Place: Mountains of the Mexican southeast.
Date: January of 2003.
Hour: Dawn. Climate: Cold, rainy, tense.
Altitude: Various meters above sea level.
Visibility: Without a flashlight you can't see a bloody thing.
In a hut, a shadow counters with the fragile light from a candle, and, between the smoke from the tobacco and from the campfire, a hand leafs through a calendar from 2003, which recently arrived at the EZLN Headquarters.
"Calendars," the hand says, and it adds: "But there are calendars and calendars," and it puts two newspaper photographs on the table: in one appears the fetus that will be Fox's grandchild. In the other, some mothers are weeping for their dead children in Comita'n, Chiapas.
The hand says: "Here, the calendar of a birth with the blessing of Power. And here, another calendar of many deaths due to the irresponsibility of Power."
The hand continues to speak: "Calendars of births and deaths, calendars of payments, calendars of national celebrations, calendars of trips by officials, calendars of government sessions. Now, in 2003, election calendar. As if there were no other calendars. For example: the calendar of resistance. Or perhaps that one is not spoken of because it demands a great deal and does not look like much."
The hand stops for a bit. The calendar remains closed. It appears as if it has been made by zapatista sympathizers. Each month, in addition to photographs on the subject, there are fragments of the many messages from the EZLN during the march for indigenous dignity, in February, March and April of the year 2001.
"That march," says the hand, which is now leafing through a puff of smoke. "The most important thing was not what we said," and it sets the calendar aside. "The most important was what, remaining silent, we saw. If those gentlemen and ladies who call themselves thinkers had seen with our eyes what we saw, remaining silent, perhaps they might have understood our later silence and our current words. But no. They think they think. And they think that we owe them something. But we owe them nothing. Those whom we do owe, and owe much, are those silent ones whom we, silently, saw. Our silence was for them. Our word is for them. Our gazes and our hands are with them and for them."
And, as if like that, the hand points to a map of the Mexican Republic.
The gaze follows the hand's path, and the hand now rests on a word:
And the first stele...
January: Oaxaca, the first stele
(Despite the new old PRI, history resists in the face of death)
(Stelai: engraved stones, worked using the techniques of bas-relief, which contain representations of individuals, dates, names, events...and PROPHECIES)
It is January, month which summons up past, present and future. It is Oaxaca, land where yesterday and today give rise to the future.
Mexican indigenous survive on this soil: Mixtecos, Popolocas, Chochos, Triquis, Amuzgos, Mazatecos, Cuicatecos, Chinantecos, Zapotecos, Chatinos, Mixes, Chontales, Huaves, Nahuas, Zoques, Ixcatecos and Tacuates, in addition to an agricultural Mexican population which is ignored. In 1990, the INEGI declared that there were more than 1.3 million indigenous over the age of five in Oaxaca. However, if one utilizes broader criteria than the INEGI's narrow ones, between 60 and 70 percent of the Oaxaca population is indigenous. Out of a total of 570 municipalities, 418 are called "indigenous municipalities," which are governed by their own rules of government, what some call "uses and customs."
It is January, and it is Oaxaca, and the sun advances above a hill which has a truncated summit and which is combed with pre-Hispanic buildings.
Different times have given different names to this mountain. And so it was named Hill of the Tiger, and they called it Hill of Precious Stones, and it was spoken of as Hill of the Pure Bird. Those present now call it Monte Alba'n.
Monte Alba'n. At its feet glitters the proud disorder of the city of Oaxaca, the capital of this province which, like all of them in Mexico, only makes the news when it experiences the passing of hurricanes, earthquakes and false governors, or when oppressive poverty follows the path of armed rebellion.
As if history only counts when it narrates the defeats, desperation and misery of those who are below, and it forgets the fundamental: resistance.
The sun continues its path.
Also arriving from the east, a macaw flies above the Tlacolula Valley, it circles the Etla Valley, and, in the Zaachila Valley, after covering the four compass points, it heads towards Monte Alba'n. It glides above the complex of buildings, all of them oriented along a north-south axis.
All but one. Resembling an arrow, one building breaks the supposed harmony, pointing its apex towards the southeast.
Like an out of place piece in the complicated jigsaw puzzle of Mesoamerican archeology, this building might have marked an astronomical, visual or even auditory point. But it also leads one to think of something arrested, and not just in spatial terms, but also, and above all, in temporal terms. It looks like a call to attention, an outburst of the absurd in the midst of apparent order.
How absurd is the image of that macaw, and what is seen beneath his vigilant and protective flight. In the southern platform of Monte Alba'n, in front of the seventh stele, a history is recounted which comes from a cave which is all caves...
"Indigenous blood knows that the earth conceals the fertile womb which produced all times, and indigenous Zapoteco wise men recount that it was inside a hill where time and life began their laborious path.
