The Errant Ones


[translated by irlandesa]


February:  Puebla, the second stele (resistance and another church, the errant ones)

Candle and shadow continue to tremble.  Brushing aside the smoke and the “January” page in the calendar, the hand reveals, contradictory and luminous, FEBRUARY, and, with it, another gaze, another hand and another word:  PUEBLA.

It is February, a month which summons up history, with all its lights and contradictions.  It is Puebla, land where contradictions presage hope.

Puebla.  According to the INEGI, it had more than 5 million inhabitants in the year 2000, among whom more than half a million over the age of five were indigenous language speakers.  Indigenous Nahuas, Totonacos, Mixtecos, Otomís and Popolocas are living and resisting in what today are their lands.

It is February and it is Puebla.  Above Tehuacán, a little blue cloud, delicate like a princess, frames, not conceals, the sun.

As if it were her vassal, the little cloud forces the sun to not follow its stubborn westward route, but instead to fly towards the north.  There, in the midst of the Mixtec sierra, looms a hill surrounded by ravines.  Above it, ramparts can be discerned, as if this were a place prepared to protect resistance.  It seems to be Tepexi El Viejo.  The Nahuas called it Cleft Rock, and the Popolocas named it Small Mountain.  Here they rest and frolic while the sun recounts to the cloud a history which causes her to blush, and teaches her:

The ancient Mixtecos recount that the world was created from the union of two great trees, in the solitary Apoala, at the foot of a grotto, in the Achiutl River.  Joined at their roots, these two first trees created the first Mixtec couple, and from the children of their children was born Yacoñooy, the archer of the sun.

These ancients ones recount that Yacoñooy was a small guerrero, but courageous and bold, who feared nothing, no matter how large and powerful it might appear.

Because, these indigenous wise men say, stature is carried in the heart, and it often happens that those who seem small on the outside, are great in the greatness of their hearts.  And those whose appearance seem strong and powerful, are, in fact, small and weak in heart.

And they also say that the world is large and full of immense marvels because people small in stature knew how to find the strength inside themselves to make the earth become large.

They then recounted that time was walking the first months of the calendar of humanity, and that Yacoñooy left to look for new lands in order to make them grow through work and the word.  He found them, and he saw that the sun appeared to be the sole and powerful owner of everything illuminated by its light.  At that time, the sun was killing the life of the different, and it only accepted things that mirrored it and bore tribute to his grand greatness.

And they recount that, upon seeing this, Yacoñooy challenged the sun, saying:  “You, who with your force dominate these lands, I challenge you in order to see who is the greatest and who can therefore bring greatness to these lands.”

The sun laughed, confident in its power and strength, and he ignored the small being who, from the ground, was challenging him.  Yacoñooy challenged him anew and said thusly:  “The strength of your light does not frighten me.  I have time as a weapon, which is growing in my heart.”  And he drew his bow taut, pointing the arrow at the very center of the arrogant sun.

The sun again laughed, and then he tightened his heat’s dazzling belt of fire about the rebel, in order to thus make the small one even smaller.

But Yacoñooy protected himself with his shield, and thus resisted while the noon gave way to afternoon.  He saw the sun impotent as its strength diminished with the passing of time, and the small rebel continued there, protected and resisting behind his shield, waiting for the hour of the bow and the arrow.

Seeing that the sun was weakening with the passage of time turned dusk, Yacoñooy left his place of refuge and, taking up the bow, pierced the great sun seven times.  As twilight fell, the entire sky was stained red, and the sun finally fell, mortally wounded, in the ground of the night.

Yacoñooy waited for a time and, seeing that the night prevented the sun from continuing the combat, spoke thus:  “I have won.  I resisted your attack with my shield.  I made time and your arrogance my allies.  I conserved my strength for the necessary moment.  I have won.  Now the earth shall have the greatness which our heart sowed in its bosom.”

And they recount that on the next day the sun returned, recuperated, in order to try and reconquer the land.  But it was already too late.  The people of Yacoñooy had already harvested what had been sown in the night.

That was how, by being victors in the sky, the Yacoñooy is called “The Archer of the Sun,” and the Mixtecos were named inhabitants of the clouds.

Ever since then, the Mixtecos have painted Yacoñooy’s victory on gourds.

 Not in order to boast of the victory, but in order to remember that greatness is carried in the heart and that resistance is also a form of combat.

