Taken from Indymedia Chiapas - http://www.chiapas.indymedia.org - September 2004, and translated by Edinburgh-Chiapas Solidarity Group - http://www.edinchiapas.org.uk
ZAPATISTA CARACOL 1 - LA REALIDAD, LACANDONA JUNGLE, CHIAPAS, MEXICO
The caracol of La Realidad, the first space built by zapatistas to organise its autonomy, has already celebrated its first anniversary. The rains are in full flood, mud begins to fill the roads, the maize has been harvested and the indigenous people have doubled their maize seed. Perhaps there is not less hunger than before. The situation is difficult in these jungle lands, but a journey through the zone allows us to see and sense something which 10 years ago, when us reporters first penetrated the into this territory, simply did not exist.
At the entrance to this significant place of the junta of good government towards hope, there is a small wooden clinic painted in green with dozens of people around it. A white card advertises different methods of contraception and vaccination campaigns for kids and adults. “We are fighting diphtheria and tetanus,” the health promotor, a middle-aged indigenous man says proudly. In the queue women carry autonomous vaccination cards for their children.
Doroteo - a member of the junta of good government says, “From before our uprising, the zapatistas had begun to organise their healthcare, because health is one of the main demands of our struggle, we need it to live and our struggle is for life”.
This mother caracol of the sea of our dreams, is famous in the world of resistance because here in 1996 took place one of the founding moments of the anti-globablisation struggle. The most recent attainment in health here is the functioning of the operating theatre. They have had the theatre for three years but not used it because they have not had doctors and also, they recognise, due to a lack of organisation in the four autonomous municipalities in the region : San Pedro de Michoacan, General Emiliano Zapata, Libertad de Los Pueblos Mayas and Tierra y Libertad.
“We have just operated on two men, one with a hernia, the other with a tumour, and a women with a cyst. . . so now we are operating in this zone,” says Doroteo. Meanwhile the women who has recently had the operation is recuperating well. “How many indigenous women with cysts are waiting in this zone for an operation?” The answer is worrying, but as they say, “Now we have started.”
Health is one of the areas which has progressed most in the zapatista territory. This jungle area on the Guatemala frontier is not without its problems, both internal and external, but preventative medicine campaigns are multiplying. For example, cleaning the latrines with lime is done weekly in many communities by a health commission. In some areas however, there are others who, “still do not understand the importance of cleaning and we have to explain that health is the biggest and most precious thing you can give the struggle”
This zone has one of the two biggest autonomous hospitals in rebel territory. It is called ‘The hospital Pedro : the first hope of the faceless ones’, in honour of Subcommante Pedro. He was killed in combat in January 1994 and he was a leader and comrade of the people of these villages.
The hospital is in the community of San Jose del Rio, separated by a bridge from the village and in the middle of lots of vegetation. It serves the four municipal authorities but like all resistance projects has been problematic for the zapatista communities. It cost a lot of work to organise rotas of the thousands who helped in its construction over three years. They have faced many problems : they don’t have, nor did they have, doctors of natural medicine. They have only started using the operating theatre; on one occasion they had to close for a whole month; they spent a lot of money supporting health promotors and there is a long list of other predictable problems and unimaginable obstacles.
But the hospital exists and now competes with the big state hospital in Guadalupe Tepeyac set up in 1993 just before the uprising by the then President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. This white elephant was temporarily run by the Red Cross until February 1995 when it was scandalously taken over by the Mexican army, before eventually being handed back to the state health sector.
In the hospital at Guadalupe Tepeyac, say the Zapatistas, “Sometimes they do not want to give us medical attention if we say we are zapatistas or they ask us a lot of questions to find out about our organisation, or they treat us like the government treats us, that is with contempt like they treat all indigenous people. Because of that we do not want to go there and now even the Priistas prefer to come to our hospital or microclinics. We see everyone there zapatista or no and treat them with respect as human beings.”
It is common to meet priistas or members of other organisations in the autonomous hospital. They have chosen not to go to the huge hospital at Guadalupe Tepeyac because, “being indigenous, they too are treated very badly, or they tell them there is no medicine”. In the autonmous clinics those who are not zapatistas only pay 10 pesos for a consultation and “if we have got donated medicines we give them that for free and if we only have medicines we had to buy, then we charge the cost price. We do not make a commercial business out of health,” Doroteo says.