Prior to that, that which cannot be touched with thought, the Coqui Xee, slept in a cave. That was the grotto of time without time, where there was no place for the beginning nor for the end.
The desire to move the world then entered the heart of the Coqui Xee, and, given that the moon was concealed, he looked inside himself and birthed Cosana and Xonaxi, which is how the ancient Zapotecos call light and darkness.
With one foot from each of them, the world then took its first steps. He who had no beginning, the one untouchable by reason, Coqui Xee, gave birth to himself as a new moon, and thus began his long passage in the world of the night, while by day he rested in the land of the Mixe, in Cempoalte'petl.
Cosana, the gentleman of the night and of fire who gave birth to the sun, made himself into a tortoise, in order to walk the earth, and that was how he went about creating men, from the hand of Xonaxi, who made himself a macaw in order to walk the skies, to look after the men and women, and to see that they were created with care.
Flying the night, Xonaxi painted his path with light so that he would not lose his way, and today his trail of fragmented light is called the Milky Way.
From the embrace of light and darkness, from sky and earth, came the lightning bolt Cocijo, good father, maker of the good earth and guide of those who work it and make it bear food.
Giver of health, healer of illness, gentleman of war and death, with the 13th Flower on his flag, Cocijo split into four in order to be in the four points which mark the world. In order to name death and pain, he inhabited the north, dressed in black. He established himself in the east in amber colored clothing in order to give name to happiness. In the west, he put on a white cloak in order to mark destiny. And, in order to speak war, he dressed in blue and walked the south.
The lightning, our father, married the woman of the huipil decorated with flowers and serpents, she who was called Serpent Thirteen, Nohuichana. She, our mother, giver of life in the womb of women, in the beds of rivers and lakes, in the rain, she who goes hand in hand with men and woman from birth to death, was and is good queen for those who gave, and give, color to the color of this land.
And those who know and are silent recount that, every so often, the lightning and the rain return, and with them love and life return, whenever the absurd poses obstacles for any woman and man, perhaps only to heighten the sparkle in their eyes.
If it is true, as, in fact, it is, that life first walked as liquid in the caves that abound in indigenous lands, that the caves were and are the womb which the first gods gave to themselves in order to birth themselves and to make themselves, and that the grottoes are but the hollows left by the flowering of life in the land, as cicatrices, then it is within the land where we can read, in addition to the past, the paths which shall take us to tomorrow.
In this January, the creator couple, Cosana and Xonaxi, embraced the womb of the earth, and they soothed it, in order to turn it into fertile sown fields. Not only so that the rebel struggle which is collective - because that is the only way it can be rebel - might be renewed, but also so the dream might be born with the color of those of us whom are the color of the earth.
Silent history now. And what is silent is always greater than that which speaks. Silence..."
Above, a storm greets the macaw's determined flight with lightning...
Below, Monte Alba'n remains, with its arrow building breaking the monotony of the entire ceremonial complex, warning that there are pieces missing, preventing us from understanding what we are seeing. As if to remind us that what is missing is greater and more marvelous than what we are seeing.
Because when we see what we are now seeing, vainglorious Monte Alba'n, we futilely seek continuity. In reality, we are only seeing a photograph, one instant, an image of a clock which stopped running on a particular date.
But it is a discontinuous clock. Only for the powerful is history an upward line, where their today is always the pinnacle. For those below, history is a question which can only be answered by looking backwards and forwards, thus creating new questions.
And so we must question what is in front of us. Ask, for example, who is absent but yet nonetheless made possible the presence of images of gods, caciques and priests.
Ask who is silent when these ruins speak.
There are not a few stelai in Monte Alba'n. They mark calendars which are not yet understood. But let us not forget that they present the calendars of those who held power in those times, and those calendars did not envisage the date in which the rebellion from below would bring down that world. Like an earthquake, the discontent of that time shook the entire social structure, and, while leaving the buildings standing, it did away with a world which was removed from everyone's reality.
Since ancient times, the governing elites have been fashioning calendars according to the political world, which is nothing but the world which excludes the majority. And the disparity between those calendars and those of lives below, is what provokes the earthquakes in which our history abounds.
For every stele which the power sculpts in its palaces, another stele rises from below. And, if those stelai are not visible, it is because they are not made of stone, but of flesh, blood and bone, and, being the color of the earth, they are still part of the cavern in which the future is ripening.
