Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mexico’s State of Morelos: "We've Been Trained in the Art of Resistance"

By Hanna Nikkanen, Narco News Bulletin

From General Emiliano Zapata to poet Javier Sicilia, something in the Mexican state of Morelos breeds rebellion. After years of social and environmental struggles, the people of Morelos believe they have the blueprint for successful civil mobilization. Will their knowledge change Mexico?
What does golf have to do with civil resistance? Everything, at least in 1995 in the town of Tepoztlán, state of Morelos, south of Mexico City.

“The siege was a time of parties,” María Rosas reminisces. “At three o’clock in the morning, the central square of Tepoztlán was so full of people that it looked like 10 a.m. There were banners, food and newspaper murals everywhere, and everyone had a role to play in the defense of the town.”

[ ... ]

“Seen from the outside, we were outlaws,” Rosas says. “Seen from the inside, it was the most beautiful thing.”

It was a time between two important eras. The influential former bishop of Cuernavaca, Sergio Méndez Arceo – also known as “the Red Bishop” for his role in bringing liberation theology to the country – had died in Morelos in 1992. In the southern state of Chiapas, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials) had just launched a campaign that would soon bring in a flood of revolutionaries, journalists and human rights observers from around the world to Mexico.

The movement in Tepoztlán identified closely with the Zapatista insurrection. Even the embroideries in carnival costumes declared solidarity: “We are all TEpoZtLáN,” they spelled out, with the letters EZLN bigger than the others. The inspiration went both ways. Tepoztlán was an autonomous municipality before any were formed in Chiapas.

The link with the emerging Zapatista movement, Rosas remembers, helped Tepoztlán overcome a sense of isolation. For a moment the struggle was about something bigger than a golf course.
“Tepoztlán is made of social networks formed by neighbors, families, coworkers, housewives. During the autonomy they became stronger night by night as we sat in the square and talked about what we had been doing, what we would do next, and how we would get the tamales we needed to survive. It was a form of organization that dates from a time before political parties.”
María Rosas clearly loves these memories of her town’s successful mobilization, but one can’t miss a certain sadness in her voice when she talks about the all-night vigils and the way her little son learned to talk and march at the same time.

Rosas would’ve wished for Tepoztlán to remain autonomous. It didn’t.

After eight months of autonomy, in April 1996, the police killed a local campesino, Marcos Olmedo, near the spot where Emiliano Zapata was shot exactly 76 years earlier. The man’s death was followed by the cancellation of the construction plan. The townspeople, exhausted and mourning but also pleased with their victory, gradually allowed the police and political parties to return to Tepoztlán.

Tepoztlán’s struggle is not the only of its kind. The eviction of the golf course marked a renaissance of resistance movements in the state of Morelos. During the almost 17 years that have passed since Tepoztlán first declared itself a free town, autonomous municipalities have popped up in different parts of the state. They have an impressive track record of winning most of their battles, but those victories have often been, like the one in Tepoztlán, tinged with sadness: many of the movements have failed to bridge the gaping class divisions that characterize Mexican society. Many times autonomy has lasted only a fleeting moment.

Often victory has come with a great cost. Morelos is a state where both the police and organized crime seem to have no qualms about using overwhelming force to maintain the status quo.

That has now become the issue around which Morelos’ inhabitants are mobilizing, hoping that their rebellion will spread outside the state’s borders.

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