by Gloria Munõ Ramirez, La Jornada
Zapatista Caracol 3
La Garrucha, Tzetal Jungle Zone, Chiapas, Mexico
A report by Gloria Munoz Ramirez in the Mexican daily newspaper La Jornada on the situation of the zapatista movement in the Tzeltal Lacandona jungle zone of Chiapas. Taken from Indymedia Chiapas September 2004 and translated by Edinburgh-Chiapas Solidarity Group.
Communication technology has arrived in the Lacandon jungle. The Internet Cafe Cyber-Pozol, is the only public internet in the Patiwitz canyon, and in the whole of the territories of resistance. As well as the cybernet service in the co-operative cafe in resistance ‘Smaliyel”, there is zapatista music, videos, bandanas, handicrafts, sweets, petrol and food for sale. Smaliyel is in the Caracol ‘Resistance towards a New Dawn’ in the first rebel zone opened to journalists in 1994. From here the whole world learnt about the Indian people who had taken up arms, the insurrection, their reasons and their sorrows. Today more than ten years later, there is another panorama.
When journalists first came to La Garrucha there was no internet, not even electricity. There was no autonomous clinic with dentist’s equipment, no autonomous laboratory, no ambulance, the school didn’t function, while a library was unimaginable. After the murder of Luis Donaldo Colosio in 1994 the future seemed more uncertain, the territory was shut off and the searchlights of the press moved out of the canada.
Miguel, three years old, is strolling through the zapatista shop and declares that Spiderman “is a Compa” (comrade). When the daily convoy of state soldiers passes, Miguel, now transformed into Spiderman, throws his webs at the soldiers from his hiding place in the bushes. His mother tells him off and he cries that he will tell the Junta of good government about her.
The military patrol which Miguel sees passing by does not exist according to the state, but, at least as long as we were here, they passed four times every day. A convoy of lorries full of soldiers with their weapons in combat position is routine in these militarized lands.
Moises, the same tzeltal man who met the press ten years ago, is now the autonomous video maker. He takes pictures with his mini camera which are later edited on an Apple Mac. He is currently finishing work on a video about zapatista women and a building is under construction which will house a media project.
As in the rest of the territories in resistance there is a vaccination campaign in the villages. Mothers with children in their arms line up in the autonomous clinic which has been open since 1995. The International Red Cross which was working in the community of San Miguel since 1994 has now left the zone. “They say there is no war here, that there needs to be deaths here for them to stay longer”. Previously the vaccination campaigns were run by the international body. Today the zapatistas run them and the Red Cross only deals with some communities.
With the aim of organising a health service for all the zapatistas, in this zone the families carry a health pass which identifies them as zapatistas. This allows them to have free consultations and free medicine at the clinic. In the small and functional clinical lab the specialist health promoters work on blood analysis, urine tests, tests for parasites and other basic tests. “What we do most is tests for malaria and TB, because these are widespread illnesses in this zone”, explains one of the lab workers.
The clinic is painted in mexican pink and is decorated with murals about the resistance. “Here we scatter the wind of hope, life and dignity”, is written on a mural which shows a snail (caracol) and the face of Zapata. Recently painted, the autonomous health centre deals with about 30 consultations every day. The most common illnesses in the Tzeltal jungle are parasites, malaria, skin infections and TB. They also have a dentist’s consultation room, a pharmacy and more recently hospital rooms. Just as in other Zapatista clinics, indigenous members of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) are also seen by the health promoters. “We charge the priistas 25 pesos for the consultation and medicine to recover some of the cost”.
The four autonomous municipalities in the tzeltal zone are Francisco Gomez, San Manuel, Francisco Villa and Ricardo Flores Magon. In all of these there is a health service in resistance and in Francisco Gomez alone 78 health promoters treat basic illnesses in the villages. In spite of these advances, the junta of good government, ‘the Way of the Future’, know that the situation is still far from the ideal. Francisco Villa eg does not have a clinic, not even a pharmacy and its general development is very much behind that of the Ricardo Flores Magon municipality. It is the job of the junta to even out the development.
The main clinic in the zone is supported by an Italian organisation and the ambulance was donated by Doctors without Frontiers. The promotors are not paid a wage and are only supported by being given food. Often, say the autonomous authorities, many promotors do not attend courses because they do not have money for the journey. “They provide a service to the community, but we think they need to be supported more in their work”.