>From the Tepexi sky, the cloud continues on to Puebla de Zaragoza.  She has taken note of the history, and she surreptitiously disguises her tears as rain, which clean her face and cover the city.

Puebla, the capital city, seat of the state government.  “Land where the so-called Plan Puebla-Panama went broke,” history will say, as and how they now say…

That when the state government announced the building of a toll highway from the state capital to Tecamachalco, through the expropriation of 800 hectares for the Millennium industrial park, campesinos in the area rebelled and warned that if the dislocation went forward, they would raise up in arms.

The campesinos argued, not without reason, that expropriations had never benefited those affected.  Three governors had carried out blatant expulsions, which did not even meet the legal principle of expropriating for public use, since they were done in order to benefit individuals.

In Tepeaca, campesino opposition to the expropriation of lands for the building of the Puebla-Tecamachalco highway and the construction of the Millennium park was absolutely essential.  They formed the Emiliano Zapata Vive Campesino Union, and they first sought dialogue with the state government through the state Department of Communications and Transportation.  In response to the request for dialogue and information, officials and police answered with threats and intimidation, by concealing the plans (the campesinos had obtained an original plan, which included the establishment of maquilas and other businesses, even a golf course financed by the Carlos Peralta foundation) and with not very credible promises (as on other occasions) of employing the expropriated campesinos in the new industrial plants.  The members of the Emiliano Zapata Vive Campesino Union rejected that option, since they assert their right to continue being campesinos, and they are willing to defend their lands with arms.  Lands for which they would be paid, as they say, “at least the price of a soft drink.”

The Millennium project was halted in mid 2002, in part because of a lack of money and of pressure among groups from above who were fighting for the biggest slice, but above all because of the stalwart defense of the land by the campesinos of Tepeaca and its environs.

The history began before:

When Mariano Piña Olaya governed these lands, he expropriated large expanses of land – under the pretext of building the Puebla-Atlixco highway – which were later converted into exclusive developments.  Persecutions, jailings and a continuous use of public force to dislocate the campesinos were just some of the actions which characterized this “expropriation.”

During the state administration of Manuel Bartlett Díaz (that individual who, along with Commander Diego Fernández de Cevallos and majordomo Jesús Ortega, designed the indigenous law counter-reform), part of the lands expropriated by his predecessor had their ownership restructured to allow for the creation of an exclusive shopping center and a golf club (La Vista), with its also exclusive residential development of the same name.  The lots were priced and sold in dollars.  Now Señor Bartlett shows up as a “patriotic” defender of national sovereignty, opposing the privatization of the electric industry…until they get to the right price (in dollars, preferably).

During the same government, the Plan Paseo of San Francisco was put into effect, which encompassed 20 blocks in the Historic Center of the eastern part of the capital city, where thousands of persons of limited means were living in the oldest barrios in Puebla.  The “expropriation” was effected with the consequent dislocation of thousands of poor persons, who were not offered any housing options.  The owners’ properties were appraised at very low prices, but the program was not completely carried out, having been reduced to five blocks.

Most of that area is unoccupied, and the only thing that was built was a poor imitation of a convention center, which is partially operational.  The much touted foreign investments never arrived, the ones that were to usher in luxury hotels, businesses, various movie theatres, enormous parking garages, green areas, and even a “little lake,” which, they promised, would be like the ones in Houston shopping centers.  The old part of the city underwent serious deterioration, there where Puebla was originally founded.  At that time, the complicity on the part of the National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) delegation became obvious, in creating this destruction of the historic and archeological heritage.

If the repression was directed towards the countryside (with help from that stepchild of Raúl Salinas de Gortari:  Antorcha Campesina) during the Guillermo Jiménez Morales government, with Piña Olaya the goal was the city.  And thus the mounted police were created, the so-called canophile commando and the secret police.  Three large operations were also unleashed:  the “SWAT,” the “LAUREL” and the “MERCURIO.”  Their objectives?  Repressive control of Puebla, Atlixco, Texmelucan, Tehuacán.  The results?  Killings (Jolalpan, in 1991), assassinations of leaders (Gumaro, Melitón Hernández, Sebastián García) and the harassment of democratic movements (the attack against the Autonomous Meritorious University of Puebla, the attacks against the Volkswagen and telephone workers unions).

