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Oaxaca and Chiapas 

Monday, July 23, 2007

Mesa Redonda: Ecuentro entre campesin@s del mundo. Frente al despojo capitalista. Defendamos la tierra y el territorio

As part of the Zapatista Encuentro, they planned two roundtables on the defense of land and territory–one last week in Mexico City and another one in San Cristóbal on the eve of the start of the Encuentro at Oventic. The idea was to create a dialogue around peasant and Indigenous movements around the world. Representatives of rural struggles in India, South Korea, Brazil, USA, and Mexico were present on the roundtable. Those from outside the country were given 30 minutes to present their concerns, while the Zapatistas spoke for about 15 minutes each.

The representative from India (sorry I don’t have names) gave an overview of the country’s agricultural crisis that resulted in a high suicide rate. People, the speaker emphasized, will not give up without a fight. The only way to win is to fight together, otherwise we become slaves.

The Korean representative framed his discussion as part of a history of foreign intervention and peasant struggles. In order to stave off a peasant revolt, the king invited Japanese intervention and the peasants became slaves and the country become a colony of Japan. In the post-war period, this history repeated itself with the intervention of the US and USSR. The peasant struggle becomes one against imperialism and neoliberalism. Peasants needed to unify with workers because it is not possible to win alone.

Sonia Soriano (sp?), the secretary of gender in the national directorate of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil, discussed the country’s divided left and feelings of deception with Lula. Rural workers found it difficult to work with city dwellers, but she emphasized the importance of building alliances in order to succeed in their struggle for agrarian reform. She criticized ethanol projects that required 4 liters of water to produce one liter of ethanol. With the burning of cane sugar that closed nearby schools, ethanol production was hardly so clean. Soriano emphasized the need to be optimistic as they looked for new roads to create new cycles for the left.

George Naylor, president of the National Family Farm Coalition in the US, began his presentation of a discussion of how agricultural production in his home state of Ohio is increasingly moving to a monoculture economy of corn and soybeans. This leads to a destruction of biodiversity that worsens with NAFTA and the WTO. Commodity prices are temporarily a bit better because of ethanol production, but this is not a longterm solution. Family farming is almost dead in the US, with an increasingly smaller number of large agro-businesses creating the majority of the country’s agricultural production. We have lived the market economy, and it does not work. Naylor concluded that we have much to learn from the Zapatistas about democracy, the environment, and human values.

After 2 hours, it was finally time for the Zapatista leaders to give their presentations. As the noisy audience quieted down, it become clear who the largely white European and North American participants had come to see. First, EZLN Comandante Tacho gave space to an Indigenous delegate from Venezuela to denounce Chavez’s plane to mine coal on their land and to draft a new Indigenous law. Tacho then discussed the essential importance of land and territory to Indigenous struggles since the 1910 Zapatista uprising that demanded deliverance of land to those who work it. Indigenous peoples never hurt mother earth; we take care of it and do not treat it as a commodity. Although Bishop Samuel Ruiz and the church came to their aid, their situation has only become worse.

Lieutenant Colonel Moises then discussed the problems with Mexico’s educational system. Zapatista schools and health promoters work. Moises repeatedly emphasized the need to take control over the means of production. We need to challenge the capitalist system, and to do so we need to put the means of production in our hands. To be anti-capitalist means to take factories and lands out of the hands of capitalists and to put them in the hands of workers and peasants. Through the process of “tomar, quitar, recuperar” (occupy, take, reoccupy), we can challenge savage capitalism.

Finally, it was time for Subcomandante Marcos to take the mike. After seeing Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Evo Morales, Marcos was the last major living revolutionary leader who I had wanted to see in action. We had been sitting outside of the little church at CEDECI where the talk took place listening to the talks over loudspeakers, with me sticking my camera thru a window to take pictures of the speakers before returning to my seat. With Marcos, I was left with a choice: move to the loudspeaker in an attempt to get a higher quality recording for WORT or leave the I-River and try to squeeze into the increasingly occupied window spaces to get yet another blurry photo of the Sup. I deeply regretted not arriving early enough to get a seat in the church, or to squeeze in as Gwen had done to be able to observe the spectacle in person. In the end, I opted for a clear recording that hopefully the compañer@s at WORT will be able to use for En Nuestro Patio. So I heard, but did not see.

Marcos is older and fatter than he was when he first went into the jungle 20 years ago, but his style is still as poetic and beautiful as it was when he first burst on to the public stage on January 1, 1994. It was also almost impossible for me to understand what he was saying. I felt better when later my colleagues listening to the English translations on their portable devices told me that the interpreters were likewise having an impossible time with the talk. He told two stories–the first something about a can of Coke and anti-capitalist consumption, and then other something about the history of a transsexual who preferred the term compañeroa. Marcos also mentioned the Maya use of “we” instead of “I,” and echoed Moises’ emphasis on the need to struggle together to gain control over the means of production. The problem is that few own much, and many own nothing. We can change this by attacking the means of production. He called Bush a Burro, called for liberty and justice for Atenco and Oaxaca, and referred to worlds without a name.

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