Photo Essay: Indigenous in Mexico Reweaving Struggles

Indigenous communities throughout Mexico are once again tightening the weave on their distinct, yet interrelated struggles to challenge and undermine the ever-deepening threats and realities of territorial and cultural dispossession.

Indigenous communities throughout Mexico are once again tightening the weave on their distinct, yet interrelated struggles to challenge and undermine the ever-deepening threats and realities of territorial and cultural dispossession. On December 21, 2012, the end of one cycle of the Maya calendar, the indigenous Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) began releasing a series of communiqués. Aside from the sharp rejection of the wedded political and economic systems, the communiqués laid out the Zapatista’s methodology to resistance and constructing autonomy (that celebrates 20 years on Jan. 1, 2014).

As one concrete measure, the EZLN put out a call to reform and re-launch the once defunct and fractured National Indigenous Congress (CNI) as a way to rejuvenate old networks and sow the seeds for new ones. On the weekend of August 17, in Chiapas Mexico, 233 delegates of 137 indigenous nations throughout Mexico and beyond participated in the Tata Juan Chávez Alonso Seminar. Named after the Pure’chepa indigenous leader and one of the original founders of the CNI in 1997, Don Juan Chavez Alonso, the seminar opened a space for representatives to discuss the effects of major issues such as resource extraction, dispossession of territory, insecurity and organized crime, as well as wholesale marginalization and discrimination that indigenous communities continue to face.

The week prior to the seminar the EZLN hosted and organized the “esceulita” (little school), scattering some 1,700 participants – activists, intellectuals, farm workers, street vendors, students, etc. – throughout the EZLN’s 5 Caracoles (or municipalities). For a week the “students” home stayed in Zapatista communities taking “non-pedagogical” classes on “Freedom according to the Zapatistas” Lessons were held collectively, while sowing the land in the milpa, preparing tortillas in the kitchen, or chopping wood for the fire. The school was an intimate look into how the EZLN’s indigenous communities fan their flames of resistance through the day-to-day practice of constructing autonomy and building alternative and participatory social, economic and political structures.

EZLN’s Escuelita – reflections by “student” and independent journalist, Santiago Navarro F.

“Students” of the escuelita gathered in the Universidad de la Tierra, in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico to be sent to the different Zapatista communities.

Comandante Tacho (left), of the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee – General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation goes through roll of attendees.

“Champa San Augustin mpio – autonomous freedom of the Maya people. You are in Zapatista rebel territory. Here the people govern and the government obeys. Junta of Good Governance ‘Toward Hope’, Jungle Border Zone.”

“For those of us who had the opportunity to listen and meet them in their spaces, their milpas, their fields, amid their coffee harvests or sharing a mug of pozol, we were reduced theoretically and politically. In this escuelita, there was no group of scholars or teachers that knew everything, nor were there use of major categories and concepts to understand reality. Rather there were simple yet strong words shared while sitting at the table with bowls of beans, salsa with lemon, and tortillas. They were words that do not fit within the realm of academic abstractions, but rather represent a reality that many of us have dreamt.”

“It is here where other types of social relationships begin to be rebuilt. These relationships break with individualism and market dependence, and don’t follow the clock’s ticking march of time. These are relationships that exist within a sense of time that is measured by the sun, water and Mother Earth. In the Zapatista Municipality of Champa St. Augustine in the Caracol, La Realidad, community members declared: ‘We don’t need money, since all we buy is cooking oil, salt and soap. Everything else we need, we have in the community. Our form of government is like that of our grandparents, from before.”

“Thus, the desk, the classroom, and classes on freedom and autonomy were had while walking alongside the Votan, with families and the community. They shared their ways on how to solve problems, how to elect their authorities, how one assumes or is tasked with a particular responsibility, the participation of women and the role of children. We were taught a bit about how they work, how they organize their own education or how to maintain good relationships with people who are not Zapatistas. They also consider partying an important part of the struggle, which is for everyone in the entire community, from children, to the elderly, men and women. One member of the autonomous municipality commented: ‘We know when it’s time to go to the milpa and when to party because we are disciplined. Every struggle requires discipline, but dancing is also needed.’”

National Indigenous Congress: “Seminar Tata Juan Chavez Alonso”

The rejuvenation of the National Indigenous Congress honored the name and life of Don Juan Chavez Alonso, Pure’pecha indigenous leader and pillar of indigenous struggles in Mexico. Chavez died on June 2, 2012 due to an accident in his community of Nurio, Michoacán. Since the 1970’s Chavez was recognized for his deep conviction in protecting indigenous rights and promoting resistance. Throughout the 90’s and 2000’s Chavez accompanied the Zapatista struggle, participating in the San Andres Accords, the EZLN’s 2001 March of the Color of the Earth, and many other events.

233 delegates from over 137 indigenous nations were present at the gathering to share their struggles, victories and strategies. Delegates aired the challenges they face based on the themes of mines, aqueducts, highways, wind projects, hydroelectric dams, gas pipelines, water rights, deforestation, land privatization, community security and police, migration, and the negative impacts of “green economy”.

Yaqui delegates from the deserts of Sonora, Mexico spoke on their high profile struggle to protect water.

A large contingent of Zapatista youth were also present, a display of how the decades old movement is intergenerational and continues to adapt with time.

Members of the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee – General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation presided over the opening and closing of the congress. This was the first major public gathering of the General Command since the EZLN’s Other Campaign of 2006.

Comandanta Miriam read a final statement:

“As the Zapatista National Liberation Army we make our own all that is happening in every corner of our Mexican homeland, because we all suffer the same problems, dispossessing us of our mother earth, air, water, and natural resources. But the bad neoliberal governments and transnational corporations rule with money, and therefore impose projects of death in our territories. But as original peoples and owners of the natural resources, we have to defend them in any way possible, whatever the consequences, because we live and breathe with our mother earth…”


Comandante Tacho officially closed the congress.