(Fwd) (en) Report from Chiapas on womens delegation

Lyn Gerry (linjin@tao.ca)
Tue, 8 Apr 1997 13:40:43 pst

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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Tue, 08 Apr 1997 12:31:22 +0000 From: mark_c <mark_c@geocities.com> Organization: Irish Mexico Group To: a-infos-raw Subject: (en) Report from Chiapas on womens delegation Reply-to: a-infos-work

To: Multiple Recipients of List Mexico2000 <mexico2000@mep-d.org> Subject: DELEGATION TO ZAPATISTA WOMEN COOPERATIVE/REPORT

Story by Carol Hayman

Report of the Delegation to Chiapas

The village of La Realidad is high in the mountains of Chiapas in southern Mexico. It is four hours of driving up and down a twisting caliche road from the nearest paved highway, on the way to no where in the Lacandon Jungle. In the morning the mist clings to the dewy grass and buildings as the women gather in the river to wash clothes in their wooden tubs. The stillness is broken only by the occasional crow of a rooster. By mid-morning a few wisps of clouds still cling to the trees climbing up the steep mountainsides. In the distance is an eerie rumble, faint at first then getting louder. It is the sound of the Mexican army, almost 200 men in 25 jeeps, armored cars, and humvees as they roll down the mountain, into the valley of the village of La Realidad. The villagers are used to this, it has been happening every day for a couple of years now, they barely take notice. But lining the road are dozens of foreigners, they drift over as the noise gets louder. They've come from North, South, Central America and Europe to witness the daily intimidation of the indigenous people by the Mexican army. The same spectacle is repeated in the afternoon as the army returns through the village on its way back to the military encampment in the ghost town of Guadalupe Tepeyac.

Guadalupe Tepeyac used to be a quiet village like La Realidad. The Mexican army burned it when it invaded in February 1995. The people fled to neighboring communities, including La Realidad. Now it lies abandoned, roofs caved in, weeds reclaiming the pathways. To prevent the same thing from happening again, people from all over the world come to visit and stay for a few days or a few months, live in the community and observe the activities of the military. Every day they take pictures and videotape the intrusion as the army photographs and tapes them right back.

It is not easy for foreigners to get to La Realidad. It's not just the remoteness of the location and the difficulty of travel, but the intimidation and harassment of the Mexican government. Our delegation was forced to spend two hours at an immigration checkpoint on the road on our way into La Realidad. After being repeatedly questioned about our intentions, some of us were told to report to the authorities in San Cristobal and later given 5 days to leave the country. On our way back we were again questioned and this time photographed. Some people travel at night to avoid the checkpoint, but this is very dangerous because of the treacherous roads and the paramilitary Guardia Blanca, local gunmen who patrol the roads at night, paid thugs who terrorize the local population.

Our delegation was made up of 8 people from the Austin Committee for Solidarity with Chiapas and Mexico and 5 people from other committees in the US, including Los Angeles, Ohio, Minnesota, Arizona, and Wisconsin. In La Realidad, we visited the school and delivered a letter from the students of a school in Austin, which was read by two of the students to the rest of the class. Out loud they answered questions from Austin about what kind of food they eat and what their homes are like. The students who could write wrote letters in answer, others drew pictures of their village.

On the side of the school, some of the members of the delegation painted a mural. They started with pictures of Zapata and Marcos. An informal poll among the watching kids determined that additional subjects should be a horse and a ship with a red star. The ship was named Xinich, meaning the work of ants, which refers to an indigenous campesino organization and also to the slow, incremental process of building a better world.

We also spoke with the health promoter of the village, a volunteer chosen by the community. She spoke of the difficulties of promoting health in a place where women stand over smoky fires all day, where there is too much work and not enough food, where clean water is not available, and where supplies and instruments are in short supply. She described the difficulties people have in travelling to distant clinics to have serious problems seen to. They are harassed by the military, questioned about their political loyalties, and the women are raped. She mentioned that some humanitarian aid workers who have helped in the past are on the list of those forbidden entry by immigration officials. Some of the aid she hopes to see in the future is help in building more clinics and seeds for the nutrition program.

