DEFENDING OURSELVES COLLECTIVELY AND IN THE COMMUNITY
By: Raúl Zibechi
The world situation is very grave. When the flames of civil war in Syria have still not been put out, the crisis underway in Ukraine threatens to elevate the tension, expecting that new fronts will open in the global conflict. The South American region postponed, for now, a greater escalation in Venezuela thanks to the dissuading presence of the Unasur.
Nevertheless, we must look at ourselves in the Syrian mirror, or perhaps in the Mexican mirror, to comprehend that none of those options can be discarded in the most acute period of the hegemonic transition. Permanent war substitutes for State coups, since the imperial think tanks seem to have comprehended that the peoples come out strengthened from the dictatorial regimes, like the ones imposed in the 1960s and 1970s.
Now they seek to break the social fabric by stirring up prolonged internal conflicts, with the objective of leaving societies exhausted, divided and incapable of self-managing their issues. It is the method of breaking nations in the period of “accumulation by dispossession” (David Harvey) and of the “fourth world war” (Subcomandante Marcos), through the appropriation of the communal wealth and the destruction of life.
Faced with this panorama the movements cannot count on the State’s protection, because of having been neutralized by the pressure from the multinationals and imperialism, or indeed because of supporting with conviction their strategies. Meanwhile, we must think about the need to create and multiply spaces, conscience and organization for community defense.
We have before us a good fistful of forms of community self-protection among the Indian peoples, campesinos and also among popular urban sectors, where this task is more complex. These organizations often ignore the existence of similar others otras in other countries or regions, with which they cannot mutually enrich each other, learning from their successes and errors, and thus improving the modes of confronting such a complex period.
The Indigenous Guard of the Nasa in Cauca (southern Colombia) stands out. Its members are elected in an assembly by the communities and serve for two years, being able to be re-elected. The guards (both male and female) are in the vast majority young comuneros, they are armed with staffs of command and not only protect the communities (in their own territories as well as through their deployment in marches and protest actions) but they also exercise the work of education and support for community justice.
The Indigenous Guard has been capable of rescuing authorities kidnapped by the paramilitaries and the guerrilla, appealing to the mass mobilization of the communities. They have also disarmed the armed forces’ war installations within their territories and they work to impede violence from entering into their spaces destroying the communities.
The campesino rounds were born in Northern Perú at the end the 1970s to combat the cattle thieves. Within a few years they extended to a good part of the country, since they achieved reducing the thefts and almost extinguishing them. Acting rotationally, the campesinos make nighttime vigilance rounds, showing that families are no longer isolated but rather communities in construction.
Over the years the rounds aimed at works of construction of services to the comunidades. They implemented their own justice at the margin of corrupt state justice and, when the internal war between the Armed Forces and the Sendero Luminoso was triggered, they isolated the violent ones at the cost of thousands of deaths. In recent years, the campesino rounds play a decisive role in the resistance to mining, particularly in front of the Conga Gold Mining Project, in Cajamarca Province. They are known as “guardians of the lakes.”
In the cities we also count on a fistful of experiences of community defense, in tune with the brigades of the Acapatzingo Community Housing in Mexico City’s Iztapalapa delegation. An outstanding case happens in some Buenos Aires villas, with a long tradition of popular organization, as much for demands from the State as for organization and defense of daily life.
In Villa de Retiro, the Independent Villa Current and the Popular Dignity Movement erected the House of Women in Struggle, a space of formation, debate, collective organization for survival and also for defense against macho violence. Those that make up the women’s self-defense groups hold training workshops, which are “an tool for organizing, re-grouping and direct action that can give answers in the face of determined situations, as well as accompaniment and advice to women,” according to what the movement reasons.
They intervened in several cases in the face of aggressors making the situation visible and acting in groups, with discipline and decision, to stop the aggressor and reached the point of inducing him to abandon the barrio. In the Bajo Flores villa the Amazons acted years ago, mothers that mobilized against attackers and drug dealers, becoming referents for other women.
So, different organizational experiences exist among the three social sectors that confront the current model: indígenas, campesinos and popular urban sectors. Each one has its own ways as a function of the reality that they confront. Some use arms; others opt for favoring the multitude. But in all the cases we see a powerful decision of placing the body to defend the community collectively.
Somehow, these practices interconnect below and they learn from one another, although much slower than one would wish. Although in their group the number of people and communities involved in community defense are still very few, they mark a path because, at any moment, they will have to travel to other communities that can only count on their own forces when the systemic chaos rises dangerously.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Friday, April 18, 2014