Do or Die

An article from Do or Die Issue 6. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 133-134.


Today Chiapas - tomorrow the world!

While some of the momentum has been lost from the Zapatista uprising of January 1994, the shock waves are still reverberating through Mexico. Despite the government's best attempts at side lining the Zapatistas[EZLN], the spirit and the people carry on with their struggle.

Chiapas today is scattered with army troops conducting what amounts to a psychological war against the campesinos and indigenous peoples who live there. The local human rights organisation in San Cristobal,"Fray Bartolome de Las Casas", is still frequently visited by campesinos (some of whom walk for days to reach it) reporting arbitrary detentions, torture, unexplained disappearances, violation of personal security, illegal entry, plunder, harm to personal and communal property and executions. Most of these outrages have been committed by the Federal and State Authorities. Rarely is anyone brought to task for the attacks! In the heart of Chiapas, San Cristobal is still alive with tension not so much because of the presence of the EZLN negotiators, but more because of the ominous army base just outside the town. Deeper into Chiapas at Ocosingo another army base dominates the town. Ocosingo is the centre of Mexico's biggest municipality and since it contains the EZLN heartlands it is the most troublesome. Across the mountains and jungle of this area, army outposts are a constant reminder to villages of the state's desire to smash this uprising.

Recent trouble in the North of Chiapas has directed attention away from the EZLN and also forced the government to spread its troops more thinly across the state. The occupations of Rancheros' cattle farms by campesinos intent on creating 'ejhos', or collective farms, is a historical phenomenon in Mexico, but since the uprising, greater confidence and desperation has meant that these actions have gathered momentum. At the same time a "civil group" calling themselves Pax y Justica (Peace and Justice) have violently expelled and attacked campesinos, adding to the tension. Pax y Justica are rumoured to be state supported, while there is much speculation about links between campesino groups and the EZLN. In this game of tension both sides are raising the stakes. Recent concessions by the government on the way negotiations with the EZLN are to be conducted and on the release of EZLN prisoners has raised hopes of civil progress. The armed EZLN has developed a civil FZLN wing to deepen and spread the spirit of the Zapatista uprising. Meanwhile as government soldiers occupy mountain villages the EZLN remain on Red Alert and have announced that they will not tolerate any more human rights abuses by the army in their territory.

If you go deeper into Chiapas and turn right at the tourist site and Mayan ruins of Palenque the road runs along the Guatemalan border, which is punctuated with army checkpoints and the camps of impoverished settlers. This is a Mayan area and split politically. While one group of Mayans has sold logging rights to their land, those deeper in the jungle fight with the Zapatistas to defend their home in the last rain forest in Northern America. In nearby Mayan Belize a major UK-funded road threatens a similar 'development' of the jungle, bringing mining, logging and poor settlers. The settlers disparately carve a living out of land too steep to grow maize. It is usually no more than 3-4 years before the land becomes little more than bare rock. These slices of dead mountainside can be seen from the road and everybody knows the jungle is dying.

The signing of a peace agreement in Guatemala between guerrilla groups and the government could well help the situation, by allowing 50,000 refuges from Guatemala to return from Chiapas. These camps have been supported by their Mayan cousins in Chiapas because of the shared culture and the shared problem of land. The Guatemalan war was started by Indians who make up 70% of the population but have been refused rights to own land by the Spanish speaking elite.

Across the whole of Mexico the spirit of Zapata has new energy. The central squares and main streets of towns across the South of Mexico have blockades and stalls of various groups opposing the state. This would not have been possible five years ago. In Chiapas in late October campesinos protested in over 80 municipal capitals about water and electricity prices. And were able to protest openly - not because the state has had a change of heart, but because it is terrified of the reaction any repression would provoke.

It is hard for Europeans to avoid looking at the insurgents in southern Mexico through anything other than Eurocentric eyes. For the Zapatistas the armed struggle is not separate from the civil one. Without the armed uprising the government would not have taken the Zapatistas' challenge seriously. Activists, radicals, campesinos and indigenous peoples have been tortured and killed with equipment supplied by the West for decades. While activists in the West debate the issue of non-violent direct action the peoples of Southern Mexico are gambling with their lives. Many in Chiapas fail to understand why Western radicals with all their freedoms achieve so little.

Chiapas is one small state in Mexico, the Zapatistas a small insurgency movement. What they have achieved is beyond anything they could have dreamed of before January 1994. What the Zapatistas and peoples in Southern Mexico want is for us to create the seeds for such a situation in our own countries.

Now as never before the world is linked together, so that for things to change in Mexico, things must change here, and if change can happen in Mexico, it can happen here.

Where there have been sparks of revolution in Mexico the whole country is a dry wood pile waiting to go up in flames. (See DoD No4 for background information.)

The International of Hope

In the last twenty years people around the world have been the target of neoliberal policies, resulting in everything from unemployment, marginalisation and poverty,to land expropriation, pollution and neurosis.

Against these effects people around the world have responded with strikes, riots, rebellions, occupations of land, schools and factories, squatting, lobbying, public campaigns, demonstrations, radical literature, meetings, conferences, self organisation in communities, guerrilla movements, etc.

Yet, the fragmentation and isolation of these different forms of struggle is one of the main problems these movements face.

Between the 27th of July and the 3rd of August 1996, more than three thousand people from all five continents met in the jungle of South-East Mexico, Chiapas, in the territory held by the insurgent Zapatista army, and hosted by indigenous communities.

The participants in this 'First Intercontinental Meeting Against Neoliberalism and for Humanity', (otherwise known as the Encuentro), were coming from a large variety of social backgrounds and political affiliations.There were strikers from France, mothers of the disappeared in Argentina, exiles from Iran, squatters from Berlin, ex-guerrilas from Latin America, social centre activists from Italy, trade unionists from Brazil and community activists from the USA. All these diverse individuals met in the jungle and transcended their ghettos.

Those at the Encuentro decided to set up an International Collective Network of Resistance. This network will work "by recognising the differences and knowing the similarities... and will be the means through which the different resistances can support each other".

The Encuentro was only the start of the process of global communication and coordination of different resistances and struggles. The rest is up to us. By learning from and coordinating with other struggles we can only become stronger. The next Encuentro is in Barcelona from 25th July to August 2nd 1997. fHuman is a collective of those interested in linking struggles in Britain and worldwide, and participating in the Encuentro network. If you want to take part you can contact them at:

c/o BM-CRL

Do or Die DTP/web team: