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Oaxaca and Chiapas 

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

San Cristóbal de las Casas

On our first day of the delegation in Chiapas we had three meetings in the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas. The first one was with Rafael Pérez Gutiérrez at the CEDECI (Centro Indígena de Capacitación Integral Fray Bartolomé de las Casas) that for almost 20 years has worked to open autonomous training spaces for young Indigenous peoples. The focus is not only on learning but also on personal formation. It is an informal center, without rigid rules. A short term goal is to provide career opportunities, but a broader objective is to create a new Chiapas. This is engaged not only on the level of theory, but also practice. The center also engages underlying issues of racism and unemployment. CEDECI is on a 20-hectare campus on the edge of town. They began building the campus three years ago, and construction is still in full swing. It is broken into different areas of technical training, food preparation, and agriculture.

In the afternoon, we visited with SIPAZ (Servicio Internacional para la Paz) that works on dialogue and peace issues in Chiapas. Team members Jet, Tania, and Jon gave us an overview of the history of conflict in Chiapas and a summation of SIPAZ’s work. Three factors of poverty, Indigeneity, and marginality interact to reinforce each other. They described Chiapas as a rich state with great inequality, and festering with poverty and extreme poverty. They described divided communities, with Acteal (for example) divided into Zapatista, Abeja, and PRI parts. They presented this as part of a strategy of divide and conquer. In 2003, the Zapatistas transformed their 5 Aguascalientes that were spaces of encounter between the Zapatistas and civil society into Caracoles or shells, so named because of the spiral inward and a shell used to call meetings. Juntas de Buen Gobierno (Good Government Councils) were formed in each community to coordinate their work. In 2005, the Zapatistas presented their Sixth Declaration that called for anti-capitalist alliances to build a new system. This led to “The Other Campaign” in opposition to the standard electoral process that led to the election of Felipe Calderón on July 2 of last year. Since 1995, SIPAZ has worked as an observer mission in Chiapas around three main concerns: international presence and accompaniment; information and lobbying; and peace promotion.

In the evening, we met with Miguel Pickard from CIEPAC, the Centro de Investigaciones Económicas y Políticas de Acción Comunitaria. CIEPAC fills a need for providing information and analysis for grassroots communities and popular movements in Chiapas. They produce popular education materials, including books, pamphlets, and videos. Miguel laid out the recent history of the Zapatistas forming Caracoles in 2003 in order to return power and authority from the EZLN’s military structure to its civilian base. With the 2005 Sixth Declaration, the Zapatistas sought to consolidate their model of autonomy and to inspire others to reflect on what they could do in their own communities. The Zapatistas launched The Other Campaign under the assumption that the leftist PRD candidate AMLO would win the presidential elections last July, but when fraud brought conservative PAN candidate Felipe Calderón to power repression increased significantly against popular movements. Miguel pointed to an increased militarization of society, including the use of rape as a tool of control. He saw this government who usually resorted to tactics of buying people off rather than engaging in this level of repression. As doors close to peaceful protest, more armed groups begin to emerge. The left is divided, demoralized, and in tatters. Miguel painted a dismal picture of it being unclear where the Zapatistas or the left in general should turn, and what the future might hold for popular movements.

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