“Spokesperson for the people and candidate for the media”: An indigenous woman for the 2018 presidential elections in Mexico

Reblogged from Focaal Blog

Alessandro Zagato

María de Jesús Patricio, known as Marichuy, is an indigenous Nahuatl woman born on 23 December 1963 in Tuxpan (“land of rabbits”), a small town located in the south of the state of Jalisco, where she grew up in a condition of extreme poverty. She is mother of three. As a child, she spent time observing older women from her family practicing traditional medicine. They were performing rituals and preparing oils and medicaments to heal people in their community. Over the years, she became a practitioner. In an interview of some years ago, (Tukari 2010: 12) she recalls that a mentor once warned her not to profit from her ancestral knowledge, because “the light protecting you would extinguish,” he argued, and she would no longer be effective as a healer. Her wisdom increased significantly as she started giving workshops around the region. Since 1995, María directs a health center in the Calli neighborhood of Tuxpam, where indigenous medicine is practiced and researched. Since then, she has received several public recognitions for her work, which focuses, she argues, in healing the community rather than just individual diseases. “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” (University of Guadalajara 2015).

Marichuy (photograph by Las Abejas de Acteal)

The Zapatista uprising of 1994 inspired her deeply. Seeing people coming from an even poorer area of the country rising up in arms against oppression motivated her political engagement. That same year, her community was invited to participate in a national indigenous forum organized by the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN) in San Cristobal de Las Casas (Chiapas), and her people sent her as a delegate. María immediately associated with the other members of that network, which since then became her space of action and organization. Within the forum, she has raised awareness on gender equality and the fundamental role played by women in the urgent task that native groups in Mexico refer to as the “full reconstruction of the indigenous peoples of the country.” In March 2001, when the EZLN occupied the tribune of the Chamber of Deputies to defend the San Andrés Agreements,[1] she intervened with a powerful speech on the indigenous people’s struggle for equality.

On Sunday, 28 May 2017, in the auditorium of the CIDECI (Earth University) of San Cristobal de Las Casas, packed with 1,480 delegates of the CNI (National Indigenous Congress) and invitees from across the country, in an atmosphere charged with excitement and momentum, María was unanimously designated as the spokesperson for the newly confirmed Indigenous Government Council (CIG), a national assembly of 71 delegates representing around 93 indigenous communities and organizations. With the full support of the EZLN (who actually conceived of this initiative), Maria will run as an independent candidate to the presidency of the country in the 2018 elections representing the CIG and the EZLN. She will act as the spokesperson for this network. “We had to propose one individual candidate,” argued Mario Luna Romero, leader of the Yaqui Tribe (Sonora) during the first press conference of the CIG, “simply because the national law does not allow registering a full assembly.”

The CIG will therefore act as an intermediate institution, a hybrid body situated between the state apparatus and society, between the government and the organized people adhering to the CNI. It epitomizes a decentered conception of political representation that rejects concentration of power into the hands of a single individual. “We reject an occidental individualist conception of politics,” argued a delegate. Any act or declaration issued by the candidate will be the expression of a popular will—and it will follow the rule of mandar obedeciendo (“ruling by obeying”) shaping autonomous self-government in Zapatismo.

The adoption of this strategy as a means to open a new cycle of struggles in Mexico was announced by the CNI-EZLN in October last year during the fifth national congress of the CNI. “May the earth tremble at its core” is the heading of the manifesto issued during that gathering. The document (EZLN 2016a) calls “on all of 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 emphasizes the will to “construct a new nation by and for everyone, by strengthening power from below and the anti-capitalist left.”

The proposal came up as a huge surprise for people within and outside the indigenous movement. It immediately produced astonishment and a heated debate. Right after the announcement, Subcomandante Galeano (previously Marcos) encouraged the attendees to “take the idea of subversion seriously and turn everything upside down, starting from your own heart.”

The proposal was a real blast. On the one hand, it offers a mind-blowing possibility to the broad indigenous movement of Mexico. A member of the CNI prophetically claims this will be “a nonviolent uprising, the last one in the history of the indigenous peoples of Mexico.” However, it also needed (and still needs) time to be properly processed. And there are several reasons for this.

“Elections” is a particularly controversial topic among Mexican activists. The political subjectivity that the EZLN has tried to promote among its members, allies, and followers is radically heterogeneous to the state and its procedures, especially elections. Even in recent times, the comandancia of the EZLN has repeated that “as Zapatistas, we don’t call for people not to vote, nor do we call for them to vote. As Zapatistas, every time we get the chance we tell people that they should organize to resist and struggle for what they need.” “Our dreams don’t fit in your ballot boxes,” they insist (EZLN 2016b), suggesting that their revolutionary project goes far beyond the governmental logic.

Although they have never explicitly called for abstention, at least since the rupture of the San Andrés Agreements, the approach chosen by the Zapatistas is framed by the idea of “autonomy.” The noncompliance by the national political system has pushed the EZLN towards “auto-applying” the agreements in their own territories, and on their own terms. Over the years, autonomy became an axiom for the multiplicity of organized realities spread over the Mexican territory.

Furthermore, many members of these organizations are not even registered citizens, and they have no voting credential. This is partly because of the oblivion to which national politics has condemned many groups living at the margins. Nevertheless, this is also the result of a choice to be fully independent from the state.

