Displaced Zapatistas Return Home

Thirty people from the political parties PRI, PRD and PVEM, armed with machetes and firearms, violently broke into the houses of the Zapatista families in San Marcos Avilés, forcing these families to flee their homes and abandon all of their possessions. One hundred seventy men, women and children became refugees in the mountains, enduring throughout the recent torrential rains hunger, cold, sleeplessness, mud and the fear of attacks on women and children.
‘Freedom is a dream that education can make into a reality’
San Marcos Avilés is a Zapatista village in the Caracol of Oventic, located in the official municipality of Chilon in Chiapas. Like many other communities, the inhabitants have built a school as part of the Zapatista autonomous education project, where from 60 to 80 girls and boys participate in the classes.

The official authorities of the ejido San Marcos Avilés, and the official authorities of Pamala, in the municipaliy of Sitalá, along with members of the PRD, PRI and PVEM political parties illegally detained two Zapatista support bases (and education promoters) at the beginning of September, demanding that they destroy the autonomous school, put an end to autonomous education, and resign from the Zapatista organization. They threatened that if these demands were not complied with, the support bases would be forcibly evicted.

Accordingly, on September 9 at 2 a.m., 30 people from the political parties PRI, PRD and PVEM, armed with machetes and firearms, violently broke into the houses of the Zapatista families in San Marcos Avilés, forcing these families to leave their homes and abandon all their possessions. One hundred seventy men, women and children became refugees in the mountains, enduring throughout the recent torrential rains, hunger, cold, sleeplessness, mud and the fear of attacks on women and children.

‘If you touch one of us, you touch all of us’

The international community quickly mobilised in support of the evicted Zapatistas. The campaign ‘Thousands of Rages, One Heart: The Zapatista Communities Cive!’ organized a support caravan which departs from Mexico City on October 22, and leaves San Cristobal de Las Casas on October 23, to go to San Marcos Avilés, bringing items such as non-perishable foodstuffs, clothing to provide protection from the cold, blankets, medicines, and school materials, which they have been collecting for the displaced people. This caravan arose from the 5th National Forum of Solidarity with the Zapatista Communities, which was convened following the evictions, and which was attended by more than 80 people from 11 different states. Other solidarity actions, including a travelling photo exhibition, were organized in Switzerland, Italy and Spain. The Italian group said:

“There exists a world where children can learn without hierarchies being imposed, without having to buy a uniform to go to class, without having to pay for their schooling. Where, between games and songs of struggle, they can learn along with adults how to be free, how to make collective decisions, how to respect Mother Earth, the elders of the community, the other.

“One world, one space, one small school where children can learn in the same language as they speak at home, a place where their culture, their customs and their history from below is the basis of their learning. Where there are no teachers, but education promoters, in other words, teaching is a circular process.

“This is not utopia, this is the Zapatista Rebel Autonomous Education System, painstakingly constructed in hundreds of indigenous communities in Chiapas, which has educated and continues to educate thousands of young Zapatistas in the struggle.

“Autonomous Education is one of the main pillars of Zapatista autonomy, the heart of the tomorrow which is already being constructed. Along with other advances in healthcare, justice, work, transport and agro-ecology, autonomous education is an important part of Zapatista indigenous autonomous government.

“That is why it is attacked. The latest in a long series of attacks has been made specifically against the residents of the community of San Marcos Avilés, who are guilty, according to the political parties and the bad government, of wanting an autonomous school and of being Zapatistas. The attack clearly represents not only aggression against the support bases of that community (and another community, Pamala) but is also an attempt to put an end to the autonomous projects inspired by the EZLN.”

This is not by any means the first attack directed against an autonomous school. For example, according to La Jornada, in July 2010 members of the PRI “took over” the autonomous school in the community of Amaitik in the caracol of La Garrucha.

The Return

In a communiqué issued on the October 13 the JBG of the highland zone said that the displaced Zapatistas had finally, after just over a month, returned to their homes and lands on October 12. The significance of this date, 518 years after the disastrous arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas, will not have gone unnoticed. This day is, for the indigenous peoples, the day of resistance, the day of solidarity with mother earth. The return was accompanied by Zapatista supporters from nearby communities. The communiqué stated:

“Now our compas are back in their community, because it is not justice for so many children, women, elderly and sick people to be suffering need and deprivation, away from their homes, while their aggressors are enjoying their freedom, receiving full support from the local, state and federal governments.

“Our companer@s are already back in their humble homes, although they have been looted and partially destroyed by the attackers, but our supporters are going to stay there because our brothers and sisters are entitled to live in their home village and to work on their lands; they are not going to disturb anybody, they just want to live in their own community and to work in order to survive, because they will not be begging for alms from the bad government, our compas will live and eat by their own work and sweat.

“Our compas are going to carry on working to build their autonomy in health, education, collectively working and electing their own authorities, but with respect for others, if their rights are also respected. They will not be submitted to the will of the official authorities or of people from the political parties.

“If anything happens to our brothers and sisters now they are back in their community, it will be the municipal, state and federal governments who are responsible, by advising, financing and arming paramilitaries and manipulating the poor and miserable.

“We the Zapatistas do not bother anybody, we do not evict our compas from the political parties, we do not persecute anyone, we do not steal the land of our brother and sister farmers, nor do we take any other property from other poor people; we only defend what is ours, what are our rights; we live and eat through our own work and sweat, and we want to fight for true democracy, freedom and justice for everyone. These are our crimes as Zapatistas.”

The JBG go on to state that their supporters in El Pozo, in the official municipality of C’ancuc, have also been attacked and assaulted by members of the political parties for asserting their right to water and electrical services. Three of their compañeros, Miguel Hernández Pérez, Diego Martínez Santis and Miguel Méndez Santis, have, they assert, been unjustly arrested and imprisoned for a crime, the killing of a PRI-ista during the attack, of which they are innocent. They are now imprisoned in CERESO 5. The JBG add that:

“It is clear that the bad state, federal and municipal governments at all costs want to destroy us, want to wipe us out, because the Zapatistas speak the truth, because we do not lie, because we say clearly that the murderers, the aggressors and unjust destroyers of humanity are the bad governments and the powerful, because it is they who are plundering the wealth of our country, destroying nature, massacring our people, killing and putting in jail innocent people.

“It is the bad governments who hand over the wealth of our country to large national and multinational corporations, they are the ones who invade and occupy our territories. And now the bad government says that there is no land for the peasants, no water and electricity for the people, and when they get a tiny bit of services, our people have to pay taxes and those who do not pay are deprived of light and water ….and their land is taken from them and given to the paramilitaries and the chiefs.

“The bad government encourages poor indigenous people to threaten, attack and evict people who struggle and defend their rights …… in exchange for social and economic incentives such as housing, toilets, food stores and cash.”

But, they say, “Mexico and the whole world knows that it is a crime in Chiapas and Mexico to exert people’s right to education, health and autonomy.”

The communiqué ends by asking people to remain watchful of the situation in these and other threatened communities.