Progress, False Promise by the Rich to Loot the Poor
** Seminar in Chiapas about the parameters imposed by power
** After 18 years, indigenous communities still confront war
By: Hermann Bellinghausen, Envoy
San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, December 30, 2011
With the challenge of confronting the novel concept of The power of the poor, which the Tzeltal intellectual Xuno López called “provoker,” the 2nd International Seminar of Reflection and Analysis began this noon, at Cideci-Unitierra (University of the Earth), in this ciudad. The presentation of a book-conversation by the thinkers Jean Robert and Majid Rahnema, with precisely that title, gave way to debate. How to understand from there development, progress and in general the parameters imposed by power?
Convoked close to the date of the eighteenth anniversary of the Zapatista National Liberation Army’s uprising, in its evening session the seminar also gave space to a precise account by the anthropologist Mercedes Olivera, about the Zapatista rebellion and the covert, economic and paramilitary war that the indigenous communities of Chiapas still confront from resistance and autonomy, from which their strength emanates. This would be the “potency” to which the work of Rahnema and Robert alludes.
The same Robert, a participant in the first session, enunciated the opposition between “poverty as a symptom of wealth” and “wealth as a symptom of poverty.” Where does one look? Or, as López had pointed out: “the poor are poor according to whom?” trying to find a translation into his language, to Tzotzil, of that concept generalized by the system of domination. At his opportunity, Rafael Landerreche, an educator and collaborator with Las Abejas of Acteal, offered a characterization of said “dogma” imposed on education and ideology, citing the infallible English writer Chesterton, saying that progress is the story that the rich tell the poor every time that the rich want to take something away from them.
Xuno López, a native of Tenejapa, who began his comments in Tzotzil, in consideration of the fact that it is the language of a large number of the attendees, set an example as close as eloquent, which in fact served to illustrate the whole session: “the false promise is evident” in the Santiago el Pinar rural city, a Los Altos community reputed by the government as the poorest of the poor, where the government and different corporations constructed a “city” so that they would abandon their homes on their plots of land, thus allegedly “living better.”
Continuing the simile, which almost all the presenters, of the carrot and the stick, López exposed that the residents of El Pinar, almost obliged to accept the promise, are “benefitted with houses, if you can call them that” and left their own houses. After being installed in their new home “they become disillusioned.” Their former house was bigger. Now they were going to live better. According to whom? That disillusion among brothers, he expressed, was because of accepting the system’s concept of poverty, being that “the peoples have found in the art of living beginning with what’s sufficient that one can find in the communities.”
As Landerreche outlined, in the book (“that questions the kaxlanes”) an essential difference exists between “a man of power” and “a being with potency.” From here “one can renounce power, not potency” (the possibility of doing, deciding, self-governing). The original peoples and the organized movements are opposed to the devastating logic of capitalist accumulation, which Jean Robert locates in the first paragraph of El Capital by Karl Marx. That which imposes a wrong and foreign ch’ulel (conscience, soul or spirit, in Mayan languages), as López would say, on the people that convinces them of needing what they do not need, accepting the stick to reach the promised carrot of progress.
The “development” that accompanies capitalist plunder “destroys dignified poverty with undignified poverty,” in the sense that the capitalist system never stops producing “poor,” something that all the participants shared in their critique of power, among whom are also the researcher Ana Valadez and the studious and activist Zapotec, Carlos Manzo.
Manzo said finding that “potency of the poor” in the resistance of the peoples, which includes resisting the terms of Western economic thought “that do not necessarily reflect the reality of life of the Indian peoples.” He maintained that “those who permit freedom are the true revolutionaries” realized by “those that are the only dignified supports of revolutions that function” and make possible the dignity of good living. He mentioned the experiences of the Oaxacan Ikoots, the Zapotecs and the Zoques of the Chimalapas as concrete struggles against the plunder and for dignity, which can tell us “how to construct those different tomorrows.”
At his time, López asserted: “The peoples have contributed something to that path of change, through the construction of autonomies. It is our potency as peoples that is there, against the ch’ulel of the dominators.”
The International Seminar sessions continued this evening with a panel between Xóchitl Leyva, Mercedes Olivera, Jerome Baschet and Ronald Nigh.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Saturday, December 31, 2011
Para leer en español: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2011/12/31/politica/013n1pol