An Interview with Raúl Gatica
aúl Gatica is one of the founding members
of CIPO-RFM (Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca—Ricardo Flores
Magón), based in the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca.
CIPO-RFM was founded in 1997 and is a grassroots, non-violent organization
formed of various indigenous communities. It is based on the philosophy
of Ricardo Flores Magón, the Oaxaca-born prominent anarchist
revolutionary of the Mexican Revolution (1910).
About 70 percent of the population of Oaxaca is indigenous. For
many years, the indigenous communities have been facing repression
and human rights violations by government and paramilitary forces.
Gatica’s organization, CIPO -RFM, has been one of the most
serious targets of the repression. Since its formation there have
been hundreds of detentions, raids by the military, police, and
paramilitaries, and assassinations, torture, and serious injuries.
The following interview with the CIPO-RFM founder aired on December
2, 2005, on “Uprising,” KPFK Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles.
KOLHATKAR: Can you tell us why you are in exile in Canada?
GATICA: It has to do with the struggle of the organization that
I work at, CIPO-RFM, the Indigenous Council, which has been fighting
for the rights of the indigenous people. This had caused the then
governor of Oaxaca, José Murat, to try on several occasions
to assassinate me. I was imprisoned at least 11 times. There were
four assassination attempts against me. There have been a series
of threats against myself and my family. This resulted in the decision
of the Indigenous Council to vote for exile for me as the only way
Tell us about the indigenous communities of Oaxaca. Why do they
face state repression and repression from paramilitaries?
Oaxaca is a state in southern Mexico that has the largest indigenous
population in the country. In Oaxaca there are at least two million
indigenous people—Zapotecos, Mixtecos, etc. There are 16 indigenous
nations. We’re distributed in small locations, small towns,
and in Oaxaca. The ownership of the land is by the community. What
I mean is that it is distributed as common property. Without exaggeration,
you could say that 75 percent of the land belongs to the community.
Therefore the wealth of this land— that is forests, water,
biodiversity, all this beauty that nature offers in our territory—belongs
to the community. And so the small groups, the town, the indigenous
groups, own them.
But the multinational companies want to have ownership of these
lands. The measures taken by the government are to separate us as
different indigenous people. The government does not want Indians.
That’s why they want to take possession of our land. The only
way that they have to take everything from us is by killing us.
Because they know we will not leave our land. Because we have nowhere
else to go.
We were in the lower lands when the colonizers arrived and then
we went up the hills. But now the new colonizer wants our mountains
where we currently live. Where else should we run to? There’s
nothing beyond the mountains and that’s why they want to kill
us all. The paramilitary groups are the best instrument for the
government of Oaxaca and Mexico to exterminate us because by doing
this their [the government’s] hands are clean and they can
say: “We did not do that. They [the paramilitaries] killed
by themselves or it was a common delinquency.” Anything can
be said. And they will be free of any charge even though they are
the responsible party.
Our people are being exterminated because we want to take ownership
of our land. We resist because we are very clear in our mind that
our struggle goes beyond [the current struggle over land]. We are
struggling for humanity, to protect water, land, and forests. Because
that not only benefits us as a people but it benefits humanity.
are indigenous communities organized?
There are at least 200 organizations of all sorts. There is a long
tradition of organizing. Our Indigenous Council is an organization
of communities. The way we organize is by following this community
model. Nobody charges for anything. We are all volunteers and we
are named in an assembly and we follow what the communities dictate.
This model makes it difficult for us to be eliminated.
Yet the government has succeeded in arresting and imprisoning
many of the members of your community. How many indigenous political
prisoners are there today? Do they have international support?
Since our origin, November 15, 1997, up to today, we have had more
than 500 people detained, including 46 kidnapped in 2000 and 106
detainees in 1998. So we have remained and have suffered the repression
of the government. There are more than 200 detention orders. And
we are suffering the experience of a political exile like in my
personal case. Our struggle has been presented at different international
organizations. The United Nations Human Rights Commission states
that the petition of the Indigenous Council should be heard—the
right to organize peacefully and the UN specifically requests my
safety. Also, the Inter-American Commis- sion of Human Rights based
in Washington, DC has decreed in its assembly to ratify the cautionary
measures issued on September 27, 2004. Nevertheless, the governments
of Oaxaca and Mexico pays no attention to this international call
to respect human rights.
Without exaggeration we can say that in Oaxaca we currently live
in a state exempt [from human rights laws]. There is a systemic
violation of individual freedom, which is comparable to other countries
that have suffered military regimes in the past. The current governor,
who is the leader of these measures, is one of the closest allies
of the PRI candidate for the president of Mexico. And I can say
without a doubt what lies in the destiny of Mexico if they [the
PRI] are capable of winning the presidency of the country. Indigenous
people and non-indigenous people, the poor people of Mexico, who
represent the majority of the population, should expect death, kidnappings,
What are CIPO-RFM’s goals?