Some commentators are ironically asking how these anti-citizens will vote. Definitely, their mobilization in the electoral process will be paradoxical. Symbolically, they remind of those milicianos of the EZLN who fought the Federal Army with wooden rifles in 1994, whose image resonated around the globe. The contribution and sacrifice of those rebels was a statement on war and revolutionary commitment. They represent the often “illogical logic” followed by the Zapatistas, a movement that was able to creatively transform revolutionary warfare into an imaginative and essentially peaceful political process. What I am suggesting here is that even with the current electoral initiative, one must be prepared for the unexpected.

Another critical point is the unfavorable conjuncture in which this initiative is taking place: a context shaped by a generalized discredit in the electoral option. The power of national governments, including those that are less aligned with the logics of global capitalism, does not seem strong enough to change things in a single nation-state—particularly in Latin America, where the apparent downturn of the “pink tide” (the cycle of progressive governments that have shaped the region since the early 2000s) is giving rise to a new wave of free-market ideology (see the Focaalblog feature). Arguably, times are calling for resistance rather than electoral engagement.

However, the primary aim of the initiative of the CNI-EZLN is not an electoral victory. Elections are just being used as a frame, an expedient, a vessel, a launch ramp from where to open unprecedented political possibilities. In her first press conference, María de Jesús Patricio remarked that the aim of the indigenous coalition is not to collect votes and 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 added 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.”

We know that for the indigenous candidate to participate in the electoral process, almost a million signatures distributed in at least 17 states must be collected and submitted to the National Electoral Institute. This calls for an extraordinary collective and logistic effort. Mexico has around 125 million inhabitants, out of which 11 million recognize themselves as indigenous. The signatures obtained in the communities of the CNI—EZLN will not be enough. A key factor for the success of this campaign will be the coalition’s capacity to mobilize nonindigenous sectors of Mexican society.

Alessandro Zagato is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Egalitarianism project at the University of Bergen. He is currently conducting fieldwork among rural communities in the south of Mexico. He has recently edited (with Bruce Kapferer) The Event of Charlie Hebdo: Imaginaries of Freedom and Control (Berghahn Books, 2015).


[1] The San Andres Agreements on Indigenous Rights and Culture were signed by the Mexican government and the EZLN in February 1996 as a commitment to modify the national constitution to grant rights, including autonomy, to the indigenous peoples of Mexico.


Sobre el Festival COMPARTE: análisis general de obras de arte zapatistas.

  • Después de compartir el comparte con los maestros en el bloqueo de Chiapas, de asistir al Festival CompARTE en el CIDECI y de viajar a cada uno de los cinco caracoles zapatistas, GIAP (Grupo de Investigación en Arte y Política) prepara actualmente un texto sobre cómo percibió la participación y las propuestas artísticas de las comunidades zapatistas durante el desarrollo del Festival en los Caracoles. El siguiente es un extracto de ese ensayo. 
Danza- performance sobre la «Marcha del Silencio» representada por un grupo de jóvenes del Caracol Roberto Barrios.

El EZLN es una guerrilla que desde sus inicios en la clandestinidad incorporó el elemento cultural en sus cuadros militares. Contaba el finado Subcomandante Marcos que en los años ‘80 en los rigores de la selva, se daban el tiempo y el espacio para crear piezas de teatro o leer poesía. Con el tiempo y alentados por la práctica cultural habitual de las comunidades indígenas, la milicia realizaba ya no sólo canciones o piezas teatrales sino que hasta simulaban programas de televisión para ellos mismos.

El zapatismo, entonces, no solo es una estructura política – poética (como hemos comentado en nuestros escritos anteriores) sino que es también un diseminador de micro estéticas asentadas tanto en la milicia como en las comunidades bases de apoyo, a través de obras de arte de carácter muy definido. Este germen cultural (prácticas artísticas pre- existentes en los pueblos antes del inicio del EZLN, más el interés particular de la guerrilla por las creaciones culturales) es lo que seguramente explica el enorme volumen de propuestas de arte que concurrieron a la convocatoria del Festival Comparte en su llamado interno a las comunidades.

Lo que anteriormente hemos llamado “producción estética interna del zapatismo”, mostró en las participaciones de cada una de los 5 Caracoles una notoria continuidad formal y temática, como si fueran parte de un programa de contenidos preestablecido (algo que en ningún caso podemos afirmar ni confirmar). Al respecto, es más factible sostener que en el movimiento zapatista, al no obedecer al individualismo romántico que exalta el sistema neoliberal en las artes (por ejemplo en sus formas de ficción subjetiva, ansiedades modernas y dudas existenciales), los temas son naturalmente colectivos, autónomos y referidos a su propia historia de liberación.  

Con leves diferencias en la calidad de la ejecución (unos lograban mejor que otros la conclusión de la propuesta artística), podemos englobar las prácticas de arte zapatista en las siguientes disciplinas: teatro, danza, música, poesía, pintura y escultura, más una muy interesante pero aún escasa presencia de la performance.  

A la vez, se puede proponer una línea de contenidos que es al mismo tiempo una línea temporal y narrativa. Un primer eje aborda el Pasado, representado principalmente por el teatro y la danza. En este espacio temático/temporal, se reflejaron las cosmologías indígenas de los abuelos y los antepasados mayas, principalmente en danzas de carácter ritual para la agricultura, la lluvia y la fecundidad de la tierra, acompañados de música repetitiva y elementos naturales como hojas, maíz y fuego. También en esta circunscripción, ubicamos las obras de teatro donde se relató la explotación colonial, latifundista y partidista. Con la participación de comunidades enteras, estas puestas en escena de larga duración (un promedio de 2 a 3 horas, con diálogos y escenas de tiempo real, es decir, en función del tiempo correlativo a lo representado) detallan los abusos y atrocidades sufridas por los pueblos chiapanecos antes del Zapatismo.      

