Defending Life in Times of Pandemic

By Raúl Romero*

The coronavirus pandemic reached the communities in resistance in a moment of war on many fronts: economic, military, political, and media. To the struggle against the megaprojects, the resistance against state violence, paramilitaries and organized crime, to the media offensive and the official discourse that positions them as enemies, they have to add organization in order to survive the coronavirus. 

It is enough to review the official page of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) to see that during the pandemic the attacks against the people did not cease. Just between March and August alone, there are more than 40 reports of threats, detentions, displacements, tortures, kidnappings and massacres. The massacre of the Ikoots in Oaxaca, or the displacement and aggressions against the Tila Ejido in Chiapas have received the greatest notoriety. The attack of Saturday the 22nd of August, on the part of paramilitary groups against bases of support of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) completes the drawing of the scenario of war in which the communities and their organizations are immersed. 

It is in the midst of this war that these organizations have been given the task of implementing measures to confront the pandemic. In Zapatista Chiapas, for example, the EZLN called on its bases of support to adopt scientifically-based measures and since the second half of March suggested the closure of spaces such as the caracoles and other centers of resistance. 

The  health structure that the Zapatista communities have created is widely recognized in the region. In 2014, during the “Zapatista little school” the support bases told their students how the health model from below and within the communities was implemented, which allows for knowledge of the cultural and linguistic contexts of the communities. This model, which promotes strong emphasis on preventive and nutritional care, is applied with the work of women and men as health promoters, with health houses, micro -clinics and clinics, laboratories, book and pamphlet editions, and training. 

In this model, traditional medicine and modern medicine are combined, starting always from a place of seeing health as an integrated community process, where the physical, the mental and the emotional create a whole, and where the health of the individual, the community, the territory and nature are intimately related. 

In the case of the National Indigenous Congress, the communities and their organizations took on the task of sharing, through radio programs, some of the experiences of what it means to defend life in times of the pandemic. In these episodes, the importance of community radio can be documented, from which culturally appropriate information was disseminated, translated and adapted by the communities themselves. 

The adaptation of their own programs, such as the “stay in your community” is relevant. Equally, the role of the youth was key, as they helped with the design of radio capsules, computer graphics and brochures, and the effective utilization of social networks and digital platforms with which they countered misinformation and the dissemination of false information.  

Furthermore, there was a special emphasis made on the promotion of preventive health, focused on strengthening defenses of the body through nutrition and traditional medicine. Prophylactic fences were established and in some cases, in communities that have significant migratory flows, observation centers were set up to prevent infections. 

In other communities, committees of health and resistance were activated, committees of nutrition and resistance, and it was the communities themselves who took on the tasks of obtaining supplies and first aid kits. Self-managed community health.

The work of the midwife women has been of critical importance, and their work has received a lot of attention in urban areas.

Reflections on the role of the elderly also stands out. A member of the Suumil Collective in Sinanche, Yucatán reflects: while the system regarded the elders as disposable, in the communities we jumped to their defense, to take care of them. As those in other communities have told us, in them (the elders) lives the historical memory of how our ancestors lived through other calamities. 

Many other elements should be noted of these experiences —  in the economic, in the security, and also in the very ways in which they had to imagine the continuation of their resistances.

The EZLN and the CNI are, without a doubt, the most substantial expression, from below and to the left, taking a stand against the current government. They propose building a world outside of the established margins. A world with democracy, liberty and justice. A world without capitalism or patriarchy. A truly civilizing alternative. This makes those who think that capitalism can be humanized and is the only way to live, uncomfortable. It makes them uncomfortable that the communities dare to talk about and build another world, and that is why they make war on  them.


This article was originally published in Spanish in La Jornada on Saturday, August 30th, 2020. This English interpretation has been re-published by Schools for Chiapas.

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