Our delegation also visited the village of Oventic. While we were in La Realidad word was sent to the community that we were planning to support the newly forming women's weaving cooperative by buying textiles from them. We had gathered almost $5,000 in donations from Austin and other committees in the US. The women responded by sending representatives from 3 municipalities and about 30 surrounding communities with beautiful weavings to sell to us. We spent the day buying huipiles, cushion covers, and cloth woven by the women on their backstrap looms. We also talked with them, translating from English, to Spanish, to Tzotzil and back again, about their difficulties in obtaining supplies and selling their work because of the harassment they receive when they leave their communities. They hope that by forming a cooperative they will be able to overcome some of these obstacles. These items will be part of an exhibition and sale at Hill Country Weavers here in Austin, in April.

While we were buying, other members of the delegation were painting a mural to celebrate the women who turned back the tanks invading Oventic a year ago. It depicts a ruined, decaying tank, its gun tied in a knot, with the words "for a world without weapons." Overlooking the tank is a Zapatista woman in a traditional huipil, with the motto "A brave woman is the heart of freedom."

The week we were visiting the two communities, considerable violence was erupting in the state. Near Palenque, the state Public Security Forces violently expelled 65 families from their land. The police robbed money and tools from the community using helicopters and live ammunition. The community of San Martin Chamizal put up a roadblock to prevent arrests and kidnapping in their area. The police called this an ambush and opened fire on the blockade, leaving many injured and one policeman dead. The following day, the police kidnapped two Jesuit priests, Jose Luis Gonzalo Rosas Morales and Geronimo Alberto Hernandez Lopez and community leaders Ramon Parcero Martinez and Francisco Gonzalez Gutierrez. The four were beaten and held in jail for six days. After widespread protests, demonstrations, pilgrimages, and a rally where Comandanta Ramona demanded their release, a judge in Tuxtla Gutierrez released them unconditionally. The judge cited lack of evidence to hold them accountable for participation in the ambush. The priests said that the real reason for their detention is the work they do defending the rights of indigenous communities and that they will continue to work alongside the poor of Chiapas.

Meanwhile more violence was escalating in El Bosque. In the small ejido of San Pedro Nichtalucum, supporters of the PRD and the EZLN went to the municipal agency and demanded to know where government resources allocated to their community were actually going. They held four PRI authorities as prisoners. In retaliation some priistas kidnapped some members of the opposition. The next day the police arrived and freed the priistas held prisoner and arrested the opposition prisoners. While taking their prisoners away, the police ran in to a road block of large stones placed there by some Zapatista supporters. The police opened fire, backed by a helicopter and later the Mexican Army with a convoy of troops. The army entered and destroyed every house in the community labeled as Zapatista, driving the inhabitants away. The toll of dead, injured and arrested has yet to be determined as those driven out by the army are not allowed back and the area is sealed off.

These are examples of the state of war as it exists in Chiapas at this moment. The resources wasted by the government fighting this war would be better spent providing clean water, electricity, schools and clinics.

In the meantime in ten cities of the United States, we will be doing exhibits of the textiles we brought back with pictures and explanations of the situation in Chiapas and a sale to support the brave Zapatista women. As part of the resistance movement in the United States we invite other committees and organizations to join in supporting the indigenous resistance in Chiapas by organizing more purchasing trips to support the Zapatista women's cooperatives, or by supporting the health, education or food projects of the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico, at moonlight@igc.apc.org. In Austin to help continue the support of the Women's Weaving Cooperative contact Carol Hayman at 477-3099, e-mail chayman@austin.cc.tx.us, and come to the weekly Saturday meeting at 4 pm in Resistencia Bookstore, 2210 B South 1st Street.

Comite de Solidaridad Con Chiapas y Mexico PO Box 906 Austin Texas 78767 (512) 454-8097 Evera@igc.apc.org

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