When Manuel Bartlett arrived, he found that the ground had already been paved in two regards:  first, because his predecessor had begun the process of encumbering lands, and, second, because Jiménez Morales, as well as Piña Olaya, had done most of the repressive work, most of the process of decapitation and containment of the campesino, popular urban and union movements.

Then Bartlett launched his program (created by three foreign consultants: Alzati, McKenzie and MKS), “Puebla Plus Megaproject,” which included an “ecological” ring, an aqueduct from Nealtican to the city of Puebla, a sanitary fill in the southern part of the city and the encumbrance of the main area of the popular Historic Center barrios in order to carry out the Paseo de San Francisco project.

Legalization of seizure, that is what is imbedded behind the Cevallos-Bartlett-Ortega Law.

The cloud is now continuing her flight under the sky and above Puebla lands.  She sees exploitation there, yes, but also resistance.

Maquilas have proliferated in the urban centers and environs.  These are operating, in large part, with protectionist contracts, which can be summed up in:  low salaries (10 times less than what is paid in the United States, and five times less than in Taiwan), extra hours without pay and work days of more than eight hours.  According to denunciations by the Network of Solidarity and Labor Defense – an organization of lawyers, psychologists and anthropologists which advises workers free of charge – NAFTA is doing away with the Puebla textile industry.  And, in companies like Kukdong, workers are being mistreated as if history had returned to the age of Porfirio Diaz.

And yes, the main conflicts which are arising out of the maquilas are mistreatment of workers, the lack of benefits and, in extreme cases, setbacks in the already paltry weekly paychecks.

And it is worrisome that both ends of government authority, as are the public enforcement agencies and the state Human Rights Commission, have positioned themselves on the side of the Korean businessmen and against the protests of Mexican workers.

But, always far away from the media and the ridiculous election campaigns, resistance grows on Puebla soil.

In the municipality of Puebla, the Citizens Movement demands “the cancellation of the Municipal Urban Development Program, as well as the Declaration of Public Use, for not having consulted our populace as established in Article 10, Section XIII of the Urban Development Law of Puebla.”

In San Lorenzo Almecatla, there are denunciations concerning the actions taken by the government to expropriate their communal and ejidal lands for the purpose of carrying out lucrative business with companies that want to establish industrial parks and areas in the region.  The government claims that there are not enough areas for establishing industrial parks in the region, parks which will shelter potential Mexican and foreign investments wanting to locate in Puebla.

In 1997, 36 ejiditarios, without mandate from the General Assembly of Ejiditarios, were forced to sign a contract with the German company Lagermex and Bralemex SA de CV.  They received 27.50 pesos per square meter for the use of the land.  In response to this irregularity, the ejidal commissioner filed charges against the company and demanded the restitution of the lands.  The now former Governor Manuel Bartlett, in order to guarantee the company’s possession of the land, resorted to the expropriation for “public grounds” procedure, leading the campesinos to seek legal protection.  Meanwhile, Governor Melquiades Morales, through the same procedures as those used by Bartlett, has secured 10 more hectares of land, this time for the company Fraccionadora Industrial of the North.

In the countryside, in Huehuetla, there has been a trend towards recovering Totonaca culture and identity.  In this arena, educational programs and the recognition of sacred places are being promoted, such as is the case in Kgoyomachuchut, where the remains of an ancestral temple are located.  The Kgoyom Center of Indigenous Superior Studies is entrusted with providing middle superior education (pre-university) through a program of studies tied to Totonaca culture.  They teach traditional medicine, the Totonaca language, history from the perspective of the history of the community, of the culture and of other cultures, ethno-agriculture and computing, among other subjects.  Academic rigor is maintained in this program through the advisement of professional persons from civil society who are highly trained in the different areas.  They offer their work as service, and they come from CESDER, the IBERO, the UDLA and the BUAP.

The organization of Totonaca indigenous is growing, becoming a regional organization, the Totonaca-Nahua Unit (Unitona), thus making advances in the defense of indigenous rights and culture.

The Citizens Movement, an organization in Tlaxcalancingo, in the municipality of Cholula, has undertaken a specific resistance against the legal recourse of “expropriation for public use.”  It is through that recourse that the three levels of government are able to change the use of agricultural lands and to expropriate ejidal or communal lands almost with impunity.

These are their words:  “We are considering two alternatives:  one, that when we learn of an official in our communities who is making plans behind the backs of the people, that we force him to consult us, as established by law, and that we be participants in these development plans.  We did that in Tlaxcalancingo.  We changed this law that they told us would be so difficult, because they were federal decisions and there were many foreign interests and so forth.  Fine, we raised community awareness, we told them about how they had been swindled when they took the 1082 hectares away from us, and, right, they became aware and they helped.

“And the other alternative was that we consider putting up ramparts.  It is the defense of the reclamation, the preservation of our culture.  If we preserve it, if we educate our children, all citizens, about the importance of continuing to preserve our culture, this is a barrier, a barrier that’s put up, because then, you may be in an urban center, we’re 100 kilometers away, now we have them around the corner.  We feel that, independent of political defense, political resistance, there should also be cultural resistance.  Right now we are rescuing our traditions, our customs, our culture, so that in that way we can withstand the onslaught of these development plans which are affecting us in many ways.”

Dusk is falling now when the cloud reaches a Cholula which is bristling with towers and church belfries.  Cholula.  It is not its first name, nor are the church towers its only sky.  Tlamachihualtépetl was its first name, and it means “hill made by hand.”

That, which can be seen there, with the Popocatépetl volcano at its back, is the Church of the Virgin of Remedies, set on the top of a hill made by the hands of men, of men who, like the hill, have the color of the earth.

Lending support and sustenance to the Catholic church is the Great Pyramid of Cholula, the largest in Mesoamérica.  But this church looks more like it has been imposed on the plinth.  As if it wanted to say “I conquered and have dominion over those who are the adobe of these lands.”

Cholula.  Here the cloud must come down from the heights in order to see and learn what is in those grottoes which knowledge has opened in the earth.  Following a series of tunnels, the cloud encounters not only the human history which raised this marvel, but present day history as well.  Because those who built what is also called the Jade Hill, Precious Hill or Divine Hill, over whose blood and culture the Church was raised which blessed the conquistador’s sword, they still continue to be the color of the earth today.

But there are churches and churches, the cloud learns as she walks next to the earth.

There is, certainly, the Church which inherited the arrogance, stupidity and cruelty of the Hispanic conquistador.  The high clergy who chooses to be on the side of the powerful and above those below who are the color of the earth, regardless of the time marked by the calendar.  The Onécimo Cepeda who is replicated all over Mexican lands, with other names, dispensing blessings on golf courses, in high end restaurants, at the arrogant tables where everything abounds, except dignity and pride.

The Church which, when it prays, asks the egoist PAN, which it serves and which serves it, to be above those who are below.  The Church of oppression and arrogance.  The one which, heretic, worships the gods of power and of money.  The one which prays for the conquest to continue and to not be detained until the most first inhabitants of this sky are eliminated.  The one which is indulgent with crime made government and business, and which condemns the rebellion of those who ask for justice and peace to the infernal and terrestrial fires.

But there is also, certainly, another Church.  The one which inherited humility, honesty and nobility.  The low clergy which has opted for the poor.  The Church which chooses to be at the side of the marginalized, without regard to religious festivity.  The parish priests, the nuns, laity and the faithful who do not impose nor impose themselves, who work below, shoulder to shoulder, with those who make the earth bear, who make the machines run, who make the products move.

The errant ones make up this other Church.  Because where it says “love thy neighbor as thyself,” they read “love thy neighbor more than thyself.”  And where it says “blessed are the poor in spirit, because theirs shall be the kingdom of heaven,” they read “blessed are those who draw close to the poor, because with them shall be the kingdom of justice on earth.”  And where it says “thou shalt not steal,” they read “thou shalt not steal.”  And where it says “thou shalt not lie,” they read “thou shalt not preach resignation and conformity.”

In Puebla, and throughout the Mexican Republic, this other Church is walking hand in hand with the Indian peoples, and they are resisting and struggling along with them.

The cloud goes, hidden now amidst the February night.  In that same calendar page, far away, in the mountains of the Mexican southeast, an errant one for her entire life, an old friend old, a woman small in stature and great of heart, is praying.  But she is not praying in order to ask for food for herself, but so that they, those without name and without face, those who are the color they are of the earth, might lack neither path nor morning along their way.

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos

Mexico,  January of 2003.    

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