The last update and the end of field research

The view from Acteal at night.

Foto above: Acteal at night.

Alright folks, it’s time to close this round of updates. In a couple of weeks I’m going back to England. Before then I have to carry out an extensive round of interviews with NGO personnel, academics and activists who have worked with the Zapatista movement here in Mexico. I’m also going to stop in Puebla for a seminar and a meeting with my favourite academic, John Holloway whose books on social change has perhaps influenced my thinking more than any other single person. I very strongly recommend Change the World Without Taking Power to anyone interested in the theme of social change and social movements.

Anyway, I thought I’d give you a bit of a closure since I’m not sure if I’m going to keep writing here. I’ll be going back to England where finishing the dissertation awaits me.

Okay, since the period of solidarity work I’ve naturally done a couple of things. Unfortunately things haven’t gone just as smoothly as I would have wished. The plan was to get permission from the Juntas, the Zapatista civilian authorities, to move into one of the communities for the rest of the time, to teach English and in that way to be able to get to know the daily life of the membership of the movement. However, as we returned from the community, the movement was very occupied with running the Escuelita (‘Little School’) and hosting the 1,400 visitors – activists, academics and supporters of the movement from around the world. Here is an article by Raul Zibechi about the school here. I also found his reflections about the movement following his time in the Escuelita very well placed, although maybe somewhat romantic.

Thus my friend and I who developed this plan, were forced to wait for the termination of the school before proposing our project. In the meanwhile we had the unique chance to attend the 10th anniversary celebrations of the establishment of the very Juntas in one of the Caracols, Oventic. We slept in hammocks, covered with tarpaulin due to the heavy rain typical of these parts. We were lucky for having the hammocks, as many people got all of their clothes and belongings completely wet sleeping in makeshift tents. Despite the rain, the four days we spent in the Caracol were truly an impressive and memorable experience. Never in my life have I met so many people from all over the world that share similar hopes and ideas for social change.

Visitors' camp in the morning.

Visitors’ camp in the morning.

It rained quite heavily during the celebrations.

It rained quite heavily during the celebrations.

Our 'palace'

Our ‘palace’

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Zapatista Compañeros in their famous ski masks

Zapatista compañeros in their famous ski masks leading the celebrations.
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After the celebrations and the week of the escuelita that followed we returned to Oventic to propose our idea to the junta. Twice we were told that the Junta was not there, and since they aren’t there, they cannot receive our proposal letter as they need to be present themselves. After the second time we concluded that this is probably a polite rejection as the movement, despite my hopes, is still maintaining a somewhat closed and secretive approach towards people that don’t work within the organizations with whom they have an established working relationship.

Thus we had to proceed to our alternative plan, which for my friend meant moving on, and for me going for a second round of human rights observing.

As I write this, my time as a human rights observer in the village of Acteal is coming to a close. My fellow observers and I are here to accompany and provide, I suppose, mainly psychological and moral support to a group of displaced people from a community in the same municipality. The majority of those displaced belong to a civil organization called Las Abejas (Bees). Abejas are a pacifist organization sharing more or less the same aims as the Zapatista movement in terms of building autonomy and constructing a more just society. However, they are a pacifist organization and thus not in agreement with some of the practises of the Zapatistas, namely the armed uprising of 1994. The Abejas are often known due to a very unfortunate event that took place on December 22, 1997. Paramilitaries of the same village came to the Abeja community, proceeded to enter the church where the movement’s Catholic members were holding mass. Forty-five people were killed that day, including four pregnant women with their unborn babies and many children. Mexican army troops, stationed 300 meters away, did nothing. The government still maintains that this is an internal community affair that has nothing to do with politics. The aggressors were members and supporters of the ruling PRI-party.

The church

The church

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During our time here we’ve gotten to know some of the survivors of the Massacre of Acteal. Juan, for example, was two years old during the time of the massacre. Both of his parents were killed, and he himself only barely survived the AK-47 bullet wound that tore his two year old body. Despite the horrible events, the Abejas remain convinced that pacifism is the right way for social change.

The mural of the martyr Alonso Vásquez covers the church wall. Vásquez was a catechist and spiritual leader of the Abejas at the time of the massacre.

The mural of the martyr Alonso Vásquez covers the church wall. Vásquez was a catechist and spiritual leader of the Abejas at the time of the massacre.

As difficult the situation in Acteal itself is – especially since those who carried out the massacre have been set free and have returned in the very same village – we are not here because of what is happening here in Acteal, per say, but because of the displaced people that have taken refuge here.

The entrance to the Abeja centre in Acteal
Entrance to the Abeja centre in Acteal. The sign reads: “Sacred land, entrance prohibited to unauthorized persons.”

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Displaced children in front of the church of Acteal.

Displaced children in front of the church of Acteal.

The people are from Colonia Puebla, a community sharply divided according to religion. Abejas practise Catholicism, whereas the majority of the village are Evangelics. The authorities are controlled by the latter. There had been tension in the village for a long time. However, the displacement itself is the culmination of a chain of events that begun on the 18 of July. On that day, the non-Catholics of Colonia Puebla destroyed the rebuilding site of the Catholic church. The Abejas of Colonia think that this is because they want the land that the church lies on, for a construction of a market place and a secondary school for the other groups.

The destruction of the building site was denounced by the Catholic authorities and came out in the radio and newspapers. To justify their actions, or to divert attention away from them, the authorities of the village accused two Cacholics and a Baptist of the village of poisoning the water. The two Catholics were supporters of the Zapatista Movements (BAEZLN). The accused were taken to San Cristobal where on the same day they were deemed innocent and set free. However, during this time the situation in the community had spiralled out of control, with the authorities inciting the non-Catholic youths to the point of rage. Shortly after, fearing for their lives, the Catholics (Abejas and non-Abejas alike) decided to leave the community due to the increasing harassment and intimidation.

At this point the people of Colonia Puebla are at Acteal without knowing when they’ll be able to return. The situation is very uncomfortable as the community here does not have the capacity to host the 95 displaced. They sleep in the office of the Mesa Directiva (Abeja authorities) and in a large tarpaulin tent outside. Sicknesses are common and medicine is running short. Fortunately due to solidarity collections in Catholic churches around Chiapas, the displaced still have enough food for the moment, although if the situation persists, they will undoubtedly start having problems with food too.

The displaced gathered to receive one of the food caravans.

The displaced gathered to receive one of the food caravans.

There was a solidarity caravan to return the people to Puebla, but the human rights activists and the displaced people were met with intimidation, threats and youths throwing rocks at them, and were unable to get the people back home. At the moment, the situation is very much up in the air. Without guarantees of justice and security, the people will be unable and unwilling to go home. The Abejas feel that the state authorities lack a willingness to solve the conflict and are not too hopeful. Any support for the displaced will undoubtedly become vital in the days, weeks and months to come. If you wish to support, have a look at this website.

