Ten trucks laden with 200 masked Zapatista guerillas arrived in the Mexican city of San Cristóbal, Chiapas, last Wednesday. Here, teachers from the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) were protesting against neoliberal education reforms.
The protesters were also opposing the arbitrary arrests of union leaders on trumped-up charges.
But the guerrillas who had come to help them were not really the well-known anti-state Zapatistas. And they hadn’t come to help.
Instead, they were state-backed paramilitaries, who had come with the aim to kill.
Here’s the story of what happened, followed by three statements by the real Zapatistas.
Zapatista does not mean to hide one’s face but rather to show one’s heart.
Who are the Zapatistas?
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, or EZLN) – referred to simply as the Zapatistas – is a revolutionary anarchist society based in Chiapas. Since 1994, the Zapatistas have been at the forefront of an indigenous uprising “against the Mexican state”, and its military, paramilitary and corporate incursions.
The uprising began by protesting against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and has continued in resistance to ongoing Mexican state repression, rampant privatisation and pro-corporate deregulation.
The Zapatistas are mostly indigenous Mayans, representing the most impoverished and vulnerable people in Mexican society. They take their name from Emiliano Zapata, the agrarian revolutionary who helped lead the Mexican Revolution – the 1910 peasant revolution against the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz.
On the morning of January 1, 1994, 3,000 armed Zapatista insurgents seized towns and cities in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, freed prisoners and set fire to several police buildings and military barracks. In more recent years, the Zapatistas have been organising their own society, parallel to mainstream Mexico, including schools, hospitals and farms. They are practising their revolution on a daily basis.
Last week and the fakes
Mexican teachers have been resisting the state’s education ‘reforms’ since they were first introduced by the government in 2012.
In April, teachers demonstrated all across southwestern Mexico and over 1,000 federal police, 400 state police and 100 special agents were drafted in to confront the demonstrators.
In June, teachers held massive demonstrations, and police opened fire on protesters in the state of Oaxaca, killing 12 people in the process.
On Wednesday 20 July, at a demonstration by teachers in San Cristóbal, the men who arrived dressed as masked Zapatistas did not come to offer support.
On their arrival in the city, the fake Zapatistas – who appear to have been state-backed paramilitaries – looted local shops and gave out (junk) food to the protesters, thinking this was the kind of thing the real Zapatistas would do. They did this to try and distract the protesters and enable roadblocks to be removed by the police.
But the protesters weren’t fooled. And that’s when matters got ugly.
According to one report, the confrontation began when the fake Zapatistas, armed with sticks and machetes, launched an attack on the teachers, students and parents. The paramilitaries then set the protesters’ tents on fire. In the ensuing melee, many protesters were injured and one teacher was shot, but is still alive. A reporter was also viciously attacked.
What was most shocking was that the paramilitaries worked openly with the police in the eviction of the teachers. This is significant, as previously such armed gangs tended to attack protesters separately from police actions so that state could deny culpability.
Later, on Wednesday evening, the teachers and their supporters re-grouped and set up barricades (see image below). The site they had been evicted from earlier was then re-occupied.
The next day the real Zapatistas issued a statement of support for the teachers (and poked fun in their usual way at the antics of the paramilitaries).
Here is the statement by the Zapatistas in Spanish.
Here is a rough translation of the statement (note: Zapatista communiques tend to be lengthy and full of idiosyncratic humour):
Open letter on the aggressions against the people’s movement in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas
ZAPATISTA ARMY OF NATIONAL LIBERATION, MEXICO
July 21, 2016
To the current governor and the other overseers of the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas:
Ladies (ha) and Gentlemen (double ha):
We do not send greetings.
Before it occurs to you to try (as the PGR is already attempting in Nochixtlán) to blame the cowardly aggression against the people’s resistance encampment in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas on ISIS, we would like to provide you, at no charge, the information we have collected on the subject.
“At 9am (on July 20, 2016) the Verde party followers were called to the Governor’s palace. They went and were told to do again what they had done the other day.”
(NOTE: he is referring to the incident in which a group of indigenous people affiliated with the Partido Verde Ecologista (Green Ecology Party) put on ski masks and went to create chaos at the [teachers’] blockade between San Cristóbal and Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas. When they were detained by the CNTE’s [teachers’ union] security, they first said they were Zapatistas (they weren’t, aren’t, and never will be), and later admitted they were partidistas.
