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Apartheid Housing Posed as Solution to Climate Vulnerability in Chiapas

May 16, 2011
Apartheid Housing Posed as Solution to Climate Vulnerability in Chiapas
Written by Jeff Conant, All photos by Orin Langelle
Friday, 13 May 2011
Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, with the country’s largest indigenous population, has always been extremely vulnerable to volatile climate events. High levels of hunger and marginalization are exacerbated almost annually by torrential rain and flooding, which can only be expected to get worse as the climate crisis deepens. In 2009, the state launched and began widely publicizing its Climate Change Action Programme (CCAPCH). The plan includes vast biofuel plantations, forest carbon offset projects, and a statewide “productive conversion” initiative to convert subsistance farmers into producers of African palm, Jatropha, and export-oriented crops such as roses, fruits, and coffee.The plan also includes a program called the Sustainable Rural Cities initiative; under this plan, the state is developing between six and twenty-five prefabricated population centers designed, according to the state’s publicity, to “promote regional development, combat the dispersion and marginalization of local peoples, and play a significant role in making efforts [to develop infrastructure and provide basic services] cost-efficient.”In a brief interview I conducted at the United Nations Climate Summit in Cancún last December, Chiapas Governor Juan Sabines said that “The Rural Cities program has three objectives: to mitigate poverty, to mitigate the risk of people facing climate-related disasters, and to reduce the threat of global warming. It is based in the Millenium Development Goals of the United Nations, which in Chiapas are obligatory.”

In 2009, Chiapas revised its state constitution to include a commitment to the United Nations Millenium Development Goals, the highly touted set of eight benchmarks for reducing the worst inpacts of poverty worldwide. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) explicitly supports the Rural Cities Initiative; Gontrán Villalobos Sánchez,in charge of Disaster Preparedness at the UNDP office in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, told me in an interview that the Rural Cities are “a good option. Before anything, the Rural Cities intend to bring together the dispersed population. [They] are also an answer to disasters,” he said. “The challenge is that the people themselves are not accepting the project.”

While state officials and UN officials promote the Rural Cities as a positive response to the climate crisis, even a superficial analysis makes it clear that the program will increase vulnerability, not decrease it. Worse, critics such as Chiapas-based Centro de Investigaciones Economicas y Politicas (CIEPAC) suggest that the project is part of a regional integration strategy designed to move rural and indigenous peoples off their lands in order to gain access to strategic resources. In this regard, the Chiapas Climate Change Action Programme appears to be a complex and interwoven set of initiatives that use the climate crisis as a pretext for large-scale economic and territorial restructuring, with the goal of freeing up productive land and destabilizing local resistance. This, critics point out, is tantamount to ethnocide.

In late March of this year, I traveled to the newly inaugurated Rural City of Santiago Del Pinar, with photographer Orin Langelle and Social Psychologist Abraham Rivera Borrego of CIEPAC, to see first hand what one of these centers looks like.

Santiago Del Pinar is in the highlands of Chiapas, less than two hours from San Cristóbal de las Casas, just beyond San Andrés Larráinzar (known to the Zapatistas as San Andrés Sacamchen de Los Pobres) and directly contiguous with the community of Oventic, one of the five Zapatista caracoles, or centers of resistance. What we found there was a set of insultingly diminutive pastel-painted ticky-tacky houses made of chipboard, set on stilts on a bald hillside, burning in the open sun; fenced playgrounds of concrete; greenhouses full of pesticide-treated roses; and an angry local official who said that the houses might endure “eight to ten years at most,” and that the floor of his own house “had broken when the children were playing on it.”

In the burning sun on the bald hillside overlooking Santaigo del Pinar, I spoke at length with Abraham Rivera about his and CIEPAC’s view of the Rural Cities program:

 Abraham Rivera

Abraham: Santiago del Pinar became a municipality after the dialogues of San Andrés Larráinzar between the government and the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) in 1996. It’s there that they sign the San Andrés Accords [ the 1997 peace agreement that binds the Mexican government to Consitutional reform, later ignored]. So, San Andrés becomes one of the first Zapatista autonomous municipalities. As a counter measure, the state governor at that time, Albores Guillen, in 1999 made a remunicipalization plan, to combat the autonomous municipalities. So, Santiago del Pinar had this objective from the beginning, the disarticulation of the autonomous municipalities. After that time, the town was virtually abandoned for a long time, becoming one of the municipalities with the highest indices of poverty in the state of Chiapas. And now they’ve taken it up again, let’s say, as a model for the resettlement of the population in indigenous territory. The other Rural Cities they’ve begun, as in the case of the first one that was founded, Nuevo Juan de Grijalva, are in campesinoterritory, not indigenous territory. The defining characteristic of Santiago del Pinar is that it’s in indigenous territory; this aspect gives it a different connotation.

In the first Rural City, Juan de Grijalva, the houses are much bigger, like 60 cubic meters, while here the houses are 30 cubic meters, and rather than walls of brick they’re made of pressboard, this wood conglomerate that is essentially good for nothing; so the houses that the State is giving them have very little useful life. You can see the racism implicit in these new houses, no? There’s a mentality of “they’re indigenous so we’ll give them less and they’ll accept it.”

You can see also that there’s no sense of the indigenous cosmovision, of how to live in a place. For one thing, there are no agricultural plots – absolutely no place to plant. For another, indigenous families tend to be large, so you have eight, nine people and you’re putting them in these little houses, two rooms of 30 cubic meters. In this you see clearly that the architects have no idea, no vision.

Another aspect fundamental to the indigenous culture is cultivating and eating corn, and it’s clear that they’ll have no land to plant corn to eat, nor will they be able to make tortillas in the house, because tortillas are cooked over firewood. If they do this inside, they’ll burn the house down. So, it’s clear to see that there’s a complete dislocation between the imposition of this Rural City and the forms of community life here in the region.

Jeff Conant: What’s behind the design, behind the concept of the Rural City?

Abraham: Making a map of all the Rural Cities that are planned for the State of Chiapas, you discover the elements that go unspoken by the government, and the bigger picture that’s not in the official discourse: basically, in the Northern Zone, where you find Juan de Grijalva, the key element is that they want to clear the territory to advance the mining industry; there have been huge mining concessions authorized in the last two years, without any consultation. So, all the relocation of the people to Juan Grijalva, which the government says was done due to the natural disasters there, well in reality it wasn’t due to that, but to the economic plan, to ensure access to the mineral reserves in the region.

In the case of Santiago del Pinar, the concern is that there are large extensions of territory here, and important natural reserves, so its an area that’s important for the sale of carbon credits. These large areas are to be decreed as reserves, so the carbon they capture can be legally sold to other countries. They’re going to make forest reserves that can be sold to other countries for sequestering carbon.

In the Soconusco, the coastal zone of Chiapas, they plan to build a Rural City, and behind this one is the fact that they are making huge plantations of biofuels there, African palm and Jatropha; seven out of every nine biodiesel plants in Mexico are in Chiapas, and the largest is in the Soconusco, therefore they need to “liberate” huge extensions of land in order to transform it into monoculture plantations and get them producing for agroindustry. So that’s what underlies the Rural City in Soconusco.

In Jaltenango they’re planning another Rural City; there what they plan is to clear the land in El Triunfo, a Reserve almost as large as Montes Azules [the largest of the Protected Natural Areas in Chiapas, in the Lacandon Jungle, and subject to its own problematic climate-mitigation plan]. Just like what’s happened in Montes Azules, the objective is to clear the area to make it useful for bioprospecting and for sales of carbon credits.

These aspects are not in the official discourses. The official discourse only speaks of combatting poverty and the dispersion of the population, but they don’t speak about the most fundamental element, which is the extraction of natural resources from the territories of Chiapas.

JC: It seems to me that there are many similarities with Indian reservations in the U.S. and with what they call Apartheid architecture in South Africa, no?

Abraham: Yes, basically capitalism has always worked by reorganizing or reordering territories, and this is one such reorganization; we’ve seen it time and again throughout our history. In Guatemala we saw it when they built model villages to concentrate the displaced people, we’ve seen it in Africa. Right now there are similar Rural Cities projects in Africa, also under the aegis of the United Nations Millenium Development Goals [the Millenium Villages Project]. It’s the same model, exactly, with the same forced displacement, the same process, the same social face to the discourse. But it’s clear that it’s a totally backwards way of providing services to the population. It’s not allowing the people themselves to decide how they’d advance their development, or even to see what kind of development is in line with their cosmovision. It’s imposed from the outside. So you have a situation where the population that’s receiving these “services,” their culture clashes directly with the architectonic model being imposed on them, as much as with the model of production and the model of social organization.

It’s clear, too, that the principal impact on the families that live in these places is their loss of food sovereignty: this is completely broken because the population no longer eats from what they plant; now they need to seek work, wage labor, and this work is going to be either for tourism or for industrial agriculture. So what’s at the bottom of this is Project Mesoamérica 2011 – a project with enormous ambitions that intends to free up vast extensions of territory between southern Mexico and Colombia, for global economic production.

Colombia’s part of “Proyecto Mesoamérica” is to link it with “Plan IIRSA,” which is the plan for vast regional infrastructure for South America. So, in essence, we’re talking about a strategy of territorial control covering all of Mesoamerica and South America, to permit full exploitation by the market economy.

Young child outside of her pre-fabricated house

Another element that we see in Santiago del Pinar is counterinsurgency; remember that this municipality originated as a counterbalance to the Zapatista autonomous municipalities. According to the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center, several people who are going to be resettled here are former paramilitaries who participated in the massacre in Acteal [Note: Acteal, where 47 people were massacred in cold blood by paramilitarias back by the Mexican army in December, 1997, is only a few miles from Santiago del Pinar]. It should be clear that this entire project is developed to be antagonistic to the Zapatista caracoles[centers of resistance and autonomous governance].

Its clear to see when you compare the two kinds of social spaces: in the Zapatista autonomous municipalities, people can live in small, dispersed communities but they have the caracoles, a space to come together and organize; because public space is constructed collectively, just as in autonomous education, in agricultural production, in electricty, in communications, you walk down the streets in one of the caracoles and you see murals everywhere. Then, you come to a Rural City and you see that all of the space is imposed. The streets are named for corporations: in Juan de Grijalva, the streets have names like “Coca Cola” or “Omsa.” So you see that the population doesn’t participate in the creation of this public space, nor in their own education, nor in agricultural production, nor in communication.

So what we see really are great spaces of isolation. One of the things that [Chiapas Governor Juan Sabines] likes to say is that the people who live here are more connected than ever, with internet and everything. But what you see is that the people have no access to computers, and even if they do, they are totally alienated from their reality and their context.

So this is another element: inherent manipulation and racism. They call this social action because they’re giving homes to people, and giving them work, when what the people need is for their indigenous way of life to be respected, and not to have a foreign model of development imposed on them, like Apartheid: a little house with four square walls and an occidental model of development that in many cases clashes directly with the indigenous cosmovision.

Playground enclosed in barbed wire and chain link fences

One of the elements that the UN uses to measure the indicators of poverty is whether people have a cement floor; well, in many communities the people say “we don’t want a cement floor – our mud floor is our way of having direct contact with the earth.” It’s there that we see the great separation, and where we see the free will of the pueblosbeing violated by the construction of these spaces.

JC: And isn’t it true that the concept of territory and the decentralization of the population is actually central to the Mayan concept of home?

Abraham: Absolutely. The relationship with the environment is crucial. So, to create population centers or nuclei with high density generates problems. For example, for the question of common land, each family, each community, needs a certain number of hectares to satisfy their needs for water, energy, and food. So if they make large communities it begins to cause problems for them. So decentralization is a very important aspect of their vision. They have elements of organization that bind them, but living together in large centers isn’t one of them.

JC: And, the government is carrying out these projects as a solution to the climate crisis?

Abraham: It’s unbelieveable, the capacity of capitalism to absorb everything, every discourse, every concept. Now we’re seeing that it’s absorbed even the concept of respect for nature, and they’ve invented “green capitalism,” and the idea of biofuels to stop burning fossil fuels. But they don’t seem to understand that as long as we don’t change the model, the exploitation of the earth is the same. Its not enough for them that people have their needs met, but they have to make a business of it.

