(en) New Zapatista Weapon

Mexciopeace (mexicopeace@igc.apc.org)
Mon, 28 Apr 1997 16:58:55 -0500

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Zapatistas Unleash New Weapon by Peter Brown

April 1997 Oventic, Chiapas, MEXICO

In the face of significant military and political pressure the rebellious Indians of Chiapas are unleashing a powerful new weapon. From misty mountainous hillsides to steamy rain forests, the indigenous of Chiapas are building schools.

"Over 200 students are now on the list to attend the Jr. High School in Oventic", exclaimed a bright eyed Commander David, "and so far we have only received names from about half of the highland communities. We do not ask permission from anyone to be free and this school will provide great opportunities for our people."

Thousands of Mayan rebels of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, know by its Spanish acronym EZLN, captured world attention on the first day of 1994 by occupying five major cities in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas denouncing the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and demanding fundamental changes in the treatment of Indians in Mexico.

Since that time the Indians have occassionally gained outside attention through the comments of their poetic spokesperson Subcommander Marcos, however profound changes have forever changed indigenous life in Chiapas.

"The first step for our rebellion was health; we have worked hard on health and made some progress. Now we are ready topromote education as the second of our central demands," explained the muscular Zapatista Commander Tacho at an April 1997 outdoor meeting attended by over two hundred community members and several foreigners in the jungle village of La Realidad.

Tacho's masked face motioned toward the large yellow U.S. school bus (donated by U.S. supporters) which was incongruously parked in front of the stage in this Zapatista cultural center. "Many of us have not had much opportunity to attend school, but right over there is where our kids will attend primary school. We will also offer a three month course for education promoters who will teach people to read in all of the communities,"

Tacho confidently continued, "At Oventic (far away in the highlands of Chiapas) we'll have a secondary school; maybe someday we'll have a university, but right over there the children will live here in La Realidad and attend their own primary school!"

Just beyond the incongruous yellow bus a series of new pole structures were outlined against the bright blue sky. All morning campesinos had walked past the village center with long poles on their shoulders throughout the morning. These humble buildings were the new elementary boarding school.

Suddenly, we also understood why this innocent line of pole carriers disappeared whenever the olive green convoys of military vehicles sporting high caliber weapons and jammed full of flack jacketed troops carrying automatic weapons rumbled through the middle of the otherwise tranquil village. These Indian men were creating schools for their children - a clearly subversive activity!

"When they catch us carrying wood for cooking they steal our fuel or rape us," a community woman identified only as Ruth exclaimed in heavily accented Spanish. "I've been raped three times. The soldiers are always bothering us asking 'Where's Marcos? Where are the commanders?', but we don't say a thing. We will never give up our struggle for dignity."

We saw little to confirm the "low intensity" label often applied to the warfare being waged by the Mexican government against the Indian rebels of Chiapas. "We will not respond to provocations," insisted a somber Commander Moises in the Zapatista highland center of Oventic. "We have fairly negotiated an agreement with the bad government (of Mexico) and we will continue to demand that the constitutional reforms for indigenous rights throughout all of Mexico be fully implemented."

The much discussed packet of constitutional reforms regarding Indian rights in Mexico, which the EZLN insists is key to resolving the conflict in Chiapas, was first accepted by the government and later rejected. However while the government stalls on the implementation of reforms and encourages generalized violence, the Indians of Chiapas are moving ahead with their own program.

"Once all the communities report, we'll certainly have more than two hundred students in the Jr. High School at Oventic," continued the masked Commander David. "With so many who want to attend, the teachers tell us we've got a lot of work in front of us to create a suitable facility."

The atmosphere in Oventic was festive on the sunny springtime Sunday afternoon when dozens of brightly clad indigenous women, a few men, and a handful of internationalists gathered to witness the presentation of funds collected by San Diegans for Peace in Mexico to begin construction of the Oventic Jr. High School. "The rains came earlier than usual this year and my fields aren't really completed yet," explained one of the civilian committee members accepting funds for school at Oventic. "Our time for planting is short, but we're almost done. Then we'll start building the Jr. High School."

"We've decided the school will have seven classrooms and a number of workshops during the first year. We are going to build the first two classrooms immediately," detailed Commander David as he looked toward his old teacher Amado Avenda=F1o who also attended the ceremonies. "This summer when more funds arrive, and we hope to welcome the international work teams, we can finish the first phase of the school."

On a less optimistic note we were told of serious food shortages anticipated for the fall because of the military pressure against the Zapatista communities. "Men can't go out to their fields and work all day when the military sends patrols near the communities," commented Commander Javier's. "What if something happened and the family had to run away; no one feels comfortable with the soldiers everywhere. The planting time is very short - only about ten days and the rains have come earlier than usual (shortening the time even more.) We believe the harvest may be less than 50% of last year!"

The silence that followed Javier's comments was finally broken when a Chicano activist softly spoke the word that was on everyone's mind: "Hunger". The masked indigenous leaders somberly nodded their heads in agreement and the silence returned.

In some ways the Oventic Jr. High School, or "secundaria" as they call it in Mexico, seems an impossible dream for a struggling rebellion of hungry Indians surrounded and invaded on all sides by a modern army fully supplied tanks, helicopters, weapons, and training from the United States of America. Indians in Chiapas have never had schools beyond the 6th grade, they certainly have never run their own boarding schools, and World Bank policies are shrinking educational opportunities throughout Mexico!

"Of course they can do it!" was the immediate response of journalist and lawyer Amado Avenda=F1o when questioned about the ability of the community at Oventic to create their own Jr. High School. " The entire civilian base and leadership of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation has decided to make it happen! There is going to be an autonomous, indigenous Jr. High School at Oventic!

There were no doubts in the eyes or voices of the EZLN commanders or community members as everyone commented on aspects of the project to create an autonomous indigenous Jr. High School at Oventic. "Students will need a place to live since some of these structurse are falling down, we'll build additional housing." "They will cook and work together in the traditional ways of our communities." "We'll have to train additional teachers!" Certainly challenges abound, but the Mayan peoples of Chiapas are=A1 prepared to overcome every obstacle.

Self sufficiency is a fundamental goal of the Oventic Jr. High. "There's a chicken project from Italy; we've got pigs and turkeys; we need carpenters and shoe makers; weaving and sewing and agriculture will be studied along with math and literature," explained Commander David. "We'll start with the seven classrooms, but productive workshops will quickly be added."

Commander David's response to foreigners' questions if women would be allowed to attend the school at Oventic was unique and insightful. "Right now the school will be for both women and men. This is not to say that in the future we would not have a school for women or that they do not have a right to their own school, but at this time we will only have one school, it will have to serve everyone equally."

Therebels actually look forward to the day when the school at Oventic joins the public school system of Mexico. "For now what this school at Oventic provides will rely primarily on our efforts and support of our international friends," explained Commander David. "But when we have won our struggle and begin to reap the benefits paid for in the blood of our martyrs, our children will enter for the first time on an equal footing with all Mexicans!"

Gazing up the rocky hill of Oventic we were struck with the numerous contradictions of a small private, Jr. High School - in the center of an Indian insurrection against corporate globalization - seeking to become a public school. Perhaps many of those who are supporting the school at Oventic do so specifically because the same forces fighting the Zapatistas want to privatize and cut funds for public schools in their own home towns.

"Everything for everyone, nothing for ourselves," insist the Zapatistas as they unleash the most powerful weapon they've tried to date - popular education centers. If their past record is any indication, we have not heard the last of the Zapatista educational movement!


For information about international efforts to support the creation of a Jr. High School at Oventic please contact:

Chiapas School Construction Teams A Project of San Diegans for Dignity, Democracy, and Peace in Mexico 3909 Centre Street #210 San Diego, CA 92103 (619) 232-2841 FAX (619) 232-0500 mexicopeace@igc.apc.org http://www.igc.apc.org/mexicopeace

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