Campesino Movements

The San Andrés dialogue is completing one stage.  The fight for the recognition of indigenous rights continues.  Its path will travel alongside other paths, alongside other Mexicans who have the same flags, those of democracy, liberty and justice, and who have one thought, that of national liberation.  The San Andrés dialogue and indigenous rights and culture.  Full stop.
 CCRI-CG of the EZLN and Advisory Committee to the EZLN for a Peace with Justice and Dignity,  February 1996 i

The media and members of the political class are saying that a campesino movement is in vogue.  And so one takes a look at the media and goes out onto the street and into the countryside, and what one finds is that there is a movement with several leaders from the political class who are linked in some manner to the countryside, who have a lot to say, who give conferences, who make threats – which they have not as yet carried out – in sum, which is in vogue.  But, as for campesinos engaged in struggle, other than a few dozen of them who are demonstrating on some highways and border posts for a few hours, we find very few.  As almost always when the political class speaks, what we find is a lot of noise and very little substance.

Not that what they are saying is incorrect regarding those reasons, which are more than sufficient, for there to be a campesino movement, mobilized and engaged in struggle.  It is no secret to anyone that the situation is critical for the vast majority of Mexican campesinos, and no improvement is looming on the horizon in the months and years ahead.  This is especially true while the Mexican government continues to be determined to not only maintain the offensive against the Mexican countryside – an offensive which began with the counter-reform to Article 27 of the Constitution in 1992, and which was, of course, endorsed by several of the campesino “leaders” who are protesting today – but also to exacerbate the situation with its new economic measures of submission to foreign interests.  The campesino is not only dying of hunger, but he is also losing all hope of being able to improve his situation if he is expecting that any help is going to be coming from the Mexican government.  And that is not all.  Soon it will be all Mexicans who will be paying with poverty and hunger, as 60% of the population already is, if we continue to allow things to go on as they are.  But hunger has never been a sufficient cause for organizing and advancing in struggle.  A political organization is needed, among other things, for channeling that rage and despair into conscious struggle against the causes which are generating such a situation.  And that is exactly what is missing at this moment, since the political class as a whole has no interest in, nor any real ability to, truly accompany – we are not saying leading now – a campesino movement which would be capable of confronting the economic policies which the Mexican state is implementing, policies which are being dictated, it goes without saying, by great capital.

And so, once again, the political class is involved in retrofitting the system instead of really transforming it.  What am I referring to specifically?  That we cannot forget to look at the current election climate when we see this whole stir that has been created over the campesino issue and the NAFTA agricultural chapter coming into effect.  I am saying that it would not be risky to assume that, behind the actions of the campesino “leaders,” is the interest that a majority of them have in securing a candidacy in the upcoming elections.

As for the part with ties to the PRI, I believe that no one would contest that statement.  When has the fate of its so-called union members sincerely mattered to the National Campesino Confederation (CNC)?  Have we suddenly forgotten that this union has done nothing, throughout its entire existence, other than administer the State control of campesinos and support all economic policies concerning the countryside?  Have  we not just seen different interest groups positioning themselves inside the party, through their current “protests,” in order to gain a bigger piece of the election spoils?

And what can be said about the leaders of those organizations which make up the Permanent Agrarian Council?  Did  they not all go to Los Pinos, when Salinas was reigning there, to accept the Article 27 constitutional counter-reform?  Why should we believe that now they really are going to fight decisively and honestly?  Of course, you might say to me, but there is still El Barzón and the Countryside Can’t Take Any More.  Of course, I would tell you, but, if we look at how they have been behaving, they do not inspire much hope either, not their members, but their leaders and the methods they are using.  First, because, over the last several years – specifically, ever since their leaders decided that the struggle could be carried on from within the system, that is, by participating in various State agencies, whether legislative or state executive ones – El Barzón has lost a lot of its effectiveness with the campesinos themselves.  We do not question the fact that they have novel forms of mobilizing, but, to be honest, how many people are really mobilizing, in order to allow us to speak of a campesino movement?  And, secondly, how many statements have they made about mobilizations, this last month, which have been followed the next day by a new statement that they are going to trust in the good faith of the Executive, and that they are therefore going to postpone the previously announced mobilization?  We are not seeing their bases being mobilized, nor are we clearly seeing whether their endless quest to have the government deign to listen to them – and afterwards, of course, to not pay them any attention – is tactical or strategic (See also the article by Adriana Lopez Monjardín and Rafael Sandoval in this same issue).

