In the past two weeks, social movements in Mexico racked up significant victories while continuing to organize in the face of constant state repression. Detractors will point to the several successes won in the courts as examples of the reasonableness and functionality of a democratic government. Those on the ground know that it was not due to a wise and benevolent judiciary that they won, but through years of organization, mobilization and struggle that forced the state’s hand. Even in victory they remain on guard, knowing that the state cannot be trusted and these battles are part of a larger war. That war rages daily as neoliberal capitalism, racism and patriarchy continue to plunder the peoples and territories of Mexico and beyond.
Readers may have heard of the assassination of indigenous land and water defender Berta Cáceres in Honduras on March 3. Wounded during the attack was Gustavo Castro Soto, a member of Otros Mundos from Chiapas. Fearing for his safety, he attempted to leave Honduras only to be detained by authorities and ordered to remain in the country for 30 days. A few days later on March 14 movements around Mexico participated in the International Day of Action Against Dams and in Defense of Rivers. The Chiapan Front in Defense of Water, Land and Life held an action in the state capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, while the Mexican Movement of those Affected by Dams and in Defense of Rivers (MAPDER) released a map documenting the 40 people from Mexico to Colombia killed since 2005 for organizing against dam construction. The map quickly became outdated the following day when Nelson García, a member of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) – the same group Berta Cáceres belonged to – was assassinated.
In Oaxaca, Fortuna Silver Mines, a Canadian mining company responsible for the murder of Bernardo Vásquez in 2012, is seeking to expand its operations despite resistance from several communities. Vásquez was a leader of the Ocotlán Valley United Peoples Coordinating Body (CPUVO) when he was ambushed after leaving a meeting with the state government. Also in Oaxaca, the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) released a declaration on February 24 summarizing the agreements reached during the gathering held there at the end of January, attended by delegates from 32 communities and 14 indigenous peoples. They write, “We gathered to see and to listen to the other, to those who every day experience dispossession, repression, disdain and exploitation in each one of the corners of the indigenous geography, where lightning announces the storm that is covering our territories, a storm conceived in the darkness of capitalism.” Meanwhile, the Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca – Ricardo Flores Magón (CIPO-RFM) denounced a campaign of harassment and surveillance currently being carried out against them by the state government.
A three-day National Dialogue for Education was held at the Raúl Isidro Burgos de Ayotzinapa Rural Normal School in Guerrero, 43 of whose students remain missing after being disappeared by the state in 2014. The conference focused on precarity in education and government attacks on normal schools. These schools are a legacy of the Mexican Revolution that train students to become teachers and advocates for rural, marginalized communities. They are inherently political and as such the Mexican government has carried out a campaign to shut down and defund them and ensure their graduates are not hired. The most well-known students from Ayotzinapa are Lucio Cabañas and Genaro Vázquez Rojas, who formed various armed movements in Guerrero in the 1960s and 1970s, including the Party of the Poor. Government attempts to crush those and other student movements led to what is known as Mexico’s Dirty War, the legacy and practices of which are still utilized by the government today. Also in March, a 300-page free online book was published about Ayotzinapa called Faltan Más (More Are Missing) and the relatives of the disappeared students established an email and phone number where the public can provide information about the kidnapped students.
International Women’s Day on March 8 was utilized by social movements to call attention to the crisis of femicide in Mexico, where 47 percent of women 15 and older report experiencing physical, emotional, sexual or economic violence. Under the Peña Nieto government, at least 6,488 women have been murdered. The State of Mexico, where Peña Nieto was previously governor, has the highest rate of femicide, with more than 50 women being killed there so far this year. On March 5, demonstrators gathered in Ecatepec in the State of Mexico and from there rode on public transportation throughout the state and neighboring Mexico City handing out information and whistles to women and listening to testimonies from survivors of sexual violence or the family members of those whose lives were taken. In Chiapas, the Movement in Defense of Land and Territory and for the Participation of Women in Decision-making issued a statement on March 8 following their second assembly, condemning “the capitalist, neoliberal, patriarchal and extractivist system [that] has the objective of enrichment from natural resources and taking control of the lives of the people, directly affecting women.” After she denounced a sexual assault she survived on International Women’s Day in Mexico City that was caught on video, misogynist trolls came out of the online woodwork, viciously attacking journalist Andrea Noel in a display of the powerful internalization of patriarchy. On March 13, several human rights groups called attention to the torture of women prisoners while being transferred to a new private prison in Morelos owned by Carlos Slim, the world’s second richest person. The statement related that the women “were victims of torture and maltreatment, including acts of sexual torture such as rape, molestation and other gender-based forms of discrimination.” These attacks led to the death of one women and the serious injury of another.
