The new health clinic in zapatista autonomous municipality ’16 de Febrero’ – built with the aid of donations from Scotland’s solidarity groups – is now up and running and treating patients. Created by the local indigenous people themselves, and completely independent of all government funding and control, it is a vital resource for people over a wide area which includes more than 40 villages. This is a scattered rural district where poverty and ill-health blight many people’s lives. The clinic treats all patients, whether they are zapatistas or not.
Zapatista health clinic in ’16 de Febrero’: the clinic is called Clinica San Antonio de Padova, after the Saint of the local area.
The ’16 de Febrero’ autonomous municipality have written to Scotland’s zapatista solidarity groups. They thank us for all our solidarity to help them build the clinic – however they also stress that the clinic is still in great need of donations. There is an important need for support to buy more medicines and to buy medical equipment – the equipment they have at present is only on loan to the clinic. And while the clinic´s medical rooms have been built, there is a real need for further construction to provide the clinic´s health promoters with a training room, dormitories and a proper kitchen.
The autonomous health service is essential because the care provided by the government health system is both inadequate and expensive. What’s more the government clinics often discriminate against the indigenous people.
Autonomous health clinics are a vital part of the zapatista struggle for autonomy. Along with the autonomous schools, the grass-roots democracy, the collectives and the communal control of land, they form the fabric of a new kind of self-managed society, independent from the state and businesses, though as an island of autonomy in the ocean of capitalism they face huge challenges. Nevertheless over 30 zapatista autonomous municipalities now flourish, in five different geographical zones in eastern Chiapas, south east Mexico.
Zapatista health clinic in “’16 de Febrero'”, viewed from the hillside behind the clinic. The film shows the local people carrying out the construction work to build the clinic – over 700 people from 44 different villages worked voluntarily, in turns, to make the clinic a reality.
Autonomous Health Care in Action
The Solidarity Delegation from Scotland who visited ’16 de Febrero’ in Spring 2007, write:
“We were given accommodation in the new ’16 de Febrero’ clinic “San Antonio de Padova” during our stay at ’16 de Febrero’. We could see the patients arriving and being given consultations. One day we were in a meeting with the clinic staff, the health promoters, when a patient was suddenly wheeled out of the emergency room and transferred to the clinic´s ambulance”.
We were shown round the clinic. It is of a good size, and substantially built. But their pharmacy has very few medicines. The little they have was bought through contributions by the families in the municipality, which they can hardly afford since they are living in poverty difficult for us to imagine.
What´s more almost all the medical equipment in the Clinic is only on loan from another zapatista clinic, and will have to be replaced, at considerable cost.
In addition, several important items of medical equipment are still lacking. The health promoters told us that the clinic’s emergencies room needed sterilizing facilities, a suitable bed and an adequate oxygen tank. Medicines for emergencies, such as painkillers, andrenaline, medicine for allergic and other shocks, are needed.
The zapatista ambulance based at the ’16 de Febrero’ clinic is invaluable for reaching patients too ill to travel. As we discovered during our visit, the municipality covers a large mountainous area. Public transport is often scarce, and what is more often consists of an open lorry without seats, hardly suitable for anyone seriously ill. Here again there is a pressing need for donations to cover the costs of the ambulance´s operation over the extremely rough terrain of the municipality.
Zapatista health clinic in Scotland´s twinned autonomous municipality “’16 de Febrero'”, with the municipality´s ambulance.
Plans are also underway to develop a pharmacy of natural and herbal medicines, to complement the conventional medical treatments. This includes recovering traditional indigenous medical knowledge, lost over the years. The health promoters told us that they already knew how to find the appropriate medicinal plants, but needed resources to be able to buy the materials needed to make herbal medicines. In the film you can see herbs being dried to make herbal medicines, this is at the central zapatista clinic for the Chiapas Highlands, at Oventik.
We were very impressed by the dedication of the health promoters at the clinic, local indigenous men and women, who have been chosen by their communities to carry out this work. Working without pay to help their community, health promoters staff the zapatista health service, developing their knowledge through courses taught by the more experienced promoters.
While we were at the clinic they were holding meetings to prepare materials for a new course to induct new health promoters. When someone had stomach problems a health promoter was able to pick a local plant and boil it up to make a natural medicine to help their ailment. Not only do the health promoters provide the health care at the clinic, they share all the cleaning, cooking and other essential duties.
The clinic acts as a centre to help spread preventative health care throughout the area. Thirty six of the municipality’s villages now have a local health promoter, and 8 of the villages have a small “health house”.
The health promoters told us that the families of the municipality suffered from many illnesses, many of them serious. Respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, TB and chronic bronchitis, gastro-entiritis, salmonella, skin infections, malaria, other insect-related diseases, and maternal death in child birth were among the problems in the municipality. In rural indigenous Chiapas over a third of children die before they reach the age of five, malnutrition, and dehydration after diarrhea often being factors.
You can help improve this situation immediately by making a donation towards supporting the thirteen autonomous zapatista health clinics in the Highlands of Chiapas.
How To Donate
Pay money directly into the group’s bank account:
Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group
Sort Code: 82-45-05
Or send a cheque, made out to ‘EDINBURGH CHIAPAS SOLIDARITY GROUP’, to:
Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group
c/o ACE, 17 West Montgomery Place,
In all cases please make sure to email email@example.com to say the amount you have donated, how, and when.
More information about how the autonomous health service can be found in this report from a meeting with the Health Promoter from the ’16 de Febrero’ community.