KIPTIK Report - Bringing Solidarity to Zapatista Communities in Chiapas Mexico




Morelia Caracol, Water training course, Morelia Zone:
The course we had planned in November was cancelled due to mobilisations in solidarity with the events in Oaxaca. This pretty much rounded off a bad year for the projects what with the 6-month alert that prevented us working from May onwards last year.

In December we went to the zone assembly to give a report on the work done so far and the problems encountered. There was immediate response from the representatives of one of the municipalities who have failed to send anyone to the courses: we’ll see if this materializes into them sending their people to this coming year’s courses. We also asked if they would consider naming a coordinator or coordinating group for the new team to oversee the work and deal with funds, accounts, receipts and general administration. In due course we’ll also need a workshop/ office, so we asked where we’d be able to build one.

Any training initiatives in the autonomous zones are plagued by 2 major difficulties: the first due to the cargo system which exists in the communities…when people are named by their municipality to receive training in a certain field it is generally seen as a temporary post which will be occupied by a new person after a year or so. This is a real problem in technical areas such as water, where you really need people with long-term experience who stick with the job for a good length of time…The other difficulty is that all posts are seen as a service to the community are unpaid, which means that there is a tendency for people to get burned-out and give up the work because they need to go and earn money in Cancun or on the oilfields in Tabasco. While the system works relatively well in the area of political posts, avoiding an excessive concentration on power in the hands of a small group, in technical areas it’s like taking 2 steps forward and 2 steps back…Both these things are internal issues which are difficult for us as outsiders to have much impact on, although we will be bringing them up for discussion before long so as to see what solutions we can agree on.

Puebla Nueva, Morelia:
Since the water training course was cancelled I made a trip out to Puebla Nueva to check up on the system and see how it’s going. We installed a pump here a couple of years back. Things are working fine, but we’ll have to go back out there this coming quarter to do some water-proofing on the tank which has sprung some slow leaks. After waiting 30 years for a water system and being told by various government engineers that it wasn’t possible, the community seems pretty happy to have a steady supply of water…

General AT:

3rd Electricity course:
In December we organised the 3rd electricity course in coordination with a representative from the electrician’s union in Mexico City. The course was well attended with 42 people present from 3 of the 5 zones. There was a mixture of people with experience from previous courses as well as newcomers. Most of the course was dedicated to practical work: installing low-tension cables, re-tensing cables which were slack and shorting out, repairing burnt out lighting strike conductors, general maintenance to low-tension networks, and surveys for new installations. The course was based in Moises Ghandi but included trips to 6 other communities. We also gave a short presentation on photovoltaic power, along with a brief look into the fascinating world of the insides of transformers. There are now probably about 10 people who have been to the 3 courses we’ve organised so far, and who are now able to work safely on low and mid-tension lines.

Following the course we went to the zone assembly in Morelia to report on the work done. They immediately followed up on this in January by formally naming an autonomous electricity commission complete with El Presidente, El Secretario, and El Tesorero (as yet there are still no women electricistas in sight- we’re devising tactics to change this...) This is good news and shows that there are keen to actively support the work done so far and move things forward.

Quarterly Goals:

Water training and Morelia Caracol:
In January we have the 4th water course planned: we’ll be teaching them how to use the theodolites for the surveys and the computers for the design work. This should be a big step forward in the training. We are planning a course each month, and if all goes well we will be starting a series of new systems mid-year, hopefully running concurrently. To begin with we will be closely accompanying them in the survey and design work, but as the team gains experience we will gradually let them take on more and more of the work.

Political update:
The incoming President Calderon took office in December and was sworn in amidst full-on fist-fights in the Congress as PRD diputados tried to block all the entrances to prevent to ceremony from going ahead. For once watching live coverage of the Congress was highly entertaining- while of course, reflecting the current state of affairs in the country: an incoming President seen as illegitimate, violence ready to flare at any and every moment, and a general and profound discontent at what politicians have failed to deliver to the millions of Mexico’s poor and dispossessed. While Latin America swings to the left and the southern Presidents dismiss the imposition of Washington’s “free-trade” agreements and launch their own version- Mercosur- Calderon is going be lacking allies further south but welcomed with open arms north of the border. His first steps in office involved cutting university budgets and other important initiatives aimed at destroying public services. The word on the street is: Esta buscando broncas…(he’s looking for trouble).

In Chiapas the incoming governor Juan Sabines took office and promptly installed a number of old-school PRI hard-liners in his cabinet. He began his campaign on a PRI ticket, but since the party turned him down he skipped over to the other side of the street and became candidate for the PRD (he’s clearly not too weighed down by political ideologies…) While he has promised to implement a number of social programs aimed at tackling poverty in the state there is little doubt that he will follow the same path as his predecessor: grovelling at the feet of multinationals to encourage foreign investment and selling Chiapas as the latest tourist destination complete with colourful Indians who have now stopped being rebellious and are settling down for a nice life as museum pieces. It’s interesting to note that the designers of the current tourist maps of Chiapas seem to have forgotten to draw in the roads that lead in and out of the so-called conflict zone in Chiapas…or is this a deliberate attempt to shield innocent tourists from the horrors of 21st century Zapatismo with its network of autonomous schools, clinics and revolutionary murals? While there is no doubt that in the last 10 years Chiapas has witnessed an unprecedented explosion of spending on infrastructure, it’s clear- as it often is in these cases- that those who really need it are not seeing the benefits, and the options open to the Chiapanecan indigenous are: go north to work, go to the city to live in a slum, or take the PAN’s word for it and become an entrepreneur……… the drug-trafficking industry.

In Oaxaca the repression came to a head in November following a march organised by the APPO (Popular Assembly of Peoples’ of Oaxaca) on the 25th. The federal police (PFP, under military command and consisting mainly of military personnel) shot at, beat, and arrested several hundreds before flying them off to high-security prisons 1500 kilometres away in Tamaulipas and Nayarit. The recent visit of the International Human Rights Commission has revealed systematic rape of male and female detainees at the hands of the police on the way to jail, torture with electric shocks, beating and burning. It seems the reason this has not come to light in the mainstream media is that almost no one who suffered these abuses is prepared to testify legally due to fear of reprisals. A good number of the people arrested have now been released as it became clear the charges they were facing were completely ridiculous and devoid of all legality. Needless to say the so called “return to normality” in Oaxaca is one dominated by fear and continued killings and repression.

In the communities one of the major threats to a fragile peace comes from an organisation called OPDDIC (Organisation for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights) who issued a letter in December effectively declaring war on the autonomous municipalities. The organisation is run by Pedro Chulin, who in the past elections ran as diputado for the PRI, declaring himself a luchador social…social activist- pretty incredible for someone who has been named as the intellectual author of several murders of Zapatista support bases. OPDDIC promise money, land and freedom to their members and have grown rapidly. They have been at the root of several conflicts in recent months in the autonomous municipality of Olga Isabel in the Morelia zone, and Chol de Tumbala in the northen zone. There is no clear evidence that the organisation is funded and supported by the state, although it’s most likely that OPDDIC is the latest instrument in the government’s on-going counter-insurgency campaign.

Hard at work on the electricity course…

Number and size of new communities served:

Electricity training course:
Indirectly over 100 communities.

Water training course:
Indirectly over 80 communities.