For example: today we have huge areas of arable land no longer devoted to producing food for people, but instead they’re producing food for automobiles, something absolutely counterproductive. The question of clean energy, for example, wind energy, is great, but when it becomes a big business and displaces entire communities and huge tracts of land are devoted to it, now its not addressing a fundamental need, nor is it respecting local development in the region, but it’s become exploitive and damaging to the environment.

So, we say that all of this paraphernalia about climate change is nothing but a lie. The sale of carbon credits is provoking displacement of communities from their homes, so that Japanese or American companies can come later, buy these spaces emptied of people, and continue polluting. It’s a very serious contradiction.

JC: Along with the effort to address climate change goes the concern that poor people are most vulnerable, yet these houses, for example, if a heavy rain comes and brings down the hill, these houses won’t hold up at all.

Abraham: Exactly, its a very wet region, and one of the problems that Chiapas has is precisely that, mudslides with the rain, so its impossible to believe that people would want to live in these houses. It’s clear as day that the goal is economic: the businesses that participate in building these are the same business that have power in the state government, that have relations with the governor and the rest. The last thing they’re interested in is to speak the truth about whether this is an adequate model of construction, or really sustainable. The word sustainable is totally empty of meaning.

JC: And what about land ownership?

Abraham: Well, in the campesino zone (Juan de Grijalva), people are allowed to continue owning their own land. What changes is the way the land is used. Now the land is not collectively worked, for food sovereignty, but rather devoted to what the government cals “productive agricultural conversion:” they’re planting fruit trees that have nothing to do with the ecosystem, but that bring big profits, like lemons and things. And the corn….

JC: For the government, corn isn’t “productive,” right, not “sustainable”?

Abraham: One of the most amazing parts, that the governor mentioned last year as a fundamental element in the construction of the Rural Cities, is the idea that “Corn perpetuates poverty.” Now, corn is a fundamental element of indigenous culture, so this is a direct attack: the criminalization of being indigenous. You’re not poor because you cultivate corn, you’re poor because you’re indigenous; and its your own fault.

This is where we see that what’s being imposed completely ignores the reality of rural life. Another aspect that’s different here in indigenous territory, as opposed to campesino territory, is that the indigenous are obligated to sell their lands. So all these people in all these little houses no longer have land. These houses will last two or three years, and then what? They’ll be without land, living in a refugee camp gone rotten, and they’ll be forced to migrate toward the U.S. and the cities.

JC: And the people that have come to live here, have any come from the nearby refugee camps in Polho, or Acteal [camps that have been occupied by thousands of internally displaced people since the height of the paramilitary attacks on the Zapatistas in the mid-‘nineties]?

Abraham: No, almost all of them come from communities in the region towards Simojovel, indigenous Tzotziles who were obligated to resettle here.

JC: Obligated in what sense? How?

Abraham: Well, we came here to do interviews and collect testimonies with the man in charge of public works for the Rural City, and we have the testimony on video of him saying the people were forced to sell their lands. First they were pressured and then they were offered large sums of money; actually, not large sums, some 200,000 pesos per hectare. Those who wouldn’t sell were pressured harder until they were threatened with having their electricity cut off, which is what assists them in harvesting their beans and their corn, and they were going to leave them without a paved road; so, abandonment by the state is the threat that’s floated to generate pressure and push them off their lands toward where they can get these services.

But they come here and they realize that it’s all a fiction. And this is what you see writ large when you’re in a Rural City. You go around and you see there’s not a single tree, there’s no public space to generate a social life, the streets are open to the fierce sun, there’s no shade, the houses aren’t climate sensitive. Of sustainability this place has absolutely none.

JC: And the carbon credits are already being sold?

Abraham: We spoke with the municipal representative of Jaltenango, which is where they’re going to resettle the people from the jungle of El Triunfo, and he told us, “Look, I’m going to tell you the truth, what we want is to clear out the reserve of El Triunfo, for carbon credits.” Just like that.

JC: Is Conservation International involved? They actually manage that reserve.

In the hothouse growing roses, the sign reads “food security”

Abraham:They are. What they want is to empty the reserve of people, because once it’s empty it can be decreed legislativly as a “Nature Reserve.” This, then, becomes eligible for the sale of carbon credits. So, its a whole process, because there are communities disposed to resist and not move. But what they’ve managed to do is to get the communities that live there to destroy their own houses. They arrive and they say “You have to take down your own house, we’re going to resettle you.” The ones that aren’t destroyed are the concrete houses because they’re too difficult to destroy, but with the wooden houses, no problem.

And there you see the frontal assault that the communities are living. On a symbolic level its quite strong, to have to destroy your own house, to be displaced and to have to change your way of life completely, and on top of it they say it’s for your own good, so you get out of poverty.

A lot of people just don’t understand it. “What does that mean, to get out of poverty if I’m still screwed?”

JC: Then, what is poverty?

Abraham: For me, poverty means someone who has been dispossessed. Its not that someone doesn’t work, but that someone has suffered a process of dispossession; the vast majority of indigenous communities here have lived through 500 years of dispossession. Its such a long process that poverty begins to appear natural. It appears as if being born poor is something natural, but its not; rather, its that an entire people has been affected by a process of dispossession in order to facilitate accumulation by other people who are gaining tremendous wealth. The people they take this wealth from are called “the poor.”

But these dispossessed people have a different concept of work, they have different concepts of development, and if they were allowed to determine how to make best use of the territories where they live, the question would be different; so its not about their need to escape from poverty, but rather that that they be allowed to do in their territory what they want, and that nobody should come and impose a model of development that we know doesn’t work, and which, in fact, is what is leading to planetary destruction.

JC: All of this dressed up now as reducing vulnerability to climate change.

Abraham: Exactly – it’s about sustainable development, confronting the vulnerability of climate change. So we speak about this great crisis in the Global North, which is responding to all of this reordering of territory that’s going on in the Global South, to be able to weather the crisis.

On a global level, one third of the world’s natural resources is still healthy, and this third is in the South. So this is becoming a big priority for every nation. The U.S. put in its 2009 National Security Plan the element of securing natural resources. It’s taken as a public fact that you have to be ready to act at any moment of uncertainty, any region could become a priority for the global economy in terms of natural resources, so you have to be prepared to take immediate action. Europe has its immediate action forces, the U.S. has its, so wherever there is a territory in some uncertainty, they can act on it. We begin to see how natural resources are an element of geopolitics, and how territories with great quantities of natural resources become zones of conflict.

JC: I think it was Tom Ridge, the Director of Homeland Security several years ago, who said that the border of the U.S., in terms of natural resource security, is in the south of México.

Abraham: Exactly. The United States depends on 18 minerals for the arms industry that are found in Mesoamerica. The mining concessions here, in El Salvador, Guatemala, México. Its important to them to get their hands on these resources.

Another important element of this city is the speed with which it’s been built. According to testimonies, in April 2010 the local assembly decides to come together, they have a meeting, and they agree that they don’t want the Rural City. At that moment, police arrive and surround the assembly. They bring out teargas, and they disperse the assembly. In less than a week, the machines were working, with no consultation. Since then the assembly hasn’t been allowed to meet again. Meanwhile, the municpal authorities are bought out directly, and they sign the agreement for the construction of the Rural City. It’s difficult to get any testemonies because people are silent, or scared. In Juan de Grijalva, one man began to speak badly about the life there, that the houses were badly built, that there was no work. Well, they published his statements in the state newspaper “El Cuarto Poder.” Two days later we went to interview him and he had completely changed his position. He said, “Today I am totally content, the place is great, the governor is good, etc., etc.” It was clear that something had occurred.

JC: Either a threat or a payoff…?

Abraham: Exactly.


Jeff Conant is a journalist, author of A Poetics of Resistance: The Revolutionary Public Relations of the Zapatista Insurgency, and A Community Guide to Environmental Health, and acts as Communications Director for Global Justice Ecology Project.

Orin Langelle is an award-winning photojournalist and the Co-Director of Global Justice Ecology Project. He is currently compiling a book of his four decades of concerned photography

From: Upside Down World

John Holloway Thurs. 19th May 6pm Glasgow Uni Occupation

May 16, 2011
19th May: John Holloway to Visit the Free Hetherington

A talk by John Holloway

19th May 2011

The Free Hetherington
13 University Gardens
G12 8QH
(NearByres Road/ Hillhead Underground Station)

The author of Crack Capitalism (2010), and Change the World Without Taking Power (2002) will be visiting the free Hetherington on its 109th day in occupation. As usual, there will be free tea and coffee served at visitor’s own instigation, and an evening meal.

Google Map:

Facebook Event:

Crack Capitalism, argues that radical change can only come about through the creation, expansion and multiplication of ‘cracks’ in the capitalist system. These cracks are ordinary moments or spaces of rebellion in which we assert a different type of doing.”

The full text of Change the World Without Taking Power (2002) is available online here (free):

John’s talk and the subsequent discussions will focus on ‘The Force of Negativity and the Rage Against the Rule of Money’. (see below)

The Force of Negativity and the Rage Against the Rule of Money

“We can only try to emancipate ourselves, to move outwards, negatively, critically, from where we are. It is not because we are maladjusted that we criticize, it is not because we want to be difficult. It is just that the negative situation in which we exist leaves us no option: to live, to think, is to negate in whatever way we can the negativeness of our existence” (Holloway, 2002, p.5)

For Holloway, the challenge is to develop a way of thinking that builds critically on an initial negative standpoint: a way of understanding that negates the untruth of the world (Holloway, 2002, p.8). Yet, as Chtodelat argue[1], the potency of negativity has largely been lost at the political and institutional level to the force of positivism and consensus. “Dialectics is the consistent sense of non-identity”, said Adorno (1973, p.5) and for Chtodelat, in retrospect, the twentieth century appears to us as a search for a “true” absolute negativity, which would not have anything positive in it and would represent a pure nothing or a pure disjuncture. Benjamin Noys, meanwhile, has recently rethought the role of the negative for philosophy and for political practice. His book, The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory, is a reminder that no revolutionary approach to politics and philosophy is able to overlook the contribution that contradiction and antagonism make to a critique of actually-existing forms of domination on the one hand and a renewal of agency on the other. Returning to Holloway, discussing the concept of ‘the scream’ in his book, Change the World Without Taking Power:

“Negative thought is as old as the scream. The most powerful current of negative thought is undoubtedly the Marxist tradition. However, the development of the Marxist tradition, both because of its particular history and because of the transformation of negative thought into a defining ‘ism’, has created a framework that has often limited and obstructed the force of negativity. This book is therefore not a Marxist book in the sense of taking Marxism as a defining framework or reference, nor is the force of its argument to be judged by whether it is ‘Marxist’ or not: far less it is neo-Marxist or post-Marxist. The aim is rather to locate those issues that are often described as ‘Marxist’ in the problematic of negative thought, in the hope of giving body to negative thought and of sharpening the Marxist critique of capitalism” (Holloway, 2002, p.9).

Holloway’s brand of revolutionary negativity has not been without its critics. Antonio Negri took Holloway to task for believing he could liberate himself from the problems of dialectics in purely negative terms and for neglecting the affirmative potential of ‘constituent’ power[2]. Meanwhile, reviewing Negativity and Revolution, co-edited by Holloway, Marina Vshmidt praises the book for demonstrating the virtues of placing negative dialectics, contradiction and antagonism at the heart of the revolutionary project, but criticises the contributors for largely avoiding “the wilting touch off the empirical” [3]. Nevertheless, for us, at a time when the crude, instrumental voluntarism of the ‘Big Society’ is framed as an academic priority[4], when social collapse and the crisis of capitalism is recast as individual failure and maladjustment, when ‘the Left’ follows capitalism’s program by ‘demanding’ more jobs, more growth and more justice, the force of negativity becomes a potent tool in what Holloway calls “the rage against the rule of money”. This talk and discussion will thus explore the force of negativity as an antidote to all those forms of false demands, mediation and negotiation that obscure a fundamental critique of political economy.

“That is our starting point: rejection of a world we feel to be wrong, negation of a world we feel to be negative” (Holloway, 2002, p.2)


 Adorno A (1973) Negative Dialectics, Routledge.

Holloway J (2002) Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today, Pluto Press.

Holloway J et al (2008) Negativity and Revolution: Adorno and Political Activism, Pluto Press

Noys B (2010) The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory, Edinburgh University Press.


