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by Andrew Kennis
Wednesday, Jan. 04, 2006 at 10:51 PM
The Zapatistas began today the first of a series of town-hall like meetings that will comprise the bulk of a six-month nationwide caravan dubbed as the Other Campaign. The campaign will touch every state in Mexico and aspires to form a wide-ranging non-electoral and anti-capitalist alliance that can be a powerful enough of a force to implement a new constitution for Mexico.
Nueva Maravilla, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, México: The Zapatistas began today the first of a series of town-hall like meetings that will comprise the bulk of a six-month nationwide caravan dubbed as the Other Campaign. The campaign will touch every state in Mexico and aspires to form a wide-ranging non-electoral and anti-capitalist alliance that can be a powerful enough of a force to implement a new constitution for Mexico.
The means on how to accomplish this lofty goal will be decided upon after consultation with allies of the Zapatistas during the campaign. As Subcommander Marcos stated, the campaign will keep the microphone open with someone taking you into account, something that you will never find in any political party or in any structure of the government.
The first public meeting of the Other Campaign was held at a downtrodden backdrop in an indigenous university named the University of the Earth. The university is based in a poor and largely Mayan populated neighborhood named Nueva Maravilla, which is on the outskirts of San Cristóbal in the state of Chiapas. Located in the southeastern tip of Mexico, Chiapas is amongst the poorest states in the country. The downtrodden backdrop was not unfamiliar to the Zapatistas, who continue to suffer an array of poverty-related problems in Chiapas, which is the poorest state of Mexico.
The Zapatistas say that the new constitution they hope to implement would fundamentally oppose neo-liberalism and finally put into practice the San Andrés accords that were agreed upon in 1996. The accords, which would grant the Zapatistas significant autonomy and land rights, were never put into practice. President Vicente Fox, who made a campaign promise to solve the Chiapas problem in fifteen minutes, introduced a bill to the legislature to finally implement the accords. The bill was watered down in the legislature and signed by Fox despite strong objections by the Zapatistas and the official governmental peace commission (COCOPA).
Over three hundred attendees, comprised by diverse set of people from many different parts of Mexico and the world, discussed and debated proposals for over eight hours about how to achieve the objectives of the campaign. Loud-speakers were attached to the trees outside the small confines of a wooden building that the meeting was held in, so that the overflow of observers could hear the proceedings from the outside. Many emotional speeches were given, including teary eyed accounts of government oppression of indigenous activists and violence against women.
Similar to the six-week long set of meetings that were held to facilitate the planning of the Other Campaign that took place last summer in the heart of Zapatista territory deep in the Lacadona jungle, today gathering was a potpourri of the left, including indigenous farmers, students, non-governmental representatives, feminists, unionists, Professors and independent individuals.
The iconic Subcommander Marcos and indigenous commanders of the Zapatista movement (including two female commanders) comprise the Delegation Zero; which will be leading the remainder of the campaign. Marcos has playfully nicknamed himself Delegate Zero; and will apparently tour with the caravan on a motorcycle, reckoning images from the young Cuban revolutionary Che Guevarra's coming-of-age journey across South America in the 1950s. The Commanders and Marcos alike listened to five-minute speeches in a bull session atmosphere that defined much of the day.
The Other Campaign will stay in Chiapas for the next six days, making stops at Palenque, the western coast of Chiapas and Comítan, before moving on to the Yucatan peninsula. Marcos stated that, after the elections in July and come this September, we will come out again to each place from this campaign and we will not stay only a couple of days, but instead, we’ll come for months at a time.
Purposefully designed as a counter-balance to the Mexican Presidential election campaign this year, President Fox and center-left candidate Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador have already been impacted by the campaign. President Fox, who is prohibited from seeking re-election by the Mexican constitution which prescribes fixed terms for Presidents, was stumping for his party and even dressed himself in non-authentic indigenous garb. Lopez Obrador, who is currently the front-runner in the campaign and the current mayor of Mexico City, is campaigning in Chiapas.
The Zapatistas have long maintained that Lopez Obrador and his party, the PRD, which in the Senate largely voted in favor of the watered down bill that the Zapatistas opposed, are full of rhetoric without any real action to help the tens of millions of Mexico poor and impoverished people. In an incident in April 2004, armed supporters of the PRD hailing from the municipality of Zinacantan, shot at Zapatistas who were in the midst of a commemorative march of the death of indigenous leader Emiliano Zapata. Twelve Zapatista civilians were injured and five-hundred more were displaced as a result.
Internationally, the Zapatistas have had a tremendous influence on activists from the northern hemisphere and the subsequent global justice movement, which has continued to oppose the battered World Trade Organization dating back to mass protests in Seattle in 1999. Nationally in Mexico, however, the influence by the Zapatistas has not been as great and has been limited to its supporters and other indigenous communities. The latest campaign is an effort to make a formal alliance of their supporters and to expand their base of support so as to be able to achieve their goals.
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