"Now tell me, who is this man they call Don Sancho Panza?", asked Sancho.
"Your lordship," answered the steward, "for we know of no other Panza in this island but the one seated on this throne."
"Well, take note, brother," said Sancho, "that the don does not belong to me, nor did it ever belong to any of my family. I'm called plain Sancho, and so was my grandfather, and all of us have been Panzas, without any dons or don~as added to our names. I'll bet there are more dons than stones in this island. But I'll say no more, God understands me, and perhaps, if my government lasts four days, I'll weed out those swarms of dons that for sure must be plaguesome as mosquitoes. Come on with your questions, Master Steward, I'll answer as best I can, whether the town be sorry or not."
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
"The Ingenious Noble Don Quixote de La Mancha".
Mexico is still a nation. This should not surprise you, although it will those who govern, because they have done everything possible to destroy it. No, this is not about an apocalyptic zeal or an irrefutable destiny. This country is governed according to a new social model known as "neoliberalism." You can read books and articles where this is analyzed I detail. Here we only want you to see a few images and respond to a few questions.
Of course, the most important of these questions is not presented here, but the ones we propose will serve to put together the jigsaw puzzle which is life and death in Mexico at the end of the 20th century. "Death?" Very dramatic. Maybe, but here there are children who live in the sewers of a militarized city, an electoral process which could be advertized in a newspaper section of "seasonal bargains", there are street cleaners who strip their bodies and their stomachs naked, there is an irate president who reads and is a follower of Og Mandino, there is a region of Mexico where questions are answered in prison or in the grave, there is a skull which questions a political system, and there is a small rebel army which refuses to surrender.
If you see all this and do not ask what? Why? When? How much? Where? How? And Who?, then come with us and learn to look both up and down. That way we can learn to ask questions, and even answer questions. For example, to respond to this...
"Who are you below there? Who is it that cries for help?"
"Who should be here shouting for help but miserable Sancho Panza, governor for his sins and for his accursed misfortune of the island of Barataria, formerly squire to the famous knight Don Quixote of La Mancha?"
Soldiers and Policemen Above, Children and Young People Below
Mexico City. End of the 20th Century. The monstrous synthesis of urban neoliberalism, the Federal District, presents itself as a symbol of the nightmare of the future. Almost 20 million human beings live and die the violence and the exclusion which are the reasons of the State.
Two images are outstanding in every sense:
Under the earth, in the sewage systems which attempt in vain to remove the waste of that metropolis, live children and young people. A gang, the one called the "Ponis", lives badly in the drains near the Northern Bus Station. The "brave" judicial police of the area persecute the "Ponis" in order to commit extortion; they beat them and demand payment in order to "leave them alone" (see article by Karina Avilés, La Jornada, December 96 and January 97). In addition to the jail, the sewage drains are the only place that this city allots for poor children and young people to live.
Above, on the streets, the army and the police govern by the law of the gunmen; the fast draw lives and is right; the slowest loses the right to respond. Reason and justice are in the calibre of the weapons, in the bulletproof vests, in the massive and rapid use of police contingents. Police? The police in Mexico City are under complete command of the Army. The military logic tries to understand the most illogical city in the final years of the 20th century. The military attempts to fix a situation which the system itself maintains and fortifies. In charge of duties outside the Constitution, the officials and soldiers expose themselves to the corruption which invades the police groups in Mexico. Transforming the city into a giant barracks is no easy task, and requires despotism and an iron hand. Militarism adds humiliation to the "skills" of the new police of the capital.
In this same city, in Military Camp #1, General José Francisco Gallardo has been imprisoned for three years now for proposing the creation of a military ombudsman. Those who cry against indigenous aspirations for a standard of law which acknowledges their difference, :forget" that the Military in Mexico have their own laws of exception.
National television has no time for the "children of the sewers", yet it dedicates hour after hour and commentaries to the activities of the militarized police in the persecution and execution of "delinquents". Yellow is the color of the programs which have the largest audiences. The resident of Mexico City confirms on the screen what he lives through day and night. The advantage is that the screen offers commercials and you can always turn it off. The virtual reality of the television monopolies promises what reality confirms; to the rise in delinquency there can be no response with social programs. Weapon against weapon, the best, the fastest and the best-paid are the ones which win. There is no more social, legal, or ethical sanction, anything goes, and in the midst of the real war, the citizen rehearses survival and hopes he will not be the protagonist of the next police program.
What better synthesis of what this city represents than the instant replay of a military tank rolling over a drain? Below it, below that tank and that drain, children and young people drug themselves and dream of someday living above...
But no. Above everything is bought and sold. He who neither buys nor sells, is nothing. Through fist and money, a place is secured on the street. The struggle for survival is just that, a struggle. To make sure that the struggle is a fight to the death, the police and the army have become a singular force and they synthesize and overcome their disadvantages. The police contribute corruption and criminal complicity, the army adds intolerance and arrogance. The "enemies" of this repressive machine are perfectly identifiable: street children, unemployed youth, street venders, small businessmen, poor squatters, defenseless women, homosexuals and lesbians, dissident teachers, expelled students, Indians, in sum, all the non-productive ones. It is not enough anymore to be identified with a photograph in order to escape their talons, now you need at least a credit card. Women, children and urban youth share nightmares which used to be exclusive to indigenous Mexicans. The exclusion and intolerance which they confront are a bridge with the Indian communities of Mexico. Its rebellion and its hope will also be.
With all the problems of the Nation on top, the City of Mexico adminsters itself as does the rest of the country: through repression and improvisation. There are no medium or long-term strategies for resolving its problems. There are patches and make-up for pleasing the television viewer. After all, the Federal District is also a commodity...it can't be sold without enough make-up. Neoliberal politics finds here its most definite paradigm: destroy in order to survive. This disorderly and chaotic urban space is the best book about neoliberalism. It is enough just to walk its streets in order to understand that a crime against humanity is being committed.
