Reading A Video Part Six: Six Advances

Since colonial times, the Indian peoples of Mexico have suffered under conditions of extreme poverty. Despite having been the social class which contributed the most in the fight for independence, in the wars of resistance against North American and French invaders, and in the Mexican Revolution (and, if you'll allow me, in the current democratization of the country - even though it's the politicians and media who fight for the "limelight"), the nation's debts to them have just kept piling up. If anyone has given their lives and deaths so that this country which is called Mexico could rise up as a sovereign, free and independent nation, it has been the indigenous.

No movement has turned around to see how they were after the victories or defeats. Whoever won, the Indian peoples lost. Those who offered them improvements ended up enslaving them on the haciendas. Those who offered them a free patria ended up leaving them aside. Those who offered them democracy ended up imposing governments and laws on them. But, as long as Mexico's destiny has been at stake, the indigenous did not hesitate, and they contributed the only thing they had: their blood.

It has been almost 200 years since the independence of Mexico. Two hundred years, and there are indigenous peoples who are working and dying in conditions similar to those of colonial times. The lands they had have been stripped from them, sometimes violently, sometimes through deception. Their color, language, dress, "way", have all been a cause for shame, for mockery, for contempt. The name "Indian" has been used as an insult, as a synonym for idler, for lack of intelligence, for incompetence, for submission, for servility.

After so much, it would have been odd if they had not risen up in arms. But they did. And, despite having been the object of ridicule and contempt by those with white skin, they did not turn their war into a war against a color. And, despite having been the object of deceptions and subjected to lies by those who speak "castilla", they did not direct their war against a culture. And, despite having always been servants in the houses of those who have everything, they did not spread destruction. They made a war, their war. They are making it still. A war against the forgetting.

This country is lucky. Where others destroy, these indigenous build. Where others separate, these indigenous join together. Where others exclude, they include. Where others forget, they remember. Where others are a burden for everyone, they carry, among other things, our history. And the EZLN is lucky for having been enveloped by these peoples. If not...

If someone were to turn around and look at us, they would see human beings, full of mistakes, defects, weaknesses, stumbles, in sum, imperfect. And there's the problem, because if they were supermen and superwomen, fine, then one could understand what they have done. But since they are just like anyone else, well can I tell you? someone said: "I also have to do something...because no one is going to do it for me."

And this is what the zapatista peoples are doing. They're not waiting for the government to give them charity and speeches. They are working to improve their living conditions, and they are achieving that. Paradoxically, their conditions, although still a long way from being ideal, are better than those communities which are receiving federal "aid". And this can be confirmed live (videos, even when they are being read, are limited), and it can be investigated.

I am going to talk to now you about these improvements, which have been possible because of the "third shoulder". I'll try not to go on and on (I always intend to do that, and then pages and pages appear, as if it were raining), but I invite you to learn the details in the reports from each of the Juntas, and, obviously, by visiting the Caracoles and the communities and by speaking with the companeros.

Health and Education

Two of the advances have to do with health and education. The "oversights" of the different federal governments in these arenas have made "indigenous" synonymous with bad health and ignorance.

Thanks to help from the "civil societies", the health of the communities has begun to make a radical shift. Where there had been death, there is beginning to be life. Where there had been ignorance, there is beginning to be knowledge. In sum, where there had been nothing, there is beginning to be something good.

In Los Altos of Chiapas, for example, the health system is providing free medical care and, as far as their resources can reach, medicines are also free. This is possible because of two things:

One is because of the economic support from civil society that has allowed medical teams and medicines to be secured.

The other is because, instead of just concentrating on treating illnesses, the health system is especially aimed at preventative medicine. The objective is to reduce illnesses and, therefore, the use of medicines. The free medical service has been maintained, although with difficulties, throughout the entire year of operation of the Good Government Junta in Los Altos.