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These children are some of the nearly hundred displaced people that have taken refuge in Acteal.

This aside, for the research, the time in Acteal wasn’t perhaps the most useful, for the obvious reason that these people are not members of the Zapatista movement, but Abejas which have some significant differences with the ZM. They, for one, don’t seem to challenge as actively as the Zapatistas the traditional roles of men and women in the movement and their project seems to rely quite heavily on Catholicism. The Zapatistas, on the other hand, seek to break the old family roles and, although allowing for religion in the movement, do not base their project on it. However, it has been interesting precisely for these reasons, to be here as it allows for me to contrast among Zapatistas, Abejas and other communities.

Abejas in a workshop

Abejas in a workshop

I think that should be all for now. Thank you for following this blog for all this time, and my apologies for being quite inactive with it most of the time. I think this might be it for the blog as a whole as well. Although I have a plan of going on a five-or-so year tour of Latin America after my doctorate, to do a sort of ‘topography of resistance’. My plans tend to change rapidly though, so no guarantees about that. But if I do end up doing that, I would undoubtedly use this space to publish on the movements that I meet along the way. But for now, thanks again and I hope you’ve enjoyed this.

Juuso

Some solidarity work with the Zapatistas in Chiapas.

Countryside of Chiapas, the view from the Zapatista village of Esperanza

Countryside of Chiapas, the view from the Zapatista village of Esperanza

Alright people, time to update a bit what has been happening here in Mexico.

On Wednesday I returned from a Zapatista community where I spent two weeks as a human rights observer. The experience was beautiful and I made many good friends among the Zapatistas as well as with the other observers. However, for the thesis this time wasn’t as useful as I would have liked it to be. The human rights observers are sent by the Zapatista authorities to wherever there is most need. So two weeks ago, in the beginning of our ‘tour’ we were sent to Morelia, one of the Zapatista centres. I had hoped to be able to stay in Morelia for the two-week period there one could learn much about how the different sides of the movement work: the Juntas de Buen Gobierno (Good Government Councils) that make the decisions and pretty much administer all the daily activities of the five Zapatista regions; or the different workshops and training for teachers, health coordinators that also takes place in the Caracoles; or the Zapatista justice system. Unfortunately I was not given the opportunity to get familiar with the activities of the Caracol this time. After a night’s rest, the Junta informed us that we were to go to another community where we would be needed.

Caracol of Morelia

Caracol of Morelia

These benches of the Junta have seen some long waits

These benches of the Junta have seen some long waits

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Morelia

The community turned out to be an abandoned one. The history of the place is perhaps a pretty good reflection of many villages in Chiapas, and of the Zapatista movement. The land had been occupied following the uprising of 1994. At that point most people in the nearby villages were with the movement. However, at some point (accounts vary), many of the neighbouring village had decided to leave the movement – most likely to acquire government benefits.

A good look over some of the land of the village where we spent two weeks working.

At some point the people of the neighbouring village, now partidistas – supporters of political parties – had started to have their eyes on the village where we were sent (I think it’s best not to use the name of the village here). The 200 hectares of the village host an impressive forest with large trees which give valuable wood for construction. The land is also good for growing corn and other crops and for cattle grazing.

The mornings in these parts of Chiapas are quite chilly with mist.

The mornings in these parts of Chiapas are quite chilly with mist.

The wall reads: Recuperated Land, under the control of the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation)

The wall reads: Recuperated Land, under the control of the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation)

According to what we have been told, the Zapatista families eventually got tired of the constant harassment of the neighbours, who had formed a paramilitary organization. Eventually roughly a year ago they had left the village. After this the neighbours destroyed the fences, and stole the pump that carries the water from the river to the village. They also tried unsuccessfully to obtain the land through a judicial process. During this time, the movement sent guards to the village, to make sure the houses stay intact and with electricity. Meanwhile, the paramilitaries have used the land as if it’s their own – grazing their cattle and horses there and taking firewood and wood for construction from the forest.

At the moment, the movement is seeking to develop the terrain for a collective project. The point is to fence up the area to bring in cattle. Meat and dairy products are very much called for in the Zapatista communities. During all the time I’ve spent in Chiapas, I have never seen people eat meat in any of the communities I’ve visited. The lack of nutritional variety certainly seems to be a problem. The project in the village is carried out by compañeros from different Zapatista communities that work in turns of two weeks. Carried out succesfully, the collective project would be a much-needed asset for the movement, providing food for many communities. In the future, if the situation calms down, families can move back in and start farming the land too.  

Going to work. A piece of the finished fence (still unharmed).

Going to work. A piece of the finished fence (still unharmed).

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However, as per usual, things are difficult. The work of constructing the fence is pain-stakingly slow and frustrating as during the night the fence posts disappear or the barbed wire gets cut. Our job this time was not strictly human-rights related as we were to document the stealing of firewood and the points were the fence has been broken. This information is necessary for the movement to put pressure on municipal authorities who can then exert pressure on the neighbouring village to stop the harassment.

Above and below: making the posts for the fence.

Above and below: making the posts for the fence.

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In the end our job wasn’t so much observing but rather solidarity work in the sense that we took turns to go out working with the compas, doing the same work as them. In the two weeks we made good friends with the people and shared beautiful moments of cultural exchange. It is really amazing that despite coming from such different places, or different worlds even, we could find a common sense of humour. The nights we spent playing cards or sitting by the fire talking.

The village at night.

The village at night.

A standard night, playing cards.

A standard night, playing cards.

Full moon

Full moon

Compas gathered for a night time chat.

Compas gathered for a night time chat.

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The conditions in the camp were quite demanding. Because of the stolen pump, we had to carry water up the hill and through the forest, a 10-15 minute walk. The water from the river we purified with Microdyn drops, but it still managed to give us all stomach problems. The compas had it worse though, as they don’t have the drops, and their food for the two weeks consisted solely of beans and toasted tortillas. We at least had some fresh food for the first few days, before everything started rapidly to go bad because of the heat and the humidity. The nights were spent listening to a noisy concert of frogs in the pond nearby or the sound of cows eating up our rubbish or the grass outside the wooden hut. The mosquitos and the cold in the night made the already difficult experience of sleeping in the hammock quite a challenge. But humans have an incredible capacity to adapt, and after a couple of rough nights, I was sleeping sound. The long days of work might have contributed to that too, though.

The camp was always invaded by animals from the neigbhouring village.

Animals of all kinds were a constant feature around our house. 

Every two days the remaining compas from the village nearby came to sell some basic goods like cookies, soda and cigarettes.

Every two days the remaining compas from the village nearby came to sell some basic goods like cookies, soda and cigarettes.

Bueno, the two weeks an amazing experience but not necessarily very lucrative for my research. I would have much preferred to be in an actual community where one can learn about the daily life of the people in resistance. However, some good things might come out of this. Me and a fellow observer have thought about proposing to one of the Juntas to go and stay for a bit in the village of our new friends and maybe teach English or generally help around with the work. We shall see how that goes. Also, beginning on Thursday  next week, there will be celebrations in all the Zapatista Caracoles as it has been 10 years since the movement set up the Good Government Councils, thereby officially transferring ‘power’ from the EZLN to these new civilian decision-making bodies. We will be going to one of the Caracoles for the celebrations. The celebrations are followed by the Zapatista ‘Little School’ where 1,700 people from all over the world are going to be hosted in Zapatista families to learn about the experiences of the movement through the different families involved. This is thus a pretty interesting time to be here, but our plan of moving into one of the communities probably has to wait until the school finishes which luckily takes only about a week after the celebrations.

I will probably post something after the celebrations. Anyways, thanks for staying with me all this time. Greetings from Chiapas!

Pepe

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Going around the terrain for the last time.

Going around the terrain for the last time.

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Endnotes for Argentina

With some of the good friends made in Lanús

With some of the good friends made, in front of the metal workshop of MTD Lanús

I left Buenos Aires a while ago already, in a rush as always. The last week few weeks were very hectic with the movement preparing for the 11th anniversary of the assassination of Dario and Maxi. I was also busy helping out with the preparations as well as trying to carry out more interviews to have the data necessary for my thesis. At the moment I’m pretty busy getting ready for the research in Mexico, so I’m going to tell you the events of the last few weeks through photos. Because I’ve neglected the blog for so long, I’m afraid there will not be much of a story here but a fragmented collection of moments.

La Murga

On the 15th of June I joined some of the activists of the movement to get to know the Murga that takes place each saturday in the neighbourhood of Gonnet in Lanus. Murga is is the activity of playing a beat with the drums of the marching band, while dancing to the beat and signing. The word murga also refers to the group itself.

The atmosphere in the Murga was very relaxed; and the kids were seemingly enjoying it very much. The Murga has some interesting educational effects as well. The children had chosen the colours and costumes of the group the week before, democratically and between themselves. In this way they learn to take charge of their own affairs from a young age, and in a manner consistent with the ideas of the movement. They had chosen the colours red and black that happen to be the colours of the movement 🙂 (but also of the popular football club River Plate). The following week they were to elect a name for their Murga.

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“Let’s choose the colours!”

The winning design on the left in bottom row. Image

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The arrival of the mercaderia

A couple of days later i saw the result of the recent mobilizations – the long-awaited delivery of groceries from municipal authorities finally arrived. The movement in Lanus stores the dry goods for more than 10 movements that had mobilized and gained these concessions together. The other movements will then come and pick up their shares from the warehouse in Lanus. The authorities sent: sugar, mate, rice, pasta, corn, flour and other groceries.

Cleaning up the warehouse in anticipation of the grocery truck

Cleaning up the warehouse in anticipation of the grocery truck

The image of Dario Santillan overlooking some of the groceries that were finally delivered for the neighbourhood kitchens

The image of Dario Santillan overlooking some of the groceries that were finally delivered for the neighbourhood kitchens

 Bachillerato popular

Before leaving Buenos Aires, I also went to get familiar with an important aspect of the work of the movement – the Bachillerato Popular education project. The bachi, as it is colloquially known, is a popular education program which runs weekday nights at the Roca Negra centre. The program is carried out by volunteer teachers and professors, most of which teach on one day of the week. The bachi is targeted at the people of the neighbourhood who are past secondary school age, but haven’t for one reason or another terminated their studies. On top of giving the people the qualification and hence improving their chances in the labour market and other aims of more traditional education, the teachers in the program talk about creating critical consciousness, in accordance with the ideas of Paulo Freire. A successful side product of popular education would be a critical person who understands the structural and cultural sources of soci0-economic and other types of inequalities and actively campaigns to do something about them. This, however, does not mean that the students are being indoctrinated by the movement to receive an ‘alternative’ but equally dogmatic ‘truth’ but rather the aim is to equip the students with the capacity to find their own truths, ideally through dialogue with others.

Some students of year 1 of the bachi

Some students of year 1 of the bachi

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Here a couple of more pictures of different events before i hit you with a load of pictures from the demonstration and yearly get-together of many social movements in memory of the assassination of Dario and Maxi.

MTD Lanus sells fruit and vegetables at buy-in price for the neighbours every friday - the aim is to fight the rampant inflation as well as reach out to the neighbours and tell them about the work of the movement.

MTD Lanus sells fruit and vegetables at buy-in price for the neighbours every friday – the aim is to fight the rampant inflation as well as reach out to the neighbours and tell them about the work of the movement. Below: wrapping up the market for the day.

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MTD Lanus is restarting its radio broadcast - the name, I believe will be Frecuencia Rebelde (Rebellious Frequency) and the point is to reach out to the neighbourhood by broadcasting news from the perspective of the day to day life of the barrio.

MTD Lanus is restarting its radio broadcast – the name, I believe will be Frecuencia Rebelde (Rebellious Frequency) and the point is to reach out to the neighbourhood by broadcasting news from the perspective of the day to day life of the barrio.

 25-26 June 2013 – 11 years of the assassination of Dairo and Maxi

The two-day event at the train station Dario and Maxi (officially Avellaneda) is undoubtedly the most important event of the year for the movement. Multiple movements get together demanding political responsibility for the events of the ‘massacre of Avellenada’ whereby many activists were shot and wounded and Maximiliano Kosteki and Dario Santillan killed, the latter outright executed as CCTV footage has shown. Dario was helping Maxi out of the roadblock, Maxi having already been shot. The police caught the two at the railway station, a fair way away from the bridge that was being blocked by the organizations of the unemployed workers. Dario was shot in the neck. The police officers responsible for killing him have been convicted, but the movements demand sentences for the politicians and high level officials who gave the order to repress the demonstration violently. They claim that the police were out to kill on that day 11 years ago.

Despite the reason for the event being a serious one, the atmosphere is somewhat festive. It is nice to see friends from different movements and different parts of the country, and to meet like-minded individuals. Events like this and the rituals of singing and dancing undoubtedly serve to boost up the moral of those activists who work day to day in often very frustrating conditions. In the evening of the 25th there were many cultural events, panel discussions and speeches along with musical and theatrical performances. All of this took place either in  the station itself or out in the avenue passing the station. The evening culminated in a candlelight vigil to the bridge of Pueyrredon, the venue of the tragic events of 11 years ago. The vigil ended in the burning of the banners of the politicians seen as responsible for those events.

