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Join us Monday January 12th to discuss ideas and thoughts around
Autonomous Education, with the following readings as guides! Feel free to
read all or some of the following, or just show up for the conversation!
Monday January 12th, 6-8pm at In Other Words Books. We will also be collecting
money for an Autonomous School in Oaxaca that we are building
relationships with. Below is the statement on the school in Oaxaca, and
the two of the January Study Group readings, you can find the other two at our
study group site! (study group is free, though we ask for donations for IOW).

love and revolution,

Join us Monday January 12th to discuss ideas and thoughts around
Autonomous Education, with the following readings as guides! Feel free to
read all or some of the following, or just show up for the conversation!
Monday January 12th, 6-8pm at In Other Words Books. We will also be collecting
money for an Autonomous School in Oaxaca that we are building
relationships with. Below is the statement on the school in Oaxaca, and
the two of the January Study Group readings, you can find the other two at our
study group site! (study group is free, though we ask for donations for IOW).

love and revolution,

Statement regarding Autonomous School in Oaxaca:
Taka is the name of an amazing woman,teacher from Oaxaca, Mexico. She
comes from a very small town near Putla. In that town there was never a
school before because the government never wanted to support the people
of that region saying that it was a very small town to "waste" money to
build a school there, plus most of the people there speak an indigenous
language. The children had to walk for hours to another town if they
wanted to attend school...for that reason my friend Taka, who is a teacher
and had to work far from her home town, worked to organize the women in
her town and built the first autonomous elementary school there. They do
not get any support from the government and in fact the government has
even tried to shut down the school for offering bilingual education
(spanish-mazateco[an indigenous language]). Support the struggle of those
amazing people.

Santa and Olin

January 2009 Study Group includes:
-Refusing Government Money or Teachers, Indigenous Communities Have Built
More Schools and Educated More Children Than Ever Before. By Amber Howard,
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

-Interview with an Educational Promoter in the Autonomous Rebel Region of
Oventik (Caracol II)Morelia, Chiapas (México), 25th July 2007

The following readings can be found at our study group site.
www.myspace.com/sinfronteras_olin or you can google the titles:

-Interview with Raymundo Sánchez Barraza : A University Without Shoes
An Indigenous Intercultural System of Informal Education San Cristóbal de
Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

-An Autonomous School, Zapatista Style, is Born in Michoacán The Efren
Capiz Junior High School, a Communal Victory By Amber Howard The Other
Journalism with the Other Campaign in Michoacán


Zapatistas Showcase Their Autonomous School System
Refusing Government Money or Teachers, Indigenous Communities Have Built
More Schools and Educated More Children Than Ever Before. By Amber Howard,
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

When the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish
initials) began the public phase of its struggle on New Year's Eve, 1993,
it made eleven demands, one of which was "education" (the others were:
work, land, shelter, food, health, independence, freedom, democracy,
justice, and peace). Thirteen years later, they have seen that demand met
as never before in the highlands and jungles of Chiapas. But it was not
the Mexican government or any other institution that complied. They did it
for themselves.

Whereas prior to the rebellion in these rural lands of Mexico's poorest
state schools were few and far between, Zapatista communities have built
new ones, trained teachers from their own ranks, and widened the scope of
what kind of education their children receive. And they did this without
accepting a peso from the government.

On December 31, 2006, thousands of Zapatistas and visitors from throughout
Mexico and the world met in the mountain town of Oventic for the Gathering
of the Zapatista Peoples and the Peoples of the World, where an entire
session was dedicated to "The Other Education" and civilian authorities
from throughout EZLN territory explained what they have done, and what
they still hope to do.

The main idea behind the creation of the Other Education is to teach the
youth the history, language and culture of the people, and educate them to
provide for their community, something that the government was never able
to do. Representatives Lucio and Magdalena spoke from Caracol II
("caracol" is the term used to describe five governmental centers of the
EZLN), with its seat in Oventic. They explained: "Because of the poor
quality of government education, we have begun to create our own. The
model of education from the government served only to destroy the mother
earth and all of humanity, to develop studies favoring the interests of
those in power."

They desired a model of education which would keep their youth close to
their communities and productive for the common good. "The government
didn't give us our schools, we had to construct them ourselves, since
1998. These schools aren't recognized by the government. They are for our
people here in the forest. It has cost us a lot, but they are growing,"
says Gustavo, from Caracol III, with its seat in La Garrucha.

Saul, a Zapatista educator, describes how after 1994 the government
teachers still tried to come to autonomous, rebel territory, but now as
spies. "Let's go see what they are doing, those Zapatistas. What kind of
movement do they have there?" They were arriving with supplies by way of
the army, using the helicopters to bring school materials, etc. "We said,
'No more. This is not right,'" recounts Saul. "It has not been easy, we
ourselves don't know how to read. But we are getting better and learning
all the time. We are now able to teach our culture, language and history."
These are the humble beginnings of the Other Education.

While creating autonomous education has it's challenges, and the Zapatista
comandantes say that it is formed from below, by the people of the
communities, learning as they go. "We learn as we walk, side by side with
our education," explains Concepciòn from Caracol V, its seat in Roberto
Barrios. "We began to think, what would our education look like?"

One of the most important aspects of the Other Education is to recover
cultural values, the ways of speaking and understanding each other within
communities. This is something that was lost with the government education
and that people are very excited to initiate again, especially through the
native languages Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal and Chol, among others. It is
essential that the classes are taught in the local native language, not
only because of the cultural significance, but because this is the
language spoke primarily in the home and in which their children can best

As 18-year-old local graduate, Lucio, explains "We speak our own language.
We are in resistance. Our education teaches us what is neo-liberalism,
what it means to be autonomous. The government teachers often didn't show
up, because they said they weren't well paid. They tried to tell us to
look for work alone, to not struggle or resist against the government. But
we believe that we do everything for everyone. We have to do it together."

