Over the past week, some 1,500 activists from around the world converged on Mexico’s Chiapas state for the Zapatista rebels’ first international organizing workshop, the Little Freedom School (Escuelita de Libertad), with course names such as “Freedom According to the Zapatistas.” On Aug. 15, three days into the gathering, the rebels’ Comandante Tacho issued a statement charging that “military planes were doing flyovers over the zones of the five Zapatista caracoles.” The caracoles (snails) are the community centers the rebels have built to govern their territory in open assemblies, and where the Freedom School is being held. Tacho signed off: “We say to the government of [President Enrique] Peña Nieto, that if your soldiers want to learn in the Little School, they should ask to be invited. We won’t, however, invite them. But then they can use the pretext that they are spying because we didn’t invite them.” (El Enemigo Común via Climate Connections, Aug. 15; Waging Nonviolence via Upside Down World, Aug. 12)
The Zapatistas are protected by a ceasefire that leaves them in control of a large swath of the Chiapas rainforest and patches of the more densely populated Highlands, although talks with the government have been stalled for over 10 years. Comrade Bruce Lee of the rebels’ Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee told supporters earlier this year that after the talks broke down the Zapatistas decided to ignore the state as an institution and “act as if they had already won.” The five caracoles are at the settlements of La Realidad, Morelia and La Garrucha in the rainforest, and Oventik and Robero Barrios in the Highlands. (RoarMag, Aug. 6)
In January of this year, just weeks after the Zapatistas held a mass mobilization in Chiapas to commemorate their 1994 uprising, the national government announced the formation of a Commission for Dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, to “deal with the historic debt” the country owes its native communities. Secretary of Governance Miguel Angel Osorio Chong apppointed former senator Jaime Martínez Veloz (PRD), who had participated in the talks with the Zapatistas, to head the new body. When asked at the press conference whether President Peña Nieto would be willing to sit at a negotiating table with the Zapatistas, Osorio Chong said, “The call is to all of us to sit down and resolve the problems through political means…”
Martínez Veloz said he had long pressed the government for action on such issues as release of Zapatista political prisoners. “My presence irritated them… Now, in contrast, is the first time a secretary of governance sends for me and he asked my opinion…” He credited the the recent Zapatista mobilization for the government’s move, saying without it, “the indigenous issue would not have become the focus of a national debate.” (ICTMN, Jan. 25)
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