Sunday, March 18, 2007

Defend the Zapatistas

Gringo President George "Dubya" Bush receives a hug from Brazilian President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva during his recent trip through Latin America

I found myself running around a park with two sweet little kids last Sunday playing a game called "Days of the Dragon Riders." This game apparently doesn't require much more than a dragon (yours truly) and some dragon riders (the sweet little kids).

Although "Days..." was exhausting (only for me of course), it was unseasonably warm in Manhattan and the three of us had a lot of fun. I was doing childcare for some radical parents who were attending Left Forum 2007 and they relieved me just before the closing plenary...just in time to hear Boaventura de Sousa Santos intone these words:

"We live in an age when the revolutionaries look like reformists (the Zapatistas), the reformists look like revolutionaries (Chavez), and some reformists aren't even reformists (Lula)."

I glanced around the room at this moment to see the reactions of those in attendance. Judging from their laughter, I could tell that a large swath of the audience agreed with Santos' view of Lula.

I wondered, however, what they thought of his characterization of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Mexico's Zapatistas. What I I'd like to emphasize here from Santos' speech, though, is the truly revolutionary character of the Zapatistas and the importance of defending them in light of the dangers they are facing today.

In 2005 the Zapatistas found Mexico faced with the rise of a presidential candidate, Andres Manuel López Obrador, who could succeed in capturing the imagination of much of the Left while serving the interests of the Right. They had watched closely for over two years the effects of a very similar figure, Lula, in Brazil and were growing quite concerned. Obrador had already played this game as mayor of Mexico City and was now poised to successfully move the model to the national stage. With elections on the horizon, the Zapatistas broke their silence to launch both a new revolutionary project and a stinging critique of the entire Mexican political class, including Obrador and the "center-left" Party of the Democratic Revolution. This is what is proposed and articulated in the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, which they released in June of that year.

More than anything else, the Sixth Declaration is an invitation to build a national and international anticapitalist movement from below. In spite of their principled stances in support of the national sovereignty of Venezuela and Cuba, and even in support of Obrador's right to run for president, the Zapatistas have still managed to raise the ire of previous bases of support. Internationally this has come from those who object to their analysis that seizing state power is not the centerpiece of changing the world and nationally from those who believe an Obrador presidency was not a threat to the Mexican people and the Mexican left.

Knowing these risks even before launching the Sixth Declaration, the Zapatistas did so anyway. They prepared for harsh repression and proceeded to build, with many others, what are today referred to as the Other Campaign and the Zezta Internazional. Obrador failed to secure the Mexican presidency, however, and even though the Zapatistas' analysis of him and the Party of the Democratic Revolution continue to ring true, they remain abandoned by some of their previous bases of support even as they face new threats.

Paramilitaries are building their strength in Chiapas and threatening the survival of Zapatista communities and the land they've gained since 1994. So concerned are the Zapatistas about these developments that they sent only a letter to an important meeting of Mexico's National Indigenous Congress earlier this month whilst the Zapatista Good Government Councils have been sending out a stream of denunciations and communiques.

With the Sixth Declaration and the Zezta Internazional, the Zapatistas have opened up a space for us internationals to join them and the rest of the Other Campaign in building a global movement based on the understanding that "the simple and humble people who struggle" can and must claim power directly.

With the Other Campaign, the Zapatistas have attempted to chart a path in Mexico beyond "the ballot and the bullet". But, if paramilitary aggression becomes too great and solidarity grows too silent, they could be forced into armed confrontation.

If you are able, consider joining the international peace encampment they have established in Huitepec. And if not, this is a time to be vigilant and ready to mobilize, in our many different and creative ways, to defend the Zapatistas and the truly revolutionary movement they champion.


Stefan Christoff said...

A sickening picture of Lula da Silva in Brazil.

I remember viewing this photo during Bush's recent trip to Latin America & remembering all those on the left who were excited with Lula's original electoral victory, a sentiment which clearly has now become a mocking point.

Zapatistas are clearly a movement in Latin America that must be supported will full vigor.

Thanks for your comments & ideas on this blog RJ.

- Stefan, in Montreal.

RJ Maccani said...

Yes, sickening for sure. And the behind the scenes of that Bush/Lula photo is even more troubling.

The one World Social Forum I've attended was in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2003. Lula had just taken office at the beginning of the month and he gave the most widely attended speech at the Forum...he literally had people crying with joy. Then Lula flew off to the World Economic Forum and proposed that he was representing the WSF to the WEF in the way that a labor leader represents the workers to management...this ruffled some feathers.

Brazilian organizers who had not already been duped by Lula and the Workers' Party (PT) had thrown a pie in the face of a PT representative during a press conference the day before Lula's big speech at the WSF. They caught it on film and distributed a statement denouncing the PT's change of position with regards to the FTAA and Lula's upcoming visit to the WEF...asserting that Lula did not represent the movement but, rather, it was the people themselves who are the movement. They were ahead of their time, though, and most progressive Brazilians were upset by the pieing (which was broadcast throughout the day by every major tv station).

When I returned to Brazil in 2005 to continue work with an indigenous group there, the vast majority of progressives and Leftists seemed disillusioned or downright lost. There seems to be little that is more crushing to a social movement than it being tricked or lied to by those it trusts. The Zapatistas rightly recognized Obrador (or "AMLO") as Mexico's Lula and with the Other Campaign began their attempt to chart a radical alternative for Latin America that moves beyond electoral politics to anticapitalism and direct participation...and I think it is because of this, like you said, that they "must be supported with full vigor."

Good to hear from you, Stefan...hope things are going well up North :-)