In addition to the importance of learning about the local history, culture
and language, the representatives of Caracol III also brought up the
critical need for environmental studies and gender equality through
education. "The environment is the fountain of life. We must learn about
conservation of bio-diversity. We believe in an environmental education
that supports the care of our Mother Earth in a conscious, critical and
reflective way. We want to teach solutions. We also want our children to
learn about freedom, dignity and to value human beings, both men and

The four main areas of study in the Other Education are:
* History: of the local region, the Zapatista struggle, Mexico and the world.
* Language: local languages and Spanish.
* Math, and;
* Agro-Ecology- how to take care of the environment through practices of
organic agriculture and rejection of trans-genetic seeds, among other

The students also learn about ways to provide for their communities while
in school, such as growing gardens, how to produce crops, problems with
the Earth and how to raise animals such as chickens, sheep and pigs. In
this way they are able to learn practical knowledge and also gain income
to support the "promoters of education," (the Zapatista term for teacher),
who are local, unpaid and do the work out of their own desire to raise the
consciousness in their communities.

The promoters come from the same community in which they teach. Therefore
they understand the culture, native language and history and are able to
impart that upon their students, rather than someone from the outside
coming with their own cultural views and ways of being. In this way the
community is able to decide what the students learn. "Before we had
government teachers. We saw that they were not teaching what we wanted our
children to learn. It was just another tool of the federal government,"
describes Saul from Caracol I. Representatives from Caracol IV add, "The
government teachers were not teaching about our own culture and our own
language. So we as a community and as parents began to organize ourselves
through meetings with other Zapatistas to plan the Other Education. From
these meetings, we agreed to take our children out of the government
schools and to name our own promoters of education."

These promoters are trained by professionals, and then turn around and
train another generation of local promoters from their communities. It's
important to note that these promoters are learning alongside their
students. It's not the type of education where the teacher knows
everything, and the students know nothing. Rather, they are promoters,
people from within the community committed to promoting different types of
work and knowledge. As a representative from Caracol I describes, "We've
created 72 new autonomous schools, and trained 20 educational promoters.
These 20 promoters then in turn trained another 80 promoters, becoming the
first generation of our autonomous education. We are now in the 3rd
generation of promoters and have 147 promoters working with 1,726

Within the schools, the students aren't organized by grades, nor are they
evaluated by tests or given final scores, the typical practice in
government schools. Instead, if there are numerous promoters in a
particular community, the children are divided by age and level of
knowledge. But, in many cases there is just one promoter per community and
there is no division of students, but rather a multi-level classroom in
which the older students also teach the younger ones. This is much
different from the government schools, where in many cases the indigenous
children were marginalized, made fun of, and punished for speaking their
native language. There was no appreciation of the richness of different
people and their different ways of being.

The concept of collective work is one of the main tenants of Zapatista
life. Each member of the community does a job, and the results are shared,
including farming, transportation, education, etc. describes Jesus from
Caracol IV. "What we believe in is collectivism, to support our community
as a whole. We want our children to know this and to wake up to the value
of life, and where they are at in the world. Children lose their culture
when they go to school and learn things that don't go with this form of
life." In contrast, with the government schools, each person is encouraged
to succeed for his or herself, which usually means finding work far away
in the city or with big business. "Our children don't go to the city to
continue working on their individual job, they begin to support their
community upon graduating," insists a representative of Caracol IV.

To the Zapatistas, this means that the students, after finishing middle
school, address the urgent needs within the community and help to educate
others. Students are taught how to generate production and food, giving
them work in farming, arts, health, what the people of the area need,
rather than some distant far off future. Since the autonomous education
isn't recognized outside the rebel territory, graduates aren't able to
continue their studies. As one parent, Diego, recounts, "My son graduated
last year from the local Rebellious Autonomous Middle School, "Escuela
Secundaria Rebelde Autonoma Zapatista", the first one created in rebel
territory, in Oventic. He wanted to go on to study but since he couldn't,
he ended up working at the primary school as a teacher." One of the
biggest dreams of the Other Education is to one day have an autonomous
high school and university, so that students will be able to further their

Although the communities have continued with passion to provide the Other
Education to their children, it has not been without a struggle. Many
adults don't know how to read or write. This is one reason it is difficult
to find promoters that come from the same communities. Also, many times
promoters are unable to continue teaching or training others. Because of
the need to provide for their families, to buy clothes or food, few make
through the completion of the training, leaving many still without
consistent education.

Another difficulty is the lack of resources. Once it was decided to
construct everything from below, without help from the government, it has
been often a struggle to put together materials to build schools and
provide for the students. "We have a lot more that we want to build, but
can't because we have no resources." But it is worth it to have the
freedom of autonomous education, say representatives of Caracol IV. "We
can give classes to our children in a house or under a tree, in doesn't
matter. We don't need the money any more from the bad government. We see
how to help our own promoters and therefore help all the people of the

Patricia from Caracol III spoke about how everything is built by the
people, even the schools with roofs of straw and tin. The commitment from
the community is truly the base of the Other Education. Parents will send
rations of beans, corn and firewood with their children so they can have
the food they need while they are at school. Many different international
groups have supported the Zapatista movement giving them a source of
income to create more schools, including groups from Norway, Sweden,
Denmark, Greece and the United States, among others.

The Other Education is based in the construction of a new world, with
values of being, not of having. The Zapatistas believe in being realistic:
figuring out what the community truly needs for its own liberation, and
educating students around this discovery. Even with all of the
shortcomings or challenges, as Comandante Concepción from Caracol IV sums
up, "Education here is our own. As Zapatistas, we began to organize
ourselves here in our territory, and it has caused us problems. But it's
just not the same, the education that the government gives, and we began
to realize this. They forced us to learn whatever they wanted, and we
began to resist. The education they were giving to our children wasn't
good. We had to make the change, to create the Other Education."

This dialogue with representatives from the different caracoles was one of
the first public glimpses for many into the autonomous, rebellion world of
the Zapatista communities. With an audience so full of people from around
the world that it overflowed the school, the meeting had to be moved
outside for more space. It was an opportunity to see the blending of
locals with black masks and intricate embroidery, with students, teachers
and others from across the world, all together to witness the presentation
of an alternative to the capitalistic, government system, what can be done
when the people from below unite to provide for their community.

