Forthcoming books will be released in the coming months, at one month intervals, if not sooner, as follows:
• Autonomous Government I (Available now: click here) • Autonomous Government II (Will be published no later than April 8th) • Participation of Women in Autonomous Government (Will be published no later than May 8th) • Autonomous Resistance (Will be published no later June 8th)
Freedom according to the Zapatistas: The launch of the Escuelita August 29, 2013
From August 12-16 the zapatistas opened the doors to their caracoles, communities and hearts to 1630 students enrolled in the first grade of “the escuelita (the little school): freedom according to the zapatistas.”
The escuelita didn’t have formal classrooms with a rigid schedule and teachers imparting their knowledge. Instead it featured immersion based learning, grounded in the daily tasks of constructing autonomy. This included grinding corn, weeding onion crops, collecting firewood, and washing your clothes in the river.
All students in the escuelita were received at the CIDECI, an autonomous indigenous learning center based in San Cristobal de las Casas. From there, each student was assigned to one of the five caracoles: La Realidad, Oventic, Morelia, Roberto Barrios and La Garrucha which are the centers of the “Juntas de Buen Gobierno”, which loosely translates to The Good Government reunions.
Days before, the caracoles celebrated 10 years of their existence with a grand party in each region. The escuelita was a natural extension of this historic anniversary in which the compas (short for compañero) would not only celebrate their creation, but also impart all the advances they have made in their construction of autonomous government.
I was assigned to Roberto Barrios, located in the northern region of Chiapas, close to the historic Mayan ruins Palenque. Our caravan arrived at 10 p.m. after a long drive through the Chiapan hillsides and jungles. At best we thought a few zapatistas would greet us and that together we would dine with tortillas and beans. Instead we were greeted by hundreds of zapatistas bearing their trademark balaclavas and paliacates (red paisley bandannas), pronouncing “long live the students and teachers of the escuelita.” Together we sang the zapatista anthem and ate delicious stew. For many of the students, myself included, this was the first time that we had the opportunity to stand side by side with the rebel fighters that had so inspired us for close to two decades.
Once we were rested up from our long journey we all gathered together to learn more about the processes of autonomy. Each student was given, for a modest recommended donation of 100 pesos (equivalent of $8.50 USD) a packet of books and DVDs. The titles were Autonomous Government 1 and 2, Autonomous Resistance and The Participation of Women in Autonomous Government.
As with most projects in zapatista life, they were produced collectively by compiling the stories of members of the communities in the five distinct regions each governed by their own Caracol. The teachers who helped draft the books, introduced us to them explaining how the 3 levels of zapatista government work on the local, municipal, and zone levels. The government representatives are chosen from all zapatista municipalities and serve three year terms. There is a strong desire for gender equity in the Juntas de Buen Gobierno, yet the zapatistas acknowledged that they are still struggling in that area and that the majority of the representatives are male.
Speaking before the students in Roberto Barrios, one zapatista teacher stated: “The laws of the bad government don’t function here, they can’t enter our communities. Our governments are our dream. We are not thinking of operating with them for a few people but for thousands of people.”
The teachers went on to explain how their system of government even has its own justice and banking system. A story was recounted in which a “pollero”, or human trafficker of Central American migrants who passed through zapatista communities on their journey north, was captured. Once caught, he was not incarcerated; instead he was required to work 6 months with the zapatistas doing carpentry work. The former migrant trafficker at the end of his 6-month work stint thanked the zapatistas, saying “it wasn’t a punishment, it was a great help because now I have learned a work trade that I can continue to use.”
The zapatista bank was formed so that when a compañero or compañera gets sick they would be able to obtain a loan to pay for medical costs and pay back the money with a very low interest rate, and in the case that they die, the family does not have to pay back the loan.
While these lessons were shared formally from the Caracol stage, the true teachers of the escuelita were the Votánes. Each student was assigned their own Votán- also known as a guardian- who would accompany through the entire learning process, and serve as a translator from Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Tojolabal or Chol, into Spanish.
It is important to note that the majority of Votánes were younger than 25-years-old, meaning that they were born, or at least raised after the ‘94 uprising. The “other world” that we dream of constructing, is the only world they have known. They breathe and live autonomy, with a profound sense of collectivity and the education that has been bestowed on them from the autonomous Zapatista schools.
Each student resided with a family in a different zapatista community, accompanied by their Votán. Some communities were what many would call “utopic” with solar power, composting bathrooms, extensive food cooperatives, and well-constructed houses. Some communities were located right off a well paved highway and some were only accessible via a four hour hike through the jungle, crossing rivers, where there was no electricity or running water, besides local creeks. Some communities were exclusively Zapatistas and others a mix of zapatistas, “partidistas”, what the zapatistas call those of civil society who believe in the political party system and paramilitaries.
Our community, Comandate Abel, located in the municipality La Dignidad, was accessible via a muddy highway, which allowed us to advance at a maximum 1km an hour. It led us into a lush green valley full of corn dotted hillsides. Entering the community we crossed the beef cooperative where all members of the community tend to the land and take turns carrying for the health of the cows. Beyond the cow field was the elementary school, that serves all the youth of the community teaching basic skills and zapatista concepts of autonomy.
Comandante Abel is an exclusively zapatista community that lives under constant threat of the paramilitary group ironically named Peace and Justice.
While most students stayed with families, the security conditions were less than favorable in this community and us 20 students and Votánes stayed in one building together for safety concerns. Cell phone service doesn’t reach this area, but the Zapatistas have an internal radio system for emergency communication.
In the morning we headed out into the fields. We weeded an onion field, harvested yucca, sugar cane, and corn, and picked mandarin oranges and grapefruits. My Votán Rosario explains to me, “this is how we pass our days, we wake up and head to the fields to look for our daily sustenance, to harvest what our family will eat that day.” Talk about “fresh”, “local”, “seasonal” and “organic”- the zapatistas have it without the special terms. Little is prepared on the firewood stove that wasn’t harvested that day from the fields. Tortillas are made daily which entails harvesting the corn, shucking it, plucking the grains, cooking the grains with cal to start the process of nixtamalization, hand grinding it, and kneading and flattening it by hand.
The following day the students, guardians, and all members of the community heading to the cow fields to sharpen our machetes and hack at the weeds. Cleaning the cow field by hand would have been an impossible task for a few people, but many hands make light work and it is the zapatistas cooperative spirit that allows grand projects like this to be possible.
Fernando, who joined us from a neighboring Zapatista community that operates a honey cooperative said, “We resist the capitalist system with our cooperative projects. We are not asking for government support. These cooperatives are for our liberation and also on an international level for people all across the world.”
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) is a revolutionary group based in Chiapas, Mexico. The Zapatistas’ base is made up of mostly rural indigenous people but has supporters across the country and world. Their main spokesperson is Subcomandante Marcos. The EZLN rejects and defies political classification, with a strong culture emphasizing the importance of indigenous Mayan beliefs. The EZLN can be seen as an anti-neoliberal social movement that seeks indigenous control over local resources, especially land. They highlight the struggle of “all the exploited and dispossessed”, and for this reason support the plight of many people of color around the world. A popular Zapatista slogan is: “For everyone, everything. For us, nothing” (Para todos todo, para nosotros nada).
For More Info Search: Chiapas, Zapatismo, Women’s Revolutionary Law, Zapatista revolution, Chiapas rebellion
Twenty years after the 1994 uprising, Zapatistas continue to influence continent-wide cycle of struggle January 1, 2014
For the past twenty years since the Zapatista uprising on January 1st, 1994, social movements in Latin America have championed one of the most intense and extensive cycles of struggle in the world. Ever since the 1989 Caracazo, uprisings, insurrections and mobilizations have encompassed the whole region, delegitimized the neoliberal model, and recognized those from below — organized into movements — as central actors of social change.
Zapatismo was part of this wave in the 1990s and soon became one of the inescapable referents of Latin American resistance, even amongst those who do not share their proposals and forms of action. It is almost impossible to make a full list of what the movements have realized in these two decades. We can only review a handful of significant acts: the piquetero struggle in Argentina (1997-2002), the indigenous and popular uprisings in Ecuador, the Peruvian mobilizations that forced Fujimori’s resignation, and the 1999 Paraguayan March that led Lino Oviedo to seek exile after a military coup.
In the next decade we had the formidable response of the Venezuelan people to the 2002 right-wing coup, the three Bolivian “wars” between 2000 and 2005 (one about water and two about gas) that erased the neoliberal right from the political map, the impressive struggle of the Amazonian Indians in Bagua (Peru) in 2009, the resistance of Guatemalan communities to mining, the Oaxaca commune in 2006, and the mobilization of Paraguayan peasantry in 2002 against privatization.
In the last three years, a new layer was added to the movements that could suggest a new cycle of struggles, including the mobilization of Chilean secondary students, the community resistance to the Conga mining enterprise in northern Peru, the growing resistance to mining, fumigations and Monsanto in Argentina, the defense of TIPNIS (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure) in Bolivia, and the resistance to the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil.
In 2013 alone, we had the Colombian agrarian strike that was capable of uniting all rural sectors (campesinos, indigenous and cane cutters) against the free trade agreement with the United States, as well as the June mobilizations in Brazil against the ferocious extraction of labor for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
This series of mobilizations that have sprouted throughout Latin America for the past two decades positively indicate that grassroots movements are alive across the region. Many of them are carriers of a new political culture and a new form of political organization, which is reflected in multiple ways and which is different from what we knew in the 1960s and 1970s.
Some of the movements, from the Chilean secondary school students and the Zapatista communities, to the Guardians of the Conga Lakes, the Venezuela Settlers’ Movement and the Movimento Livre Passe (MPT) of Brazil, reveal some common characteristics that are worth noting.
