Dignified Rage, Internally Displaced People, and “Buying Consciences”

A delightful surprise awaited us as the 3rd phase of Digna Rabia (Dignified Rage) began on January 2nd.  Philosophers, writers, activist organizations, journalists, musicians, and the EZLN participated in panels, all addressing the general theme of Otro Mundo, otra política (Another world, another politics).  Several thousand packed the CIDECI auditorium to overflowing and managed to fill three rooms in other buildings as well.  Banners from participating organizations decorated the grounds of the Universidad de la Tierra (University of the Land), also known as CIDECI for its capacity building center, on the outskirts of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.  Vendors sold T-Shirts, music, magazines, and books.  Indigenous cooperatives spread their embroidery and weaving for all to see and, hopefully, buy.  This happy and colorful scene was the 1st World Festival of Dignified Rage, sponsored by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN).  I was particularly impressed by the quality of thought expressed by all that participated.  This gathering was notable for the fact that presentations by individuals and organizations occupied most of the time and the EZLN occupied only a small fraction of the time.  This shared participation was a marked change from the Encuentros where the EZLN did almost all the talking.  It was also notable for the large crowds that were present every day, a show of support for the Zapatistas and a sign of their strength in Mexico and internationally.

The weather was perfect: warm and sunny days, cool crisp nights with a sky full of stars and at least one planet.  I had not visited Chiapas since a cold spell drowned the Jungle in pouring rain and near-freezing temperatures at night, the day after the Comandanta Ramona Women’s Encuentro (Gathering) one year ago.  This year the weather was a welcome change and it was good to be here.  A group of us from the Bay Area and Sacramento arrived and departed Chiapas at different times.  Some attended the first phase of the World Festival of Dignified Rage in Mexico City between December 26 and 29, 2008.   One compañera joined us in San Cristóbal after celebrating the 15th Anniversary of the Zapatista Uprising on New Year’s Day in Oventik, also the 2nd phase of the Festival.  “The largest crowd ever” reportedly attended the anniversary celebration.  This writer joined up with folks in San Cristóbal, where she had been working for several days.

Marcos’ statement on Gaza, entitled “Gaza Will Survive,” was beautiful and inspiring, evoking strong emotions in the assembled crowd.  After that session, the crowd marched from CIDECI to the Zócalo (central plaza) in downtown San Cristóbal de las Casas (several miles), chanting and painting graffiti on the municipal headquarters.

Likewise, Marcos’ analysis of (Mexican president) Felipe Calderón’s “War on Drugs” was precisely on point.  “Mexico is being run by organized crime,” declared Marcos in his first public statement on the insatiable violence prevalent in Mexico and usually attributed to a war by and between drug cartels.  Calderón “decided to support one gang of drug traffickers to make war on another gang and unleashed the Army throughout the country to act as police, prosecution, judge, and executioner,” Marcos alleged.  More than 5,000 Mexicans have lost their lives in this war, in just the year of 2008, more than the reported total of U.S. troops who have died in the entire Iraq War.

Raúl Zibechi characterized Haiti as a laboratory for testing civilian control techniques (repression) to later be used against social protest in Latin America.  Don Pablo González Casanova got rave reviews when he announced: “Dignity is not negotiable,” and “Autonomy is not negotiable,” referring to the fact that the Zapatistas have not sold out.  Justice for the Barrio, an organization of mostly Mexican immigrants fighting displacement by developers in New York City, showed an excellent video about their struggle.  Paulina Fernández talked about the struggle of the community police in Guerrero, a struggle that has kept drugs and drug-related crime out of the communities that police themselves, much like the Zapatista ban on drugs has done in Chiapas.

One of the organizations I most admire in Mexico is the National Indigenous Congress (CNI, its initials in Spanish).  Its leaders have been struggling as indigenous campesinos all their lives.  They know who they are and who their enemy is.  They are inspiring.  Carlos González spoke on behalf of the CNI.  He opened by stating: “the history of indigenous peoples in Mexico is one of continuous conquest.”  He went on to list some recent and current examples of capitalism’s conquest of and repression against those peoples.

