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Zapatistas and the Struggle for Survival on Planet Earth
By Helen Jaccard and Gerry Condon
After visiting Guatemala for two months, we crossed the border into Chiapas on December 21 – Winter Solstice and the 13th Baktun – the first day of the New Mayan Era. On that very day, the Zapatistas made a dramatic reappearance. After four years of silence amid speculation about the status of their movement, more than 40,000 Zapatistas appeared in five towns they had occupied by force nineteen years earlier on January 1, 1994 – Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, Altamirano, Palenque and San Cristobal de Las Casas. Inspiring a profound sense of awe, men and women marched silently together in the rain, wearing ponchos and their trademark ski masks, unarmed, with young children on their backs.
The Zapatista marchers made no demands, but their solemn presence carried an unmistakable message: We are still here, we are many, we are organized, and we are a force that must be taken seriously. Subcomandante Marcos, the charismatic Zapatista leader, wrote a poem for the occasions that was published in several newspapers. The newly elected governor of Chiapas, in a timely gesture of reconciliation, released Zapatista political prisoners on the very same day. Rumors abounded in the media that peace talks between the government and the Zapatistas might resume for the first time since they broke off in1995. Several days later the Zapatistas issued a communiqué explaining the next steps in their struggle for autonomy.
It was against this backdrop that we were present at the Zapatista-inspired Universidad de la Tierra (University of the Earth) on the outskirts of San Cristobal de las Casas for the 3rd International Seminars of Reflection and Analysis, Planet Earth: Anti-Systemic Movements, on Dec. 30 – Jan. 2.
People from around the world gathered to hear social activists, academics, feminists, indigenous leaders and a former Black Panther present inspiring histories and ideas for creating new political, social, economic, food, and justice systems. We learned how indigenous peoples are resisting the free-market capitalist system and creating their own, bottom-up, from the left, autonomous organizations and spaces.
Below are excerpts from three of the speeches that impressed us the most.
Silvia Ribeiro: Indigenous people are threatened by genetically modified corn
Silvia Ribeiro is a Mapuche journalist and environmental campaigner in Mexico and the Latin America Director for ETC Group.
Corn has never been just food, not just a crop; it is something that is born intrinsically. It can’t be grown by itself – it was just a kind of grass and is an agricultural creation and has produced a variety of foods - it was never separated from the people We cannot live without each other, so it has been carried though religious cultural values that make it enormously strong and important. So everything that has been involved with the mutual raising of the corn is also part of the people. Corn allows us to count time and decide what to eat and gives us autonomy.”
In addition to discussing the close connection between corn (maize) and the people who grow it, Silvia talked about related problems:
·Monsanto, DuPont and Dow want to plant 2.5 million hectares of genetically modified corn in Mesoamerica, the center of origin of corn, where 30,000 different varieties of corn were developed.
·Farmers whose maize is contaminated by Monsanto seeds are being charged fees, sued, and made criminals by Monsanto. There are also laws criminalizing the saving of seeds.
·Land and water are contaminated by the tons of cancer-causing pesticides and herbicides that are required to grow GMO foods.
Campesinos (small farmers) are responsible for 70% of the food in the world. The remaining 30% (corporate agriculture) are putting their rules out for all of us. We need to support the Network in Defense of Corn to defend corn, seeds, the corn people, and the world’s food supply.”
For more information on the struggle for the defense of corn, go to the website of the ETC group.
Gustavo Esteva: Today We Can Only Live in Struggle
Gustavo Esteva is a Mapuche activist and intellectual who works with the Center for Intercultural Centers and Dialogues in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Losing hope is the same as dying. Recovering hope as a social force is the fundamental key to the survival of the human race, planet earth, and popular movements. Hope is not about sitting and waiting for something to happen, it is about a hope that converts into action; in movement we can change things.
Just saying ‘no’ is not enough. This ‘no’ has to be accompanied by the creation of an alternative. The Zapatistas showed us on December 21st that the time for action is now. Those already in movement must make concrete their actions; those that are paralyzed must lose their fear and begin to move.
The next action is clear. How do we dismantle the state apparatus of repression? By making this apparatus irrelevant. Capitalist production, extraction, exploitation – how do we eliminate these? By minimizing their need to exist. We are in a structure of domination; how do we urgently dissolve this structure? By making it unnecessary.
Eating comes first. We must recuperate our food autonomy, and realize its importance in the construction of another world. We need to decide what we eat, and how we can organize to define our own food. Each of us needs to ask every day, what did I do to begin to advance the production of my own food, to define what I eat?
What if we were in the new world with the perfect society – imagine what you would do in that society? Paul Goodman said, “once you’ve imagined it, start doing it today.” It is already being constructed.
We need to realize that today we can only live in struggle. How do we continue resisting? The Tzotziles of Acteal told us – resisting is like the air, we cannot stop breathing; we cannot stop resisting.
The Zapatistas have said, “We are only ordinary men and women, and that is why we are rebels, nonconformists and dreamers”. This is the time of the ordinary men and women, the rebels. The Zapatistas are sharing their construction of autonomy and are willing to defy every system – “Everything for everyone, Nothing for us”. Zapatismo is no longer theirs, now it belongs to all of us. To defend Zapatismo is to defend ourselves.
The New Era is here. We are already in the New World. It has already been born. New social relations already exist. We must lose the mentality of the past, open our eyes and ears, and learn to recognize and uncover ourselves. The time is now.”
Severino Sharupi – This Is a Time for Rebellion
Severino Sharupi is a Schwan indigenous man and a member of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).
All of our communities are under threat – all. It is very different from when Marx put out the idea of a revolution; there were not these crises like climate change and destruction of Mother Earth. If we don’t change, Mother Earth will shake all of us out – all of us – stop this now or we’ll all be out.
On the other hand, when you really threaten power, they will take whatever action is necessary to stop you. This is very important, as history is teaching us in Cuba and Mexico and Colombia. I am convinced that every broad movement internally should have a plan B – a political/military operation like the Zapatistas – we will not give up our arms.
When we peasants rise up, when people of the forest rise up, then people in the city need to rise up – students, youth, housewives, workers. Prepare ourselves – within five to ten years we will be ready everywhere for revolution on a global level.
These are not just my words; they come from our thinking in the Southern part of the Americas. We must resist and we have to move forward rapidly now, not just in resistance. In the last 25 years we have been in resistance but now we have less land than before. This is a time for rebellion, time for a step forward.”
To learn more about the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE),go to their website, here.
To check out other speakers from the 3rd International Seminars of Reflection and Analysis, Planet Earth: Anti-Systemic Movements, on Dec. 30 – Jan. 2. , go here.