The first is the massive and exceptional participation of the youth and of women. As vulnerable victims of capitalist exploitation, their presence revitalizes anti-capitalist struggles because they can be directly involved in the movement. Ultimately, it is they — those who have nothing to lose — who give movements an intransigent radical character.
Secondly, a unique political culture is gaining ground, which the Zapatistas have synthesized in the expression “governing by obeying” (mandar obedeciendo). Those who care for the lakes in Peru — the heirs of peasant patrols (rondas campesinas) – obey their communities. The young activists of the MPL in Brazil make decisions by consensus in order to avoid consolidating a majority, and they explicitly reject the “loudspeaker cars” that union bureaucracies used to impose control on their marches.
Another common feature to these movements is the project of autonomy and horizontality, words that only started being used 20 years ago but which have already been fully incorporated into the political language of those involved in the various struggles. Activists claim autonomy from the state and political parties, as well as horizontality — the collective leadership of the movement rather than that of any individual. For instance, members of the Coordinating Assembly of Secondary Students (ACES, its initials in Spanish) of Chile function horizontally, with a collective leadership and an assembly.
The fourth characteristic is the predominance of flows over structures. The organization adapts itself and is subordinate to the movement; it is not frozen into a structure that conditions the collective with its own separate interests. The collectives that struggle are similar to communities in resistance, in which all run similar risks and where the division of labor is adjusted according to the objectives that the group outlines at every given moment.
In this new layer of organization, it is difficult to distinguish who the leaders are — not because referents and spokespersons do not exist, but rather because the difference between leaders and followers diminishes as the collective leadership of those from below increases. This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the new political culture that has been expanding over the course of the past two decades.
Finally, Zapatismo is a political and ethical referent — not so much indicating a direction for these movements, but rather serving as an example from which to take inspiration. Multiple dialogues are taking place among all the various Latin American movements, not in the style of formal and structured gatherings, but as direct exchanges of knowledge and experience between activist networks: precisely the kind of exchange that we need in order to strengthen our struggle against the system.
Zapatistsa teacher dead, 15 wounded in deadly Chiapas ambush May 8, 2014
Jose Luis Solís López, a teacher in the Zapatista’s “Little School” (La Escuelita) was murdered, and at least 15 Zapatistas seriously injured, in an ambush by members of an anti-Zapatista organization known as CIOAC-H on Friday, May 2, 2014. The same attackers damaged or destroyed both the autonomous Mayan school and the local health clinic at the Zapatista caracol of La Realidad.
Four things you can do to respond to this deadly attack on the Zapatistas:
1. Get the facts. Almost all of the mainstream media are grossly distorting the facts about this violent ambush; however the Zapatistas have published a detailed description in Spanish of the attack (click here to read) and mediators from the independent human rights organization Fray Bartolome de las Casas have published an eye-witness account (click here to read) which supports the Zapatista version of events. There’s also a detailed Spanish language article in the Mexican daily La Jornada…and here’s an English translation of that same article. We will share additional information as it becomes available.
Some key points to know and remember about the ambush in La Realidad include:
Unarmed Zapatistas were ambushed on the evening of May 2, 2014 near the caracol of La Realidad. Mainstream media are falsely reporting the incident as a “confrontation” between Zapatistas and others while publishing 20 year old photos of armed Zapatistas. This was not a confrontation; it was a unilateral attack against unarmed bases of support of the EZLN.
Those directly responsible for the attack are members of the organization CIOAC-H. The most recent Zapatista communication states that “The paramilitaries (…) are paid, organized, directed, and trained by the three levels of bad government in order to divide and provoke us (…).”
Immediately preceding this ambush, the Zapatistas and local community members began a peaceful mediation process, supervised by the Chiapas-based human rights organization Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, designed to address increasing aggressions against the Zapatistas (including the cutting off of their water supply and the retention of a vehicle delivering medical supplies).
Zapatista Good Governance Council in La Realidad has turned this issue over to the General Command of the EZLN so that it is “investigated and justice is done.”
2. Speak out. Share the facts. Share the facts of this attack on the Zapatistas with family, co-workers, and within your communities. Let the Mexican government know that the whole world is watching and that the Zapatistas are not alone. By clicking on the Facebook and/or the Twitter flag directly to the right you can easily share this important blog on your social media. Do it!
3. Dig deeper. Understand the facts. The Zapatistas believe this attack in La Realidad is part of a broader strategy of counterinsurgency war against indigenous Mayan peoples of Chiapas, Mexico. Learn more about the history of the Zapatista movement and share their stories in your world by staying connected with organizations and independent media that tell the truth about events in Chiapas.
Browse the new and rapidly expanding Schools for Chiapas online library where you will find, maps, books, articles, links to additional organizations, and a timeline of the Zapatista movement.
4. Stay involved. Help build a new and better world. In the days and weeks to come, stay tuned for more ways support for the Zapatistas as they begin the process of responding to this this new aggression while recovering and rebuilding in La Realidad. Schools for Chiapas is committed to following these events closely; therefore one way to “stay tuned” is to “Like” our Facebook page and subscribe to our online newsletter.