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"We Will Win One Hundred Times Over" (Zapatistas)

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2013
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      "We Will Win One Hundred Times Over": Translating the Zapatista Resurgence
      Wednesday, 30 January 2013 16:05 Joshua Stephens

      On December 21st of last year, as many across the world were speculating
      about the end of the Mayan calendar, 40,000 actual Mayans marched
      silently into five cities in Chiapas, Mexico, putting the Zapatistas and
      the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN) back into the
      forefront of grassroots political discourse the world over, and
      mainstream political discourse in Mexico. A stream of provocative
      communiques from the EZLN's spokesperson, Subcomandante Marcos, have

      For the better part of the last decade, Kristin Bricker has been
      documenting popular struggle in Mexico, particularly the Zapatista
      rebellion, and is one of the most prolific English translators of
      material produced by grassroots social movements across the country.
      Given the occasion of the seemingly sudden re-emergence of the
      Zapatistas, and her translations of its almost-daily literary
      flourishes, it seemed appropriate to catch up with her and solicit her
      reflections on the moment.

      Joshua Stephens: I think a lot of people reading the pieces you've been
      translating the last month or so are wondering, so I'm just going to
      ask: Why now? Generally, the Zapatistas have mobilized at this volume in
      response to discreet events or conditions – North American Free Trade
      Agreement (NAFTA), the post-Institutional Revolution Party (PRI)
      electoral landscape, and so on. Do you have the sense that something in
      particular has sparked the resurgence?

      Kristin Bricker: The current resurgence began with the December 21st
      mobilization in which 40,000 Zapatistas staged a silent march in five
      Chiapan cities. In their December 30th communique, they explained why
      they decided to step back into the limelight: "After the media-driven
      coup d'état that exalted a poorly concealed and even more poorly
      disguised ignorance to the federal executive branch, we made ourselves
      present so that you would know that if they never left, neither did we."
      Here they are referring to the election of Enrique Peña Nieto to the
      country's presidency.

      Peña Nieto is Mexico's George W. Bush. He won the 2012 election thanks
      to massive vote-buying. Everyone acknowledges that he is impressively
      stupid and not at all ashamed of it, and for the Left he's the devil
      incarnate. His godfather and puppet master is former president Carlos
      Salinas, who was in office when the Zapatistas staged their 1994
      uprising. In order to pave the way for NAFTA, Salinas reformed Mexico's
      Constitution, essentially removing the land rights Emiliano Zapata and
      his peasant army fought and died for in the Mexican Revolution of 1910.
      As a result, Salinas continues to be even more unpopular than Peña
      Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderón, who launched the drug war that
      currently has Mexico embroiled in a deadly quagmire.

      As governor of Mexico State, Peña Nieto laid a deadly trap for the
      People's Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT), a civilian peasant
      organization that has strong ties to the Zapatistas. In 2006, his
      government negotiated a deal with the FPDT that allowed flower vendors
      to sell flowers in the downtown area of Texocol, near Atenco. When the
      vendors, accompanied by the FPDT, showed up to sell flowers at the
      agreed-upon time and place, Peña Nieto's riot police were waiting for
      them. In the clashes that followed, police killed two protesters
      (including a fourteen-year-old boy, shot in the chest with live ammo)
      and gang-raped over twenty female detainees on a bus in front of other
      arrested demonstrators. No police have been punished for these abuses,
      but some demonstrators spent years in jail. Peña Nieto proudly claimed
      responsibility for the police's actions.

      When he won the presidential election, it meant that the Institutional
      Revolution Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for seventy years as a
      one-party dictatorship, would return to power after just a twelve-year
      hiatus. The Zapatistas were an important factor in the PRI's ouster
      following the 2000 elections, so it's fitting that they've chosen to go
      back on the offensive now.

      JS: The initial communique following the late December march pretty
      openly acknowledged a widespread sense that the Zapatistas had eroded –
      as a force or presence – rather considerably. I remember conversations
      we had about the ebbing of The Other Campaign, autonomous communities'
      land-loss, and journalists' claims about Marcos being "put out to
      pasture". Was the "they don't need us in order to fail" comment simply
      an artful way to stage a return to visibility, or do you feel like it
      was taking aim at something?

      KB: I actually have a different interpretation of that communique. I
      interpreted it as a response to all of the chatter in the Mexican and
      international media over the past few years that the Zapatistas had run
      out of steam, were losing ground, had failed to make any gains, and that
      Marcos was either dead or had been fired. As Marcos says in that
      communique, "We never left, even though media from all over the spectrum
      have dedicated themselves to making you believe that, and we are
      reemerging as the indigenous Zapatistas that we are and will be."

