Paths of Struggle in a Raging Mexico


Photo by Barucha Calamity Peller, courtesy of

Source: El Zenzontle 

A companera of the movement in Huajuapan de León, in the state of Oaxaca, says that they are "Mixtercos" – that is stubborn, stubborn, stubborn…That they fight for everything. But being stubborn has also allowed them to survive more than 500 years of attempts to extinguish them at the hands of colonizers that pushed their way through the Mixteca in different forms – the Spanish, cruel and despotic governments, neo-liberals and foreign investors. The constitution of 1917 never included the first peoples of this territory as it supposedly opened the doors of freedom for the Mexican population. Neither was this freedom realized through the San Andres Accords of 1996 between the Mexican government and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) – a further attempt to reclaim that liberty which had been quashed for hundreds of years – and once again denied with the failure of government to honor its word.

But the Mixtecos, like so many of their Indigenous sisters and brothers across this territory known as Mexico, are not waiting patiently on the other side of the door for a miracle to happen. The knowledge that the State does not act benevolently in a way that destroys its own hegemonic and capitalist entity, has been part of the conscience of many of these first peoples since the time that the beast of colonialism has stalked them in these lands. It is a knowledge that is sometimes so difficult to assimilate for those of us who still hold on to the little or many privileges that the State gives us specifically so that this stubborn nature doesn’t propagate like a virus of rebelious spirit.

In the Triqui community of Laguna Guadalupe, in the Oaxacan Mixteca, a schoolteacher who is also one of the community authorities and a member of the community radio committee, shares that although many members of the community have never placed a foot outside its limits, "they know which path we need to take".

"In fact, we have always participated with organizations on the left because if we speak of political parties, well they say they are from the left but then they are making agreements with parties of the right and we don’t agree with that…In fact, this community has always stayed away from the government. There is a saying that it is a rebelious community."

The rebeliousness he refers to breaks through the limitations of romanticized images of a movement that is always solid, unified, unbreakable and which includes the majority of the population. Although the utopic vision is always present and described in different forms by various companeros, acting as a horizon that guides the steps and sometimes the bounds of the struggle, here there is also an honesty about the difficulties, the disappointments, the challenges in finding common ground on the left, the close allies that sell out, the profiteering of so-called leftist organizations, the lack of resources, of people and ofcourse, the constant threat of the enemy who always seems to be one step ahead.

But the work that is described by this teacher, other allies working with the Centre of Community Support Working United A.C. (CACTUS) in Huajuapan and later by a Zapatista companera in Chiapas, has been constructed over years. It is the preparation, the conscience development, the base building which occurs with every workshop, every health promoter that is trained, every independent school that is opened, every autonomous radio that hits the airwaves, or the three that spring up when one is dismantled by the government, and every individual decision to take up a life of militancy.

This ant work, that is done step by step, and is – as our Zapatista companera puts it – "slow but sure", doesn’t lack a sense of urgency despite often times not being visible. Nor does it lack a "radical" nature. The pace of the work is in reality accelerated and it is done from dusk to dawn. It doesn’t consume the lives of those who do it – it is their life. And the luxury of waiting for things to change is not given to those fighting in the Oaxacan Mixteca, in the heartland of Zapatismo or the militarized zones of Guerrero. Neither is it extended to those suffering the designed punishment of violence and poverty in Mexico City. Across the country, for those in the struggle, there is a palpable sense that the "new revolution in Mexico that we are lacking so greatly" as one companero puts it, has to happen now. Furthermore, for those luchadores doing this work behind the surface, creating the bases through different methods and tools, the radical character of the work is easily revealed when one considers the response of the government – assasinations, disappearances, detentions, torture and threats. If this is the response, it must in part speak to being on the right path.

The words of one of CACTUS’ founding members resonate with what we are told by other allies in other parts of the country – that while repression is alive in every moment, there are also new forms and new dynamics being born, like a vehicle that changes parts but never stops moving.

"After 2006 and the repression, an environment of militarization is created and the social conflict of Oaxaca moves to the communities… Regardless, the people of the rural and urban areas still hope for things to change… So it’s important to understand that APPO was a social movement that had a beginning and an end… that it came together in specific, historical moments and that it was only a base for the demanding of democratization of the state… It was and is a social movement that has generated and propagated other popular dynamics whose results we’ll be seeing in the coming years – how this struggle will give rise to new ones in the state."

The problems appear to be universal, and he mentions some of them. It’s an error to centralize knowledge and tools in a political organization, he shares; no one should be indispensable, though we are all important. The organizations should be albe to carry on despite one member leaving. He also speaks to the importance of security measures – a conversation tainted by sadness and rage over the assassinations of three companeros working with CACTUS between December of 2007 and May of 2008.

And penetrating everything, the color of impunity. Since April 7th, 2008, when Felicitas Martinez and Teresa Bautista, two young Triqui women working with the Community Radio "The Voice that Breaks the Silence" in San Juan Copala, Oaxaca were assassinated, the only response from the Special Investigator for Crimes Committed Against Journalists (FEADP) of the General Prosecuter of the Republic (PGR) has been that the murders were a matter of confusion.

