Big Macs or Indigenous Autonomy?


[translated by irlandesa]

“We haven’t attacked them.  When the Orcao people built their school, we respected their work.  We want there to be respect between everyone.  On the other hand, it was they who came to attack the zapatista bases,” a member of the Autonomous Council told La Jornada in a small back room in the “big house,” as they call the farmhouse of the finca that is today the community of Patria Nueva.

Surrounded by five other members of the Council, the one who is bearing witness says that “while they’re talking about dialogue and blaming us,” the coffee-growers are continuing their threats and attacks.  This Sunday, April 7, at 8 PM, six 22-caliber shots were heard from the Regional Organization of Coffee-Growers of Ocosingo (ORCAO), 60 meters from the big house.  “On the 8th, we received information that they had six persons from the Council under surveillance in order to capture them and kidnap them.”

Today, nonetheless, is the first day that things have been calm in weeks, as a young civil camp member observed.  The people who are manning the sit-in guarding the community are going to have their pozol and leave a guard.  They will return later, with their ski-masks and sticks, in order to guard the access to the seat of the Autonomous Municipality.  “At night, about 300 compañeros are put around these buildings,” says another man, also an Autonomía authority.

“According to some of the Orcao people, who arrived drunk, they are going to come and finish us off with weapons.  They say they have the bullets set out to dry so they won’t miss.  We can’t talk with them like that, if they don’t stop their threats and attacks.  We have always respected their work and their cattle.  What they want now is to take everything away from us,” he added.

The first person said:  “There is no negotiation.  The land here was recovered for everyone, it’s not theirs.  And we didn’t start the problem.  We didn’t cut down the fencing from their pasture, like they are accusing.  Besides, that fencing wasn’t even theirs, the owner of the finca had left it.  We don’t know who cut it.  We know that the pasture fields belong to Orcao, there is no way we could take it away from them.  But we will not accept their wanting to occupy by force lands that do not belong to them.”

“We do not want cattle.  The animals need land, and here there is little land, we need it for our daily food,” he added, surely recalling that it was not many years ago when all these lands in the Ocosingo valley were populated by a multitude of contented cows, on their way to being McDonalds burgers, while thousands of indigenous were peons on the fincas or were colonizing the meager leftovers from the monterías and the widespread cattle ranching.

The Orcao was given a herd of cattle from a government fund, around which the current conflict has been generated.  Which could be multiplied:  “They warned us about another remote ranch in this Autonomous Municipality, where they are putting in cows from another government fund on recovered lands that are being worked by zapatista bases.  The Orcao people already have it surrounded.

“The first day that we talked with the Orcao leaders, on Friday the 5th, they came in a good mood, and we spoke about turning over the detainees.  We had an agreement, and everything went well on Saturday the 6th,” said the spokesperson for the Primero de Enero Autonomous Municipality.  “But that same afternoon, in the city of Ocosingo, a member of this municipality was chased in the streets by a group of Orcao people.”  He noted that this Friday the time period which Orcao had set for negotiating the three points will be up.  “We don’t know what they might do then, but if they carry out their threats, we’ll hold the president of Orcao responsible,” he added.

After the exchange of detainees between the zapatistas and Orcao, on the insistence of Autonomía members, the Public Security detachment was withdrawn which had been keeping Patria Nueva under surveillance from a nearby hill, where La Alameda strip is located.

Today the walls of the “big house” are painted with successive murals about the zapatista uprising, rural work, El Che Guevara and a complete picture of Emiliano Zapata on the wooden door of what is today the classroom.  There is a shop, offices, a school, an auditorium for assemblies, a room for women’s’ meetings.  It is the farmhouse of one of the many fincas that was recovered in 1994.  The community of shacks surrounds the stone buildings, which are uninhabited (since no one lives there), but which are not going to waste.

One is struck by the abandoned facilities of the ranching facility that was.  They are structures made of brick and iron, more resistant and costly than any houses that these indigenous have ever had.  In disuse, eyesores where the grass grows.  They are not even being used as latrines by the settlers where the cattle once lived, the former queens of these lands.

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