[1] Chtodelat News:




Mexico’s Drug War Victims Find Their Voice in Massive Silent March

May 15, 2011

Posted: 10 May 2011 03:00 PM PDT

by Kristin Bricker, Upside Down World
Drug war victims finally made themselves heard in Mexico in the most unlikely way: a nation-wide silent March for Peace with Justice and Dignity. Photo courtesy of war victims finally made themselves heard in Mexico in the most unlikely way: a nation-wide silent March for Peace with Justice and Dignity.
Over 100,000 Mexicans took to the streets over the weekend to protest the war on drugs, impunity, corruption, and violence. The largest march lasted four days and covered nearly 100 kilometers from Cuernavaca, Morelos, to Mexico City. On Thursday, May 5, about 500 protesters began marching in Cuernavaca. Along the way, more contingents joined the march, while other marches set out from different states to join the protest in Mexico City. By the time the marches met in Mexico City’s main square on May 8, an estimated 100,000 people were gathered to protest the war.
Those who couldn’t make the trip to Mexico City held protests in their own states. In Chiapas, 25,000 masked Zapatistas marched in complete silence to the main plaza in San Cristobal de las Casas, where Comandante David read a communiqué from Subcomandante Marcos. “Tens of thousands of people have died in this absurd war,” said Comandante David. “Their only sin was to have been born or lived in a country that is badly governed by legal and illegal groups who are thirsty for war, death, and destruction.”
About seventy Central American migrants passing through Mexico to reach the United States also joined the March for Peace with Justice and Dignity. They marched along railroad tracks through Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Puebla, the route that migrants generally travel as they cling precariously to boxcars. Near the border between Veracruz and Puebla, armed men attempted to kidnap at least one woman during the march. The protesters don’t know if the attack was politically motivated, or just another example of the extreme violence migrants suffer daily as they travel through Mexico. Drug trafficking organizations frequently kidnap migrants for ransom or human trafficking. According to Eduardo Almeida of the Puebla-based Nodo human rights organization, the presence of reporters covering the march likely dissuaded the kidnappers in this case.
In Ciudad Juarez, about one thousand protesters marched in silence until they ran into the city’s mayor at the Benito Juarez monument. He fled the area on foot to avoid the protesters as they began chanting at him.
Protests occurred in all 31 states in Mexico. Protests were also reported in the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America. Mexican immigrants organized many of the protests that occurred in foreign cities.
“We Are Not Collateral Damage”
This weekend’s march, convoked by renowned Mexican writer Javier Sicilia after his son Juan Francisco was murdered in Morelos, allowed the drug war’s innocent victims to bring their stories to the national and international media, in many cases for the very first time. Prior to Sicilia’s public outrage over his son’s murder, the government stigmatized drug war murder victims, arguing that 90% of them are “cartel hit men.” Government agents have repeatedly doctored crime scenes and planted weapons on bodies to make innocent victims appear to be dangerous criminals. When the government does admit that innocent people have died in the drug war, it justifies the deaths as “collateral damage.”
However, from May 5-8, the drug war’s innocent victims stepped out of the shadows and into the international spotlight.
Many were meeting each other for the first time. When the marchers took breaks along Mexico’s 95D freeway, they sat down together to talk about their shared pain. Variations of the following exchange were frequently overheard during the march:
“Who is the young man in the photo you’re carrying?”
“He was my son. He was murdered. And who is the young man on your t-shirt?”
“He is my son. He’s disappeared.”
Some marchers lost family members within the past few months and had not yet politicized their search for answers; they were still in the initial stages of shock and desperation.
Carlos Castro marched with a 15-foot by 7-foot banner that pleaded “RETURN MY FAMILY TO ME” printed above photos of his missing wife, two daughters, and the family’s housekeeper. “I’m marching today to see if I can find my daughters,” Castro said as he choked back tears. The four women disappeared on January 6, 2011, from their home in Xalapa, Veracruz. Castro says he has no clue who took his family and housekeeper. “They entered [the house] and took the whole family. I’m doing this so that they [the kidnappers] receive this message and return them to me. I don’t know why they took them, they had no reason to take my daughters.” Castro’s wife Josefina Campillo Cerreto had just ended a stint as the Actopan (Veracruz) City Council’s trustee when the family was kidnapped. On December 13, 2010—just three weeks before the kidnapping—she updated her Facebook profile to list her job at the City Council and posted what would be her last status update: “I’d rather die fighting than give up without a fight.”
25,000 Zapatistas marched in Chiapas to demand "No more blood on Mexican Soil!" Photo by Moysés Zúñiga Santiago / La Jornada. Most marchers had at least a general idea of who disappeared or killed their family members. Surprisingly, protesters at the march against President Felipe Calderon’s drug war weren’t just limited to victims of military and police abuse. Victims of both organized and unorganized crime also marched against the war in large numbers.
Teresa, a middle-aged woman who lives in Morelos, marched with a photo of her son, Joaquin. “They killed him ten months ago in Mexico City,” she recounts. “I’m carrying his photo so that everyone knows who he was, sees that he had a face and a mother, just like the over 30,000 dead in this country. The dead aren’t just numbers. They were loved ones.” Joaquin was apparently murdered during a mugging. Teresa filed a report with the government, but the investigation, if there ever was one, went nowhere. As long as the investigation remains open, the government won’t let her cremate her son and spread his ashes in Cancun, where he was born. Joaquin is buried in a temporary grave in Morelos. The protests convoked by Javier Sicilia were the first time Teresa took to the streets to demand justice for her son. “I identify with Javier,” she says. “He was a young, productive, happy boy. Joaquin was beginning his third year of college, studying architecture. Joaquin was the type of young man this country needs, just like Juanelo [Javier’s son] was.”
Isaac Gomez Lopez, an art student who lives in Cuernavaca, argues, “A lot of people use the drug war as a pretext to attack other people. Now, it’s almost like anyone can kill someone and justify it by saying ‘it’s the drug war’ and it won’t be investigated. It just goes into a file.” Cuernavaca’s murder rate jumped after soldiers killed drug kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva there in late 2009. Beltran Leyva’s death destabilized the territory his organization controlled, providing an opening for other organizations to move in an attempt a takeover, which inevitably led to more violence. “You start to see curfews, the streets empty because they’re not as safe,” says Gomez Lopez. “It’s really affecting tourism.”
Victims of organized crime marched against the war as well. “I’m a victim of human trafficking and organized crime,” declares Ivan Monroy Medina of the Regional Coalition Against Trafficking of Women and Girls. “Seven months ago they took my daughter. She was eleven months old and they violently took her from my wife in Mexico State.” Ramos says that human trafficking is a growing problem in his state. “There were meetings in the neighborhood where we were living. They warned us to be careful because a lot of children had been stolen from the neighborhood. Fifteen or twenty days later, it happened to us.” Monroy Medina and his wife reported the kidnapping to the authorities, “but since we don’t live in Predregal [an upscale neighborhood] and since we don’t know how to play golf and don’t know governors, they don’t pay any attention to us.”
Seven members of the LeBaron family drove down from the Mormon community of Colonia LeBaron, Chihuahua, to participate in the march. The LeBarons made international headlines in 2009 when they publicly refused to pay a million-dollar ransom for 16-year-old Erick LeBaron after he was kidnapped. “The kidnappers told Erick, ‘But there’s so many of you, can’t you all chip in and pay the ransom?’” recounts Adrian LeBaron, Erick’s uncle. The LeBarons feared that if they paid one exorbitant ransom, kidnappers would descend upon their community like vultures. Instead, Colonia LeBaron organized protests in Chihuahua City to demand that the government take action to bring Erick home. Their gamble worked; the kidnappers released Erick after seven days.
The LeBaron’s victory was short-lived. Only a few months later, a criminal organization punished Erick’s older brother Benjamin for organizing about fourteen local communities into an anti-kidnapping organization called SOS Chihuahua. “Twenty armed men went to his house and broke all his windows, and so his brother-in-law [Luis Widmar] came over to help him,” recounts Benjamin’s brother Julian. “They kidnapped them both and executed them about a mile down the road.”
Despite the fact that the LeBaron’s battle is with organized crime, Julian argues that his community’s problems started when President Calderon declared war on drugs. “The war on drugs has been a disaster for this country,” he insists.
Chihuahua, particularly Ciudad Juarez, is Mexico’s drug war “laboratory.” There, argues Proceso reporter Marcela Turati, “Not only drug traffickers, drug dealers, and even drug addicts, but also common citizens, above all youngsters, are involuntarily subjected to an experiment: how it would be, in Mexico, to live under military control.” A large contingent from Chihuahua participated in the March for Peace and Justice with Dignity to tell the president that the experiment has failed.
Maria Alvarado traveled all the way from Ciudad Juarez to participate in the march because the military disappeared her sister Nitza Paola Alvarado and cousins Rocío Irene Alvarado and José Ángel Alvarado on December 29, 2009, from Ejido Benito Juarez, where they were spending the holidays with family. “We tried to follow the them,” she recalls. “But it was very dark and they were taking them on back roads. We returned to the house because we were scared.” The military later left Nitza’s truck at a Chihuahua State Investigations Agency office without giving the local authorities any explanation as to why they were leaving it there.
The Alvarado family filed all of the necessary complaints with relevant government agencies, but they hit a brick wall. “The military has always said that there’s no indication that it was them, that they’ve never carried out operations in the town, which is a big lie,” insists Alvaro. “They stayed three weeks on the ejido in a hotel called Los Arcos, and they made rounds in the entire ejido.”
Regardless of who perpetrated the attacks on their families, all of the drug war victims in the march had the same demand: “We’re demanding that the authorities do their jobs,” says Alvarado. “All they do is create fat case files, and they don’t investigate.”
“They told us we had to take the legal route. ‘You have to go give your testimony and file your complaint and we’ll see if we get motivated to go chase the kidnappers,’” complains Adrian LeBaron. “We told them, ‘We don’t want to be another little paper in your mountains of files. We want our son.’ So we protested.”
A common slogan on signs and banners in the March for Peace with Justice and Dignity was directed at the authorities: “If you can’t do your job, then quit!”
National Pact for Peace
The movement to compel Mexican authorities to “do their jobs” and reduce the country’s staggering impunity rate doesn’t show any signs of letting up.
Javier Sicilia says that Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos sent him a letter to tell him that the Zapatistas would join his march. The letter was hand-delivered and came with an oral message, too: “This march, this struggle, transcends the Left. This is a war against all of us, and all of us need to join together.”
“This is a struggle between those who want life and those who want death,” declared Comandante David during the Zapatistas’ march in Chiapas. “And we, the Zapatistas, we chose to struggle for life—that is, for justice, liberty, and peace.”
On May 8 in front of about 100,000 people, Olga Reyes, who has lost six family members in the drug war, and Patricia Duarte, whose son Andrés died in a fire at the ABC Daycare due to government negligence, read the proposal for a National Pact for Peace, a citizens initiative to reduce violence, corruption, and impunity in Mexico. The pact has six central demands:
  1. truth and justice
  2. an end to the war in favor of a focus on citizen security
  3. combat corruption
  4. combat crime’s economic roots and profits
  5. emergency attention for youths and effective actions to rebuild the social fabric
  6. participative democracy, better representative democracy, and democratization of the media
The proposal will be finalized and signed during a public event on June 10 in Ciudad Juarez, the deadliest city in the world.

Second letter from SCI Marcos to Luis Villoro

May 15, 2011

On Critical Reflection, Individuals, and Collectives

On Critical Reflection, Individuals, and Collectives

(Second letter to Luis Villoro in an exchange of letters on Ethics and Politics)

Translated by El Kilombo Intergalactico

April  2011.

“If in heaven there is unanimity, save me a place in hell.”

—SupMarcos. Instructions for my Death II

I.- The Prose of the Skull

Don Luis:

Greetings and health to you, teacher. We hope that you are in better health and that the word may be like a home remedy that heals although no one understands how. As I begin these lines, the pain and the rage of Javier Sicilia (who is far from us in distance but close in ideals from time immemorial) create an echo that reverberates in our mountains. It is a matter of waiting and of hoping that his legendary tenacity, which now calls for our word and action, reaches and amasses the rages and pains that multiply on Mexican soil.