Many people, including Beatriz Gutierrez, an indigenous teacher from
Oaxaca, are anxious to take these presentations to the next level. "I want
to see past the words and really see how it is in the classroom." She
suggested having a specifically educational meeting, in which teachers
would unite with a group of 15 students, and demonstrate the ways they
work in their own classrooms, in this way create another form of training.
Other people proposed smaller group meetings to learn from the varied
experiences of the many participants. Regardless, as Gustavo, a local
Zapatista put it "There is no standard, no book that can be written about
the right way to educate around the world. Each community is different. We
will continue to learn, to share our ways with the people who come to

This meeting of Zapatistas with the peoples of the world is one in
preparation for a 10-day meeting coming up this July 20-29, where
participants will travel to each of the different Caracoles in Zapatista
Territory for an even more in depth glimpse into their experience at
rebellious, autonomous life over the last 13 years. Anyone who is
interested is invited to come, to share their own visions and experiences
in the struggle, as Colonel Insurgente Moises reminds the people of the
world "Now is the time to organize our selves to see how we, together,
will be able to confront the bad which is neoliberalism, and it's attack
on humanity."
from narconews.com


Interview with an Educational Promoter
in the Autonomous Rebel Region of Oventik (Caracol II)
Morelia, Chiapas (México), 25th July 2007
This interview was carried out informally in the autonomous and rebel
Zapatista community of Morelia in one of the canteens set up for Meeting
II between the Zapatista Towns and the Towns of the World which is held
there. The Educational Promoter being interviewed, whom we will refer to
as Mr. A as his identity cannot be revealed for security reasons, was
previously a teacher in the national educational system, a man of around
70 years of age (although he was unwilling to reveal his true age), whose
humbleness is clearly reflected in his speech. But I must say that his
charisma and his emotion shown during this interview made my hairs stand
on end.

Murals in Oventik (Photo by José Antonio Gutiérrez)
It is worthwhile to mention in this introduction that for me, personally,
this interview was an honor and ended up being one of the best moments of
the Meetings. Speaking with him about his life, apart from during the
interview itself, I managed to find out more details of his devotion to
the popular movements. Mr. A was part of the teachers' trade union
movement in the 1950s, 60s and 70s including the killings in the Plaza de
Tlatelolco, Mexico City, where in 1968 the government riddled hundreds of
protesters with bullets. He was a member of the CNTE (National
Coordinating Committee of Educational Workers), a democratic union of
teachers that was the result of the division of the corrupt and extremely
hierarchical SNTE (National Trade Union of Educational Workers). He also
joined other (secret) revolutionary movements that took them to Cuba to
meet Che Guevara in person and also the leading military members of the
Estado Cubano that years early overthrew the Fulgencio Batista.

I would like to give special thanks to Lucero Mendiazabal, from the CMR
(Group of Mexicans resident in Barcelona), for his help in the preparation
of the questions and for introducing me to Mr. A and giving me the
opportunity to carry out this interview.
Morelia, Chiapas (México), 25th July 2007

Q: Do the caracoles (schools) provide consistency within the contents of
the material? For example, are the same things taught in the different
caracoles in relation to history or politics?

A: First of all, they generally teach the history of each of the
communities after consulting the older generation, followed by the
municipality's history and lastly that of the state, the country, the
continent and the world. They emphasis to the children the importance of
learning their community's history, the place where they come from. It
usually consists of stories that don't appear in the textbooks because
they are very specific. Furthermore, the official stories always miss out
details that they don't want people to know.

With regards to politics, the students are taught the philosophy of the
Zapatista movement. All the Zapatista slogans are explained in simple
terms and in their own language. In Oventik they use Spanish and Tzoztil
in class. They also analyse the current situation. Why are they so poor?
What causes so much poverty?

Q: So, there is unity?

A: I'm not sure if there is unity within all the caracoles because the
people themselves vary depending on the area and the weather, along with
the conditions in general. On top of this, each caracol has its problems,
for example, here in Morelia where the situation with the paramilitary is
very delicate, with occasional aggressions, whilst in Oventik, although
the problem also exists there, it isn't so pronounced.

Q: Yes well here, for example, we have heard about the case of the
municipality of Lucio Cabanas where about two months ago the paramilitary
threatened the population. Is that true?

A: Well, I actually don't really know that much about the Northern area. I
can talk more about Caracol II, Oventik. But yes, it is true that from the
information that we receive here, there are conflicts in the area.

Q: But in Oventik, it's been quite a while since anything similar has
happened with the paramilitary, isn't that right?

A: The paramilitary sometimes threaten us, mainly when the weather is
unsettled, when it rains for example. They use it as an advantage to turn
up because it ensures that everyone is grouped together in the same place.
What the people do, if they have to, is leave the caracol and take refuge
in specific places that exist in the mountains for this purpose which we
make known to the people who need it.

Q: In your opinion what makes the Zapatista educational project different
to the national one? What are the main characteristics that make this
project unique?

A: Here we use ideas from pedagogues such as Pablo Freire from Brazil.
Well, in fact some educational promoters on reading his ideas,
subsequently apply them albeit subconsciously. They are not obliged to
follow his model. It focuses on the need to raise awareness in the
children and not only teach them the facts. In this way, over and above
teaching them something, it makes them aware of the reasons behind their
struggle and their economic, social and political situation. For this
reason, it is similar to Pablo Freire's thinking. I would even dare to say
that utopia, which normally in many cases is only an unattainable dream,
is becoming reality in all the different projects in this Zapatista area
(for example, in education, health, independence in general, etc).

Q: That was actually my next question, if you applied independent pedagogy
knowledge of Pablo Freire's style or similar.

A: In reality, there are overlappings but we would never tell the children
for example that we are using a particular model or start to talk directly
about Pablo Freire or other pedagogues. What is most important to us as
promoters of education is that the children are conscious of their
situation and free. Their own style and ways of expression are also
respected. We don't make distinctions between pupils who know more and
those who know less, nor between the clever and those less so. Neither
does there exist individualism, it is a collective education. We don't
look for personal triumph as individuals but as a team. The children are
therefore better at their studies as they must share these skills with
everyone else. There aren't any quizzes or competitions to see who can do
a specific task better. That doesn't exist here.

Q: So, you would say that competiveness is avoided and sharing and
solidarity are more widely promoted... ..

A: Yes, exactly.

Q: Apart from the economic problems due to a lack of resources, what are
the main problems that affront the Zapatista educational project?

A: There are many problems, the biggest being the insecurity and the
distrust that provokes the fear of knowing that any moment the
paramilitary can turn up. It's a constant threat.

Another problem is that the promoters learn along the way and they don't
have the expertise nor do they possess the teaching techniques. They learn
everything as they go along and they continue inquiring and learning.