The challenge of providing health care not only to the bases of support, but to all the population in the area is gigantic. The junta says, “A lot of work is needed because the need is great, sometimes it seems as if we need to do a lot more, it feels as if we need to do twice as much, but other times it feels as if we are getting there”.
The hospital at San Jose is also a school for health promotors. It has been constructed with the support of an Italian organisatin and has dental and herbal clinics and a clinical lab. In addition there are three municipal clincis, one in Tierra y Libertad, onein Libertad de Los Pueblos Mayas and another in San Pedro de Michoacan.
In the entire zone there are 118 health promotors dealing with primary illnesses in the same number of community health houses. In the main hospital, in the three municipal clinics and in the 100 plus community health houses the bases of support are provided with free consultations and, when it is available, free medicine .
The health promotors explain that up to some months ago the hospital functioned with health promotors who were supported economically by the four municipalities. They were given 800 pesos a month each to stay at the hospital full time. In total the communities spent more than 100 thousand pesos over three years. The money came from a warehouse project we have in the zone.
But now with the junta, we have decided to ask the villages for volunteers, who would work full-time to care for people’s health in the hospital. Three men and three women answered the call and they have left their families and are now working as interns. The junta supports them with food, their travel, shoes and clothes. We buy them what they need, but they are not paid a wage or given money. These interns are conscientious and working for their people and benefiting from the opportunity to learn about health.
Midwives, bone healers and herbalists strengthen traditional medicine.
At the side of the caracol in La Realidad there is a new building, nearly ready - it is a herbalist’s lab and house of preserved foods, it is joining up with a health project which is the pride of this zone. It signals the empowering of more than 300 women herbalists, bone healers and midwives.
“This dream”, they explain, “began when we realised that we were losing the knowledge of our old men and women. They know how to cure bones and sprains, the use of herbs, how to deliver children, but all this tradition was being lost because of the use of pharmaceutical medicines. So we agreed in the villages to make a call to those men and women who know traditional cures. It was not easy. At first many did not want to share their knowledge. They said that it was a gift which could not be passed on because it comes from within. We then helped awareness raising in the villages with discussions on health and as a result many people changed their minds and decided to participate in the courses. There were 20 men and women, great people from our villages, who were appointed as masters of traditional medicine with 350 pupils, most of them women comrades. As a result the number of midwives, bone healers and herbalists in our communities has multiplied.
The new herbalist laboratory also has a story. “An Italian footballer who died left in his will money to build a football pitch on zapatista territory. This pitch was only going to benefit the people of Guadalupe Teyepac and so we talked with the community and explained that we had other more urgent needs which would benefit all communities, like a space where comrades could work on traditional health. The village understood and agreed that it was fair to use the money for the health of everyone. The second stage was to talk the donors. At first they did not want the money to be used for anything else, but later they said it was ok”.
More than 300 education promotores give classes in their villages.
“For us education of our children is the foundation of our resistance. The idea came about because most of us have not been educated or if we have been it was very bad state education. There were no schools in the communities and when there was we did not have a teacher and if we had a teacher they would not turn up and then there were no classes. That was before.” explain the autonomous authorities in the region. In 1997 we began to work on our plans and programmes of study. And seven years later we now have three lots of education promotors able to give classes in their villages. “In our schools we teach the history of Mexico, but real history, what has happened to those who struggle in this country. We also teach children about the zapatista struggle, the struggle of the people,” says Fidelio, an educaion promotor.
“|Most of the villages now have education promotors, only 30 communities don’t have and we have in all villages of the four municipalities”. the junta say. In this region in La Realidad we organised the first zapatista education in 1997. In 1999 and 2001 we taught other groups of promotors, finishing with more than 300 indigenous people able to teach classes in their villages. Nevertheless the junta say, “We have a problem that some single promotors lose interest when they marry, or because the village does not give them much support ; or there are some who go to work in the US. We are trying to resolve this because there is a problem with promotors leaving.