We remember Don Javier Sicilia’s uncompromising yet sensitive critiques of the autonomous education system in the Zapatista indigenous communities and his stubbornness in reminding us periodically, at the end of his weekly column in the Mexican weekly magazine PROCESSO, of the continued failure to implement the San Andrés Accords.

The collective tragedy of a senseless war, embodied in the particular tragedy that he has endured personally, has placed Don Javier in a difficult and delicate situation. Many are the sorrows that hope to find echo and volume in their demands for justice and many are the worries that hope that his voice will embody, if not direct, the ignored voices of indignation.

It also happens that around this gigantic figure, in his dignified pain, lurk the scavenging vultures from the politics of above, for whom a death has value only if it serves their individual or factional projects, although they hide themselves behind representativity.

Does another murder become visible?  Well, you have to see how it affects the childish electoral accounting. Up there, deaths only matter if they influence the electoral agenda. If they cannot capitalize on polls and trends in electoral preferences, then they return to the grim accounting where deaths do not matter, even tens of thousands of them, because death becomes once again an individual matter.

I do not know, as I write these words, what next steps will follow this pain that summons so many. But his demand for justice, and all of those calls for justice that it synthesizes, demands our respect and support, even from the small body that we are with its large limitations.

In the ebb and flow of the news about this event, it is remembered that Don Javier Sicilia is a poet. Perhaps that explains his persistent dignity.

In his own particular style of seeing and explaining the world, Old Antonio, the indigenous man who was a teacher and guide to all of us, used to say that there were people who could see realities that didn’t exist yet and who, because the words also didn’t exist to describe these realities, had to work with the words that already existed, arranging them in strange ways—part song, part prophesy.

Old Antonio spoke of poems and of those who made them (I include here those who translate them because the translators of poetry who speak distant languages also are very much makers of poetry).

These poets, can they see further or see another world? I don’t know, but when looking for something that, while said in the past, spoke of the present that we now suffer and of the uncertain future, I found this text written by José Emilio Pacheco that my older brother sent to me long ago and that is written perfectly for no one to understand:

The Prose of the Skull:

Like Ulysses they call me Nobody. Like the demon of the Gospels my name is Legion. I am you because you are me. Or you will be because I was. You and me. Both of us. You, the others, the innumerable you who are resolved in me (…)

Then I became, to the point of making myself commonplace, a symbol of knowledge. Because the wisest is also the most obvious. Because no one wants to face it, it will never be superfluous to repeat it: We are not citizens of this world, but passengers in transit through this prodigious and intolerable land.

If the flesh is grass and was born to be cut, I am to your body like a tree is to the prairie: not invulnerable, nor enduring; if material, more stubborn or resistant. When you and all of those born into the gap in time that was given on loan finish your role in this drama, this farce, this tragic and absurd comedy, I will remain for many years: bare, disembodied.

Quiet expression, secret face that you refuse to see (take off your mask: in me you will find your true face), although you know it well and it is yours and it always goes with you.

And carried inside, in fleeting cells that in each moment die by the millions, is all that you are: your mind, your memory, your words, your ambitions, your dreams, your fears, your look that in a flash of light created the appearance of the world, your distancing or understanding of what we really call reality.

That which elevates you above your forgotten colleagues, the animals, and that which situates you below them: the mark of Cain, the hatred for your kind, your two-sided capacity to create and destroy, ant and woodworm. (…)

Because I go with you everywhere. Always with him, with her, with you, waiting without complaint, waiting. From the armies of my colleagues, history has been forged. From the pulverization of my fragments the earth is amassed (…)

And so, who would have thought, I – the mask of death – I am deepest within your signs of life, your final trace, your last offering of trash to the planet that cannot support so many deaths. I will only remain for a short time, but in any case, it is much better than what they granted you (…)

All beauty and all intelligence rest in me and you repudiate me. You see me only as a sign of fear and of the dead who refuse to be dead, or of death plain and simple: your death. Because I can only stay afloat with your shipwreck. Only when you have reached touched bottom do I appear.

But at a certain age, I insinuated myself in the grooves that drew me, in those hairs that share my old whiteness. I, your true color, your last look, your final face that makes you Nobody and turns you back into Legion, today I offer you a mirror and I say: contemplate yourself.

(José Emilio Pacheco, “Prose of the Skull”, in “Fin de siglo y otros poemas”, México, Fondo de Cultura Económica / Secretaría de Educación Pública, Lecturas Mexicanas No. 44, 1984, pp. 114-117)

II. The Relevance of Critical Reflection

“When the hypocrisy starts to be of such poor

quality, it’s time to start telling the truth”

-Bertolt Brecht

The war above continues, and its destructive path would like for all of us to accept the daily horror as if it were natural, as if it were impossible to change. It is as if the confusion that reigns was premeditated, intended to democratize this resignation that immobilizes, that conforms, that defeats, that simply gives up.

In times when confusion is organized and arbitrariness is consciously deployed, it is exactly the moment to do something.

And one something is to disorganize that confusion with critical reflection.

Don Luis, as you can see from the texts that I’m sending along, Carlos Antonio Aguirre Rojas, Raul Zibechi, Sergio Rodriguez Lascano, and Gustavo Esteva have joined this exchange of thoughts on Ethics and Politics, and we hope that even more thoughts will join us in this space.

In this second letter I would like to touch upon some points that you deal with in your response to my letter and which, directly or indirectly, are alluded to by our fellow correspondents who have let loose their ideas from Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Uruguay.

Each one deals with, in their own way, from their own calendars and geographies, this issue of critical reflection. I’m sure that none of us (you, them, us) intend to establish any immobile truths. Our intention is to throw rocks, well…ideas, at that seemingly tranquil pond of contemporary theoretical reflection.

The comparison that I use with the rock goes further than mere superficial rhetoric of a surface that is momentarily disrupted by that rock. The issue is to touch bottom, to not be content with the obvious, but rather to irreverently traverse this water-tight pond of ideas and arrive at the bottom, below.

In this current epoch, critical reflection is apparently at a standstill, apparently that is, if one is attuned to what electronic and print media presents as theoretical reflection. It is not only that the urgent has displaced the important, in this case, that the electoral moment has displaced focus from the destruction of the social fabric.

It is said, for example, that this year, 2011, is an electoral year. But, then again, so were all the years prior. In fact, the only date that isn’t an electoral moment on the calendar of those above is….election day.

But we can see then that immediacy has a very difficult time differentiating what happened yesterday from what happened seventeen years ago.

Besides the unwanted interruptions of natural and human catastrophes (because the daily crimes of this war are nothing short of a catastrophe), the theoreticians from above, or the thinkers of the immediate, return time and time again to the theme of the electoral, or they do crazy pirouettes to tie anything and everything to the theme of elections.

This junk food theory, just like junk food itself, has no nutritional value, it is only meant to entertain, and this seems to be exactly the point, if you listen to the grand majority of newspapers and magazines, or to the panel of “specialists” that appear in the electronic media in our country.

When these vendors of junk food theory look to other parts of the world and they conclude that demonstrations that bring down governments are the product of cell phones and social networking and not of organization, the capacity to mobilize, or the power to convoke, they express more than their unforgivable ignorance, they also demonstrate their unnamed desire to obtain, without any effort, their place in “HISTORY.” Their contemporary creed is “Tweet and the heavens will be yours!”

Just like a “miracle elixir,” these promoters of political and theoretical Alzheimers, propose effortless solutions to the current social chaos.

No one would believe, as the advertisements would have it, that if you use this lotion for men, or this perfume for women, you’ll instantly be in France, at the base of the Eiffel Tower, or in those fancy London bars, those above.

But just like there are people who believe in those miracle products that guarantee that you will lose weight without doing exercise and while you stuff your face—and there are people who believe it—there are also people who believe that we can have democracy, liberty, and justice by simply checking off a ballot in favor of one of the folllowing: the continued presence of the Partido de Accion Nacional [PAN]; the arrival of the Partido de La Revolucion Democratica [PRD]; or the return of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional [PRI].

When these people dictate that there is only one option, the electoral path or the path of armed struggle, not only do they place their total lack of imagination and ignorance of national and world history on display, they also reset the trap that served as the basis for intolerance, and for the demand of a fascist and retrograde unanimity that made itself present on all sides of the political spectrum.

“Brilliant,” this analysis that poses itself the urgency of defining positions…in the face of those options imposed from above.

But Gustavo Esteva in his text does well to warn us against these false options and lays the groundwork for what I think can be a special topic of this exchange of letters from a distance. As he notes, instead of trying to impose their weak axioms, they could try to open themselves to debate, to build arguments, to try to persuade. But no, for them it was, and always is, about imposing.

I sincerely believe that they do not want a serious debate. Not only because they don’t actually have any weighty arguments (up until this point all they have is a list of good intentions and simplicities that border on the pathetic, where the PAN demonstrates that the “way of Fox” [Mexican President from 2000-06] is not an isolated instance but rather a whole school of leaders in that party, where the PRI preaches social autism in the face of history itself, and where the mish mash of the self-proclaimed institutional left attempts to persuade with empty slogans), but rather, because the whole point is not to change anything of substance at all.

It is almost comical to see how they juggle things in order to gain the favor of the masses (yes, they despise them, but they need them) while simultaneously courting the economic powers without even blushing.

The point for them is to operate in the narrow margins of the ruins of nation-state in Mexico in order to exorcise a crisis that, when it explodes, will do way with them as well, that is, with the entirety of the political class. In sum, for them it’s a question of their individual survival.

The careers of tattle-tales, spies, and police are suitable for these junk food theoreticians, these same people who created an atmosphere of intellectual and artistic hysteria, first against the student movement and its General Strike Council [CGH] in 1999-2000, and then against everyone and everything that wouldn’t accept the directives handed down by this gang of thought and action police.

For them it is all about establishing a distinction which in reality is more of an exorcism: there is them, the well behaved, the civilized, and there are the others, the barbarians.

In their weak theoretical armature there are, on one side (and above) those brilliant, all-knowing, measured, prudent individuals, and on the other side (and below) there are the dark, ignorant, violent, and provocative masses.

On that side over there: the prudent and mature usurpers of the representativity of the majority. On this side here: the violent minorities who represent only themselves.


But let’s presuppose that they actually do want to debate and persuade.

Let’s discuss for example the real consequences of the six-year project of Accion Nacional [PAN] to change a well known verse of the Mexican national anthem and replace it with, “Believe, my beloved homeland, that the heavens gave you a collateral victim in each of your children!” and in the face of which neither of the other two parties has presented a firm and detailed alternative.

Or let’s talk about the supposed goodness that would result from the return of the Revolucionario Institucional [PRI] and the consequent endorsement of a culture of corruption and criminality that engulfed the entirety of the Mexican political class.

Or how about the real possibilities of the project to turn back the wheel of history and return to the Welfare State, which is the proposal of an as yet weak oppositional coalition.

All of these, in addition to despising theoretical reflection (well at least all reflection which is not adolescent complacency), propose the impossible; to maintain, rescue, or regenerate the ruins of a Nation-State that gave birth and purpose to the political party system. That same nation-state which found its best reflection in the Partido Revolucionario Institucional [PRI] and in the face of which the entirety of the political class above today tries to make themselves pretty for.

Or haven’t you noticed to what extent the base of that State has been destroyed? How can you maintain, rescue, or renovate a cadaver? Despite this, for a long time now the political class, and the analysts that accompany them, have busied themselves trying to embalm those ruins.

But it’s understandable, ignorance cannot be judged. Well, unless it dresses itself as wisdom.

It’s not possible, we say, to pose any type of solution to the destruction of the National-State without dealing with the system responsible for creating that destruction and therefore for the nightmare that engulfs the entire country.

There are solutions, we say, but they can only be born from below, from a radical proposal that does not wait for a council of wise men for legitimacy, but rather, that is already alive, and that people struggle for in various corners of our country. It is, therefore, a proposal that is not unanimous in its form, in its mode, in its calendar or in its geography. That is, it is plural, inclusive, and participatory. It has no relation to that unanimity that blues, yellow, reds, greens, pinks and those like them have attempted to impose.

But we recognize that we might be mistaken. It might very well be, lets just take it as a possibility, that the destruction that has already been wrought still leaves us a margin of mobility to remake the social fabric from above.