Q: That was also actually the answer to another question. What kind of
training do the educational promoters have?

A: With regards to the Oventik Caracol for example, there they built the
Secondary School with the aim of training the promoters of education. It
was given this name through 'uses and customs'. There were other people
who preferred the name "Cultural Centre of Learning for Promoters" or
something like that, but as the majority knew that after Primary came
Secondary, well the name was left as it was. At the start it was only used
to train the Promoters of Education but now it's also used to train
Promoters of Health, Business, Communication, etc.

Q: So the training is designed towards autonomy? Does it fit into that

A: Yes, exactly.

Q: I also understand that they sometimes receive external help for
training. I heard from a volunteer that the aid goes to La Garrucha area
for a week or so every three months with the aim of helping the promoters,
is that right?

A: Yes, in Oventik we have had what we call 'companions'. We don't call
them educational advisors because we believe that here there isn't anyone
who knows more or less than anyone else. During this accompaniment both
the promoter and the companion assist each other. It seems to me like the
most democratic idea where there is no difference in levels: this is what
he knows and this is what he doesn't. No one teaches nobody, they merely
share their knowledge.

Q: I have realised that you, the Zapatistas, take a lot of care when it
comes to choosing your words, for example, the use of the name 'promoter'
rather than teacher or like right now with the definition of a companion.

A: Yes, we emphasis that hierarchies don't exist and that people are more
or less equal.

Q: So, would you say that the language used helps to obtain that
horizontality to the system?

A: Yes, for example, the children always refer to the promoters by their
name and not as teacher, just as the promoters don't call them pupils. It
establishes a more personal relationship, like between friends, where the
promoter doesn't see the children as ignorant youngsters but as peers that
need help with their studies.

Q: How many years have you been with this project?

A: I arrived in Oventik in April 2001, more than six years ago. It was in
2002 when I was accepted as a promoter of education. For a while
beforehand, I was in the school library which was something brand new for
the communities. They didn't know what a book was. They are new things for
them that they would never have imagined existed but now they are
incorporated into their lives: libraries, computers, Internet, etc. This
includes books which before, where merely objects to them. Now they know
that books have a purpose, with an author, an index etc. They analyse them
and they get to know them. It takes a lot of work because it's not easy.

Q: I imagine that they will take very good care in the selection of books
in the library and that they don't use state textbooks.

A: In fact, we do use books edited by the state but not as textbooks, only
for reference and for consultation, for example, to consult biographies or
to find geographical points.

Q: Since they say that everyone is always learning, after all these years
what have you learnt? What have you taken from this experience?

A: For me, I have learnt a lot. When I arrived here, I had a bourgeois
idea of the city that I would come to teach or share my knowledge and it
has turned out to be the opposite. I am the one who has learnt the most,
not only at an educational level but also about life, about collective
living, about the organization that they have. For me, it is a very good
experience and that is why I'm still here. I'm living and enjoying my last
years with pleasure. I'm not just waiting there in the city with all my

Q: Would you say that in the city there is more alienation and here in the
rural world, there is a larger sense of family and of the community?

A: Yes, of course, all of that. There is also a lot of respect. As Eduardo
Galeano once said, "the Zapatistas are men and women that have helped me
grow." That is exactly what I would say. They have helped me grow and gain
a sense of tranquility that makes me useful. I feel useful. I feel useful
and happy to be here.

Q: And what is the thing that gives you most satisfaction after so many
years? The progress of a student?

A: Well, I wouldn't say that it was satisfaction on a personal level. I
feel satisfied by the cooperation and that some of my colleagues that have
now progressed to Secondary, form part of authorities or are now
promoters. People that only three or four years ago were in Secondary
School and now I see them in their communities working as promoters or as
part of the Council or for an authority. That is really pleasing because
you can see that they learn quickly, day-by-day, with an incredible ease.
I feel true admiration for them and I feel satisfied that I have been a
witness to such advances.


Interview with Raymundo Sánchez Barraza

A University Without Shoes

An Indigenous Intercultural System of Informal Education
San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Dr. Raymundo Sánchez Barraza is the general coordinator of CIDECI (Centro
Indígena de Capacitación Integral) in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas,
Mexico. This interview was conducted (and later edited) by Nic
Paget-Clarke for In Motion Magazine on September 3, 2005 in San Cristóbal
de Las Casas, Chiapas. The interview was conducted in Spanish and
translated into English by Irlandesa. (Para leer la entrevista en español
mire aquí.)

In Motion Magazine: Please tell me about CIDECI and your role here.

Raymundo Sánchez Barraza: Raymundo Sánchez Barraza, at your service. My
work here is as General Coordinator of a program which would like to be a
system, a system which we call the Indigenous Intercultural System of
Informal Education. My job is coordinating all the parts of this system.
We've been working here since 1983, and we've gone through different
stages in that work. We consider this program to be more like one whose
profile, face, has been taking shape sequentially, and, as I said, it's
been going through different phases, different stages.

The first component of this system is just that, what we call CIDECI Las
Casas. What does CIDECI Las Casas mean? It means the Fray Bartolomé de Las
Casas Comprehensive Indigenous Training Center. It's an Indigenous Center.

This is what makes it significant and what gives it its unique
characteristics. It's not a center that's just for, but it's also by, the
indigenous. It's an indigenous center in its work, in its definition, in
its method of operating, in its components, in those who make it up. This
center began on August 24, 1989, sixteen years ago. It was called Fray
Bartolomé de Las Casas, because we began on August 24 of that year and the
San Bartolomé fiesta is celebrated on August 24, which is the anniversary
of the birth of Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas.

Radical democracy

As I already told you, we positioned ourselves from the beginning on the
margins of prophetic critique, vis-à-vis history, vis-à-vis the world,
vis-à-vis the demands of the minorities, the despised, conquered peoples,
in this particular case, the peoples of Mesoamerica, the demands and
struggles of the Indian peoples. Out of principle, we adopted the
political view of radical democracy. At that time we said that we have to
transform the Nation State, along with the entirety of its institutions
and relationships, and, therefore, we want nothing to do with the State.

Since 1989, we have said "no" to established political power. We have to
work from below with the forces of society, taking tiny steps, in order to
regain the capacity for self-determination by that hypostasis which is the
State. But we also said that we aren't going to set ourselves up as a
counter-power, because we've seen that the construct of power is the same
when counter-power is established.

