LA PUENTE, CA, 7 May 2006--Forty people lined the entrance road to WalMart in
La Puente today, part of a trio of protests in California to end government
oppression in the indigenous town of San Salvador Atenco. They were
standing up against a government land grab and police brutalization in Atenco, in the state and country of Mexico nearly 1400 miles
away. In all, they had broken through the mainstream media
disinformation about "crazed" and "hysterical" farmers in
the small flower-farming community of San Salvador Atenco, and connected the
farmers' plight to globalization, land rights, and Indigenous oppression.
The Mexican government wants the nearby Belisario Domínguez marketplace for a commercial zone,
with a WalMart. The government began its assault a month ago by sending
eight hundred police to raid the market and demand to see business
licenses. Neighboring Atenco farmers, famous for thwarting a government
land grab in their region four years ago, responded by shutting down highways
and inviting Subcomandante Marcos of the EZLN and La Otra
campaña to town. When Marcos came to the town's defense,
thousands of police raided the city and beat, raped, disappeared, and killed
residents. (See Recent Events below.)
"What's happening in Atenco is the epitome of what's been going on since
1519," one protestor explained. "We're marginalized, oppressed, forced
from our land. We're in solidarity--we're part of the oppression within
the history of Mexico for the past 500 years. I hold Mexico close to my
heart--my grandmother speaks Nahautl. She's in the garment industry.
People who want fair wages can't earn a decent living because of WalMart.
Now they're adding death, blood to be shed. For 500 years, yes, that's
been the history of my people."
Five years ago, Mexican President Vicente Fox decided to build an airport,
and he settled on some farmland around Texcoco and San Salvador Atenco. He
didn't count on the ejidatarios, the communal farmers, of Atenco.
They challenged the land grab in court and formed the People's Front in Defense of the
Land (FPDT), but Fox pressed on with his plans. He sent in engineers, he
refused to hear the ejidatarios, he promised them jobs as baggage
handlers. They answered that they would rather give up their lives than
The FPDT reached out to farmers, workers, and students across Mexico, and
protested at the Monterrey Summit on neoliberalism. They blocked the
Lechería-Texcoco highway. They held engineers and, later, eleven police hostage.
Frustrated by the government's refusal to back down, and faced with arrests and
media coverage that characterized Atenco as a town full of crazies, thousands
twice marched on Mexico City. With sparks flying as they struck the concrete sidewalks with their machetes,
the FPDT finally brought international attention to their cause and pressured
the government to come to the table.
But Fox tried to delay and splinter the famers. Then on July 24, 2002, the day negotiations were set to begin, Jose Enrique Espinoza Juarez,
an Atenco protestor,
died in police custody two weeks after police beat him and refused him medical attention.
Church bells announced his death and warned the women of Atenco, who dragged rocks to
barricade the roads into town from police while the men returned from the
fields. Two FPDT leaders, Ignacio del
Valle and Adan Espinoza were brutalized and arrested.
But the Atenco
farmers had forced the government into negotiations. At the table, the Fox government was confronted with ejidatarios proclaiming
that they would not sell their mother earth, and others outside chanting, "if there’s no
solution, there’ll be a revolution." On August 6, 2002, Fox
officially rescinded the expropriation order, and the people of Atenco,
following the Zapatistas' lead, declared themselves an autonomous municipality,
banning police and government officials from the town.
Vicente Fox had suffered a humiliating defeat. Today, four years later and two
months before the Mexican Presidential elections, the police once again attacked
the farmers of the Atenco region, and once again, land was the issue.
"Some people may not see the direct connection," the protestor added, "but whether we're aware of it, it's a direct result of
"Zapatistas are heroes of our people, taking arms. That's bold and
inspiring. We need our own Zapatistas here--we need to create our own
liberation movement. It's time in Los Angeles, in Orange County, in California,
in the so-called 'United States.' It's great to support the Zapatista
movement, but I'm not here to support the Zapatistas--this is our movement, the
Indigenous Movement. ¡Que viva agrarian reform! Viva the Indigenous
An SUV driver waved off an English-language flyer and shouted back, "I
don't speak Spanish! I don't speak Spanish!"
"What's the use of cars?" a Mexican protestor asked.
"BMW's are for status. What matters is land."
"We're here because of the transnational minimum salary. Food is
cheaper here than in Mexico. Seventy percent of what California produces
goes to Mexico," he added. "They take the land on the
coasts, the fishermen's land, for tourist hotels. There's a lot of
immigration for that reason. All the money and industry is from foreign
countries. Mexican oil and mines are sold to foreign countries. Do
you know about Article 27?" he asked.
Article 27 was a part of the Mexican Constitution that Emiliano Zapata had
demanded. It prohibited the sale of Mexican land to foreign
nationals. It had to be rescinded in 1992 in order to comply with NAFTA.
