On January 1, 2014 the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) will celebrate the 20th anniversary of their armed uprising in defense of territory and identity. Article by Simon Sedillo.
In August of this year the Zapatistas celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their “caracoles”, autonomous communities, and their “juntas de buen gobierno”, traditional self-governance bodies throughout Zapatista territory.
For us at SOA Watch these anniversaries and now the birth of an autonomous education model in Zapatista communities known as the “Escuelita Zapatista” representing a growing wave of indigenous strategies for self-defense and self-determination throughout Mexico. A watchful eye can recognize a growing trend in which indigenous communities are returning to traditional methods of self-governance and self-defense in the face of a so called Drug War that has ravaged communities with violence and undeniable corruption at the local, state, and federal level.
The Escuelita model is the latest of the Zapatista strategies to counter a military political economy that has systematically devalued and excluded Mexico’s indigenous people from a peaceful life with liberty, dignity, and justice. Throughout the Americas, public education models have not only excluded indigenous communities from access but, even more damaging, they have excluded indigenous world views and methods of politics and economics from entering the debate about sustainable public development. Indigenous women are the primary carriers of this traditional knowledge. In the face of the neoliberal military political economy entire sectors of society are treated as disposable variables in an equation for profit where workers, students, peasants, young people, women, people of color, poor people, indigenous communities and in particular indigenous women are militarily targeted for exclusion.
By simply taking a look at Mexican advertising, television programming, and news reporting we can see in particular the exclusion of indigenous women. All the billboards, all the commercials, all the soap operas, all the female newscasters, and every single mannequin in even the most indigenous of states are composed of tall skinny white women. It is as if indigenous women did not even exist. One of the most prevalent cosmetic products sold in super markets through out southern Mexico is skin bleach, (name brand: White Secret) because indigenous identity has been devalued into a deathly silence. What the Zapatistas, like so many other movements for indigenous self-determination, have proven time and time again is that the greatest threat to the neoliberal military political economy has never been communism, has never been terrorism, and certainly has never been narcotics trafficking but rather has always been grassroots community based organizing for self-defense and self-determination.
Today, the Zapatistas have inspired indigenous communities through out Mexico to also engage in new and innovative practices of armed self-defense against a phenomenon we are beginning to identify as the “narco-government”. With over 90,000 dead, 10,000 disappeared, and the world’s highest assassination rate for journalists in just under 6 years, it is Mexico’s indigenous nations who are taking the lead in defending themselves. Over 13 states in Mexico now have armed community patrols who are actively confronting a fusion between organized crime and corrupt electoral politics. Most notably the state of Guerrero has well over 70 communities, and most recently the state of Michoacan has well over 20 communities that are engaging in armed self-defense. These communities have expelled political parties, military personnel, and local, state, and federal police from their communities and have returned to traditional forms of self-governance, including general assemblies, rotational positions of traditional authority, and armed self-defense patrols.
For over 500 years, Mexico’s indigenous populations have been told by public education that their identity is backwards, that their traditions are obsolete, that their methods of self-governance are pointless to even discuss much less to exercise. The Zapatistas have spear-headed a national movement of indigenous self-reevaluation, which has now culminated in movements like the one seen in Cheran, Michoacan where for the last 2 years an entire community has now recognized the worth of their traditional methods of seeing the world, organizing their communities, and defending themselves.
It seems easy to stand on the sidelines of such movements and criticize the use of weapons as contrary to the tenants of pacifism or nonviolence among academics, activists, and intellectuals in the Global North who spend a lot of time talking about the horrors of our planet without ever having survived a single atrocity. We hear constant over intellectualizations of simple realities, which push entire communities to engage in armed self-defense. Meanwhile, the weapons and training, which end up in the hands of organized crime thugs and paramilitaries, are primarily coming from the United States. Meanwhile, the profits from this bloody Drug War are ending up inside of the U.S. and other international financial institutions.
It is easy to talk about peace when you benefit from a system based upon violence for others and peace for a privileged few. We must begin to consider armed self-defense in indigenous communities as an exercise in nonviolence. To exclude these movements from our movements in the Global North is to drive nails into the coffin of indigenous peoples. Merely acknowledging our privilege is the same as asserting supremacy. When it comes to privilege, the best thing to do is assume responsibility for the privileges one has. It is not about atonement or consciousness; it is about taking action. This can only be done through sacrifice. What are you willing to sacrifice to make sure that there is peace with justice, liberty, and dignity for everybody, everywhere, all the time?
Zapata Vive - La Lucha Sigue