The city lives a dizzy present, there is no respite to reflect on the past, there is no breath to imagine the future. All is repeated and in larger dimension, calamity is a daily thing. The only surprise is to find each morning that the city is still there, offering itself to whomever will buy.
This is the Mexican capital. A mega market. Everything for sale. Even the political proposals. If you want to buy one, you must answer the...
"Who asked you to meddle in this, Sancho?" asked Don Quixote.
"Who, sir?" answered Sancho. "I meddle, and I've a perfect right to meddle, as a squire who has learned the laws of courtesy in your worship's school. For you're the most courteous and well-bred knight there is in all courtiership, and in these matters, as I've heard your worship say, you may lose as much by a card more as by a card less, and good ears need few words."
Politics as Commodities: All are Expensive
It has occured to someone to do a poll mixing the names of well-known politicians of the right, center and the left. Among the names of the possible candidates to the governorship of Mexico City, appears the name of a non-existent person: Juan Pérez. The citizens who have been consulted do not doubt, the improbable "Juan Pérez" has the highest rate of preference to be governor, none of the other known candidates represent a hope for change or improvement.
Nevertheless, the democracy of the survey consoles the registered political parties and those who aspire to be registered. The percentage of preferences are price ranges of sales, and the markets can be conquered. Like expanding companies which use promotion and door sales to advertise their products for "public preference", the political parties do the same and their members dedicate themselves to going from door to door so as to obtain not an alternative for the nation, but one more vote which can be sold for money from the Power on high.
The political leadership does not seem to notice the exhaustion of the party system. One and the other bet that their product will be accepted in the shrinking electoral market. The citizens are not seen as political people but as potential clients or insurance policies. The Mexican political system periodically creates a purchasing power. In accordance with the neoliberal model, the citizen exists so long as he maintains his "political" purchasing power. The vote, individual or corporate, is the furtive currency which the party merchants fight over. But the bargain markets last only a day. Before that day, the publicity campaigns, large, medium and small, are dispatched to find that vote, in order to make it into a number and capital in the pockets of the political parties.
Few novelties in profound changes have attracted the recent bargains in the provinces; abstentionism is still the product with the highest number of clients. But the crisis in the demand does not counteract the supply, the market gets readjusted so that the Power can mediate the fight and distribution among the professional politicians. The citizenry has been explicitly excluded from politics. After all, commerce is for professionals, not for amateurs.
Now there are two great seasonal sales:
One of them is federal and will recompose the Congress. The laws which are passed, modified, or eliminated matter little or nothing. All the salesmen have agreed that this is only an appetizer for the major sale, the big one, the year 2000 as the dream market. The ideal merchandise for competition has yet to be made.
The other is local, and acknowledges the right of the capital city to elect a governor. The candidates are the merchandise here, their government programs, their proposals for a solution to the problems of a city which grows by destroying and being destroyed, matter little or nothing.
In the political market the offers are repeated and banalized. The ideological and political projects, the programs of struggle, the electoral platforms, the candidates, all the principles are subordinated to the laws of the electoral market. This is a strange political economy where the electoral demand is cheap and there are few clients, while the supply shoots past the limits of a garage sale.
While the right affirms its identity, the vocation of indefinition and minimum risk gorge a political center which erases intentions and vocations. A left places as its maximum goal the quantity of votes, and to obtain them, it argues about embracing the tepidity of the center or a brotherhood with the right.
These "businessmen" of politics forget that electoral democracy is in its worse crisis in recent years. The crisis of the party system in Mexico invades the entire political system in its totality. Resigned to conquering a majority increasingly skeptical about modern politics, the parties fight for the lean booty of a vote which, reasoning, resists speculation and demands truth from a world, from the Mexican political system, which has made the lie its only substenance.
But this market "lives" and grows. The Mexican political system receives blows from all directions and feeds on them. It dutifully swallows even some of its institutional opponents. Ex-critics and ex-rebels repent and accommodate themselves in order to prevail. Convictions and principles are muted like old-fashioned gaskets. The colors change and the Power, the deforcement of this, becomes the goal and the obsession.
"The most healthy stomach in the continent", this is how the marvelous digestive capacity of the Mexican political system is defined. What is not digested is vomited and, from crisis to crisis, the State-Party system survives its own excesses and the apocalyptic prophesies which promised its death.
But now, the Mexican political system presents a novelty. This is not the internal purge of the groups of Power or the struggle among interests which, finally, adjust.
What's new is that the only way to "modernize" politics, according to the demand of neoliberalism, is to destroy the political class which made it possible in Mexico. The politician-politicians are not only no longer necessary, now they are an obstacle and they must be removed. The politician-technocrats, this elegant form of naming professionals of market-technology who hold government posts, should destroy the system which brought them to Power. There is no other way of surviving; "modernizing" is destroying in order to prevail.
Of course, this process of "modernization" of the Mexican political class finds strong resistance. Sometimes it leads to magnicide. The images of Luis Donaldo Colosio and Francisco Ruiz Massieu, assassinated, are testimony to the method and the means of the new political class in Power. There are those who read only a mortal crisis for the State-Party system in these crimes, yet almost three years later, the corpse still enjoys good health. There are still a few things lacking to complete the burial.
Nevertheless, constructing an alternative to this rotund cadaver is not only a large task, it is something that is glaringly ommitted in public opinion polls. In Mexico, there is no national program of struggle, one of consensus, one which goes beyond the criticism of the apparent; the State-Party system stinks. The political, social, economic, and cultural alternative must still be made.
