Thursday, September 14, 2017

In An Idealized World of Their Own

"This shows the extent to which Mexicans are tired of violence."
"Political radicalism today has to be pacifist because the public, social and economic life in Mexico has been stained with blood for far too long."
Jesus Silva-Herzog, professor, School of Government, Tecnologico de Monterrey

"We arrived at a breaking point."
"Taking up arms was out of the question. It was just too bloody of an option."
"We couldn't care less about the presidency; all we want to do is crash the election party and ruin it."
Carlos Gonzalez, spokesman, National Indigenous Congress, Mexico

"In Mexico, being an indigenous person means being treated as half a person, and if you are a woman, even less so."
Maria de Jesus Patricio Martinez, healer, Nahua indigenous people, politician
The colonial town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in the central Chiapas highlands. In 1994, hundreds of masked Zapatista rebels stormed the town, toting rifles, and declared war on the Mexican state. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
Ms. Martinez, 57, is the favoured choice of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation; they have endorsed her as a candidate who would represent the best interests of Mexico's indigenous population, as a member herself of that population. The plan is to use the 2018 election to give themselves a platform from which to bring the issues to the government most concerning to the indigenous communities of Mexico.
María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, a healer from the indigenous Nahua people, has been endorsed by the Zapatistas in next year’s presidential elections. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

For its part, the government itself states its welcome of "all political and social expressions", and they have included in that all-embracing term, the candidate backed by the Zapatistas, Marie de Jesus Patricio Martinez. According to the left-wing presidential candidate who is in the lead as a front-runner in early polls, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador characterizes the Zapatista-backed candidacy as a "political stunt".

Obviously the Zapatistas don't much care what their initiative is called, as long as they gain a voice in government.

In 1994, when Mexico became aware of the presence of an army of indigenous peasants taking to wearing ski masks and carrying assault weapons to take virtual possession of a number of towns in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas declaring war against the Mexican state, it was likely felt at the time that they wouldn't endure, and would achieve nothing whatever to further the cause of equality for Mexico's indigenous groups.

Demanding recognition for and protection of indigenous communities, pushed to the bottom of the socio-economic opportunities ladder in Mexico, the Zapatistas' appearance led the nation to confront its long history of inequality. Subcommander Marcos, its leader, added an air of mystery, riding a horse, appearing like an avenger out of history. But they gained legions of followers among whom many recognized the rebels' demands for rights as representing the first "postmodern revolution".

"We choose life, not death. Instead of building barracks and improving our arsenal of weapons, we built schools, hospitals, and we improved our living conditions", stated Subcommander Marcos in a speech setting out the reels' disavowal of violence leading to a new course of action.
The Zapatista rebel leader Subcommander Marcos in 2006. Credit Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

In the territories controlled by the Zapatistas there is de factor autonomy where access to education and  health services reflect their values and dedication to serving the best interests of the indigenous communities in Mexico. Under their control, there is no organized crime operating with the cruel impunity seen in most other parts of Mexico.

"In this place the people rule, and the government obeys", reads a large sign welcoming outsiders to a Zapatista enclave north of the town of San Cristobal de las Casas. Guards are on watch there 24 hours a day to question the reason for the presence of outsiders. There T-shirts can be acquired boasting the image of Subcommander Marcos and bearing phrases such as "I apologize for bothering you, this is a revolution."

It is a place where alcohol is forbidden, along with the cultivation and use of illegal drugs, where people produce shoes, sell tortillas and live in a system very much like communes. "They are a living example of how different things can be", comments a community organizer from the state of Veracruse, praising the Zapatistas.

Zapatista communities, moreover, train teachers, medics, and midwives, they operate pharmacies using traditional herbal medicines, and organize their own autonomous banks
"[The Zapatista economy is] based on small agro-ecological parcels of land, tended by families for their own sustenance, together with ranches where the collective production of cattle, corn, coffee, bread, and honey provides an income for the community and contributes to the building of schools and medical clinics."
Sergio Rodríguez Lascano, editor, Zapatista magazine Rebeldía

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