“Our Weapons are Our Words, Our Thinking, Our Hearts”: Zapatistas
“We are the Guardians of our Mother Land – it is not a commodity, it’s our mother.”
On their third day of classes in the Freedom School, Zapatistas “confessed” that they are armed – their weapons are their words, their thoughts and their hearts.
The topic of this session was resistance – how their autonomous communities resist three different, simultaneous and constant kinds of attacks: (1) ideological, (2) economical, and (3) military.
One of the most powerful ideological attacks comes from the government media and corporate media. “They say there is no poverty, which we all know is not true, because there are children and families living in dumps. They broadcast TV shows that have nothing to do with us, useless TV shows, like TV Novellas and sports shows,” the Zapatista teachers said. They counter these attacks with talks, popular assemblies, and through their community radio.
The other powerful ideological attack from the Mexican Government comes from building nice public schools where students “don’t get education, because you don’t get education by just building a nice school room, the education is in our minds and hearts”. These buildings are an attack against the Zapatista schools. “The government builds nice buildings so that people make fun of our humble schools and our education promoters, so that people start distrusting our autonomous schools. Unlike the Government, we don’t handle certificates and graduation diplomas, but we teach. Besides, those certificates that the Government school issues to young people are to no avail because there are no jobs anyway, so the students get education just to end up working as restaurant waiters and cooks.”
Zapatista children get prepared so that when they grow up they serve their community, not an employer.
The Zapatista teachers pointed out that the quality of education, just as the quality of a government, does not lie on the nice appearance of a building.
“We started our government in humble offices, in the beginning just in a humble house of somebody, but the government is in your heart and your mind. When have you seen a bad government officer cleaning his office, cooking his food, washing his laundry? Our government officers do all that, aside from their government job.”
The other way of resistance against the ideological attacks on TV is by practicing the opposite – instead of having their kids watching TV sports and TV shows, they encourage them to get involved in sports and cultural activities.
At last but not the less aggressive attack against their autonomy are all the Government community programs specially developed “to make people believe that our autonomy is useless”. These programs have been implemented especially in Chiapas after the Zapatista uprising in 1994.
All these programs “have nice names,” they said, “like ‘Opportunities which provides school grants so that you study only to find out that there are no jobs, or the ‘Procampo Program’ which is supposed to help the peasants, but it does not have a plan and a market for peasants to sell their products. Actually, these peasants’ programs are making peasants sell their lands without even realizing it”.
Also, the government program for the elderly, named “70 and More” represents another attack against autonomy, by handing just a little money to elderly people and manipulating them. It is just a way to control their minds.
They mentioned as well the government school breakfast system, also developed to control kids and families.
Finally, the bank credits for peasants are given on the condition of handing their property titles.
As for the most promoted program of Mexican President Peña Nieto, named the “National Crusade on Starvation,” the Zapatista Indians call it the “National Crusade of Death”. People get loans for 3 years, but what are they going to eat after these three years are over?, they wonder. “Who is going to feed them? Who is going to give them a job? What job?” On top of all, these programs are of transgenic food “because they want to control what we eat”.
Also, the Government is subsidizing houses in suburbs around the cities with cheap materials so that people abandon their communities, migrate to the big cities, and then the Government takes their coop-lands (ejidos). That’s how they destroy communities as well.
“We do not use the land as a commodity. The land is our mother. We plant on it, we work on it, we live from it. We are not going to sell. It is our mother. That’s why we say we are the guardians of our mother land.”
THE AUTONOMOUS BANKS
The autonomous Zapatista banks were created mostly to counter the expensive health system. These banks provide credits at the lowest minimum interest to the people in need of expensive healthcare. There is also a new bank created by women, the BANAMAZ .
Finally, they talked about the constant military and paramilitary attacks that they have been facing for 19 years.
In February 1995 President Zedillo sent 60,000 soldiers to the autonomous communities to capture the Zapatista Army leaders.
In 1997 the Government trained paramilitary Indian squads, and there was the Acteal massacre.
In 1998 the Zapatista Government offices were attacked and set on fire. “What they don’t realize is that the Government is not in an office, but in our heart.”
For all these years there are constant paramilitary and military attacks on their schools, offices, communities and people’s houses. Their leaders get shot or arrested under prefabricated charges. “We took the decision not to attack because it is a government strategy to have Indians killing each other,” they explained.
“The bad government is trying to divide us. It creates political parties’ supporters and community programs, starting with the lands where the Zapatista peasants are minority and the majority is made by political parties’ supporters.
“Political parties’ supporters allege that they want to ‘organize’ our land, but what they really want is to take our land. They never want to ‘organize’ the big farmers’ lands.”
The way they resist is by not responding to their provocations, even though they have many comrades in jail. They sometimes need to relocate families and communities, just so that they don’t respond to the provocations.
They also talked about the psychological effects of the attacks with money bribes and slanders. There are families getting bribed so that they destroy their autonomy. And the media is always inventing slanders, about subcomandante Marcos (saying that he is vacationing in Europe or he works for the government) or about conflicts between Zapatista commanders.
“The way we resist every new lie is by focusing on our work, because that’s how we show the people it’s a lie. Our resistance is the most powerful weapon we have. The bad government cannot break it in, and there is no space for it in our community. We do not beg and do not accept crumbs. We have made very clear what our demands are. We are armed – our weapon being our words, our thinking and our hearts.”