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Oaxaca and Chiapas 

Friday, July 20, 2007

Caracol Morelia

We drove three hours out past Ocosingo and Altamirano to the Caracol of Morelia to request permission to visit the autonomous Zapatista municipality of Olga Isabel. We waited outside the gate of the Caracol for the security team to give us permission to enter, and then waited for hours more under a tree for the Junta de Buen Gobierno to receive us. We then had a short visit with the Junta before continuing on to Olga Isabel. With a dinner stop in Ocosingo, we arrived well after dark with the community leaders already asleep. They graciously allowed us, however, to spend the nite in the community’s school.

In the Caracol of Morelia, three men and women from the Junta de Buen Gobierno related to us their history and the struggles they still face. In 1994 at the time of the Zapatista uprising, they recaptured their land from surrounding haciendas. Now the government tries to provoke confrontations between Indigenous communities so as to try to defeat their struggles. But they vowed not to give up, and to continue fighting to control their land. They asked us to work together to change the neo-liberal capitalist system, to break the control of the capitalist elite. They can’t destroy us. We need to create one force, to form one big struggle.

At Olga Isabel, we first talked to two health promoters and then a council member. Their community was comprised of ejido land taken over by big ranchers. In August 1994, in the aftermath of the January uprising, they affiliated with the Zapatistas and re-occupied the land. They had faced threats, but these were never acted on so they were able to remain on their land. Before the community relied on the government for health and education, but now they do it themselves. They don’t charge for consultations at the health clinic, but a bit for medicine to cover their costs. They emphasize preventive measures: boiling water, sterilizing it with chlorine, using a latrine, eliminating garbage, emptying puddles where insects can breed, and fence off animals.

Council member Antonio filled us in on the history of the communities conflicts with the Coordinadora Nacional de Pueblos Indios (CNPI) and the Organización para la Defensa de Derechos Indígenas y Campesinos (OPDDIC) over land titles and whether to accept government resources. The Zapatistas refuse to be dependent on the government, including paying for or receiving services from the government, while the others want to take advantage of the government’s offer to grant legal land titles. Part of the occupied land has been legally formed into the Ejido Mukulum, and the second part that is Olga Isabel is currently in front of the agricultural tribunal. Morelia’s Junta de Buen Gobierno has decided that if the tribunal rules against the autonomous community they will not leave the land. Since the Congress refused to implement the San Andrés Accords the Zapatistas have not been in dialogue with the government and see little reason to do so.

Several former Zapatistas have gone over to opposition groups, and since they know the people and structure of the autonomous community so well they create may problems. From the Zapatistas’ perspective, the government is deceiving people which leads them to leave the organization. Antonio in particular has been the target of strong and direct threats. The police constantly pass by on the road and take pictures of the community. Current PRD governor Juan Sabines does not want to remove the Zapatistas from their lands, which has brought a certain amount of calm to the community. Antonio expressed his gratitude for our presence in the community, and asked us to continue our visits and to tell the world the truth about what is happening there. What they have is not perfect, Antonio conceded, but they are committed to building on their efforts in health, education, and production. Activists in the community, however, seemed to be exhausted from the constant struggle.

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