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DELTA #3 11/12

  + Echoing the Niger Delta, the south of Mexico is dominated by a government
  which calls the tune of transnational corporations and neo-liberalism while
  the people suffer poverty and repression. Emily Williams describes the
  Zapatista's challenge to US-backed exploitation.
  "We want peace with justice, respect and dignity. We will no longer live on
  our knees." 
  - Subcommandante Marcos (1)
  With the cry of Ya Basta! (enough is enough!) the Zapatistas burst on to the
  world stage on January 1, 1994. Armed and dressed in black balaclavas, the
  indigenous Mayan community of southern Mexico took possession of five major
  towns in the state of Chiapas. They demanded land and liberty, and full
  recognition for the rights of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. They
  declared war on the federal army and government, called for an end to
  neo-liberalism and demanded the repeal of NAFTA, the North American Free
  Trade Agreement.
  It is no coincidence that the initial uprising of the Zapatistas coincided
  with NAFTA coming into force. To entrench the neo-liberal policies of NAFTA,
  the government removed Article 27 from the Mexican constitution, allowing
  the commodification of ejidos or communal landholdings. This effectively
  eliminated the indigenous peoples' rights to the land, a right enshrined in
  the constitution drawn up after the 1910 Mexican revolution.  
  Chiapas is a diverse, rich land and includes North America's last remaining
  tropical rainforest, the Selva Lacandon. Transnationals from around the
  world have had their eyes on Chiapas for some time, and most have been
  waiting for NAFTA to come into effect to start the process of exploitation.
  Marcos stated in a recent interview published in the Italian magazine Limes,
  "There is petroleum and uranium in Chiapas. Business people from the US
  discovered them... their intention was to come here immediately with the
  start of NAFTA." The appearance of the Zapatistas, he said, created problems
  for the US company's plans to "eliminate the indigenous people of the area
  or move them to another area," or directly exploit them.
  The IMF and World Bank have consistently chosen to fund projects which put
  profits before people by giving substantial loans to the Mexican government.
  At the recent Encuentro gathering of activists, Efren Capiz Vilegas,
  co-ordinator of the Union de Comuneros Emiliano Zapata, stated, "The IMF has
  given grants to the Mexican government to ensure the security of southeast
  Mexico. They funded the guns that were used to shoot indigenous people!"
  Huge tracks of the Selva Lacandon had been cleared prior to 1994 with plans
  for whole areas of the jungle to be eliminated to exploit the natural
  resources of the area. It comes as no surprise that the Zapatista army, the
  EZLN, choose to base themselves here, deep in the forest. And as you travel
  through Chiapas today its clear that the uprising has disrupted mining, road
  building and logging. The Zapatistas want the right to collectively manage
  their own resources.
  "They, the indigenous of Chiapas, those without voice, those without faces,
  are capable of leaving us with many marks stamped in fire on our hearts,
  that we the people of Chiapas hope you will transmit to every person you
  encounter on your way,"  write the non-indigenous peoples of the state of
  Behind the romantic image of the masked men and women of the EZLN lie
  hundreds of indigenous communities and an organisational structure of
  democracy with roots deeply based in 2,000 years of Mayan tradition and
  culture, and of fighting against exploitation and oppression. The EZLN are
  under the control of the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee
  which is made up of elected representatives from each of the Zapatista
  communities or areas. The representatives are responsible for bringing all
  the proposals from the villages to the committee and visa versa. Everyone
  must be consulted before any decision is taken. 
  The campesinos of Chiapas are well aware of what neo-liberalism means for
  their communities, for their lives and the future of their children. They
  have seen with their own eyes the destruction of their environment, the
  hunger and pain that is left behind when companies choose to satisfy their
  desire for profit. In a document drawn up before the uprising, one group
  stated, "What we don't agree with is the selling of our country to foreign
  interests... people who are not Mexican run this country."
