Anatomy of a Disaster

Reblogged from Konkret Media, a new independent media platform from Los Angeles

konkretAlessandro Zagato @ale_zagato

Photo reportage by Francisco Lion

“By removing rubble they want to disarticulate popular solidarity”: The earthquake aftermath in Mexico City

The earthquake that hit Mexico City and the wider region on September 19 was not as strong as the one that occurred on the same day in 1985, but it was the most devastating the city has seen since then. While the official death toll has reached 370 and thousands of people are still sleeping in their vehicles or in one of the emergency shelters erected across the city, the popular mobilization that followed the tremor continues to grow and evolve.

Young people have systematically transformed their leisure spaces into hubs of solidarity. They organize the collection and distribution of goods to the affected areas. Some of them offer free psychological support. Many are opening their own houses to the displaced.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, volunteers across the city worked together to clear rubble in search of survivors. Neighbors continue to provide one another with basic goods. Bikers and cyclists deliver messages and supplies, and restaurants give away food and access to the internet. Trucks full of carpenters and workers reach the affected areas.

From day one, ordinary people have spontaneously taken control of the situation. “After that building collapsed, neighbors got together and started removing the remains piece by piece. We also got organized to bring water, food, blankets and whatever else was needed” one resident explains.


At the same time, the army has been gradually taking position, forcing civilians to step back. On the first night, heavily armed military units lined up and surrounded a number of collapsed buildings, preventing the people from getting closer. “We are now in charge,” they declared. Politicians, public servants, and police officers are trying to take control of the situation—but popular resistance is firm.

“Why should people who arrived first and spent all night volunteering be forced to leave?” asks one volunteer. Civilians are challenging the legitimacy of state agents who arrived late and show little commitment to the cause. “Where were you before?” a young man asks the officer who is pushing him away.

On the radio, authorities have requested that people not get involved and instead leave relief efforts to the authorized personnel. Critics targeted Graco Ramírez, a member of the ruling PRI and governor of Morelos, after he ordered “the end of the rescuing operations” just twenty-four hours after the earthquake. Typically, search and rescue efforts continue for a minimum of three days after a disaster of this magnitude.

The army and government response serves only to increase the suspicion that their aim is to disarticulate popular mobilization in order to preclude conditions that might lead to a mass movement like the one that followed the 1985 earthquake.

Even the authorities’ decision to use heavy digging machinery is controversial. “Those who pretend to give us orders have no clue of what they are doing” is a sentiment shared by many topos, the famed volunteers who led rescue operations in 1985. “The army is employing heavy machines to accelerate the process, but they refuse to collaborate with us in the rescuing operations because that’s not their priority”.


The topos recommend a strategy that allowed them to rescue people for 15 days after the 1985 earthquake. It consists of opening breaches through the remains of the buildings, making use of still intact structures like elevator ducts or load bearing walls. This allows rescuers to reach areas where people may still be alive. “Heavy machines could kill them,” the topos warn.

Moreover, a serious investigation should look for causes and responsibilities before the demolition of collapsed buildings takes place. Hashtags like #RescatePrimero (rescue first) and #NoMaquinaria (no machinery) are currently gaining traction on social media.

Mainstream media outlets are trying to impose an artificial and openly ideological narrative that often has only a tenuous relationship to facts. An illustrative example is the coverage of the tragedy that hit the Enrique Rébsamen School, where 21 children and 4 adults died. On the morning of September 20, Televisa (a national TV channel) began disseminating the illusion that a primary school girl trapped under the building could still be saved.

“We found a girl who is still alive. But a big effort will be required because the operation is highly risky,” a police officer told a Televisa reporter.

For nine hours, the live broadcast of the operations captivated millions of Mexicans awaiting a miracle in the midst of the tragedy. The coverage resembled a reality show; cameras, microphones, and drones were deployed to cover every single detail of the process.

A teacher confirms that the girl attended primary school. A soldier says that he saw her asking for water and moving her hand. Other media outlets reveal that the girl is twelve years old. The presenter constantly calls for hope, repeating the slogan “fuerza Mexico” (go Mexico) as a mantra.

Frida Sofía (the name given to her by the media) was never found. In fact, no girl with that name was ever part of the school’s register. At 5 AM Televisa announced that the rescue operation was suspended. Civil rescuers were removed from the area – and nobody ever mentioned Frida Sofía on Televisa again.

The cynical reality show manufactured to hypnotize the public and manipulate their emotions was also an attempt to conceal the increasingly acute polarization between organized sectors of civil society and a profoundly unpopular government.

Now, three weeks since the earthquake, the popular movement is reflecting on duties and goals for the upcoming months. Numerous open assemblies are taking place across the country. With so much governmental inconsistency, it is clear that a population with an outstanding capacity for self-organizing will provide the foundation for what comes next.