MTD Lanus hosted companeros from the northern region of Chaco that had come down for the get-together and demonstration of the 25-26 of June. Here are some of the visitors getting to know the work of the metal workshop (where i spent most of the days).

MTD Lanus hosted compañeros from the northern region of Chaco that had come down for the get-together and demonstration of the 25-26 of June. Here are some of the visitors getting to know the work of the metal workshop (where i spent most of the days).

The night of the 25th

The night of the 25th

The building of the Frente Popular, next to the train station Dario and Maxi

The building of the Frente Popular, next to the train station Dario and Maxi (as represented by these figures)

A performance group acting out the history of the piqueteros

A performance group acting out the history of the piqueteros

The end of the evening of the 25th

The end of the evening of the 25th

Burning the culprits

Burning the culprits

On the day of the anniversary the multiple organizations marched onto block the bridge as every year on the 26th of June. The bridge of Pueyrredon is the bigger one of the two bridges that take the millions of people from the southern neigbhourhoods of Buenos Aires to the centre of the city itself.

At the head of the marching formation were the relatives and close friends of the many victims of political repression in Argentina, including some of the famous Mothers of Plaza de Mayo who had first stood up against the military rule of 1976-1983 by silently marching at the plaza. Their trademark headscarf and the picture hanging by the neck indicate that they are the mothers of those ‘disappeared’ by the military rulers of Argentina.

Some younger piqueteros

Some younger piqueteros

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Media presence in the event was quite visible

Media presence in the event was quite visible

The relatives and compañeros of the killed on the platform at the bridge

The relatives and compañeros of the killed on the platform at the bridge

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Alberto Santillan, the father of Darío along with a Mother of the Plaza de Mayo

Alberto Santillan, the father of Darío along with a Mother of the Plaza de Mayo

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The frontline of the march - the relatives and friends of the killed or the disappeared

The frontline of the march – the relatives and friends of the killed or the disappeared

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People leaving the bridge. Some had already had the time to clean up after the camp. (Many stayed over night at the station or the bridge)

People leaving the bridge. Some had already had the time to do most of the clean-up after the camp. (Many stayed over night at the station or the bridge)

Well, this concludes my stay in Argentina. In short, I had an awesome time. I made many good friends and learned a good deal about the work of an established social movement. It hurts me to leave behind such good friends and also to know that much work remains to be done in order for the people to have a life of dignity. I however, have a firm intention to return to Argentina. I am also going to set up a solidarity group back in Europe and hopefully be able to contribute in some form to the lucha in Argentina and Mexico. So those of you back home who ‘ve stayed with me until now, take note and get involved!

Anyways, I am now in Chiapas Mexico for the second round of getting to know the Zapatista movement. But more about that soon! Take care, and hasta pronto!

Juuso

Contention, frustration and repeatedly broken promises

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As per usual, it has taken me quite a lot longer to get around to publishing something. However, the good news is that I’ve actually learned a good amount in this time. I will first tell you a bit about the kinds of things the movements have won from the municipal, regional and national governments and then I will tell you about three protest events that have to do with the authorities’ failure to keep their promises. I’ve been a bit more active with the camera this time around so I’ll drop quite a few photos in here too.

Bueno, like many other movements, the MTD started mobilizing way before the economic collapse of 2001, but the year of the crisis is when things got on full swing. Understandably times were quite difficult around 2001-2002, and there was a lot of confrontation with authorities to secure the most basic needs for the unemployed people in the neighborhoods. Consequently, land was occupied in Lanús for housing and roads were blocked to force the government(s) to hand out unemployment benefits and food for neighbourhood kitchens. For a foreigner like me the picture today is quite confusing as the situation is a result of years of confrontation and concessions from different authorities. There are certain unemployment benefits (or work plans, planes de trabajo, as they are called) that come from municipal authorities and others that are national. The movement in Lanus administers a free meal to neigbhours at times. For this copa de leche some ingredients come from municipal authorities and others from regional authorities in La Plata, the capital of the province of Buenos Aires. In addition, when the movement gains a number of planes, the people are organized into cooperatives of work. The tools, work clothes and materials come from municipal authorities. So the picture is complex and especially problematic since the authorities often do not stand by their promises. Consequently there are people working without adequate safety gear and neighbourhood kitchens that do not have the basic ingredients to keep on functioning. In negotiations with the authorities the movement is then accused of not working when it is in fact often impossible for them to do so as they do not have the tools or materials they need for the work. As a result, the compañeros often spend lengthy periods just sat at the workplace.

However, the situation in Buenos Aires is relatively good in comparison to other places. This is due to the fact that here the people are paid personally on their own accounts, whereas often in places such as Chaco in the north a corrupt official takes up to half of the benefit meant for the unemployed. This does happen in Buenos Aires too; I was told by one of the people in the movement that trying to get a benefit straight from the municipality (without a movement) is literally impossible without being with a political puntero. Puntero is a person that typically works for a candidate or representative of a political party. S/he guarantees the person the benefit in exchange for party loyalty and a significant portion of the money. Often the people on the benefit are not expected to do the work they’ve officially assigned to. Movements like MTD Lanus can be seen as a direct challenge to punterismo as they are not only working but also actively seeking to destroy the structure of dependency and the political and economic framework that has produced unemployment in the first place. This, of course, is not easy as it includes going against powerful politicians, corrupt police, the punteros and to some extent the people themselves – many prefer getting less to be able to stay at home and not work. To me it seems that punterismo also creates or maintains a certain form of individualism as politics is seen as a personalized cost-benefit exchange. The Frente and MTD Lanus in contrast, seek to create and autonomy from political parties and place much emphasis on the notion of compañerismo which includes thinking beyond one’s own personal needs.

This deviation aside, I already gave you the account of the symbolic struggle at the plaza the last time I posted. This time I will share you a few experiences in demonstrations targeted at different ‘authorities’.

23 May, La Plata, the capital of the province of Buenos Aires

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On the 23rd of May, the Frente mobilized in the provincial capital to exert pressure on the authorities. This was because the tools necessary for the municipal work are lacking and it has been months since the last delivery of the groceries for the neighbourhood kitchens. There are many people in the barrios that depend on the free food. The lack of tools was visible too when I joined the working group in cleaning up the plaza. Municipal work often has to do with cleaning up rubbish. The work can be very unhealthy without proper gloves for example, something that the authorities have failed to deliver in adequate amounts.

