Background: The three gazes of the original peoples

In the spirit of Lord Ik’ | Zapatistas in the Francisco Gómez municipio | photo by Mario Olarte.

In the Year 2-Covid 19, or Year Twenty-One-Reed [Aztec calendar] of the current century, many people in many places have lost their bearing. The semi-paralysis induced by the pandemic provided the State with a distinctly new twist in the unstoppable militarization of the country. With all the best excuses, as always. Ever since the Army emerged from their barracks in 1994 and, especially in 1995, its presence has only increased in the rural and indigenous plazas, cities, roads and regions throughout Mexico. One even wonders if there are any troops still left in the barracks.

Since then, all kinds of special, semi-militarized police forces have been invented, first in order to fight the indigenous subversives in Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Guerrero; and later to make war on organized crime. And frequently on the population as well. The security theme became the favorite excuse of the powers that now seek to centralize even our identities through a universal ID card, Chinese- style. This is not a new project. Previous governments have attempted the same. Maybe in those days we were still concerned about the spying, the phone taps, the tails on people suspected of something. Today nobody cares if they are being spied on or can’t evade it (because they can’t). So the State will have a file on each of us, making us all equal on this front, in cybernetic fulfillment of the old liberal dream of mestizo Mexico: to make Mexicans uniform under the liberal guise of “equality” that has been filled with nuances and misgivings in the postmodern sensibility. For the original peoples, in particular, this means de-indianizing them rather than recognizing their local sovereignty, their right to different forms of government, agricultural production and communal forms of life that have survived, being indomitable, for centuries, despite many governments’ failed attempts at extermination, often “benevolent”  but relentless.

Those who think it’s different now are wrong. Rhetoric has abounded: from the independencistas, the Juaristas, the Porfiristas, the Maderistas, the  post-revolutionaries, the nationalists, the neoliberals (from Salinistas to Calderonistas). From the perspective of the peoples, the changes in discourse do not change things: for a century they have been eating promises, from political party to political party, from church to church. Meantime their territories diminish, surrounded by urbanization, highways, trains, mines, wells, agroindustries, tourism. Property rights are continually  denied to them, and those they have won, disappear. The concept of “indigenous autonomy” does not exist in the lexicon of any president. 

As always, the State and a good part of the majority society that lives on the  train of consumption and individualism,  applaud diversity, pluriculturalism, roots and identity, but actually they present an obstacle for them. It’s been 27 years since the indigenous uprising of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN); and since then there has been no stopping the indigenous challenges to State control. In 2021, amid the adversity of the pandemic, the very EZLN that built real autonomy –without permission, but with efficiency and legitimacy– makes an international statement that somehow breaks out of encirclement of the nationalist autism that the government is trapped in. Like other times, it seems like an adventure, an unexpected proposal that goes against the current, a game change. Whether or not it succeeds, above all it  reminds us, in Mexico and in many other parts of the world, of the reality of the originary peoples, and their   importance in a future that is not shit, and their courageous defense of the territory, the water and self-governed communality.

The words of Old Antonio, cited in “The Mission” a recent communique by subcommander Galeano of the EZLN (December 2020), which is itself a followup on the “Declaration for Life” made available in January, sets things straight again from and for the original peoples’ gaze:

“Storms respect no one; they hit both sea and land, sky and land alike. Even the innards of the earth twist and turn with the actions of humans, plants, and animals. Neither color, size, nor ways matter,

“Women and men seek to take shelter from wind, rain, and broken land, waiting for it to pass in order to see what is left. But the earth does more than that because it prepares for what comes after, what comes next. In that process it begins to change; mother earth does not wait for the storm to pass in order to decide what to do, but rather begins to build long before. That is why the wisest ones say that the morning doesn’t just happen, doesn’t appear just like that, but that it lies in wait among the shadows and, for those who know where to look, in the cracks of the night. That is why when the men and women of maize plant their crops, they dream of tortilla, atole, pozol, tamale, and marquesote [vi]. Even though those things are not yet manifest, they know they will come and  this is what guides their work. They see their field and its fruit before the seed has even touched the soil.

“When the men and women of maize look at this world and its pain, they also see the world that must be created and they make a path to get there. They have three gazes: one for what came before; one for the present; and one for what is to come. That is how they know that what they are planting is a treasure: the gaze itself.”

It’s not just the pandemic. Huge floods, large-scale droughts, poisoned rivers and soils, cleared forests, destroyed coastlines, construction projects that invade natural areas, including virgin territories, are all part of the storm. Ancient villages and their regions are endangered, the jaguars and the mangroves are endangered. The conflicts of land dispossession are now compounded by torrential conflicts over water. The bids are coming in on the stock exchange, dispossession multiplies. Soon it will be the cause for wars.

For the men and women of maize, their gaze is the treasure that allows them to remain steadfastly in the world, not to confuse the compass nor to lose their way. In fertile summers and in hard times, the originary peoples’ view what is coming with a farmer’s persistence and a millenarian efficiency. They are the only ones who think the earth is not for them, but for their children and beyond. The struggle is in the long term.

[Originally published in Spanish and excerpted from the “Umbral” column of Ojarasca : Las tres miradas de los pueblos originarios] Translation provided by the Chiapas Support Committee.

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