      It's important to note that while this new set of communiques hopefully
      means that the Zapatistas are planning something proactive, they haven't
      been invisible over the past few years. In 2011, Marcos had some public
      written exchanges with two prominent men, intellectual Luis Villoro and
      writer-turned-activist Javier Sicilia. That same year, thousands of
      Zapatistas mobilized to march against the drug war in support of Javier
      Sicilia's peace movement. So if the Zapatista's disappeared from
      anywhere, it was from the corporate media's echo chamber. In reality,
      the Zapatistas never went away.

      "They don't need us in order to fail" is an allusion to Karl Marx's
      assertion that capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction.
      Earlier in that same communique, he argues that the political class is
      "too incapable and dishonest to see that within themselves they had and
      have the seeds of their own destruction." Marcos has said that over and
      over; he even wrote a children's book called "The Story of the Lion and
      the Mirror" where the lion represents capitalism and the mirror, which
      kills the lion in the end, represents how capitalism contains the
      necessary contradictions for its own destruction.

      Current and previous presidential administrations have made it very
      clear that Mexican politicians and their Yankee puppet masters are
      perfectly capable of failing miserably without the Zapatistas' help. No
      one can blame the hell that we are living in Mexico on the Zapatistas.
      The kidnappings, the guns that are held to our heads, the bodies that
      hang from bridges as we go to work or take our kids to school–the
      Zapatistas had nothing to do with that. It is a direct result of the
      United States-backed drug war that former president Felipe Calderón
      started with guns blazing in order to distract the country from the fact
      that he'd stolen the election.

      JS: Has the resurgence had effects on the ground? There are references
      in these texts to collaboration with adherents to the Sixth Declaration,
      but it seemed in recent years as though that network had languished some.

      KB: The Other Campaign's success has depended entirely on the people who
      make up the local collectives and regional networks. Yes, in some areas,
      collectives have languished somewhat as they wait for the Zapatistas to
      tell them what to do next. But one thing that you have to keep in mind
      is that the Other Campaign is comprised of a lot of groups that have
      been organizing since before the Other Campaign. That's the case in
      Guerrero, where human rights organizations and autonomist community
      policing organizations united under the Other Campaign umbrella. They're
      on the front lines against the dirty war and drug war violence in that
      state; they don't sit and wait around for the next Zapatista communique
      to tell them what to do. They're always proactive, because it's a matter
      of life and death for them.

      The Other Campaign also resulted in like-minded individuals coming
      together under the pro-Zapatista banner to do community organizing that
      they might have not been doing prior to the Other Campaign. That's the
      case in Chalco, a poor, crime-ridden area of Mexico State. In 2010,
      following a foreseeable disaster where a canal burst and covered Chalco
      with raw sewage (in some areas putting the entire first floor of houses
      under what the residents politely referred to as "mud"), a collective of
      Other Campaign adherents in Chalco built relationships with the local
      church to do the disaster relief the government refused to do. Operating
      under the Other Campaign mantra of "If they touch one of us, they touch
      all of us," the Chalco collective called on Other Campaign adherents in
      the region to help out. The Chalco collective used the church as a base
      of operations where Other Campaign adherents from Mexico City and
      surrounding areas could drop off donations and provide free services. A
      collective of doctors who are adherents to the Other Campaign came out
      to Chalco to provide medical care to people who were suffering
      infections due to their exposure to raw sewage. A hairdresser came out
      to give kids haircuts before they went back to school. Brigades
      repainted walls to cover up the flood lines that reminded people of the
      few days they spent living under a few feet of feces. Having the wall of
      a government-maintained above-ground canal burst and cover your town
      with poop is just about the most undignified experience a working class
      community could possibly suffer. The Other Campaign brought dignity back
      to Chalco, and the collective there is as strong as ever.

      The Other Campaign has also strengthened the movement to free political
      prisoners. Instead of every jailed Zapatista sympathizer all over the
      country having to fight for their freedom in isolation, they're
      essentially guaranteed a support network, not just in Mexico, but all
      over the world. Just look at how hard the New York-based Movement for
      Justice in the Barrio has fought for Mexican political prisoners. The
      release of these political prisoners over the years is a constant
      tangible win for the Other Campaign. [Interviewer's note: Since the time
      of this interview, Zapatista political prisoner Francisco Sántiz has
      been released, a day after his being mentioned in an EZLN communique.]