Dozens of organizations from ten countries issued a statement calling for the release of Alejandro Díaz Santiz in Chiapas. Locked up since 1999 for a murder he did not commit, Díaz is an indigenous Tzotzil member of the collective Solidarios de la Voz del Amate, a group of political prisoners and prisoners who became politicized on the inside. Adherents of the Zapatista Sixth Declaration, after years of mobilizing all other members of the collective gained their freedom in 2013. They continue to work for the freedom of Díaz, Roberto Paciencia Cruz – another politicized indigenous prisoner – and all political prisoners. As the statement reads, Díaz “was arrested and jailed for being poor and indigenous, something very common according to the racist logic of the colonial justice system in Mexico and Chiapas.” According to a recent report by the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, there are at least 9,000 indigenous prisoners in Mexico, most of whom did not commit the crime they are imprisoned for.
On the topic of indigenous political prisoners, judges threw out three kidnapping charges against Nestora Salgado and ordered her release on March 7. Salgado, head of the community police in Olinalá, Guerrero, has been held captive by the state since August 2013. Instead of being freed, however, prosecutors filed three new charges against her, for kidnapping, theft and homicide. The evidence against Salgado is so flimsy – for example, at the time of the murder she is being charged with she was 90 miles away – that her lawyers are confident she will be released shortly. In a recent letter, Salgado wrote about the creation of the community police,
The people had no other option but to arm themselves. They rang the church bells, they took the streets, and decided to detain the municipal police who were in league with the criminals, and took the security of the people upon themselves. October 27, 2012 was the key date for Olinalá because the people took up arms, not to make war, but to return to the people the tranquility and peace that the authorities didn’t care to ensure.
In some good news, compañero Yorch, whose situation was covered in the last column, had his charges reduced from drug dealing to possession and was released on bail on March 9. The state is appealing that ruling and the Anarchist Black Cross-Mexico warns that the struggle is far from over, as a media outlets in recent days have been publishing names and photographs of “compañerxs that are supposedly being investigated for various offenses.” In a March 14 statement that is essentially an FAQ on their upcoming CompArte Festival, the Zapatistas – along with commenting on the gastronomic impact of tamale smoothies – dedicated a lengthy postscript narrated by the cat-dog to condemning the framing of Yorch and the attacks on Okupa Che, as well as ridiculing the President of UNAM.
Nowadays the state will have to get a little more creative when it comes to locking up compañerxs as movement lawyers from the December 1st Lawyers League succeeded in getting the Supreme Court to rule as unconstitutional two crimes that the state often uses to repress protests and keep people in cages – “insults to authority” (six months to two years) and “attacks on the public peace” (five to 30 years).
In another victory in the courts, a judge ruled that the Mexican government cannot allow the commercial planting of genetically modified maize until a lawsuit brought by the Maize Collective – a grouping of scientists, farmers and social movements – is resolved. Monsanto announced it will be appealing that ruling, obviously. Another court ordered the definitive suspension of a government decree that expropriated territory belonging to the indigenous Otomí community of San Francisco Xochicuautla in the State of Mexico for the construction of a highway. After ten years of organized struggle, the community is celebrating their victory, but aware that much work remains as the project itself has not been cancelled. They affirmed that, “The only occasion we will sit down to negotiate with the State will be when they tell us that the project is cancelled and how they are going to repair the impact on the forest and village.”
Finally, a few more pieces of news to share from the past few weeks. Collectives and human rights groups in Querétaro have denounced the threats of murder and rape received by Aleida Quintaba, who works to document and call attention to forced disappearances in that state. Due to previous threats, Quintaba is already supposed to have protection provided by the federal government, yet these groups stated that has been inadequate, as along with the threats, she continues to be followed and harassed, including by one man identifying himself as from the State Attorney General’s Office. On March 9, thousands of teachers and their supporters blockaded the highway in front of the Department of Education in Durango and occupied the building, blockading the Secretary of Education in his office for hours, to protest the firing of 436 teachers who refused to participate in the newly imposed performance evaluation, part of the scheme to standardize education in Mexico. 30,000 people demonstrated throughout the state of Veracruz on March 10 to demand the governor, Javier Duarte, pay Veracruz University the 2 billion peso debt the state owes the school, as well as in opposition to a seven percent budget cut to the school passed by the state congress. Also on March 10, more than 50 organizations released a statement opposing the construction of a 400 kilometer aqueduct called Monterrey IV whose main purpose will be to divert rivers to provide water for fracking. State police in Morelos on March 15 evicted the Chamilpán Community Center near Cuernavaca, a space that housed a school, silk-screening workshop, medicinal garden and hosted various events and projects linked to social movements in the area.
Desinformémonos published a short video on twelve communities in the Milpa Alta district of Mexico City who have organized over the past six years to conduct community patrols of the forest to stop logging and hunting. And in Chiapas, the indigenous Tzeltal community of Banavil and the indigenous Tojolabal community of Primero de Agosto each marked one year of displacement in February, following attacks on their communities from various paramilitary groups linked to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).