And this is precisely the crux of the matter, their conception of negotiation.  The history of a large part of the opposition in this country has been terrible in this regard.  Throughout the years, we have seen movements, large and small, in all sectors of society, which merely raise a banner of struggle, mobilize, win a certain degree of political and moral capital and sit down to negotiate with the current government, while in the process forgetting the people they represent and the flags they have raised.  You cannot win everything, you say, that is why one negotiates.  I agree, but neither can you lose everything.  Or does anyone remember one single negotiation with the Mexican State which has produced anything good for the people who participated in it, not just for their leaders?

But even the zapatistas negotiated, you might say to me, don’t be so extremist.  And the leaders of the Countryside Can’t Take Any More have already said, at one of their press conferences, that they are going to try to see to it that what happened to the San Andrés Accords does not happen in their negotiations, that is, that the government does not fulfill them.  Looking at it like this, you might, gullibly, respond that they are right.  But, if we recall what San Andrés signified, and continues to signify, we would see the great difference between betting on negotiating with the State and betting on opening spaces of dialogue with the people in order to achieve what the movement is rightly demanding and what it is fighting for.

San Andrés, at its Table 1 on Indigenous Rights and Culture, with accords having been signed on February 16, 1996, and with Table II, Democracy and Justice, opened but having been blocked by the government, was not a negotiation between the Zapatista Army of National Liberation on one side and the Mexican State on the other.  San Andrés was a table of dialogue opened by the EZLN, but one with the State and with the entire society.  There the zapatistas opened the space which they had conquered with their blood to the other Indian peoples of the country and to all those who had something to say and to contribute on indigenous rights and culture, not forgetting the fact that more than 300 persons had been invited by the zapatista side.  In the document entitled The San Andrés Dialogue and Indigenous Rights and Culture.  Period., drawn up by the CCRI-CG of the EZLN and the EZLN’s advisory team for Table 1 in February of 1996, it says, in this regard:

“First, the zapatistas have turned what could have been just a negotiation between two parties into an open dialogue, participatory and inclusive, for society and with the participation of the broadest sectors of opinion, of all those who could be involved in the discussion of each issue.  The EZLN has been accompanied in all of this, and ever since the end of the first phase of the war, by a civil society which has been increasingly committed to new forms of political relationship, and, through their attitude, have marked an historical  watershed in the recent evolution of national life, placing this present in the immediate future:  it is the first time that an opposition organization, and in this case one that is in rebellion against the established order, has included society as a whole in a negotiation whose final goal is democratic transition.”

Simultaneous with the tables with the government, the indigenous movement, which had for years been demanding its right to exist and to achieve a place as equals within Mexican society, flourished and took on organizational shape.  Let us not forget that  first there was the National Indigenous Forum, and from out of that emerged the National Indigenous Congress.  There was also the active participation – whether in the tables, in peace cordons, in infrastructure support – of thousands of non-indigenous Mexicans, who helped, through their work and their words, to see that those accords would be something more than a negotiation between two sides. The demands of the zapatista peoples of Chiapas were not discussed at San Andrés, the demands of the Indian peoples of the country were discussed.  In addition, the EZLN made it clear from the beginning, in practice, as they have done until this day, that “for everyone, everything, for us, nothing,” is, more than a slogan, a new way of doing politics.  We shall again cite from the previously mentioned document:  

“This first phase of the negotiation is set within a national vision of the country’s problems, fully aware of the possibility of even furthering the worldwide displacement of the current neoliberal economic disorder which is putting humanity in such danger.  That is San Andrés perspective, as a starting point.  It is not in any way a final point or definitive goal.  San Andrés is the space for a broader strategy of profound transformation of relationships between Mexicans.  The conclusion of the current phase is merely the full stop in a growing struggle, in which the principle actors are not seated directly at the table, but vibrating in unison for a negotiation which the EZLN has turned into a new kind of dialogue, with the support of diverse sectors across the social spectrum which reflect the richness and diversity of Mexican civil society.”

