“The capitalist hydra, the destructive beast, tries to hide behind other names in order to attack and defeat humanity. One of the names behind which it hides its project of death is “megaproject,” which means the destruction of territory—the entirety of a territory, including the air, water, land, and people. The beast uses the megaproject to snarf down entire peoples, mountains and valleys, rivers and lagoons, men, women, others, and children. Once it finishes its destruction in one place, it’s off to another territory to do the same thing.” 1SubComandante Moises for the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee- General Command on the 26th Aniversary of the Zapatista Uprising
On December 31st, 2019, the eve of the 26th anniversary of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation’s (EZLN) War Against Oblivion, SubComandante Moíses warned against the deception of the capitalist beast, and its promises of progress, modernity, and wages. The megaprojects that he refers to above are the signature projects of president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s “Fourth Transformation” of the Mexican Republic — among them, extractive projects (mines, thermoelectric plants, refineries), transportation corridors (San Cristóbal – Palenque Superhighway), and tourism infrastructure such as the so-called Mayan Train.2 A flash point for the fierce Zapatista critique of AMLO’s administration, the Mayan Train threatens ecology, territory and culture as it promises “territorial organization.”3Last week, in spite of stay-at-home orders in place to stem the rise of COVID-19, the National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism announced it would begin construction on Line 1 of the train’s 5-state, 1460 km route, on the 30th of April.4
As of this week, across the globe, we have collectively engaged and endured over a month of endless analysis. Day-in and day out, article upon article speculate about political outcomes of the coronavirus crisis — Is the virus dealing a death blow to capitalism? What might evolve from “socialist” initiatives of governments? How are the networks of mutual aid providing models for larger societal remedies? The cracks in the fundament of capitalism have grown large enough for even the most obtuse to see through. In contrast to the selfless outpourings of love and humanity exhibited by networks and communities helping one another, we are witnessing in real time the beast of capitalism grasping to devour everything in its path. And yet this is where the true barbarism reveals itself. Just because we’re looking doesn’t mean that it will stop. The beast knows no shame.
As people are stressed out and despairing about the future, or worse, struggling to figure out how they will survive the present, there are truly people who are taking advantage of this crisis for profit and for power. As Gloria Muñoz Ramirez points out in her column, Los de Abajo, the violence against the communities is not in quarantine. 5 Not here in the U.S. and most certainly not in Mexico. Instead, the ravages of capital appear to be running amok, with guns, with heavy machinery, and with legislation.
In the United States, of course, the absurd has become the norm. New levels of depravity are invented daily by Trump and Co. as criminals are re-shuffled through the posts of government. Each one pushes an arsenal of violations against the planet, human rights, and civil liberties in order to advance their profit-making schemes. Over the last 3 years, as the mass distraction machine of the Trump administration ran at full tilt, the dominoes of Keystone XL pipeline construction were being set into place for precisely this moment.
In his April 5th piece for The Guardian, Bill McKibben wrote (as if surprised) that enablers of Big Oil have truly reached a moral bottom. With the country in lockdown, and emergency-services scrambling to keep up with the toll of the Coronavirus, the contractor for the pipeline, TC Energy Corp, announced it was moving workers across state lines (literally, in spite of stay at home orders) to prepare for work along the route. This action puts not only the workers, but all the communities they touch, and the services they demand, at risk. In states like South Dakota, where there has recently been an explosion of COVID-19, and still no stay-at-home-order, the recklessness is unreal. With systems paralyzed, these actions undermine over a decade of struggle for land and water defenders (most notably, indigenous communities) in the affected areas. *See update.6 “It’s so over-the-top evil that it’s like the comic book version of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, written in blood,” McKibben writes.7
Sub-human opportunism is not just for the right anymore, though, friends. Mexico’s AMLO has become the latest poster child for the “neoliberal left.” The president gives lip service to the celebration and preservation of cultural heritage, and claims that his objectives are to put the “poor first.” But simulated consultas, or community consultations, on megaprojects across the country continue to be charged with false promises and the repression of accurate data on their projected impacts.8 The Mayan Train, dangling a carrot of some 74,000 jobs, is precisely what SubComandante Moíses warned about. The Zapatistas understand the real implications of the Mayan Train, just as we should understand the implications of the Keystone XL — exacerbation of the climate crisis, erosion of territorial rights, cultural assimilation, wage slavery, increased violence, and ecological disaster to name a few.
The orders to begin construction on the Mayan Train or on the Keystone XL now, certainly look like the crisis of pandemic is exactly what these projects have been waiting for — for people to be grounded by uncertainty, fear, and grief, and further immobilized by economic peril. Just as last week’s joint communiqué from CNI members warned, the “coronavirus is not just after health and human life, but also the wealth and the people in resistance that still subsist in the indigenous territories and the world.”9As land and water protectors are both trying to protect (and also burying) their loved ones, the beast of neoliberal annihilation makes hay.
Follow our blog for translated articles, updates and analysis on factors affecting the Zapatista autonomous communities, as well as their most recent actions and communiques. You can read the Zapatista response to Coronavirus here. Read more about their response in Solidarity in the Time of Coronavirus.
- As of April 16th, a U.S. has revoked a critical permit for the construction of the pipeline,”citing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ failure to adequately consider the effects on endangered species inhabiting rivers in the pipeline’s path, and ignoring guidelines of the Endangered Species Act. The ruling, however, doesn’t shut down the pipeline’s construction currently underway at the U.S.-Canada border in Montana. https://www.democracynow.org/2020/4/16/headlines/us_judge_revokes_crucial_permit_for_keystone_xl_pipeline