In solidarity with the Zapatistas

Blog by PN
Date22 Feb 2014

Following recent attacks in Chiapas, a Week of National and International Solidarity “If they touch the Zapatistas, they touch all of us” has been called, to be held from 16th to 23rd February, 2014, to “denounce the counterinsurgency war” and emphasise that “the Zapatista communities are not alone.”

The new aggressions were made against the iconic Zapatista community of 10 de Abril, by government supporters from the group CIOAC democratic who live in a nearby community, and who have been threatening and provoking the Zapatistas in this area since 2007, with the aim of dispossessing them from their lands. Six Zapatista support bases (BAZ) were injured, three of them seriously, and one is in danger of losing his sight. A shocking attack also took place on staff from a local hospital; when they came to give assistance, they were attacked and prevented from attending to the injured.

Following the historic Zapatista uprising of 1st January, 1994, which transformed the lives of tens of thousands of indigenous people, huge areas of land and territory were reclaimed. Prior to 1994, many people worked their ancestral lands as servants of the landowners who used the lands for cattle ranching, and treated their workers with abuse and contempt. In March 1995, in what became the community of 10 de Abril, the serfs descended from the rocky hillsides to the fertile valley and reclaimed their heritage. They now work their own land again in community as free men and women, growing coffee, corn, beans, vegetables and bananas, and have made part of their territory an ecological reserve.

The first attack came on January 27, when 250 people destroyed the signs at the entrance to the community, and cut down 9 pine trees, 40 oak trees, 35 coffee trees, and three banana trees, taking away “a total of 41 pickup trucks” full of timber to sell.

Three days later, 300 people arrived in 18 pickup trucks, “ready to do violence,” with machetes, rocks, sticks and clubs. “They were paid 100 pesos each as a wage for the violence with which they attacked us.” Emergency help was requested from the San Carlos Hospital in Altamirano, but the aggressors blocked the road, took the ambulance, the driver, a doctor and a nun captive, and beat them.

Two other nuns were following the ambulance in a pickup truck. Sister Patricia Moysén Márquez relates how they were stopped by a large number of people carrying sticks and machetes, who threatened to burn the vehicle, and pulled the nuns out. She describes how they “started to defile us, trying to take the keys away from me. As I resisted, they began to undress us. They put their hands wherever they wanted and held both of our arms. They hurt us, tore my jacket and took out the keys and my purse where I have all my documents. I asked them to return it to me but they refused.”

She continues: “We identified ourselves as being from San Carlos Hospital and said that we were going because of a call for help due to the fact that there were injured. Their reaction was that they were going to burn the truck because we were from the government. We said that we were not from the government, but rather from the church. We said that we were going to see the wounded from whichever religion or party. The problem that they had was not our affair, nor were we going to solve that, only to help the injured.” As has been pointed out, the attack was in clear violation of international law, as the Geneva Convention guarantees “the rights of people in times of war, specifically the right of medical personnel to be considered neutral, in order to treat the wounded.”

This attack can be seen as part of the low intensity, or counterinsurgency, war which persists in Chiapas. One of the main tactics is funding, training, arming and promoting the development of paramilitary-style “shock” groups of local indigenous, disguised as democratic agricultural organisations, or in some cases as evangelical churches, and lured by the promise of land, guns, money, status and material possessions. They are ordered to attack, threaten, harass, provoke, undermine and ultimately destroy the BAZ communities.

Faced with all this provocation over the last 20 years, the BAZ have, with great dignity, continually resisted the temptation to respond with violence. Without their non-violent resistance, the conflict would have been very much more serious.

In response to the attacks, pronouncements have been released from Italy, Germany, Spain, France and the US as well as from groups in Mexico. The UK Zapatista Solidarity Network, in addition to releasing a pronouncement, is organising publicity, meetings, and a protest outside the Mexican Embassy in London.

The campaign emphasises that communities like 10 de Abril, and the staff from the San Carlos Hospital, “are an example and a hope for a different world, one in which what happens to others concerns and moves us. Community systems of healthcare, education and culture are the hope that a new world is being born, and are an example which needs to be cared for by every one of us.”

Topics: Mexico, Zapatistas