But the urgent does not leave time for the important, and the elections are already approaching. And here is where the political proposals are diluted into electoral options. The difference among political parties is not marked in their principles and programs but in the amount of Power they hold. Where is the difference between the PRI, The PAN, the PRD and the PT? The logic of the electoral sale answers; in the number of mayoralties, governorships, parliament seats, and cabinet posts. Political and civic organizations add, subtract, multiply and divide. In seasonal politics, numbers command and the ideological conceptions are differentiated by the quantity they hold, not by the quality they uphold.
But even then, at the very least one must hold onto the pretense that something different is being offered. Then the political spectrum responds to itself...
The right dreams of a good administration and an austere morality to allow it to keep the course. This is what they call this painful and continuous process of falls and agonizing tumbles. The right does not offer a political alternative, just a change in the political management. Its dream of returning to the past of order and progress implies a heavy hand in politics, in economy, and in consciousness. The right believes it has possibilities, it believes it has in its favor a defined project and the lack of prestige of a party in Power which slowly loses the little intelligence it has and mires itself in mediocrities. "The clients of competition will come over to this side", they say and tell one another, and they refine their merchandise, they decorate it while they hide the terrible conscience-guard of a morality which, though the consumer does not know it, is included with that product which is "your pleasure".
The center bets that its non-existence can be denied by the fear of the extremes. It moves nowhere, but at least without pain or abrupt changes. The center knows that its possibilities are as brief as the electoral season. It does not bet on becoming a reference for one or the other extreme, but rather on achieving, with the alchemy of its being and of its placement in the middle, a place wherever it can. Tepidity does not last. It either heats up or becomes cold.
The left--what a surprise!--is divided.
A part of it suffers from a subtle amnesia, and it adjusts itself. But not to construct an alternative. The logic of its adjustment is the logic of the market. It must ally itself with whomever will guarantee the best sales, with whomever offers the best markets. What do ideals matter? What matters is winning first place in the sales. That's right, sell. Even though the product becomes very similar to that of the competitors.
One moment. What is this? Another criticism to the partisan left? To the electoral struggle? To both? No, not just that.
The partisan left has obtained not few nor small gains in the electoral struggle. Its political tasks, both electoral and otherwise, have opened up new spaces and bridges of solidarity between struggles which otherwise would have been disperse and solitary. The history of the official left is filled with heroism, jails and graves, but legitimate victories as well, authenticity of banners and lives of consequence.
Great people, truly great people can be found who struggle within all parts of the spectrum of which the Mexican left is divided. Within whichever part, those men and women are part of that other left which struggles always, with or without elections, within them and in spite of them.
That other part of the left adjusts its memory and settles accounts. It knows that, if there is a better alternative to this nightmare, it will come from its steps. It recognizes that the attempt to impose hegemony is also part of the mercantile logic. The recognition of differences, the wealth of different struggles does not occur in order to compete or to appropriate them, but to multiply by adding on.
To break away from the mercantile logic in the electoral process does not mean breaking away from a method of struggle. It means to search and propose another direction to that opportune encounter between politicians and citizens, betwee proposals and problems, between dreams and nightmares. Is it possible to convert the grotesque commercial exchange between candidate and potential voter, into a challenge which unites them before the system which deforms them both, which transforms itself into an option and alternative, into a path and new steps for all? For EVERYONE?
If it is, then this challenge will be the product of this left. It can re-think itself in every sense and turn its face below. For example, towards that...
"Stop," relied the physician, "as long as I am alive my Lord Governor shall not eat them."
"Why so?" said Sancho.
"Because," answered the doctor, "our great master Hippocrates, the North Star and luminary of medicine, says in one of his aphorisms: Omnis saturatio mala, perdicis autem pessima, which means, 'All surfeit is bad, but that of partridges is worst of all.'"
"If that is so," said Sancho, "please, doctor, give an eye to the dishes here on the table and see which of them will do me the most good or the least harm, and let me eat of that without whisking it away with your wand, for by the life God grants me as governor, I'm perishing with hunger, and to deny me belly fodder--say what you will, doctor--is the way to shorten, not to lengthen, my life."
In a System which is Filthy, the Cleaners are Unemployed
In the Mexican southeast which is always filled with pain, in Tabasco a delinquent governs through the force of crimes and money; Roberto Madrazo Pintado. Once and again his guilt has been exhibited and demonstrated. The Mexican judicial system wastes time and shortens horizons in order not to touch the untouchables. Not only will the delinquent be judged and sentenced, but so the political system in its entirety.
There are two images of Tabasco in the Federal District which show the world what "modern" Mexico is about.
One is the image of the nakedness of the street cleaners of Tabasco in front of federal legislators. With their backs turned and facing forward, these men discard all their clothes to affirm the only thing left to them. They have nothing, except dignity.
Tossing off their clothes, they strip naked the lie of a nation, one which sells itself as prosperous and in peace. By exposing themselves, they show that local authoritarianism sustains and is sustained by the federal power. The traffickers of deceptions are scandalized by these naked men and they yawn with boredom at the proof which exhibits a governor placed in power through the route of crime.
An "electoral" campaign for a state government, which was more costly than the electoral campaign for the presidency of the most powerful country on earth, leaves judicial officials mute. Not only because they are his accomplices, but because corruption is so common among those who govern that their exhibition is no scandal or novelty. Instead of justice, the legislators of the four parties preach indignity and shock at the affront suffered by the "sacrosanct" legislative room. There are few who give support and understand. The communications media entertain themselves with the spectacle, and humorously point out that this is more proof that we do live in a "democracy".
