“Before the idea of struggling to improve peoples lives didn’t exist, but it grew little by little. We have learned a lot from the Zapatista struggle about how to organize ourselves. Thanks be to God the struggle is now big, and it exists in other countries too, on all five continents.” Villager, Zapatista autonomous municipality ’16 de Febrero’, Chiapas, southern Mexico
For 500 years the indigenous people have endured grinding poverty, racism and oppression. But since the 1994 Zapatista uprising, things have started to change. Over 1,000 villages in Chiapas have declared themselves “communities in resistance”. They are developing their own autonomous education, health, justice and decision-making systems on communally-controlled land, as part of a continuing struggle against capitalism.
The Zapatista autonomous municipality ’16 de Febrero’ is twinned with the Zapatista solidarity movement in Scotland. The municipality consists of around 40 indigenous Tzotzil, Tzeltal and Chol villages in the Highlands of Chiapas.
An Appeal for Solidarity
In February 2007 a delegation from Scotland visited ’16 de Febrero’. ’16 de Febrero’ informed us that their main needs at this time are :
1) Support for the second phase of Municipality’s new health clinic. More medical equipment and medicines are needed. Dormitories and a training room for the health promoters, and a proper kitchen to provide food for patients and staff, all need to be built.
2) Support for the Municipality’s four autonomous primary schools. Funds are needed to build adequate classrooms, for furniture such as desks, and for teaching materials. 3) Help to find outlets for the embroidery, textiles, and amber jewellery made by the handicrafts co-operatives.
When the twinning began in 2004 the Municipality informed us their greatest need was for their own health clinic. Local people are suffering and dying from curable diseases. In rural indigenous Chiapas around one third of children die before the age of five.
By late 2006 enough money had been raised for the local people to build the clinic. The clinic is now operating and treating patients, Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas alike. Run by and for the local people, it is a living example of people taking control of their own lives and using resources to meet human needs. The clinic is staffed by health promoters, local indigenous people.
The Zapatistas are trying to develop locally-based preventative medicine. There are 8 small health centres in 8 different villages in the municipality. 36 villages, the majority, have health promoters, though the aim is that every village should have a promoter.
All this health infrastructure is being developed completely independently of the government.
Zapatista education is very different from the government schools. Indigenous ‘education promoters’ in ’16 de Febrero’ told us:
“Here we share learning and learn from each other, it’s not like the promoters know everything. Even the youngest child can contribute.”
“The difference between the government schools and the autonomous schools is that in our schools we are working for our brothers. The government imposes education designed for the rich, it imposes its own ideas. It imposes another language. We develop our own language, our own culture.”
But Zapatista education is battling against a lack of resources. In one village the people told us: “We need a bigger school, where the children can grow up well to go forward in their lives and in the struggle. We are poor, we don’t have the resources to build a bigger school. But we hope that one day with your help our education can improve and go forward.”
The local children told us they enjoyed their autonomous schools, but lacked many things:
“It’s difficult to study because we don’t have proper seats or furniture for the school.”
“We don’t have proper materials for education, like notebooks and pencils, this makes it difficult.”
“I like to draw but we don’t have coloured pencils.”
One of the few sources of income for the subsistence farmers of ’16 de Febrero’ is from selling their handicrafts. We are seeking outlets for the beautiful amber jewellery and textiles from the Amber Workers and Women’s Handicrafts collectives.
The Amber Workers Collective said:
“The solidarity work you do is very important for us, it is the only road to follow. There are serious problems with finding a market for our work, there is no way to show or sell it.”
We invite individuals, student unions, trade union branches, community groups and all kinds of organisations to get involved in the twinning. As well as the vital practical solidarity, the twinning involves direct contact with the people of ’16 de Febrero’, exchanging news on our lives and struggles. In the spirit of the Zapatista-initiated ‘Other Campaign’, we want to encourage struggles “from below” to join together to create a fair and just world.
Solidarity with ’16 de Febrero’
All donations go directly to support the clinic and schools in ’16 de Febrero’.
Cheques should be made payable to:
Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group and sent to Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group,
c/o 17 West Montgomery Place,
Edinburgh EH7 5HA Scotland.
Or pay to:
Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group,
Account to be credited: NO: 60129411
Sort Code: 82-45-05,
Or download a standing order form here.