In Mexico City, the autonomous cultural space Chanti Ollin withstands a violent eviction and continues in resistance.
El Enemigo Común
Have you ever visited a community space in Mexico City called the Chanti Ollin? Its name means “House in Movement,” and there’s always movement of different kinds here: workshops on urban agriculture, bici-machines, alternative health, massage, video creation, painting, theater, production of educational and artistic materials, and transmission of free and alternative media collectives. It’s a space for playing and enjoying great music and painting incredible murals, for baking bread and giving classes on vegetarian cooking, for screening documentaries and organizing forums on past history and current reality. Members of collectives and peoples in struggle from communities like Atenco, Xochicuatla and Ayotzinapa are invited to tell about their resistance against the plunder of their lands and efforts to eliminate their people. And ongoing resistance is organized at the Chanti Ollin. Maybe you’ve had the good fortune to participate in some of these activities, of if you come from another city or country, maybe you’ve found a place to stay for a while.
The Mexico City government doesn’t want this recovered space to exist as an alternative way of living in the nation’s capital. During the 13 years of its existence, threats against the Chanti Ollin and attempts to eject its members have been common. The most recent, which occurred last Tuesday, was especially violent. A total of 26 people were rounded up and arrested, including five visitors from other countries. As of now, all have been released except one comrade who was deported.
See video: No to the harassment of autonomous territories, produced by the Laboratorio Popular de Medios Libres.
Far from being intimidated by Tuesday’s attack, on Wednesday morning, November 23, several comrades from the Chanti Ollin took the initiative of interrupting an official act of the city government with a performance called “City of the Future” ––a direct challenge to the presentation of legislation regarding a “new city” by the head of the Mexico City government Miguel Mancera and a group of public officials and academicians supporting future gentrification projects.
That same day, independent media reporters were invited to a press conference where the spokesperson for the Chanti collective underscored their support “ for the Zapatista communities and communities all over the country that continue to resist and continue to denounce the ongoing plunder, which is the motor of the accumulation of wealth of the few who live at the expense of the misery and impoverishment of all.”
The compañero further explained that “these individuals supposedly have the power to attack us, yet we continue to show that the power from below, the ability and potential of the poor, the ability and potential of honorable people, is worth more than the power of money”.
In response to a question about the planned destruction of the building by the government, the spokesperson said that a protective writ is being filed to avoid that. He didn’t discard the possibility of working in other spaces but reiterated the intention of the Chanti collective to keep on existing and resisting in the same space that they’ve been constructing for the last 13 years:
“We want to make it clear that we aren’t going to give up this space. It’s a space that we’ve won. It’s a space that has showed that the society can govern itself. This space is here to stay. This space is going to be open again. This space is going to keep on being the Chanti Ollin”.
For now, people haven’t been able to go back into the house and have set up camp outside, while calling on all supportive artists to help defend the space with a cultural barricade.
At the press conference, the following statement was read:
To the people of México
To the CNI and the EZLN
To brotherly and sisterly organizations
To our comrades in struggle
To the free and independent media:
On Tuesday, November 22, 2016 at 2:30 am, the odious government presided over by Miguel Ángel Mancera once again ordered the repression of a political-cultural movement. In an enormous police operation ––a reflection of the authoritarianism and militarism that we’re living through––, the cultural autonomous space Chanti Ollin was taken by storm. The Chanti is located at Avenida Melchor Ocampo 424, at the corner of Río Elba, Col. Cuauhtemoc, in Mexico City.
Approximately 500 riot police, investigatory agents, tanks, trucks with floodlights and helicopters forcefully and violently broke into the building, smashing windows and balconies on the third floor and threatening our comrades at gunpoint. They stole personal items including laptops, cash, and cameras. They broke in without showing any kind of warrant issued by a court and gave no previous notice of the eviction. They even searched neighboring buildings on their way in. It only took a few minutes for them to enter and begin to carry out a search of the building.
The police arbitrarily arrested 26 comrades without an arrest warrant, including a three-year-old girl who was there at the time. They wounded two comrades, a man and a woman, who were both searched some time after being arrested. Violence was used against the woman. The doctor demanded that she totally undress for the search, which she refused to do. She asked the doctor if the bone in her leg was fractured, but he said he couldn’t tell her that without doing a full body search, so the comrade left the office without having her leg examined. The comrades ejected had not committed any crime whatsoever. They were just there in the building organizing the Autogestival event scheduled to be held in their cultural space a few days later.
The Chanti, like many pieces of property in Mexico City, was abandoned by its previous leaseholders after the devastating earthquake of 1985. After the death of the owner, the leasing company went bankrupt and the property was intestate. It was then, in 2003, when a group of young people took on the task of bringing cultural, political and economic life to the building, which was occupied with art, culture and ecology, thereby opening the space as a gathering point for youth groups and social movements. During the 13 years that the Chanti Ollin has existed, hundreds of workshops, discussion groups, musical presentations, and plays have been organized by young people who had formerly lacked a place for their artistic, community work. People from the Chanti have organized numerous voluntary work brigades and caravans in indigenous and campesino communities, and in many barrios in the metropolitan area. The Chanti Ollin has maintained a leftist political position that has nothing to do with official political parties, and for this reason has been a target of political persecution and investigation, smear campaigns in the media by pre-paid journalists, and several violent eviction attempts.
At the present time, due to the Mexico City gentrification project, initiated by sold-out city government officials in collusion with rapacious businessmen, there is an attempt to sell and privatize public spaces for the benefit of the financial and political elite. We are in the middle of a treacherous process in which the downtown area has already been sold off, and now the powers that be are using evictions, repression and criminalization to take over community spaces that have been constructed through self-direction by many honest people.
The Chanti Ollin is a reference point for resistance to this voracious project, which aims to do away with a people’s economy and forcefully impose commercial corridors for the pseudo-modernization of the city. These forces aim to do away with the Chanti as a community project because it is an obstacle to their continuous efforts to despicably enrich themselves. The Chapultepec “cultural” corridor, previously rejected by the people in a public consultation is one example of their project. Mancera aims to impose it come what may, because it would be too costly to cancel government commitments already made to big businessmen.
We are totally opposed to the continuous enrichment of big businessmen and public officials who take advantage of the needs of the people and turn political repression into a dirty business.
We demand the immediate and unconditional release of our comrades from other countries: Virginie M, Carolina Manqui y Vicente Baez Costa, Ana Laura Rodriguez y David Alexander Hidalgo [four of whom were released and one slated for deportation shortly after the press conference.]
We stand in defense of our mother the Earth, our culture, and our people and in total opposition to ruthless capitalism that intends to turn life into merchandise.
We will continue to defend our tight to free organization and self-determination as an independent, autonomous community from this city.
We call on all of you to take a stand with us if you feel in your hearts the injustice being committed by the bad government its attempt to close or demolish this autonomous, self-directed cultural center.
We call on all conscious people, organizations and communities to publicly support the continuity of this autonomous cultural project. The Chanti will resist as long as the people support us.
We call on the conscious and independent cultural community to defend this collective space by setting up an indefinite cultural barricade, and we invite musicians, painters, theater companies, dancers and artists in general to express your solidarity in your work and to defend liberated spaces.
Just as the land belongs to those who work it, a house belongs to those who live in it!!
The Chanti Ollin is an inalienable common good, and it will never be private property.
Long live self-directed autonomous spaces ¡!
Mancera out of the Chanti Ollin ¡!