By: Luis Hernández Navarro
The Tojolabal community of Guadalupe Tepeyac in Chiapas is emblematic. Not in vain, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sent a message to the Zapatistas from there last Saturday. Before some 300 campesinos, the president expressed his respect for the rebels and called for unity.
The presidential appeal occurred in the context of an increase in the militarization of Zapatista territories. Moreover, the movement of troops into the community preceded the President’s arrival in Guadalupe Tepeyac. For two or three days before, the patrols increased in number and frequency. Soldiers came to speak with the hospital workers.
According to the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center, since the end of 2018 the number of Army incursions into the seat of the Caracol of La Realidad doubled, including flyovers of communities. The actions of paramilitary groups that murder and displace the population also increased. The president denies that the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas denunciation is true.
To understand the symbolism of Guadalupe Tepeyac we have to do a little history. The ejido represented the hope for a peaceful and profound transformation of the country. But, it later became an emblem of government betrayal and repression.
At the root of the EZLN Uprising, the community functioned as the rebels’ informal capital, a symbol of the global revolt against neoliberalism. It was a kind of a libertarian Mecca to which political figures traveled to meet with the rebel commanders. As the President reminded, he was there years ago to converse with the deceased Subcomandante Marcos, now Galeano.
Located in the municipality of Las Margaritas, the Guadalupe Tepeyac ejido was founded in 1957. Four months before the 1994 insurrection, hundreds of Zapatistas without uniforms surrounded, without him knowing it, the then president Carlos Salinas, who was there to inaugurate a hospital to uselessly try to stop the armed uprising.
On February 16, 1994, its inhabitants, migrants that colonized the jungle, introduced themselves to the world during the delivery of General Absalón Castellanos Domínguez. In December of that year, the EZLN re-named it San Pedro Michoacán.
During July 1994, a ship painted with the colors of hope was built on these lands: the first Aguascalientes. In August of that year, around 6,000 delegates from almost the entire country held the National Democratic Convention (Convención Nacional Democrática, CND), an effort for transitioning to democracy and opening pathways to peace, convened by the Zapatistas.
The CND ship attempted to navigate in the waters of peaceful transition. However, it shipwrecked on February 9, 1995. That day, the EZLN awaited the arrival of the then Interior Secretary (and now the 4T’s Secretary of Education), Esteban Moctezuma, to continue talking about the peace process. Instead of the official, thousands of soldiers came to arrest Subcomandante Marcos. A betrayal! One of the rebels’ demands was a re-run of the Tabasco elections, in order to repair the electoral fraud perpetrated against Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
One day later, the Army entered the ejido. Fifteen minutes before 10 o’clock in the morning the first military helicopters were heard flying over Guadalupe Tepeyac, first four, then 20. Many of the men in the village had been in the jungle since the night before. Their orders were to retreat.
Minutes later, 2,500 soldiers arrived in about 100 armored and armed vehicles, with the support of planes and helicopters. Two hours later, General Ramón Arrieta Hurtado arrived, chief of the Parachutist Section and the one responsible for the operation. He found a desolate village, with part of its inhabitants sheltered in the hospital.
On February 23 and 24, 1995 dozens of soldiers under the command of General Guillermo Martínez Nolasco demolished the Aguascalientes. They built a military barracks in that same place that functioned until April 20, 2001. Guadalupe Tepeyac then became the incarnation of public shame. In response, the Zapatistas built five Aguascalientes in other regions of the state.
From which of the two Guadalupe Tepeyacs did President López Obrador send his message to the EZLN: from the symbol of emancipatory struggle or from the emblem of governmental betrayal? Imagine how it would be interpreted if Donald Trump were to send a message of friendship with Mexico from the Alamo!
In his speech, the President talked about the two ways to transform the country: the peaceful-electoral way and the armed way, and placed the EZLN as an example of the second way. Certainly, the Zapatistas rose up in arms and, thanks to that, the country turned to look at the indigenous peoples. However, ever since the truce was declared, although the rebels keep their weapons, they have not used them. Instead, they have turned to constructing an exemplary and unprecedented experience of self-management and indigenous autonomy. Precision is not artifice.
It’s important that the President speak directly to the EZLN. But it doesn’t seem like enough. To relax the relationship, other substantive steps in the right direction need to be taken.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee