Notes from the Course “Freedom According to the Zapatistas”
By: Gilberto López y Rivas
It was a privilege to attend the first grade course “Freedom according to the Zapatistas” as a student, which was paralleled in various territories of the autonomous governments, as well as in the Indigenous Center of Integral Capacity Building –Unitierra, in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, from August 12 to 17.
Because of its multiple political, strategic, programmatic and tactical meanings in the current tragedy of a country devastated by the government of national treason and its corporate-repressor associates (including organized crime), the course imparted by Indigenous peoples from the different ethnicities that make up the autonomous Zapatista governments constitutes an urgent call to the national conscience, to men and women with dignity and integrity to organize, resist and struggle for a better world where those that govern obey the peoples, departing from the seven principles: 1. Serve and don’t self-serve, 2. Represent and don’t supplant, 3. Construct and don’t destroy, 4. Obey and don’t order, 5. Propose and don’t impose, 6. Convince and don’t conquer, 7. Go down and not up, and based on the maximum ethic that reigns in the EZLN: “Everything for everyone, for us, nothing,” that is, the opposite poll of conduct with which the Mexican political class acts.
Throughout this memorable week, accompanied by our Votán, the tutor or “guardian-heart of the people and the land,” and of our textbooks for reading-consultation-discussion, the students enter into the studying the history of autonomous government. The arduous years of clandestinity are remembered, with the arrival of the Forces of National Liberation in the Lacandón Jungle on November 17, 1983; the 10 years of preparation that precede the declaration of war; the slow but extended process of awareness about the role to play “when so many men and women emerge that think about the rest, that rebel to demand land and liberty.”
They remember the establishment of 38 Zapatista autonomous rebel municipalities (municipios autónomos rebeldes zapatistas, Marez), once the failure to fulfill the San Andrés Accords was consummated and, afterwards, the teachers explained the conditions and problems that led to the creation of the five Good Government Juntas on August 8, 2003. The students learned how government is organized within the community, municipal and regional ambits. With linguistic gyrations and a large capacity for synthesis and conceptualization, our teachers demonstrated the course of construction and strengthening of their autonomy by means of a collective practice of men, women, children and elderly, with trials and errors, throwing out what doesn’t work and changing what’s necessary. “If something goes wrong, we make it better. It’s only been 19 years that we have been constructing our autonomy, against 520 years of oppression!”
In the conveyance, participation and thematic content of the course, they emphasized the scope and victories of women in the autonomous governments, in the commissions of education, health, productive projects, in the changes that take place in day-to-day life, domestic work and care of children, as well as in sports and public events. Here also, the women teachers remembered how in clandestinity the integration of women started in the militias, in the ranks of the insurgents, making the current gender parity in the three levels of government a manifesto. The machistas (macho men), which there are, now are faced with the autonomous authorities, the assemblies and the right that women have to report any mistreatment. If the woman holds a position, “the compañero has to take care of the children, make the food, wash the clothes,” my Votán commented to me.
Another important theme of the classes was that of resistance, because the bad government has not left the Zapatistas in peace for one single day. They know well that the [communications] media are powerful instruments of propaganda that lie all the time; therefore, they have created their own communications media. They identify the political parties of all signs as instruments of division and manipulation that promote the attacks against the Zapatistas peoples and their governments. But in this conflict, the Zapatistas assume a non-confrontational policy that has accrued to their benefit: “we have tried to not become irritated to avoid violence. By not becoming irritated, we have come out winning. With our patience, we have been able to resolve many problems. Our strength is our organization, without attacking those who do us harm.” That’s the way the teachers refer to how the “party member brothers” have become so dependent on government aid and programs that they abandon productive work and sell their land, while the Zapatistas collectively work on the recuperated lands and have their own resources and savings. Paradoxically, many party members end up asking the Zapatistas for help. They go to their clinics, where they treat them like human beings, and they resort to their governments to impart justice and expedited conflict resolution. “We bring resistance per se forward. Resistance has given us the strength to construct autonomy. Since 1994, the bad government wanted to see our face; it sought ways for how to attack us, but today, we are here! It (the bad government) introduces its policies and we organize ourselves and struggle for everyone.” Like that, our teachers demonstrated how they resist in the ideological, the economic, the political, the cultural, “which is the way of living.” They demonstrate how neither soldiers nor paramilitaries have impeded the development of their autonomies.”
Many more themes were treated, all with con depth, a sense of humor and frankness, with pride in all they achieved, but with modesty. Upon finishing the course the moment arrived to say goodbye to the teachers and Votáns, with a lump in our throats and many openly crying. For those who graduated from the Escuelita, the world will not be the same.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Saturday, August 30, 2013