February 16 marked a full decade since the signing of the San Andres Accords, negotiated by rebel Zapatista commanders and Mexican federal legislators in the restive southern state of Chiapas. The Accords called for changes to the Mexican constitution as a minimum peace demand for the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), but have languished for ten years as the federal bureaucracy refused to implement them. As the anniversary passed, Zapatista leaders on a national tour dubbed La Otra (The Other Campaign — a reference to the presidential campaigns now underway in Mexico) arrived in the city of Puebla. They wore their trademark ski-masks, but left their rifles at home in Chiapas as a condition of the cease-fire.
La Otra is the most ambitious of the Zapatistas’ initiatives to extend their movement beyond Chiapas and launch a national revolutionary initiative which would bring the struggle for indigenous autonomy together with more general demands for democracy and social justice. With the peace dialogue now stalled by government intransigence and a long stalemate obtaining in Chiapas, the Zapatistas are taking their message directly to the people.
In a communiqué entitled “How big is the world?,” Zapatista Subcommander Marcos carried on his continuing dialogue with his alter-ego, a jungle beetle named Durito. In his usual surrealist and tongue-in-cheek style, Marcos re-asserted the Zapatistas’ national and even international ambitions. Marcos answers his own rhetorical question: “Much bigger than Chiapas!”
Marcos continued his verbal assault on all of Mexico’s major political parties, while still denying that the Zapatistas are promoting abstinence from the election. At Hidalgo’s National Politechnical University, he charged that all three major parties lack “moral authority” and that the leading members of Mexico’s political elite are “illiterate.” He called for a new constitution to be drawn up to protect Mexico’s resources.
Other meetings between rebel leaders and grassroots movements included a public assembly of sex workers in Apizaco, Tlaxcala. The official slogan of the meeting was “We are sex-workers, the politicians are prostitutes!”
Subcommander Marcos — dubbed “Delegate Zero” for the tour — speaking at Lerdo Park in the Veracruz state capital of Jalapa Feb. 2, noted: “This is going to fall,” in reference to late capitalism. But he said an “unprecedented” political mobilization will be the only way to avoid going down with the system.
In a meeting in Irapuato, Guanajuato, with members of the National Union of Popular and Independent Left Organizations (UCOPI), Marcos attacked the recent Chapultepec Pact on economic reform (signed last year by Mexico’s top political and industrial leaders), saying it will “convert the Mexican state into a police state” and “mean the end of our sovereignty.”
Marcos also met with Huichol indigenous leaders at the village of Bajio del Tule in Jalisco’s remote Sierra Norte. Said Maurilio de la Cruz Avila, representing the Council of Elders of San Sebastian Teponahuxtla: “We thank the land; it sustains us. For this we are in struggle. We will not sell our mother. Not one of the Wixaritari [Huichol] brothers would think of selling one piece of earth. This is the struggle against the government and the invader.”
Marcos tied the struggle for indigenous autonomy to the wider struggle for social change in Mexico: “It is not possible to extend the autonomy of the indigenous peoples beyond what has been achieved without a radical transformation of the system… If we leave things going the way they are, we will all be destroyed, individually or as a group, as long as we are separated.”
Repression against “La Otra”
A campaign of harassment of civil supporters of the Other Campaign continues to be reported from across Mexico. In recent days: A peaceful march by Triqui Indians of the Zapatista Indigenous Artisans Movement (Movimiento de Artesanos Indigenas Zapatistas) was attacked by riot police in Mexico City, who arrested 16; in Oaxaca City, days before the Zapatista delegation arrived, members of the local Alianza Magonista-Zapatista were arrested for distributing literature in support of “La Otra”; in Puebla, the campaign’s next stop, a march publicizing the imminent arrival was attacked by police with tear gas, with 27 injured, one with a fractured skull. In Santiago Xanica, Oaxaca, three followers of the Oaxacan Magonist Popular Antineoliberal Coordinating Committee (COMPA) were beaten and arrested for distributing leaflets in support of “La Otra.”
Hermann Bellinghausen reported for La Jornada on incidents of harassment against local activists working in preparation for the arrival of the Zapatista tour in various states throughout Mexico. In one typical instance, he cited a report from the Coordinadora de Sociedad Civil de la Región de Orizaba, in the state of Veracruz, of aggression by the authorities against a local group in Orizaba city, the Colectivo Feminista Cihuatlahtolli, which advocates for sex workers and AIDS prevention, and works against anti-woman violence. On Jan. 5, the Colectivo set up an information table in Orizaba’s Castillo park, with sound equipment and condoms to distribute for free. They were surrounded by 15 municipal police, who photographed and threatened them before cutting off the electricity to their sound system.
“This is the climate the municipal authorities are seeking to impose ahead of the eventual visit of Delegate Zero,” read the statement. The Colectivo Feminista had offered to open its Casa de la Mujer, which serves a shelter for battered women, to house Marcos and his fellow Zapatistas when the tour arrived.
Meanwhile, back in the Chiapas city of San Cristobal de Las Casas, the offices of the Political Analysis and Social-Economic Investigation Center (CAPISE), one of the groups that organized logistical support for the Other Campaign, was burglarized and ransacked March 4.
In another apparent case of political harassment, the British-owned HSBC bank without reason ordered the accounts of Enlace Civil closed, an NGO that serves as an intermediary between aid organizations and Zapatista villages in Chiapas.