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When War Crimes Are Impossible
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An Interview with Raúl Gatica
R aúl Gatica is one of the founding members of CIPO-RFM (Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca—Ricardo Flores Magón), based in the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca. CIPO-RFM was founded in 1997 and is a grassroots, non-violent organization formed of various indigenous communities. It is based on the philosophy of Ricardo Flores Magón, the Oaxaca-born prominent anarchist revolutionary of the Mexican Revolution (1910).
About 70 percent of the population of Oaxaca is indigenous. For many years, the indigenous communities have been facing repression and human rights violations by government and paramilitary forces. Gatica’s organization, CIPO -RFM, has been one of the most serious targets of the repression. Since its formation there have been hundreds of detentions, raids by the military, police, and paramilitaries, and assassinations, torture, and serious injuries.
The following interview with the CIPO-RFM founder aired on December 2, 2005, on “Uprising,” KPFK Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles.
KOLHATKAR: Can you tell us why you are in exile in Canada?
GATICA: It has to do with the struggle of the organization that I work at, CIPO-RFM, the Indigenous Council, which has been fighting for the rights of the indigenous people. This had caused the then governor of Oaxaca, José Murat, to try on several occasions to assassinate me. I was imprisoned at least 11 times. There were four assassination attempts against me. There have been a series of threats against myself and my family. This resulted in the decision of the Indigenous Council to vote for exile for me as the only way of survival.
Tell us about the indigenous communities of Oaxaca. Why do they face state repression and repression from paramilitaries?
Oaxaca is a state in southern Mexico that has the largest indigenous population in the country. In Oaxaca there are at least two million indigenous people—Zapotecos, Mixtecos, etc. There are 16 indigenous nations. We’re distributed in small locations, small towns, and in Oaxaca. The ownership of the land is by the community. What I mean is that it is distributed as common property. Without exaggeration, you could say that 75 percent of the land belongs to the community. Therefore the wealth of this land— that is forests, water, biodiversity, all this beauty that nature offers in our territory—belongs to the community. And so the small groups, the town, the indigenous groups, own them.
But the multinational companies want to have ownership of these lands. The measures taken by the government are to separate us as different indigenous people. The government does not want Indians. That’s why they want to take possession of our land. The only way that they have to take everything from us is by killing us. Because they know we will not leave our land. Because we have nowhere else to go.
We were in the lower lands when the colonizers arrived and then we went up the hills. But now the new colonizer wants our mountains where we currently live. Where else should we run to? There’s nothing beyond the mountains and that’s why they want to kill us all. The paramilitary groups are the best instrument for the government of Oaxaca and Mexico to exterminate us because by doing this their [the government’s] hands are clean and they can say: “We did not do that. They [the paramilitaries] killed by themselves or it was a common delinquency.” Anything can be said. And they will be free of any charge even though they are the responsible party.
Our people are being exterminated because we want to take ownership of our land. We resist because we are very clear in our mind that our struggle goes beyond [the current struggle over land]. We are struggling for humanity, to protect water, land, and forests. Because that not only benefits us as a people but it benefits humanity.
There are at least 200 organizations of all sorts. There is a long tradition of organizing. Our Indigenous Council is an organization of communities. The way we organize is by following this community model. Nobody charges for anything. We are all volunteers and we are named in an assembly and we follow what the communities dictate. This model makes it difficult for us to be eliminated.
Yet the government has succeeded in arresting and imprisoning many of the members of your community. How many indigenous political prisoners are there today? Do they have international support?
Since our origin, November 15, 1997, up to today, we have had more than 500 people detained, including 46 kidnapped in 2000 and 106 detainees in 1998. So we have remained and have suffered the repression of the government. There are more than 200 detention orders. And we are suffering the experience of a political exile like in my personal case. Our struggle has been presented at different international organizations. The United Nations Human Rights Commission states that the petition of the Indigenous Council should be heard—the right to organize peacefully and the UN specifically requests my safety. Also, the Inter-American Commis- sion of Human Rights based in Washington, DC has decreed in its assembly to ratify the cautionary measures issued on September 27, 2004. Nevertheless, the governments of Oaxaca and Mexico pays no attention to this international call to respect human rights.
Without exaggeration we can say that in Oaxaca we currently live in a state exempt [from human rights laws]. There is a systemic violation of individual freedom, which is comparable to other countries that have suffered military regimes in the past. The current governor, who is the leader of these measures, is one of the closest allies of the PRI candidate for the president of Mexico. And I can say without a doubt what lies in the destiny of Mexico if they [the PRI] are capable of winning the presidency of the country. Indigenous people and non-indigenous people, the poor people of Mexico, who represent the majority of the population, should expect death, kidnappings, or exile.
What are CIPO-RFM’s goals?
CIPO-RFM is searching in a peaceful manner for the resolution of problems regarding health, housing, education, and work for the indigenous people in Oaxaca. We also demand the community ownership of our land and recognition of our rights as individuals and as a group. We have our own language, our vision of the world, self-determination, and autonomy. We also fight for the respect of indigenous nations, for the preservation of forests and the environment.
We strategically structure ourselves, the organization, as part of a community. We do peaceful protests. That’s how we demonstrate and that’s how we express ourselves. We have always looked for the peaceful path because that’s our fighting tool. So a “Day of the Dead” becomes a demonstration. Or maybe our corn fields can become a field of protest. All the items that are a part of our life allow us to be recognized as a community, to be respected as human beings.
Why is CIPO-RFM non-violent?
Based on the history of our country and of every country, we have seen that in armed struggle everyone loses. Even those who win, lose. But those that lose the most are the people. In the case of Mexico, the ones that have lost the most are the indigenous people. We are tired of so many deaths, of losing every fight. Therefore, we believe that the only way of winning this struggle is to fight for the future through peaceful means. With creativity, with ideas, we are building a future right now. We are making the transformations now and not just to overthrow, to win. No, what we want is to learn how to live peacefully. And that’s why that is the origin of our organization. In any case, if we’re all going to die, we don’t want to hurt anyone. And that’s why we make our joy a means of resistance. Our smiles are a weapon of winning the struggle. For example, when tear gas is sprayed on us, that’s how we respond. We believe in peaceful means of struggle. We don’t need to impose violence to advance. This might cost us our lives, but we don’t want to harm anyone.
Anything that will make the government richer, they will use. When indigenous people are useful for them, let’s say, to be sold to tourists, to be used as puppets, the government will sell us for their own benefit. This happened when the terrible disaster of Hurricane Stan came along. Using our disastrous condition due to this hurricane, the government received aid from international organizations. Then the government of Oaxaca used this aid politically by going into our communities and telling us, “These materials, these goods, these supplies have arrived to fix roads, to aid you. And, we should vote for, for example [PRI candidate] Roberto Madrazo, because he sent us all this help. And if it weren’t for him we would not receive all these supplies to help us out.” So what happens is that disasters are used politically by the government.
In the case of the Indigenous Council, the situation is even worse because the authorities of our community delivered the census of the affected people and when the aid arrived the authorities went to the Indigenous Council and the autonomous communities. The delegates from the government said, “No, we are not going to give you anything because you are autonomous, right? So you should be able to resolve your problem.” So our members said, “Okay we’ll take care of ourselves by ourselves.” Therefore we were excluded from that international aid. A representative of the government said, “We know you are enemies of the PRI, we know you are not going to vote for the PRI. Therefore, we are not going to give you any supplies.” We replied, “We are enemies of hate and injustice. What we need to do is to live together in harmony.”
What can people in the U.S. do to express solidarity with your organization and with the indigenous communities in Oaxaca?
People in the U.S. could do plenty. There are several ways of doing it. One would be to understand the problems of our organization and indigenous community. They can open their eyes and their hearts to us and know that not everything is right in Mexico. There is so much poverty and injustice. That’s why so many people from Oaxaca live in the United States and work there.
Secondly, they could support our peaceful protest against the governments of Mexico and Oaxaca. When the officers from Oaxaca go to the U.S., in terms of repressing freedom of our imprisoned people, they could call attention to the government of Oaxaca and find out about the conditions of the people in prison. Apparently in the U.S., when people speak out, people are listened to. Apparently, the words of the indigenous people are worthless.
A third way of helping us out is to come and visit our communities. You can live with us and our homes will be your homes. You can share our meals, walk our walks, enjoy our happiness or share our sorrows, show affection for one another in order to learn how to live with other communities. If you come to be with us, then the police and the paramilitaries and the government will not seek to kill us all. So if you come, you will help us and be able to protect us.
Lastly, you could support our projects. For example, we have Radio Guetza, which is a community radio station. We also have a community center where people get together. You could help support that community center. You could help finance the human rights projects for indigenous people—the high school called Tamultepec and the health centers. You can help us trade our products: chocolate, coffee, molé. Also, our arts and crafts, and many things that we supply. What we want is for you to help us build what we are doing for ourselves. Of course there are many other areas where we could use your help. Your imagination and your affection can guide you in finding ways of helping us out.
Sonali Kolhatkar co-produces “Uprising,” a daily program on KPFK, Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
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MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
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POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
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VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
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OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
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COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.