As seems to be customary, it took a couple of hours of blocking the traffic of a major avenue for the authorities to attend the companeros to negotiate terms. After an hour or so of negotiations the delegates returned to host an assembly where we were informed that the demands have been met – the food deliveries will resume and the quantity of food will also rise. Promises about the tools were also made, but so far we are still waiting.

Demonstration and road block in Buenos Aires, 30 May

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A week later, on the 30th of May, the organizations of the Frente mobilized with other movements that do cooperative work in the capital, at the Ministry of Work. There were 14 points in the demands, that also had to do with tools, the food as well as nationalizing or harmonizing nationally the unemployment benefit, Argentina Trabaja. The latter is an act of solidarity more than anything, as the unemployed in the northern region of Chaco for example earn 1,200 pesos/month, instead of the 2,000 the companeros in the capital make. 1,200 pesos corresponds approximately 160 pounds with the official exchange rate. Although much more than benefits before, it still is not much with inflation completely out of control in the country. Moreover, as I mentioned briefly, the problem of punterismo often means that people are not paid, or not paid in full as the money is handled by corrupt officials.

This time it took blocking 3 of the biggest avenues in the capital for several hours for the corresponding bureaucrat to agree to talk with the representatives of the cooperatives. The result of the day was the agreement to restart negotiations the following day. To my information the negotiations are still on-going. However, the activists of the movements seemed content for having mobilized a large amount of people. Everyone seems to be used to the situation that for an outsider seems somewhat frustrating.

Mobilization of Villa 21-24, Barracas, the city of Buenos Aires

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On Thursday 6th of June I was to go and get to know the Frente in the capital, which works in the neighbourhoods of Barracas, Boca and Constitucion, in particular in the villas – Argentinian equivalents of favelas. However, the night before I was informed that there will be a march in the capital instead. On the Thursday I thus joined a collection of people from different organizations at the City of Buenos Aires office for housing. This time the protest had to do with the living conditions of the people in the Villa 21-24 shantytown in the area of Barracas in the city of Buenos Aires itself. There are more than a thousand people living next to the river Riachuelo which is very contaminated. Consequently the riverside inhabitants have serious health problems. The problem has persisted for decades, to my understanding. However, the office for housing had agreed to relocate the people by building them new houses. As is often the case, however, they have failed to walk the walk. Some houses have been built, but they lack electricity and running water. In addition, the people concerned do not want to leave the neighbourhood as they have spent their entire lives there.

This time too, the neighbourhood organizations and social movements had to block the enormous avenue, the artery of Buenos Aires, Avenida 9 de Julio to try and force the corresponding bureaucrat to come down to talk to the representatives. He failed to do so, sending instead his assistant who was visibly distressed. After a couple of hours i had to leave and the situation was quite heated and nothing had been achieved. (I need to check up on what happened afterwards and keep you updated.)

In other news

Nationally, the problems in Chaco became particularly visible on the same day we were in La Plata for the mobilization. The indigenous people in the north have started to stand up against land seizures. The indigenous Qom have a traditional land heritage system which has meant that they do not necessarily have official land titles. Today land is increasingly taken over by people that present the papers given by a corrupt judge, I was told. In a mobilization against land seizures, 3 people were killed on the night leading to the 23rd. In addition, around 50 companeros, some of them belonging to the OPO (Organization of Pueblos Originarios) which is part of the Frente in Chaco had been wounded and were closed in the hospital by the police, effectively imprisoned. Consequently, after the mobilization in La Plata I joined a group of people to go to the solidarity protest at the office of the Province of Chaco in Buenos Aires. The protest ended quite quickly when the imprisoned compañeros in the north were set free. However, the situation is very tense, and some of the people from the capital traveled up north to discuss and help out with the organizations over in Chaco. Moreover, the Qom are mobilizing to force President Fernández de Kirchner to have a meeting with them. Many organizations in the capital are joining them in solidarity. So far they have been unsuccessful.

These fragmented stories will do for now. On the 25th and 26th many movements are getting together for the yearly blocking of the bridge of Pueyrredon that takes the traffic from the southern neighbourhoods to the city of Buenos Aires. The 26th marks the 11th anniversary of the assassination of Dario Santillán, an activist and an exemplary compañero who died trying to save Maxi Kosteki who had been shot by the police earlier at the bridge in confrontation with the police. The events of 2002 mark a shift in police handling of demonstrations and these days it is uncommon for the police to suppress protests violently. The corte of 26th will still be the single most important event of my stay in Argentina. I’ll keep you posted.

Some moments in the day-to-day construction of People’s power

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As is customary, I did not quite keep to the original plan of writing something every week. It’s not so much due to being a lazy person (which I am) but spending the days in the centre in Lanus and an hour on the bus each way makes sure every night when I get back, I’m knackered and ready to hit the sack. In addition, I have not resolved entirely how to go about the blog. Spending time with the people in the movement, getting to know them, becoming friends and enjoying their company makes me feel slightly awkward about writing about them too much in detail as ‘subjects of study’. Consequently, I’m probably not going to do the profiles of the people; it feels somewhat too personal and I feel a bit uncomfortable with that. So I decided to stick to movement-wide issues and events, and here I will tell you about a couple of things that have happened in the past few weeks.

A quick check now proves I’ve been in Argentina for four weeks. I’m still staying in San Telmo in a hostel which is conveniently next to where the buses for Lanus stop. My daily routine consists of waking up early and heading over to Lanus. The bus journey takes an hour, which gives me some time to prepare the focus of the research. Depending on the day, there are reunions of the movement that I attend. My research is interested in the challenges of direct democracy and non-authoritarian social movements as promoters of change. This means for me it is fundamental to attend the meetings where the movements take decisions. Consequently, during this time I’ve attended all the Friday assemblies where the most important decisions are taken. People of the movement are really very used to making decisions collectively, having a history of more than 12 years as a movement. The discussion is often quite feisty but good-spirited and often for me it remains somewhat unclear how a decision was reached as voting is generally avoided. Consensus often just seems to emerge, and everyone is encouraged to speak out any doubts or objections. It would probably not be fair to recount too much in detail the kinds of things that are debated in the assemblies, but I’ll post you some pictures so that you get an idea of the setting.

On top of the weekly assemblies, I was invited to join in on a ‘mesa de responsables’ (table of responsibles) meeting on Wednesday. Each one of the five barrios of MTD Lanus has their own representative that meet weekly to discuss the coordination of the movement, based on the mandate they have been given in the weekly assembly in their respective neighbourhoods. The way the organization works is thus a form of ascending rather than descending decision-making. This means any decisions taken at the level of the coordinators or responsibles of the movement needs to be in accordance with what the people in the assemblies have discussed. In addition the idea is that all the people with a role of responsibility rotate and that new and unexperienced members also get involved in the running of the organization. This is not always very smooth, as it can be quite intimidating to take up a role as a delegate or a coordinator of work. The movement is trying to tackle the problem by having workshops and a form of training to the positions by way of accompaniment by the person who is leaving the position.