Mención aparte merece el género musical del corrido mexicano, cuyos más conocidos representantes, “Los Originales de San Andrés”, cuentan la historia de la organización clandestina, del levantamiento zapatista y de los principales hitos milicianos, con fecha, nombre y lugar. por ejemplo, su canción más popular comienza así: Primer día de enero, año del 94….

El segundo espacio temático/temporal es la línea que aborda el Presente. Son aquellas creaciones destinadas a contar cómo se practica la autonomía, cómo deciden y laboran las JBG, los colectivos de trabajo, cómo se vive la resistencia diaria, cómo se forman los promotores de salud y educación, etc. Representados estos temas también mediante obras de teatro, donde se demostraba expresamente cada paso de los procesos autonomistas y se ejemplificaba en el Realismo desde la venta de ganado hasta la instalación de las tiendas de productos, así como se satirizaba a partidistas, paramilitares y medios de comunicación de paga.

En este conjunto también incluimos las pinturas, disciplina que refleja los procederes del proyecto autónomo: escenas de milpas de trabajo colectivo se funden con imágenes de resistencia ante la presencia militar, en composiciones atiborradas dispuestas en el plano abierto sin la perspectiva de profundidad clásica, llenos de color, similares a los conocidos murales zapatistas pero incluyendo más dibujo, más elementos, más información visual. Estas pinturas fueron realizadas en equipo, en colectivo, como todas las piezas de arte zapatista y eran presentadas en el escenario del festival con una detallada descripción de cada escena y cada elemento. Destacó la representación frecuente de la Hidra Capitalista, concepto que se adhiere al vocabulario zapatista en años recientes y que ejemplifica al monstruo de mil cabezas del capitalismo salvaje.  

También en esta clasificación de espacio/tiempo cabrían las esculturas, piezas de tamaño mediano que eran exhibidas en los templetes del espectáculo, realizadas en materiales disponibles en las zonas zapatistas como madera, mimbre y barro. Representaban a los propios zapatistas o a sus herramientas de trabajo diario.

En el orden del Futuro, cabrían principalmente las alabanzas sobre la autonomía zapatista, que se oyeron en declamaciones de poemas. Estas presentaciones orales de una o más personas proyectan en la poesía los caminos de la autonomía en base al esfuerzo del ser colectivo, la fuerza de las mujeres y el respeto por la madre tierra.

Un poema que particularmente llamó nuestra atención fue presentado en el Caracol Morelia. Titulado Colectivo, cada letra era vestida y presentada por un zapatista quien declamaba un texto sobre un concepto relacionado a la respectiva letra (C: comunidad, O: organización, L: Libertad…) hasta formar la palabra total: C-O-L-E-C-T-I-V-O. Nos recordó las formas de las exaltaciones al Estado soviético o chino.

Fuera de tiempo ubicamos las performances que son también meta análisis de la estética zapatista: una fue la irrupción en el terreno bajo el escenario de Morelia de dos bases de apoyo representando a los dos “Subs”, Galeano y Moisés, cruzando de un lado a otro y reproduciendo un diálogo sobre el caminar zapatista.  

Las otras dos performances que vimos fueron particularmente potentes y pertenecen al mismo grupo de jóvenes zapatistas del Caracol Roberto Barrios. Una consistió en la cita a la “Marcha del Silencio” (esa gran performance multitudinaria que los zapatistas realizaron el 21 de diciembre del 2012). Danzando en circulo al compás de un sonido ritual, los chicos se basaron en registros fotográficos fáciles de identificar para representar las siluetas zapatistas más icónicas de esa jornada memorable.

La siguiente presentación performática mantuvo la estructura de la danza de carácter ritual con elementos coreográficos basados en imágenes visuales de los medios de comunicación alternativos. En este segundo caso, se citó el Homenaje al Maestro Galeano, puntualmente la ceremonia de colocación de piedras en su tumba del Caracol de la Realidad, evento que ocurrió el 24 de mayo del 2014. Girando en círculo, los chicos fueron colocando piedras en la tumba donde, de manera extraordinariamente simbólica, la foto del maestro Galeano fue sustituida por la del Subcomandante Galeano.

Estos dos últimos actos fueron realmente extraordinarios en riqueza de contenidos, portadores de múltiples capas de lectura estética. Una verdadera bomba semiótica para el arte del futuro.  

Al final del día, podemos sostener que, Uno, el arte zapatista está cumpliendo la doble función de, por un lado, narrar oralmente su historia para el ejercicio de la memoria colectiva, y por otra parte, de preservar y pedagogizar sobre la praxis cotidiana de la autonomía. Ambos elementos son adherentes a la tradición cultural indígena maya y responden a la necesidad de resistencia a largo plazo en el contexto contemporáneo.    

Dos, que el arte zapatista acudió al Festival en una estrategia de movilización de masas donde no hubo una pre selección tendiente a definir quién era mejor artista que otro; más bien, se establece formalmente que sobre el rol múltiple del zapatista (que es campesino, promotor, miliciano y artista también al mismo tiempo) no hay parámetros definitorios ni clasificaciones académicas o eurocentristas válidas de aplicar.