In the five regions where the Good Government Juntas are operating, health campaigns are being carried out which promote the use of latrines and the cleanliness of dwellings. Campaigns are also being undertaken, although they are just now becoming widespread, to fight chronic illnesses (such as leshmaniasis or "chiclero ulcer") and epidemics and in order to detect cancer in women. In order to achieve this we have, in addition to financial support for health projects, the solidarity (and in not a few cases, heroic solidarity) of specialist physicians and nurses who, stealing time from their rest, come to this land and distribute knowledge (to midwives, "bonesetters", health promoters and laboratory workers) and health to all the communities.

The Third Shoulder For Raising Up Life.

Regional and municipal clinics are being built, they are being equipped and companeros and companeras are being trained to use them. In the Tojolabal region, the first surgery was done on the first of August, and a laboratory for processing medicinal plants is being equipped. There are pharmacies in all the regions, which are being stocked with money from the projects and donations.

Generally speaking, the Good Government Juntas are seeing to it, little by little, that each of the Autonomous Municipalities has a basic community health structure: health promoters, health campaigns, preventative medicine, micro-clinics, pharmacies, regional clinics, doctors and specialists.

Regarding education, they are proceeding as they should proceed in politics, that is, from below to above. Schools are being built in all the communities (there were more than 50 this year in the entire region, and they still need more), and those which already exist are being equipped (there were some 300 this year), education promoters are being trained (and they are taking refresher courses), technological and secondary education centers are being built (where the historic roots of Mexico will indeed be taught).

Schoolteachers and builders, teaching specialists, men and women with everyday names and faces, indigenous with and without ski-masks, are raising schools and knowledge where before there was nothing but ignorance.

Come. That way you will be able to see in various communities in the different regions that a clinic has appeared, a pharmacy, a school, that there's a lot of hubbub because a doctor is going to examine the women for their illnesses, that "Mariya" already knows how to write her name and she can tell you that the ancient Mexicans had a very advanced culture and now she wants to go to secondary school but who knows if they send her, that a dentist is in the clinic and he's going to pull and fix teeth, that there's a party over there because the chalkboards and notebooks and pencils and books have arrived, that Lencho was going to die but he didn't and he-was-just-going-to-die-but-then-it's-going-to-be-a-while-yet-then-just-normal, that the school is really happy now, that the eye doctor has already come, that Andulio is yelling because no one's found his pencil, that there's a doctor who's a pediatrician and he's explaining to a compa that his work isn't curing feet, that Uber is saying "it wasn't me" and no one has asked him if he was the one who grabbed Andulio's pencil, that there's a neurologist and he helps if someone's thinking is bad and they feel faint, that the children are going to be vaccinated, that those trucks are carrying promoters who are going to a course in the Caracol and who knows if the course is about health or education because "you'll see that others will be going by any time, and it wasn't like that before, no, before the only thing you'd find in the roads was cows and oxen, don't be offended...listen, you're not from here, right?, ah, then, don't feel bad, I'll explain right now, listen, back in 1994 all the Indians, or the masses like we say here, rose up, and the zapatistas and then civil societies and...listen, don't you want a pozol?, because the explanation is going to take a while..."

Food, Land, Housing

From the urgent to the immediate. The problem of the displaced (primarily the ones of Polho') is the one which most concerns the good government in Los Altos of Chiapas. Of the almost 3 and a half million pesos which Oventik spent, approximately 2.5 million were earmarked for Polho'. But not just for food. A municipal grocery store and a cooperative for displaced women were built and put into operation.

The good government sees far and is making progress in a block-making project ("It's for making blocks for construction," they explained to me when I asked if it were for making brains for members of Fox' cabinet - I already said there were "head-hunters" for the cabinet).

The block making can produce a chain reaction. In addition to producing income for the compas (who can't go to their "work" because of threats from paramilitaries), it will notably reduce the price of construction materials, and they can go about improving their houses. That's yet to happen, but Polho''s "block making machine" has already started.

In order to improve everyone's nutrition, throughout the five regions there have been put into operation cooperatives for pig production ("No, they don't produce politicians," they clarified before I could pose the standard question), for hens, sheep ("No, they aren't PAN deputies voting for Lo'pez Obrador's ouster," they told me, and I'm damned if I'm going to ask anything else), chickens and cattle (cows, mules and the odd ox - without offending anyone), for vegetables and for fruit trees.