So far I’ve spent most of the time, perhaps too much of it with the people who work at the metal workshop. The amount of work varies greatly depending on the needs of the movement and the neighbours who often come needing something fixed. Often there are periods of no work which means sitting at the workshop listening to radio, preparing the food and talking about all kinds of things. Friends come and go, which makes the workshop a sort of a social hub where one is kept well informed about the things that go on in the neighbourhood.

In the last two weeks I’ve sought to expand my sphere beyond the workshop, though. The idea is to try and learn as widely as possible about the work of the movement and the experiences of different members of the movement. For example, this week I joined in on a large group of people that went out to do work in the municipality. This time the work had to do with cleaning up a little park that the movement had cleared up a couple of blocks away from the Roca Negra. I think the work of that day is symbolic of the difficulty of the work of the movement as a whole.

We set of early in the morning for the plaza. There were probably about 25 of us cleaning up the square, but there weren’t near enough tools for all of us. Even basic things such as gloves are not available for everyone, making the work of cleaning up rubbish a pretty unhealthy one. The movement is supposed to get its resources for municipal work from the ‘authorities’ but as of late they haven’t complied. The movement is now trying to exert pressure on the municipal government to secure the resources needed for basic security and tools for the work.

However, the lack of resources is not the only challenge. The movement sees itself as primarily a social movement. This is to say that they think the change in our societies will come primarily through a change in the way we ourselves behave. In the case of the plaza, we cleaned up much of the rubbish that had piled up next to the road alongside the park. The idea was to push the rubbish back to clear up a space for the park that then should be fenced up. We cleared up the way for people to be able to take the rubbish further down the little road that would be more convenient for everyone. However, the next day already the rubbish was back. The rubbish collection system seems somewhat ineffective. In particular in the poorer  neigbhourhoods the streets are too narrow for the lorries leaving the rubbish for men who take it out for the neighbours in exchange for a fee. These guys then dump it next to the road effectively eating into the park. Apparently the work is rushed so that it was not convenient for them to take the rubbish further down the road, regardless of the way we cleared up for the purpose. The trees that were planted that day at least were not stolen yet.

Most naturally quite a few things have happened during my stay here. But more about that another time. I will start going around the different workplaces of the movement, so I intend to introduce you the different activities of the movement in the weeks to come.

The idea of autonomy and other short stories of the revolutions of the everyday

Okay, I’ve now been in Argentina for a bit more than a week so I suppose it’s time to give you an idea of what’s been happening. I’m going to be out for field research until the end of September. So as to not run out of topics to discuss, I will probably keep on updating the blog more or less once per week.

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As I mentioned in my last post, the idea was to go back to MTD Lanus and to reconnect with them in order to be able to spend the couple of months I have here in Argentina working with them and doing interviews. This way I would get a good idea of how things work and understand better the way in which the people of the movement see social change and what the challenges are for the movement here.

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So I arrived in Argentina more than a day late. First my flight was cancelled due to a Lufthansa strike. And no, I will not complain about it. I was then rescheduled for a flight a day later, which arrived in Buenos Aires after a 4-hour delay – the weather in Buenos Aires was too rough for landing so we were redirected to the Campino cargo airport in Sao Paolo to refuel and wait for the fog to clear out. Consequently not much happened on Wednesday as I was exhausted from the travelling.

On Thursday I headed straight out to meet the people at Roca Negra, the centre of the movement in the southern suburb of Lanús in Greater Buenos Aires. I had been concerned about whether the people still remember me since it’s been nearly a year since I was last here. I found these concerns unfounded, receiving a warm welcome. Since Monday I’ve been going regularly to Roca Negra to ‘work’ which in my case has so far consisted of awkwardly trying to help with the work in the metal workshop and asking stupid questions about the work and the movement itself.

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On Tuesday we cleaned up some land to replant a couple of things to grow

Now in case you did not follow this blog last year, it’s probably in order to explain briefly what the movement is all about.

MTD Lanús stands for the Unemployed Workers Movement of Lanús (Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados – MTD). The movement emerged around 1998 as a result of the tough conditions of the working class area of greater Buenos Aires where the neighbours started to get together to find solutions to common problems. High unemployment, poor pay and rising cost of living deriving from economic mismanagement and aggressive neoliberal economic reforms meant that there was a lot of work to do in the working class areas of Buenos Aires that were hit worst by these policies.

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‘People’s power’ – Roca Negra

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Following the example of the former employees in the southern province of Neuquen where the unemployed started blocking roads and highways to demand work and unemployment benefits, the unemployed in many of the suburbs of Greater Buenos Aires started to block roads and force the municipal authorities to meet them at the roadblocks to negotiate ways to improve the dire living conditions. As a result of the disillusionment with the formal labour unions that had become quite dominated by political parties and due to the distaste for politics itself, the movements did not want to elect representatives or leaders to meet the government in their own territory. Forcing the government to negotiate at the roablocks ensured that everyone had the chance to take part in the negotiations and to avoid the buying off by the government of the movements’ leadership. This ‘horizontality’ can also be seen as a direct challenge to the clientelist politics of the Peronist party. Clientelism is a phenomenon whereby people are dependent on the party network for resources which are given in exchange for services. In a crude form clientelism implies vertical links between a ‘puntero’ (party boss or mobilizer) and the people in the neighbourhood. The ‘puntero’ is required to mobilize a certain number of people in his/her area of responsibility for any demonstration or election that the party needs support for. In a clientelist system people have less of chance to affect decision-making themselves and often a relationship of domination and dependency is maintained in order for the clientelist system to work. This is of course quite a simplistic account of clientelism, and it is often quite a lot more nuanced than that, however, this is just to give you a simple idea of the challenge posed by the movements when they seek to directly challenge the relationship of domination and dependency by refusing to have established leadership and by making decisions collectively.

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At the metal workshop

So, like so many other movements at the time leading to the economic collapse of 2001, the people of MTD Lanús engaged in confrontation with the authorities by blocking roads and highways. The Roca Negra centre itself was an abandoned factory which was occupied by the movement in collaboration with the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, a famous social movement which played an instrumental role in the bringing down of the military rule of 1976-1983. The centre now hosts the metal workshop where I’ve been spending most of my time this week, a communal kitchen where the compañeros of the neighbourhood come and eat daily, a brick Factory, a serigraphy workshop and a an office for Editorial El Colectivo, a small cooperative publishing house, along with the facilities for the adult high school program that is administered by the movement at night time. The resources for the movement’s activity derive from the unemployment benefits that the movement forced out of municipal authorities. However, instead of being dictated by the government regarding the type of work the movement does, the people enjoy autonomy in terms of the work they do.