Those buildings which, like plumes, crown the Hill of the Tiger, do not belong to those who raised and maintained them with their effort and wisdom. "Monumental architecture, in instances such as Monte Alba'n and other sites of Mesoamerican cultural interest, was a response to the need for a space dedicated to ceremonies, which corresponded to the organizational demands of a priestly social class with a much higher status than that of the average agricultural population. And so the buildings of Monte Alba'n, from their first period, were used for reinforcing the political system based in religious worship and for maintaining the ruling class in power. The populace in the villages and towns were charged with supplying all the consumer goods for that class, as well as with providing labor for constructing the buildings and for their continuous maintenance. Another obligation was that of providing all the supplies necessary for carrying out the ceremonies and the indispensable human material for those ceremonies." (Robles Garci'a, Nelly. Monte Alba'n. Codees Editores).
It was the powerful who enjoyed the work of those of below, the work which raised these buildings, these buildings which are less surprising than the arrogance which destroyed them. Because Monte Alba'n, as often happens in those spaces where power resides, collapsed from rebellion from below, which was, in turn, provoked by the indifference of those who governed.
The Spanish conquistadors' two-fold lesson of Monte Alba'n (the advanced development of a culture and the neglect caused by government arrogance) passed unnoticed. For the Spanish crown of the 16th century, as for the neoliberalism of the beginning of the 21st century, the only culture is the one which they dominate. Then the indigenous lands were nothing but an abundant source of labor for the Spanish powers, as they are now for savage capitalism. Under the Spanish power, condemned to barbaric forced labor in the mines, almost 90% of the indigenous population of Oaxaca disappeared. But their suffering continued underground, and rebellion was forged in the grottoes, rebellion which today nourishes the color of the earth.
And what was good for the Indian peoples of Oaxaca was also good for the rest of the indigenous of Mexico: their cultural wealth was, and is, discounted (sometimes through direct destruction, other times through ignorance, yet others through racism, and always through condemnation of the different) by those who are power and dominion.
If, upon seeing the remains of the so-called pre-Hispanic cultures, the average spectator marvels and imagines their splendor, he would marvel even more upon seeing the cold cruelty and savage stupidity of those who have destroyed it (and contempt and commercialization are also a form of destruction) and ignored it.
And so it is quite wrong to blame the Spanish race, or any other, for the long pain of the Indian peoples of Mexico. It was, and is, the powerful who, regardless of the race to which they belong, reaffirm their dominion with the destruction of the identity of those under their control.
Following Mexico's liberation from Spanish dominion, the owners of money and their politicians have carried forward the destruction of indigenous culture with a brutality equal or greater to that of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.
Recently, intelligent voices have been raised, warning that the Salinas reform of Article 27 of the Constitution (which allows the sale of ejidal land to individuals) will have serious impact on the archeological monument zones. One of these zones is Monte Alba'n, where it so happens that part of its original land will now be in the hands of private business (El Universal, 2/28/2002). Or at least that is what the neoliberal governments are attempting.
But there are resistances. The residents of the municipalities of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, Santa Cruz Xoxocotla'n and Santa Mari'a Atzompa have organized in order to prevent that privatization of history. Gathering together ejiditarios, comuneros, small owners and residents, the Zapatista Front Against Privatization and Neoliberal Seizure's names bears witness to its avocation and its work.
Since the middle of 2001, these Oaxacans have been denouncing what was to come: the privatization of Monte Alba'n. That it was not interest in preserving that archeological zone which was behind the government programs, but rather selling them in order to build hotels, convention centers and commercial premises.
One year later, in 2002, Governor Murat took a step towards realizing Salinas de Gortari's dream: the Monte Alba'n XXI project, privatizing ejidal lands in the areas surrounding the archeological complex and repressing those who were opposed to this commercialization of history. The resistance, however, was maintained, even though it was banished from the media. "We are the true defenders of the archeological zone of Monte Alba'n, because it is our home, and also the home of all Mexicans. But, in this continuous struggle to try to care for it and protect it, we are resisting culturally, and we are confronting those who are trying to destroy it, restricting the use and enjoyment of our lands for the benefit of large investors," these rebel indigenous said, and committed themselves.
The old new PRI, with Jose' Murat, Dio'doro Carrasco and Heladio Rami'rez fighting over the plunder, is following the route which was marked out by their last great leader: Carlos Salinas de Gortari. That is why they are resorting to their most well tried argument: repression.
Nonetheless, and in spite of the repression, some of the strongest examples of anti-neoliberal resistance are in Oaxaca, and all of them are being carried out not only in spite of the political parties, but also against them.
Last December, a group of young persons cane together around culture. They were attacked by the Juchita'n police, and their members are still being persecuted by the "democratic" municipal government.
In the Northern Sierra of Oaxaca, the Ricardo Flores Mago'n Popular Indigenous Council has taken heavy hits for refusing to surrender or to join Murat's, Dio'doro's (the one who, when he was Secretary of Government in Zedillo's government, "orchestrated" the PRI defeat in the 2000 lections) or Heladio's factions.
