The Caravan for Water: A Revolution of Conscience from the Indigenous Peoples

The water crisis is at the center of the national political agenda thanks to the indigenous peoples. Today, as water runs out for several Mexican cities, it is the indigenous peoples who are sounding the alarm. And if we know anything about the historic journey of the Caravan for Water and Life, it is thanks to the free press and community media.
March of the Caravan for Life in Cuernavaca. Photo: La Flor Periodico

A virgin accompanies the Caravan for Water and Life– it is a painting of Tonantzin Tlalli1 with a mantle of moving water, an earth serpent in the center traveling from her clothes, with a wind rose and the seal of the flower of the word, over what could be a House of the Peoples. It is already a symbol of the struggle for water.

Members of more than 40 indigenous peoples, organizations and collectives have been traveling through Mexico for 22 days, from the Sierra de Santa Marta in southern Veracruz, to Santiago Mexquititlán, in the mountains of Querétaro, passing through Guerrero, Tlaxcala, Puebla, Mexico City and now Cuentepec, Morelos. And they intend to travel through at least nine states.

This is a caravan that was agreed upon in an assembly when the United Peoples of the Cholulteca region still occupied the Bonafont plant, which was renamed Altepelmecalli (or House of the Peoples in Nahuatl) in the Nahua community of Cuanala, municipality of Juan C Bonilla, in Puebla. That was before their eviction by the National Guard.

I will never forget that a year ago, on April 10, 2021, they called for a meeting called “Zapatistas of the water.” Ever since I covered the story of how they cancelled a toxic drainage thanks to the struggle of these Nahua communities, I think about it… Zapatistas of the water…. 

And so now I see that it is no coincidence that the indigenous peoples put water at the heart of their struggles and weave them into a caravan, and that they have it as the main topic of conversation throughout their own media. Emiliano Zapata also expressed it in the Plan de Ayala — the mountains and the waters….

“This caravan is relevant, it comes at a very important moment. It is already part of history because, as you know, in many states they are running out of water and everybody complains but nobody does anything. The caravan is already prompting a revolution of consciousness. A revolution because the people have to get their act together to stop all this plunder,” explains Alejandro Torres Chocolatl, a radio broadcaster and popular radio host from Zacatepec, a Nahua community of Juan C Bonilla, part of the United Peoples and the National Indigenous Congress.

It is in this community where the sinkhole is located. Alejandro is also a councilman of the Indigenous Council of Government of the CNI, he has lived new experiences with this caravan. For him it has been very encouraging, motivating and full of lessons learned. He reflects further:

“We are initiating this revolution for the defense of water. And from here will follow other more powerful struggles. Because truly, we are in a very critical moment. And from here, from the caravan for water and for life, we are already setting an example. Not only at the local level here, or even at state or national level , but internationally. It is important, it is encouraging, it is motivating and it fills you with a lot of hope”, assures Alejandro. 

For Alejandro, as a radio broadcaster, this is the first time he has traveled so much. For him it is important to share experiences along the caravan with activists, peasants and also grassroots radio broadcasters, because there are teachings and learning about how the others do their work.

“As a popular broadcaster and radio host, you are both judge and participant, and you have to share that. You are a human rights defender and in the afternoon you have to provide the information, the news. And suddenly you are part of that news. It can be complicated. But community radio stations are human rights defenders and media, otherwise they wouldn’t work,” Torres Chocolatl assures.

He says that there have been pleasant moments and tense moments that they have had to report, such as when the Caravan went to Chilapa, Guerrero. He got sick and was not there, but he had to report how they broke the siege in what he describes as “a zone invaded by drug trafficking.”

March in the Caravan for Life in Cuernavaca. Photo: La Flor Periodico

Alejandro says that there has also been nostalgia: 

“It was my turn to share microphones at Radio Amiltzinko, it is very important to be there, to take the microphone as Samir Flores once did. That motivates you. I felt nostalgic when I was in the booth, I was transformed and I felt that it is my home too. I started to share our experience of the struggle”.

He affirms that in the caravan they have encountered water struggles that are isolated: 

“This caravan has been a good tool to make us visible and to unite us with other territories, with other resistances. What has moved me most, sincerely, is to see up close the war that the state and capital have waged against indigenous communities. So much plunder of water, of forests, so much dispossession, so much contamination, so much abuse –they have provoked division in some struggles, the engineering of conflict has made a mark on territories. You are also moved by the tears of the people who feel impotent, because they have no justice.”

The water crisis is the mother of all environmental crises. To talk about the struggle for water is to talk about health, diseases, food, deforestation, agriculture, monocultures or its industrial uses. It is to talk about its contamination by oil, extractive or industrial sectors, its extensive use by the automotive industry, how large agri-food companies bottle and market it, its consumption and waste in large cities, how it has been privatized, or the death of rivers and lakes. 

And now, in Morelos, Zapata’s land, they complete the first stage of the Caravan for Water and Life, which continues in its virtual facet in alliance with struggles in various countries and will restart the third stage next week, April 17, and will head for Oaxaca.

For the Nahua community of Cuentepec, who are defending their water and territory from the Canadian mining company Alamos Gold, it is a visit that enriches their struggle. 

This is Érika Hernández, an inhabitant of Cuentepec, who participates in the Organization of towns and neighborhoods against mining in Morelos and in the Network for Indigenous Futures:

“It is extremely important to have them here, to see them, to listen to them, to follow their steps, to listen to their battles, their resistance. It is extremely valuable and it is something we wholeheartedly want from the caravan, the exchange.”

For her, the visit allows her people’s struggle against mining to be woven into the fabric of their struggle. For her, she believes there is something in common that they share, besides the struggle for water: 

“That we can share together what we feel and also embrace each other, because their struggle is also ours. Because we are fighting against a capitalist system, a resource-exploring, ecocidal, genocidal, ethnocidal system. A system that is destroying us, the indigenous peoples, that is stealing our water, our land, our life.

For Erika it is important to look at those who arrive in the caravan: 

“We are a people of struggle, we are a people of Nahua culture, of many customs, traditions and that in our memory are the ancestors. I think that is what has strengthened us in these years, and not allowed these mining companies that are being imposed on us to enter. But the people have said that they do not want this mining company, that we reject this devastating project and that we opt for our life in community, our life where we sow the land and cultivate it,” Erika assures.

In a post called “Free Media for Autonomy,” La Flor Periódico quotes María Elena Aguayo Hernández, April 6, 2022 in the caravan:

“When in our country it is about defending El Agua-Territorio. The paid media, the paid intellectuals, the academic organizations tend to misinform, miscommunicate, circulate rumors, stigmatize the struggles, condemn them and create adverse currents of opinion so much so that the vast majority of the population lives oblivious to what is happening in the country.  This has allowed the various federal, state and municipal governments to act with impunity for decades. Creating free media from each of our realities is a path to Autonomy.”

Photo: La Flor Periodico

Recommendations for free or community media to follow during second and third part of the caravan:

La Flor Periódico

María Concepción Zacatepec

Radio Pozol

Avispa Media

Independent Media

Pie de Página

Desinformémonos

Mainstream Media

La Jornada

This article was published in Pie de Página on April 12, 2022. https://piedepagina.mx/caravana-del-agua-revolucion-de-conciencias-desde-los-pueblos-indigenas/ English translation re-published by Schools for Chiapas.

Footnotes

  1. Nahuatl name for Mother Earth, the Dark Virgin