Now, what were the key concepts, aside from these, which fueled the
initiative? One was this: we have to turn our gaze backwards. We have to
see when this historic system, that we know today as a world system, was
first created and established. And we said that this world started to be
established with an expansion which involved mechanisms of domination in
the clash of the discovery and of the subjection of the peoples of

There we have the hallmark of this world system we have today, and we
asked what it is that allows some peoples, despite this clash, to survive.
We began looking at some experiences from the 19th century here in our
country, and in other places in Latin America, which allowed people to
survive and to resist, maintaining their identity. Not without
contradictions, but we can see that, after 500 years, those people exist.

Those people don't speak, (yet) they have their own language. Those people
still have key components of their world vision and of their way of naming
and seeing the world.

We looked at Vasco de Quiroga's experience with the hospitals of Santa Fé,
with the peoples around the Patzcuaro Lake. Vasco de Quiroga was inspired
by Thomas More's utopia. And then we looked at the Jesuit settlements in
Paraguay, in southern Brazil, in northern Argentina, in Bolivia. How these
initiatives, from the West itself, in that utopian vein, allowed these
peoples to resist to a certain extent, to maintain themselves, not to lose
the fulcrum of a basic referent of their identity. We said, we have
something to learn here, and that concept we learned here was resisting
and surviving.

The Illichistas

But that was in the '80s, and there was already a lot of literature which
distanced itself from the large projects being concocted by corporations,
by the State, by the interstate system, by the United Nations. We started
seeing that the great concepts of this Western modernity could be
subjected to a radical critique. The concept of development, the concept
of formal democracy, the concept of the market, the concept of poverty,
the concept of equality.

Then, we got hold of the Illichistas, the people who follow Ivan Illich's
great intuitions and method of critical reasoning, the Mexican
Illichistas. That's why I'm such a good friend of Gustavo Esteva, for
sending all these concepts to the obituaries and for then making the
radical statement that this is an historic system.

What we see is that this system has to come to an end like others have.

Hope, therefore, belongs to the resistance, but it's the hope that
something else is possible and that, even though we're immersed in the
contradictions of the world, in some details of our dealings, our work,
our thought, our seeing, you have to realize that we're going by another
path, not by this world's path with its model of profits, marketing,
exploitation, greed, control, contempt for the different.

That was how this idea came about, from those two factors -- the
resistance that those 16th century utopians taught us and the critical
factor of the rupture of illusions, of being critical, the critical
archeology of the dominant concepts of modernity, and from those peoples
who resist. Accompanying them in order to reinforce their cognitive,
organizational, and practical ability to resist.

In hopes of what? That another world is possible. That we won't fall into
the trap of those who tell us that what exists is inevitable destiny,
there's nothing else. We say there is, we're seeking it. We want to build
it even though we have to prepare for great disasters, getting on a little
boat that's like Noah's ark, tiny. With whom? With those who have resisted
for centuries. Who are they? These peoples.

Surviving, resisting: a university without shoes

That's the first component. We just teach little things for surviving and
for resisting, but then we took another step, Nic. After expanding this
idea horizontally, after having seen that we couldn't sustain this
concrete idea - which worked, which walked - because there weren't any
resources, especially if we didn't want to depend on the State, we made a
virtue of necessity. We had delivered the centers, and we said now we have
to take another tiny step, and, in an act of self-determination, we also
asked why, if knowledge is being produced and disseminated here, then
aren't we a university too? A university without shoes, of course, a
shoeless university just from below. But this knowledge has prestige too.

We have to expropriate those who monopolize the prestige of knowledge and
expression. We too are a university which has knowledge. We can draw up
study plans in order to accredit this kind of profession, which will still
keep them close to the earth, in the service of others, and which will
allow them to strengthen their habitat in order to survive, to resist.
That is the second step. And now we have our courses. We have our study
plans. We have our curriculum, of course. But we're building everything
from below with what we have here, by combining certain skills, certain
modules, certain workshops. We can guarantee that someone who learns
construction metalwork, carpentry, electric work, technical drawings,
architectural drawings, computing, AutoCAD can become a vernacular
architect. With what is fitting, characteristic of what still exists,
mesoscopic, along the lines of what you can see, touch, not the macro nor
the infinite, but the micro, the mezo. That which is our size and of our
dimensions. Agroecology, as well as the administration of community
initiatives, hydro-topography, surveying plots, designing water systems,
channeling water without provoking it, without those large dams holding it
back so it can then destroy us.

Whether the world is going to survive

Then, we said, now we have to turn it around. The university system is a
Western invention, the school system, just like the formal. Now -- from
where we are and with our identity -- we are going to invite you, come,
from this space. You see them as poor and you see them as limited. We too
can think great thoughts.

We invited them to a seminar at our Center of Intercultural Studies,
because this issue -- whether the world is going to survive -- is a great
issue for the present and the future, but in a radical way, Nic, ground
zero of our world vision.

Beyond dialectical dialogue as a mechanism for exchanging arguments,
points of view, is the dimension of the ineffable meeting with the other,
here, where I can't dominate him, subjugate him, or make him feel less
than me. Here, we're hand in hand with Gustavo (Gustavo Esteva) of the
Center for Intercultural Meetings and Dialogue of Oaxaca. Hand in hand
with the Intercultural Institute, Robert Masho's, the one in Montreal, in
Quebec. And hand in hand with the work of their teacher, Raimón Pannikar.

We're hand in hand there. Here we have a tiny seminary, an academy, and if
we're a university then we have to be one, reflecting on these great
issues which, in my opinion, are issues of the present and the future.

To understand this EZLN movement

But there's still something else, Nic. We've established this Imanuel
Wallerstein Center of Studies, Information and Documentation as a fourth
component of the system. I pronounce it the German way. I know he's North
American, but I pronounce it in German. Why a Professor Wallerstein Center
here? I think analyzing the world system using the methodology and
theoretical corpus that those who are in that current of the social
sciences have been producing -- especially Professor Wallerstein's
contributions -- is very useful for understanding the world as a world
system. This theoretical and methodological scheme has helped us a lot,
Nic, a lot, to understand our circumstances, our regional and national
circumstances, and the world context.

