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(en) Mexico, Tlaxcala, News from "the Other Campaign" of the Zapatists meeting with former "Braceros"

Date Thu, 23 Feb 2006 09:28:21 +0200

Former Braceros and Zapatistas Unite to End the System that Beats Them Down By
Bertha Rodri'guez Santos The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign, Reporting from
ZACATELCO, TLAXCALA: As old workers of the fields, as guardians of the
knowledge that makes them part of that other Mexico that jumps to defend its
land and territory, more than a thousand former "Braceros" publicly joined
the Other Campaign, led by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation
yesterday, while Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos showed the warmth, respect
and support that the indigenous Zapatistas hold toward this struggle.
During the meeting with members of the National Assembly of Braceros (ANB in
its Spanish initials), held in the esplanade of "El Dorado" (once a local
strip club), Marcos said that the Zapatistas will unite their struggle with
the movement of the former Braceros, who since the late 1990s have sought
the restitution of a savings fund created by the Manuel Avila Camacho and
Franklin D. Roosevelt administrations as part of the Bracero Program. From
1942 to 1966 the Bracero Program permitted the hiring of Mexican workers in
the United States, with more than 5 million contracts eventually signed for
work in the fields and on the railways.

Obviously tired by the weight of their years, the former Braceros, most of
them between 60 and 90 years old, began to fill the chairs on the esplanade
where Subcomandante Marcos would later make his presentation. The widows of
the former Braceros and their children were there as well. Many came from
the interior of Tlaxcala, but delegates also attended from the state of
Mexico, the Mexico City Federal District, Hidalgo, Quere'taro, San Luis
Potosi, Zacatecas, Puebla, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Guerrero, Aguascalientes,
Jalisco and Morelos - the states that form the National Assembly of

Experiences full of sacrifice, humiliation and exploitation color the lives
of these men who still maintain hope of surviving by cultivating their own
lands, running some small business or from the pension of one of their close

Gerardo Va'squez Herreri'as, a native of San Cosme Xalostoc, Tlaxaca, tells of
how at age 18 he was forced to enter the Bracero Program. The entire
country, recounts the old man, was going through a strong economic crisis.
The poverty was palpable everywhere after the unfortunate years following
the Mexican Revolution, as Mauricio Ocampo Campos explains in his thesis,
"Sociopolitical Organization of the Former Bracero Movement in Tlaxcala."
Meanwhile, the United States faced an even greater economic crisis, as the
Second World War had started and the country needed cheap labor to sustain
its economy.

The construction of railway lines necessary to transport U.S. products to
market and other activities related to the locomotive industry were among of
the main labors of the Braceros of that time. The cotton and vegetable
fields were also worked by the hands of Mexican peasant farmers.

At age 63, Va'squez Herreri'as remembers how hard life was in the field. "In
1965 there was a frost all over the country, there was nothing to eat, no
work. There was a lot of need. Before, corn was grown but the work was done
with mules or by hand. Our families lived in houses made out of roofing
tiles or hay; the floor was dirt. We had no table and we ate on the floor."

He mentions that he was the sixth of ten children, which made him feel
obligated to seek another way to help his family survive.

On this farmer's hands there are still signs of the tough work he had to do
in the cotton fields of Texas and Arizona. He says that many Braceros
without experience handling cotton bolls spilled blood all over their hands,
cutting themselves on the fibers.

"We suffered greatly," he says, and adds that the pay most of the workers
received was 13 cents for each pound of cotton.

The former Braceros' testimonies speak of their work in California and
Arkansas - "right next to the Mississippi river," remembers Francisco Flores
Mu~oz, 75, originally from San Felipe Cuauhtenco - as well as almost every
part of the southern U.S.

Nearly all the Braceros knew humiliation since the moment they were pushed
into the train cars that brought them to the sites where they would be
hired. They all underwent physical evaluations that included a kind of
"disinfection" from possible illnesses. "They suffered a very inhuman
treatment," says Felipe Monroy Sandoval, son of a Bracero and an advisor to
the delegation from the state of Guerrero.

Monroy claims that the bosses ignored many of the conditions outlined in the
contracts. Although these documents established that Mexican workers would
receive the same status as U.S. workers, there were no decent living
conditions and there was much discrimination. "Many work sites were like
concentration camps where the people worked a minimum of 12 hours each day.
When they had to, they even made the Braceros work at night."

The Zapatistas know this story and see themselves reflected in it. Marcos
said that the indigenous understand the pain and sacrifice of the men and
women who make up the Bracero movement. In their meetings throughout the
eight states that the Other Campaign has already toured they have come
across "old men who tell us: 'they treat us like broken furniture, as if we
were in their way. We weren't born old; we worked hard and now they want to
push us aside, they want to kill us.'"

"We understand them. The same thing happens to the indigenous and we feel
much indignation and rage."

He said that the former Braceros had to go to work in dangerous conditions,
as there was a World War going on. "What if bombs fall in the fields? Who is
going to die and who is going to get maimed? The Mexican workers, of

They also endured, added Marcos, the racist mistreatment of the foremen,
"because of our color and our language."

Now the government treats the Braceros "as if they were beggars. they don't
fit in to the government's thinking. The old are like the Indians: they are
only good for making little things and begging in the street."

He added that the government does not understand because it is up above. If
it were below, it would understand pain and dignity. Those that have power
say: "I am going to wait until you die, until the indigenous die, until we
are sorry for the color that we have, for the language that we speak."

He called the 38,000 pesos ($3,600 dollars) per person offered by the law
that legislators approved five months ago a beggar's pittance. The law also
creates the new "Trust Fund for the Former Braceros Who Lent Their Services
in the United States from 1942 to 1966."

According to the Braceros' calculations, they have a right to some 180,000
pesos ($17,000) for each contract, including the interest accumulated for
all those years. In their opinion this was a financial scam on the part of
the banks entrusted to transfer the money.

According to the information provided during the meeting with the Zapatista
representative, "the money that they took out of our paychecks was deposited
in the Wells Fargo Bank, which made a transfer to the National Bank of
Mexico (Banamex); this was then transferred to the Banco de Cre'dico
Agricola, which held on to our money for 36 years until in 1975 they
transferred it to the National Rural Bank (Banrural), which no longer
exists. This is unjust."

In a serious tone and sometimes showing great emotion, the peasant farmers
expressed their feeling that "the word does not die although silence
accompanies our steps. Our children and all those who show solidarity with
our just demands will continue this struggle."

After reading a document with great difficulty, Aureleano Santiago Naranjo,
a Mixteco indigenous man from Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca, asked Subcomandante
Marcos with tears in his eyes to include the Braceros' demands in the EZLN's
program of struggle.

Several of the former Braceros spoke of how their representatives have
appealed to different government officials, from the Chamber of Deputies
(Mexico's lower house of Congress), to the Executive Branch and the
president, to the Supreme Court. In the latter case, last January 17, the
ANB presented a lawsuit demanding that various federal bodies - such as the
Department of the Interior, the Department of Labor and Social Security, the
Department of Foreign Relations and Banrural - produce their accounting on
the Braceros' savings fund's disappearance. Nevertheless, until now, "they
keep passing the buck"; for this reason, the farmers are requesting that the
EZLN make the petition, supported by thousands of Mexicans, its own, so that
"the fruits of our labor be returned."

The Zapatistas, as "Delegate Zero" announced, did take up this struggle as
their own and will continue their tour across the country to add themselves
to the struggles of the Indian peoples, workers, peasant farmers, men,
women, youth, children, immigrants, and "other elderly people who also say
that it is not right to treat us as though we were garbage."

"We want to make a national uprising without weapons. With a movement of
everyone, so that those from the government leave." Marcos also spoke of the
need to do away with a system that looks down upon us, and of the lie of the
political parties that sometimes paint themselves green, white and red;
sometimes blue, and sometimes yellow and black.

At the beginning of his speech, Marcos said that for the Zapatistas, the
most valuable people are those of greater age. In fact, he clarified the
fact that in the EZLN, those that command are the older men and women. "We
listen to them with attention because their knowledge is greater. We don't
think that people have more worth because of what they studied, or because
they speak well or because they can carry on about some subject. We look
simply at one's heart, one's word, one's work."

During his speech, Marcos received signs of appreciation from several of
those present, such as one woman who introduced herself suddenly in order to
give him some tlacoyos (corn cakes filled with vegetables) - he really was
in the land of the corn tortilla, from which the word Tlaxcala derives in
the Nauhatl language - and one woman who presented him with a special
festival bread.

Finally, Delegate Zero proposed that the Braceros participate in the great
mobilization that all the workers of the country will carry out next May 1
to commemorate international Workers' Day in Mexico City, "to see if it
doesn't embarrass them to see us together and hear our voice for justice."

The other proposal is that the Braceros come to see today's migrant workers
in the United States, who will participate in the meetings to be held in the
border cities of Tijuana and Jua'rez in June. The EZLN promised to support
this proposal by arranging transport for seven representatives of the former
Braceros, so that the Mexicans who live on the other side of the border
"know your struggle against injustice and support you."

After forming the human fences that would allow Sup Marcos to pass through,
those present began to chant warnings: "Somos braceros. No somos
limosneros." ("We are Braceros, not beggers.") "Gobierno, ratero, regresa
el dinero." ("Theiving government, return our money!")
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