Chiapas: The Resistance continues with a report from the Mexican daily La Jornada on the zapatista movement in the Morelia zone.
(translated by Edinburgh/Chiapas Solidarity Group from Indymedia Chiapas, September 2004)
The tree fringed riverside goes through the fourth zapatista caracol, situated in the ejido of Morelia, in Altamirano. It is the tzotz choj region (brave tiger in tzeltzal), a zone of cattle ranchers and paramilitaries, the place where the federal army raped an indigenous woman and tortured and killed three EZLN militants in 1994.
The caracol is situated at the end of the village in a place surrounded by pine trees where in 1996 what is now known as Aguascalientes IV was built - a political and cultural meeting space. Today the place is nothing like it was years ago; at the entrance there is an appropriate technology workshop, in the middle a shoemaking workshop and dormitories, the auditorium is at the back and at the side is situated the office of the junta of good government with its satellite internet connection.
Just the same as in other zapatista caracols the wood and cement buildings are decorated with murals showing revolutionary images. On the walls of one of the dormitories a painting is dedicated to “the martyrs of Morelia, murdered on 7 January 1994”, when at the height of the war, the army seized the village and any men found in their homes, took them into the middle of the village, tortured them and then shot them dead. Although it is an old story , it is one which is always alive in the memory of the people here.
Today the atmosphere is different. A group of Catalans from the Collective of Solidarity with the zapatista rebellion have come to the caracol and, taking advantage of the fact that there is a group of education promoters here undergoing a training course, join with them to prepare a puppet show with revolutionary songs and children’s stories.
The newest building is the cafeteria “El Paliacate “ (“The Bandana”) situated at the back of the caracol, where as well getting something to eat, you can get copies of the local autonomous paper. This region was the first to organise its own publications to give voice to the views of the people. A few years ago, they published a small newspaper which sent its indigenous reporters to cover the zapatista marches and mobilisations.
Now they distribute a pamphlet under the stamp of Autonomous Editions in Rebellion which tells the history of the Centre of Commerce “New Dawn of the Rainbow” and another which tells the story of the struggle of the zapatista women in the villages and the women insurgents in the zapatista army. The Centre of Commerce New Dawn of the Rainbow is one of the things to be proud of in this region. It is situated on the Cuxulja crossroads in the Moises Gandhi community, on the land occupied in the past by one of the seven military positions whose withdrawal the EZLN demanded. Now, “in the same place where we fought courageously against the military presence” this collective force has risen and has survived threats of eviction from the state Public Security dept and threats from the priistas and perredistas. This space represents the first work jointly organised by the seven autonomous municipalities in the zone even before the existence of the junta of good government. The seven municipalites are: 1st January, Olga Isabel, 17th November, Ernesto Che Guevara, Vicente Guerrero, Miguel Hidalgo and Lucio Cabanas.
Another thing which distinguishes the communities in the region is the work of the women. The now famous Commandante Esther is the product of more than ten years political work in these villages where small advances are undeniable, although gender inequality still persists. For example this junta of good government is the only one with a woman in each of the seven autonomous councils. The junta has a total of 28 members, 21 men and seven women, so that there is always a woman on each rota who also represents a quarter of the autonomous government. It is not a lot but compared to the other juntas it has the largest presence of women in the government.
The tzeltal, tzotzil and tojolabal women of the seven municipalities are also pioneers of collective work. In the villages there are growing numbers of collectives: of vegetables and horticulture; sewing and embroidery; candle making and bakeries. Maria explains that, “the profit from this work is distributed to the individual women to a small extent, but the largest part is used for communal benefit”.
Women’s participation in the economy of the family gives them a new space within the community and in this way the women are also gaining the respect of their parents, husbands, brothers and sons.
Seated in the middle of six men in the office of the junta of good government, the only woman on the shift says, “ We still need to participate more. Some men who understand the struggle are now learning that women are equal in ability to men in all areas of work, but not all men understand ... many men do not allow their wives or daughters to go on courses or work outside their villages. In villages where men think more progressively, women do a lot of good work”.
The influence of indigenous zapatista women who are involved in work has now permeated other organisations. Maria says, “In my village the priista men are beginning to allow their women to go out because the women claim that only the zapatista women are allowed to go out. The priista women tell their husbands that they can also earn money with integrity and so are pushing to be able to go out and work.”
Education for Peace and Humanity
While this interview is taking place in the junta office, the players tussle over the ball in the basketball game taking place between male and female education promoters. Gender inequality is also visible in the area of education, but only at the level of promoters, educators or education delegates (here there are three types) In the community schools there are almost the same number of boys as girls. That’s to say that most of the teachers are male, but the ratio of male to female pupils is the same. The girls are going to school and now spend less time looking after their young brothers and sisters or making tortillas.