  Marcos adds, "Of course, according to some intellectuals this type of
  consciousness of country or nation is not possible in an indigenous person,
  but they don't know these indigenous people."
  "Our voice began to sound centuries ago, and it will never again be
  silenced." - Marcos
  The seeds of the rebellion were planted decades before 1994 in the many
  struggles waged by indigenous communities against exploitation. What the
  Zapatistas have succeeded in doing is to bring the many indigenous struggles
  80% of campesinos in the highlands of Chiapas suffer from malnutrition, and
  yet the state is a massive exporter of foodstuffs for the international
  market. Thousands of children die every year from curable diseases, and
  there are more beds for tourists than there are hospital beds for the
  indigenous people. Chiapas has the worst education system within Mexico, and
  less than 1% of schools nationally are located in indigenous zones. Teachers
  are hardly paid and most children don't make the first grade of elementary
  school. 54% of Mexico's hydroelectric power is produced in the state and yet
  two out of three homes have no electricity.
  The people are very clear about the fact that for them the decision to take
  up arms was the only option they had left. Maria, a woman from a Zapatista
  community in Ocosingo stated, "We were not happy about taking up arms but we
  had tried many, many peaceful ways and always we were killed and tortured.
  We had no choice, it was the only way. We are fighting for peace, our land,
  dignity and our rights. We do not want war but we were at war anyway, with
  the government, with the landowners who took our land. We were dying anyway."
  When you talk to individuals in the communities about the losses they have
  incurred in the uprising, they continually tell you that they have suffered
  many deaths before. Juan Jose said, "Before 1994 I lost two of my children
  to diarrhoea. I lost one son in the battle for Ocosingo. All of their deaths
  are a great sadness to me."2 Losses in the communities are dealt with
  communally. Great sadness is a shared experience, as indeed is great
  happiness. The people's ability to act as a collective in all matters leaves
  a deep impression on visitors.  
  "There will be no peace until there is justice"  - Marcos
  Today Chiapas has army troops scattered throughout the region, conducting
  psychological war against the campesino and indigenous peoples who live
  there. Every village is surrounded by army camps. There may be a ceasefire
  in Chiapas but there is no peace in southeast Mexico. Daily missions by
  armed helicopters flying low over the jungle communities shatter the sounds
  of monkeys screaming and children playing. The forest is cut down and water
  deliberately contaminted. Human rights abuses are commonplace. There are
  daily reports of arbitrary detentions, torture, executions, rape and plunder
  of communal and personal property. 
  The USA is covertly involved in this activity. Under the guise of providing
  helicopters, training and arms for the fight against drugs it has provided
  the Mexican government with weaponry that is being used to destroy its
  people. Today, the elite National Guard of the US army is lined up along the
  Guatemalan border awaiting instructions for the next offensive by the
  Mexican government on the indigenous communities of Chiapas. The land
  occupations continue as campesinos reclaim what once belonged to them, but
  the evictions are violent.
  At the closing meeting of the encuentro, Felipe, one of two delegates from
  the EZLN said, "We tell you, brothers and sisters, continue resisting as we
  do, because the future of all of us is to triumph." 
  The Zapatistas have mounted an explicit challenge to the First World, to
  neo-liberal policies and capitalism. It is unparalleled. Three years on the
  struggle continues and the spirit of the Zapatista rebellion is spreading.
  Solidarity and support for their actions has come not only from the peoples
  of Mexico but from a growing number of indigenous and other communities
  across the globe. "Other winds are beginning to blow," says Marcos.
