Translated by irlandesa
CHIAPAS: The Thirteenth Stele
Part Five: A History
The history of the rebel zapatista Autonomous Municipalities is
young, it is 7 years old, going on 8. Although they were declared at
the December 1994 siege was broken, the rebel zapatista Autonomous
Municipalities (the MAREZ) still took a while to become reality.
Today, the exercise of indigenous autonomy is a reality in zapatista
and we are proud to say that it has been led by the communities
The EZLN has been engaged in this process only in order to accompany,
intervene when there have been conflicts or deviations. That is why
EZLN's spokesperson has not been the same as the Autonomous
The Autonomous Municipalities themselves have directly communicated
denuncias, requests, agreements, "twinnings" (not a few rebel zapatista
Autonomous Municipalities maintain relationships with municipalities in
countries, primarily in Italy). If the autonomous have now asked the
fulfill the duties of spokesperson, it is because they have entered
higher stage of development and, having broadened, announcements are
purview of one, or several, municipalities. That is the reason for the
agreement that the EZLN would announce these current changes.
The problems of the autonomous authorities, in the period which is now
can be divided into two types: those having to do with their
with national and international civil society, and those having to do
self-governance, that is, with relations with zapatista and
In their relationship with national and international civil society,
primary problem has been an unbalanced development of the Autonomous
Municipalities, of the communities located within them, and, even, of
zapatista families who live there. Those Autonomous Municipalities
most well known (like those which were the seats of the now defunct
"Aguascalientes") or closer at hand (closer to urban centers or with
access), have received more projects and more support. The same thing
taken place with the communities. The most well known and those along
highway receive more attention from "civil societies."
In the case of zapatista families, what happens is that, when civil
visits the communities or works on projects or sets up a peace camp,
usually build special relationships with one or more families in the
community. Those families will, obviously, have more advantages -
assignments, gifts or special attention - than the rest, even though
all zapatistas. Nor is it unusual for those who interact with civil
because of the position they occupy in the community, in the Autonomous
Municipality, in the region or in the area, to receive special
gifts which often give rise to talk in the rest of the community and do
follow the zapatista criterion of "to each according to his needs."
I should clarify that it is not a bad relationship, nor what someone
called "well intentioned counterinsurgency," but rather something
human relations. It can, however, produce imbalances in community life
there are no counterbalances to that privileged attention.
Regarding the relationship with zapatista communities, the "govern
has been administered without distinction. The authorities must see
communities' agreements are carried out, their decisions must be
informed, and the collective "weight", along with the "word of mouth"
functions in all the communities, become a kind of monitoring which is
difficult to avoid. Even so, instances take place of persons managing
around this and to become corrupt, but it does not get very far. It is
impossible to conceal illicit enrichment in the communities. The
is punished by being compelled to do collective work and to repay to
community whatever he wrongfully took.
When the authority goes amiss, becomes corrupt or, to use a local term,
shirker," he is removed from his position, and a new authority replaces
In the zapatista communities, the position of authority is not
all (during the time that the person is in authority, the community
support him). It is conceived as work in the collective interest, and
rotated. It is not infrequently enforced by the collective in order to
laxness or indifference of some of its members, such as, when someone
lot of the community assemblies, they are punished by being given a
such as municipal agent or ejidal commissioner.
This "form" of self-governance (of which I am giving just the
summary) is not an invention or contribution of the EZLN. It comes
further back in time. When the EZLN was born, it had already been
for a good while, although only at the level of each community.
It was because of the enormous growth of the EZLN (as I have already
explained, this was at the end of the 80s), that this practice moved
local to the regional. Functioning with local responsables (that is,
charge of the organization in each community), regional ones (a group
communities) and area ones (a group of regions), the EZLN saw that
did not discharge their duties were, in a natural fashion, replaced by
another. Although here, given that it is a political-military
the command makes the final decision.
What I mean by this is that the EZLN's military structure in some way
"contaminated" a tradition of democracy and self-governance. The EZLN
a manner of speaking, one of the "undemocratic" elements in a
direct community democracy (another anti-democratic element is the
that's a matter for another paper).
When the Autonomous Municipalities began operating, self-governance did
move just from the local to the regional, it also emerged (always
tendentially) from the "shadow" of the military structure. The EZLN
intervene at all in the designation or removal of autonomous
it has limited itself to only pointing out that, given that the EZLN,
principle, is not fighting for the taking of power, none of the
command or members of the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous
occupy a position of authority in the community or in the Autonomous
Municipalities. Those who decide to participate in the autonomous
must definitively resign from their organizational position within the
I am not going to expand much on the operations of the Autonomous
They have their own methods of acting ("their way," as we say) as
and there are not a few witnesses (national and international "civil
societies" who have seen them unctioning and who work with them
I do not, however, want to leave the impression that it is something
or that it should be idealized. The "govern obeying" in zapatista
is a tendency, and it is not exempt from ups and downs, contradictions
errors, but it is a dominant tendency. Its having managed to survive
conditions of persecution, harassment and poverty that have rarely
the history of the world speaks to the fact that it has benefited the
communities. In addition, the autonomous councils have managed to
forward, with the fundamental support of "civil societies," a colossal
the building of the material conditions for resistance.