But more than the world context, above all, to understand this EZLN
movement from a perspective that we lose sight of when we look at it just

Here we have a seminary of studies. We study Professor Wallerstein's work.

We have our seminary, and people come from organizations here in San
Cristóbal, Comitán and Tuxtla. Some university teachers come who want to
know what it's about. You know Professor Wallerstein came. He was with us
this last June 23 and 24, and he presented a book which we've already
published as CIDECI Unitierra Chiapas. There's a book which is called The

Structural Crisis of Capitalism which we've published.

In my opinion, this perspective is very important because, listen, I've
known the work for more than 20 years, and I've been producing it and
following it little by little. Right now his works, or a good number of
them, have been translated into Spanish. But look, the key approach is
this, like we said a minute ago, they say nothing can be done anywhere in
this globalized world, since the Berlin Wall fell, since the Soviet Union
disappeared. What comes next is what there is. There's nothing for you to
do but adapt to globalization and take up the great issues and see if you
can still heal this world a bit from all you've done to destroy it. But
there are others of us who say no. If this is an historic system, and for
the first time it's an historic system with a world economy, then it's
historic, and I have to look at its indicators, not just its development,
but the indicators of its limits.

I believe this system has reached its secular limits and the indicators we
have of crisis, of disorder, of entropy, are the indicators of a terminal
crisis. That's what we're experiencing. If you look at the world from that
angle and look at what we're doing, then what we're doing is valid. We're
in the future, and we're sounding an alert because we also believe that
the critical fluctuations over the next few years will be such that
they'll collide with catastrophe. Look at New Orleans, it's a horrific
mirror, even of this size. It's a horrific mirror of what awaits us.

The dynamic of self learning

But we said we still needed more, which is why we have the University
Center of Open and Distance Education. We said we would take the concept
that you can learn forever seriously. We took seriously the concept that
knowledge has to be free, that it's not necessarily in a classroom, with a
blackboard. That's a format which has developed historically, but it's not
the only way. The learning that really lasts is meaningful learning,
learning which bursts forth in the dynamic of self-learning.

Let us still do it with books, because books are an instrument of culture,
a great way of reversing time and of talking with Kant, or with Hegel, or
with whomever, or with the great declarations of the Mayan culture. Why
does this have to be lost? We're not against the Internet or computers.

We're not against them, but here we want this to be mediated by books, not
favoring online. Because right now, Nic, everything is being sold online,
diplomas, teaching certificates, doctorates, this, the other, magazines.

So, we don't want people to be in those circumstances. We want them to
have the pleasure of learning what isn't in the market yet, philosophy,
literature, educational sciences, theology, what's not in the market. But
because it's not in the market, it acquires a weight since it's in such
tremendous oblivion. We're looking for those who can understand this
project and say, "Why not, I'm with you." And we found that in Bogotá, in
Colombia with the San Tomás University.

Who are we thinking about? About the young adult indigenous who are in
their communities and who can't pay to be at university but who want to
want to follow what the University is doing. Those who want to have the
pleasure of learning what they want, without it being tied to work or a
profession. The pure freedom of learning and for someone to accredit them
with a prestigious title, even though the State doesn't officially
recognize them. What a special kind of alienation we're experiencing when
the kingdom of liberty, personal education, has to be accredited by the

State in order to know whether it's of any use or not. We now have a
general agreement signed, a specific agreement. I believe that if we
define the question of fees in October now, we'll be operating in January
with philosophy in different specialties, with education sciences, with
administrative questions. We want to look at theology, law, religious
sciences with them. We're not interested in market courses. We're
interested in separating what you learn from what's going to be useful for
you in your job.

Learning to be more

In Motion Magazine: How many students are here?

Raymundo Sánchez Barraza: In one year, the records we have allow us to
serve between 800 and 900 students. The ratio of men to women is still two
to one. There are approximately some 4 to 500 men and some 300 women.

Now, look, the system is open and flexible. It's not organized like those
systems with little energy, with enrollments. This is always open, and it
always operates. Someone can come for 15 days, for a month. For three
months, for nine months, for a year. It depends on their interest,
available time. We don't know when people, when young people, have time
available. But there are between 800 and 900 a year, without counting
those who come from the city, because there are people from the
developments who come in the morning or in the afternoon; because the day
is divided into four parts: from 9 to 12, from 12 to 2, from 4 to 7 and
from 8 to 9. The boarders, the ones who live here, who eat here, who have
their places to sleep here, who work here, plan their schedule by
combining the four spaces, four periods. If he comes from a development in
a barrio, he chooses the morning or the afternoon, since the night is just
for the boarders.

The ages vary from 12 years to 24 or 25. The median population is between
16 and 18 years. It's a critical age for young people in the community,
before they form their families and take on the responsibilities
appropriate for being an adult in their communities. The population we
favor is that of indigenous youth, women and men, who don't have schooling
or, if they did, it was cut off. They left without finishing, because to
come here, with this exception, we don't ask the young people for any
formal educational requirements.

The pedagogical principle which has directed our work from the beginning
is learning to do, then learning to learn, and then the profound formative
part: considering the other in his entirety, learning to be more.


In Motion Magazine: Do the students from the developments have to pay?

Raymundo Sánchez Barraza: Look, we're counter-current, Nic. Those are the
currents, we are against. We are, I believe, the only ones in this area
who are so small, but we're going against the dominant current. What is
the dominant current? Everything is marketed, everything has a price,
everything is bought and sold -- organs, the body, genomes, even the soul.
We say that everything of ours is free. Of course, in order for it to be
free in this contradictory world, you have to look for those who freely
help this initiative.

Not that we don't ask for reciprocity, Nic. The young person who comes all
day Saturday, from the morning until two in the afternoon, works by
maintaining everything, clearing trails, putting in windows, painting
here, doing something there, planting little trees, reforesting, gathering
wood and all the basic cleaning services, taking care of the door,
inspecting the latrines. Participating in the kitchen.

In Motion Magazine: All the students?