Tres, que el arte zapatista es descolonizado, no elitista, no profesional, no mercantilizado, y que ha confirmado la constitución de una estructura poética autónoma profundamente política.


(Entrevista) Adherentes de la Sexta desplazados de la comunidad de Shulvo, Zinacantán, ocupan la Plaza de la Resistencia en San Cristóbal de las Casas.

juan perez

Con cortes de energía eléctrica y del suministro de agua, además del robo de sus celulares, comenzaron los hostigamientos en la localidad de Shulvo, Municipio de Zinacantán, Chiapas, contra 9 familias adherentes a la Sexta Declaración de la Selva Lacandona. Forzados por la violencia a retirarse de sus casas y abandonar sus milpas y pertenencias, con amenazas como “los vamos a colgar y desaparecerlos porque el gobierno no quiere gente organizada” desde principios de diciembre del 2015 viven hacinados en San Cristóbal de las Casas. Desde el 3 de febrero ocupan el área norte de la Plaza de la Resistencia, a los pies de la Catedral que por estos días se engalana para la visita del Papa Francisco.

GIAP se acercó hasta el campamento para conversar con el representante de las familias desplazadas, Juan Pérez Pérez, del Municipio Autónomo Vicente Guerrero:

GIAP: Cuáles son los antecedentes del este conflicto?

JP: Nosotros somos adherentes de la Sexta y desplazados, somos 47 personas entre todas las familias, contando chicos y grandes. Los priístas de Shulvo no quieren gente organizada, por eso empezaron a quebrar mi casa y mis vehículos, dos vehículos quedaron ahí con mi casa, todo lo rompieron. Nos corrieron con palos y piedras, mi familia se fue a las 08:30 de la mañana y yo me quedé adentro encerrado, ahí estuve dos días y dos noches encerrado sin tomar nada de alimento hasta que mi esposa logró sacarme con el fiscal del ministerio público en la tarde del día 11 de diciembre.

Estamos en plantón porque no hay solución, ni el presidente municipal no quiere resolver ni el delegado de gobierno tampoco y por eso estamos acá en la lucha indefinida hasta que haya solución: queremos retornar a nuestra casa, que nos pague el daño, que se castigue al culpable también.

GIAP: ¿Hace cuánto tiempo que ya venían sufriendo los hostigamientos?

JP: Ya desde ahorita sale dos meses , desde el 9 de diciembre estamos rentando cuarto aquí en San Cristóbal con todas mis familias, 32 personas estamos rentando casa aquí y aparte quedaron 15 personas ahí en la comunidad y ahora queremos retornar y que haya solución, ojalá que tarde o temprano, mañana, haya solución.

GIAP: Cuál es la participación de la CFE (Compañía Federal de Electricidad) en el proceso de expulsión?

JP: Se nos cortó la luz el 3 de noviembre con la comisión y todo el grupo de priístas en Shulvo. Después de 35 días sin electricidad compramos un cable y pedimos permiso en los DDHH, pero ya el 9 de diciembre nos cortaron el suministro de nuevo, ahí el Mariano Pérez (agente municipal de Shulvo) y Mariano Ruiz Vázquez (suplente) empezaron a tirar piedras, a romper nuestra casa y vehículos.


GIAP: Cómo es la relación entre familias de priístas y familias de adherentes en su comunidad?

JP: Es que no quieren que se organice la gente , somos de la Sexta Declaración, Municipio Autónomo Vicente Guerrero, por eso solamente nos rompieron la casa.

GIAP: Y ahora mismo qué está pasando con su casa y con sus tierras?

JP: Ahí quedaron mis 40 pollos, 15 guajolotes, 5 gansos, 5 patos, 10 conejos , todos mis animales quedaron ahí , mi señora está preocupada por los animalitos, además estaban listos para vender en diciembre pues. Pero nos corrieron de la comunidad con palos y piedras, ahí quedó todo mi maíz. Salimos con lo puesto.

GIAP: Y piensa que están las condiciones para la paz en su comunidad?

JP: Yo quiero paz y libertad y solución pronto, si no hay solución aquí estamos en plantón.

GIAP: Si pudieran regresar a sus tierras, qué condiciones deben darse para poder permanecer ahí en paz?

JP: Pues que haya garantías, que nos paguen el daño y que entremos en la comunidad sin multas que nos quieren cobrar.



After Ayotzinapa: building autonomy in a civil war

roar ayotzi.PNG

Confronted with the escalating violence of state-supported narco-capitalism, ordinary Mexicans are increasingly taking matters into their own hands.

Alessandro Zagato (originally published in Roarmag.org)

A vicious war is tormenting Mexico: a silent war that rarely reaches the headlines of the international media. An inner war which many occidental powers have been following carefully, always monitoring their own interests in the area.

This is a war for the appropriation of resources, for infrastructural development, for control over territories, for the implementation of a new order — a war waged against whoever tries to resist or strike back.

Between 2007 and 2014, at least 164,000 people have been murdered in Mexico, more than have died in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq over the same time period. According to the Secretary of Public Security, more than 25,000 people are currently reported missing. These are enormous figures that still fail to account for the amount of brutality afflicting Mexican society, the trauma suffered by countless communities from Sonora to Chiapas, and the magnitude of the social transformation underway.