But instead of promoting a deep and serious debate, we’re instead asked to be quiet once again, and it is again demanded that we support our persecutors, those that give cover either through their words or their silence to people like Juan José Sabines Guerrero, who from the governor’s office of Chiapas persecutes and represses all those who don’t join the false chorus of praise for those lies which he calls government, who persecutes those who defend human rights on the coast and highlands of the state of Chiapas as well as the indigenous peoples of San Sebastian Bachajon who refuse to prostitute their land, and who promotes the action of paramilitary groups against indigenous Zapatista communities.

Because those who really know what is being done and undone in Chiapas and who are not afraid, have remade Sabines’ motto and it now reads “Misdeeds, not words.” Sabines Guerrero is the person who best exemplifies the putrefied Mexican political class; he has the support of the PAN, the PRI, the PRD, and the movement of AMLO [Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador]. He’s generous with the media so that they will repeat what benefits him and silence everything that does not. He maintains an appearance, and it seems not to bother anyone that it is just that—an appearance—that in any case could be blown to smithereens at any moment, but he governs as if it was a matter of acting like the ruthless overseer of an hacienda porfirista [Porifirio Diaz, much hated pre-revolutionary Mexican president].

And yet, we’re still asked to provide “constructive criticism” to a movement that is led and directed toward repeating that same history, with different names, of oppression.

When will they understand that there are individuals, groups, collectives, organizations, and movements who have no interest in changing what’s up there, nor in renovating (better yet, recycling) a political class that is nothing but a parasite?

We don’t want a change of tyrants, of owners, of masters or of supreme saviors; rather, we don’t want any of them at all.

In sum, if there is something to be grateful for in all that has taken place above, it’s that it has shown the obvious theoretical poverty and strategic weakness of those that proposed and propose to maintain, regenerate, or recycle those above in order to exorcise the rebellion of those below.

I sincerely believe that any critical reflection must look away from that hypnotic carrousel called the political class in order to see other realities.

What can they lose? In any case, they’ll have more arguments in order to proclaim themselves  “the only possible alternative.” After all, aren’t all the other alternatives soooo small and (oh!) sooooo radical?

Or, maybe, they actually will see….

That the heroic efforts of libertarian and anarchist collectives to subtract themselves from the logic of the capitalist market is an effect and a cause of radical thought and that the principal wager of the future will be based in radical thoughts. So they would be wise to listen to that motley way of having a sense of self-identity; the piercings, the tattoos, multi-colored hair, and all the other paraphernalia that so disgusts them.

Or, the struggles of independent left organizations that opt for organizing hired drivers, mini-micro-nano street vendors, or female tenant farmers (let’s give credit where credit is due, women are a majority in that struggle) instead of organizing automobile owners, chambers of commerce or VIP neighborhood associations. These (the former) groups are those who can testify to the important changes in their living conditions, and not through electoral welfare disguised as government policy, but rather through the organization of the collective for immediate, short term, and long term projects. There’s a reason that they remain independent, that is how they resist.

Or, the legendary resistance of the originary people of Mexico; if somebody knows anything about pain, it is them.

Or, the dignified rage of the mothers and fathers of the assassinated, disappeared, and imprisoned.

Because they (those above) would also do well to remember that nothing happens in this country…until women decide that it happen.

Or, the daily indignation of workers, housecleaners, peasants, indigenous peoples, and youth in the face of the cynicism displayed by politicians of all stripes and colors.

Or, the stubborn struggle of the workers from the Union of Mexican Electricians [SME] despite the enormous campaign of police and media repression unleashed against them.

Or, the persistent struggle for the liberation of political prisoners and the safe return of the disappeared.

Or maybe not? Perhaps the democracy that they want is actually a form of amnesia that is managed to their convenience? You choose what to see so that you can select what to forget?

III. The Individual Versus the Collective?

In your letter, Don Luis, you touch on the theme of the individual and the collective. A longstanding discussion from above opposes the two and has used this as an apology for a system, capitalism, against the alternatives that arise against it as resistance.

The collective, we are told, erases and subjugates individuality. And therefore, in a vulgar theoretical leap, they sing the praises of a system where, it is said, any individual can be whatever it is that they want to be, good or bad, because there is a guarantee of freedom.

It occurs to me that this “freedom” is something that should be looked at more closely, but maybe on another occasion, for now lets get back to the individual, man or woman, as the case may be.

The system sings the praises of the individual from above or from below.

For the individual above, highlighting the individuality of a person, good or bad, efficient or deficient, bright or dark, hides responsibility for a form of societal organization. And so we merely have bad individual leaders…or worse individual leaders (sorry, I haven’t found anyone who would let me put “or good”), bad economic actors, etc.

If the individual from above is evil, stupid, cruel and stubborn (I know, it would seem that I’m describing Felipe Calderón Hinojosa), what you have to do is remove this bad individual and put a good individual in their place. And if there are no good individuals, you could at least put in someone who is less bad (I know, seems like I’m repeating an election slogan that is five years old and ready to be recycled).

The system, i.e. the form of social organization, remains intact. Or with a few permissible variations. That is to say, you can make some changes, but without changing the fundamentals substance. Thus it is clear: there are few who are up there, and many more who are below, and those who are above are there on the backs of those below.

And to the individual below, they applaud and admire, because individual rebellion is not capable of putting the functioning of this form of social organization in danger. Or they ridicule and attack, because the individual is vulnerable.

Allow me, then, an arbitrary rhetoric: let’s say that the fundamental aspirations of every human are: life, freedom, truth. And that maybe you can speak of gradations: a better life, more freedom, greater knowledge.

Is it possible that the individual could reach the plenitude of their aspirations and their respective gradations in a collective? We believe so. In any case, we are sure that you cannot reach them without the collective.

“And where, with whom and against what?” These, we say are the questions whose response defines the place of the individual and of the collective in a society, in a precise calendar and geography.

And not only that. It also determines the relevance of critical reflection.

Earlier, I said that these collective reflections are not intended to reach the general truth, but to try to avoid the unanimous lie that they try to impose on us from above.


And now, a few words regarding the efforts of those who appear as isolated individuals.

To those who criticize the different initiatives that arise, although dispersed, from social suffering, be reminded that to judge and condemn those who do something is to absolve those who do nothing.

Because ending the arbitrariness, disorganizing the confusion, and stopping the war are collective tasks.

V. What Will Happen.

The world as we know it will be destroyed. Baffled and battered, they will have nothing to say to their colleagues when they ask “why?”

First, there will be spontaneous, violent, and fleeting demonstrations. Later, a pause allowing for a sigh of relief (“phew! Glad that’s over my dear”). But soon new uprisings will follow, and this time they will be organized, carried out by collectives with identities.

Then they will see that the bridges that were destroyed, believing they had been erected to help the Barbarians, will not only be impossible to rebuild, but it will become apparent that those bridges were meant to help not the barbarians, but them.

And they will say that a time of darkness will come, but this won’t be anything but spite because the light that they were supposed to hold and administer was of no use whatsoever to these collectives who made their own light and with it and in it they walked and will walk.

The world won’t be the same world. It won’t even be better. But it will be a place where there is a new opportunity to construct peace with work and dignity, rather than this incessant swimming against the current in a nightmare that never ends.

And so, given a poem, in a painting about a crumbling wall you will read these words of Bertold Brecht:

You who will emerge from the flood in which we have gone under, when you speak of our failings, think also of the dark time that you have escaped. For we went, changing countries more often than our shoes, through the wars of classes, despairing, when there was only injustice and no rebellion. And, even so, we realized that hatred of oppression still disfigures one’s face. That anger at injustice still distorts one’s voice. Unfortunately we who wanted to pave the way for kindness could not be kind ourselves. But you, when the time comes that man can be friends with man, think of us with leniency.

Okay Don Luis. Health to you, and let not immobility triumph again.

From the mountains of the Mexican southeast.

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos.

Mexico, April 2011

P.S. To conclude this letter, death came once again in its unforeseen way to a companion along this road. Felipe Toussaint Loera, a Christian of the kind who believes in the need for earthly justice, passed away one hot April afternoon. Felipe and others like him are those whom we have discussed in recent texts. He was and is part of this generation of men and women who were on the side of the indigenous when it wasn’t yet in fashion and remained there when it ceased to be. I remember, in one of the preparatory meetings for the Other Campaign in 2005, that he reaffirmed his commitment to inscribe his individual history in the history of a collective that is born again and again. Let’s celebrate his life, because in it, to the questions “where? with whom? against what?” Felipe responded: “below, with the indigenous who struggle, against the system that exploits them, deprives them, represses them and despises them.” All of the deaths from below hurt, but there are some that hurt more closely. Felipe’s death feels like something very much ours will be missing.

Mine Blast Near Pasta de Conchos Kills 14 in Mexico

May 11, 2011
Mine Blast Near Pasta de Conchos Kills 14 in Mexico
9 May 2011 ICEM InBrief

An illegal coal mine in Mexico’s Coahuila state that was operating for only 20

days exploded on 3 May, killing 14 miners. The tragic methane gas blast

occurred a short distance from the Pasta de Conchos colliery, where 65

miners employed by Grupo Mexico perished in a similar underground gas

explosion in February 2006.

Beneficios Internacionales del Norte SA (Bansa) was listed as the company

operating the mine near Sabinas in the rich Coahuila coal belt of northern

Mexico. Immediately after the powerful explosion that saw three of the

dead blown completely out of the 60-metre-deep tunnel, officials could

not determine the owner because of conflicting data in local registry


It was days after the blast that Bansa was determined to be the operator

of the 340-acre mine site through a concession from local authorities. A local

official defended that concession, telling press that when the federal

government awards a concession, generated income goes to coffers in

Mexico City, with nothing allocated for the community.

The colliery employed 25 non-union miners and had no certification or

registry regarding safety. The Mexican federal government closed the mine

and is now involved in body recovery and investigation.

The underground explosion rocked the surface so strongly that a 15-year-old

minor who was picking coal off an external conveyer belt had to have both

arms amputated and is in serious condition in a hospital.

The 3 May tragedy in northern Mexico stands as yet another example of

safety risks and dangers by unregistered and unreliable mining installations

when demand and pricing of a mineral is at a premium.

This ICEM release is also available on the ICEM Web-site  (



Zapatistas Flood San Cristóbal by the Thousands, Join Call to Stop the War

May 11, 2011

Saturday’s Silent March in Chiapas Was Prelude to Sunday’s Convergence on Mexico City

By Natalie Long

Special to the Narco News Bulletin

May 8, 2011

On Saturday the Zapatistas, The Other Campaign, and members of the civil society of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas took to the streets, conducting a silent march that proceeded from the northwestern part of the city to the town center.

With participants numbering in the thousands, this march was held in solidarity with a larger, nationwide march that is currently taking place. The nationwide march started in Cuernavaca, Morelos this past Thursday, March 5, and will arrive Sunday in Mexico City.

The larger nation-wide march is largely due to the efforts of renowned Mexican poet Javier Sicilia. This past March 28, Sicilia’s son was founded dead near Cuernavaca, Morelos, with the body showing signs of torture prior to his death. Roughly a week after his son’s death, Sicilia published a letter in the Mexican magazine Proceso on April 3, denouncing the system of violence in Mexico. In this letter, Sicilia stated that Mexicans were “hasta la madre” (“had it up to here”) with the violence and corruption present in their country, and he called for the mobilization of civil society to reclaim Mexico for its citizens. His most recent call for mobilization is that of the ongoing march, also known as the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity.

Following Sicilia’s convoking of this march, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) released a communiqué on Thursday, April 28, announcing its intent to hold a silent march on Saturday, May 7, in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. In a letter from Subcomandante Marcos released on the same day as the communiqué, he noted that financial constraints meant it would not be possible for the EZLN to travel to Cuernavaca or to Mexico City to participate in the larger nationwide march. Thus, in accordance with the modest means available to the EZLN, Subcomandante Marcos announced the EZLN’s intention to march in silence in San Cristóbal. The EZLN communiqué further indicated that this silent march would be to support and stand in solidarity with the national voice that seeks to reclaim justice for the people.

Thus, Saturday saw the gathering of the EZLN and its supporters in San Cristóbal de las Casas. By 10:00am, a large contingent of Zapatistas was lined up outside of CIDECI, the Indigenous Center for Integral Training, also known as the University of the Land. When arriving on the street that leads to CIDECI, one had to travel by foot to cover the 10-minute walk from the end of the street to the university, given that the street was filled with masked Zapatistas, prohibiting the passage of vehicles.