This is the first installment in an ongoing series from Alessandro Zagato on the ground in Mexico. You can follow Alessandro on Twitter at @ale_zagato

Anatomía de un Desastre

Reblogueado de Konkret Media una nueva plataforma bilingüe de medios libres con base en Los Ángeles



“Con la retirada de escombros quieren desarticular la solidaridad popular”: Las secuelas del terremoto en Ciudad de México


FOTOREPORTAJE: Francisco Lion @Francisco_LionX

El terremoto que azotó a Ciudad de México (y otras regiones) el 19 de septiembre no fue tan fuerte como el que tuvo lugar el mismo día en el año 1985, pero ha sido el más devastador que la ciudad ha visto desde entonces. Con una cifra oficial de hasta 369 muertes y con miles de personas aun durmiendo en su vehículo o en alguno de los albergues de emergencia erigidos a lo largo de la ciudad, la movilización popular que siguió al temblor continúa creciendo y evolucionando.

De manera sistemática, los jóvenes han transformado sus espacios de ocio en focos de solidaridad. Han organizado la recolección y distribución de bienes de las áreas afectadas. Algunos están ofreciendo apoyo psicológico gratuito. Muchos están abriendo las puertas de sus propias casas a los desplazados.

Inmediatamente después del terremoto, muchos voluntarios a lo largo y ancho de la ciudad han trabajado juntos retirando escombros en busca de supervivientes. Los vecinos siguen proporcionándose bienes básicos entre ellos. Los ciclistas van de un sitio a otro llevando mensajes y provisiones; y los restaurantes están donando comida y ofreciendo acceso a Internet. Camiones llenos de carpinteros y trabajadores siguen llegando a las zonas afectadas.

Desde el primer día, la gente corriente ha tomado espontáneamente el control de la situación. “Después de que aquel edificio se derrumbase, los vecinos se juntaron y comenzaron a retirar los restos pieza a pieza. También nos organizamos para traer agua, comida, mantas y cualquier otra cosa que hiciera falta” explica un residente.


A su vez, el ejército ha ido tomando posición poco a poco, forzando a los civiles a retroceder. La primera noche, varias unidades militares fuertemente armadas se alinearon para rodear un conjunto de edificios derrumbados, impidiendo que la gente se acercara. “Ahora nosotros estamos al mando” declararon. Los políticos, los funcionarios públicos y los agentes de policía están tratando de tomar el control de la situación – pero la resistencia popular es firme.

“¿Por qué tienen que forzar a irse a los que llegaron primero y pasaron toda la noche trabajando como voluntarios?” pregunta un voluntario. “¿Dónde estaba usted antes?” le pregunta un hombre joven a un policía que le está apartando.

En la radio las autoridades han pedido a la gente que no se involucre y que, en cambio, deje las iniciativas de socorro al personal autorizado. Graco Ramírez, miembro del partido en el poder PRI y gobernador de Morelos, ha sido blanco de las críticas al haber puesto fin a las operaciones de rescate” tan sólo veinticuatro horas después del terremoto. Normalmente, las operaciones de búsqueda y rescate se prolongan hasta un mínimo de tres días después de un desastre de estas magnitudes.

La respuesta del ejército y del gobierno sólo aumenta la sospecha de que su objetivo es desarticular la movilización popular para impedir la posibilidad de que las condiciones actuales lleven a un movimiento popular masivo como el que siguió al terremoto de 1985.

Incluso la decisión de las autoridades de usar maquinaria pesada de excavación es polémica. “Aquellos que fingen darnos órdenes no tienen la menor idea de lo que están haciendo” es una opinión compartida por muchos topos, los afamados voluntarios que dirigieron el rescate en 1985. “El ejército está empleando máquinas pesadas para acelerar el proceso, pero se niegan a colaborar con nosotros en las operaciones de rescate, porque esa no es su prioridad”.


Los topos recomiendan una estrategia que les permitió rescatar a gente durante 15 días después del terremoto de 1985. Consiste en abrir brechas a través de los restos de los edificios, haciendo uso de estructuras que han quedado intactas, como conductos de ascensores o muros de carga. Ello permite a los rescatadores llegar a áreas donde aún puede haber gente con vida. “Las máquinas pesadas podrían matarlos” alertan los topos.

Además, debería llevarse a cabo una investigación seria para determinar las causas y responsabilidades antes de que tenga lugar la demolición de edificios derrumbados. Hashtags como #RescatePrimero y #NoMaquinaria están ganando relevancia en las redes sociales del momento.

Los principales medios de comunicación están tratando de imponer una narrativa artificial y abiertamente ideológica que con frecuencia sólo tiene una relación vaga con los hechos. Un ejemplo ilustrativo es la cobertura de la tragedia que asoló al Colegio Enrique Rébsamen, donde murieron 21 niños y 4 adultos. La mañana del 20 de septiembre, Televisa (una cadena de televisión nacional) comenzó a difundir la ilusión de que una niña de primaria atrapada bajo el edificio aún podía ser salvada.