A peculiar aesthetics of militarism is felt when traveling through the country; ubiquitous military bases and checkpoints, high-caliber weapons displayed by policemen and soldiers in ski-masks. All this along with the military presence in the news, videos of gunfights, and graphic photos of brutalized bodies splashed on front pages. All becoming part of everyday life right throughout the country.

This visual landscape is pushing people into a culture of aggression and fear, generating disorientation and social meltdown. In the military domain, each operation is open-ended and comes backed with intelligence and psychological warfare. “Military operations are truly a manner of speaking,” noted theInvisible Committee, “hence every major operation is above all a communication operation whose every act, even a minor act, speaks louder than words.” Waging war today is “first and foremost to manage perceptions, the perceptions of the set of actors whether close by or far away, direct or indirect.”



The “War on Drugs” is the narrative device chosen by the government and the media to explain and justify processes of rampant militarization and violence throughout Mexico. President Felipe Calderón introduced this idea in 2006 at the beginning of his mandate. He borrowed it from the United States, which has been applying it for decades in Latin America as a counter-insurgency technique. It is not a surprise, then, that the government’s strategy to supposedly “eradicate” drug trafficking is strictly military in nature.

Like the trope of “Islamic terror” in Europe, the problem of drug trafficking is ideologically constructed as a threat emanating from the disadvantaged sectors of society, whereby young people are supposed to be eager to become the workforce of criminal networks. In a country like Mexico, with poverty levels among the highest in the world, potential “enemies” can be found anywhere. Just like “Islamic terror”, the “War on Drugs” has also served as a pretext to increase military expenditures, which have tripled since 2006, and to diversify law enforcement strategies.

The pipe dream of the War on Drugs crumbled spectacularly under the weight of recent events, which have provided evidence of a very different rationale for violence and militarization. At the time of writing, Rubén Espinosa (31) a photojournalist for the investigative magazine Proceso, was brutally executed in Mexico City, together with activist Nadia Vera (32) and three other women who were with them when the killers broke into the apartment where they had been staying. The victims were tortured before being shot to death. Three of the women also showed signs of sexual abuse.

Both Rubén and Nadia had recently escaped from their home state of Veracruz after becoming the subject of repeated death threats from unidentified suspects they identified as henchmen of Governor Javier Duarte (a member of the ruling party PRI). Rubén and Nadia had been actively opposing Duarte’s repressive administration, publicly denouncing corruption and reporting on local protests.

In an interview with Rompeviento TV, an independent news outlet, Nadia had declared that “we hold Governor Duarte and his cabinet responsible for anything that could occur to those involved in these types of activities.” On another occasion, Rubén had said: “I don’t want to be a number 13 or 14,” referring to the amount of media workers who have been murdered in Veracruz since Duarte took office in 2011.

As usual, cases like this present all sorts of irregularities and inconsistencies and facts get muddled in the investigation, including severe delays in evidence collection, leaks from the prosecutor’s office, unexplored clues, lack of a clear motive, and so on. There is little hope that any official inquiry will reach the conclusion that the murders were, in fact, not related to theft or drug trafficking (a key line of investigation, based on the fact that one of the victims was Colombian) but rather a political assassination.



There is a tendency in Mexico to rhetorically compare current forms of oppression to the Latin American dictatorships of the 1970s and the 1980s. This analysis is misleading and fails to appreciate the novelty of the situation.

Today, the nexus of power in Mexico is shaped by an unprecedented overlap of state agencies, organized crime and private corporations. However, these forces tend not to converge into a linear project. Their synergy is fluid and crystallizes into dispersed clusters of power, acting independently from one another and eventually clashing with one another.

In such an unstable and fragmented configuration of power, which has inspired talk of a narco-state or narco-capitalism, control and repression do not fully originate from a recognizable centralized apparatus, but mainly from discrete, semi-independent bodies with specific aims. Paradoxically, by using this very unstable scope of alliances and loyalties, state entities can simultaneously act as anti-state forces.

Military and paramilitary gangs related to various levels of state power operate in the shadows, without any defined material or geographic limits. They offer no respect for the law and society and act solely in the name of whoever is paying — be it a narco boss, a politician, a state agency, a multinational corporation, or a coalition interested in, for example, intimidating a group opposing the implementation of a mining project on their communal lands.

These clusters of power move through periodical divisions and shifts in loyalty, making each situation complicated and very dynamic — and therefore difficult to interpret. Fabio Mini, a NATO general, has noted that the problem of soldiers and police officers today “is not to understand why they are performing a given task, but to understand who they are working for.” From a different perspective, a member of the Popular Movement of Guerrero (PMG) said that “when a cop shows up, you never know if he is coming to you as a state official or a killer.”

Entire sections of the police and the army can easily turn into mercenary forces, as happened in the remarkable case of the Zetas, one of the most feared of the Mexican narco cartels, whose founding members had previously belonged to elite units of the Federal Army. These men had been trained in the 1990s by the American secret services, the Guatemalan Kaibiles and elite troops from the Israeli army to be employed as a counter-insurgency force against the Zapatistas. Their exit from the regular army did not cause a complete rupture with the state, but established complex new pathways of cooperation.

Even more than the widespread and extreme forms of abuse and arbitrariness shaping the situation, what is striking is the generalized condition of impunity benefiting the criminals, which paradoxically becomes one of the concrete principles for the cohesion of Mexican statehood itself.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein recently denounced Mexico’s 98 percent impunity rate, noting that “most crimes aren’t even investigated.” This approach sends a clear message to both those who own the means to commit abuse and those who are resisting and fighting against injustice.



An essential aspect of this war is that it assists the implementation of tremendous infrastructural mega-projects that bring about enormous social and environmental impacts, such as the construction of new highways and airports, the new extractive policies for which 25 per cent of the national territory has been handed over to mining and oil corporations, the massive implementation of mono-culture systems in rural areas, and the elaboration of new “schemes” by the Federal Government, like the one establishing “Special Economic Zones” (SEZ) in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Guerrero.

According to Treasury Secretary Luis Videgaray Caso, “in these states the positive effects of the entry into force of the Free Trade Agreement and of Mexico’s entry into the global economy haven’t been observed.” A key concept behind SEZ is to facilitate the appropriation of these regions and their resources by capital through special tax-regimes, a strategic geography and cheap labor.

The impact of these infrastructural developments and the violence that is used to apply them brings to mind an environmental war: the environment is modified to cause physical, economic and social decay. Environmental war requires traditional forms of armed struggle, but as Fabio Mini highlights, it can also adopt new technologies and psychological warfare, which includes the denial of access to information, services, knowledge and technologies.

At the same time conflict and resistance proliferate, especially in regions where the population has a tight economic, cultural and political grip on the territory — like in the tierras ejidales, where local communities manage land collectively. It is towards these groups that the aggression is felt the most. AsSubcomandante Marcos of the Zapatistas (now renamed Galeano) has noted:

It is necessary to destroy the conquered territory and depopulate it, that is, to destroy its social fabric. Speaking here of the annihilation of everything that provides cohesion to a society. But war from above does not stop there. Simultaneously, destruction and depopulation is believed to be how the reconstruction of that territory and the reordering of its social fabric will come about. But now it comes with a different logic, a different method, different actors, and a different objective. In short: war imposes a new geography.

The final aim seems to be the disruption of any cooperative bonds between people and the spaces that they inhabit: their individualization, their submission and their dependency on external forces, which is to be the prerequisite for the enforcement of a rationality of plain profit.

According to Raúl Zibechi, mega-projects and extractivism generate “a society without subjects,” because “there can be no subjects within a scorched-earth model… There can only be objects.”

Far from being an exceptional event, the ambush orchestrated on the night of the September 26, 2014 against a group of first-year students of the Escuela Normal Isidro Burgos of Ayotzinapa (Tixtla, Guerrero) fits into the context of civil war, catapulting yet another sinister message out to all those who dare to disrupt the plans of the powerful in Mexico.

Nevertheless, it is hard find a coherent explanation for the aggression, taking into account the scale of the event, the excess of violence which the victims endured and the fact that 43 of them are still missing. It is also hard to imagine how the perpetrators could possibly think they would get away with such an offense.

Some clues stem from the fact that one of the biggest Latin American gold mines is located some meters away from where the attack took place. It is supposed to hold more than 60 million tons of gold. Ayotzinapa is also home to a region known by locals as “New Afghanistan” due to its massive production of opium poppies and the processing of heroin.



The student body of the Escuela Normal Rural Isidro Burgos is entirely made up of peasant children from the most impoverished areas of Guerrero. The school has a strong tradition of political struggle, being linked to the Federation of Socialist Peasant Students of Mexico, one of the most consistently radical student organizations in the country.

The Escuelas Rurales Normales came about in the wake of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-’20, following the model of the Soviet Union’s Collective Farm Schools. They promote values related to agriculture and peasant life, their mission being to create teachers willing to bring education to the most remote and poorest communities of the nation.

Many illustrious revolutionaries studied in Ayotzinapa, like Othón Salazar Ramírez, leader of the greatest teachers’ movement seen in the country’s history, and Lucio Cabañas Barrientos, who started the so-called “poor people’s guerrilla” and died in 1974 in a confrontation with the Federal Army.

The school resembles a Zapatista caracol, made up as it is of rectangular two-story buildings covered with colorful political murals. A basketball court is located at its core, constituting a lively space where political meetings, collective mills and religious celebrations take place on a daily basis. On one side, 43 orange chairs are set out in four rows, each representing one of the missing students, and decorated by friends and family members with photos, objects and quotes representing them.

Ayotzinapa is fully managed by the student committee and provides production units where the students can familiarize themselves with the concrete aspects of working collectively in agriculture and farming. What is produced in the units covers approximately 15 percent of the school’s budget.

Due to their egalitarian ethos, the Normal Rural Schools were excluded from the priorities of the federal government shortly after their foundation, and allocated funds dropped dramatically. Teachers and students have since needed to build stronger ties with nearby communities, which contributed to a growing sense of autonomy within the schools.

After the 1968 student movement, more than a half of the schools were closed, accused of being a breeding ground for subversives and guerrillas. Today, just 16 out of 35 have survived. “They lost their reason to exist,” Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong recently declared — to which the normalistasresponded that “as long as there will be poverty in Mexico, the Normal Rural Schools will have their reason to exist.”



On the night of the September 26, 2014, a group of roughly 80 first-year students were traveling to the city of Iguala (90 miles away) to realize a fund-raising activity for participating in a march commemorating the Tlatelolco massacre of October 2, 1968, in Mexico City.