But at this point in time they were pretending they wanted dialogue so that the people at the blockade would let the trucks from Chamula that do business in Tuxtla go through. The municipal president (who belongs to the Verde Ecologista Party) sent police patrols and local ambulances. The municipal president of San Cristóbal sent some more police. The governing officials in Tuxtla sent a bunch more. See, they [the people from Chamula] had made a deal with the police—they already had a plan. So they went in there like they were going to have dialogue, but then one group went into the blockade’s encampment and started destroying things, stealing or burning everything they found. Then they started shooting—the Verdes are indeed armed—but shooting like a bunch of drunks and druggies. The police were acting like their security detail – their backup. We don’t agree with what the Verdes did. Now the tourists are scared to come to the municipal centre (of San Juan Chamula) and this screws everybody over because it really hurts the region’s economy. It’s not the blockade but rather the fucking Verdes that are fucking us over. Now we’re going to protest in Tuxtla and demand they remove that asshole of a president. And if they won’t listen to us, well then we’ll see what we have to do.”
With regard to that clumsy attempt to dress paramilitaries in ski masks and say they were Zapatistas, it was a total failure (in addition to being a tired old trick that has been tried before by Croquetas Albores). Questioned on whether they thought it had been Zapatistas who destroyed the blockade and committed these outrageous acts, here are the comments of two townspeople, without any known political affiliation:
A street vendor, approximately 60 years old:
“No! The people who destroyed all that stuff yesterday are people paid by the government, we all know that. They aren’t the ones that support the teachers. The teachers’ struggle is valid; the other option would be that we’d have to pay for education ourselves. And where do they get money to pay the teachers anyway? From the people. What we need is for the majority of other states to join the struggle, there are four that are already in, but we don’t know how long the others will take.”
A Chamula indigenous person, a street vendor:
“Naaahhh, those weren’t Zapatistas. Zapatistas don’t act like that. Plus the Zapatistas support the teachers and those people yesterday were trying to pass themselves off as Zapatistas by putting on ski masks, but they aren’t; they don’t act like Zapatistas at all.”
“So who were those people yesterday?”
“Those are other people, they get paid for that.”
“What do you think of the teachers’ struggle?”
“That we should all support them.”
We are sure that you don’t know this (either that or the stupidities that you commit are because you are in fact stupid) but the so-called “teachers’ conflict” arose because of the stupid arrogance of that mediocre police wannabe who still works out of the Department of Public Education (SEP by its Spanish acronym – oh you’re welcome, no thanks needed). After the teachers’ mobilisations and the government’s response in the form of threats, firings, beatings, imprisonment, and death, the teachers in resistance managed to get the federal government to sit down to dialogue. This is in fact a federal issue. It is up to the federal government and the teachers in resistance to talk and come to an agreement or not.
You sympathize with the hardheadedness of that mediocre policeman. We Zapatistas sympathize with the teachers’ demands and we respect them. This applies not only to the CNTE, but to the entire people’s movement that has arisen around their demands. As Zapatistas, we have made our sympathy public by supporting them in word and deed, with the small amount of food that we could put together from our own tables.
Do you think this movement, now taken up by so many people, is going to be defeated by evicting a few encampments, even when you disguise it as “citizen rage?” You’ve already seen that doesn’t work. Just like what happened with our brothers, the originary peoples in Oaxaca—if you destroy their camps they’ll build them back up. Time and time again. The thing is that here below there is no fatigue. Your bosses calculated that the teachers’ resistance movement would deflate over summer vacation. Now you’ve seen that you were wrong (hmmm, that’s more than three failures in one evaluation. If we applied the “education reform” in this case you would already have been fired and would be looking for work in the Iberdrola alongside the psychopath.)
The movement has been able to generate the sympathies of the people, while you all only generate dislike and repudiation.
As we were already saying as of two months ago, the movement already encompasses various social sectors and, of course, their specific demands. For example, you’re not around to hear it but people are demanding Cancino be removed from office (the supposed municipal president of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, a city in Chiapas, Mexico, in case you didn’t know) and Narciso be put in jail (the paramilitary boss of the ALMETRACH.) This and the other things they are demanding can be summarised in one word: good government. How long will it take you to realize that you are just in the way, parasites that infect the entire society, above and below?
The thing is that you all are so sure of yourselves that you send your attack dogs to steal the few belongings of these people who are PEACEFULLY protesting. Well, we Zapatistas will again begin to collect the food and basic necessities you stole from them and supply them once again. And we will do so over and over again.