Charged with governing a territory in rebellion, that is, without any
institutional support and under persecution and harassment, the
councils have focused their efforts on two fundamental aspects: health
In health, they have not limited themselves to building clinics and
(always helped by "civil societies," it must not be forgotten), they
train health workers and maintain constant campaigns for community
One of those campaigns came very close, once, to costing me being
in assembly (I don't know if you know what it's like being criticized
assembly, but, if not, it's enough to tell you that hell must be
like that) and being "looked at" by the community (the people "look" at
but with one of those looks which make you tremble, in sum, a kind of
purgatory). It so happened that, I think I was in La Realidad, I was
through, and I spent the night in one of the huts the compas have for
cases. The community's "health committee" was going around checking
latrines in each house (there was an agreement that the latrines had to
regularly blocked with lime or ash in order to prevent the spread of
Our latrine, of course, had neither lime nor ash. The "health
told me, kindly, "compa~ero subcomandante insurgente Marcos, we're
out the latrines by agreement of the community, and your latrine
lime or ash, so you have to put it in, and we're going to come
see if it has it then." I began babbling something about the trip, the
horse, the communique's, military movements, the paramilitaries and I
remember what all else. The "health committee" listened patiently
stopped talking and said only "that's all compa~ero subcomandante
Marcos." When the "health committee" came by the next day, the
course, had ash, lime, sand, but not cement, only because I couldn't
and seal the latrine up forever...
Regarding education - in lands where there had been no schools, let
teachers - the Autonomous Councils (with the help of "civil societies,"
not tire of repeating) built schools, trained education promoters and,
cases, even created their own curricula. Literacy manuals and
created by "education committees" and promoters, accompanied by "civil
societies" who know about those subjects. In some areas (not in all,
true), they have managed to see to it that girls - who have been
deprived of access to learning - go to school. Although they have also
to it that women are no longer sold and may freely choose their mate,
feminists call "gender discrimination" still exists in zapatista lands.
"women's revolutionary law" still has a long way to go in being
Continuing with education, in some places the zapatista bases have made
agreements with teachers from the democratic section of the teachers'
(those who aren't with Gordillo) that they will not do
and will respect the curricula recommended by the Autonomous Councils.
Zapatistas in fact, these democratic teachers accepted the agreement,
have fully complied with it.
Neither the health nor the educational services take in all the
communities, it's true, but a large number of them, the majority, now
means of obtaining medicine, of being treated for an illness and for
vehicle for taking them to the city in case of illness or serious
Literacy and primary education are hardly widespread, but one region
has an autonomous secondary school which, incidentally, recently
new generation made up of men and, ojo, indigenous women.
A few days ago, they showed me the diplomas and school-leaving
from the Rebel Autonomous Zapatista Secondary School. My humble
that they should have made them out of chewing gum, because at the top
have "EZLN. Zapatista Army of National Liberation," and then they read
"Castillo" and in Tzotzil) "The Rebel Autonomous Zapatista Educational
of National Liberation (referring to how it operates in Los Altos,
there are other educational systems in other areas) certifies that
so-and-so has satisfactorily completed the three grades of the
Secondary School, in accordance with the Zapatista Plans and Programs
ESRAZ, Primero de Enero of 1994 Rebel Autonomous Zapatista Secondary
obtaining an average of__. Therefore our Educational System recognizes
efforts, your contributions to the resistance struggle and invites you
share with our peoples what the people have given you." And it then
iberating education! For a scientific and popular education! I put
the service of my people." And so, in the event of persecution, the
will not only be unable to show it, she will also have to eat it,
it would be better if it were chewing gum. There is also the report
(which appears as "Recognition"), and there you can read the subjects
reality, they aren't subjects, but "areas") which were completed:
Sports, Arts, Reflection on Reality, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences,
Reflections on the Mother Language, Communication, Mathematics and
and Services to the Community. There are only two assessments: "A"
approved") and "ANA" ("area not approved"). I know that the "Anas" of
world are going to be offended, but there's nothing I can do, because,
say, autonomies are autonomies...
Education is free, and the "education committees" go to great efforts
repeat: with the support of "civil societies") to see that each student
his own notebook and her pencil, without having to pay for it.
In health, efforts are being made to see that it is free as well. In
zapatista clinics, they no longer charge the compa~eros, not for the
not for the medicine, not for the operation (if it's necessary and able
performed in our circumstances), and in the others only the cost of the
medicine is charged, not the consult nor the medical care. Our clinics
the help and direct participation of specialists, surgeons, doctors,
from national and international civil society, as well as from students
assistants in medicine and odontology from UNAM, from UAM and from
institutions of higher education. They do not charge one single peso,
not infrequently, they pay out of their own pockets.