Hugo Blanco (Perú) spoke about indigenous resistance to oil and mining companies in the Peruvian Amazon.  They resist for the same reasons as the Zapatistas and indigenous peoples throughout the world: a respect for nature, culture and balance, in defense of their land.

Marcos concluded the Festival by urging attendees to stay united so as not to weaken “our force. ” This was, in a way, a summary of all the messages delivered throughout the Festival.  Comandante David made a similar plea on New Year’s Day.  The auditorium was still packed at the closing.  We stumbled out into the cool night air reflecting on all the ideas and examples of struggle we had heard.  The Other Campaign is evolving, maturing.

After the conclusion of Digna Rabia, three of us traveled to the colorful Zapatista Caracol of Oventik, home to the Good Government Junta of Los Altos (The Highlands).  The process of autonomy (self government) led the Zapatista communities to elect good government boards, or Juntas, in 2003.  The Caracols are the regional governing centers.  Beautiful murals decorate the various buildings in Oventik and one can shop for all sorts of artesanía (crafts), a little like an Other Mall.  The Che Guevara Cooperative store sells every kind of Zapatista-related paraphernalia one could possibly want and serves food besides.  Mujeres por la Dignidad Cooperativa (Women for Dignity Cooperative) offers women and children’s embroidered blouses, tablecloths, jewelry, purses, and much more in its Oventik store.  We were in Oventik to ask formal permission to visit the headquarters of San Pedro Polhó autonomous municipio (county).  Our organization has supported Polhó ever since paramilitary violence forced many thousands to flee into camps of internally displaced people within that county during the last half of 1997.  While we were in Oventik, of course, we bought things to bring back: T-shirts, ski masks, and paliacates (bandanas).

The autonomous municipal council greeted us upon our arrival in Polhó.  One of its members escorted us to the women’s weaving collective.  We had played a role in starting the cooperative and have always taken advantage of the opportunity to buy from them, whether in the community or at large Zapatista gatherings.  A member of our group had seen them on New Year’s Eve in Oventik and told them we would visit Polhó after Digna Rabia.  The women in the weaving collective produce exquisite hand-woven and embroidered huipiles (traditional blouses).  The Junta had notified Polhó that we were coming and they were waiting for us.  After a lengthy shopping spree in the women’s collective store, we met with the autonomous council.  The all-male council wore the traditional clothing of wool vests, skirts, and hats with multi-colored ribbons.  Most of them did not speak Spanish, so a spokesperson that did talked to us.

“We are surviving,” the spokesperson said in response to our question as to how they were doing.  “We do not have enough to eat because we are still unable to go to our fields.  The paramilitaries are there.  Our diet is limited to 3 tortillas per day, one serving of beans per day and meat once a month.”  There are still 6,000 displaced people in the county, many in encampments inside the municipal headquarters known as Polhó.  Others are in camps located throughout the county.  They told us there are sometimes rumors of another paramilitary attack like Acteal.  The Junta in Oventik had denounced threats being made against the San Pedro Polhó displaced Zapatistas shortly before we left the Bay Area for Chiapas.

I thought about the EZLN’s New Year’s message, read in Spanish by Comandante David and in Tzotzil by Comandante Javier at the New Year’s celebration in Oventik.  David said:

With effort and difficulty we have tried to take a few steps but it has still not been sufficient to resolve the problems and the great needs of our peoples.  Our authorities have tried to resolve  the problems of our peoples and some of the multiple needs of our communities,  but the large part of our needs continue without solutions.  The hunger, the misery and the illnesses are increasing every day.  (CCRI-CG, EZLN, January 1, 2009)

I noticed two newly constructed attractive buildings along the roads to Oventik and Polhó.  They looked expensive and also familiar.  We learned that the government built them to house artisan cooperatives.  I had seen the same style building on the Ocosingo-Palenque highway two years ago.  Development and counterinsurgency wrapped into one expensive package.  They are there both to compete with the Zapatista cooperatives and to convince the non-Zapatistas that they are better off being loyal to the government.  As Comandante David said in the EZLN’s New Year’s message, the government is “buying consciences.”

Mary Ann Tenuto Sánchez, Chiapas Support Committee.  This report was first published by De Tod@s Para Tod@s on 24 February 2009, and it is reproduced here for educational purposes.