The Snail as Bearer of Hope
By Miriam Boyer
[This article originally published in: Ossietzky 17/2003 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://sopos.org/aufsaetze/3f52391269fee/1.phtml.]
The Zapatistas have reported back about their work behind the scenes in Mexico's political center. Many ears listened; millions of eyes watched. The shocked Mexican government reacted on one hand with empty diplomatic phrases and on the other with intensified force. Ten years after their rebellion at a great fiesta with over 10,000 guests including representatives of international solidarity groups, the Zapatistas celebrated the transition from revolutionary organizational forms to five representative administrative structures.
The newly-formed "councils of good government" that are also called Caracoles (snails) embrace 30 autonomous communities, more than a million people altogether. The snail symbolizes the efforts of the Zapatistas for a self-government of "obedient governance": the spiral of a collective decision-making process. The National Zapatista Liberation Army (EZLN), the military part of the Zapatista movement in the past will be limited in the future to the role of a defensive organization of the autonomous area in southern Mexico. EZLN-subcommandante Marcos yields his representative role: "I give back your hearing, your language and your perspective... As the EZLN, we believe we have accomplished our part of the changes."
The Caracoles now organize the development of the communities, the establishment of schools, health institutions, trade and distribution of resources in the autonomous area. The Caracoles are an outwardly open representation, entirely new in the history of the Zapatistas, that will be the contact for many hundreds of political organizations in Mexico and all over the world. Whoever sought contact to the EZLN in the past had to wander for hours through the Mexican jungle to speak with the "Comandancia". Now the political representatives in the "Caracol-office" are ready to receive all persons interested in discussion and cooperation. "We are simple people without great education. Our challenge is to govern well."
The Zapatistas and their policy enjoy great sympathy among many Mexicans in a wide spectrum of marginalized groups, above all in the indigenous population (around 15 million people). This was very clear in the spring of 2001 when several thousand Zapatistas traveled through all Mexico on a "Caravan of Dignity" to discuss social problems in meetings with hundreds of thousands of participants. However the Mexican parliament then passed a constitutional change, the so-called Indigenous law that mocked the "San Andreas Accords" on the collective rights and culture of the indigenous communities signed by the Zapatistas and the government. Afterwards the Zapatistas were silent for twenty months.
Intense resistance against the Mexican government had already formed in rural areas when the Zapatistas found themselves again in the public in January 2003 through their communiques. Small farmers (mostly indigenas and the poorest parts of the population) who lost their gainful possibilities through cheap food imports, organized themselves, occupied local administrative offices, blocked highways and even stormed the Mexican parliament with horses to gain attention. During the founding of the "Caracoles", the Zapatistas turned especially to the 20 million farmers: "We no longer expect real and dignified changes corresponding to the needs of rural areas from any government or party. The only way left to us is the organization of resistance and rebellion."
The strong peasants' movement is symptomatic for the present political climate in Mexico. After regional- and parliamentary elections in July in which only 60 percent of persons eligible to vote participated (and three million votes were annulled after the election), the disappointment over prominent Mexican politicians was increasingly loud, particularly over president Vicente Fox who promised at the beginning of his term in office in 2000 "to settle the Zapatista conflict in 15 minutes." Three years later Mexico remains a country with extreme and increasing inequality where more than 25 percent of the population live on less than a dollar per day.
The Mexican government now attempts to keep the political costs of the unstoppable Zapatista counter-power as low as possible. Interior minister Santiago Creel "rejoices" over "the new possibility of dialogue" and urges integrating autonomous governments in the framework of the constitution. However the 60,000 soldiers of the Mexican army in the area of the Zapatistas are kept secret along with the continuation and intensification of the "low intensity" war carried on with acts of sabotage, acts of violence and intimidation.
The policy of the Zapatistas cannot be snatched from Mexico's heart. The enthusiastic echo in the first days after the inauguration of the "Caracoles" showed the strong support for Zapatista policy. The "councils of good government" are already reality and bearers of hope.