The Zapatistas came from all parts of the state of Chiapas. Various regions were represented, not only by the traditional outfits of the women, but by the symbols sewn onto the pasa montañas worn by members of the EZLN. On the front of the majority of the pasa montañas, a patch identified a person’s caracol by number and a person’s region by color. The different colors of the patches included red, yellow, orange, purple, blue, white, grey, and green, amongst others.

By 12:15pm, the Zapatistas began lining up outside of CIDECI, preparing to file out. The Zapatistas included the entire age spectrum, from children being carried by their mothers to senior citizens with gray hair poking out from beneath their masks. The women seemed to outnumber the men two to one. The Zapatistas also showed representation from both urban and rural areas. Rural female Zapatistas were easily identified by their traditional trajes, or, dresses that many wore. Some of the women were present at the march despite the absence of shoes on their feet. Many of the rural male Zapatistas bore the usual dress of the campesino, including rainboots, long-sleeve cotton shirts and cotton pants. Some of the men had traditional outfits as well, though not as many as the women. The urban Zapatista contingent provided a curious contrast, perhaps best exemplified by one young woman wearing large headphones over her pasa montaña. Other urban Zapatistas sported tighter shirts and jeans, items that are more familiar to those living in an urban setting with access to retail stores.

At approximately 1:10pm, a woman at the head of the march wearing a pasa montaña received an order through her radio, and ordered those at the beginning of the march to file out. It seemed that the march was underway, the masked EZLN members walking silently in their ranks bearing their signs with phrases such as “Estamos Hasta la Madre por la Guerra de Calderon!” (“We Have Had it Up to Here with Calderon’s War!”), “Alto a la Guerra de Calderon” (“Stop Calderon’s War”), and “No Mas Sangre” (“No More Blood”).

By 1:25pm, however, the march had stopped. The silence was broken by the chatter of radios as those at the head of the march worked to orient themselves inside of the colony from which the march was supposed to exit. As those with the radios consulted one another, people from nearby houses, stores, and workshops came out to look at the halted procession of masked Zapatistas. After roughly ten minutes of conversation, the march got underway once more, proceeding down a street in the direction of the highway to San Juan Chamula.

The column was met by yet another challenge, however, before it was to exit onto the highway. Around roughly 1:35pm, the head of the march met up with another group of Zapatistas – it seemed that the head of the march had met with the tail of the march. On the one hand, that was an impressive occurrence, showing that the Zapatistas had convoked so many people that the streets were not navigable. On the other hand, this caused general confusion, with the roads being blocked up. The head of the march could not proceed with their fellow members impeding their path, and thus had to patiently wait for the rest of their compañeros to file by. By 2:00pm, the conch shell was blown once more and the head of the march proceeded a ways further. This progress was stopped short once more as the head of the march ran into more Zapatistas coming in their direction.

With this new obstacle, roughly five or six authorities gathered around to confer. Radios in hand, they stood in the middle of a circle created by men joining hands, creating a protective space for the authorities to speak and make decisions. As the authorities spoke softly amongst themselves and into their radios, the ranks of Zapatistas watched and waited patiently for their orders.

Throughout the whole process, various actions served to remind the onlooker that indeed, the EZLN is an army, and should be regarded as such. Between the quick response to marching orders given by the authorities, the organized lines in which the Zapatistas proceeded, and the clear chain of command that was present, the bystander was obligated to remember that the procession passing by was that of a military organization, able to be summoned if necessary by the heads of the EZLN.

By 2:35pm, the Zapatistas had reached a consensus about how to proceed, and the march began orienting itself. First the EZLN authorities proceeded down the road, with other Zapatistas joining hands to form a protective circle around the authorities. Immediately behind the authorities came the head of the march, bearing their banner decrying Calderon’s War. The procession snaked its way through the jungle of cars and trucks parked on the sides of the road, the very vehicles that had delivered members of the EZLN to that part of town earlier on. Some Zapatistas remained on the side of the road, waiting for their moment to join the march. Many of those waiting had set up camp, pulling out their lunches as their compañeros marched by.

By 2:55pm, the march met the highway that leads to the center of town in one direction, while leading to the municipality of San Juan Chamula in the other direction. As the EZLN met the oncoming cars, the Zapatistas spilled out onto the street stopping traffic. Some cars simply came to a stop, while others began turning around. As the march proceeded through the streets, the sounds predominantly heard were a mixture of protesting car horns, the slapping of sandals and boots on the asphalt pavement, and the eerie sounding of a conch shell. The occasional comment was shared between marchers, but overall the Zapatistas remained silent as they proceeded down the highway to the center of town. As luck would have it, upon arriving at a streetlight, the EZLN had a green light and proceeded through the intersection unimpeded.

With the march in full force proceeding through the street toward the center of town, it was led first by a group of several men with radios, followed by the Mexican flag and the EZLN flag. One man and one woman bore the Mexican flag, as did a male-female team bearing the EZLN flag.

At 3:45pm, the head of the march arrived at the town center, greeted by a variety of onlookers, including waiters peering out from restaurants, tourists snapping photos, and locals standing by watching the march pass through the center. Patrons at nearby coffee shops put down their mugs to come watch the Zapatistas march by, some commenting quietly that the sight was impressive. By 3:50pm, the EZLN began filing into the plaza in front of the main cathedral in the city, heading for a stage on which several microphones were set up. The speech, however, was not yet ready to begin.

During the wait, many Zapatistas sat down to take a short break, pulling back masks to grab a quick drink of water or soda, some running to the nearby convenience store, masks still on, to pick up a snack. Conversations began quietly to circulate amongst those sitting together, some conversations in Spanish, others in various indigenous languages.

Although the initial movements of the march were perhaps a bit rough, upon arrival in the cathedral plaza, the EZLN showed impressive organization, coordinating which delegations were to be placed in certain locations in preparation for the speech. Around 4:45pm, the march continued to arrive in the plaza. A representative of the EZLN came to the microphone, asking the Zapatistas already in the plaza to move forward, since there were compañeros backed up for nearly 20 minutes who had not yet arrived.

By 5:05pm, the members of The Other Campaign finally arrived at the plaza. Delegations arrived from a whole host of communities, perhaps the most visible being Cruztón, Mitzitón, the Ejido Tila, Huixtan, and Bachajón. Other members of civil society were represented as well, including members of the Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolemé de Las Casas (Center of Human Rights FrayBa), the Centro de Derechos de las Mujeres (Center of Rights for Women), and the Brigada Feminista por la Autonomia (Feminist Brigade for Autonomy). Although an important sign of solidarity, the Zapatista presence by far dominated the entire event.

For the women of the collectives from the communities of Aguacatengango, La Grandeza, Napite, Corostik, Coquiteel, Sulupwitz, Frontera Comalapa, Santa Rosa de Coban, Yaluma, Chihuahua, and Bella Vista del Norte, they provided their word and their reason for marching. Recognizing the sorrow they feel and the tears they shed when they hear news of violence, the women also noted the courage they feel in defending themselves against the rapes and murders perpetrated by those whom the government allows to go free. The women spoke out against violence, not only in the form of weapons, but in the inherent violence present in sentencing a population to poverty, saying the government “not only murders us with weapons, with its guns, it also murders us with poverty, with the hunger in our village that they use to cheat us with. . . .” The women then called for justice, an end to violence, for respect, and liberty for the Mother Earth, amongst other demands to society and to the government.

The FrayBa also provided its word to the public regarding the march. Protesting President Felipe Calderon’s politics of war that has claimed the lives of nearly 40,000 victims, the FrayBa noted that impunity was the key to continuing this climate of violence. The FrayBa signaled the march as sign of the hope for life and for the demand of justice as civil society strives to achieve a dignified life for all.

Amongst those Zapatista sympathizers participating in the march, one in particular commented that the nation-wide march was a necessary event that the country had been awaiting. The EZLN march was a promise given by the Zapatistas that they had fulfilled, making good on their word to those participating in the larger movement.

After over an hour since the head of the march arrived in the plaza, at 5:10pm the EZLN authorities took to the stage. Calling the assembly to a salute, the crowd first sang the Mexican national anthem, followed by the EZLN anthem. Hardly surprising, the EZLN anthem resounded a bit more forcefully than the national anthem. Upon completing both anthems, a representative stepped up to the microphone to provide those gathered with the word of the EZLN.

The representative who spoke condemned the violence present in Mexico, stating that the history of Mexico has resulted in the spilling of innocent blood, and that peace and justice are nowhere to be found in the country. The speaker decried the fact that “the only guilt of these victims is to have been born or to live in a country that is misgoverned by legal and illegal groups thirsty for war, death, and destruction.” He denounced the converting of schools and universities into zones of war, and the overall state of fear for one’s life that is present in the simple act of traveling to work. Further, the speaker criticized the government, whom he stated as having provided false declarations and promises to the mothers and fathers who demanded justice on behalf of their murdered children. Yesterday, declared the speaker, was when the people of Mexico heard the dignified words of the victims and their families. Today is the day of their dignified silence, a silence that states, just as loudly as their words, that they want peace, justice, and a dignified life. The struggle of these victims and their families was not born of personal interest, but was rather “born of the pain of losing someone whom you love as much as you love life.” Reaching the end of the speech, the orator declared that today, the people who convoked the nation-wide movement are calling for those gathered to fight for life, and that the people gathered in the city today were there to respond to that call.

Wrapping up the speech, the representative and the crowd raised their fists and shouted seven times, sending a message of solidarity to the victims and their families, saying, “No estan solos!” (” You are not alone!”).

At 5:45pm, the Spanish presentation concluded and was followed by cheers, applause, and approving whistles. The same speech was then presented in various indigenous languages, including Tzotzil and Tzeltal. Around 7:00pm, nearly three hours after the head of the march arrived in the center of town, the EZLN authorities descended from the stage, bringing the assembly to a close. With the close of the ceremony, the silence was officially broken, as chatter arose amongst the Zapatistas as they filed out according to their groups. Despite having taken the better part of the day to assemble the members of the EZLN and its supporters in the plaza, within thirty minutes there was not a mask to be seen in the center of town. The cleanup crews went to work, and the members of the communities set out for home, taking word of their experiences back with them.

Anti-Drug War Movement Emerges in Mexico

May 11, 2011
Anti-Drug War Movement Emerges in Mexico
Written by Kristin Bricker
Wednesday, 04 May 2011 16:46
After four years of war that has left nearly 40,000 people dead, countless more disappeared, and soldiers on the streets of every state in the country, many Mexicans are finally “fed up” with President Felipe Calderón’s drug policy. This weekend, Mexicans in at least 25 of the country’s 31 states will protest to “stop the war, for a just and peaceful Mexico.” Protests are also planned in solidarity in at least twelve cities in Europe, Canada, the United States, and Brazil.

The largest protest will begin on May 5 in Cuernavaca, Morelos, where protesters will march 100 km to Mexico City for a rally on Sunday, May 8. Marchers will follow the Mexico City-Cuernavaca freeway, which could bring traffic on one of the country’s largest freeways to a standstill over the Cinco de Mayo holiday weekend.

Mexico’s beloved journalist and poet Javier Sicilia convoked the protests after his son, Juan Francisco, was found murdered along with six other people in his home state of Morelos on March 28. Sicilia declared that he was “hasta la madre” (“fed up” or had “had it up to here”) with politicians and criminals. He vowed to abandon poetry (“The world is no longer worthy of words,” he wrote in his last poem) and to dedicate himself to stopping the drug war. “I’m going to march,” he said in a video message, “because I don’t want any other family to suffer the loss of a son as we are suffering due to a poorly planned, poorly executed, and poorly led war.”

Common Cause

After nearly 40,000 drug war murders, it was Juan Francisco’s execution that brought Mexico to the tipping point. This weekend’s mobilizations are expected to be Mexico’s largest anti-drug war protests to-date. Moreover, nearly every sector of Mexican society has confirmed its participation in the protests: labor, indigenous peoples, students, journalists, intellectuals, opposition politicians, feminists, artists, drug war victims and their family members, former political prisoners, Mormons, sex workers, autonomists, peasants, communists, marijuana legalization advocates, migrants in Mexico, Mexican immigrants living abroad, Catholic church leaders…even the commanders of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) have ordered Zapatistas to take to the streets to “end Calderón’s war.”

