I only spent a very short time in the community of Diez de Abril. However, I feel very fortunate to have been there at that particular time for a number of reasons..
Firstly, because I narrowly missed the military invasion and assault on the community on April 14. I had travelled with four Norwegians on the three hour journey from the tourist town of San Cristo'bel to Diez - unfortunately three of them were deported four days after arriving in the community.
Secondly I feel fortunate because I was there during a festival to commemorate Emiliano Zapata, (founder of the first Zapatistas) who died in an Ambush on April 10 1918 (80th anniversary of his death). This was the second year of the festival and it was sponsored by the Irish Mexico Group. To mark the occasion the people of Diez had two days of festivals, sport and drama. The day commenced with the opening matches of a two day basketball tournament - 27 teams participated in the event and the teams comprised of indigenous men and women from Diez and neighbouring communities. Also the peace observers entered into the spirit of the festival by forming a team of their own - I think the heat must have got to them!
As night began to fall the whole community gathered around the basketball court which transformed into an open air theatre - speeches, dancing, singing and poetry began - unfortunately my Spanish isn't as good as I would like, but there was no mistaking the meaning and emotion in these poems. One of the performances struck me as Art imitating Life. The Patroni sitting on a chair giving orders to his armed right hand man, who in turn shouts orders to the men and women working in the field - work harder, work faster! This goes on for what appears to be a long time and then the workers decided enough is enough and thrown down their tools and grab the gun from the right hand man and send them both out of the area to the delight and cheers of the spectators. The music continued on well into the early morning, everyone participated.
The following day starts off with more basketball matches, several hundred people watch the teams battle it out, music blares from the speakers belonging to the Zapatista musicians who had come from another village for the festival. By late afternoon a traditional party game involving the beating of sweet filled Pinatas with a stick, by the blindfolded children takes place which provides a great amount of humour for everyone. The finale involves the children and some adults scrambling for the dispersed sweets.
Once again men and women perform dances, recite poetry, sing traditional songs, prizes are given out for the winning basketball team. Once again the music and dancing went on into the early hours of the morning.
I left early the next morning and a number of through went through my mind on the journey back to San Cristobel. It struck me how relaxed everyone had been and how eager to celebrate despite the threat of military invasion. It struck me also that I was leaving behind a lot of new friends.