In early September a large number of political party members in paramilitary-style groups carrying high-calibre firearms invaded the Zapatista communities of Comandante Abel and Unión Hidalgo, firing shots. Their goal was to displace the Zapatista support base members (BAZ) from the community and seize their land. This was not the first assault.
The role of the “True Word” in the “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas” Campaign to liberate Zapatista political prisoners and bolster the self-defence of the Zapatista base communities under siege…
“They say they will eat our flesh”
In early September a large number of political party members in paramilitary-style groups carrying high-calibre firearms invaded the Zapatista communities of Comandante Abel and Unión Hidalgo, firing shots. Their goal was to displace the Zapatista support base members (BAZ) from the community and seize their land. This was not the first assault. In fact, there had been so many attacks that the Zapatistas had given their original community of San Patricio to “our indigenous brothers and sisters”, and set up the new community of Comandante Abel, again on their own land, in hopes of finding peace to live their lives, produce their food, and bring up their children.
The latest attack forced community members to flee, terrified, in all directions and many ended up lost on the mountain. As they recount, “We hid under trees, vines, rocks, and went to the woods and the mountains, for fear of the bullets. We spent two nights in the cold and rain. They chased us with bullets, and when we arrived in this place we were already sick. We did not follow the path, but went through the canyon. I felt like there was a jaguar after me, I was lost and terrified, I felt as if I was no longer in the world”. Eventually they emerged, traumatised, sick and hungry; to this day 83 BAZ from Comandante Abel and Unión Hidalgo remain displaced, taking refuge in other communities, while their attackers are occupying their lands, guarded by a new police encampment.
A woman, reflecting on the night she and her child spent in a cave high in the mountains, described what has become a ceaseless horror. Unable to take her eyes off her 3-month-old child, she recounts “Fear passes into the milk”,,she explained. “My daughter has a fever, and refuses my breast”.
Alongside the destruction of crops and livestock, the BAZ of Comandante Abel describe a chilling scene:
“Through a loudspeaker the paramilitaries are announcing, day and night, that they are going to ‘eat’ us, because we are outlaws, we are beyond the reach of justice and the law. If the paramilitaries do not succeed in taking over Comandante Abel community, they say that they are going to massacre us. The government buys people, and then persuades them to take our land. It is their policy of war and attrition to make us surrender. We will not stop our struggle and we are not going to give up,” says one of the compas, to applause from the others.
The twin stories of Comandante Abel and Unión Hidalgo are one of many in the almost 19-year history of counterinsurgency warfare employed by the Mexican state against the Zapatista base communities in their dignified path towards autonomy, and towards that better, more free and just world which they represent and which gives inspiration to so many. The campaign of attrition is just one aspect of this on-going plan to annihilate the Zapatista movement. Since the elections in July, there has been a very alarming increase in this type of attack.
San Marcos Avilés
Earlier this year, another BAZ community, in a different part of Chiapas, sent out a call for help. Two years ago, 170 BAZ from San Marcos Avilés were displaced by an attack group of local political party members with firearms also supplied by the local police station. Although they managed to return after a month, since that time they have lived under siege, with their land, homes, crops, livestock and possessions stolen or destroyed, enduring a constant nightmare of terror, threats and violence. They asked for help because the tension was rising, and they feared another attack at any time, and because “they should not think that they will stop the struggle of the Zapatistas for the construction of our autonomy and for national liberation with provocation, threats, assaults and persecution, because whatever the cost, and whatever happens, we will continue to go forward, as is our right.”
The Echo Campaign
The Movement for Justice in El Barrio, the Other Campaign New York, rapidly responded to this cry for help and launched in July 2012 the “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas” campaign with an international call to action. The first phase of this campaign, one of collecting and disseminating information, was most appropriately for the Zapatistas for whom the word has been their most successful weapon, called “Walking the True Word”. Hence, it was clear from the beginning that words would be an integral part of this Campaign.
As they relay in an early campaign update:
“Day after day, solidarity actions and activities are being carried out in communities, neighbourhoods, towns, and villages in many corners of the world. In order to disseminate the histories and realities which our Zapatista compas are suffering, dignified people from many countries have been working on getting the word out and building networks of support and solidarity to contribute positively to the defence of the EZLN Support Base communities … and the struggle to free Francisco Sántiz Lopez. We can see that, in this way, we are consolidating our forces and exposing the lies coming out of the mouth of the bad government of Mexico, in order to take concrete action in defence of that other possible world which the Zapatista communities have been building through their project of autonomy.”