Sicilia coined the protests, “We’ve had it up to here. Stop the war. For a just and peaceful Mexico.” However, he insists, “I’m just one more voice.” He believes that the movement’s proposals must come from the grassroots. The Network for Peace and Justice, which is helping Sicilia coordinate the protests, is encouraging citizens to hold assemblies and develop proposals for a “re-founding of Mexico.” Those proposals will be taken into account in a document that Sicilia will read at the end of the march on May 8.

Some organizations and individuals have already published their demands and proposals.

Students and young people gathered at the National Forum of Young People in National Emergency in Cuernavaca on April 28-29 to coordinate for the May 8 protests and develop a set of demands. Young people suffer the highest murder rates in the drug war, leading Forum participant Raúl Romero to lament, “Young people are no longer this country’s future; we’re this country’s dead.” The Forum published six demands: immediate demilitarization, an end to violence and impunity, decriminalization of drug consumption, a dignified life (which would include job opportunities), art and culture for everyone (including a proposal to nationalize the corporate media), and a guaranteed college education for everyone.

The Collective for an Integral Drug Policy (Cupihd), an organization of drug policy experts, will hold a march for marijuana legalization on May 7, and on May 8 it will join the national protests in downtown Mexico City.

Sociologist and nationally syndicated columnist John Ackerman borrowed a phrase from Argentina’s recuperated factory movement to sum up his proposal for the movement: “Que se vayan todos” (“they all must go”), referring to Mexican politicians. “We have to demand the immediate ouster of all high-ranking officials who are involved in this criminal war at the federal and state levels,” argues Ackerman. “Beginning with, of course, [Secretary of Public Security] Genaro García Luna, [Defense Secretary] Guillermo Galván, and Calderón. These politicians have spent enough time in office, and they’ve demonstrated that they are incapable of assuring social peace.”

Sicilia has called for the resignation of the governor of Morelos and several state legislators because they are “negligent and corrupt.”

“We’ve Had It Up To Here!”

Juan Francisco’s senseless and brutal murder was the catalyst that united drug war critics from diverse social sectors and across the political spectrum. However, discontent over increasing violence and human rights violations has been brewing in Mexico for quite some time. Pockets of resistance to the drug war have formed across the country, although it is only now that they are all coming together at the national level.

When Calderón declared war on organized crime, some towns racked by violent cartel rivalries initially welcomed the military’s presence. However, it quickly became apparent that the military brought more chaos and abuses, not law and order. “The military doesn’t solve anything because it commits a lot of abuses,” a farmer from Galeana, Chihuahua, told Proceso reporter Marcela Turati. “They beat people, steal vehicles, rob from houses. Their trucks look like moving companies, they drive around loaded with so much furniture.”

Initially reported in the press as isolated incidents (if they were reported at all), the military’s abuses quickly turned into an epidemic. In mid-2009, human rights organizations noted that the drug war led to a significant increase in human rights abuses. The Mexican military now receives more human rights abuse complaints than any other government agency.

A handful of horrifying incidents shocked the nation and captured headlines for a few days, such as when soldiers killed two unarmed students in March 2010 on the campus of the elite private university Tecnológico de Monterrey (“Tec”). The soldiers planted weapons on the dead students to make them appear to be cartel gunmen. The cover-up managed to temper the public’s response to the shooting; the military’s wrongdoing only became clear months later.

Seven months later, on October 29, 2010, Federal Police shot and gravely wounded student Dario Alvarez Orrantia on the campus of the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez as he participated in the 11th Walk Against Death during the International Forum Against Militarization and Violence. The shooting enraged students across the country and provoked protests. Students from the Mexico City metropolitan area who participated in the Forum and witnessed the shooting decided to form the Metropolitan Coordinating Committee Against Militarization and Violence (COMECOM). “We decided to begin to join together to denounce the crimes that are repeatedly committed against students,” says COMECOM member Raúl Romero. “We want to network with organizations, regardless of political affiliation, in order to unify our voice and demand an end to Felipe Calderón’s war.” COMECOM is currently comprised of twenty-five metropolitan-area organizations.

Up until recently, the only killings, shootings, or kidnappings that provoked public outcry were those that were obviously perpetrated by government security forces. Cases in which the perpetrator was unknown or believed to be linked to organized crime were ignored. The Calderón administration labeled these murders “collateral damage” and Calderón himself argued (without substantiating his claim) that 90% of drug war murder victims were linked “in one way or another” to organized crime. The stigma meant that drug war murders weren’t mourned, let alone investigated.

The drug war’s true impact on Mexico’s civilians became apparent earlier this year when three members of the beleaguered Reyes Salazar family were found tortured and murdered in Chihuahua, bringing the family death toll to six. The Reyes Salazars are prominent activists and upstanding citizens who appear to have been targeted by a criminal organization. The government’s response was typical: it attempted to deflect public outrage over the murders by spreading rumors that the bodies were found with “narco-messages” that accused the victims of working for organized crime. The family fought back against attempts to smear their loved ones’ names and organized protests that brought organized crime’s innocent victims into the international spotlight for the first time.

The government also attempted to downplay Juan Francisco’s murder through “unconfirmed reports” leaked to the media that a message from the Gulf cartel was found with the bodies that said, “This is what happens for making anonymous calls to soldiers.”

A National Movement Is Born

Like the Reyes Salazars, Javier Sicilia refused to let the government write off his son’s murder as yet another tick on the country’s so-called execution-meter. “Many of the dead, maybe the majority of the dead, they have a story. They were innocent and they were killed stupidly for no reason,” Sicilia argues. “They’re human beings, and behind them there are families who are suffering very much.”

Sicilia’s outrage over his son’s murder—amplified by his excellent public speaking skills and his contacts in Mexican media—has caused disparate struggles to coalesce into a national movement against the drug war. The protests began with over 500 people in Cuernavaca on March 29, the day after Juan Francisco’s body was found. On March 30, protesters held a candlelight vigil in Cuernavaca.

By April 6, the protests had spread to at least 21 Mexican states and twelve cities in eight foreign countries.

On April 27, the protesters diversified their tactics. That day, young protesters dyed Cuernavaca’s “Peace Dove” fountain blood red. Then, twenty young members of the Network for Peace and Justice temporarily shut down the State Attorney General’s Office. Later, they burst onto the floor of the Morelos State Congress and read a declaration. The protesters called upon politicians to combat impunity and corruption, and to promote human rights and a “dignified life.”

That same day, Sicilia hung a plaque bearing his son’s name on City Hall in downtown Cuernavaca and called on others to do the same. “It’s important that when we arrive in any plaza in any city in the country, that we see the names of our dead,“ declared Sicilia. “The plaques are being put up to remember them and to tell the authorities who criminalized them that these people are not mysterious statistics; they’re human beings.”

¡Viva México! Interview

May 6, 2011

On independent media and the Zapatista struggle and global implications.

Interview with Nicolas Défossé, director of the documentary “¡Viva Mexico! ” and Adolfo Lopez Magana, coordinator of the photo exhibition “La Otra Mirada” and independent media activist

1. Your work documents the journey of Subcomandante Marcos from the mountains of southeastern Mexico to the northern border with United States, spokesman and military leader of the EZLN, during which networks were found and wove with many social activists in Mexico. What is the goal of the documentary?

Nicolas Défossé:

The film tries to be faithful to the call, made at the beginning of the national trail of 6 months in 2006, which was defined in this way by the Subcomandante Marcos in Palenque, Chiapas: “start building the mirror that we are below”. That was the stated purpose of this first trip. And from this collective invitation comrades from the independent media decided to follow the trip trying to give more visibility to the “invisible” people that struggle and resist in the four corners of the country and beyond borders. In this regard,  the priority was to let others that struggle and resist know that they are not alone and that there are many other struggles and resistance throughout the country.

I joined in this collective effort by first writing articles day by day during the beginning of the tour in the southeast of Mexico (Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Campeche), then making a series of 12 short and medium length documentaries about specific resistance, focusing on the north-west and west of the country (Sonora, Baja California, Nayarit, Colima), mainly struggles of indigenous peoples who are generally less known than those in the south of the country. Also on the way I co-produced a documentary called “Breaking the Siege “on the repression that occurred in San Salvador Atenco on May 3rd and 4th, 2006.

At the end of all these recordings that were made during 6 months, at various times, I collected about 450 hours of material, with which all these works were made, and with which it was possible to make even more short films. But I decided at that moment that it was time to go back to the original project that was attempted, a single feature-length documentary, that no longer focused on a single struggle or a single case, but to represent the extent of resistance movements in Mexico from below, focusing especially on the struggle for land. That was my idea from the beginning. Because what attracted my attention originally, when leaving Chiapas and Quintana Roo, was the discovery that the struggle for land and dignity, the struggle for living spaces and decent work, is found in every corner of the country, even in the Mexican Caribbean.

The objective of a feature-length documentary called ¡Viva Mexico!, is precisely not to stay in a fragmented history but to try to rescue a piece of collective history and a portrait of a people’s movement and their resistance. A piece of history that many do not know or that is manipulated because the mass media do not let them know about it or there is a very questionable treatment of the information such as when the events in Atenco happened. The documentary is made then in a very precise historical context in time but at the same time aims to create a portrait that goes beyond the context of “today” in the sense of making a collective portrait, a Mexican “mural” from these testimonies, faces and histories. It is a celebration and a tribute to the people’s dignity, their intelligence, sense of humour, their capacity for action and rebellion, their poetry: by going against the image of the mass media (the look that looks from above to below), with the concern to avoid paternalism or condescension, but to give back dignity to the people in an image of comradely relations, of empathy with people who struggle and with frequent admiration towards them. This documentary is a great tribute to popular culture in the best sense of the word, celebrating people’s capacity for action and for expression while they enjoy themselves. That is the first intention sought from the start, despite denouncing a number of things, the key is to enjoy oneself and enjoy the words of the people, their rebellious humour and dignified rage. That is why there is no commentary or voice-over nor interviews with outside experts, who would tell us what to think or take from people’s testimonies. The documentary gives only space to the people and tries to make people visible, to show that there are not only people but a community.  In this sense the film while talking about the initiative of the Other Campaign, it adheres to the defined objective of this first  trip: learning to listen and watch the people who resist and struggle for land, dignity, freedom and justice in Mexico from below. To give visibility to the invisible in an invitation to listen, to travel, to meet with the other. All that, incidentally, has much to do with the goals of the documentary in itself. That too makes me feel invited and included, from the beginning, to participate in this collective effort.

2. What is the contribution of independent media in the struggle against unfetted capitalism? Where its potential lies and what are its limitations?

Adolfo Lopez:

In the current crisis of capitalism, mass media is their best weapon; they can manipulate public opinion and act freely without complaint or questioning. This is where the role of alternative media comes in, offering another perspective, another point of view, another opinion, while at the same time making complaints and demands. Thus, the vast majority of the people who consume and discard information from the mass media like television, know that there is this other information, that they can effectively exercise their right to choose among several options of alternative media communication and that they can even use and create it themselves to generate their own information, and their own version of what happens around them, these alternative media will have the necessary strength, that now they do not have, to balance and respond to the manipulation and alienation of the mass media.

3. You and Adolfo Lopez, who created an exhibition called “La Otra Mirada”, are making a tour through Mexico and Europe to present your projects. What is the public reaction?

4. What are the most interesting questions that have been asked by the public?

5. How do people relate, for example in northern Mexico or France, their reality of life with the Zapatista proposal to create another form of politics?

Nicolas Défossé: The priority was first to show the documentary and photo exhibition in Mexico, because we try to contribute to the people’s collective memory. Especially considering that people are not aware of these stories of rebellion or who see only through the sensationalism of the media, speaking of them only when there is violence and generally to criminalising the “rebels” seeing them often as delinquents. We did a tour of 60 performances in 16 cities in Mexico in August and September, trying to go to different and open places such as universities, film libraries, cultural centres, public places, etc. Also in order to reach a broader and diverse audience. The tour worked well with the public. There were many invitations so I ended up doing over 100 performances in 25 cities in the country. And there were always many questions and comments after the screening. We had talks and discussions of 1.30 hrs with the public, and that after 2 hrs projection! What we have seen, from questions from the public, is that there is a huge vacuum of information about the Zapatista movement and other resistance movements in Mexico. That is both in Mexico and Europe. Because most people only get information from mass communication media and if the media do not report what is happening, unfortunately many people believe that nothing is happening. Therefore, during the tour, we had to keep talking about alternative communication media, saying that they exist and people who want information or who want to disseminate information may do so without relying on the mass media giving them information.