To resolve this and other problems there is a health representative in each of the four autonomous municipalities, who meet every two months to co-ordinate the work in the zone.
Even with delays in the construction of schools and in the preparation of promoters, there are now four municipalities with autonomous education in its communities. The members of the junta say, “Our education comes out of the thoughts of the people. Nothing comes from outside and it’s not like state education where indigenous history is not respected”. The communities in the tzeltal jungle have two centres of learning for promotors of education, one recently opened in the community of La Culebra, in the autonomous municipality of Ricardo Flores Magon and another in La Garrucha in the Francisco Gomez municipality.
Julio who comes from Ricardo Flores Magon explains the meaning of zapatista autonomous education. “It relates to an awareness of the 13 demands of the zapatista struggle. It is not that someone from outside tells us how to make this link. We are the ones who live here, who suffer and struggle here and so it is us who know how everything is related. The people have the knowledge, they know many things and from there consciousness and knowledge is rescued and redeemed.” He explains that one of education’s main aims is to strengthen the indigenous identity and to respond to the needs of the people. “It is not a question of teaching indigenous people to be indigenous, we know that already. What we need to know is our history, our past . . that is real education.
” In our schools we also look at the national situation, at our struggle, the life of our people. The aim of our education is not to depart from the politics and the path of the zapatista struggle and the respect of every community, its language and everything. Our education promotors reflect on the problem of the displacement of the people of Montes Azules, the government’s plans about Plan Puebla Panama; the problem of genetically modified seeds, factory owners, the government’s political counter-attack, the resistance of our people, the San Andres Accords, the war of low intensity, the government’s manipulation by buying communities with aid programmes such as Procede, or school meals or agricultural grants. All of these issues are looked at in our autonomous schools.
An education promotor is chosen by the people who ask them if they want to participate. “You can agree, but also you can say no because you have other work and duties, because autonomy involves other work, not only education”, explains Hortensia an education promotor. She explains that there are promotors who begin this work and don’t know how to read and write and so they begin with nothing . . some are very happy to be promotors and here they grow and learn and later return to their villages. There are also voluntary promotors who are not elected by the village, but come of their own accord. There are those who don’t know anything, the spanish language – nothing, and here they learn everything.”
Like in other indigenous areas, zapatista and non zapatista, women still suffer from inequality. Most of the promotors and pupils in autonomous schools are still male because Hortensia points out, “It costs something to make a change. In our villages women promotors who leave the house to go on courses are still the subject of jokes in the villages, as are their parents or husbands who are asked why they let their daughter go, that she is not doing good things and other such inventions. This is because it is not the custom for women to leave their villages. But this does not get us down even though they make fun of us or make out we are doing things that we are not doing, as promotors we have to continue with our work. We must try hard to see where we are going to, because it is our right. If we leave our work it means that the jokes have beaten us.
“The zapatista women are the first to come out to defend their community when the army enter the villages, they are on the front line, so if they are capable of defending the community then they are capable of studying. We cannot keep our mouths shut about this situation because if we do things won’t change. We are creating a very different kind of education.”
And it was in fact a woman, Rosalinda, who gave the speech on the first anniversary of this junta of good government : “No longer do we need to ask permission to govern ourselves. Already we see what we can do and we see that in this first year of work we have learned a lot. We stand here. We are not going to sell out,” said the only woman in the autonomous government here.
A donation of bicycles has reached the Caracol ‘Resistance towards a new dawn’. Now there is an autonomous workshop which both rents out and repairs bikes, and the money made goes to the autonomous municipality.
A shoe-making workshop has also been operating for some years ….on the walls there is a huge mural of Zapata with an open book , in which you can read “Imagination, creativity, informality, improvisation….”
At the foot of the Third Caracol of the zapatista resistance, you can see an old machine for milling coffee, and, to one side, the peace camp visited all year round by hundreds of people from all over the world. Three women’s co-operatives, a general dormitory, two storehouses, the health clinic, a school and a library complete the buildings.
In this way the zapatistas are building their autonomy, a process which Julio says, “comes from our history, our own customs, our own system of justice, our own cultivations … A process that is like travelling alone. Yes, we know how to travel . . although we may make mistakes, they are our own mistakes and not those imposed on us.”