The other image is the one of the workers, also from Tabasco, on a hunger strike and tenaciously clinging to life and hope through its sharpest side: that of resistance with dignity. Jorge Luis Magaña Alamilla and Venancio Jiménez Martínez are street cleaners of Tabasco. They approach 100 days without food. Their simple demands for justice drape themselves in drama due to their decision. Near the state of coma, all they can manage to murmur is "we will not give up".
They say "this is who we are, this is how we secure the future offered to us by the Powerful for our families and children." And in their image is repeated that of many Mexicans. "Nothing to eat, no clothes for our back" says their struggle, and it repeats the images which, according to Mr. Zedillo, are "stereotypes of those who speak ill of Mexico."
Look again at the photo of the naked men in the "highest tribune of the Republic", now look at the body of Jorge Luis and Venancio, and remember that this is best and most truthful State of the Union address that has been given throughout many administrations. "This is the state of the nation: naked workers and corrupt governments, workers dying in agony and delinquents protected by impunity", says the State of the Nation reported by the people to the government.
During the early morning hours of January 19th, 1997, the government removes the street cleaners of Tabasco by police force. Taken prisoners, three of the hunger strikers are kidnapped and "medicated" by force in a hospital. The bulletin of the Interior Ministry brims with arrogance and cynicism; the eviction served to respond to "society's demands" and "humanitarian" reasons. The government once again closes a peaceful path of civil resistance. If these means of struggle give no results, what will Mexicans do when they see that their just demands are ignored? In the Interior Ministry, the stylish proofreader and neo-policeman, Emilio Chuayffet, smiles and forgets that intolerance and omnipotence have a high price. An ex-president could serve to remind him, but memory is not a virtue of Zedillo's team.
The treatment given to the workers from Tabasco is the same received by the rebel indigenous Zapatistas. But this is not the only bond, as hunger and nakedness build bridges between workers and indigenous people, and dignity makes them one. Without clothes and hunger, hope paints the future.
And the federal government? SSShh. Don't interrupt. It is trying to respond to that...
"Tell me, Sancho," asked the duke, "did you see by any chance a buck [cabrón, literally "male goat", but used as an insult to denote pig-headed stupidity] among those she-goats?"
"No, sir," answered Sancho, "but I've heard tell that not one buck has passed the horns of the moon."
The Greatest Salesman in the World
Og Mandino, author of celebrated books (for their sales) has died. But in Mexico, one of his most loyal readers lives and governs: Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León. He who everyone hesitates to call "the president", does not doubt his mission of market technology. A good salesman and better client, Zedillo is applauded in financial circles in North America. He just liquidated a loan from the North American government.
$5 billion dollars ($3.5 billion to the U.S. Treasury Department and $1.5 billion for the International Monetary Fund), "free up" the invoice of Mexican oil exportations and convert them into a microeconomic nightmare fleeing from a macroeconomic triumph.
The remains of the North American loan are misery and unemployment for millions of Mexicans. In addition to allowing 80% of all the country's oil revenues to be used as a guarantee, it was secured by a high interest rate. But that's not all, the true payment of the loan came from the application of severe economic policies of recessive adjustments, layed out by the IMF. The result: one million unemployed workers in 1995, millions of impoverished families, and thousands of businesses drowned in insolvency.
This is the future of the macroeconomics which today is the banner of victory for Zedillo's government: in 1996, the GDP will be 4.9 percent less than 1994, minimum wage will be 21.5% less, the domestic economy which involves 90% of all Mexicans (agriculture, industry and national services), referred to per capita, will be 19.6% less than that of three years ago. (José Luis Calva, El Universal, January 17, 1997).
The business pinnacle applauds the payment, but the "liberation" of the oil invoices is just that, a liberation which puts them back into the market in order to re-negotiate them. National sovereignty of oil has not been recovered, now a new client and better price is sought. In the neoliberal market, the prostitution of wealth has some advantages when it is completely sold. For example, it will allow the federal government to get to the next elections with the support of those who really rule, in other words the U.S. financiers.
Meanwhile, Bill Clinton announces that he will come to Mexico in march of this year, the American government warns it will take severe anti-immigrant measures, and more military helicopters will arrive which, as confirmed by the General Accounting Office of the US Congress in June of 1996, are used against the Zapatista rebellion and not against drug traffickers.
No one mentions that the government has indebted the country even more in order to pay off the US Treasury Department. Some murmur that it had to be paid because it was not a loan, but a bounty for the head of the Zapatistas. Since the EZLN still has its head on its shoulders, well, the bounty must be returned.
The misery which sits at the table of millions of Mexicans doesn't matter to Zedillo. The criticisms of his authoritarianism is, for him, a lack of popular understanding for his great vision as a statesman. Any reference to the economic crisis which is suffered by the ordinary Mexican is seen by the follower of Og Mandino as an example of self-degradation. Any reference about the lack of democracy in the political life of Mexico is a reiteration of a pessimist vocation.
During the first week of January of 1997, Zedillo scolded "some Mexicans who have taken up as a modus vivendi the reproduction, the generation, and the feeding of a negative image of Mexico in the exterior". And he continues to argue against some "minority voices who do not recognize the popular effort which is taking Mexico forward. These are pessimist voices who want to make us believe that we are sunk in an abyss; who seek to foment self-degradation and hopelessness. These are voices whose only echo is distrust."
This salesman confuses the lack of affection and respect from those he says he governs, with the deceitful caresses of the blonde jockey who will mount him...or toss him aside when he is no longer necessary. The summits of Mexican business praise him, but more so for his blindness and amnesia than for his understanding or conviction.
