The Ya Basta! In Latin America
By: Raúl Zibechi
In the 20 years that have transpired since the January 1, 1994 Zapatista Uprising, Latin American movements have championed one of the most intense and extensive cycles of struggle in a long time. Since the 1989 Caracazo (Caracas Massacre), uprisings, insurrections and mobilizations occurred that encompassed the whole region, delegitimized the neoliberal model and installed those from below, organized into movements, as central actors of changes.
Zapatismo formed part of this wave of the 90s and very soon became one of the inescapable referents, even for those who do not share their proposals and forms of action. It is almost impossible to enumerate everything the movements realized in these two decades. We can only review a handful of significant acts: the picketer cycle in Argentina (1997-2002), the indigenous and popular uprisings in Ecuador, the Peruvian mobilizations that forced the resignation of Fujimori, and the Paraguayan March, in 1999, that led to the exile of Lino Oviedo, who led a military coup.
In the next decade we had the formidable response of the Venezuelan people to the 2002 rightwing coup, the three Bolivian “wars” between 2000 and 2005 (one del about water and two about gas) that erased the neoliberal right from the political map, the impressive struggle of the Amazon Indians in Bagua (Peru) in 2009, the resistance of the Guatemalan communities to mining, the Oaxaca commune in 2006 and the mobilization of the Paraguayan peasantry in 2002 against the privatizations.
In the last three years a new layer of movements were felt that insinuate a new cycle of protests, like the mobilization of Chilean secondary students, the community resistance to the Conga mining enterprise in northern Peru, the growing resistance to mining, to fumigations and to Monsanto in Argentina, the defense of the TIPNIS (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure) in Bolivia and the resistance to the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil.
In 2013 alone we had the Colombian agrarian strike that was capable of uniting all the rural sectors (campesinos, indigenous and cane cutters) against the free trade agreement with the United States and one of the urban movements, and also the June mobilizations in Brazil against the ferocious urban extractivism of labor for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
This group of actions throughout the two decades permits assuring that the movements of those below are alive in the whole region. Many of them are carriers of a new political culture and organization that is demonstrated in very diverse ways in the different organizations, but make up different ways of doing than what we knew in the decades of the 60s and 70s.
Some of the movements, from the Chilean secondary school students to the Zapatista communities, passing through the Guardians of the Conga Lakes, the Venezuela Settlers Movement and the Free Pass Movement (Movimiento Passe Livre, MPL) of Brazil, among the most prominent, demonstrate some common characteristics that would be worth noting.
The first is the massive and exceptional participation of youth and women. This presence revitalizes the anti-capitalist struggles, because the people most affected by capitalism are participating directly, those who don’t have a place in the still hegemonic world. It is the majority presence of those who don’t have anything to lose because they are, basically, women and youth from below that give the movements an intransigent radical character.
In second place, a political culture is gaining ground that the Zapatistas have synthesized in the expression “govern by obeying” (mandar obedeciendo), which is still expressed diffusely. Those that care for the lakes in Perú, the heirs of campesino patrols, obey the communities. Youths of the MPL make decisions by consensus so that majorities are not consolidated, and they explicitly reject the “sound cars” that union bureaucracies imposed in the previous period to control the marches.
The third question in common is related to autonomy and horizontalness, words that just started to be used 20 years ago and were fully incorporated into the political culture of those who continue struggling. They claim autonomy from the State and the political parties, meanwhile horizontalness is collective leadership of the movement and not individual. Members of the Coordinator Assembly of Secondary Students (ACES, its initials in Spanish) of Chile function horizontally, with a collective leadership and assembly.
The fourth characteristic that I see in common is the predominance of flows over structures. The organization adapts and is subordinate to the movement, not frozen in a structure capable of conditioning the collective, with its own interests separate from the movement. The collectives that fight are something like communities in resistance, in which all run similar risks and where the division of labor adapts to the objectives that the group outlines at every moment.
In this new layer of organizations it is not easy to distinguish who the leaders are, not because referents and spokespersons don’t exist, but rather because the difference between directors and directed has been diminishing as the leadership of those below increases. This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the new political culture in expansion in the last two decades.
Finally, I would like to say that Zapatismo is a political and ethical referent, but not as the direction of these movements, which it does not seek or could be. It can be an inspiration, a reference and an example if one chooses. I feel that there are multiple dialogues among all these experiences, not in the style of formal and structured gatherings, but direct exchanges between militants, capillaries, not controlled, but the kind of exchange of knowledge and experience that we need to strengthen the fight against the system.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Friday, December 27, 2013