For the last five months, the largest international campaign to be organized in solidarity with the Zapatista support base communities in resistance (BAZ) for a very long time has been rolling out around the world. We, the Dorset Chiapas Solidarity Group, are pleased to have been able, along with many others in 25 countries, to contribute our grain of sand by helping to organize informative events and actions, disseminate news and information, and set up new groups, known as Committees of the True Word, to support our Zapatista brothers and sisters. In our small corner of the world we have been able to reach out to people not previously involved, and we know that, as a result of this joint effort in many places, many more people now know the history of the Zapatistas. As the Campaign says in its first Call to Action, “everyone should know this history of profound pain, hope, and inspiration.”
This history began in Chiapas on November 17th, 1983 and it was on the twenty-ninth anniversary of the founding of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, somewhere on top of a hill in the Lacandón Jungle, by 3 indigenous and 3 mestizos, as the story goes, that the enormous organizing effort that has been the “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas” was finally wrapped up.
It is an anniversary that was not only celebrated in the hundreds of Zapatista support base communities throughout the mountains, canyons and jungles of the state of Chiapas in south-east Mexico, butt was also remembered among indigenous communities worldwide who are struggling for recognition of their land and traditions, by groups everywhere struggling against neoliberal displacement and dispossession, and by all people of good heart who work for democracy, liberty and justice. The Zapatista struggle has touched the hearts and awakened hope in people of all colors and continents.
As the “Worldwide Echo” Campaign has now come to a close, we from the Dorset Chiapas Solidarity Group offer the following thoughts to mark where we have been and where we must continue to go. In particular, we hope all those who took part in the two stages find this of use.
Movement for Justice in El Barrio (MJB) is a majority Mexican immigrant women grassroots community organization that fights for dignity and against neoliberal displacement in El Barrio and beyond. They have a long history of supporting other communities and organizations that are part of The Other Campaign, including campaigns in solidarity with San Salvador Atenco and San Sebastián Bachajón, and they first planned the Echo campaign in response to an appeal made by the BAZ of the community of San Marcos Avilés, who are under siege from political party supporters backed by the local government.
The initial aims of the Echo campaign were “an end to the war against the Zapatistas of San Marcos Avilés, and immediate freedom for our Zapatista compañero Francisco Sántiz López”. The campaign was launched with the sending out of a stunning video message from the compas of San Marcos Avilés, telling of the nightmare situation they were, and still are, enduring, which provoked an enormous response. Our group have now shown this video seven times, to great effect.
Shortly afterwards, the war being waged by the three levels of the bad government of Mexico on the BAZ communities had extended to other communities, and the Campaign grew accordingly in order to offer support to all the communities under threat--a total of 6 by October. “It is absolutely clear”, states a declaration promoted by the campaign, “that the ongoing government repression being carried out against the BAZ of Comandante Abel, Unión Hidalgo, Guadalupe los Altos, San Marcos Avilés, Moisés Gandhi, and Jechvó, as well as the unjust imprisonment of the Zapatista political prisoner, Francisco Sántiz López, stem from the same source: the shared ambition and strategy of the municipal, state, and federal governments in their war of counterinsurgency to annihilate the indigenous Zapatistas.”
The Mexican government’s war of attrition has remained the main strategy of its counterinsurgency efforts since 1994, when, under the ‘Chiapas 94 Campaign Plan’, a campaign was drawn up to displace the indigenous population, thus severing their ties from the land. It prescribed: “the forced displacement of the population under Zapatista influence into official shelters or refugee zones; neutralization of the San Cristóbal diocese; capture of Mexicans identified with the EZLN; expulsion of undesirable foreigners; death or control of equine and bovine livestock; destruction of planted and harvested crops, and use of ‘civil defence’ to break the support relationship that exists between the population and the transgressors of the law.”
This plan is currently being carried out through the use of paramilitary groups, or paramilitary-style attack groups, composed of local political party members, and armed, funded, trained and directed by the three levels of the Mexican government, with the aim of eradicating the entire Zapatista organization.
Paramilitary groups have a military structure, dress and operate as soldiers, and bear weapons which are for the exclusive use of the armed forces. They operate through daily threats and acts of harassment whose aim is to generate fear, attrition and stress in the community. The ultimate goal is to provoke a confrontation or to displace the community so as to crumble the foundation of the Zapatista movement: the BAZ.
“The bad government should hold its head in shame to claim that its police are there to safeguard order and social peace, when right in front of them robbery, threats, movement of paramilitaries, and the firing of heavy calibre weapons is carried out”, says the Good Government Junta from Caracol V, Robert Barrios. “What they should state clearly is that the police have been sent to protect the paramilitaries, so the latter can evict, pillage and steal the harvest of our Zapatista compañeros.”
In addition to the formation of paramilitary groups, the counterinsurgency, or civilian-targeted, war also manifests itself through measures including the military occupation of the indigenous territory of Chiapas, the injection of money through coercive social programmes, direct political persecution, the fabrication of charges, and the imprisonment of innocent members of the Zapatista bases of support.
One of the latter is Francisco Sántiz López, from the ejido of Banavil. The Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Centre (Frayba) assert that human rights violations have been committed against Francisco, including: lack of an adequate defence and access to justice, not having a translator or a legal defender who knew his language and culture to assist him, violations of due process, and violations of the principle of presumption of innocence. For these reasons they have filed an appeal for legal protection for Francisco and requested his immediate release, stating very clearly:
“We believe that the case of Francisco is an example of the Mexican state using the system for the prosecution and delivery of justice to criminalize the support bases of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, as a consequence of their exercise of the right to self-determination and autonomy, based on the Agreement of San Andrés and national reference points established in Article 2 of the Constitution of the Republic, as well as the international benchmarks ILO Convention no 169 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
The current situation
In the face of the historical process of repression, the difference made by the campaign is principally one of increased knowledge and awareness. The perpetrators of repression now know they are being watched and monitored, and that the news of their actions will be rapidly disseminated amongst what has become a multi-country support network of new and veteran activists, organizers, and communities. All around the world, in countries from Korea to Argentina, people have grown aware of the situation. They are watching. Thousands now know about the Zapatistas and the attacks they are facing--many with no prior knowledge--and are creating new ways to offer solidarity to their compas in resistance.
Additionally, our brothers and sisters, the Zapatistas, know full well that they are not alone; that international solidarity, inspired by their struggle, is reaching out to them; that as they celebrate 29 years of the EZLN, strong in the belief that they will never give up, never surrender, there are hands held out to them across the oceans of the world.
In a recent communiqué, following acts of harassment denying the BAZ of Jechvó access to their own water supply, the Good Government Junta of Oventic declared: “We want to make clear to the 3 levels of bad government, the officials and their people who they have paid, controlled and manipulated, that they should not think that, with provocations, threats, assaults and persecutions, they will stop the struggle of the Zapatista peoples, the struggle of all the original peoples from all over Mexico for the construction of our autonomy, self-determination as indigenous people and national liberation; whatever it costs us, no matter what happens, we will continue onwards, because dignity, reason and justice are on our side.”
As the campaign drew to a close, actions and events continued to be organized on a daily basis, and messages of support continued to arrive from all over the world, from young people in the Basque Country to indigenous students in Canada, from the streets of Calcutta to the mountains of Colombia. Likewise, some of the campaign’s more well-known supporters sent new statements backing the Campaign. Here are extracts from a few of the messages we have found particularly moving:
Hugo Blanco, Peruvian social activist and editor of Lucha Indígena:
“There is a campaign by the system governed by the 1% to crush this island of democratic self-government, so that it will not serve as an example to the world that this is both possible and healthy.
Their instruments are the governments of Mexico and the state of Chiapas, political parties, criminal gangs and even campesinos who want to get land easily and with the protection of those from above.
It is therefore both an obligation and in the direct interests of all of us who are seeking a new world, of all who want a horizontal society in solidarity, of all who understand that the 1% is leading us to the extinction of the human species and who are committed to its survival; we must organize with all our strength and collective intelligence, in the defense of this island of freedom and democracy in Chiapas, which shows us that building another world, a world where there is room for many worlds, is truly possible.”