  "And all of you, what are you going to do?"  - Marcos
  The local human rights organisations in Chiapas are desperately short of
  international observers, and this is a critical time when support is
  urgently needed. If you are thinking of going to Mexico, can speak Spanish
  and are prepared to spent a week or two with the indigenous communities as a
  'campamento for the peace', then make contact with the Centro de Derrechos
  Humanos in Chiapas using e-mail: cdhbcasas@laneta.apc.org
  There are monthly demonstrations outside the Mexican Tourist Office in
  London on the first Friday of the month (contact fHuman) to which everyone
  is welcome, and there are three groups in Britain which are part of a
  network of international solidarity groups:
  Chiapas Support Group, Box 19, 82 Colston Street, Bristol BS1 5BB, UK
  fHuman, c/o BM-CRL, London WC1N 3XX, UK  e-mail: fhuman@hotmail.com  
  Chiapas Action, Kings College, Cambridge CB2 1ST, UK
  The Zapatista video 'Visions of Freedom' is available from the Chiapas
  Support Group for £7.50 + 50p p&p.
  1. Quotes from published material and from personal interviews by the author
  in the Zapatista communities and the Encuentro. See also "Zapatistas!
  Documents of the New Mexican Revolution," Autonomedia 1994. Available from
  AK Press, PO Box 12766, Edinburgh EH8 9YE, UK. A portion of the cover price
  goes to the indigenous and peasant communities in southern Mexico to aid
  them in their struggle.
  "We aren't going to ask the government to give us freedom, nor are we going
  to ask you male fools. We are going to ensure our freedom, our respect, and our
  dignity as women and as human beings." - Early quote from the women of the EZLN
  One of the first things you notice when you arrive in Zapatista territory is
  that women in the communities meet and hold your gaze, often responding with
  a smile and a reply to your Buenos Dias. To those arriving in indigenous
  Mayan communities in Chiapas this small detail may not seem like much to get
  excited about. But to understand the significance of this gaze you have to
  stop looking at the act through eurocentric eyes. For behind it is a story
  and a struggle for equality that has journeyed far in 10 years. 
  Women have been involved in the Zapatista movement from the start. They make
  up a third of the armed combatientes in the EZLN. Many hold positions such
  as major and captain, and three outrank Subcommandante Marcos. 
  There has been a revival and strengthening of some indigenous traditions
  along with the consciousness-raising of the movement: women are involved in
  projects to revive the practice of herbal medicine, for example. At the same
  time the people do want development, but just appropriate development on
  their terms. 
  The exploitation and oppression of women was one cultural tradition that the
  women involved in the Zapatista movement decided not to hold on to. They
  drew up 
  what has become known as the Women's Revolutionary Law. It demands that
  women be allowed to choose their husbands, be allowed to decide the number
  of children they have, keep control over their bodies and its fertility,
  that women be respected, that the act of rape be punished, that women have
  the right to an education, and that they decide what type of work they do.
  The law was translated into the five different indigenous languages in
  Chiapas and representatives went into all the villages to explain it to the
  many women who could not read. 
  The trickling down effect of these changes in cultural traditions to the
  communities is already visible. The confidence of the little girls and young
  women and their presence in the makeshift school houses is one example. The
  fact that women in Zapatista communities have the right to participate in
  meeting, speak Spanish and hold elected positions of responsibility is
  another. The older women tell you much has changed in the last decade but
  there is also much room for more change. As the female combatients come back
  to the villages with their partners to have children, they in turn bring
  back different attitudes. In Mexican macho society it is very rare to see a
  man participating in any form of child care. In the Zapatista communities,
  however, men and boys are not only carrying small children and babies around
  but also comforting them. When you ask the women about this they laugh,
  saying that women in the EZLN had learnt to carry guns, and that in the
  communities men had learnt to carry babies. 
  Domestic violence was endemic in the indigenous communities prior to the 1980's,
  mainly as a result of the high rate of alcoholism. Drinking was encouraged
  by the ranchers and landowners who regularly stole land from the campesinos
  only to employ them later as labourers. Wages were paid with alcohol. In all
  the Zapatista communities now there is a notice as you enter which states,
  "No alcohol or drugs - only peace and maize." 