That is why the Mexican State had to pretend that it accepted the new relationship with the Indian peoples, signing on February 16 only in order to gain time and to see how it was going to be able to subsequently destroy, not only the zapatistas now, but zapatismo in general.  It had played that card often throughout its history, and it had worked for it.  Its problem is that it never understood that it was not just negotiating with the zapatistas at San Andrés, but that San Andrés had demonstrated, in practice, a new way of achieving consensus, of forging a political, social and cultural movement, which did not measure its timeframes and achievements in the mirror of the old political practices of maintaining the system.  A movement which was simply planting the seed in order to progress in the self-organization of the people.  That is why neither the indigenous movement, nor the EZLN, nor the ways of going about building a new Mexico, have been brought to a halt, even when the State did not carried out its minimal part which it signed in San Andrés, to wit, transforming what it had signed there into laws.  And understand, I am saying State, and not government, because by now, after seven years, after more than 500 years, it has already been demonstrated that the obstacle for the Indian peoples – and, along with them, for all of society – in being recognized as integral parts of the nation, does not come from the Mexican government alone, but also from their legislative (this includes all the parties) and judicial cohorts, meaning it comes from the entire system and political class.

That is why, after having signed the Table 1 accords, the EZLN said:

“The fundamental demands of the indigenous peoples have not been met in full during the current phase of negotiations.  Therefore, despite the fact that we are signing the accords and minimal commitments which we have been able to reach with the Supreme Government in this First Table of negotiations on Indigenous Rights and Culture, we are stating that we shall continue our struggle in order to achieve their full satisfaction.  We are appealing for a broader mobilization by civil society in general, social organizations and representative sectors of the indigenous movement.”

It is because of all of this that it is pointless for campesino “leaders” to become extremist in their words and to say that they will not allow the same thing to happen to them that happened to the San Andrés Accords.  They are quite far from even understanding the meaning of San Andrés and, therefore, of what a real social movement in opposition to the system, means.  Let us not forget that words should be accompanied by a history and a consistent practice, that is, they should be backed up.  A popular army, primarily indigenous, which set aside “their” demands, in order to include a dialogue table concerning the demands of broad sectors of Mexican society as a minimal step in following a long path to national liberation, is a clear example of what I am talking about.

Do not be in the slightest bit surprised if the next statements from the political class are along the lines of explaining to us that,  if the situation in the countryside is to improve, they will have to vote for a legislature in which any of them, who say they represent the national interests, would have the majority, so that things can be changed from there.  In sum, we will soon be seeing the “campesino movement” being openly transformed into a campaign slogan.  

And certainly this does not mean that there is not going to be a campesino movement.  There will be, because it is true that the countryside cannot take it any longer, and because many campesino communities, many organizations which do not get into the papers, many honest campesino men and women who do not aspire to holding any institutional representative position, many rebel Mexican men and women, know that they cannot expect anything from the Mexican State, and they will, therefore, act accordingly, forging rebellion.  And so we should not be surprised if what emerges from the countryside is not a vote as a nail for the coffin that is being prepared, but instead a shout in the manner of Ya Basta! or Everyone Out.
i  You may consult San Andrés Accords, Luis Hernández Navarro and Ramon Vera, compilers, Ediciones Era, 1998.  There are several quite interesting documents from Table I in this compilation, the results of Table 1.

[translated by irlandesa]

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