portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting global

actions & protests | human & civil rights | indigenous issues

Update from Chiapas

Brief update from Oventic, Autonomous Rebel Territory, Chiapas.
Hi folks back home!
Just a brief update on the situation in Chiapas, and how people back home could help.

I'm wrting from a weird little blue computer in the internet cafe in Oventic, which is one of the main places people visit these days.

My main concern at the moment is the town of Polho, an hour's ride away on daredevil VW bus collective taxis. In Polho, we saw severely malnourished kids. THe population of Polho consists of 5000 refugees (internally displaced people in UN parlance) who left their homes beccause of attacks by paramilitaries, including the massacre at Acteal in 1997. The 2000 original inhabitants of Polho have seen their town swell into a massive refugee camp, and there is almost NO land to cultivate nearby, instead, shining tin roofs of 3 military bases glower ominously from the nearby hills and send daily patrols out (up to 40 heavily armed troops on Hummers or 2.5 ton trucks). To make matters worse, the Mexican Red Cross pulled out of Polho about a year and a half ago, putting an end to the food supplements they had been giving out to feed the 5000 people who had arrived there after the massacre.

One of the kids we saw had extreme malnutrition, and was significantly smaller and lighter than a fifteen month old should be. Without protein in his diet, he can't make antibodies to fight off infection, and had severe diarrhea and was vomiting.

While other communities also don't have much to spare, aid from other Zapatista communities does come in once a week, but it isn't enough to assure proper nutrition. There are NO vegetables to be seen. People were thrilled in our kitchen when we bought onions and tomatoes to add to the beans and urged us to use them sparingly that night so there'd be some for the night after. No milk products at all, and no land to grow brocolli, spinach, etc., so we have calcium and iron deficits. They could definitely use some help from people experienced in getting permaculture to work (plenty of water here), and someone who knows which vegetables will help with specific dietary needs (nutrionist).

It may not be the worst case of deprivation one can find in the world, but these people, the Zapatistas, are well-organized and fighting daily for a new world of autonomy and equality. They remain dedicated to their visions (health, food, roof, democracy, justice, liberty, everything for everyone...) and solid in their resistance. We owe a large part of the emergence of the new global justice/emancipation movement to their last-ditch uprising in 1994. I think we shouldn't forget their struggle now.

There have also been recent armed attacks against Zapatistas, including one last year where Zapatista communities where bringing water to other Z communities whose water supply had been cut by PRD paramilitaries. 30 Zapatistas suffered gunshot wounds (all survived because their own well-organized medical teams were present), but the EZLN still maintained their usual restraint despite this provocation, because it is obvious that the government would prefer an armed conflict to a political one.

Despite the odds, they're sticking to their ideas and have opened autonomous schools, collectives for coffee, textiles, shoes, etc., and autonomous clinics throughout Zapatista territory (a huge chunk of the state of Chiapas). Gender equality has also made much more progress here than in the rest of the nation, with women working in or outside the home as they please, as health professionals, radio operators, or members of the Juntas de Buen Gobien (Councils of Good Government) which are now the new method of democratic governance used in Zapatista territory. Here at Oventic, there's a large, well-organized clinic staffed by local health "promotors" who learn from each other and from the main care providers: medical students in residency who spend a few months to a year here. Another way we can continue to help from the US is to send more money or medical donations (a lot of a few useful medications, not just a huge mixed bag of donations --- there's a list available from La Clinica Guadalupana at Oventic or from me) and getting some medical professionals down here to train the promotors in useful things, especially in more remote villages. There's also a language school here where you can learn Spanish along with other cool people from around the world (some Italian anarchists are sitting behind me this very moment). The cost is whatever you would pay in your home country, and you get meals and support the Zapatistas at the same time.

I'd be happy to answer more questions at the email address below.

la lucha sigue!
zapata vive!

address: address: somewhere in the highlands of Chiapas