But the applause he receives in financial centers become, for Zedillo, examples of reproach and indignation in the indigenous communities of Mexico. The greatest salesman in the world has decided to obey those who are liquidating the nation, and disobey those who founded it. Hours before he paid millions of dollars to the government of the United States, Zedillo formalized the denial of the agreements which his government signed, in San Andres Sacamch'en de los Pobres, with the indigenous communities of Mexico.
While the clapping of foreign financiers, the stupid applause of Mexican businessmen, and the virtual "scoldings" of Mister Zedillo are going on, the echo of a "NO" arises from the mountains of the Mexican Southeast, disturbing the triumph of the sales manager of Mexico, Inc. of Very Variable Capital.
As variable as the "tranquility" lived in the states of Southern Mexico. There you can answer the...
"Why did you run away, man?" asked Sancho.
"Sir, to avoid answering all the questions the constables ask," answered the youth.
"What is your trade?"
"What do you weave?"
"Iron heads for lances, by your worship's leave."
"So, you're joking, eh? Fancy yourself as a comic? Right you are! Where were you going just now?"
"To take the air, sir."
"Where do you take the air in this island?"
"Where it blows."
Life as a Crime
Guerrero and Oaxaca have several things in common. For example: both are southern states of the Mexican federation; both have an extremely high percentage of indigenous population; both form a part of the poorest region of Mexico; in both, tourism enriches the powerful and impoverishes the farmers; in both, political bosses and pseudo-kings rule; in both there are guerrillas; in both the federal army governs and gives the orders; in both life is a crime...for the poor; and in both of these states, there are many "poorly-born".
In Zapotec lands in Oaxaca, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, the swift and dutiful debtor of the blonde North American government, passed a sentence on the dark and indigenous people: "there is no well-born Mexican who believes that problems can be resolved through violence". Thousands of soldiers and policemen, war tanks, artillery helicopters, and mortars are there in order to give Zedillo the argument that history denies him and to make sure he eliminates the poorly-born.
Through institutional violence, by way of the army and the police, is how the Mexican government will resolve the extreme misery which, in the recurrent paradox of Latin America, nurture guerrillas.
This is the Southern Range of Oaxaca, from this region come thousands of indigenous people who immigrate to the U.S. in search of work and a destiny. With them go their two principal forces: their labor force and their history. They cannot take the land with them, but they carry with them their blood which, say those who know, is another form of land.
In this zone, considered by the government to be a major area of influence of the Popular Revolutionary Army, the EPR combatant Rafael was detained and disappeared. The armed group has denounced the dirty war it confronts, in addition to the recurring repression against teachers and popular leaders. All that is dark and short is suspicious and subject to investigation. And since everyone here is dark and short, then everyone is under police investigation. Here, the crime is life.
In the neighboring state of Guerrero history repeats itself; in the recent days the military incursions abound in the communities of La Montaña and Costa Chica. There are military checkpoints, arbitrary detentions and searches in the municipalities of Alcozauca, Cuautepec, Tlacoachistlahuaca, Ahuacuotzingo, Copanatoyac and Olinalá, all in Guerrero.
And while the interim governor and the Secretary of Tourism pride themselves on the fact that, in spite of atmospheric, land, and social disturbances, the tourists still come, with their dollars in their hands, to the lands of Guerrero. The peaceful and civil means of struggle continue to grow smaller for the indigenous, for the farmers, teachers, students, squatters, workers. Here the government and private initiative are appreciated as the principal promoters of the "industry without chimneys": tourism. They are also, and the people of Guerrero know and suffer it, the principal promoters of violence.
Oaxaca and Guerrero. Indian blood nourishes the lands of these two southern states of Mexico. In these mountains, the members of the best indigenous or organizations of the country have given brilliant examples of peaceful civilian struggle, their resistance and heroism is legendary, their wisdom in governance and self-governance is a chapter in the history which does not appear in the general index of prices on the stock market.
Without any other weapons than their words and the lessons of their own history, the Indian peoples who lived in these lands long before it was called "Guerrero" and "Oaxaca" resist the violent night offered and imposed on them by the powerful and the violent who call themselves "well-born" and "leaders". "The real well-born are those given life by the land so that it may be cared for, and who make of the land a way of life so that all who live and speak what they think may fit", say the wisemen who live in those mountains.
"In these lands--says Adelfo looking inside--more than life, a bigger crime is intelligence". Lacking this, the government reproduces military barracks and tanks of war.
But at times, among so many military and police, among the profession of spying for "internal security", among so many declarations of simulated governance, pending still is the...
"Jesus! What do I see?"
With the sudden shock, the candle fell from her hands, and finding herself in the dark, she turned around to take to her heels, and in her alarm she tripped over her skirt and came down with a mighty thud. Then the frightened Don Quixote began to say:
"I conjure you, phantom, or whatever you are, to tell me your name and to say what you want of me. If you are a soul in torment, tell me, for I will do everything in my power for you. I am a Catholic Christian and love to do good to all the world. It was with that purpose I took up the order of knight-errantry that I profess, whose offices extend even to doing good to souls in purgatory."
Political Tasks as Crimes of the State
In October of 1996, a great woman of small stature, sick and dignified, left the Lacandon jungle in order to take the voice of the indigenous rebels of the EZLN to the heart of Mexico City. The Supreme Government tried everything to stop it. It threatened, it patrolled, it kicked, it promised, it cried, it said and contradicted itself. It piled up tanks, military planes and artillery helicopters in front of her. It was useless; Comandante Ramona, of the CCRI-CG of the EZLN, with paper flowers in one hand and a national flag in the other, left the Chiapanecan reality to direct herself toward the reality of the Federal District. In despair, the Powerful reverted to black magic and found hidden within its criminal history, a skull...