“Encontramos una niña aún con vida. Pero salvarla requerirá un gran esfuerzo porque la operación es muy arriesgada” comentó un policía a un reportero de Televisa.

Durante nueve horas, la transmisión en directo de las operaciones cautivó a millones de mexicanos que esperaban un milagro en mitad de la tragedia. La cobertura parecía la de un reality show; cámaras, micrófonos y drones cubrían cada detalle del proceso.

Una profesora confirma que la niña iba a la escuela primaria. Un militar dice que la vio pidiendo agua y moviendo la mano. Otro medio informativo revela que la niña tiene doce años. La presentadora invoca constantemente a la esperanza repitiendo el eslogan “fuerza México” como un mantra.

Frida Sofía (el nombre dado a la niña por los medios) jamás fue hallada. De hecho, ninguna niña con ese nombre había figurado nunca en el registro de la escuela. A las 5 AM Televisa anunció que la operación de rescate había sido suspendida. Los rescatadores civiles fueron apartados del área – y nadie más volvió a mencionar a Frida Sofía en Televisa.

El cínico reality show fabricado para hipnotizar al público y manipular sus emociones fue también un intento de esconder la cada vez más aguda polarización entre sectores organizados de la sociedad civil y un gobierno profundamente impopular.

Ahora, casi dos semanas después del terremoto, el movimiento popular está reflexionando sobre sus funciones y objetivos para los próximos meses. Numerosas asambleas abiertas están celebrándose en todo el país. Con un gobierno tan inconsistente, está claro que una población con una excelente capacidad de auto-organización proporcionará la fundación de lo que vendrá después.

Esta es la primera entrega en una serie de artículos por Alessandro Zagato sobre México. Pueden seguir a Alessandro en Twitter: @ale_zagato

The popular movement and the electoral strategy. An indigenous candidate for Mexico

Reblogged from

Author: Alessandro Zagato



The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) took a surprising twist to their history back on 10 October 2016, one which could yet shape the future of Mexican politics. Together with the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), which they are integrated with, they announced their intention to nominate an indigenous woman as an independent candidate for the upcoming presidential election in 2018 – “an indigenous woman, a CNI delegate, who speaks her indigenous language and knows her culture”. However, they immediately made clear that this initiative would not follow a conventional course. Instead, the indigenous movement of Mexico intends to use the electoral deadline as a means to set off a widespread process of articulation of autonomous and grassroots organizations at national scale, aimed at transforming the political system from the bottom up.

The EZLN gave birth to this idea but the CNI is implementing the proposal after it was approved by a massive grassroots consultation that covered the entire country between October and December 2016, involving 523 communities from 25 different states and of 43 ethnic groups.

The Zapatista leadership sees this strategy as a means to awakening a “sleeping force”. They refer to all those groups that have embraced autonomy – completely or partially, in the countryside and in the city – a fragmented universe that does not attract sensationalist chronicles. Based on an investigation by the Ibero-American University of Puebla, Víctor Toledo (2016) estimates that in just five Mexican states there are more than a thousand autonomous projects, ranging from the Zapatista Caracoles to indigenous organic coffee cooperatives, self-defense groups, and self-managed communities.

This constellation follows a political “paradigm of living” (paradigma del habitar – Fernandez Savater 2016) which is grounded in day to day life, and which can be heightened, starting from the strengths it holds. It is not a matter of inventing something new, but of empowering and to some extent reconfiguring what already exists.
“May the earth tremble at its core” states the conclusive document of the fifth national congress of the CNI jointly signed by the CNI and the EZLN. It calls “on all the indigenous people and civil society to organize to put a stop to destruction and strengthen our resistances and rebellions, that is, the defense of the life of every person, family, collective, community, or barrio. We make a call to construct peace and justice by connecting ourselves from below, from where we are what we are.” The final paragraph proclaims the will to construct a new nation by and for everyone, by strengthening power below and the anti-capitalist left.

The proposal has generated surprise. After the announcement, in a plenary session where it was strictly forbidden to take any video or audio, Subcomandante Galeano (military leader and spokesperson of the EZLN – previously Marcos) encouraged the attendees to “take the idea of subversion seriously and turn everything upside down, starting from your own heart”. That counterintuitive idea offered indeed an unprecedented possibility to the indigenous movement and beyond. However, it also needed (and still needs) time to be properly processed by many activists and sympathizers.

