be different to that of the bad government.

As previously reported here, education coordinators and promoters have brought to light the nature of autonomous primary and secondary grades. However, faced with the question about what to do when a student wants to study at university level, an interesting space for criticism and reflection opened up and, as a “Zapatista University” doesn’t exist, it turned out to be a good idea to listen to the voices asking: what happens with students who want to study at University after Zapatista secondary grade? With respect to Soraia Soriano, MST member and EZLN special guest, we are not just talking about similarities between the education projects but also realising a horizon still alien and unknown to Zapatista communities.

Although the autonomous Zapatista project stresses teaching that favours common sense and embraces indigenous roots, that of Brazils MST takes into account “the teaching of the oppressed” from Paulo Freire. From the “Zapaptista Central Heart” caracol in Oventik, Soriano expressed, “We have very similar principles to the Zapatista way, in the sense that an education that looks to the country, with our reality, is needed. From there an education proposal was constructed also from the movement.”

“Presentation of Vía Campesina,” in Caracol Morelia
It is well known that the caracols and Zapatista Councils of Good Government don’t accept any state or federal governmental economic resources; education is no exception. However, for the MST of Brazil the reality is a little different: “The movement has two stages of land struggle: when we are squatting and are illegal, and the other when we are legalised, in this process we have many MST limits as a collective. Many schools that are in camp phase have autonomy, but when we are legalised we have a kind of backing down, because we have to fight for legal schools.”

Soriano speaks about the experience of this Brazilian movement that to date makes up more than 350 thousand families in the camps in 23 out of 26 federal states whose participation is found in the outskirts of around two thousand towns which makes this movement one of the strongest in the world.

With a view to one of the Oventik autonomous auditoriums and in regard to MSTs relation with the government, which is in contrast with Zapatista dynamics and self-management, Soriano explained: “The Zapatista struggle is very important for the Left, but that is not our reality. We are still fighting to make the government act, especially in regards to the question of land and occupations. As for education, it is rare to have autonomous school experiences. We usually manage and have good relations with professors and (school) directors and manage to get some subjects dealt with in schools, but it depends who is in the council. For us, in education, we have to move forward, but if we want to refuse the State we would have to build something similar to what the Zapatistas are doing.

Educational Autonomy and State University

The critical point about Zapatista autonomy has been addressed when speeches during this encuentro have made reference to the university level which, although it is an institution that belongs in the urban environment, the MST also has alternatives. “Here campesinos have an indigenous identity, they are very different to those from the MST, who are rural campesinos and some of them not even that. Our youngsters who want to go to university do it independently from the movement, but after construction of the National School (not legalised by the government) we have many more youngsters studying; the inauguration in 2003 was fundamental, not just for the youth but also for relations with other international organisations. The school achieves a social movements articulation function,” Soriano commented, finishing a cigarette.

In relation to the discussion of whether Zapatista students who finish secondary school and wish to study at the university level, therefore needing to obtain a document, it is well-known that the MST already maintains a close collaboration with Brazilian universities to run special courses. Also a member of the gender collective of this Brazilian movement, Soraia explained: “We make a proposal to universities with (federal government) resources that they can then specialize in. The university does part of the courses and we do a part, but we make the program. There are some legalised courses like in Rio Grande de Soul for technical jobs (connected to agro-ecology), or Riveranópolis engineering school. There they leave with documentation, but most courses don’t have that… they are more to do with political affiliation.”

The morning of July 25th, in “El Torbellino de Nuestras Palabras” caracol, a round table was held where Vía Campesina guests explained their situation and their struggle. Soria Soriano also participated in the four-hour session, which had high-spirited and special attention from the public, and she reiterated that the MST has 25 years of building its autonomous forms of health, production and education. On this last theme she expressed that “we have the movements’ National School, where the youth have been able to listen to the real history, not that of the oppressors.”

Originally published in Spanish July 26
Translation by Deano

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