I know that some of you will be thinking that this is starting to look
government report, and the only thing missing is my saying "the number
have been reduced" or some other "Fox-ism", but no, the number of poor
increased here, because the number of zapatistas have increased, and
goes with the other.
That is why I want to emphasize that all of this is taking place under
conditions of extreme poverty, shortages and technical and information
limitations, in addition to the fact that the government does
possible to block those projects which come from other countries.
A short time ago, I was talking with some "civil societies" about the
suffering they had to go through in order to bring a freezer that
solar energy. The project involved vaccinating children, but the
the communities do not have electricity or, if they do have it, they
have a refrigerator. And so the freezer would allow the vaccine to be
maintained until it was administered to those who needed it. Fine, it
happened that, in order to bring the freezer, they had to go through an
infinity of bureaucratic procedures and, according to their
there was only one organization which could bring what they wanted in
outside expeditiously: Martha Sahagu'n de Fox's "Let's Go Mexico
They did not, of course, resort to that publicity agency. They
all the procedures, and the freezer will be installed, although late,
there will be vaccinations.
In addition to education and health, the Autonomous Councils look at
with land, work and trade, where they are making a little progress.
look at the issues of housing and food. Where we are in our infancy.
things are doing a bit well is in culture and information. In culture,
defense of language and cultural traditions is being promoted above
information, news in local languages is being transmitted through the
zapatista radio stations. Also being regularly transmitted,
music of all kinds, are messages recommending that men respect the
calling for women to organize themselves and to demand respect for
rights. And, it may not be much, but our coverage on the war in Iraq
superior to CNN's (which, strictly speaking, isn't saying much).
The Autonomous Councils also administer justice. The results are
some places (in San Andres Sacamch'en de los Pobres, for example) even
PRIs go to the autonomous authorities because, as they say, "they do
of it and resolve the problem." In others, as I will explain now,
If the relationship between the Autonomous Councils and the communities
full of contradictions, the relationship with non-zapatista communities
been one of constant friction and confrontation.
In the offices of non-governmental human rights defenders (and in the
Comandancia General of the EZLN), there are a fair few denuncias
zapatistas for alleged human rights violations, injustices and
In the case of the denuncias which the Comandancia receives, they are
over to the committees in the region in order to investigate their
and, when the results are positive, to resolve the problem, bringing
parties together in order to come to agreement.
But in the case of human rights defenders organizations, there is doubt
confusion, because there has been no definition as to whom they should
directed. To the EZLN or to the Autonomous Councils?
And they are right (the human rights defenders), because there is no
on this matter. There is also the problem of differences between
and "uses and customs" (as the jurists say) or "path of good thinking"
say). The resolution of the latter belongs to those who have made the
of human rights their lives. Or, as in the case of Digna Ochoa (whom
special prosecutor regarded as nothing more than an office worker - as
being an office worker was somehow less - but who was, and is, a
the politically persecuted), their death. Regarding a clear definition
whom one should direct oneself to in order to process those denuncias,
belongs to the zapatistas. It will be made known soon how they will
In sum, there are not a few problems confronting indigenous autonomy in
zapatista lands. In order to try and resolve some of them, important
have been made in its structure and operation. But I will tell you of
later, now I just want to give a brief sketch of where we're at.
This long explication is owing to the fact that indigenous autonomy has
been the work of just the zapatistas. If the process has been carried
exclusively by the communities, its realization has had the support of
and many more.
If the uprising of January 1, 1994 was possible because of the
complicity of tens of thousands of indigenous, the building of autonomy
rebel lands is possible because of the complicity of hundreds of
persons of different colors, different nationalities, different
different languages, in short, of different worlds.
They, with their help, have made possible (for the good, because the
our responsibility alone), not the resolution of the demands of the
zapatista indigenous, but their being able to improve their living
a bit, and, above all, to survive and make grow one more, perhaps the
smallest, of the alternatives in the face of a world which excludes all
"others," that is, indigenous, young people, women, children, migrants,
workers, teachers, campesinos, taxi drivers, shopkeepers, unemployed,
homosexuals, lesbians, transsexuals, committed and honest religious
artists and progressive intellectuals and____(add whatever is missing).
There should also be a diploma for all of them (and those who are not
which says "The Zapatista Army of National Liberation and the Rebel
Indigenous Communities certify that____ (name of the accomplice in
is our brother/sister and has, in these lands and with us, a
heart as home, dignity as food, rebellion as flag, and, for tomorrow, a
where many worlds fit. Given in zapatista lands and skies at such and
day of such and such a month of the year, etcetera." And it would be
by those zapatistas who know how to do so, and those who can't would
leave their mark. I, in a corner, would put:
>From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Mexico, July of 2003.
(To Be Continued...)