Mayan Revolution: Opposing genocide? My experiences with the Zapatistas, Las Abejas and other events in South-East Mexico
By Keegan Smith at Jan 11, 2008
I have spent the last 6 months shared between Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador learning about the movements of big government, debating what is revolution and seeing first hand the blood thirsty battle of the Latin American propaganda wars. It has deepened my understanding not only of Castillano (the Spanish dialect spoken across Spain's former kingdom) and Latino Culture but also the mechanics of change or repressing change at a national level.
For the last month however there has been a rapid change of pace and change of angle. I'm in Chiapas Mexico where I have been to hear Commandante Marcos and Naomi Klein talk about "Revolution Tourism and Hope Mining" amongst other problems with the battles of todays rich world activists. I have also spent a few days inside the Zapatista mystique. Talking to people who are living the everyday reality of being a Zapatista and learning about how they see the struggle of the world and their personal struggles within the struggle. I have learnt the importance of their languages (as well as a few phrases) and their culture and the battle to keep them alive within a world of change that they are not autonomous from.
The rest of my time has been shared between living with activists in San Cristobal, a city which finds a strange fame between revolutionary tourism and picturesque colonial escape and the community of Acteal. Acteal is the political headquarters for Las Abejas, an organisation founded in 1992 as a pacifist alternative to the Zapatista's who also demanded that their rights be respected with regards to access to land and a life of dignity. As a result they were victims of a massacre in 1997, where 45 indigenous mostly women and children were executed by government payed and trained paramilitaries (www.acteal.org).
I arrived at a very interesting time. Not only was I hear for the summit of the 10 year anniversary of the massacre but I also arrived at a time of internal political turbulence. The stance taken by the Abejas in 1992 was that they would not be affiliated with any political party and that they would fight for justice and dignity as an autonomous group. On paper the stance looks similar to that of the Zapatista's however since the massacre of 1997 the focus of the organisation has been less about taking on the Mexican and the Global systems of repression and more about seeking justice for those involved in the massacre (of whom 27 remain free and the government who authorised the attacks have never been questioned, the president of Mexico at the time who knew about the plans now lectures at YALE on globalization!Ernesto Zedillo http://revolucionandopormediodeideasypraxis.blogspot.com/2007/12/actael-10-aos-de-impunidad-y-los-que.html for Spanish readers). Today 10 years on lots of the foreign funding for Las Abejas has dried up and what is left is a community still hurting from the loss of their family members and the lies spread by mainstream Mexican media. The region has seen an injection of money from the Government in response to the Zapatista and to a lesser extent Las Abejas so that communities won't rebel and look for their own solutions to improve their standard of living. And while the Zapatistas with some help from foreign aid and income producing fame have been building their own answers to create a life of dignity Las Abejas have remained in a middle ground of some kind of incomplete autonomy. They have been left some say with worse living conditions than both the pro-government "PRI'istas" (who have been contracted to be the other military option for the government in the region) and the Zapatistas who now have autonomous schools, medical clinics and other essentials.
The question now for Las Abejas is whether to accept support from the PRD (the centre left party of Lopez Obrador) or start to look for their own solutions and stay in the resistance. Either way the road ahead is difficult and fraught with pressures from both within and outside the organisation. For the sake of the world I hope they stay in the struggle for a world of justice because the Massacre of Acteal is happening today in Iraq, Palestine, Sudan and many other places in the world as corporate and political interests seek to govern culture and make obedient working consumer machines of us all and take the land as their personal profit generator. For the sake of their own children's education and health the choice is not so easy.