The same day that the Zapatista Comandanta headed towards the capital, the mass media tripped over themselves to deliver news to the country: a skull was found in one of the ranches of Raúl Salinas de Gortari. The Attorney General said it belonged to Muñoz Rocha, alleged intellectual author of the assassination of Francisco Ruiz Massieu. The "discovery" revealed the "scientific" methods used by the so-called "special prosecutor": a "seer" pointed out the place where the cranium of Muñoz Rocha was found. It is said he was killed by a single blow from the baseball bat of Raúl Salinas de Gortari. The scandal caused by the finding of the skull reduced the challenge of the small Ramona to second or third place on the national news.
But this cranium brought something more than respite to a government defeated by a tiny indigenous woman, a comandanta of the EZLN. Quickly, the mute grave brought back to light the theme which marked the end of the administration of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and carried Ernesto Zedillo to the presidency: the crimes of the State. During the entire administration of Salinas de Gortari (which stretches out to these days), crime was a constant political practice. The cases of Cardinal Posadas, Luis Donaldo Colosio and Francisco Ruiz Massieu were the most famous, but not the only ones.
These assassinations, together with those of hundreds of social activists, have more in common than sharing a "sole assassin", the Mexican State. They are united as well by the fact that all remain unresolved, and that those responsible go unpunished. It sounds logical, since the same Power which had them liquidated is the one doing the investigations.
It is a general conviction that the author or authors of these crimes are still among the political group in power. The absence of conclusive evidence does not presuppose the innocence of those under suspicion (the Salinas and Cordoba Montoya families), but does imply the complicity of the judicial apparatus. Those who were capable of betraying an entire nation, could easily do the same with those supposedly closest to them.
Useless for distracting public opinion and dangerous in its accusatory silence, the alleged skull of Muñoz Rocha returned to anonymity. Recently and under a new Attorney General, it is "discovered" that the skull does not belong to Muñoz Rocha. The press loses interest in answering the questions the skeleton makes before being disposed of: Who was I? What was I doing in El Encanto? Who killed me? Why? Where? How was I killed? How much did my death cost? The great question, "who lived that death?" is buried in the archives of the judicial power in Mexico.
The Salinist tendency of constructing virtual realities repeats itself now with the help of one of its beneficiaries: the businessman Salinas Pliego. The self-named "Aztec Television" carries out a great campaign to mobilize public opinion around the "horrible" situation in which Mr. Raúl Salinas de Gortari lives as a prisoner. The owner of TV Azteca not only defends an accomplice and a partner, but he makes apologetic praise a form of politics, that which is sustained through crime and brotherhood with its modern promoter: drug trafficking.
Drug trafficking and the Mexican State find each other more and more interlocked. The institutional violence in the hands of the government does not confront the violence of the drug dealers, but rather creates an alliance and complements itself with it. Mexican justice is surprisingly quick and effective when it comes to judging and freeing drug traffickers (such as the case of Héctor Luis Palma Salazar, the Güero Palma). The police not only fail to pursue the power of drugs, they protect and help it as well. Fervently "religious", the Mexican police hide the 'Lord of the Heavens', better known as Amado Carrillo.
From drug trafficking, the political system not only receives resources. It also, and above all else, acquires forms of making politics, methods of "eliminating the adversary or the nuisance". This way, crime and corruption is converted into a vital link between the government and the drug trade. The administration of justice passes from being a cartoon to a protective net. Not only to hide those who inhabit that criminal wedlock, but also to protect the fall of those who slip.
Faced with the skull, now anonymous, the Mexican system reflects on the durability of the Power and the stability of those who sustain it. The response is thus postponed to the question which all repeat for everyone and for themselves, the...
"Arm this instant, my lord," cried one of them, "otherwise you'll be destroyed and this whole island with you."
"What's the good of my arming?" replied Sancho. "Do I know a thing about arms or relief tactics? Why don't you send for Don Quixote, my master? He'll deal with them in the twinkling of an eye and retrieve our fortunes. Alas, as I'm a sinner, I know nothing about these sudden attacks!"
"How so, my lord," said another, "what's the meaning of this faintheartedness? See, here we bring you defensive and offensive arms; arm yourself and come with us to the marketplace. Be our leader and our captain, for that is your duty, since you are our governor."
"Well, then, arm me and wish me good luck," said Sancho.
History is very simple and, unfortunately, recurrent in Mexican history: the federal government saw itself obliged to negotiate a political solution with the indigenous rebels of the EZLN. Because the military-police operation of February 1995 failed, the government bet upon a long negotiations process which would allow it to put itself back together. It waited for an opportune moment and constructed credible arguments for a rapid and definitive military strike, because this remained its objective.
From among the burgeoning ranks of its mediocres, the government selected a group to represent it at the dialogues for peace. Like all mediocres, these thought themselves veeery intelligent, and they designed a strategy to "shrink" the problem which consists, grosso modo, of demonstrating that the guerrillas have strength in only four municipalities of the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas. Once it achieved this, it would demand unconditional surrender from the rebels.
The "success" of that strategy can be felt barely three months since its beginning: the rebels call for a national and international consultation and, surrounded, persecuted and "shrunk", they manage to obtain the reasoned opinions of more than a million Mexicans and 200,000 foreigners. The "achievements" of the government are overshadowed; the rebels manage to impose a model of open and inclusive negotiations, and in the talks on the first theme regarding Indigenous Rights and Culture, they achieve the participation of the best and most representative of the independent national indigenous movement. The majority of the indigenous leadership and the best of the specialists in the subject matter sit at the table which the Zapatistas open to the Nation. The government delegates bring in a few unprepared people who repeat the ridiculous, now at a national level.