      That said, so far I haven't seen any tangible effects of this
      resurgence–just a lot of anticipation. The latest communique from
      Subcomandante Marcos said "to be continued…" So I think everyone is
      anxiously waiting to see what the Zapatistas have up their sleeves. I
      imagine that Other Campaign collectives all over the country are meeting
      to analyze and discuss the latest communiques.

      Personally, I think the new communiques are uplifting. We've suffered so
      much under the drug war, myself included. It's debilitating to be
      constantly bombarded with carnage, guns held to your head, kidnappings,
      extortion… Can you imagine what it is like to be afraid to look out your
      window to see what that noise was in the street because you're afraid
      that you'll be seen seeing something you shouldn't have? I think that,
      for many people outside of Mexico, it's impossible to imagine living
      under those conditions, much less organizing under them. When 40,000
      Zapatistas took the streets and then they began releasing these new
      communiques, I felt hope and energy for the first time in two years. I
      think a lot of other people feel the same way. I'm excited to see what
      they have to say, and I'm excited to be a part of it. If anyone knows
      how to go through hell and emerge stronger, the Zapatistas do.

      JS: I remember seeing middle school-aged kids studying at the Zapatista
      school in Oventic back in 2008, and realizing that I was looking at 13
      and 14 year olds who had effectively always been Zapatistas, inasmuch as
      they were born after the '94 uprising. By now, those kids have reached
      adulthood, entirely within those communities and the mode of being
      cultivated in them. Is what we're seeing reflective of that generation
      coming into the fold, as it were?

      KB: That is something that a lot of people noticed: how many of the
      Zapatistas who marched on December 21 were young adults. The Zapatista
      autonomist process officially kicked off in 2003 when the EZLN
      unilaterally implemented indigenous rights in the territory it
      controlled. That's when the EZLN, the Zapatista's military apparatus,
      created the civilian Good Government Councils to govern in the newly
      created autonomous territory, which was divided into five caracoles, or
      regional capitals. Positions on the five Good Government Councils are
      rotative and decided through the indigenous tradition of choosing
      leaders based on their prior service to the community.

      The Zapatistas who are now reaching adulthood, getting married, and
      having children of their own were babies during the uprising, and they
      were about nine when the autonomous governing system was created with
      its own schools and healthcare. So they still attended government
      elementary schools and were neglected by government health clinics when
      they were sick. They grew up with the feeling of being an outsider,
      different, inferior, or, as the Zapatistas call it, "other." Part four
      of Marcos' "Them and Us" communiques talk about that feeling. But these
      young adults also spent their very important formative years living
      under an autonomous indigenous governing system where their
      indigenousness is celebrated, not scorned. That has to be very important
      for them. And now they're old enough to serve on the Good Government

      JS: Indigenous resistance is increasingly visible, the world over,
      especially in light of the Idle No More actions coming out of Canada.
      And that resistance is increasingly networked. Is that part of the
      conversation on the ground in southern Mexico?

      KB: Since their uprising in 1994, the Zapatistas have been at the
      forefront of globalizing leftist–not just indigenous–struggle in the new
      information age. Many people have argued that the protests that shut
      down the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999–an event
      that radicalized and mobilized my generation–were to some extent
      inspired by the Zapatista uprising.

      Of course, indigenous and anti-colonial struggles have always had a
      special place in the Zapatistas' hearts. Some of the first people to
      visit them after the uprising were Irish freedom fighters and leaders
      from the American Indian Movement. The Zapatistas have organized
      international meetings of indigenous peoples so that they can share
      their struggles and strategies. They organized the founding of Mexico's
      National Indigenous Congress so that the country's indigenous peoples
      could participate in the indigenous rights negotiations between the
      Zapatistas and the government. While the Zapatistas haven't specifically
      mentioned Idle No More (it's still relatively new, and there is a
      language barrier), Marcos has repeatedly expressed support for
      Palestinians resisting Israeli colonization. A lot of people in the
      United States, even leftists, seem to forget that the conflict in
      Palestine is centered around colonists (although they call themselves
      settlers) attempting to seize indigenous land and resources by
      displacing Palestinians and imprisoning them in open-air prisons akin to
      what the US calls reservations. This fact is not lost on Marcos and the

      The Zapatistas are now closely watching the indigenous Mapuche's
      struggle for autonomy and indigenous and land rights in Chile. Marcos
      has mentioned the Mapuches in three of the four "Them and Us"
      communiques that have been published, at this point. I think we'll see a
      greater collaboration between those two struggles in the near future.

      Dan Clore

      New book: _Weird Words: A Lovecraftian Lexicon_:
      My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

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