The Price of Resistance

[translated by irlandesa]

Africa, Chiapas. July 22.

Through one of those happenstances of bureaucratic evolution, Africa appears on the good commercial state maps, but not Asia, the neighboring ranch, even though it has five or six times more residents.

And that is not all. A green metal sign with white fluorescent letters – one of the ones which successive Departments of Communication have set up at the entrances of so many villages at the side of the road – announces the appearance of the few wooden houses which make up Africa, in the “roof” of the Selva Lacandona.

Asia, on the other hand, perhaps because it does not appear on maps, does not merit an official green sign. The people, in their eagerness to exist, have nailed a board to the thickest tree which can be seen from the road and put: “Asia, ranch.”

Ten, maybe 15, people live in Africa. There are more than 60 in Asia. Both of them are located on one of the approaches to the biosphere reserve, also called the Lacandón Community. They are legal settlements in the “critical” area, which, according to the “needs” of each moment, government officials are claiming as the property of the nation (and even of “humanity”), or, rather, the property of the decimated Lacandón people: the Montes Azules.

Now that it is summer, the vegetation has grown so much that it conceals the houses of Asia and Africa. The landscape completely engulfs both ranches, and what you can see of them is their names. The rest is selva.

The Costs of Wearing Down Resistance

The communities which are nearby the barracks – and especially those within the army base – demonstrate a little documented side of militarization. A disturbing demonstration of how the military strategy of “hearts and minds” – which seeks to conquer the “minds and hearts” of the enemy, or at least of the enemy’s neighbors – works in the mid-range.

For all these years there has been in existence, formally, a law for peace and reconciliation in Chiapas, a presidential peace commission and an ex profeso commission of federal deputies and senators of the Republic. Nonetheless, those “dissenting Mexicans” – as former President Ernesto Zedillo described the zapatistas at the time – have never been treated as anything but “enemies.” Operating here is the “removing the water from the fish” strategy, taken from Yankee counterinsurgency manuals, which was well tested in the hot lands of Guatemala and South Vietnam.

“Military Uniforms Altered,” reads a poster on the door of a house in Cintalapa. A nice door. A nice house, large and painted. One can see the Singer sewing machine which would have come in one of the many government “batches.” Also a television, a CD player and a pair of speakers.

Although not as large as San Quintín or Maravilla Tenejapa, Cintalapa is one of the important communities inside the selva with historical ties to the PRI and which, compared to most of the towns in the region, turned out relatively prosperous. It has infrastructure and commerce. Social investment is good business.

Cases of daughters of Tzeltal families who have had children with soldiers from the barracks, 200 meters from the town, are common. Some girls have gotten married and left when there was a change in troops. Some of them have become prostitutes. So many girls have become women with the base next door.

Given that they cannot always manage the price of the prostitutes, the experience of San Quintín has proven that the young soldiers show a preference for the local wildflowers, and they have the money. In direct reflection of this phenomenon of propinquity, throughout Cintalapa and neighboring Peña Limonar, large painted ads on the walls warn about AIDS, promote condom use, family planning and, emphatically, attention to women and children.

These towns have developed a certain mercantile economy. There is a permanent population of service providers and another population, also permanent, for consumption. The phenomenon is extended to other large, pro-government communities such as Santo Domingo and Nueva Palestina which, although they do not have military bases, attend constantly to the needs of the soldiers.

This economy, parallel with the war, explains the disenchantment of some PRI communities, addicted to their military neighbors, when, in early 2000 the government withdrew some federal Army bases (seven in total). The towns of Cuxuljá and El Carmen suffered economically with the departure of the troops (located next to Moisés Gandhi and Guadalupe Tepeyac respectively). Others, also PRI but more traditional, such as Jolnachoj (in San Andrés), expressed relief.

Regardless, the troop rearrangements ordered by President Vicente Fox did not involve any reduction in the number of forces stationed inside the so-called conflict zone. Recent evidence suggests, on the contrary, an increase (unquantified) in soldiers, which can be concealed from the public, but which cannot be hidden from day to day life in the community.

The Fox government denies it (or chooses not to make it explicit), but it is, in fact, maintaining a war in Chiapas. The deployment of forces has nothing to do with containment, or with safeguarding our borders. They are advance troops, under cover of a truce riddled with holes.

The Costs of Autonomous Resistance

In these lands of Mayan Indians, autonomy is a kind of patience. Towns where there are no hotels, restaurants, cantinas, cobblers, pharmacies, grocery stores, wine shops, sawmills, garages, federal and state bureaucracies, satellite telephones, water storage tanks and solar cells in the houses, pay television antennas on the rooftops. They do not accept government financing or programs. Many towns still do not have electricity.

It is easy to identify the communities in resistance. By the signs which proclaim that they belong to a certain Autonomous Municipality. Or by the striking murals on which Emiliano Zapata appears, or Zapatista Army of National Liberation insurgents, passages from their history, scenes of war or idyllic dreams, patriotic heroes or Che Guevara, that universal icon. There is usually no alcohol, or any drunks.

But these towns are also recognizable because of their higher levels of deprivation. Although their determination and collective organization makes it less obvious, the rebel Indians of Chiapas are the poorest of the poor.

In communities where zapatista support bases and campesinos from official organizations coexist (as exemplified by the Roberto Barrios and Morelia ejidos), the economic differences can be heartbreaking. And they always represent a declaration of principles in themselves.

There are a scarcity of pots in zapatista kitchens. In many places there are no spoons, or buckets. Food is very limited. One can see that all of their buildings are made by themselves. Even though they sometimes get cement for schools and autonomous clinics (even though it is for the floors), they usually only have wood. The little money that they have goes towards laminate.

Even so, they erect bilingual primary schools, libraries, meeting places, small clinics which rarely have doctors. They have been in these circumstances for a decade or more (the zapatista uprising was, in fact, precisely against neglect), and between four and six years of functioning as Autonomous Municipalities, which has cost them deaths, exile, jail, fields that have been destroyed or stolen from them, polluted rivers.

The resistance of hundreds of communities confirms three things: that their residents are accustomed to the idea; that they are peacefully resisting a constant war (military, paramilitary, political and economic) that dares not speak its name, and, as the public communiqués by the different autonomous councils are wont to state, that they do not accept “crumbs” from the government.

One of the rebels’ demands, however, reaches a broader population. Most of the non-zapatista organizations and communities in the Indian territories of Chiapas demand (or want) the fulfillment of the San Andrés Accords. During the PRI era, there were government gestures which purportedly “fulfilled” the Accords. Despite their insistence on a constitutional reform which did not satisfy chiapaneco indigenous in general, the Fox government has refrained from Albores-style fakery. Pablo Salazar Mendiguchía’s government has even rejected the reform (known as the Bartlett-Cevallos Law) – which is currently under review by the Supreme Court of Justice of the nation because of the hundreds of indigenous constitutional challenges which have been raised in the country.

Consistent with their resistance, the Autonomous Municipalities release continuous denuncias. Almost every day something is deliberately done to them by the public forces, or by people and organizations which belong to political parties or which collaborate with the federal Army and other agencies of the government which committed itself to meeting their demands. The years go by. The war advances. The communities in resistance keep waiting. “The government does not hear us,” they keep repeating.

Leave a comment