Indigenous leaders, specialists, social organizations, NGOs and the Zapatistas manage to construct (in spite of the federal government and its advisors) an inclusive and respectful proposal for the redefinition of the relationship between the indigenous peoples and the Nation. The agreement is signed by the representatives of the federal government and the EZLN on February 16, 1996. The true interests of the government delegates is revealed on the day of the signing: the photo so longed for by the Power, and rejected by the rebels. The signature as a spectacle, and not a commitment.
Eleven months later, the agreement not only has been set aside, but now the federal government wants to pretend it does not exist. In December of 1996, the Commission on Concordance and Pacification elaborates a proposal of constitutional reforms which comply with the agreements of San Andrés made 10 months before. "What has been agreed upon will not be renegotiated", say the legislators, and the Cocopa warns the federal government and the EZLN that they will only accept only a "no" or a "yes" in response to their document. The EZLN responds with a "yes". Hours later, the Interior Ministry does the same, but then takes it back. Mr. Zedillo asks for more time to give his response, and on the 19th day of the last month of 1996, he sends out a document which not only says "no" to the Cocopa initiative, but also proposes to go back on what was signed by his delegates at the dialogue of San Andrés. The Zapatista rebels do what is logical for people with dignity, they keep their word and their commitment: on January 11, 1997, the EZLN answers "NO" to the government negation, and ratifies its decision to accept the initiative from the legislators of the Cocopa.
The job of Ernesto Zedillo is not to govern, but to sell. And in order to sell, in this modern era, the electronic mass media is as useful as the written press. Heir to the slogan of his predecessor ("Pretend to govern"), Zedillo uses the media to shape the alchemy he needs: presenting his inability to keep his word as the "intransigence of the Zapatistas".
Some years ago, in 1509, Ferdinand V set the bases for what would be the conquest of the Indian lands of America: "After the pacification is carried out and the natives are reduced to obedience, the pioneer, governor or peace-maker will distribute the Indians among the colonists so they can own them and enjoy their tributes."
In 1546, one January 16th, Phillip, heir of the Spanish colony, passed a decree which changed the New Laws, expedited by Charles V on November 20, 1542, thanks to the tenacity of Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas. The New Laws prohibited the enslavement of Indians; they established that they could not be made to work against their will and without compensatory retribution; they impeded their becoming part of royal land grants; they asked that the lands of the villages and communities of Indians be respected or returned, and that the government of the Indians be respected and conserved. But the royal land grants (including Indians as property) were reinstated on January 16, 1546.
Like the beginning of the 16th century, at the end of the 20th century the Power reiterates its vocation of intolerance and exclusion. But today it also counts upon the mass media and "speakers" who give it what it needs--arguments.
Among the apologists of the government's failure to carry out its word, there are jurists and intellectuals. Their common denominator, in addition to the bluff of ignorance on the theme and the argued lie, is to have enjoyed the favor of Carlos Salinas de Gortari. The ex-singer of tangos in honor of Salinas, Burgoa Orihuela, and the others who accompany him, see phantoms and catastrophes if the federal government keeps its word and recognizes indigenous rights and culture in the Constitution. They know history: in 1523, Hernán Cortés argued that the Spanish would not remain in Mexico if the Indians were left to be free, and then he added a long list of economic and political consequences, and warned like his twins at the end of the 20th century, that they would be overcome if the Indians were not subjected. (The references to historic events of the XVI century are taken from Edmundo Jardón Arzate, El Universal, January 17, 1997).
The ignorance about what is at stake is not the exclusive patrimony of these men. Political scientists like Federico Reyes Heroles recommend that the possibility of military extermination of the Zapatista rebels be reconsidered. Mr. Reyes Heroles asks himself and proposes an answer: "Who's to say that peace, given certain bases, should be put in doubt? 36 months ago anyone would have bet that the establishment of peace was a national priority, and therefore so were the negotiations with the EZLN. Nevertheless, during these 36 months we have seen that the nucleus of the Zapatista proposal is, in good measure, irreconcilable with a minimal acceptance of republican proposals" (REFORMA, January 18, 1997). Weeks later, the same political scientist writes demanding that the Zapatistas be annihilated, because they will always be "violent". Offended by the "Ha!" that the Zapatistas responded with to the military threats, Don Federico demands they be killed, oh, but of course, with full respect for human rights.
Three fundamental issues are at play in the actual crisis of the dialogue between the EZLN and the federal government.
First is that, unless agreements are fulfilled, dialogue and negotiation lose rationality and purpose. When an essential aspect is the reinsertion of the rebels into peaceful and civilian life, the minimal agreement of respect for their lives, liberty and goods, has become a lie with mortal consequences.
The second is that the Nation should recognize that it is made up of differences and that it can survive and grow recognizing these differences. The indigenous question is a national one. Not only because there are indigenous people in all the Mexican territory or because they form an essential part of the history of this country. But also because their difference aspires to a unity with the others who make up the contemporary Mexico. To recognize this difference in the maximum law of the Republic and include it in a project of a free, sovereign, and independent Nation, is to do justice and make possible the defense of our homeland faced with liquidation in a commercial sale.
The third is that in the resolution of this new crisis, we are dealing with the question of whether the road of dialogue and negotiation is a valid and effective way for the demands of citizens to be resolved.The aspiration toward peaceful and civil changes becomes blind and dumb if it only serves to waste time in the solution of the fundamental problems of the Nation.
Thus, it is not only peace and war which are at stake in these moments.
The one, peace, will be weak and deceitful if it is not constructed on firm bases of the certainty of commitments and their implementation, of the inclusive recognition of differences, of the viability and efficiency of the use of reason and understanding.