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The Mayday demonstrations were divided, above the more politically orientated and below the autonomists

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Right from the start of the so called ‘piquetero’ movement (piquetero stands for those who picket, which in the Argentinian context refers to those who block roads), was divided broadly into three camps. On the one hand there were movements that aligned with political parties, on the other movements that collaborated closely with labour unions or revolutionary Trotskiety parties. MTD Lanus belongs to a tendency within the piquetero movement that is often referred to as ‘autonomist’ or ‘autonomous’ as they seek to be independent of political parties and carve out spaces of self-determination. The movement belongs to Frente Popular Dario Santillán which is a wide coalition of social movements around the country, encompassing gender based movements, students organizations, unemployed workers groups and rural based movements all sharing the desire to be autonomous and create alternatives to existing political organizations. What is distinct about these movements (and what got me to Argentina and Mexico in the first place) is that they have a very different view of social change. They are not orientated towards taking control of the state, or ‘taking power’. Rather, (to my understanding) they see power as something that does not reside in a place, be it the Winter Palace in the Czarist Russia or the Casa Rosada in Argentina, but rather for them power is something that features in our everyday life and in the social relations that we have between ourselves. Consequently, power is constructed and reconstructed through the way we behave towards each other. The state too is not some objective ‘thing’ that exists independently of ourselves, but rather something that we maintain if we orientate our efforts towards the state, and behave in a ‘statist’ way.

Consistently with this line of thought, the place where the struggle for social change is fought, changes. It is no longer about electing representatives to parliament, or arming a guerrilla group to take over the state through violent means. Instead, autonomist movements seek to construct an alternative world beginning from their own local contexts, and reaching out to other movements that share this vision. This means that when comparing to many past movements with revolutionary aims (worker’s parties, Marxist-Guevarist guerrilla groups), the movements seek to construct a world in the present that corresponds with the ideal of the future – this means that gender issues or domination deriving from tradition can be challenged in movement itself. Similarly, when past movements that sought to take control of the state organized themselves hierarchically to be more ‘effective’ regarding their objective (taking power), these movements seem to reject hierarchy as something that should not be allowed since the aim is to create a society in which hierarchy does not exist. For these movements the idea (in my understanding) is to create a liberated ‘microcosm’ that could spread through the example and through connecting to other movements, and where no sacrifices are made in the name of ‘class struggle’ – gender issues, and lack of democracy within the movement itself are not seen as secondary but as equally important for genuine social change. In practise these things mean organizing the work in cooperatives where everyone gets the same pay, making decisions collectively to work without bosses (trabajo sin patron) and when leadership is required rotating the leadership is rotated among movement membership and the ultimate authority is the assembly where everyone is supposed to take part.

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However, the movements face many challenges. They have to find a way to transcend the individualism characteristic of our societies. It is not enough for people to be involved in a movement to get personal gain, but they should dedicate themselves to a more collective vision of society. This, in turn, requires quite a lot of commitment. And paradoxically, when times get better and people have jobs, they are less willing and able to commit to political activity. In addition, the neighbourhoods where the movements operate have significant social problems, like addiction to paco (something akin to crack cocaine). There is also a lot of violence related to drugs with kids as young as 8 carrying guns. Throw in the corrupt police that supposedly is involved in the drug trafficking and the trigger happy gendarmerie and you’ve got yourself quite a soup. For me it has been at times quite shocking to see concretely what the things that we talk about actually mean in real life. The other day I was told that at the nearby market girls exchange sex for fruit and vegetables that they then sell on the streets to provide for themselves and their families.

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People burning stolen electric cable to take out the copper for selling

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The government has also been actively trying to divide social resistance by co-opting some movements and by marginalizing others. On top of this, the movements are often dependent on the unemployment benefits from the government, which means they are continuously pushed towards conventional ways of organizing.

Okay, I’ll cut it there, but I hope you got an idea of theoretical foundations (at least how I’ve understood them) of the movement. The Friday of last week was the 26th of the month, which means the Frente Popular organized to protest at the Avellaneda railway station where Dario Santillán, the activist of the movement was killed alongside Maximiliano Kosteki on the 26th of June 2002 following the piquete at the bridge leading to central Buenos Aires. The Frente takes its name from Dario who was practically executed by the police by a shot to the neck when he was helping Maxi who had earlier been shot by the police during a confrontation at the bridge. The movement still mobilizes regularly to call for justice. Only the police officers responsible for his murder have been convicted, but those that ordered the killing of protesters still walk free.

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 Above, the demonstration at Avellaneda. Below the Mayday mobilizations at Congress

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Apart from the daily work at the centre, I took part in the mayday demonstrations at the Congress in Buenos Aires. I’ve attached some pictures here from the demo along with others of the day-to-day things in the neighborhood.

For the next posts, I’ve been thinking of doing profiles of the people involved in the movement, so that you’d get an idea of the personal transformations that take place through the activity in the movement. For me it seems that, in addition to the space that the movements manage to carve out for themselves, and their success in terms of forming coalitions with other movements, the challenge really is to change ourselves to commit to an alternative way of living and relating to one another. I’ll see what they think, but hopefully that’s what I’ll do next.

Until next time. I hope you enjoyed reading this.

Juuso

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Back to the ‘field’

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Hi all,

Although I realize ‘all’ might be quite ambitious. I hope there is still someone there. It has been quite a while since I last wrote. But well this is supposed to be my field research blog so it is acceptable, right? So by now you’ve probably figured out that since I’m writing I am about to go to the ‘field’ again. Indeed, I’m writing this onboard the Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Buenos Aires. I’ll just upload this from Buenos Aires. Well, a lot of things have happened since the last time I posted anything here, and I think it merits a brief overview. Right now I’m just pretty tired and quite surprised that I managed to finish almost all preparations for the field research more or less on time. This time the research needs to be much more systematic and rigorous which frankly scares me somewhat. I hope everything goes well and at the end I will have some idea of what I am talking about. This is also somewhat a bitter sweet moment. Trees are finally blooming in England and I managed to burn myself in Green Park today taking in as much as possible of the summer that I will miss for the second time in a row since the southern hemisphere is conveniently entering winter as we’re shaking it off, as is natural. It is a bit sad to leave behind all the old friends and the ones made since my return. But at the same time it is very exciting to return to Argentina and the amazing people that I’ve met there the last time. But before we get there, let me just quickly run through some of the things that I’ve done in between now and the last blog post.

