The War of Attrition Against the Zapatista Communities

by Raúl Zibechi

Photo by Elizabeth Ruiz

“We are not owners of the land, we are its guardians. The land is for living, not for doing business,” says a youth from the community of Nuevo San Gregorio, from the Autonomous Municipality of Lucio Cabañas, Caracol 10, in the official municipality of Ocosingo (Huixtán), Chiapas. 

“We are fenced in on our own land,” adds a woman from the same community that is being besieged by 40 armed invaders with support of the government. They explain that despite the siege, the families have mounted a workshop of carpentry, they are making embroideries and rope as a form of resistance.

These are testimonies gathered by the Solidarity Caravan, made up of more than 15 collectives which are adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle, in the community of Nuevo San Gregorio as well as the the five communities that make up the region of Moisés Gandhi, in the Autonomous Municipality of Lucio Cabañas, or officially known as Ocosingo.

Members of the Ajmaq Network of Resistance and Rebellion explain to us, from San Cristóbal de Las Casas, that it has to do with more than 600 hectares that were recuperated by Zapatista support base during the offensive of 1994 and that now they are being surrounded by mid-size property owners and people allied with the federal government and the State of Chiapas, and by members of the Regional Organization of Coffee Growers of Ocosingo (ORCAO).

In Moisés Gandhi, inhabited by hundreds of families, the aggressions began on April 23rd of 2019, with shots fired from high caliber weapons from 5 am to 9pm, a situation that the government neither wants to or has the will to stop. Since the attacks started in April of 2019, on various occasions, groups of 250 to 300 armed people in vehicles burn houses, steal and destroy crops. On numerous occasions they have kidnapped community members, beating them up and threatening them and later letting them go. 

On the 22nd of August, they burned a coffee warehouse at the crossroads of Cuxuljá, a strategic crossing of highways that connect San Cristóbal  with Palenque. 

This has to do with new methods for the counterinsurgency that are being adapted to the growth and territorial expansion of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), that now has 43 centers of resistance. Members of the caravan explain that the members of ORCAO are politicized people that know the Zapatista movement well. 

For years, they have been lured by social programs that offer them resources if they regularize the lands, they can capitalize on this and go from being poor campesinos to rich campesinos, acquiring power. ORCAO sells their coffee to large companies linked to Walmart, as it aspires to make large profits.

“Their mode of operating consists of fencing off the homes, clinics and schools of the Zapatista families and communities, and in this way they can prevent them from producing, setting up a wholesale war of  attrition that seeks to break the autonomous economy,” explain members of Ajmaq and the solidarity caravans.

It is impossible not to connect this situation with the social policies of the progressive governments in South America. They not only transferred resources to the poor neighborhoods and communities, but also they sought out intermediaries that had previously been organizations that had fought against the neoliberal governments. In this way, they incorporated into the official politics people that had in-depth knowledge of the movements, knowledge of which the State was unaware.

“We’re not giving up, here we continue organizing our collective work,” the communities assured us. To maintain the resistance, they organize collective work, to ensure food and health. 

“It is not a coincidence that ORCAO is attacking the Juntas of Buen Gobierno and centers of resistance, because there the majority are youth and women and they are hoping to discourage and frighten them, say members of the caravans.

For this reason, in addition to enclosing community lands with wires, they also break water pipes, fence off springs and pastures where the cattle eats, and prevent them from harvesting. In Nuevo San Gregorio, the support bases recognize that this year were scarcely able to harvest 50% of the previous year’s harvest. The goal is to create a humanitarian crisis that forces the Zapatista families to abandon the lands that they have recovered in the struggle.

The strategy of the government of Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador is complete with the installation of new encampments and bases of the National Guard in the region of Ocosingo, that goes hand in hand with the reactivation of armed groups like ORCAO that are deployed as paramilitaries. 

“We are not giving up, here we continue organizing our collective work.” In order to maintain the resistance, they organize collective work to ensure their food and health. The decision to resist  peacefully, without violence, and without abandoning the struggle has enormous costs that the Zapatista bases are willing to undertake. 

From above they seek confrontation between peoples, supporting social organizations that have the complicity of the municipal, state and federal governments, with the objective of undermining Zapatista autonomy, which is one of the primary sources of hopes illuminating the planet.

This article was published in Spanish by El SaltoDiario on February 5th, 2021. https://www.elsaltodiario.com/mexico/guerra-de-desgaste-contra-las-comunidades-zapatistas This English interpretation has been published by Schools for Chiapas, with permission from Chiapas Support Committee.