The other, the war, will not only unleash uncontrollable forces, it will also postpone, without resolution, an explosion which could return at any moment and in any part. In Latin America there are didactic examples: in Peru, Mr. Fujimori responds with a war to the social and political demands of armed groups, assuming they have been annihilated, and now he sees them reappear where he least expected them.
In Mexico, the federal government should let us know whether it can keep its word or not, whether it will recognize the reality which sustains the Nation, whether reason has more value than force. Its answers are apparent already in the explicit and implicit threats it propagates towards the Mexican southeast. Without honor, the word of the government is only another piece of merchandise on sale, but now much more perishable. The plural and heterogeneous reality disguises itself at will with the brusque make-up of military tanks. For the government there is no alternative between reason and force, since the first they lack completely, and thus, the second is defined by the shifting balance towards violence. The supreme government prepares itself to make use of the only majority which it still has: that of armed force.
The Commission on Concordance and Pacification, the legislative branch, and the political parties should confront and resolve the questions which, in its own time, history promises them.
All Mexicans, that "civil society", which is such a nuisance for all the poster people of the political spectrum, should also respond: How long can a government rule which has no word? What direction does it have if it does not recognize the reality in which it lives? Where will it go if the only reason which enables it is reason of force? Why believe in it, if it never fulfills what it agrees to? When will history arrive to demand an accounting? How to argue that reason and not force is the path which should be?
The best of the national and independent indigenous movement, that which finds and weaves itself into the Permanent National Indigenous Congress, already advances the responses that its blood of dignity counsels and demands. Faced with the confused and harried government media campaign which, lacking reasons and arguments, propogates lies and phantoms, indigenous organizations from all parts of Mexico speak and make their own that which belongs to them: the right to a dignified and inclusive place in the Nation.
Far from the eight columns and the prime-time on radio and television, the Indian peoples speak among themselves and they find one another, beyond the military sieges imposed by the government. A phrase sums up this brown uneasiness. "Never again a Mexico without us". the question of "who speaks these words?" has a response, but who hears them and understands?
The oldest of the wisest Indian elders say that there are people who have a very small heart and so true words do not fit there. The great wisemen also say that the earth punishes those with a small heart by leaving them deaf and blind.
Deaf and blind walk the supreme governments, that is why they yell so much and why so many lies fill their empty chests. That is why the one with a small heart beats and kills. Deaf and dumb, the government prepares itself to beat and kill those it does not see nor hear.
The pre-military campaign of the government has begun. The federal army is saturating its barracks with troops and armaments; the military patrols have doubled in size; planes and helicopters are practicing time and again the surgical strike; the Public Ministers are preparing to count the captured and the dead. The Division leaders of the so-called "Rainbow Taskforce" have the attack orders sitting on their desks. They are accompanied by a presidential promise that "this time there will be no turning back"....
In the mass media, the snipers of ink from all the tendencies fight over the checks which flow about in disorder from the Interior Ministry. Although the bullets are few, many lies will be necessary in order for the world to digest the lead and the impotence it contains. The melancholy banquet approaches, and the rats of the pen sharpen their teeth and their bank accounts.
In the mountains of the Mexican southeast, the Zapatista rebels, the vast majority of whom are indigenous, resist and wait for answers. They have on their side reason, history and legitimacy. The armed forces of the government cast their shadow of death over the dignity that animates all of those who live and die for the "Everything for everyone; nothing for us", but their plans do not include surrendering. They know, as was told to them by the first gods who birthed the world, that to surrender is to die of shame, while to struggle for existence is a joy which sharpens the edge of hope.
But this time the Zapatistas do not respond, they only ask.
And this time, as in others before, the Zapatistas, those "bothersome" and stubborn different ones, know they are not alone.
This is, they say to one another, the hour of all those who are different...Because...
The last to ask was Sancho, and his question was: "Shall I ever get another governorship? Shall I quit this hungry squire's life? Shall I see my wife and children again?"
To which the answer came: "You will govern in your own house, and if you go home, you will see your wife and children, and by giving up service you will cease to be a squire."
"By God, that's rich," cried Sancho Panza. "I could have told myself all that; the prophet Perogrullo couldn't do better."
"Beast!" cried Don Quixote. "What answer do you expect? Is it not enough that the replies this head gives correspond to the questions asked it?"
"Yes, it's enough," replied Sancho, "but I wish it would be plainer and tell me more."
However, there are still questions which remain without answers. How long can a system be sustained on intolerance and disdain? How far will is the Power prepared to go? How many guerrillas, how many protests, how many hunger strikes, how many scandals, how many more deaths are necessary so that the Power which rules by excluding and imposing may realize that it destroys, and in so doing, destroys itself? What to do to confront so many deaf and mute grays? Why not try to join colors? Why not try to walk that dream? Other winds will begin to arrive and to blow answers...and hopes.
Vale. Health, and why does that moon look alive from being so full?
It is January (It is cold and rains and the dawn clothes itself with black clouds). It is 1997 (Don Fernando is 85 years old, Adelfo heals himself by struggling and both look toward the indigenous Mexicans who write their own history). This is Mexico, and though you may not believe it, someone smiles....
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast,
Mexico, January of 1997.
P.S. WHICH REPEATS ITS FOOLISHNESS.-
Sancho heard their shouts, and pressing closer to his master, with his arms around him, he asked:
"Sir, how can they say we're flying so high when their voices reach us here? They seem to be speaking just beside us."
"Pay no attention to that, Sancho, for as these flights are out of the ordinary course of things, you will see and hear what you please a thousand miles away. And do not hug me so tight or you will upset me. For the life of me I cannot make out what is so worrying and frightening you, for I swear to you that never in all the days of my life have I ridden an easier-paced mount. We seem not to be moving from one spot. Banish all fear, my friend, for this business is really going as it should, and we have the wind astern."