  Commandante Ramona, in response to a question about why women participated
  in the revolutionary struggle, stated, "Because women are also living in a
  more difficult situation; because women are the most exploited and strongly
  oppressed, still. Why? Because women, for so many years, for 500 years, have
  not had the right to speak, to participate in an assembly. They do not have
  the right to have an education, to speak to the public, or to hold any
  position in their town... We get up at three in the morning to prepare the
  corn, and from there we have no rest until everyone else is sleeping. If
  there is not enough food, we give our tortilla to the children, to the husband."
  The women's movement in the communities grew simultaneously with the entry
  of women into the armed struggle. Major Ana Maria: "Women started to get
  together and organise themselves and they started to join the ranks of the
  army. And then other women did not join but organised themselves into
  women's groups, women alone. And that is another way that women entered the
  At the Encuentro, Eva, an indigenous woman from the Union de Comuneros
  Emiliano Zapata based in Morelia in Central Mexico reported that the example
  of the Zapatista women had encouraged other indigenous women in Mexico to
  start organising in women-only groups.
  She said, "When we occupy land we do not call this a land occupation, but a
  land re-occupation - because the land belongs to us in the first place. When
  the soldiers come to evict us from our land the men hide behind the women.
  Sometimes the women get arrested but the other women who remain demand a car
  to go to the local prison and release the arrested women. We women are
  getting very good at this."
  The EZLN has led the way in the demand that women be treated with equality,
  but the struggle even amongst the combatients has been difficult. Marcos
  states, "Many times in our daily lives as combatients, in couple
  relationships, sexist attitudes are reproduced and because of this our laws
  tend to favour the women." 
  He added, "The government doesn't like the fact that the indigenous people
  have risen up, but we did it. The sexists don't like the fact that the women
  are doing what they are doing but they are doing it and that's that."
  Attitudes and traditions have been slow to change but the indigenous women
  of Chiapas and Mexico are demanding and ensuring their rights are respected.
  "We want all who walk with the truth to unite in one step" - Subcommandante
  Inspired by the Zapatistas, activists from across the globe gathered
  together in Spain this August for the 'Second Intercontinental Gathering for
  Humanity and Against Neo-Liberalism'. Among the thousands of people who
  attended were representatives of the EZLN and the Ogoni and countless other
  grassroots groups from Indonesia to Britain.
  People gathered under the hot sun to discuss the effects of neo-liberal
  policies across the world and how they can be challenged. The conference was
  split into 6 Mesas (tables) discussing different subjects from economics to
  land struggles and ecology. 
  Particular attention was given to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), seen
  as a new world government and made up of the most exploitative
  transnationals. It was agreed by all that the WTO should be a target of our
  The Encuentro was a great opportunity for networking and building a network
  of action against transnationals. It was inspiring to meet people from
  across the world who were fighting the extension of the free market into
  their lives and particularly fighting the commodification of land by
  governments, corrupt leaders and big business. 
  There was agreement between environmentalists and land struggle activists
  about a different understanding of the land as a common resource. "For
  capitalists or the rich the concept of the land is one of profit and of
  exploitation. For many poor farmers it is something to make a living from
  but for indigenous people it is much more. The indigenous people believe
  that Mother Earth is to be respected. Our land has been worked collectively
  by generation after generation. Our land is a source of life itself we do
  not believe it should be bought and sold by the free market," said Efren
  from the Union de Comuneros Emiliano Zapata at the meeting. 
  And it was clear that more than anything, the Zapatistas and peoples of
  Southern Mexico want us to plant the seeds of change in our own countries. 
  (For further information, contact: Ya Basta, c/o Avon Gorge Earth First!,
  Box 51, 82 Colston Street, Bristol BS1 5BB, UK.)
  DELTA: News and background on Ogoni, Shell and Nigeria
  Box Z, 13 Biddulph Street, Leicester  LE2 1BH, UK   
  tel/fax: +44 116 255 3223  e-mail: lynx@gn.apc.org      
  web: www.oneworld.org/delta