The MJB have a long and successful history of organising this type of campaign, including having worked on campaigns regarding San Salvador Atenco and San Sebastián Bachajón, and of using the power of the word to raise consciences and inspire rage: “The rage that burns our veins is the force that is given to us to keep fighting. We share a piece of ours with every one of you.”
The Campaign is known as Echo, “because the Zapatistas’ humanizing cry of dignity, their ENOUGH!, has affected all of us who fight for justice from around the world, from our respective trenches of struggle, and has connected very distinct and similar struggles alike…Because this very cry has dwelled in our hearts alongside hope and happiness…We shall let it resound in our echo by adding our voice, our countenance, to ensure that it is heard more profoundly…As if it were said in the very language of our being…”
The video messages
Along with a multilingual website packed with information and other resources, such as an “organising toolkit” of photographs, posters, and fliers, in ten languages, the Campaign’s strongest tool is undoubtedly the video message. The message from the BAZ of San Marcos Aviles, especially from the women whose distress is palpable, contains a raw power to shock and move the strongest audience.
The “Videomensaje de l@s Zapatistas de San Marcos Avilés”, which has now been seen by over 37,000 people on YouTube alone, really kick-started the Campaign. Another video, from the Good Government Junta of Oventic, demonstrates the innocence of the iconic Zapatista prisoner, Francisco Sántiz López, in prison since December 2011 for a crime for which he has been proven innocent.
On the heels of the release of the San Marcos Avilés video message, “Committees of the True Word” (the organic organising cells of the campaign) were being set up not only in Mexico, but in over 22 countries from Chile to Australia, including countries not traditionally involved in this type of campaign, such as Turkey, Panama, Ecuador, India, Uruguay, Portugal, South Africa and Canada. These groups got busy organising public forums, film screenings, distributing informative fliers and pamphlets, publishing articles, reflections, and denouncements, doing translations, holding social media initiatives, art workshops, children’s events, and many others. A Worldwide Declaration in support of the Zapatistas was launched from the United Kingdom.
Soon, well-known intellectuals and activists added their voice. From Peru, the renowned fighter for social justice and editor of Lucha Indígena, Hugo Blanco, sent a beautiful piece entitled “To those who search for a free world”, in which he emphasised: “These attacks, and the continued detention of Francisco Sántiz López, are the spearhead of the attack to crush the zone liberated from neoliberalism, where the people govern themselves through the Good Government Juntas. This is seen as the great enemy by the transnational corporations (the 1% of humanity that crushes the 99%), as they are a living example of the fact that Another World is Possible, A World where Many Worlds Fit…It is in the direct interests of humanity to defend the island of freedom that is the Zapatista area.”
As more informative events were held in places like Germany, Colombia, England and Brazil, news came in of another community under attack – Moisés Gandhi, where throughout August the BAZ suffered violent attacks and threats of forced displacement by a group of armed “coyotes” called the Regional Coffee Growers Organization of Ocosingo (Orcao).
The MJB reported on another significant development in the campaign, how it has been able to attract people not previously involved with the Zapatistas:
“Since the beginning of the “Worldwide Echo” campaign, the dignified and courageous story of our compañer@s has been a source of profound inspiration and transformation. Forcing us to recognize our own humanity and interconnectedness in this world, the pain and resilience of our Zapatista compas continue to inspire and move people of all walks of life to join the struggle to support them.
Although our campaign is indeed made up of many long-time supporters and seasoned social justice veterans, the moving story of the BAZ communities has been so powerful that it has also motivated people with limited exposure to social justice struggles and literally no prior knowledge of the Zapatistas.
This is the power of the true word. It enables us to continue building and strengthening our local and global struggles by reaching out to new people of good hearts to join forces and transform our world.”
Overwhelming interest in the Campaign, along with an increase in repression, led by popular demand to its first phase being extended until October 12, Day of Indigenous Resistance.
More messages of support for the second phase
As the True Word continued to walk, more and more words joined it on its journey, continuing to inspire others to join the struggle.
From Uruguay, author and activist Raúl Zibechi sent a letter, saying “Those from above have declared a war on the Zapatista communities, aimed at eliminating all resistance at a time when capital is unleashing hunger and misery upon those from below in order to increase and protect its gigantic profits. To safeguard their continued accumulation of wealth, it is necessary to wipe from the face of the earth all obstacles, every kind of resistance. What the media and the “experts” call crisis, is actually part of this offensive to remove from the scene the peoples and the individuals who refuse to give way…
It is not a coincidence that the Zapatista communities are being repressed. They have shown millions, throughout the whole world, a path of resistance and construction that is multiplying in the most remote places. For those from above, destroying the Zapatista movement would be a double victory: against the peoples and communities of Chiapas and against all those in the world who find inspiration in their example. It would mean bringing down a dream made flesh, like the one we can see in the Good Government Junta of Oventic, and in so many other places. For all these reasons, solidarity is as essential as it is urgent.”