Raymundo Sánchez Barraza: All, for free. What would be fitting?
Reciprocity, but we're counter-current. Look, we don't charge for anything

Returning to the community

Neither do we prepare for the market. Nic, neither, what the businessmen
do, what the State does. We tell you that we're preparing them for
returning to the community. We don't always win, we lose, but we're
preparing for their return even if it's a year or two or three. The young
person returns and contributes his potential to his community and to his

How do we do it? With a system of lures, small projects, the young person
achieves his level of excellence. The level of excellence in his
preparation, carpentry, metalwork, this, the other. He can have help one
to one, which his family contributes, which we provide for free, so he can
begin developing what he learned here in his community. A bakery, a tailor
shop, a small carpentry business, an electrical workshop. That's the way
we try to ensure that the young person doesn't go away, that he returns.
Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. That's the way the world is -- what
are you going to do? But, like the brothers say, everything is struggle,
everything must be achieved through effort. Everything is struggle.

The panorama of the Zapatista struggle

In Motion Magazine: Speaking of struggle, do you have any contact or
connection with the Zapatistas?

Raymundo Sánchez Barraza: There is an elective affinity which is
undisputed. We couldn't do all this. This here is, in a certain way,
anomalous. Let me explain. All of this could only be done within the
panorama of what the Zapatista struggle has been able to open up:
autonomy, self-determination, radical democracy, no to party politics, no
to taking power. You don't even have to ask us, Nic, those who feel
attracted by a place like this, those who struggle, those who resist,
those who say the rights and cultures of the people should be recognized.

What amazes me about this Sixth Declaration, and gives me much pleasure,
is that it has clearly defined itself as the most important, new style,
anti-system movement in the world. Non-electoral, non-partisan, no to
taking power. Yes to the affirmation of the left, but to the left after
the fall of the Berlin Wall and disappearance of the Soviet Union.

What is that left? Anti-capitalism is saying that the way this world is
isn't the one we want. What is to follow? That we have to win. It's not
the dictatorship of the proletariat, nor is it the inevitability of
progress. No, we have to struggle to see that it's more free, more
egalitarian, more just. That is the path they are on. We're not fighting
them for anything at all, because the path we're on, which we have been on
and which we've been defending, is the same path. And we understand that
on that path we have to till the earth, fertilize it, that we are the ones
who are accompanying in that process, even if it falls to us to be
compost, just the ones of below. Even if we're not seen, it doesn't
matter. That's how it is, Nic. It's quite clear.

In Motion Magazine: Is there a connection between the efforts to use
agroecology and the struggle for democracy?

Raymundo Sánchez Barraza: It's like that for me, but here, our way is that
we're more engaged in this search for identity. The peoples are beginning
to realize that all the technological schemes of modern agriculture break
down their image of the land. They violate it, they mistreat it. Then,
now, on this path of their dynamics of present-day culture, they're
beginning to see the land, to feel it again and to experience it like a
mother, holy mother earth. They are beginning to discover this -- not
because of technological arguments, not hardly -- but because of this
profound affinity. Their mythic world vision of agroecology really is what
helps them treat the land the way they profoundly believe it to be, which
is as holy, as mother.

What amazes me, after 20 years of working on this, is that there are
communities right now, groups of producers, who look at agroecology not
because you convince them technologically, but because they say the land
is to be respected, cared for, nurtured. We ask permission to use it so it
can continue to exist: the land and the men and women of maize which we
want to be. There's a tremendous affinity, beyond strictly intellectual
and technological arguments. That's what I began to see.

It's beginning to grow among the people and in the communities. And the
rejection of all the technological packets of modern agriculture, this
movement is beginning. It makes sense, Nic, when you look at it, if you
look at the world like a world in crisis and in a crisis of civilization.
Agroecology is an instrument of survival, and the people see that. They
begin seeing it as what will allow them to treat the land as it should be
treated: land as holy and as mother.

Environmental education: ecological, organic

In Motion Magazine: Do farm workers study here?

Raymundo Sánchez Barraza: We work with young people. When a group of
adults come, for example, there's a group from Las Margaritas now, they
thought about it and then they asked us for a course on organic
agriculture, for adults now. They told us they couldn't stay for a month
or two months or three months like the young people. They wanted a special
short course for 15 days on this subject, and they named their
representatives. Twenty representatives came from 20 communities, and
their short course was organized. That's how we do it with the adults.
They're specific responses to the adults' specific demands.

For the young people, it's every Saturday. If a young person goes just to
technical workshop activities, he can have just agricultural activities on
Saturdays so he can balance the subject and so he can begin discovering,
gently, without being aware of it, what agroecology and organic
agriculture are. But naturally. There are the ducks. Here's reforestation.
Up there are the lambs, the rabbits, the hens, the colotes (large baskets
for storing maize). Everything exists, and everything has its little path,
in such a fashion that living here is environmental education, because
everyone begins to see where they live elements being intersected by the
ecological, the organic. The Zapatistas in their different caracoles --
you well know -- a focal point of their work for years has been just this,

More than in resolving a functional problem

In Motion Magazine: Do you teach the arts?

Raymundo Sánchez Barraza: They are the arts in their pre-Renaissance
sense. Not art as the expression of high culture, but art as a means of
using the material to solve problems and needs. This is an art. Making a
little cushion, making fabric is an art. Designing pieces of wood to use
them as a shelf is an art. Working that piece of stone to make the Saint
Francisco of Assisi is an art. That's what we're referring to. Making an
ashtray, but designing it, putting elements of Mayan culture into it, is
an art. Making this desk is an art; carving this is an art.

The person who works in metal, for example, looks at the protective
qualities of the metal. But someone working in metal should look not just
to the functional, but, along with the functional, to what seems beautiful
to him. We insist on that a lot. Not just in solving the problem, but that
it's seen to be beautiful.

As another example, Nic, the electricians choose those light bulbs because
they save energy, they save light, but the point is that, even though
you're going to use something functional, you try to adapt the space so
that it's beautiful. That's what our art is -- not something specific, but
you have to find pleasure in everything you do, so that it's part of the
habitat where you feel pleasure and you feel pleasure because you see it
as clean, beautiful. The art is what you put in, more than in resolving a
functional problem. Right, Nic?

I have to talk to you

In Motion Magazine: How do young people find out they can come here?

Raymundo Sánchez Barraza: We favor the oral, the word. This is our
strategic plan. But for this strategic plan to be understood, I have to
talk to you.

In Motion Magazine: Most of the students are from the city?

Raymundo Sánchez Barraza: No.

In Motion Magazine: What languages do the students speak?