They were traveling on two buses and picked up a third one along the way. After having occupied two more vehicles in Iguala, at around 9.30pm they were about to leave the central bus station and return to Ayotzinapa when the assault begun. From that moment, gangs of armed men — along with municipal, state and federal police corps — ambushed and repeatedly attacked the buses and their passengers with heavy firearms at nine different locations in and around Iguala.

The night resulted in six people murdered, 40 wounded, and 43 missing. The body of a fourth student, the sixth confirmed victim of the attack, was discovered the morning after: 22-year-old Julio Cesar Mondragon is found lying on the ground with his skin and eyes ripped off his face.

According to the official version of events, policemen of the neighboring town Cocula, whose under-chief Cesar Nava followed the orders of the Guerreros Unidos, one of the cartels operating in the state of Guerrero, took the students from the police station of Iguala to an unknown place and handed them to members of the cartel. Attorney General Murillo Karam declared that the missing students were almost certainly executed by cartel members and incinerated at a rubbish dump outside of Cocula. He notably presented this version as a “historical truth”.

However, this narrative was dismissed at least in part by a group of independent experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, whose latest report describes the alleged incineration of the victims at the Cocula trash dump as “scientifically impossible.”

According to the independent commission, the Federal Army participated in monitoring the students throughout the night, with military intelligence members stationed at two of the locations where some of the victims were killed and kidnapped, meaning that the attacks were jointly coordinated by various elements of the police force and the army.

The official investigation has been further discredited through the detection of errors, lies, inconsistencies and irregularities in statements made by the government and the police, whose actions have included the likely use of torture in order to obtain information.

The search for truth and justice by independent movements has revealed a bleak scenario of widespread corruption and a deepening humanitarian crisis, in which extrajudicial mass kidnappings, torture and executions constitute common practice. Since September 26, 2014 several clandestine burial sites filled with non-identified bodies have been unearthed in the region. An estimated 129 bodies have since been found in and around the city of Iguala.

The logic of these atrocities tends to transcend a centralized conception of the status quo, reflecting a new, contradictory, scattered, dynamic and hardly decipherable image of the Mexican state.

“Previously, you knew who your enemies were, who could attack you and who could not,” said a member of the PMG. Today, by contrast, “the army is dispersed and makes decisions autonomously.” The extreme violence shaping military and paramilitary actions in the country, as well as the certainty of impunity its members can count on, serves to feed the apparent sense of irrationality of a war machine — intimidating and discouraging any attempt to resist.

The state has banned an independent inquiry into the army, which further accentuates the sense of injustice that underlies this case. “We can’t see any progress. Information is kept secret,” said a father of a missing student. “An independent investigation into the army is necessary because they took part in the attacks.”

One mother said: “after one year we are not expecting anything from the state, just negativity. To what extent does the army make decisions in our country?” she asks. The legal path to justice has clearly not been functioning at all.

In the meantime, on October 18, a fiction movie titled The Night of Igualapremiered in the cinemas. The plot was written by pro-government journalist Jorge Fernandez Menendez and based on the supposed “historical truth.” Yet the movie was produced without consulting any of the victims. “It is part of a smear campaign orchestrated by the government,” declared a survivor. “It is a media war.”

However, after Ayotzinapa, something has snapped among the people of Mexico. Ayotzinapa has opened many people’s eyes to the situation and has paved the way for new windows of possibility and opportunities for action. “You took them alive, we want them alive!” and “It was the state!” were the slogans under which families, colleagues and broad sectors of civil society started a process of struggle, which is anything but exhausted today, over one year after the mass kidnapping.



Sentiments of rage and revenge are strong among the students. “Sometimes it gives you the will to drop the banners and pick up arms, as our comrade Lucio Cabañas did,” admits a survivor. “But we are aware of the dangers of doing so at this stage.” Indeed, an upsurge of violent conflict would play into the unconventional warfare game of the armed gangs, and it would disrupt and crush the emerging forms of resistance.

Provocations aimed at escalating the conflict have been increasing exponentially. Over the last year, for example, the Zapatistas have had to deal with the murder of teacher Galeano in La Realidad, in May 2014, committed by paramilitaries of the CIOAC-H, a peasant organization controlled by the ruling parties.

When Galeano was killed, a large contingent of the EZLN was sent to La Realidad not just to guarantee a decent level of security to the Zapatistas living there, but also, arguably, to make sure that nobody would undertake acts of punishment against the perpetrators. The slogan launched by the EZLN straight after the murder and written everywhere on signboards and walls at the entrance of each Zapatista community and caracol of Chiapas — “Galeano: justice not revenge!” — served to define the line of action for the movement.

Recently, two of the conspirators to the murder returned home “fat and happy.” They were supposedly being held prisoner for the assassination, but they had been secretly brought back to La Realidad where they revealed that “they weren’t held prisoner at all. They were given a place to stay and were receiving plenty of attention and congratulations from governor Manuel Velasco and the leaders of the CIOAC-H. They were told to wait a while before “resuming the work left pending.” This is an overt declaration of war against the military authority of the EZLN.

In Ayotzinapa, it has been the families of the missing who have kept the students’ thirst for revenge in check. “In the meetings between parents, we decided that this courage, this rage be put to work in political activities,” said a mother. “There was an alteration of our nervous system. We often had frantic reactions. Fortunately, many comrades helped us keeping the rage in check and keeping our communities united. This has been decisive. “Although the state and the political parties have tried everything to divide us, it didn’t happen. If it wasn’t like this, the government would be laughing at us today.”