"They were circumstancial victims of an aggression that was directed at the driver of the vehicle in which they were travelling" and their assassination "had nothing to do with the communications work they were doing for the Voice that Breaks the Silence."

This companero who is based in Huajuapan and whose work with CACTUS has involved coordinating with the, until now, seven community radios that the organization has helped set up as part of the Indigenous Community Radio Network of the Mexican Southeast (RRICSM), tells us confidently that the decision of the Special Investigator is a political one – a further act of impunity in an unending list that has left so many without an ounce of confidence in the government.


For the first time, publicly, despite the worry about the consequences of sharing this information, he relates the details of the reconstruction of the crime from the Prosecutor’s investigation.

"I was present during the reconstruction of the assassination of the companeras. And well, the assassination involved a barrage of bullets. Not only after the ambush, but the assassins also approached the car, opened the doors and with them in there, sitting in the back seat, they opened fire again."

In distinct parts of the country, Indigenous communities are reclaiming what the schoolteacher in La Laguna refers to as the right of having their own communication – one of the points discussed during the San Andres Accords and a guiding principle of the work of the Indigenous Community Radio Network. And speaking the truth, as always, comes with a heavy price. Our Zapatista companera confirms that the repression against autonomous radio doesn’t end at the peripheries of Oaxaca.

"There is more and more pressure, more vigilance, the situation is heavy… The peaceful forms of resistence are running out."

This sentiment, or more accurately reality, is backed up some days later, during the first participation of Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos as part of the First World Gathering of Dignified Rage in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.

"The Zapatistas don’t support the flag of pacificism that is raised so that others have to be the ones that turn the other cheek, nor the violence that is brought on when others have to pay with their dead."

In an informal exchange illuminated by the Oaxacan sun, the conversation turns inwards when the recorder is turned off – a dialogue between organizers, sharing experiences, speaking of the past in order to look forwards, a few days before the new year.

There is a return to the theme of militancy, without definitions of the methods or tools. There is an acceptance that the methods need to be varied; that the subject of debate isn’t whether one organizes with workers or empowering women, whether the tool of choice is a radio transmitter or a clown’s outfit in order to do street theatre, whether one focuses on literacy or health. But a definition seems to emerge in an unspoken consensus – that struggling needs to be a way of life that permeates and transforms every aspect of it. And that through the individual committment to create a movement that not only knows how to respond but also to create and that can prepare itself for the most brutal repression, which is assured but which can also be meticulously prepared for, there also emerges collective strength. We come back to the concept of individual will as part of a collective project as a means to break with individualistic attitudes that have been a backbone of capitalist exploitation.

The theme is touched anew during the speeches of the Gathering of Dignified Rage – where experiences of militancy are gathered and shared from the world over.

An organizer with the General Confederation of Work (CGT) of Spain, speaks about the challenges we face in our common struggle – ending capitalism. And militancy, named in so many different ways – personal transformation, dedication, preparation, committment, radicalizing our organizations, etc… is the central idea of his talk.

An ally from the Mi’kmaq nation, who finds himself far from his territory in eastern Canada puts forth: "For Indigenous peoples, militancy or being a warrior doesn’t have the Western definition. It’s a committment to your responsibilities, it’s a life long committment to protect and defend your land, your family and your community. It isn’t a domination or a monopolization of militancy that the State exercises through its armies. It’s an individual decision to defend the collective, and it’s our right for the years of repression we’ve suffered." Here in the southeast of Mexico, a mural in Oventic reflects his words – "When you learn to cry for something, you also learn to defend it". Resistences find each other.

In this environment, there is no way of ignoring it. There is a festive ambiance in Oventic that also flows through the events in San Cristobal. Surely, the reasons for which people have come to the Encuentro are as varied as the faces that are present. Unfortunately, it’s probable that as happens with many of our marches, mega-meetings and momentary encounters, many of those who shout revolutionary slogans when 2009 hits the heavy fog of these mountains, won’t be present for the trepidous road that lies ahead of the party. As different representatives of the EZLN mention, there are many reasons to celebrate. And one can receive these words with respect and understanding from a group of people who have walked that road with mask and gun in the defence of those things that so many of us on the left hold as sacred – life, freedom, dignity and justice. Their’s isn’t the only way. But they have put their lives on the line to do it their way. This is a celebration. But it is a celebration of 25 years of the formation of the EZLN and 15 years of their uprising and take-over of 7 "cabeceras municipales" (municipalities) in this zone of Mexico, a January first which marks the memory of those who dream of utopia in all the latitudes of the world.

And so, there are also no apologies for those who feel insulted by the clear rejection of political parties, the audacity to seize one’s rights, the acceptance of all forms of struggle deemed necessary and the discipline, the committment, the preparation but also the love, dreams and dignified rage that define the militancy that will turn that utopia into a concrete reality. As Marcos makes evident what so many of these fighters we have met on the different paths of struggle have said to us, there is no room for apologies here.

"They met us in war. We have remained in war for the past 15 years. We will continue in war until this corner of the world known as Mexico can call its destiny its own without tricks, without forgeries, without simulations."

Mandeep Dhillon is an organizer who has worked with migrant justice movements in Canada and is currently based in Mexico City.