Thus, it always happens in the presentations that the public appreciates having access to information that they cannot get to or that is manipulated. Then, they watch the film, the photo exhibition, and they learn about alternative communication media, a gateway to enter to find this other information. I remember some young people in Xalapa, Veracruz, who at the end of the presentation, asked me if they could screen the documentary, showing it to friends and relatives, because when the repression in San Salvador Atenco happened they were 13 years old, and they only know the version broadcast on television. We always say to people who want to show the film, while screenings are free, that they can also follow the idea of the tour: people take the documentary and continue showing it. I also bring DVDs on sale during the tour. But beyond the possibility of having access to forbidden information, we also had other types of comments that I summarize through a comment from a lady of Torreon, Cuahuila, who told us: “I had seen the repression in Atenco 4 years ago, and I had forgotten. Now that I saw it in the documentary, I will never forget.” That speaks not just about access to other information but the challenge is also – and above all? – To remember. Too often we “consume” information and next day we throw it away. In this sense the mass media generates also misinformation and forgetfulness, rather than knowledge and memory. So when this lady told us this, we felt that we achieved exactly what we were looking for: to contribute to the people’s collective memory, which is precisely one of the main objectives that encourages us to do these tours. We are betting that people will further disseminate the documentary in their working and living spaces, from hand to hand, mouth to mouth, ideally achieving this piece of history and collective portrait becoming part of the collective memory of Mexican people.

Another reaction we have seen in the presentations in Mexico is that people tell us “what is happening in the film is the same as what is happening here in our city, village, neighbourhood.” And several times the presentation became an opportunity for people to meet later, then keep in touch and talk about how to resist impositions on the population from above for the power of money. In Europe, although less than in Mexico, the documentary has also provoked comments about resistance and struggle in the old continent. As if the documentary is a mirror given by struggles here, raising questions such as “What is our capacity to resist here in Europe? What can we learn from the struggle for dignity of the Mexican people?” And several people have shown great interest in the proposal and the spirit of the Other Campaign is seeking to build this listening to others, seeking to join struggles, while respecting the autonomy of each individual struggle, in an effort clearly independent of the political parties. In the context of disappointment and weariness of the population from politicians and parties, both in Mexico and in Europe, the idea that another way of doing politics is possible, outside political parties, is something that is catching on and that very probably will continue growing.

6. In Mexico, what has been achieved in The Other Campaign, and what are the difficulties?

Adolfo López:

The Other Campaign has achieved many people from below and to the left struggling and resisting against the devastating advance of capitalism, recognising their identity, knowing that they are not alone, that their struggle is small, but that it is part of something bigger. Recognising and identifying all these struggles as adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle and the Other Campaign, new relations have been established among comrades of national and international struggles. Solidarity with the Zapatista movement has become a relationship of equals that struggle and resist from below and to the left. This has allowed the experiences of struggle and partial victories to cross-pollenate, to inspire and encourage other struggles as well as enable an immediate national and international reaction to any act of repression by the state, as it is currently the case of Bachajón, Chiapas.

It is not yet at the point of organising and creating a great national plan of civil and peaceful struggle. At this point, there might be complications, because the Other Campaign has made a broad call to different ways of thinking, which will meet and should find similarities without losing autonomy and self-determination. This is a challenge that will be faced and that is worth facing.

Interview: Luz Kerkeling


May 5, 2011

We are Movement for Justice in El Barrio, an organization of Mexican immigrants that fights for human dignity and against neoliberal displacement in East Harlem, New York. We fight for the liberation of women, indigenous peoples, lesbians, gays, the transgender community, and immigrants. We, too, as immigrants are sick of this shit (estamos hasta la madre)... as are all those from below in our beloved Mexico.

Our pain and solidarity indignation is with all the people who, due to the bad government’s war – deceitfully disguised as a “war against narco-trafficking”—, have lost their sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, relatives, and friends.

As immigrants, we are also the targets of the bad government’s wars and we are being attacked from all sides. First, by the capitalist system and the political class of Mexico that, through the PAN, PRD, and PRI political parties, forms the bad government. They have launched a war against our Mexico. Like all our fellow Mexican immigrants who are here on the “other side,” we migrated for this very reason. It is a war against the poor caused by the multinational corporations and their political lackeys.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the bad governments, from both sides of the border, and the transnational corporations are colluding in the destruction of our peoples and our lands by changing laws to allow the further exploitation and enslavement of humanity.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because unemployment and slavery jobs force us to leave our beloved people of Mexico.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the bad government’s war is killing off our culture; they want to destroy every facet of us as a community and as human beings.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the only option our country leaves for us is to risk our lives a thousand times over and leave everything behind in order to arrive in this country, the U.S., which plunders our natural resources and in this way enjoys a level of life infinitely higher than our country.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because it all occurs due to our corrupt governments, who are the lackeys of transnational corporations and who continue to kiss their feet so that they may get fat off of our poverty.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the bad government of Mexico and its employees laugh in our faces as they force us to say goodbye to our families, our community, and our beloved Mexico, when those from above exile us.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because here on the other side, we are turned into cheap labor to the benefit of the bosses, the wealthy and, in the same way, in service of the State—all of which profit from the savage exploitation of our community.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the political and economic system continues to degrade us as human beings.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because, in exchange for our labor, they implement new anti-immigrant and racist laws, murderous border walls, barriers on the Evros River, floating detention centers and armies in the Aegean Sea, assault battalions in the cities and large-scale deportations.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because we have seen how the politicians have degraded, exploited, looted, plundered, and murdered our people in Mexico and our fellow immigrant compañeros.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the transnational corporations, aided by the bad government’s war, are destroying the lands and natural resources that belong to the original peoples of our Mexico.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because we are discriminated against, humiliated, marginalized, and oppressed for being women, lesbians, transgender, gays and indigenous peoples.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio holds the bad government of Mexico and the world capitalist system directly responsible for the war that keeps us in the conditions we face as immigrants; for the war that seeks to destroy our families, children, women, men, elderly, and youth who, in reality, sustain the economy of the big cities to the benefit of the transnational corporations and bad governments in power on both sides of the border.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the war of those from above uses the mass media, controlled as they are by the bad government, to manipulate public opinion and to conceal the exploitation and true information, always to accommodate the interests of the corrupt governments.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the political and economic system, which wages a war against our population to destroy us, is the root cause and culprit for the exploitation of human beings as cheap labor.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the bad government’s war is degrading our humanity, is killing our culture, desires to enslave us in its image, and wishes to obliterate us in ever facet as a community and as human beings.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because the capitalist system moves its money from one country to another, from one continent to another, because for money there are no walls, there are no borders, there are no immigration laws. For money: freedom exists. For us: only persecution and exploitation.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because those from above want to convince workers that we represent a threat to them; that we are responsible for the oppression that their very own governments inflict upon them.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because they implement all of this to deny us our right to live a dignified life as human beings with all the rights that they don’t want us to exercise.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because we were displaced and evicted from our beloved Mexico and here we are now facing and fighting yet again displacement from our homes and community. Or, in other words, we are being doubly displaced, and for this reason, our struggle will not be stopped: it is strengthened together with our sisters and brothers of The Other Campaign.

As Mexican immigrants, we are part of The Other Campaign, the national Mexican movement - initiated by our Zapatista sisters and brothers from Chiapas, Mexico – that aims to unify all the struggles from below and to the left. This movement changes the way of doing politics by having the community as a base. We want to get rid of those thieving, corrupt, and dirty politicians from our Mexico, since all they do is plunder and leave our country in ruins. But, as our Zapatista sisters and brothers say, “If there is no world for us, by respecting our differences, we will build one in which many worlds fit.”

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because whenever the people, those from below, unite and fight against the capitalist system and political class, those from above attempt to squash our struggles as organized and autonomous peoples with repression, as they have done to members of The Other Campaign, such as our beloved sisters and brothers Zapatistas and our beloved compas from San Sebastián Bachajón.

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because instead of shelter, land, jobs, food, health, education, independence, democracy, freedom, and peace, there is superfluous brutality, violence, displacement, poverty, hunger, and repression. Instead of life, there is death.

Now, the bad government with the help of the capitalist mass media disguises this as a “war against narco-trafficking.”

As immigrants, we are sick of this shit because we know that the narco-trafficking, protected by the State, requires economic and social inequality to be able to exist, and it is precisely this inequality that has forced us to flee our country. In this way, the government makes its most subtle connection in its war against the people.

Because of all this, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, The Other Campaign New York, will join the actions that will take place from May 5-8 in Mexico and around the world against the violence perpetrated by the State.

Our protest will occur at the Mexican Consulate in New York, on Friday, May 6.

Responding to the call to name innocent victims, we name a dignified family that died while crossing the border:

Rosa Guzmán
Antonio Guzmán
Daniel Guzmán

This is the word of the simple and humble community of El Barrio, NYC.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio
The Other Campaign New York




Defending Their Lands, the Only Crime of Bachajón Ejido Members in Prison: Zibechi

May 4, 2011

** “They are victims of the political class that works for the transnationals”

By: Hermann Bellinghausen, Envoy

San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chis., 3 de mayo.

“The only crime that the San Sebastián ejido members committed is wanting to live on their lands, the lands of their grandparents, of their more remote ancestors, that they now want to be appropriated by the multi-nationals of money and death. The five ejido members that have been prisoners since February 3, as well as Patricio Domínguez Vázquez, detained the middle of April in Monte Redondo ejido in Frontera Comalapa municipio, are victims of the political class that works for the multi-nationals.”

The political analyst Raúl Zibechi stated this in a message sent from Montevideo, Uruguay, with which he adds himself to the international demand for the liberation of the five Bachajón prisoners, Other Campaign adherents, and of Domínguez Vázquez, Zapatista support base from Tierra y Libertad autonomous municipio, which in recent days demonstrated in 33 cities, just in France, and in 20 cities of other countries.

“The war today is for the land, for appropriating the life that it shelters and reproduces, and for that the indigenous and campesinos are mere obstacles that must be discarded. Ever since capital decided that everything is merchandise, no space of corner on the planet remains that can be free of that ambition.

“To appropriate the land for themselves, they unleashed what the Zapatistas call the Fourth World War (WW IV), which in Latin America passes for expelling millions of people from more than 100 million hectáreas in dispute. The big projects of open sky mining, monocrops of sugar cane, corn and soybeans for producing gasoline, and tree plantations for manufacturing cellulose, are killing the life and the people from south to north.”

In some cases, he points out, “as happened to Patricio, not only are they incarcerated, but they burn their homes because in reality they want them to abandon their land.” That war “has lasted sixty years in Colombia,” where it has permitted more than four million hectáreas “to pass from campesinos to paramilitaries, since they offer themselves as security for the multi-nationals.” A war that seeks to expel campesinos, “more than three million in the past 20 years,” and clear territories for the speculation of capital.

“In Colombia, the war's territories coincide exactly with those that the mining companies and infrastructure megaprojects covet.”

The same thing is happening now on the rest of the continent, the Uruguayan write adds: “the government of Brazil is converting the Amazon's rivers into sources of cheap energy for the big corporations,” with gigantic dams “on whose construction work 10, 15 and up to 20, 000 poorly paid and even more poorly housed, new slaves at the service of the governments submissive to capital, and when they rebel, as happened in Jirau ( Roraima state) in March, they are accused of being ‘bandits.’

“What hurts the most, and what teaches the most, is how the political class that was once said to be the Left joins together with the political class that was always the right to expel and incarcerate campesino and indigenous peoples, demonstrating that they are all the same when they're dealing with attacking those from below to make business for those from above. And they use 'ecological' arguments because they learned the politically correct excuses for falsely representing the dispossession.”

Directing himself to the Movement for Justice in El  Barrio, of New York, “from this corner of the continent,” Zibechi adds himself to the campaign “for the freedom of the Bachajón 5 and for Patricio,” and expresses that “solidarity and fraternity among the peoples knows no borders, nor can it expect anything from those above of from the institutions. We only depend on ourselves. ”
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee