Against violence, we agree to live

By R. Aida Hernández Castillo*

As part of the commemoration of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I wanted to remind us of a promise made by those of us who attended the first International Encounter of Women who Struggle, in the the autonomous Zapatista municipality of 17 de Noviembre more than two years ago. In March of 2018, one of the nine thousand women from different regions of the world made a commitment to some two thousand Zapatista women: we agreed to live. In the closing  of the encounter, one of the Zapatista representatives signalled, “Here in front of all of us who are here, we propose that we agree to continue living and continuing to struggle, each one, according to her way, her time, and her world. 

This apparently simple promise is a challenge in the country that coined the word femicide, where in just this year femicidal violence has increased 145 percent, according to official figures with a balance of 645 women murdered to date. To agree to live is a difficult commitment in a country that has been converted into a great cemetery, in which 3,092 hidden graves had been documented by October of this year, according to the National Search Commission, and some 70,000 disappeared people continue unaccounted for. Two years ago, in front of the Zapatista women we lit a candle and promised ourselves to light it again when we felt that we needed to illuminate some  struggle. We promised to carry it to the disappeared, murdered, imprisoned, raped, beaten, harassed, migrants, exploited, and all of the women violated in any way and to tell them that they were not allon and the we were going to fight for them, “for the truth and justice that her pain deserves …so that the pain that she carries is not repeated in any part of the world.”

Today I want to light this candle for our sisters in Chiapas that suffer harassment from the paramilitary groups. For the displaced women of Aldama, that have had to leave their land, their crops, their community in order to protect themselves and save the lives of their children. For Sister María Isabel Hernández, who on the 18th of November was shot in the leg as she tried to bring humanitarian aid to the residents of Tabak and Cocó, in the municipality of Aldama. For all the women that now live in fear in this context of impunity, where the techniques of terror, the weapons and the men who provoked the massacre of Acteal, the 22nd of December 1997 have reactivated the low-intensity warfare against Zapatista bases of support and the communities that sympathize with their struggle. 

Twenty three years ago, the murder of 20 women, seven of them pregnant, 16 boys and girls, and 9 men was justified on the grounds that it had to do with intra-community conflict. At that time the collective book. The Other Word: Women and Violence in Chiapas; before and after Acteal (1998) (http://www.rosalvaaidahernandez.com/ wp-content/uploads/2019/12/1998- LIBROS-La-Otra-Palabra-PDF.pdf) we documented the historical training procedures of paramilitary groups in Chiapas. In the face of racist perspectives that sought to justify the bodily mutilations and extreme violence as Mayan cultural practices, we argued that it had to do with a transnational militaristic death culture that crossed borders along with weapons, and had its training center in the School of the Americas. Today, again they try to argue that the conflict between the inhabitants of San Pedro Chenalhó can be reduced to an intra-community struggle over 60 hectares of land. It is important to recognize that these conflicts deepened with the intervention of the government through the Program of Certification of Ejidal Rights and Land Titling which allowed for the communal plots of Aldama to remain under the control of the authorities of San Pedro Chenalhó. But, above all, it made possible the circulation and use of high-power weapons, completely changing the tone of negotiation and conflict in the region.

The paramilitarization of community conflict has been part of the low-intensity warfare that has harassed Zapatista territories for almost 3 decades. Today urges us to light a candle for our Zapatista sisters that live in the dangers of this paramilitary violence. They have echoed our struggles denouncing feminicide, forced disappearance and harassment, problems that did not exist in their autonomous territories, but against which they have mobilized in support of us. Now it is our turn to raise our voices and denounce the paramilitary violence that stalks them.

*Doctor of anthropology, researcher at CIESAS

This article was originally published in Spanish in La Jornada on November 23rd, 2020. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2020/11/23/opinion/026a1pol This English interpretation has been re-published by Schools for Chiapas.