By: Raúl Romero*
On December 19, 1994, the general command of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN, its initials in Spanish) announced that as a result of the campaign called “Peace with Justice and Dignity for Indigenous Peoples,” and with the support of the local population, they took control of 38 municipalities in the state of Chiapas. The capture was made without confrontation, and respecting the “cease-fire” that ruled at that time.
The civilian population of these municipalities was given the task of renaming them according to their beliefs, cultural practices, and of choosing their own authorities. The rebel conscience was noticeably remarkable.The people chose names like General Emiliano Zapata, Freedom of the Mayan Peoples, Ernesto Che Guevara, Lucio Cabañas or Magdalena de la Paz. With them, the territories that estate owners and ranchers (finqueros) formerly owned were given new meaning.
The new municipalities became governed by the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States of 1917, the Zapatista Revolutionary Laws of 1993 and the laws of the municipality itself. Thus were born the Zapatista Rebel Autonomous Municipalities (Marez), which practice self-government through autonomous councils. The EZLN would only be responsible for offering protection against military or paramilitary attacks. “Armies must be used to defend, not to govern. The job of an army is not to be a police or public ministry agency, ”the Zapatistas said through their spokesperson.
In 2001, the EZLN gave the Mexican State one last chance to recognize their right, and [the right] of all indigenous peoples, to self-government. Thousands of people took to the streets across the nation to support the demand. For their part, the entire political class, including the “left” parties, turned their backs on the original peoples of Mexico: the San Andres Accords on Indigenous Rights and Culture were rejected and the path of dispossession and looting was thus paid.
The Tzotziles, Tzeltales, Mames, Choles, Tojolabales and Zoques peoples organized around the EZLN, said that the time of asking and demanding ran out, and that it was time to put it in practice.
After communicating the total suspension of any contact with the federal government and with the political parties, on August 9, 2003, the creation of five Zapatista Caracoles and their respective Good Government Boards were announced.
The Caracoles replaced the Aguascalientes, built in 1995 for the purpose of being meeting points between the cultures of the Zapatista peoples and the other cultures of Mexico and the world. The Caracoles have a similar function, that of “windows to see us inside and for us to see outside,” that of “megaphones to get our word out and to hear the ones far away,” say the rebels in the southeast.
For their part, the Juntas de Buen Gobierno (Good Governance Boards or, simply, Juntas) operate through the principles of rotation, revocation of mandate (recall) and accountability. They are true networks of power from below. In them the municipal councils, which group together the community authorities, are articulated. This is how that emancipatory form of power is woven, in which the rulers become servants, people that will govern by obeying the people.
Anyone visiting Zapatista territory can perceive the achievements of this exercise of self-government. The Zapatistas have dedicated their efforts to giving themselves a roof over their heads, land, work, health, food, education, democracy, freedom, justice, culture and information. But since its origins, the EZLN was clear: their struggle is not for the benefit of the Zapatistas, nor is it only for indigenous peoples, it is a struggle for everyone.
The Zapatista Caracoles and the Juntas de Buen Gobierno are a contribution of the Mayan peoples to the struggles for emancipation. The dialogue that they establish between the particular and the universal, opens a place in history right next to the communes, the soviets, the committees, the workers’ councils, the free municipalities.
Now that the Zapatista Caracoles and the Juntas de Buen Gobierno are 16 years old, they face new challenges and threats, including those of a President who one day tells them they are not adversaries or enemies, and the next day calls them liars and betting on violence.
But those peoples that historically were despised and dealt with violently, exploited and oppressed, now know the freedom that comes with self-government, and are willing to defend completely their new world project. Hopefully it is not necessary, and hopefully also that the long and slow walk of the Caracol (snail) finds the freedom to continue enlightening us.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Saturday, August 17, 2019
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee, Oakland, California