Chiapas: war and peace

A window broken by gunfire in the Zapatista community of Moisés Gandhi.
Photo: Solidarity Caravan of October 29th, 2020.

By Raúl Romero*

On November 8, around 3:30 pm, Felix Hernández López – a support base for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) – was returning to his home when he was attacked by 20 paramilitaries belonging to the Regional Organization of Coffee Growers of Ocosingo (Orcao). Felix was beaten and kidnapped. For several days he remained locked up, tied up, and without food or water. All of this was denounced by the Good Government Council Nuevo Amanecer en Resistencia y Rebeldía por la Vida y la Humanidad (New Dawn in Resistance and Rebellion for Life and Humanity) of the Caracol Floreciendo la Semilla Rebelde (Flowering the Rebel Seed) Patria Nueva (New Homeland); in Zapatista Chiapas (https://bit.ly/2ItOU6V).

This aggression is registered in a context of intensification of the war against the EZLN, a war that in its various ways and forms has not ceased since 1994. In May 2019, the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center presented a report in which it documented that since the end of 2018, the Mexican State has increased the militarization of EZLN support base territories as part of the continuation of the counterinsurgency strategy to erode projects of autonomy in Chiapas (https://bit.ly/32MGgqK).

In the case of the Zapatista autonomous communities of Nuevo San Gregorio and the Moisés Gandhi Region, aggressions by the ORCAO paramilitaries have been on the rise since April 2019. This was detailed in the Report of the Caravan of Solidarity and Documentation” presented on November 11 (https://bit.ly/332aDdd). Among the forms of direct violence that this civilian mission identified are: invasion of land, destruction of crops, homes, cooperatives, dining halls, and electrical and water supply infrastructure; shootings, robberies, violation of the right to access water, depriving the population of food, defamation, slander, and disinformation; violence against women’s bodies-territories, etc. For the region of Moisés Gandhi alone, the quantifiable damages amount to one million 456 thousand 21 pesos. See the video short from the caravan here.

In this intensification of the military phase of the war, the paramilitary groups once again take a leading role. ORCAO itself, the Chinchulines, Paz y Justicia, and other groups who, like the political class, learned to switch hats in order to maintain the perks they obtained as mercenaries, figure here. These groups act with protection and financing from local, state and federal administrations; from caciques (local , landowners and businessmen who have interests in the region. Let us not forget either that many of these groups were founded, trained and financed by the Mexican Army itself. The paramilitaries are the informal hand of the state that throws the stone. Their attacks are the provocation in the interest of something greater: to continue deploying the neoliberal war, that which destroys peoples and communities for the conquest and reorganization of territories. With the war capital wins, it generates profits, it opens markets, it eliminates the expendable.

The EZLN is the political and ideological reference point for the anti-capitalist left, nationally and internationally; even more relevant today. It is also, in Mexico, a joint that articulates native peoples, women’s movements, intellectuals, artists and different organizations of the critical left that have not aligned themselves with the current administration. Moreover, it is, and this should not be forgotten, the political-military force with great weight in the country and perhaps in Latin America.

Our army is a very different army because what is being proposed is to stop being an army, the late Subcomandante Marcos told García Márquez and Roberto Pombo in March 2001. A very different army that since 1994 has bet on peace and life. It is an army that recovered land so that it would once again belong to those who work it, built houses so that everyone would have a roof over their heads; built hospitals, clinics and microclinics so that no one else would die of curable diseases; raised cooperatives to strengthen its self-management character; and set up schools and cultural centers so that science and the arts would become the seeds of the new world.

Anchored in the knowledge and customs of the indigenous, but also adopting what is useful and necessary for them in the modern world, the Zapatista emancipation project took an important turn in 2003 with the founding of the Caracoles and the Juntas de Buen Gobierno (Good Government Councils). In this way, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation handed over the entire government to the civil power, that is, to its support bases. But the EZLN continued to fulfill another fundamental role: that of defending these peoples, that of being the Votán-Zapata, the guardian and heart of the people.

The recent aggressions against the Zapatistas are not inter-community or agrarian conflicts as the federal government would like to present them. They are merely tip of the spear of a socio-environmental and territorial conflict that is looming larger, and which the Zapatistas have been warning of since 2018. Hopefully, as in 1994, society will once again be on the side of peace and the people. In war, capital always wins.

*Sociologist

This article was originally published in Spanish by La Jornada on November 15, 2020. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2020/11/15/opinion/023a2pol
This English interpretation has been re-published by Schools for Chiapas.