One of Mexico’s most celebrated scholars, activist Gustavo Esteva, issued his own contribution entitled “The Time for Resistance and Solidarity”:
“The demons are on the loose. The war is everywhere. But so too is solidarity–that decision to be together in this common struggle that no longer respects territories. In each place it is different. But everywhere the same phenomenon is reproduced: the people affirm their dignity and say ‘enough!’, and they take their path, and the response from above is intimidation, aggression, corruption, continuous war.
It is urgent to show ourselves on the side of our compañeros…The threat is immediate. We, the Committees of the True Word, must make ourselves known in every way that we can, so that the strength of our solidarity may be seen. It is the time for resistance. And to resist is to struggle in common, together, in the embrace of solidarity.”
Likewise, the great Mexican feminist Sylvia Marcos sent a message to the Zapatista women:
“We can glimpse the daily and painful struggles which are facing our Zapatista compañeras and we join together with them. We demand an end to the acts of aggression from the enemies of this educational, social and political Zapatista project which gives hope, especially to women, who see in the Zapatista women the model of being a woman who defends her rights without forgetting to support the collective rights of her people.
You must know, Zapatistas compañeras, that your project is the hope and the light on the road to the construction of an “other” world, where it can become a reality that ‘we are equal because we are different’, as you yourselves have said.”
It was now that the urgent news about the forced displacement of the BAZ of Comandante Abel and Unión Hidalgo arrived, and the efforts of the campaign intensified. The world-renowned writer, linguist, and political commentator, Noam Chomsky, wrote “I would like to join in support of the campaign “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas,” and of all of those who are standing up courageously to oppose the repression, and who are calling for justice and freedom for the endangered communities and individuals subjected to persecution and serious threats.”
“Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere”
A powerful new video message was delivered to the Campaign from South Africa’s largest grassroots movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo (the Shack Dwellers Movement), sending heartfelt messages of hope and solidarity to the Zapatistas under attack. In this message, also available on YouTube, two young organizers state: “The government wants to create fear in the community. You must be strong…Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. Your struggle is our struggle.”
Statements of support came in from numerous other organisations including the UK-based National Campaign against Fees & Cuts and the women of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) – GABRIELA USA in New York City.
As the launch of the second phase of the Echo Campaign, “From Truth to Action, Stopping the Repression”, was being prepared, the dreaded news came in that another community was being attacked. Six BAZ from the ejido Guadalupe los Altos had been arrested under absurd charges made by the ejidal authorities of Guadalupe los Altos in collusion with the local organization CIOAC HISTORICA. It was clear that the Campaign was needed more than ever and intensive efforts were put in to making sure that up-to-date information was available.
On October 12 Phase 2 was launched and the Worldwide Declaration, signed by organisations and individuals from 24 countries, was released. Messages of support continued to pour in as more and more people joined the campaign and prepared actions all over the world.
The words of the Second Call to Action, issued for the second phase of the Campaign “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas”, explain the significance of the Word to the Campaign:
“To prevent us from joining hands and rising from this darkness, those from above have committed to douse out all the lights radiating from dignified people. This is why they are deploying their strategies of violence and destruction, and are attacking, imprisoning, repressing, assaulting, violating, robbing, silencing, and lying to us.
“This is also why those from above, the creators of this long night, have chosen as their main target the indigenous peoples of the world, who have made significant contributions to the struggle against the darkness.
“Faced with this threat of planetary extinction, we must mobilize urgently to defend each and every light that illuminates our path towards the construction of another possible world. And as the True Word was and is the first form of light, it is vital that we defend those words which Old Antonio tells us were the first three in every language: ‘democracy, freedom, justice’.
“It is no coincidence that these three words cannot be found in the governments, jails, schools, mass media, or the other institutions serving the privileges of those from above. Nor is it a coincidence that these same three words are alive… among the dignified people from below, especially the indigenous people of Mexico and the world. While those from above continue to attack and destroy these lights, we will continue to defend and create more lights, more solutions, more worlds.
Even though those from above are using the lies which give the night its darkness to keep us divided, in our hearts we carry that which makes the light shine…This is called truth.”
“If those from above believe that they can continue waging their violent war against our Zapatista sisters and brothers without repercussions, they are deeply mistaken. This time around, the dignified peoples of the world will have their say.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Video message from the Zapatistas of San Marcos Avilés: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rY-8CBt3Vkg
Video message from the JBG of Oventic about Francisco Sántiz López: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXuVyJ5YdfA