Perhaps the most promising political outcome of the events of Ayotzinapa is the Consejo Popular Municipal (the Municipal Popular Council, or CP) of Tixtla, emerging from the call of the victims’ parents to not allow local elections to take place on June 7.

The Committee includes peasants, teachers, students of the Isidro Burgos School, community police, family members of the disappeared and others. Most of them participated in the struggle since the beginning. The electoral boycott was proposed by the parents during a general assembly as a way to put pressure on the government.

In the months before the elections, activists campaigned and organized public meetings in the neighborhoods of Tixtla, providing people with information and encouraging them to join the struggle. Peaceful campaigning took place along side direct actions to prevent the erection of polling stations around the city by burning ballot papers and repeatedly occupying the chambers of the municipal council. These efforts resulted in the termination of the local elections.

The proposal for an autonomous municipal council is based on three main concepts: solidarity with the parents in their pursuit of truth and justice; opposition to the party system “with the aim to re-appropriate public power and free ourselves of this parasite that is the electoral system which is based on the rule of money”; and finally a critical analysis of the “structural reforms” and the formation of a resistance strategy.

The organization follows a structure of local councils that converge into one central board. The methodology revolves around the “production of a ‘diagnosis’ of the living conditions in each neighborhood of Tixtla … We want to know what the people think, what they want, and how they interpret the political situation at local and national levels”. What is being applied here is a form of militant research.

“We think that this is not a utopia but something real,” said one participant. “We are using examples from other communities and regions which have organized themselves in municipal popular councils.” The main reference here is Cherán, a Purepecha community celebrating four years since their successful uprising against organized crime and corruption, and the Juntas de Buen Gobierno of the EZLN.

“These examples”, highlights a CP activist, “are being adapted to the peculiarities of our territory. We hope that after this lesson of crisis, suffering and humiliation, another ethic can emerge, allowing us to realize what we really want.”

The biggest threat to the formation of a popular council remains organized crime. The danger of violent repression always lurks just below the surface. Local powers have already set up a parallel organization under the name of aMunicipal Popular Assembly” in order to confuse people by generating internal conflict and undermining the efforts of the independent citizen-led committee.

The CP project is still in progress but it puts forward a solid basis for a continuation of the Ayotzinapa movement — at a distance from the state and independently from the justice system.

In a country ruled by a government that is completely cynical and hostile towards its people and that is doing its utmost to gloss over a situation that somehow “got out of hand”, like Ayotzinapa, a country where the lives of those from below count for less than nothing and impunity has become one of the few recognizable principles of state cohesion, autonomy has turned into the only viable path for many communities.

The idea of autonomy here has to do on the one hand with the production of subjectivities that are radically heterogeneous to the atomized and passive one imposed by the rule of profit and the predatory policies promoted by the government — subjectivities capable of constructing a vital connection to the territories and the social realities they inhabit.

A new life in common is what numerous groups are attempting to create from the north to the south of Mexico, refusing to engage in any institutional or economic agreement with the state, hence making the existence of a government that is separated from their daily life unnecessary.

On the other hand, in the context of unconventional warfare shaping Mexico (and reflecting a diffuse tendency today), autonomy corresponds to the construction of a network of situated hubs of popular power capable of confronting the unrestrained violence of armed gangs serving particular interests.

The mushrooming over the last three years of community policing groups in the most dispersed areas of the country reflects both a popular demand to rely on independent and trustworthy security agencies — the state having lost any legitimacy in this field — and the need to protect emerging forms of resistance such as the CP.

Hopefully the current tendencies towards disarticulation shown by the Mexican state (of which this singular form of internal warfare constitutes a symptom) will favor the production of an increasing number of grey areas where autonomy can flourish. Concrete examples of what a victory would be are already visible in Mexico. The challenge now is for them to keep proliferating, to articulate themselves, and to gain the necessary strength to pass through the current state of civil war.

Giap: relato de la escuelita zapatista publicado en «El Ciudadano».

Giap: relato de la escuelita zapatista publicado en «El Ciudadano».

Relato de la Escuelita Zapatista

El domingo 11 de agosto, desde temprano por la mañana, nos fuimos presentando en el CIDECI-Universidad de la Tierra- de San Cristóbal de las Casas, todos los casi 1.700 alumnos invitados por el EZLN para ser parte del primer grupo del primer nivel de la “Escuelita de la Libertad según los Zapatistas”.

A cada uno de nosotros se nos había entregado una identificación con el nombre del Caracol al cual nos correspondía asistir, así como 4 cuadernos de texto y 2 dvd como material de estudio: Gobierno Autónomo I y II, Participación de las Mujeres en el Gobierno Autónomo y Resistencia Autónoma.

Después de unas horas entre cafés, conversaciones y música en vivo, comenzamos el viaje. Primero montaron sobre los camiones los que iban a los caracoles más alejados: Roberto Barrios y La Realidad. Enseguida nos tocaría a nosotros, los de La Garrucha, junto con los que iban dirigidos a Morelia.

El viaje fue más largo de lo previsto, cerca de 8 horas en un camión donde nos turnábamos para sentarnos las 28 personas que ahí íbamos, con frío y apetito pero también con un entusiasmo sin límites. Leer más