Raul Zibechi, Uruguayan thinker, activist, and writer:
“Hundreds of families are being besieged by paramilitary groups, with the unconcealed aim of putting an end to one of the most remarkable examples in the world of the power of those from below.
They will not succeed. Due the strength of the communities which have sustained for decades their project of life, despite repression, death, hunger and isolation.
They will not succeed, because Zapatismo is the seed which grew from the Ya Basta of January 1, 1994. Because it was rooted in the hearts of millions in the March of the Color of the Earth and it returned stubbornly to fight for life with the Other Campaign.
Zapatismo is indestructible among the many from below who struggle to continue being, who work every day to build a new and different world.
All solidarity with the besieged communities.
Let every heart beat together, intoning the mutual support among those from below, celebrating the joining of all the struggles, of all the other worlds.”
Dr Sylvia Marcos, Mexican feminist, thinker and activist:
“The indigenous peoples appear too often as the object of “help”, “development”, “education” and not as what they are, subjects from whom we can learn and who have already opened a new path which has illuminated hope under so many skies of this world.
This path is today a living possibility, which is manifested in a sustained peaceful resistance which we in the cities, the mestizos, can only admire. Why is there so much fear, on the part of the powers, both governmental and de facto? Why, among other things, this concentration on aggression, this excess of violence? Why?
We know that the paramilitaries are armed with the consent of the three levels of government: federal, state and municipal. So the attacks on the Zapatista support bases raise a crucial question…….
What are they afraid of to make them deploy such destructive force?
What is the danger from the proposal, the resistance and the survival of the Zapatistas for the prevailing capitalist order?
Is it because they show positively that other ways of life, in justice and dignity, are possible? That the satisfactions of life and the joy of being need not be governed by consumerism and commodification? That we can “live well”, as they say in the Andean communities of South America, with other ways of organization, government and campesino production, in which the best way of living is not the accumulation of material goods, but community solidarity and sharing what there is?”
Gustavo Esteva, well-known writer and activist
“The Zapatistas gave us Zapatismo, which now no longer belongs to them.
They gave us hope again, as a social movement, and affirmed for us the value of dignity.
Zapatismo today is a force which travels the world and transforms it. It is always local, and always open to the world, linking all our struggles in coalitions of the discontented and the rebellious.
Adopting Zapatismo as our own, as a new attitude which links us together in these dark times, does not mean forgetting the Zapatistas. Not only do they continue to be a source of inspiration. They have become an effective demonstration of that sense of the possibility of transformation which surrounds us. This has made them the subject of ongoing attacks which try to destroy them or at least to suffocate them, to stop them. For this reason they demand our solidarity.
One of the more radical positions of the Zapatistas has been to argue that they are simply ordinary men and women and therefore are rebels, nonconformists, dreamers. This underscores the fact that Zapatismo is not the work of leaders, vanguards or parties, but of the common people. It is a hugely important political position which still today defines the Zapatistas…..
We must act. We need to continually express our solidarity with the whole Zapatista project, but particularly with the communities which at this moment are exposed to direct and daily more intense aggression. We need to extend this campaign which embraces them.”
We have great admiration and respect for the Movement for Justice in El Barrio, and would like to thank them for putting such tremendous efforts into inspiring and launching our collective Campaign. Indeed, as they state: “The government and its people have their strategies, their violence, their terror. But we state here that we also have an option in the face of so much repression: we have the option to organize ourselves and to fight for justice, dignity, and autonomy.”
Although the Echo Campaign has now come to an end, we must not relax our vigilance. The BAZ communities face great risks and remain vulnerable to new threats as they enter their twentieth year in resistance, and the thirtieth year since the founding of the EZLN. We must continue to organize in their support and for our own liberation(s). The newly formed Committees of the True Word must continue their work, walking the word through the world in opposition to the repression and in support of the other world we need.
Why? Perhaps it is best to allow our compa Hugo Blanco to respond: “The Zapatista zone is a living example that ‘another world is possible’. This other world is not only possible but urgent, in order to maintain the survival of the human species.”