Art has historically been a key pillar in the fight for self-determination and against capitalism´s destructive impulses.
As dissident Mexican teachers struggle to combat neolibral education reforms, and political violence continues unabated across the country, the question most frequently raised Friday by the storied Zapatistas movement in the southern state of Chiapas was this:
Care to dance?
Thousands converged on the Zapatista community of Oventic on Friday to share a wide selection of art representing the culture, history, and resistance of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or EZLN. Dance, theater, music, painting, poetry, and more were put on display by the Indigenous people of the Tzotzil, Zoque, and Tzeltal communities of the Los Altos region of Chiapas for an audience of local, national, and international visitors.
Under the banner CompArte — a play on words emphasizing art within the Spanish word for sharing — the EZLN aimed to highlight the role that creativity, imagination and art has historically played in revolutionary movements, from the expressionist murals of Mexican painters to the traditional African dance of independence fighters in the former Portugese colonies of Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Angola and Mozambique.
“If the machine imposes a perverse logic in which every tragedy numbs rather than enrages,” the EZLN wrote in a statement leading up to the event, “perhaps it could be the Arts that remind humanity that people not only kill and destroy, impose and dominate, humiliate and doom to oblivion, but can also create, liberate, and remember.”
According to a photo essay by journalists Carlos Ogaz and Andalucia Knoll on Regeneracion Radio, many performances and works of art recounted the long history of oppression and resistance of the Zapatista peoples from colonization to the conditions that paved the way for the formation of the EZLN in the early 1990’s to the movement’s more than 20 years fighting neoliberal capitalism and building local alternatives for economic, political, and cultural autonomy.
International guests at the artistic festival included Emory Douglas, U.S. artist and former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. Douglas previously collaborated with the EZLN artists “Zapantera Negra,” a multimedia art project that explored artistic and political links between the Black Panther Party and the Zapatista movement. Zapantera Negra-inspired art also made an appearance at the festival.
Cultural resistance in Chiapas is also set to continue Sunday as movements hold a march and cultural event in defense of “Mother Earth and territory” against mining and unwanted hydroelectric projects in the community of Pijijiapan.
Showing the artistic side of the movement in Chiapas comes after police and paramilitaries violently evicted a blockade held by dissident striking teachers in the town of San Cristobal de Las Casas on July 20, just one month after at least 10 were killed in a repressive crackdown on teacher protests in the Oaxacan town of Nochixtlan on June 19.
Meanwhile, Mexico saw one of its most violent days between Friday afternoon and Saturday with 51 murders reported across nine states, including seven members of one family in the violence-ridden state of Guerrero and 10 bodies found in Michoacan, La Jornada reported Sunday.
Reflecting on recent violence — particularly the massacre of an estimated 20 people including the mayor in the Chiapas town of San Juan Chamula on July 23 — the Zapatistas expressed through a statement by Subcomandante Moises at the kick off of the CompArte festival that tragedies in their communities are the result of meddling by political parties, drug gangs, and organized religion.
“Better for us to organize ourselves to build a new house, a new society,” said Moises, who was introduced as a new subcomandante by the iconic Subcomandante Marcos in 2013 as one of the “many selves” of the EZLN. “No one is going to fight for us.”
The EZLN declared war against the Mexican state on January 1, 1994, launching the Indigenous movement in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas into the international spotlight as an example for autonomous social movements around the globe.
Over two decades after the masked Indigenous army emerged from the Lacandon jungle and announced its resistance to Mexico and to the world, the Zapatista struggle continues to be an international icon for its ongoing work toward self-determination and new alternatives to global capitalism.
Zapatistas Blast Mainstream Media for Botched Massacre Coverage
The EZLN accused mainstream media of interviewing experts instead of truly investigating what happened during the Massacre in San Juan Chamula.
The Zapatistas have slammed mainstream media over its coverage of the recent massacre in the Chiapas community of San Juan Chamula, accusing the “paid press” of focusing on the death of the town’s “corrupt” mayor while ignoring up to dozens of other victims of the bloody tragedy.
Clashes erupted in San Juan Chamula July 23. Initial media coverage reported that Mayor Domingo Lopez Gonzalez, trade union leader Narciso Hernandez, and three others were murdered. But a report in the Mexican daily newspaper La Jornada, later indicated that at least 20 eople were fatally shot or hacked to death by machete in the violent outbreak.
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or EZLN, said in a statement by Subcomandante Moises on Friday that media narrowly focused on “weeping and mourning” Lopez Gonzalez’ murder because he is a member of the Chiapas Governor Manuel Velasco’s Ecological Green Party and that Velasco tried to downplay the incident as a “small problem.”
“They don’t say anything about the other deaths, those who went to die in their own places or whose whose injured or already deceased bodies were taken away by their relatives,” said Moises, who was introduced as a new subcomandante by the iconic Subcomandante Marcos in 2013. “For the government and journalists these deaths don’t matter.”
“There were dozens of deaths, not just the five who were corrupt authorities,” continued Moises in reference to the news stories that only reported five fatalities in the bloody clashes, slamming the mainstream media narrative as a “lie paid for with a few cents.”
The statement claimed that residents of San Juan Chamula and the surrounding communities in the Los Altos region of Chiapas “know that it was the guard of the corrupt Green (Party) mayor who started the gunfire and killed and injured many of those who were in the square.”
The EZLN deferred to the victims and the families of those killed in the attack to share the precise details of what happened in the July 23 attack, but described an “immense pain” over the events. The movement accused the media of failing to go to the source to report the fact, saying “paid media prefer to interview ‘experts’ instead of investigating what really happened.”
Moises also stressed that the Zapatistas regard see tragedies such as the massacre as the result of meddling by political parties, drug gangs, and the Catholic church.
“Better for us to organize ourselves to build a new house, a new society,” said Moises in the statement presented at the opening of an artistic festival in the community of Oventic Friday. “No one is going to fight for us.”
“It doesn’t matter to us that they are not Zapatistas in the community of Chamula,” he added. “They are our brothers and sisters. They are Indigenous and part of our native peoples, our original race.”
The Zapatista leader, embodying the “many selves” of the movement through the rank of Subcomandante, also highlighted how Indigenous communities have resisted for centuries in the face of systemic abuse, mistreatment, and insults that continues today when politicians “use” Indigenous people and call them dehumanizing names.
“They have wanted to destroy us and make us disappear,” said Moises. “But they will never be able to.”
Ahead of the San Juan Chamula massacre, the Zapatistas had warned in an open letter to the government of Chiapas of the risks of “playing with fire” in the community, referring to a campaign of repression against the dissident teachers’ movement. On July 20, paramilitaries allegedly from San Juan Chamula helped carry out a violent eviction of a teachers blockade in San Cristobal de Las Cases on July 20.
“You are fomenting discontent and division within the people,” wrote the EZLN in an open letter to the state government the day after the crackdown on protests in San Cristobal. “With your nonsense you could provoke an internal conflict whose terror and destruction could not be contained.”
WORDS OF THE GENERAL COMMAND OF THE EZLN, IN THE VOICE OF SUBCOMANDANTE INSURGENTE MOISÉS, AT THE OPENING OF THE ZAPATISTA’S PARTICIPATION IN CompARTE, CARACOL OF OVENTIK, CHIAPAS, MEXICO, MORNING OF JULY 29, 2016.
In the name of the compañeras and compañeros bases of support of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, I want to tell you how we feel about the things that they do to us as originary peoples of Mexico. I think it is the same all across the world.
We want to tell you, explain to you once again, how much suffering this rotten capitalist system has caused us.
Don’t feel bad, compañeras and compañeros from the national and international Sixth, brothers and sisters of the world, about everything that I am about to tell you because it isn’t about you. It’s about what the capitalist system does to us and the conditions that it forces on us, especially those of us who are ORIGINARY PEOPLES in this country called Mexico.
I am going to talk about how we Zapatista men and women feel about what they did to our indigenous brothers and sisters from the town of San Juan Chamula, on June 23 of this year.
What happened there pains us as Zapatistas.
I mean what really happened there, not what the paid media (those who sell out for a few pennies) say happened there.
We know perfectly that the paid media says that in Chamula the municipal president from the Verde Ecologista (PVEM, Green Ecological Party of Mexico) was killed. Because this is the party of the overseer Velasco,[i] the paid media are there crying and lamenting what happened, but they say nothing of the rest of the dead. They say nothing of those who later died in their homes or of those whose dead or dying bodies were taken away by their families. For the government and the press those deaths don’t matter. There were actually dozens of dead, not just five corrupt officials.
Everyone in Chamula and in all of the indigenous communities of the Altos of Chiapas knows what really happened. They know that it was the guards of the corrupt municipal president (of the Verde party) who initiated the shootout and who killed and injured many of the people who were in the plaza. It wasn’t until later that another armed group arrived to finish off these (Verde) officials. Yes, finish them off, because they had already been killed with clubs and machetes.
The government and its journalist employees want to present what happened as just a small problem. They talk about the municipal president as a “poor thing.” They claim that he was simply trying to respond to the people’s complaints but that those “savage” Chamulans, as the press calls them, had to go and kill him.
All of this is a lie. Every single thing that they have said in the paid media is a lie. It is a lie that was bought for a few pennies, and the paid media would rather interview “experts,” as they call them, than go and actually investigate what happened.
We are not going to report what happened in detail. We will leave this task to those who were the real victims that day and who have been the victims for a long time now. They will know perfectly well how and when to explain things.