CIPO-RFM is searching in a peaceful manner for the resolution of
problems regarding health, housing, education, and work for the
indigenous people in Oaxaca. We also demand the community ownership
of our land and recognition of our rights as individuals and as
a group. We have our own language, our vision of the world, self-determination,
and autonomy. We also fight for the respect of indigenous nations,
for the preservation of forests and the environment.
We strategically structure ourselves, the organization, as part
of a community. We do peaceful protests. That’s how we demonstrate
and that’s how we express ourselves. We have always looked
for the peaceful path because that’s our fighting tool. So
a “Day of the Dead” becomes a demonstration. Or maybe
our corn fields can become a field of protest. All the items that
are a part of our life allow us to be recognized as a community,
to be respected as human beings.
Why is CIPO-RFM non-violent?
Based on the history of our country and of every country, we have
seen that in armed struggle everyone loses. Even those who win,
lose. But those that lose the most are the people. In the case of
Mexico, the ones that have lost the most are the indigenous people.
We are tired of so many deaths, of losing every fight. Therefore,
we believe that the only way of winning this struggle is to fight
for the future through peaceful means. With creativity, with ideas,
we are building a future right now. We are making the transformations
now and not just to overthrow, to win. No, what we want is to learn
how to live peacefully. And that’s why that is the origin of
our organization. In any case, if we’re all going to die, we
don’t want to hurt anyone. And that’s why we make our
joy a means of resistance. Our smiles are a weapon of winning the
struggle. For example, when tear gas is sprayed on us, that’s
how we respond. We believe in peaceful means of struggle. We don’t
need to impose violence to advance. This might cost us our lives,
but we don’t want to harm anyone.
did Hurricane Stan in Mexico and Central America affect your community
and what has the government response been?
Anything that will make the government richer, they will use. When
indigenous people are useful for them, let’s say, to be sold
to tourists, to be used as puppets, the government will sell us
for their own benefit. This happened when the terrible disaster
of Hurricane Stan came along. Using our disastrous condition due
to this hurricane, the government received aid from international
organizations. Then the government of Oaxaca used this aid politically
by going into our communities and telling us, “These materials,
these goods, these supplies have arrived to fix roads, to aid you.
And, we should vote for, for example [PRI candidate] Roberto Madrazo,
because he sent us all this help. And if it weren’t for him
we would not receive all these supplies to help us out.” So
what happens is that disasters are used politically by the government.
In the case of the Indigenous Council, the situation is even worse
because the authorities of our community delivered the census of
the affected people and when the aid arrived the authorities went
to the Indigenous Council and the autonomous communities. The delegates
from the government said, “No, we are not going to give you
anything because you are autonomous, right? So you should be able
to resolve your problem.” So our members said, “Okay we’ll
take care of ourselves by ourselves.” Therefore we were excluded
from that international aid. A representative of the government
said, “We know you are enemies of the PRI, we know you are
not going to vote for the PRI. Therefore, we are not going to give
you any supplies.” We replied, “We are enemies of hate
and injustice. What we need to do is to live together in harmony.”
What can people in the U.S. do to express solidarity with your
organization and with the indigenous communities in Oaxaca?
People in the U.S. could do plenty. There are several ways of doing
it. One would be to understand the problems of our organization
and indigenous community. They can open their eyes and their hearts
to us and know that not everything is right in Mexico. There is
so much poverty and injustice. That’s why so many people from
Oaxaca live in the United States and work there.
Secondly, they could support our peaceful protest against the governments
of Mexico and Oaxaca. When the officers from Oaxaca go to the U.S.,
in terms of repressing freedom of our imprisoned people, they could
call attention to the government of Oaxaca and find out about the
conditions of the people in prison. Apparently in the U.S., when
people speak out, people are listened to. Apparently, the words
of the indigenous people are worthless.
A third way of helping us out is to come and visit our communities.
You can live with us and our homes will be your homes. You can share
our meals, walk our walks, enjoy our happiness or share our sorrows,
show affection for one another in order to learn how to live with
other communities. If you come to be with us, then the police and
the paramilitaries and the government will not seek to kill us all.
So if you come, you will help us and be able to protect us.
Lastly, you could support our projects. For example, we have Radio
Guetza, which is a community radio station. We also have a community
center where people get together. You could help support that community
center. You could help finance the human rights projects for indigenous
people—the high school called Tamultepec and the health centers.
You can help us trade our products: chocolate, coffee, molé.
Also, our arts and crafts, and many things that we supply. What
we want is for you to help us build what we are doing for ourselves.
Of course there are many other areas where we could use your help.
Your imagination and your affection can guide you in finding ways
of helping us out.
Kolhatkar co-produces “Uprising,” a daily program on KPFK,
Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles.