The Rebels of Always


[translated by irlandesa]


April:  Tlaxcala, the Fourth Stele
(The rebels of always)

This time it is history which moves the hand and wind in order to give way to the next month on the calendar.  APRIL it says up top, and then, always rebellious, one word appears:  TLAXCALA.

Tlaxcala.  According to INEGI data, in the year 2000, Tlaxcala had a bit fewer than one million inhabitants, and almost 30,000 over the age of five spoke an indigenous language.  Under the Tlaxcala skies are living Nahua, Otomíe-Hñañúe and Totonaco indigenous.

April:  once again the eagle is azure cloud, moving above the lands of Tlaxcala.  Entering by way of the Matlaleueyetl volcano (also known as “Malinche”), the cloud travels along the Apizaco-Xalostloc-Huamantla Industrial Corridor, it descends to the Xicohténcatl Industrial City, then it turns south at the Atlonga Lake, towards the Malintzi Industrial Corridor, and, passing by the Panzacola Industrial Corridor, it reaches Cacaxtla.  There the cloud lies down on a hill, and, half closing his eyes, he opens his heart to a history where rebellion and dignity are interwoven in the calendars of before and of now.

April.  Tlaxcala.  Cacaxtla…

In the calendar of 1975, the residents of the town of San Miguel del Milagro carried out an excavation in the Cacaxtla ruins, and they discovered a painting of a human face that was black in color and strongly Mayan in influence, something like a Maya indigenous with a ski-mask.  The future is, thus, interwoven with the past.

In the calendar of the Spanish conquest, the indigenous Xicohténcatl Axayacatzin warned that the Spaniards did not represent the return of Quetzalcóatl, “the floating castles were the result of human labor, and they astonish because they have not been seen before,” and he proposed to the four principal gentlemen of Tlaxcala “that they look upon the foreigners as tyrants of the patria and of the gods.”  The leaders’ decision ultimately prevailed over Xicohténcatl’s vision.  A short while later, he tried to convince the others to ally themselves with Cuitláhuac, who had just ascended the throne following Moctezuma’s death.  Hernán Cortés tried to get Xicohténcatl on his side, but the indigenous rebel refused.  He was then taken prisoner and hung.

Calendars before, in the full flower of war, the Tlaxcala guerrero Tlahuicole, an Otomí from Tocoac of great strength, preferred to die fighting before accepting pardon from those who were oppressing his people.

Calendars later, in 1847, one of the military units assigned to Chapultepec Castle was called the “Active Battalion of San Blas,” and it was under the command of Felipe Santiago Xicohténcatl of Tlaxcala.  On September 13, 1847, Xicohténcatl, and almost all of his battalion, fell while fighting North American troops.

“Tlaxcala,” some say, means “land of bread made from maize.”  But, for neoliberalism it means – as the cloud has born witness during his travels – “land of the maquilas.”  In Tlaxcala, 62% of the population of the state is working and living in areas where maquilas are located.

There has been an increase here in the establishment of huge maquila factories which “devour” or subordinate the smaller ones.  A company sets up in the city, and then it “splits in half,” ordering its foremen to establish their own informal maquilas in the communities.  They look for communities of two or three thousand inhabitants, paying salaries lower than those in the cities, using houses which are rented for a few months, so that they can move from one location to another.  A variant of this phenomenon is when the large, or formal, maquila “buys” or stockpiles what these small informal maquilas produce.

In places like Hueyotlipan and Zapata, companies provide the machinery while the residents contribute their people, with even parents allowing their children to be contracted from the age of eight.  Investors negotiate directly with the families, who offer space and workers, while the manufacturer provides wages, tools and materials.  As in the 19th century, the parents themselves become the foremen who oversee their children’s work.  Children are paid 70 pesos per week to card fabric from one in the afternoon (purportedly after they get out of school) until seven at night.  As a result, the children are becoming malnourished, and they are leaving school at the elementary level.  Since this is a region which produces a large number of migrants, the mothers and children must submit to the whims of the maquilas in order to have any income.  As a result of the destruction of the community and family fabric, drugs and prostitution have proliferated.

The lands of Tlaxcala are being covered at an accelerated pace with maquilas…and with resistance against them.  Because the maquilas have not arrived by themselves.

As the hiring of minors, for example, has grown, social organizations have noted an increasingly greater number of Mixed Operations Bases, checkpoints, different police agency barracks, etc.  There are municipalities like Panotla and Santa Apolonia where there has been open confrontation between the population and police or federal army troops.  There are bases like these throughout Tlaxcala:  in Zacatelco, Ixtacuixtla, Calpulalpan, Tlaxco, Coapiaztla and especially in San Pablo Apetatitlán and on the ring road from Xostla to Tlaxcala.  They are openly operating against the people who are opposing the maquilas.

In San Pablo del Monte, the people closed the highway, which brought about the arrival of the police and unleashed repression.  In the Arcomex company, on the federal highway – just at the entrance to the state of Tlaxcala, where VW auto parts are made – the workers, tired of belonging to the pro-management union CROC, sought to form an independent union, and they fought for title to the contract.  Naturally the pro-management union sent in thugs from the CROC itself, thugs who ended up persecuting the police – who were keeping watch to ensure that there would not be any conflict – and they were able to freely beat up the workers who wanted to change the union.

The “miracle” of the maquilas, so beloved by governments and intellectuals of the right, is not the creation of jobs, but rather the nightmare of a vicious circle which allows work conditions that would have embarrassed the Spanish encomenderos.  “If you don’t agree to work under my conditions and at my salary, then I’ll go someplace else,” say the maquila owners.  And so, in the municipalities of Lázaro Cárdenas and Emiliano Zapata, there are semi-colonial maquila shops which are producing under a system of over-exploitation.

Not everything, however, is exploitation and dominion.

The majority of irrigated agricultural lands are concentrated along the stretch of highway from Xostla (Puebla) to the city of Tlaxcala.  The campesinos who live and work there are categorically opposed to the establishment of maquilas.  The cases of Santa Apolonia Teacalco and the teachers from the Rural Normal School of Panotla are especially widely known.  These towns have warned that they will resist to the utmost in order to defend their irrigated lands.  In Panotla, students from the Rural Normal School have also fought to prevent their school from being closed – which is what the state wants – and against the alarming militarization of the entire municipality, which has been taken over by the army as a military zone since 1994.

In the municipality of Apizaco, residents have entered into a legal struggle and a struggle of peaceful civil resistance against the Highway Protection Regulation program, which, following the one in Los Angeles, California, will impose a dictatorial “traffic” monitoring model.  Transportation workers, as well as citizens in general, carried out an active eight hour strike against it.  As a result, the PGR has opened an investigation through which they hope to strike out at the movement.

And the government?  Feeling excluded from the Plan Puebla Panama (and its budget), Señor Sánchez Anaya has launched the “Great Vision” project in order to try and become incorporated into the “train of modernity.”  Seven highway focal points crisscross the entire state, from north to south and from east to west, incorporated within the new dynamics.  With their center in Apizaco, the highway branches of the Great Vision plan connect the entire territory of Tlaxcala with the industrial axis of the Mexico-Puebla highway and with the City of Puebla.  Neoliberal eyes and hands have every intention of appropriating the Puebla-Tlaxcala axis, which is the fourth most important population corridor in the country.  It is only natural:  it abounds in consumers and workers here.

But it also abounds in rebellion.

Now, in the calendar of the year 2003, the month of April brings Tlaxcala the embrace of Emiliano Zapata.  And the embrace, affection and respect are special when they involve the old Tlaxcala braceros who are now mobilizing in order to demand what belongs to them.

In the middle of January of this year, a group of Tlaxcala men (220 delegates from communities in that state), from the Tlaxcala Union of Braceros, met in Mexico City for the National Braceros Encuentro.  They shared their thoughts, in an interview held by militants of the Zapatista Front of National Liberation.

Here speaks the rebellion which is not affected by the calendar of age…

“What is it that you are demanding?”

Hermenegildo:  “The 10% of the bi-national agreement that was made during the governments of 1942, they were President Manuel Avila Camacho, and the President of the United States was Truman, who made a bi-national agreement in 1942 with agricultural workers, and in 1943 with the railway, and in which both governments agreed to retain 10% of the salaries that were earned by the braceros.

We haven’t been able to find out anything about that 10% up to this point.  We know, without having the exact information,  about the West Fargo Bank of the United States, that the farming companies there, who were going to be taking care of that money, in order to transfer the money to the West Fargo Bank.  West Fargo Bank’s main office is located in San Francisco, California.  And later that money was to have been sent to the Agricultural Credit Bank.  Then it [the bank] disappeared, and they called it the Rural Credit Bank.  That’s how we know that the money arrived, but up till now the government – even though we went to an agency in a bank in the state of Puebla – told us that it was our fault.  That if they hadn’t given us our money it was because we hadn’t gotten there in time, but for the time it was in effect, the government couldn’t be bothered for one minute to broadcast it on radio and television.  Now we are protesting.  Now we are asking the federal government, along with the legislative government, about that money, to open their eyes and their ears.  To give us justice and to give us the savings fund where we put 10% in from 1942 until 1964.  And then, not to act as if it doesn’t have anything to do with them.  Fox, somehow, like every other President of the Republic, I think that everything is inventoried, and he’s aware of what exists and what doesn’t exist in the country.  We want them to not act like fools, to deal with our demand.  To give us, as soon as possible, the 10% of that savings fund that we deposited.”

Pedro:  “For justice to be respected.  We are demanding what belongs fairly to every bracero.  For justice to be served for the worker who was in the hot sun, like the common phrase goes:  “becoming leather beaten” and giving part of one’s life in order to provide for one’s family’s needs and for them to do that for us.  If they pay companies that have taken out money, why aren’t they paying us?  There are a few people who they have paid, and for us, who are many, they don’t pay us.  What we are demanding is fair.”

Ignacio:  “As a member of the committee of thirteen, what we are seeking is the unification at the national level of all the braceros.  All of us who went and provided our services to the United States in the Bilateral Agreement by both governments, for which reason we are demanding what belongs to us, which is 10%.  And we’re not in any position for them to forget about us, to forget about our rights or to cancel our rights.  It’s money that we are demanding that’s fair, it’s the families’ heritage.  And we don’t think it’s alright anymore for all the politicians to be filling their pockets at our expense.  We don’t want to depend on any party any longer.  We want a fair fight, and we have bases for demanding what belongs to us.  Muchas gracias.”

“What is your opinion of government policies?”

Alejandro:  “I am one of the representatives who formed the group of Tlaxcala braceros, and our commitment today, January 18, was to meet with the groups from the other states in order to reach an agreement about some mobilizations which we, from Tlaxcala, have been thinking about holding.  I am one of the former braceros.  I know about the mistreatment and all the problems we had in those times.  Even the fact that for years our leaders here had been continuing to live like kings, continuing to loot the country, and we are the ones who lifted this country up with our work in the United States.

But the money, they paid 25 dollars for each bracero who went to the United States, but apart from that they had already taken out 10% in order to restore it later to us, possibly as if it were a pension or something like that.  The braceros’ contract ended, the arrangements the governments had, and they owe us the 10% we deposited there, from 1942 to 1964, for our work, aside from the interest.  What we are asking Señor Fox or the Government or the appropriate agencies, is to be fair with us, to give us what is ours.  We don’t want them to give us a gift, nor do we want to take anything away from them.  We simply want them to return to us what belongs to us, to see that justice is served for us, because there are five thousand braceros in Tlaxcala who already have our registry, we have documentation to verify that we were working in the United States.  We have contracts, we have micas, and other documents which prove our stay in the United States.  Starting today, we are going to begin mobilizations.  They have been deceiving us, primarily Señor Sergio Acosta, who is a PRD Federal Deputy, who was going to see that justice was done at the end of last December.  It was he who was commissioned by Señor Fox two years, three years, ago.  He was commissioned, according to him, to deal with our issue.  He would have prevented us from mobilizing, if we hadn’t already been going out into the streets for so long.  But he told us that he had already arranged an [line] item with Señor Santiago Creel, for this December, where he was going to ask that the budget give us back what belongs to us.  This Señor Sergio Acosta has lied to us, he has deceived us, and that is why, like the compañeros say, we don’t believe in any politicians, nor do we believe in the parties.  We aren’t interested in the parties no matter what color they are.  What we want is for justice to be done, and, starting today, we are going to come to an agreement at the national level with former braceros, and we are going to have our mobilizations.  We are willing to take it to its ultimate consequences.  We don’t have any time now.  We are already old, ill.  Others are no longer alive, other compañeros are sick, and what we care about is our government being fair with us.  What they are going to give us, even if it’s just one time, but now.  We are willing to go out into the streets.  Not that they give us a gift, not that they give something to us, but that they give us what belongs to us, what is ours.”

“How do you organize all the experience you have, all your years of struggle, in order to overcome this oppression as old persons?”

Alejandro:  “I see that the country’s problem, Mexico’s, isn’t the leaders:  we are the Mexicans who have never known how to make demands.  Unfortunately, ever since we were enslaved by the Spanish yoke which had us enslaved for 450 years, that’s where we get it from, from inheritance now.  Our ancestors had brought us up in such a way that we always had to respect the government, we had to respect the boss, and that has been a mistake.  We don’t know how to read, we don’t know to buy books, owing to the fact that we don’t have enough money either.  We want our children to study, not us now.  And, frankly, neither we nor our children were provided with information in the schools, nothing but just a few books, by some authors.  Some people aren’t even alive now because of having spoken the truth about what the governments do.  But if one reads, one realizes that our governments have looted, for example, Señor Echeverría, Señor López Portillo, Señor Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Señor de la Madrid.  There are books which have been written, which have passed through my hands, I don’t remember the authors just now, but they mention there that in the 450 years that we were the slaves of the Spaniards, it only took four officials of Spanish descent to loot what the Spaniards couldn’t do in 450 years, it only took 24 years for these four Spanish descendants to loot the country and leave us in absolute ruin.  

That’s why I don’t believe in the parties, and we’re willing to ask and demand that the government give us what belongs to us.  Our 10% plus interest.  And we are going to fight like old persons with our other, even older, compañeros and everything, we are going to teach the children that, enough with keeping our mouths closed, enough apologizing for speaking. Enough of them having us by the throats.  That is what our grandparents would have done, what our ancestors would have done, and we, during our youth, but we have come to realize that we are still alive, and we have time to do something for our children, for our grandchildren, in the days to come.  We are willing to do anything.”

Felipe:  “I have seen with sadness, señorita, the situation in which most of us braceros who went to the United States have been living.  Whether because of our ignorance, whether because of lack of knowledge, that is where the officials have taken advantage of us, ignored us.  We have suffered in ways that they have rarely seen. They have seen life in a different way, and they have taken advantage of our ignorance, of our little learning.  At that time we said that if they had just a tiny bit of compassion, a tiny bit of feeling for the people who are suffering, for the people who weep and who die with the hope of discovering a good government that would feel the deep desires and sufferings of the people.  A long time ago there was an inquisition:  400 years since the Spaniards dominated our ancestors and lived like kings.  Unfortunately, of late there has been a reappearance of those times of the inquisition, in which just a few had the good fortune to live like kings, to enjoy everything and to have everything, while the poor continue, with great difficulty, to live with suffering, and they die with the hope that the future will hold something, not for them:  for their children.  But, as the years go by, just the opposite happens.  The officials are voracious, officials take advantage, and those of us who lack education, because most of us who went to the United States at that time lacked an education, we lack an education.  Because most just went to elementary school.  We didn’t have any other knowledge of the arts.  Educated people, the people who take advantage of our ignorance.  And that is what brings sadness, that our Mexico, having everything, should be humiliated, should be looted, by just a few people who know more than we do.  Today, when a struggle is being undertaken, we, in our old age – because most of us are already 70 to 100 years old – that is what we are yearning for right now:  for the government to become aware of that old age, to become aware of those men who are suffering.  We saw the burden we are putting on our children because of our old age.  Our strength is done with.  The doors to employment have closed, because we don’t have the strength to work any longer.  That is the movement that we would wish the government would pay attention to.  We know how to show respect.  We love respect, dialogue, understanding, and we know how to feel love for the patria which saw us be born.  That is what we wish that everyone who is above would feel:  love for the patria which saw them be born, and not abuse the patria which saw them being born.  May God shine on any person who comes tomorrow and make them feel, and make them see, that their brothers are suffering, and to not think that they are going to live forever, that we are all mortal in life, and, sooner or later, in the end, we are all equal.  But there is the voraciousness of many people who, even though they are below, coming from nothing, have made it big and who forget about their origins, where they were born.  May God shine on all of us and protect us in order to win this fight which I just mentioned, in which, in old age, we are joining together, and may it serve so that tomorrow our children will do the same, and join together, seeing that tomorrow they will have a better life than the one we have.”

“is there anything else you would like to comment on concerning your movement?”

Hermenegildo:  “At the beginning, in 1999, this movement, this struggle, was born in Tlaxcala, because in 1999 we got the news from a gentleman, a compañero of ours went to the state of California, and a boy went out into the street there, and when he returned he coincidentally bought a newspaper where it stated, or advertised, about the 10%, and it said that the money had already been sent, that the bank which stopped that, the West Fargo Bank sent the money to Mexico.  That we would collect that money.  That was the first step we started to take.  We began publicizing it.  In 2000, we had a public hearing in the state of Tlaxcala with the governor.  We had been with a PRD Deputy before that, but we didn’t get anywhere.  Finally, in 2002, we ended up with the compañera Luz María, and so we have been fighting tirelessly for three years now.  And through the press conference we held, that’s how it was publicized.  We began with 6 [people], then we got to 60.  Today, there are five thousand of us, thanks to our fight and our insistence, and the patience we’ve had.  In 2002, Federal Deputy Sergio Acosta had made us a proposal of $5000 each, and then he finally told us that the 500 federal deputies were going to be in session in December, and he would have to get in touch with us in order to see whether we agreed with what had already been agreed to.  This was a complete lie, because we had never had any information from him.  He went to San Juan on November 15, and the compañeros were very upset with him, to such a degree that he just wanted to keep the microphone, and when my compañeros took the microphone so that a bracero compañera could speak, he got upset, and he left just like that, in the middle of talking.  He didn’t pay attention anymore. He didn’t listen anymore.  Yes, he’s very upset with us, being a federal deputy, a representative at the national level, and then not to be able to speak.  We wish there were more seriousness, more formality and more respect shown towards us.  That’s why we’re ready to fight, and we hope this doesn’t get dragged out, because they are dragging it out, and they have no right.  Since they know that the fund exists.  They should give each of us what belongs to us, according to the law and according to the contracts each compañero has.  This shouldn’t be prolonged any more, not past this year.  Because they say that Sergio Acosta was the one with the proposition that the committee of 18 federal deputies should be formed in order to follow up the investigation of the fund.  He made the proposal in 1999.  The committee was formed in 2000.  It’s already 2003, and there hasn’t been anything, when they have the doors open.  We are asking for help, and we’re knocking on doors and they close them on us.  They go and close the doors on us.  We want them to speak to us with the truth and nothing but the truth.”

“Enough of their having us by the throats.”  It’s something like a “Ya basta!” from these Tlaxcalans who will be marching, raising their rebel dignity through the streets of Mexico City on this February 6, 2003.

With them will be marching Xicohténcatl, Tlahuicole and Zapata, because in Tlaxcala history and calendars are interwoven, of course, but they always signify rebellion…

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos

Mexico, January of 2003.  

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