 

So the last time I posted was in Mexico at the end of last summer. Before I left Mexico, I attended a conference in San Cristobal de las Casas. The conference was on the peace process in Chiapas, and I was lucky to meet many people that have worked with/on the Zapatistas for a long time. It was particularly interesting to realize the strong presence by priests and other church workers at the event. In fact, many argue that the Catholic church, through the priests inspired by Liberation Theology are largely responsible for the politicization of the indigenous peasants of Chiapas.

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Seeing the Choir of Acteal was a very moving experience. The Choir is composed of the survivors and relatives of the victims of the Acteal Massacre – where paramilitaries attacked Zapatista symphatisers who were attending mass, killing 45 people. Mexican government troops were stationed 300 meters down the road. 

 

 

 

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After the conference I volunteered with a local human rights organization, Fray Bartolome de las Casas (FRAYBA). The organization was set up by Samuel Ruiz Garcia, the bishop of San Cristobal he himself a devoted liberation theologian. Frayba is the oldest human rights organization in Chiapas and it works closely with the Zapatista authorities and other autonomist groups in the state. The volunteers are sent by Frayba to different hotspots around Chiapas. Human rights observers, as the term implies, observe the situation in these places of conflict, trying to prevent violence from occurring and reporting potential violations to FRAYBA that then uses the reports to put pressure on the state authorities, the police and the military. Much of the work has to do with publicizing the poor human rights situation to influence public opinion and keep the authorities in the spotlight. 

I was sent by FRAYBA to the village of San Marcos Aviles in the Las Cañadas region of Chiapas. San Marcos is a community set up around the time of the Zapatista uprising of 1994. At the time all the people in the village were supporters of the movement. However, following the civil society pressure that made it impossible for the federal state to destroy the indigenous Zapatistas militarily, the government has tried an alternative strategy. Through a combination of harassment and co-optation by the political parties the community is now divided into those who defined themselves as Bases of Support of the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) and those who support the political parties. As is the case in most of the state, the low intensity counter-insurgence has been carried out predominatly the PRI (Partido Revolucanario Institucional – Insititutional Revolutionary Party) that ruled Mexico for 70 years until 2000.

For the support bases of the EZLN (BAEZLN) the situation is particularly difficult as the movement has decided not to accept any assistance from the government. This means that as a result of the threat posed by the movement to the authorities, it is in fact the communities that choose to leave the movement or those that are close to the Zapatista villages that benefit of the Zapatista search for autonomy. The political parties pour in resources to the state, in order to buy off supporters and potential supporters of the movement. As is customary for a clientelist political system, people receive the services and material resources that the state is supposed to guarantee its citizens in exchange for loyalty (votes) for the political party in control of these resources. The incorporation by the PRI of much of the civil society in this way acquired the PRI rule the title of ‘perfect dictatorship’. And following the contested election of Enrique Peña Nieto last July, the PRI is back in power.

In Chiapas this means that the armed supporters of the PRI are now more confident to carry out their harassment campaign, feeling (rightly or not) that they have the support of the state.

In this context I spent two weeks with three other volunteers in the village of San Marcos. The Zapatista supporters in the village have been accompanied by observers since 2010. Back then the support bases decided to build their own school in the village. The school was to be part of the Zapatista system of autonomous education. The education project is largely inspired by the non-hierarchic and participatory models of education as famously developed by the Brazilian critical educationalist, Paulo Freire.The movement sees education as a fundamental pillar for constructing autonomy for the indigenous people. The education focuses on local issues and takes pride in indigenous cultural heritage. This is a natural counter-reaction to the perceived promotion by the government of  a form of mestizaje – the assimilation of the indigenous peoples into the mestizo identity of majority Mexicans. Long story short, the partidistas (the supporters of the political parties) did not like the move. Consequently the Zapatistas were attacked and had to take refuge in the mountains for a month, only to return accompanied by human rights activists and solidarity campaigners to find their houses sacked and many of their tools and crop stolen. Since then the situation has been very tense. Recently the intimidation by the partidistas have been increasing, prompting the New York based solidarity organization, Movimiento Justicia en el Barrio to launch a campaign calling for international solidarity with the people in San Marcos Aviles.

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Due to the very tense situation in San Marcos Aviles I will refrain from describing too much what I’ve learned there. Fortunately the time spent in the village was relatively uneventful but all the more interesting. I learned a thing or two about growing corn, coffee and beans – the three main crops in the village. Getting to know the incredibly hospitable people was a powerful experience that made me reflect much on my own life in which so many things can be taken for granted. I have huge respect for the campesinos who are sacrificing so much for social justice, and live under constant threat of violence. It would be much easier for them to give in and receive material support from the authorities, but they choose to struggle on to hopefully replace the system with something more equitable, not just what they themselves get within the current situation. (If you’re interested in the daily life in the communities and the relationship between solidarity workers and the movement, have a look at the brilliant book by Ramor Ryan on a solidarity project in one of the distant communities of Chiapas.)

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Inspecting the corn field of a compañero whose crop had been stolen

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Okay, I think I’m already rambling on so I’ll speed it up and tell you very quickly what I’ve done in England after the return.

In October I was involved in organizing the first ever Theory Action and Impact of Social Protest conference at the University of Kent. The conference was well attended by more than one hundred speakers from all around the world, a combination of activists and academics (and many try to balance the two). The point was to create a more inter-disciplinary environment for studying social movements. The conference resulted in the establishment of a network of scholars trying to keep this thing going and a open access journal which we chose to call ContentionApart from the conference, I had to teach quite heavily in the Autumn, 8 hours a week. This meant that they thesis suffered quite badly until Christmas. After New Years I’ve then immersed myself completely in the literature on autonomist social movements or published by them. The point was trying to figure out exactly how these people view social change and what the logic is that is driving their project. I feel like I’ve learned more in the past 4 months that in my entire life-time. I will talk much more about the theoretical points when I get started in Buenos Aires.

 

And this gets me to this moment. The plan for the summer is to spend more than two months in both places. I will be in Buenos Aires on Tuesday. The plan is to go straight back to MTD Lanus to see whether it is still okay that I’d spend the time working with the movement. The point is to participate as best I can in the daily activities and work of the movement and to conduct interviews with the activists. I will then leave Buenos Aires for Mexico in the beginning of July. I will make a brief stop in the US in between to catch some breath and get the right kind of contrast for the research. In Chiapas things are somewhat up in the air, but hopefully I’d be able to conduct more interviews this time.

Anyways, I hope you found this interesting enough to keep following this space and share this field research with me. 

I’ll be back soon with some news from Buenos Aires.

Juuso