Raymundo Sánchez Barraza: Here we have the Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Chol and
Tojolabal languages.

In Motion Magazine: Do students learn in all these languages here?

Raymundo Sánchez Barraza: Here Spanish is the language that allows
intercultural exchange, but they come from all parts of Chiapas. Sometimes
youngsters have come from Guatemala, sometimes they've come from Oaxaca,
sometimes from Yucatan.

In Motion Magazine: But they are all indigenous?

Raymundo Sánchez Barraza: The primary component, as I told you, based on a
principle which gives this place its identity, its form, its destiny, is
the indigenous, and the non-indigenous is stated clearly here to be the
opposite. In the outside world, you are here, and they are there. Here
it's the opposite, they are the ones in first place.

Published in In Motion Magazine December 18, 2005


An Autonomous School, Zapatista Style, is Born in Michoacán
The Efren Capiz Junior High School, a Communal Victory
By Amber Howard

The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Michoacán
April 7, 2006

The lakeside town of Zirahuén, Michoacán, in central Mexico, had no junior
high school. This meant that the local children had difficulty passing the
exam necessary to enter high school. To continue their education they had
to leave town or drop out altogether. So the people petitioned the
government for a school. For over 18 years they asked the secretary of
education to help them build a junior high school but, instead, they
received a "tele-school" (in which the students are seated in front of a
TV screen to receive their classes). Finally, the community took the
problem into its own hands.

The creation of an autonomous school by the townspeople of Zirahuén is one
of the first projects of their autonomous municipality formed in 2003. Its
modeled after the self-governance in communities in the state of Chiapas,
by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish
initials). When Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos visited Zirahuén last
Tuesday and Wednesday, he praised the town's autonomous school. He cited
it as an example for the "national rebellion" that his six-month tour —
now at the halfway mark — through of all Mexico seeks to construct. This
is the story of how an autonomous school was born...

In August 2003 without funds nor permission from the government, with
their own resources, the people of Zirahuén started their own school.
Originally named Emiliano Zapata, after the famous Mexican revolutionary,
the school was recently renamed in memory of a legendary political
activist. Efren Capiz who passed away last year in Michoacán, was a
celebrated attorney, poet, and co-founder of the Indigenous National
Congress. "The school had no permit to operate, but we invited two
teachers to work there anyway. We told them we couldn't pay them but they
were ready to help the community," explained Marisela Alvarez Tinoco, one
of the founders and first teachers at the school. The entire first year of
the school the teachers did not receive any salary at all. "We felt like
we wanted to give the community what it deserved," commented Alvarado

The townspeople recount a challenging journey over the last three years.
Without any help from the government, everything comes out of the
community's own pocket with a little assistance from sympathetic teachers'
organizations. For example, the school itself is held in a fixed-up old
government building that was literally falling apart. "We still haven't
finished the construction for the building," lamented Marta Trinidad
Ramirez, a teacher in the public grade school who volunteers her time in
the afternoons to the autonomous junior high. The school still lacks a
roof on the gym, and spaces for its workshops. The teachers are rarely
paid on time. Their paychecks generally come after six months of work
instead of every 15 days. Even still, the teachers offer breakfast and
lunch to their students, paid for out of their own salaries. "If the child
isn't well fed, his brain doesn't learn. If they can't get food at home,
we give it to them."

School days stretch from 8 am to 5 pm. Morning classes, include math,
sciences, English, and psychology. After the lunch break, students take
advantage of the technical training that their school offers them: an
opportunity to learn a trade, to develop a skill. The Efren Capiz school
offers workshops in jewelry, carpentry, sewing, fashion design, metalwork,
and art. "We give them an opportunity to sell the work produced from their
artistic abilities," mentions Antonio Rojas Medina, the director of the
school. "This is the difference between our school and the official
school. We take it to the next level of in terms of art and technology."
The school's first class - eighteen students - will graduate in July. One
of them, Magali Hernandez , 15, exclaims, "I feel sad! We were in the
first group and now we aren't going to get to come here anymore."
One of her fellow students, Mauricio Orozco Jimenez, expressed a slightly
different point of view: "I'm excited! If there wasn't a school, we
wouldn't have been able to continue studying."

Both students are planning to continue their studies in a high school in
another town and feel as though they will have a lot more opportunities
because of graduating from this school. "We can keep studying," said
Magali, "or we can start our own business."

At the core of the school's curriculum is the survival of the Purépecha
indigenous culture. "We have included humanities such as regional dance,
language, painting and music. We believe in rescuing the culture," says
the school's director, Rojas Medina. The namesake of the school, Efren
Capiz, wouldn't have wanted it any other way. The community wants to pass
on the vision of Capiz, a man dedicated to the struggle in defense of
communal lands, to its children. "Efren Capiz believed that we have to
show the children how to respect our rights as Mexican and indigenous
peoples," explains Juventino Ventura, a law student who grew up in
Zirahuén. Another interesting facet of this school is that every year the
community evaluates it and is given the chance to express what it wants to
see change and what it wants to keep the same. "We work without any
permission from the government. The community is the only voice that
matters," explains Alvarez Tinoco.

This school is a powerful example of what can happen when communities
unite to create what the government neglects to provide. Recently all 65
of the students were tested as part of an evaluation of local schools. The
Efren Capiz junior high school came in second place among others in the
region, surpassed only by a private school. "Next year," Alvarez Tinoco
assured, "We are going to win first place." The goals of this school run
deep and speak to visions of a greater Mexico overall. "We want to form
conscientious Mexican citizens that understand their culture, their roots,
that conserve the land."

"We have to struggle," is the message that the former schoolteacher
learned from the Zapatistas and what made this school transform from dream
into a reality. "We don't have to wait. We have rights. We have to enforce
them. Don't wait for them to tell you yes. Don't wait. Just do it, what
the community needs. We aren't going to settle for the crumbs that the
government gives us. We deserve the entire loaf." She speculates that if
the government doesn't start paying them on time, they will have to
mobilize with the community so they can be heard. "They like it when we
make noise, if not, they don't hear us."

Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos, visiting this town on April 2 and 3,
praised the autonomous school as a model for others to follow, "This
school rose up from below, by the hand of the community, its strength and
with local money. That is what we need to do to this entire country."

homepage: homepage: http://www.myspace.com/sinfronteras_olin