But what we will tell you is that what followed pains us to no end: how the paid media began to report a bunch of nonsense and lies about indigenous peoples. Even those media who claim to be very progressive did the same thing. It pains us how they made a corrupt politician into a hero. It pains us that they lied to everyone, becoming accomplices to the crime. And it pains us how they knelt before Velasco so he could could climb on their backs and present himself as some great savior. It’s on them [the media] that they sell out for mere pennies.
It does not matter to us that the people of Chamula are not Zapatistas. They are our brothers. Those people who killed each other in the community of San Juan Chamula are indigenous peoples, originary peoples, part of our originary race. It brings us no satisfaction to see indigenous people killing one another, even if they support the political party system. It gives us no pleasure to see indigenous people presented as “savages” by those who are the true savages—the criminal government, their political party supporters, and their obedient paid press.
What matters to us is who planned this, who wanted things to happen this way.
We suffer an immense and seemingly incurable pain from all those things that those above have done to us.
We understand clearly that no one else can cure this pain. Only we can do so that, and to do so we will have to work and work very hard.
All of the bad things that happen in our communities, towns, barrios, and neighborhoods HAPPEN BECAUSE OF THE POLITICAL PARTIES, RELIGIONS, AND DRUG TRAFFICKERS THAT MEDDLE THERE.
They use us indigenous people for anything and everything that those above want.
They want to turn us into servants of those above by having us work as mayors, councilmen, and state and federal representatives. Why do they want us to do this? So that we will learn to make money without working, so that we will learn to be corrupt while we disguise ourselves as servants of the people.
I don’t know what they see us as, because even garbage is good for fertilizer. In our case they don’t even see us as garbage. We are nothing but shit to those above.
They treat us like shits, and because they’ve already made use of that shit they have to throw it out, however they feel like.
I cannot even say that they treat us like animals or pets because they at least treat their pets like living things.
They look at us indigenous peoples of the world and say “backward,” “uncivilized,” “nuisances,” “primitives,” “revolting,” and countless other absurdities that they have said about us and done to us.
For centuries and centuries we have resisted all of this.
We are flesh, blood, and bone, just like them.
But we indigenous men and women are not hurting ANYONE.
They have wanted to destroy and disappear us, but they will never succeed.
They have divided us with religion, miseducation in the schools, and the political party system. They have imposed on us another culture, a bad politics, and a harmful ideology.
Compañeras and compañeros from the national and international Sixth, brothers and sisters of the world:
We say to you clearly: we are not the shit of those above to be treated like this. We are humans of blood, bone, and flesh just like they are. We are not the same color as they are, but we are living beings.
We do not want to be bad like they are, those who use other humans.
Yet today what they are trying to show is that it is we indigenous that are bad, that we kill one another as happened in San Juan Chamula.
The ones who wanted this to happen are the political parties above, from the ruling PRI and the PVEM and all of the political parties.
That is what happens with the other political parties too, including those who say they are on the left. They use us as their shock troops, but these parties are the ones who are backwards and evil, and yet we are always the ones who end up paying the price.
I am not saying that we originary peoples are all good; we have our own problems but we can resolve them ourselves. What happened in Chamula was the fault of the political parties and the leaders of those parties.
The media doesn’t mention this because they don’t get paid to tell the truth. On the contrary, they make more money by hiding information.
The journalists who work for the newspapers have to do what their bosses tell them if they want to get paid. They have already lost their dignity, and the same goes for the religious leaders who are well aware that they are deceiving us. They too have lost their dignity.
Who taught them to be corrupt, to steal and crook? Those above did.
The municipal president from San Juan Chamula who died was from the Verde party and he didn’t want to pay what he owed to the indigenous peoples, his own people. They had already said to him many times before to hand over the money already! But he didn’t open his ears and listen to them. Where did this municipal president learn to act this way? He learned it in the service of the bad government.
For decades and decades and hundreds of years they have deceived, mistreated, and used us, which is why no one pays attention to us indigenous peoples.
The teachings of above are bad, horrible. Those indigenous who have let themselves be used by those above and become mayors, councilmen, like the councilwoman from Las Margaritas (Florinda from the PAN) in La Realidad, and the ex-federal representative of the CIOAC (Antonio Hernández Cruz), both Tojolabales. They have learned to ignore the communities and not take them into account. They are the ones who planned the murder of our compañero Galeano, a teacher of the Zapatista Little School. We have not forgotten.
The bad things that they want to teach us could fill volumes. For example, I’m indigenous, a small landholder with ten hectares. But I begin to call myself a rancher. Yet an ejido commoner who has the right to 20 hectares…they are not considered a rancher even though they have 20 hectares. But those 20 hectares aren’t worth anything; what’s considered worthwhile is to be a property owner. So now those people that now consider themselves ranchers believe that they are no longer indigenous. And that’s not even counting those who have become mayors or councilmen, because they now consider themselves middle class. They even begin to say that they don’t know how to speak their indigenous language.
Why is it that we indigenous peoples have to pay with our lives just so that others can have money to eat?
All of the paid media compete over the price at which they will sell their photos of the dead in San Juan Chamula. But they don’t report who is responsible for the deaths, and all levels of government pay whatever is necessary so that the names of those actually responsible—they themselves—don’t come out in print.
The press only prints what the bad governments say. Why didn’t the reporters and photographers show the rest of the dead? Why didn’t they show those who were killed by the municipal president’s guards, his opponents? The media doesn’t care about that because it doesn’t make them any money, and because the people who died there were Indians, and it doesn’t even matter that those Indians belonged to political parties. They were all just Indians. Isn’t this racism? From the same people who supposedly speak out against racism.
Those who supposedly “work” for the paid media have already received their pay for selling and situating lies, despite the gravity of the situation, even for them. They do not print the truth because the truth doesn’t make them any money. Shame on them, they are the masterminds of falsehood.
They arrive late to the scene of the crime just so that they can take pictures of the dead, but not to investigate the causes of decades of injustice.
They do arrive on time when their paymasters, that is the bad government, want to show the press what supposedly happened. The bad government gives them an opportunity to snap a picture and tells them that everything is under control in that place where the good president and his guards were killed by “Indian savages.” They print everything that the bad government says on this topic.
Within minutes they release this misinformation only to delete it just as quickly. They want people to see it but then forget it quickly. They do this so that people don’t demand to know who is really responsible for what has happened to the indigenous peoples of this country. This is the function of the paid media.
Damn it! We all know that the rich aren’t rich because they work from dawn to dusk. They don’t have to sweat and stink of sweat. They don’t have to worry about being mutilated in accidents with machinery. Their bodies aren’t covered in sweat. They don’t end up deaf because they are subjected to unbearable noise for 8 to 12 hours a day. They don’t get sick from fatigue; they don’t get stressed because they don’t have money for medicine, for food, for their rent, or for the education of their children. They don’t lack anything, thanks to us, the workers in the country and the city.
Without exploiting us, they would not be rich.
This world they have forced on us has come apart.
What is our pay in this capitalist world? Poverty, exploitation, mistreatment, and injustice.
Today they treat us all the same whether we are workers from the country and the city.
Their foremen, the municipal presidents, mistreat us; their butlers, the governors, mistreat us; and their overseers, the federal government, mistreat us. All of them are acting on the orders of their boss: neoliberal capitalism.
We have suffered so much from all of the things that they have done to us, the indigenous peoples from across the whole country, and what they have done to the compañeras and compañeros of the National Indigenous Congress.
But if we defend ourselves, then ah yes, we are “backward-thinking” “savages.”
If we steal a little bag of potato chips, we go to jail. But if the government of Juan Sabines Gutiérrez steals 40 billion pesos, no one goes to jail. They walk away scot-free so that they can continue to steal.
What a bunch of shit! What horror! How racist! There isn’t a single mainstream newspaper in Mexico that would publish this.
There is only injustice for us, the exploited peoples. There was NEVER justice for our great-grandparents; there was no justice before 1968; there was no justice for the slaughter of ’68; there was no justice for the slaughter of women in the city of Juarez, or for the slaughter of the children in the ABC Daycare. There has been no justice for Acteal. There has been no justice for the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa, nor has there been any justice for the many many other injustices.
People of Mexico: we must all organize ourselves and struggle as we indigenous peoples are organized with our new system of government.
But it isn’t up to us to say how you must organize. Yes, we want to share all of our experiences, but we don’t know what the particularities of life are like for the workers, for the teachers, or for other people. But we all know that we want Justice, Freedom, and Democracy, and in this goal is our commonality.
What this system imposes on us is an impossible situation. For example: if I am part of an originary people and a federal representative and my congressional seat is next to federal deputy Diego Fernandez de Ceballos, the large landowner and land lord, and I begin to discuss the agrarian law, proposing the equal division of the land, that no one should have more land than anyone else, how would it be possible for me to come to an agreement with him, me an indigenous person, and him, a large landowner?
This system doesn’t work, it is rotten, it cannot be fixed. It will fall piece by piece and people will die as a result. We better figure out how to get out of there.
We had better organize ourselves to build a new house, that is, a new society.
No one is going to struggle for us. Just like for us Zapatistas, no one came here and struggled for us. In other words, we had to give our lives because we want more than just our lives.
So, teachers, organize and struggle until the end. Public health workers of Mexico, organize yourselves because the storm is already coming for you. The same goes for every sector of workers: the storm is coming for us.
People of Mexico and poor people of the world: organize yourselves.
From the mountains of Southeastern Mexico.
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés. Oventik, Chiapas, Mexico.
July 29, 2016