Autonomous education has been functioning here since 1995 and now a total of 280 education delegates give classes to 2,500 pupils in seven municipalities. It is also the only zone which has a training centre for promoters in each autonomous municipality and not just one for the whole zone.
Just as in the other zapatista territories, the children not only learn to read and write, but most importantly, “they learn to struggle, to defend their surroundings, to look after nature and be proud of their culture”. The subjects they study are: production, politics, art, culture, reading and writing, health, sport, maths, history and languages, (spanish and mother tongue.) These courses were worked on by 200 indigenous education promoters from the seven municipalities via dozens of meetings.
One strange fact which tells about autonomous education is that to enrol in basic education each child brings a chicken as payment, because the education promotors now rely on a farm with chickens and eggs to provide food to their pupils. Similarly each one of the primary schools was built from the resources in the community with no external support, so there are primary schools made of blocks, planks or cement. The promoters also work in borrowed or temporary houses, with a plastic roof for protection. “A school”. they say, “is not the building”.
The education programme in the zone is called, Organisation for New Autonomous Education for Peace and Humanity. Nothing more and nothing less. Like all zapatista names it shows that it has been carefully thought out.
The most recent development in education is that this year new secondary school courses started. It is also the only one of the five zapatista zones which has a secondary school in each municipality, seven in total. The first generation of primary children have already graduated and they have now taken courses to enable them to start the following grade. “In the past we could never have dreamed of having a school, and now we have more than 100 primary and seven secondary schools, “ say the autonomous authorities.
Many needs and free consultation
The zapatista villages in this region are gradually using less pharmaceutical medicines and are promoting campaigns to use herbal and plant medicines. Natural medicine is growing in importance and medicines are prepared using a variety of natural remedies.
A total of 150 health promoters look after the zapatista and non zapatisas in more than 100 community health houses which rely on basic medicines, some pharmaceutical and some herbal. “Herbal medicine is given free and we only charge the cost-price of pharmaceutical medicines”, explain the members of the junta.
There are also seven municipal clinics which offer, like others in the territories in resistance, free consultations to all zapatistas. At the same time a lab for clinical analysis has just started up, run by specialist promotors.
The needs are many. In this zone there is no dental service, no clinics with operating theatres, no hospital services much less an ambulance. When someone becomes seriously ill, he or she has to be transferred to the hospital of San Carlos situated in the regional capital of Altamirano. They are looked after there by nuns who in 1994 were threatened with death by the local bosses and ranchowners who accused them of the terrible crime of opening the hospital doors to anyone who knocked.
Despite these needs, the zapatistas are making advances. They remember when the state clinics gave them out of date medicines, did not treat them with respect and charged them for the consultation and the medicines as if they were private patients.
The incidence of indigenous members of the PRI being treated in the autonomous health clinics is increasing in this zone. Hilario a priista from the municipality Miguel Hidalgo notes that, “Sometimes we do not pay for consultations, but then we don’t have money either. Sometimes they give us medicine and don’t charge us and yes I think the health clinics are good for urgent matters.”
On their part the junta say, “There is no way we will we deny anyone a service. Health is for all. The money the government give to the priistas is spent on alcohol and then the priistas do not have money to look after and feed themselves. For us health is the most important thing and the priistas as indigenous people also need this service.”
Each autonomous municipality has a health commission tasked with investigating the situation in all of the communities. Before the existence of the junta of good government, the authorities recognised that, “many communities did not have a community health house, but now they all have. We have a general health plan and every three months the commission meets to see how the work is progressing and to see where communities need a first aid resource, to study which illnesses are presenting a problem, and to give encouragement where work needs to be done.
Driving through the nearby villages, we can see the promotores working on three health campaigns: one about getting rid of parasites, one on vaccination, and one about hygiene to prevent illnesses, “It is important to educate the people about where illness comes from otherwise we will continue to have to treat these illnesses”, Daniel, a member of the junta says.
An end to the use of insecticides and chemical fertilizers
The land is one of the themes which most concern the people because, although not without problems, they are beginning to organise production. Now there is a production commission in each municipality which has the aim of organising agricultural and cattle-raising projects. They are also training promotors to learn agroecology and veterinary skills. An example of the former is that some farmers are now clearing infestations with use of machetes only, without insecticides. They are also using organic fertilisers without chemicals.
One year of working as a junta of good government and a lot of collective work has taken place. The zapatistas continue to learn and above all, “to govern ourselves and to resolve our problems. The people learn to command and oversee our work and we learn to obey. The people are wise and know when a mistake is made or when we are diverted from our work. That is how we work.” conclude the autonomous authorities.