Instead of making ridiculous declarations (like denying having a role in that cowardly attack on the people’s encampment in San Cristóbal), you could contribute to the easing of tensions necessary for this dialogue and to take place as determined by both parties (which are, we might remind you, the Federal Government and the National Coordination of Education Workers). It would be a good idea to tie up your attack dogs (Marco Antonio, Domingo, and Narciso). Just whistle and shake a wad of bills at them and you’ll see how they come running.
And some unsolicited advice: don’t play with fire in Chamula. The unrest and division you are inciting in that town with your stupidities could provoke an internal conflict of such terror and destruction that you wouldn’t be able to quash it with social network bots or paid “news” articles or the little money that Manuel Joffrey Velasco Baratheon-Lannister has left in the state treasury.
So be calm. Be patient and show some respect. We hope the federal government will negotiate with seriousness and commitment, not only because the teachers’ demands are just, but because this might be one of the last times there is someone with whom to negotiate. The process of decomposition you have encouraged is so advanced that soon you won’t even know who to slander. Plus there won’t be anyone on the other side of the table. Understood?
So, do your thing. That is, go back to Photoshop, to the celebrity news, the flashy parties, the spectacle, the gossip magazines, to the frivolity of those who lack intelligence. Govern? Oh come now, not even the paid media believe you do that.
It’s better that you step aside and learn, because this is Chiapas, and the Chiapas population is a lot to take for such a lame government.
To whom it may concern:
As Zapatistas it is our conviction—and we act in accordance—that the movement’s decisions, strategies, and tactics should be respected. This applies to the entire political spectrum. It is not acting in good faith to hitch oneself onto a movement and try to steer it in a direction outside of its internal logic. And that goes for attempts to slow it down or speed it up. If you can’t accept that, then at least say clearly that you want to use this movement for your own ends. If you say so directly, perhaps the movement will follow you, perhaps not. But it is healthier to tell the movement what you are seeking. How do you expect to lead if you don’t respect the people?
We Zapatistas are not going to tell our current teachers (those from the CNTE and also from the towns, barrios, and neighborhoods that support them) what to do and what not to do. This should be crystal clear to all noble people in struggle: ANY ACTION TAKEN BY THE ZAPATISTAS IN RELATION TO THE CURRENT POPULAR MOVEMENT (or those that later emerge) WILL BE PUBLICLY MADE KNOWN AHEAD OF TIME, always respecting the movement’s times and ways. The National Coordination of Education Workers as well as the original peoples’ movements, neighbourhoods, and barrios that support the teachers should understand that whatever decisions they make—whether about their path, their destiny, their steps, or their company—they will have our respect and our salute.
This thing of dressing up like Zapatistas and yelling slogans that involve others is fine as a bit of entertainment and a line on your resumé, but it is nevertheless false and dishonest. We did not rise up to hand out stolen junk food, but rather for democracy, freedom, and justice for all. If you think breaking windows and stealing food that isn’t even nourishing is more revolutionary and of more help to the movement, well, let the movement decide. But clarify that you are not Zapatistas. We don’t care when people tell us we don’t understand the “conjuncture,” or that we don’t have a vision of how to use electoral advantage, or that we are petit-bourgeoisie. We only care that that teacher [maestro, maestro] that señora, that señor, that young persons [joven, jóvena] feel that here, in the mountains of southeastern Mexico, there are those who love them, respect them, and admire them. This is what we care about, even though such sentiments do not come into play in grand electoral strategies.
The teachers in resistance and, now more and more often, the people’s movement that gathers around them face very difficult adverse conditions. It isn’t fair that, in the midst of all of that, they have to deal not only with clubs, batons, shields, bullets, and paramilitaries, but also with “advice,” “orientation,” and “with-all-due-respect”-type orders telling them what to do or what not to do, or whether to advance or retreat—that is, what to think and what to decide.
We Zapatistas don’t send junk food to those who struggle, but rather non-GMO corn tostadas, which are not stolen but rather homemade through the work of thousands of men and women who know that to be Zapatista does not mean to hide one’s face but rather to show one’s heart. Because reheated Zapatistas tostadas relieve hunger and inspire hope. And you can’t buy that in convenience stores or supermarkets.
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
Mexico, July 21, 2016
Feature image via Flickr Creative Commons
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