On the one hand, this initiative takes place in a conjuncture that many see as unfavorable. There is indeed a generalized and growing distrust in the electoral procedure, especially in a country like Mexico where results are often decided by vote buying and fraud. Moreover, Latin America is experiencing an apparent downturn of the so-called “pink tide” – the wave of progressive governments that shaped the region since the early 2000s. The current right wing counteroffensive seems to call for grassroots resistance rather than electoral engagement. This is the argument of intellectuals like Raúl Zibechi and George Ciccariello-Maher, who argues that the choice today is increasingly between la comuna o nada, the commune or nothing. On the other hand, the electoral proposal is counterintuitive and somehow contradictory to many Mexican filo-Zapatistas due to the critical position that the EZLN have traditionally held towards elections, prompting their adherents to go instead for independent organizing and autonomy.

Nevertheless, an electoral victory would not be the main goal here. “Have no doubt, we are going for everything, because we know this might be the last opportunity” has declared the CNI. Their strategy will consist in actively interfering in (or “occupying”) the electoral procedure and turn it into the possibility for a generalized process of organization and emancipation – “a nonviolent uprising, the last one in the history of the indigenous peoples of Mexico” foresees Filo, a CNI member, in a prophetic tone.

In the meantime, the Indigenous Government Council (CIG) – one of the most intriguing developments of this initiative – is slowly taking shape. The Council operates like a national assembly of the representatives (more than hundred people – half of them are women) of all the groups composing the CNI. It should grow as an intermediate space, a hybrid body situated between the state apparatus and society, between the government and the organized groups spread over the national territory.

The CIG epitomizes a decentered conception of political representation that rejects concentration of power into the hands of a single individual. It reflects the structure of many organized indigenous communities. “We reject an occidental individualist conception of politics” has argued a CIG delegate. The council operates based on the the rule of mandar obedeciendo (“ruling by obeying”), an oxymoron reflecting the ambivalent nature of power, which shapes autonomous self-government in Zapatismo. The challenge will be now to apply this principle to the functioning of the state.

The spokesperson for this network – and presidential candidate – is María de Jesús Patricio, known as Marichuy, an indigenous Nahuatl woman born in Tuxpan, a small town of the state of Jalisco where she grew up in poverty. “We had to propose one individual candidate” a council member argued “simply because the national law does not allow registering a full assembly or a council … Thus we are registering our spokesperson in order to comply with the Electoral Law, but the council will always come first”.

María directs a health center in the Calli neighborhood of Tuxpam since 1995, where indigenous medicine is practiced and researched. “Through the health center we defend traditional medicine, indigenous territories, and the mother earth based on an anti-capitalist approach and the libertarian struggle of the indigenous people”. Having directly experienced from a young age poverty and oppression, María de Jesus was deeply inspired by the Zapatista uprising of 1994. And she became a founding member of the CNI.

In her first press conference (May 2017) she remarked that the aim of the indigenous coalition is not to collect votes or achieve power positions. “Our engagement” she said “is for life, for organization, and for the reconstitution of our people who have been under attack for centuries. Time has come to find a new configuration for us to keep existing.” She suggested that this is also an invitation for all oppressed sectors of society to “join the struggle and destroy a system that is about to exterminate us … This is a real alternative to the war that we are experiencing”.

A tension this initiative will need to address, is that for a project going far beyond the 2018 electoral deadline, the symbolic weight and historical momentum of proposing (for the first time ever) a female indigenous candidate for presidency are there and need to be considered. Even more after the recent earthquake that revealed, once more, governmental incompetence and inconsistency, the egalitarian agenda of the EZLN-CNI could resonate among sectors of the population who are not organized or politicized, but who would be happy to be governed by somebody like María de Jesús Patricio.

At the time of writing, the campaign for the presidential election has just kicked off. For María to be able to participate in the electoral process almost a million signatures distributed in at least 17 states will need to be collected and submitted to the National Electoral Institute. This calls for an exceptional logistic effort. Furthermore, many members of the organizations composing the CNI are not even registered citizens, and they have no voting credential. This is in some cases due to marginalization. However, this is mainly the result of a choice to be fully independent from the state.

Perhaps the electoral mobilization of these anti-citizens will play a key role in the strategy adopted by the CNI-EZLN – as the participation of unarmed soldiers was symbolically fundamental in the 1994 uprising. As always when it comes to Zapatismo, one needs to be prepared for the unexpected. A delegate of the CNI observes that “in 94 nobody could imagine autonomous schools, hospitals and Caracoles”. Today it is impossible to foresee how things will develop. For this campaign to be successful the coalition will have to mobilize non-indigenous sectors of Mexican society, including students, peasants and workers.


Ciccariello Maher, George. 2016. Bulding the Commune. Radical Democracy in Venezuela. London: Verso
Fernández Savater, Amador. 2016. “Del paradigma del gobierno al paradigma del habitar: por un cambio de cultura política”. El Diario 11 March.
Toledo, Victor. 2016. “México: la rebelión silenciosa ya comenzó”. La Jornada, 13 September.

Alessandro Zagato