"They use the Mexican people to build things cheaper. Pretty soon
the people in the United States will have the same problem--they're cutting
workers here. You can read it in the paper every week--500, 1000 laid
He speculated, "If you wanted to change Mexico, the United States will
send in military equipment and tell us its to keep Mexico from becoming
communist. We just want to be free."
Back to his bottom line, he went on, "The most important thing for all
people--the rich, the poor--is the land. Without food . . . ."
He raised his eyebrows and shrugged.
He resumed. "I'm here to tell people what's
happening. Ninety percent of the people don't have time to read--the
father, the mother, the children work. And the television tells us what
the government wants us to hear." Will a new President in Mexico make a
difference? "No, I don't think so. If the government was
working for the country, we wouldn't be here." He glanced at WalMart.
"Mexico is very rich. The people are working so the government stays
in power. The government demands money, and more money."
"Is this about the EZLN?" I asked another
rallier, recalling May 3rd's red alert. He answered, "This is an attack on La Otra
campaña, as well as the farmers. The attack on San Salvador Atenco
came right after Subcomandante Marcos left there. I assume that the
Mexican government reacted to crush La Otra campaña to make
others afraid to participate, by making an example out of the people of
"To attempt to crush La Otra campaña and its Indigenous
supporters in Atenco is to attempt to crush the Zapatistas, the Mayan Indians,
and, by extension, Mother Earth," he explained. "The Indigenous
people are the guardians and caretakers of Mother Earth. In attacking Atenco, they're attacking all that. They're trying
to crush the hopes of all the people of Mexico and the many people around the
world who are inspired by the Zapatistas."
"Why are you here?" I prodded. "I'm here because 'Todos
somos Ramona y todos somos Marcos, y cuando estamos presente son presente.'"
"They want to keep revolutionary politics away from the people of
Mexico just like they want to keep revolutionary politics away from the migrant
movement here," he concluded.
Recent events in San Salvador Atenco
Presidente Fox appropriates
5000 hectares from the ejido communally-held lands of Texcoco and
San Salvador Atenco for an airport. He promises them jobs as The ejidatarios
refuse to give up their land and organize as the People's Front in
Defense of the Land (FPDT). After nine months of protests and
court appeals, the police arrest two and the ejidatarios take
fourteen hostages and raise blockades, brandishing now-famous
machetes. The government backs down.
10 April 2006
Police and officials prevent
the farmers from selling their flowers at market, citing license
violations. The Belisario Domínguez market is scheduled for
conversion to a shopping center, likely to include a WalMart.
20 April 2006
Eight hundred riot police
storm the market, attacking young and old alike. Guns are poised
against machetes, and arrests begin.
25 April 2006
Atenco's FPDT welcomes the
EZLN's La Otra campaña, an alternative to Mexico's capitalist
political parties, to Atenco.
1 May 2006
Delegate Zero of the EZLN, marches with supporters and students to the
U.S. Embassy in Mexico City in support of the U.S. migrant boycott and
marches. His security escorts are from Atenco.
3 May 2006
Police storm Texcoco,
confronting women and men armed with machetes. One hundred are arrested,
including FPDT leader Ignacio del Valle as he calls for dialog.
Del Valle is photographed with blood on his head and groin area.
Fourteen-year-old Javier Cortés Santiago is shot to death.
The EZLN declares a red
alert and suspends La Otra campaña. The EZLN calls for
blockades in the streets of Atenco and other peaceful disobedience, and offers to
aid those the town.
4 May 2006
demands unconditional liberty for those who have been arrested and the
withdrawal of all police forces. Twenty-three hundred police enter
Atenco and the surrounding area, with continued beatings, rapes, and
arrests. FPDT blocks the Lechería-Texcoco highway and calls
on the EZLN for mobilization.
Protests in support of the FPDT are announced for New York, Los Angeles,
Boston, Houston, and San Francisco.
5 May 2006
Delegate Zero leads up to
6000 supporters in a 6-mile march to Atenco, and vows to remain in the
police-controlled town until the conflict is resolved and the prisoners
Prisoners begin a hunger
strike led by Gloria Arenas Ajís, who calls for the release of all
political prisoners, the revocation of all warrants, and an end to the
persecution of América del Valle and her family.
6 May 2006
A National Assembly Against
Oppression meets in Atenco and forms a plan of action, including
flyering to counteract media disinformation, road blocks, a voluntary
strike, marches, and a call to purchase May 10 Mother's Day flowers in
Thus far, the residents of
Atenco report over 400 arrests, 18 disappeared, and 5 rapes by police.
See Narco News for details
and continuing coverage of events in Atenco.