While the interview was taking place with the junta a course with more than 70 promotors was coming to an end in La Realidad. “Those you see walking about the caracol are taking a course needed to bring everyone’s knowledge up to the same level, then they will go through a second course, like a secondary course although we don’t call it that”, explains Doroteo.
In the four rebel municipalities in the jungle zone there are 42 new community schools. Ten in Libertad de Los Pueblos Mayas, four in General Emiliano Zapata, 20 in San Pedro de Michoacan and eight in Tierra y Libertad. The schools have a cement floor and a laminate roof with wooden walls. They all have a blackboard, desks, the mexican flag and of course the zapatista flag and some have tape recorders and other teaching tools.
In order to provide for the education needs of the 30 communities without a promotor, the junta is to task the responsables, “to raise awareness of the importance of this work. We will not force this, the villages need to understand the importance and apply this in their villages because they are convinved of its use. “
Most of the communities in this region have two schools, one offical, the other autonomous, and the zapatistas say that in their schools, “our children learn to read and write first and they are more hard working. We do not blame the state teachers, but they leave their classes a lot because they say they have to attend meetings, but our promotors do not take breaks not do they get paid.”
Only one woman is part of the autonomous government.
The junta of good government towards the hope has seven men and only one woman. Three out of the four autonomous councils do not have a woman and only one municipality Tierra y Libertad has a woman member. Out of over 100 education promotors only six are woman (five from Tierra y Libertad and one from San Pedro de Michoacan). The other two municipalities in this zone, General Emiliano Zapata y Libertad de Los Pueblos Mayas donot have a woman rsponsible for education. In the area of health it is no better for women. There are only seven promotors in the four municipalities, five in Libertad de Los Pueblos Mayas and two in Tiera y Libertad. “We are aware, “ say the junta, “that in this zone there is still very little participation by women but we see a small improvement because in the past it was not thought that any woman would participate. We need more women to participate, but the change must begin in the family. We need to do more political work in the villages with families. Unfortunately there is still a belief that if daughters leave the village they will get up to no good. Because of this we need to strengthen discussion and work. We in the junta have a woman comrade and she goes with us everywhere and we have never had a problem because we respect her and she respects us. Many women in the villages still think that women could encounter problems if they go and work with men but it is not the case. And so we need to raise awareness more amongst husbands and fathers. They need to get into their heads that men and women have the same rights.
Fighting the coyote, another challenge
In the community of Veracruz the zapatistas run a warehouse which supplies hundreds of small community shops, both zapatista and non zapatista. This store, named “Everything for Everybody”, exists so that the shopkeepers in the villages are spared the trip to get supplies from Margaritas or Comitan After the success of this store, another one was opened in Betania and another in Playa Azul. These stores supply the whole zone and supply oil, soap, salt, sugar and beans, maize and coffee to the villages.
During the past three and a half years the profits from the Veracruz store have gone to support the health promotors in the main hospital. One hundred thousand and 641 pesos were used for this. The profits also go to support the travel of the Autonomous councils and other parts of the organisation. In total 116 thousand 614 pesos was spent to support various activities. In these same stores maize bought by the junta is traded, in a project aiming to stop intermediaries (coyotes) buying maize at low prices and selling at high prices. Profits from the sale goes towards the work of the junta and the four autonomous municipalities in the region.
“This first year we bought more than 500 bails of maize, around 44 tonnes. Already we have sold half of it, and the rest has been stored in the warehouse and we are trading it....” explains Doroteo.
In the caracol, just in front of the junta’s office there is a big red vehicle. It is called Chompiras. It is a lorry the junta has recently acquired to use for their goods. Chompiras runs through the jungle, as far as the coast and Los Altos to distribute their products. They also have a passenger lorry which travels from Margaritas to San Quintin. Its first profits went towards the creation of a regional food shop.
The difficulties never end... However now we even have the internet, and we are learning to use it to directly manage our communication. What we feel most is that we have a lot of responsibility. Sometimes we feel the world on our shoulders because it is difficult to govern, above all to carry out what the people ask, to govern by obeying, and we don’t have resources. Sometimes we think we are addicted to these problems, or that we like them, but we go on learning to overcome them”.