The Other Campaign - "from below and to the left"

IssueJuly to August 2006
Feature by Jess Orlik

On Sunday 2 July , general elections were held in Mexico. The three main parties; the ruling PAN (Party of National Action), the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) and the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) are fighting a close battle, but this year they face a fourth opponent which seeks to shake the foundations of the whole political system. Originating “from below and to the left”, it calls itself La Otra Campana (The Other Campaign).

The Other Campaign was conceived by the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) but the organisation is keen to disassociate itself from claims to leadership or control of the movement. The campaign aims to create a social movement of the left to oppose capitalism and neo-liberalism in Mexico and globally.

Historically, the EZLN has concentrated on creating and maintaining the autonomous Zapatista municipalities in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico. Recently however , the EZLN has begun to look at the position it holds in relation to a wider political struggle. The organisation felt that it was not enough to maintain these autonomous zones in Chiapas, it had to join in struggle with other movements engaged in the fight against capitalism and neo-liberalism in order to effect revolutionary change in Mexico. Daily struggles The Other Campaign has three strands. One is to uphold and defend the autonomous Zapatista communities. The second,called the “Inter galactic Commission”, deals with the international aspect of the campaign,and the third, entitled the sixth commission of EZLN, has taken on the struggle nationally . Subcomandante Marcos has adopted the role of spokesman for The Other Campaign in this national context.

The campaign has been touring the country since 1 January 2006 and aims to stop in all 32states over the course of the year. When the Campaign calls a meeting, ordinary people speak about their daily struggles such as extortionate electricity bills or lack of government support for small farms. Marcos takes notes and summarises the discussion at the end of the meeting. There is no attempt to offer an easy solution, instead people are encouraged to join together in struggle to oppose the political and economic system that disadvantages them.

Historic resistance

Since it began its tour, The Other Campaign has been beset by a number of obstacles. In April, the campaign stopped in San Salvador Atenco, a town with a history of political resistance to neo-liberal state policies. In 2001 President Vicente Fox's government announced plans to build a new international airport for Mexico City in the area around Texcoco and Atenco, expropriating 5000 hectares of farmland. When the plans were announced500 local farmers resisted and blockaded the highway between Texcoco and Lecheria.

The airport plan was just one of a number of projects proposed by Vicente Fox, among them the Puebla Panama which would open up southern Mexico to transnational corporations through the construction of an industrial and transportation corridor starting in Atenco. Farmers and residents of Atenco have resisted this project and formed an alliance called La Frente de los Pueblos en Defensade la Tierra (The People' s Front in Defence of the Land) (FPDT).In 2002, Fox announced the cancellation of the airport project. More recently in Atenco the government announced plans to raze the traditional municipal market and replace it with a modern shopping complex. Many inhabitants of Texcoco, which lies on the eastern edge of Mexico City, travel to neighbouring Atenco to sell produce, primarily flowers, around the market. In anticipation of the project,municipal leader Nazario Gutierrez, a member of the PRD, gave orders to police to remove local vendors from the market at the beginning of April 2006. How ever, the vendors came to an agreement with the authorities, which allowed them to continue selling from 3 May 2006.

In the meantime, members of the FPDT were providing security to The Other Campaign and Subcomandante Marcos at the Monday 1 May rally in Mexico City. The rally was well attended, with speakers from many different organisations such as unions and women's groups, as well as Ignacio Del Valle, the leader of the FPDT. Marcos promised to align The Other Campaign with Atenco's struggle. Flower power On 3 May 2006, 60 flower vendors returned to Atenco to set up their stalls but were met by the police who again attempted to forcibly eject them. This time though, the vendors had asked the FPDT to accompany them and the police met with fierce resistance from approximately 80 civilians. A call for help to other supporters in Atenco resulted in a blockade of the highway bordering Atenco and leading to Texcoco. The police tried to lift the blockade five times, and five times they were resisted. The protest was marked by extreme violence. An estimated 50 people were injured and 106 arrested;11 police were taken hostage but were later released to the Red Cross. A 14-year -old boy was shot in the chest and killed. On the same day, police stormed the house where FPDT leader Ignacio Del Valle was hiding. He was beaten with clubs and then arrested. On the evening of 3 May members of The Other Campaign arrived in Atenco to lend their support. At 6.30am on Thursday 4 May, 3000 police surrounded Atenco. Within an hour they had invaded and occupied the town. The police moved from house to house, beating people,making arrests and destroying property. Many argue that the protests of the day before served as a convenient pretext for the brutal repression enacted in Atenco on 4 May. Tear gas, clubs and firearms were used to control civilians and many women detained have made allegations of rape and sexual assault by police officers. One woman, who had been a speaker in Mexico City on 1 May , was repeatedly kicked in the groin. It is estimated that 200-300 people were detained; many of these were adherents to The Other Campaign. At 5.30pm the siege was lifted and the police left.

Autonomy and support

The struggle in Atenco is led by the FPDT but The Other Campaign has pledged its support, stating, “For us, they, those who comprise the FPDT are The Other Campaign in those lands. We will respect their decisions. We will go wherever they tell us to go. They have been clear in their demands; immediate liberation of those detained and total withdrawal of the government forces that are invading their lands.” This illustrates the nature of The Other Campaign. Each individual struggle is con trolled by those involved, with the campaign acting as a supportive framework within which those struggles can be publicised and supported. The Other Campaign pledged to halt its tour until the political prisoners of Atenco were released.

The tense situation and increased repression enacted in Atenco is evident all over Mexico. In Oaxaca state, the annual teachers strike has been met with violent repression. In Oaxaca city on Wednesday 14 June a sit-in by thousands of teachers was disbanded by police with tear gas, smoke grenades, stun guns and firearms. The teachers are calling for better provision of education services and increased salaries, and their protest has support from many. A march on Friday 16 June attracted over 300,000 people from various political organisations such as students' groups and unions. Teachers have been striking for several weeks now and have set up a camp in the city.

Like The Other Campaign, the teachers' protest has opened up a space for dissenting voices to be heard. This is a tense time for Mexico, and the increased level of state repression is an indication of the fear felt by an elite whose power is being severely challenged at a grassroots level. The Other Campaign called for a public debate in Mexico City on 30 June and 1 July , and for peaceful mobilisations on Sunday 2 July, election day.