In the Southern Sierra (but not only there), the Zapatista Magonista Alliance, the Coalition of Organizations of the State of Oaxaca, the Defense Committee for the Rights of the People, the Coalition of Independent Organizations of Cuenca, the Broad Front of Popular Struggle, the Civil Front of Teojomulco, the Sole Front of Indigenous Defense, the Indian Organizations for Human Rights of Oaxaca, the Union of Poor Campesinos and the Revolutionary Youth of Mexico, have all joined together in the Oaxaca Popular Magonista Anti-Neoliberal Coordinating Group, and they are building one of the most interesting processes of resistance.
And not only those. The Oaxaca resistance abounds in wisdom, decisiveness and names: Services of the Mixe People, Union of Organizations of the Sierra Jua'rez of Oaxaca, Union of Indigenous Communities of the Isthmus Region, the State Coordinating Group of Coffee Producers of Oaxaca and the Unified Movement of the Trique Struggle, to mention just a few of the many that exist on Oaxaca soil.
And resistance not infrequently takes on the name of the municipalities which raise them. Thus appear: Quetzaltepec-Mixe, San Pedro Yosotatu, Union Hidalgo, Yalalag, and others which people the Oaxaca geography with rebellion.
You would be hard pressed to find any members of these organizations, or of these municipalities, running for office. Their avocation is not Power, but service. That was mandated by the ancient ones who raised the grandeur of Monte Alba'n and whose rebellion toppled those who governed with arrogance.
But if the neoliberals of the PRI or the PAN or the PRD manage to get away with it, we will be facing the possibility that the history of Mexico will be turned into one more business listed on the Stock Exchange: History of Mexico Company SA of CV. What other value, in addition to being a tourist site, can capital place on pre-Hispanic archeology?
When the front men for big money (Diego Ferna'ndez de Cevallos and his pati~os Manuel Bartlett and Jesu's Ortega, of the PAN, PRI and PRD respectively) scuppered the constitutional recognition of indigenous rights and culture in the Mexican Congress, they were not only aping the encomenderos of the colonial period, they were also, and above all, stating that the history of Mexico was one more commodity in the international market. If the manner in which they did it resembled a vaudeville act, it is because politicians can never resist the temptation to do the ridiculous.
But the powerful do not only purchase history in order to possess it, but also in order to prevent its being read as it should be, that is, looking ahead.
The history of above continues saying "were" to those who still are. It does so because up there the only thing that matters is the exchange of those who are in power. And so time ends for the powerful only when another power replaces it.
Below, however, time continues to flow.
By responding to the unknown posited by the historic past, those below decipher crooked lines, ups and downs, valleys, hills and hollows. That is how they know that history is nothing more than a jigsaw puzzle which excludes them as primary actor, reserving for them only the role of victim.
The piece which is missing in national history is the one which completes the false image of the uniqueness of possible worlds, the current one, but rather the one which includes everyone in its true reach: the constant struggle between those who are attempting the end of times, and those who know that the last word will be built through resistance, sometimes in silence, far from the media and the centers of Power.
Only in that way is it possible to understand that the current world is neither the best nor the only one possible, nor that other worlds are not merely possible, but, above all, that those new worlds are better and are necessary. As long as that does not happen, history will remain nothing but an anarchic collection of dates, places and different colored vanities.
The grandeur of Monte Alba'n will not be completed with the discovery of more temples, tombs and treasures, nor even through the exact reconstruction of its undeniable splendor. Monte Alba'n will be complete - and along with that, it will be part of the real history of our country - when it is understood that the ones who made it possible, who raised and maintained it, and whose rebellion undermined the arrogance that inhabited it, are still living and struggling, not so that Monte Alba'n and its power will be renewed and history will make an impossible backward turn, but for the recognition of the fact that the world will not be complete unless it includes everyone in the future.
The indigenous movement in which zapatismo is inscribed is not trying to return to the past, nor to maintain the unfair pyramid of society, just changing the skin color of the one who mandates and rules from above. The struggle of the Indian peoples of Mexico is not pointing backwards. In a linear world, where above is considered eternal and below inevitable, the Indian peoples of Mexico are breaking with that line and pointing towards something which is yet to be deciphered, but which is already new and better.
Whoever comes from below and from so far away in time, has, most certainly, burdens and problems. But these were imposed on him by those who made wealth their gods and alibis. And, in addition, those who come from such a long way can see a great distance, and there is another world in that distant point which their heart divines, a new world, a better one, a necessary one, one where all worlds fit...
If, in their long and stupid march, the neoliberals say "there is no culture other than ours," below, with the underground Mexico which resists and struggles, the Indian peoples of Oaxaca are warning: "There are other grottoes like ours."
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
On to Puebla, the second stele (resistance and another church, the errant ones)
Originally published in Spanish by La Jornada ************************** Translated by irlandesa La Jornada Friday, January 31, 2003.