[With gratitude to Gandhian nonviolent strategist Pietro Ameglio for his reflection below. Pietro and I have worked together on the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.–Rose]
BY PIETRO AMEGLIO
(Cuernavaca, Mexico) — January 2019 marked 25 years since the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, an historic event of the greatest relevance in the contemporary global context, with roots that stretch back centuries and repercussions that will reach far into the future.
It is a truly original experience of building struggle and massive social organization that seeks to confront and slowly replace capitalist social and productive relations, burdened as they are with racism, plundering and exploitation, with others that are more egalitarian, communitarian and rooted in social justice.
Zapatismo is a social construct that operates simultaneously in the short, medium and long term. For millions of us in the world, the Zapatista process changed our lives. It helped us to think upside down, to not be so defenseless in the social order. We can’t help but feel gratitude toward these women and men, girls and boys, whose influence has been felt in many processes of humanization all over the planet. And the best tribute that we can offer them is to not give up our resistance efforts and to always maintain critical thinking.
We can start with reflection on ourselves and our allies, knowing that we all make mistakes. From there we can build a continuous process of reflection and action rooted in “proper disobedience to any inhuman order” (J.C. Marín), confronting any kind of blind obedience to authority, wherever it may come from.
In Mexico we are in the first months of the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who came to power promising deep change with a focus on the needs of the poor majority.
Currently we are engaged in a major debate regarding the astronomic levels of violence in the country and the new government’s “pacification” plans. Are they focused on peacebuilding, which gets at the root issues of truth, justice and reparations? Or are they more aimed at calming the waters – an urgent task! – but in such a way that the storm continues below?
In this regard, one element of López Obrador’s plans is troubling. In 2006, former President Felipe Calderon gave the task of fighting drug cartels to the armed forces. Since then, organized crime-related homicide rates in Mexico have skyrocketed, with the total number killed exceeding 150,000. Now AMLO has called for the creation of a National Guard to complement the armed forces in the fight against organized crime. But the new 50,000-strong force initially would be drawn from the ranks of the armed forces and federal police.
This has led to a heated debate about whether the creation of a National Guard signifies the increased militarization of the country (of course it does; why else was the December “National Conference on Peacebuilding and Security” held at the Colegio Militar, the primary military educational institution in Mexico?) and if it is simply inevitable, given the dimensions of the war we are experiencing.
In between his election and inauguration, AMLO convened a series of Listening Sessions on Pacification and National Reconciliation (Foros de Escucha para la Pacificación y la Reconciliación Nacional). Their supposed intent was to gather input for the shaping of the new government’s policy. But what good were they if the citizen input was ignored and we are told that there is no practical alternative to a militarized approach to the violence? So the forums appear to be just more political theater, when the decision had already been made, and not entirely by Mexico alone.
It may be that the new government could not adequately assess the full scope of the war we are facing before taking office, especially in terms of the corruption and weakness of state institutions. Nonetheless, pacification requires actions that show a true intention to get to the roots of the problem of violence: the deep-seated criminal associations among government functionaries at all levels, elected and appointed members of the three branches of government, businesspeople, criminal gangs, legal and illegal armed forces, and parts of civil society.
Given the evidence we see every day, it is imperative that all those involved in such collusion be deposed, arrested, and punished and that their money-laundering operations be cut off. When we start to see this kind of action, we can begin to think that a real process of pacification may be underway.
In addition to such action, we will also need to see government action that empowers and legitimizes the different kinds of community guards or police that are subordinate to the communities themselves and that actually have been able to control or even eliminate the manifestations of organized crime that were devastating them. These local or regional organizations, self-organized from below, are the only ones that can affirm that they have been able to confront organized crime with positive results, including greater humanization with regard to both the communities and the criminals, and to return peace to their territories. So they should be supported and held up as an example, especially in the regions of greatest violence. Or do we know other means of containing such massive violence and impunity?
When we begin to see initiatives like these, in the quantity and quality that the war in Mexico requires, then we will be able to have a rigorous debate about militarized or justice-based approaches to peacebuilding. That is the true reality check that the country urgently needs.
In the mean time, a significant portion of Mexico’s population has accepted the war, with its endless turf battles among criminal organizations for monopoly control of territory, as the norm and as their principle source of employment. In fact we are talking about a huge capitalist enterprise that creates many thousands of jobs. And with the global economic crisis, those dependent on organized crime for a job are not inclined or do not even know how to change their employment. So we can expect a continuing increase in the spiral of war, as the daily news shows.
In January and February, the Fourth National Search Brigade for Disappeared Persons is taking place in the state of Guerrero. The Mexican government’s own tally of the disappeared is more than 34,000, a phenomenal number.
In the face of recent governments’ demonstrable unwillingness to resolve those cases, family members of the disappeared and their allies have organized their own search efforts, uncovering hundreds of clandestine graves all over Mexico.
These brigades, born of desperation, are a practical response to a human catastrophe and also a moral challenge to society to not accept this situation as normal and to join them in demanding the historical truth, justice, and reparations for the victims and their families.
In this strategic nonviolent offensive, the family members are exercising their social, moral and autonomous power directly, without requesting permission while seeking as many civil society and official allies as possible. We hope that with the new government, there will be better conditions for them to reverse the abandonment they have suffered.
This direct action by the families of the disappeared, like the autonomous government model built by the Zapatistas with their Councils of Good Government, is based on the direct exercise of power by the people. It is also similar to the massive Yellow Vest protest movement that has swept France since November, where important decisions are made in communal assemblies and in direct vote referendums.
Enough of spurious and anti-popular liberal representations. These are clear examples of the urgent need to organize and demonstrate in the streets with relentless persistence.
Pietro Ameglio is a Professor of Peace and Nonviolence Culture at the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) and an activist in nonviolent struggles in Mexico. Translation from Spanish to English by Phil McManus.