They inform me from La Garrucha that "agro-ecological promoters have been trained in our Autonomous Municipalities so that they can have experience in taking care of the environment, how to care for animals, how to vaccinate them and how to make the recovered lands produce better, and that's why we've made advances in each municipality."

They are carrying out projects for shoemaking workshops, as well as for rice de-husking, mechanics ("We've already repaired the tractor, now we just need gasoline"), one called "sustainable technology, health at home, energy saving and training" in La Realidad region. In addition to distributing water tanks, builds energy saving wood stoves. In several areas there are blacksmithing workshops, potable water projects, textile workshops and beehive production.

And so, on various flanks and with the help of the "civil societies", the land, housing and food are improving.

With words from the selva: "Up to this point we have improved the food a bit thanks to the lands which were recovered from the great fincas, because we're harvesting more maize and beans there, and the agro-ecological projects. Thanks to our organization, we've been able to greatly reduce alcoholism, which has allowed us to use the little money we have for food. We've also been able to improve our houses, though not much, but now we have better roofs, cleaner houses, with larger spaces for planting fruit trees, vegetables, flowers and to have animals outside the house."

Linked with these three things is commercialization.

The "coyotes" have been displaced with regional stores (in the region of La Realidad, one is called "Everything for Everyone" - which sounds, to me, like an invitation for looting - another is called "El Caracolito", another "Don Durito"; in the Morelia region, they are called "warehouse centers", and there you can get coffee, brown sugar, crafts, embroidery, clay pots, ceramic dishes, candles, baskets, furniture - all produced by the communities and at low prices - in Roberto Barrios there are 3 regional warehouses). Included in the project is the acquisition of transportation for moving goods. In this way the number of cooperative stores and diners are increasing.

The primary advances made in zapatista autonomy, during the period of the Good Government Juntas, have had to do with improvement of living conditions, yes, but not just that...

Governing and Governing Oneself

Perhaps the most important advance which we see is that we are learning to build, not without failures and stumbling blocks, a good government:

"We've learned how to resolve our problems, how to make agreements with other organizations and authorities, and also with our communities, during this time, we've learned a lot about governing in each municipality, and we've learned that that way it's not easy for the bad government to corrupt us, because we've learned our form of government through rotation, with the experience of everyone and being guided by vigilance.

"This has been a great learning experience throughout the year that it's not easy to buy us off with a soft drink.

"Another thing we've learned is to deal with people from other cultures and other countries...

"We've learned through work, resolving problems, at first we were nervous, before each municipality organized themselves how they wanted, now the municipalities have learned to work together, fairly, we've also learned to talk with other people who aren't from our organization. Now we know that they aren't our enemies, what happens is that they're being deceived, but we see that little by little they're starting to learn and making agreements with us..."

"Each municipal authority takes to his municipality what he's learned in the junta, some of us have learned how to make acts of agreement, to draw up projects, to operate equipment like computers, the Internet, photo copiers, telephones and other equipment which we're learning to operate..."

"We appreciate the fact that politically we have advantages, we've learned to do the work through sacrifice. It's changed from before, we've made mistakes, but that's how we're learning, little by little.

"The advantages we see: all of us were governments, we didn't have any leaders, it was a collective government, so all of us were taught what each person knows, the projects are fairly distributed, social organizations came to our office when their problems weren't being solved..."

"Inside the Good Government Junta we don't need translators, we have different languages and so anyone can come, whether Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Tojolabal and Spanish, we can understand each other in our own language..."

These are the advances we have seen and felt in one year of the Good Government Juntas.

But what if I'm just lying, what if I'm just talking abut this so you think we've improved.

That's why I'm telling you to come, to walk the villages and then they will add the audio and image to this video...

(To be continued...)

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Mexico, August of 2004. 20 and 10.

Originally published in Spanish by the EZLN 
Translated by irlandesa 

To the Chiapas and the Zapatista rebellion page