International Womens Day, 8 March 1998. The national flag is flying at half-mast in the Glen.
"Its to honour the companeras who have fallen" tells Anita.
"All of them," she says.
"The ones who fell in '94," interjects Maria.
"And the Companera Guadalupe who fell in Ocosingo in January," adds another woman. Dona Cristina has the final word-"Its for the 119 women in another country who died in the struggle many years ago".
The day begins at 5am as the elder women light 45 candles for the dead of Acteal. A ceremony is performed in the earthen- floor church, the women dancing hypnotically to a guitar and violin accompaniment. Here in the soft dawn shadows, the living and the dead embrace.
Its a peaceful, happy day despite everything. The Roses of 10 of April beat The Emeralds in the final of the Womens basketball. The whole community roars in delight as Lupey plants a 3-pointer to clinch the game. These people are basketball mad. My attempts to introduce Gaelic and Hurling to the community have failed miserably.
The campamentistas, punky artists from the USA have just completed the wall-mural of Che Guevara commissioned by the community. "What value the life of one man when the future of humanity is in danger?".
Che lives, here in the Glen, 30 years after his death. Here he is, on the wall, chosen, cherished, an inspiration. As the cowboys brand the cattle with atavistic fervour, his name rings out- "Viva El Che!" they hoot as each cow is done. Irony- Monica from Philadelphia painted the mural beautifully but she thought Che's historic image was the singer of the US band Rage Against The Machine.
And then her special knife, the indispensable Leatherman, went missing. Things keep going missing, little things. Visitors get upset when they come as volunteers, peace campers or solidarity activists and their stuff goes missing within the community. Don Enselmo is visibly upset when he's told of this latest incident. We have to calm him down and stop him from getting on the community tannoy system to denounce the culprits. Little kids steal things, we all agree (guiltily),and here is some-thing beyond Zapatista concientisation.
Next day an investigation 'squad' comes to, well, investigate. Led by Detective Companero Columbo. "And at what time exactly did you notice the knife missing..."
Anita, a young single mother of 2 kids, keeps asking about one of the punky artist's dyed hair. She too wants to paint her hair pink. This could start a new fashion trend in the glen.
Bad news comes in of inter community fighting in a nearby village. Zapatistas, ex-Zapatistas and Pri-istas were battling it out with sticks and stones. One campamentista reported-"It was the worse moment of my life as I saw companeras battering each other with the same sticks that had been used to chase out the army in January." While the fighting was sorted out over the next few days, the whole incident served to demonstrate just how insidious the military tactic of destabilising the rebel communities internally (divide by offering bribes, or by spreading divisive rumours) is becoming, as tension rises.
More than bribes and rumours, the government and military are continuing with their tactic of arming and training dissident elements in the region . On 10 March, a Zapatista is shot at in the nearby community of San Miguel. The bullet grazed his cheek. He shot back, hitting the aggressor, a somewhat drunk ex-Zapatista, part of a group in the village who recently received arms and training from Military backers. A couple of days later, the local Tuxtla based newspaper reported that the Zapatistas had 'ambushed" the ex-Zapatistas/ Punales because they had deserted the organisation. Lies.
Back in the Glen, its red alert again. People fear the "Federales" will attempt to enter the region in force under a pretext of investigating the incident. Everybody waits, "pendiente", until things cool down. Nobody can leave the village. Nicolas is pissed off- the day is cloudy and cool and he could have got a lot of work done in the milpa. "Two died" he says. More rumours; nobody died.
What can you do to resist this insipid tactic of carefully orchestrating divisions in the rebel communities? "We teach the people to be aware of what the malgubierno is attempting to do" explains the companero Jose.
"We're united here" asserts Don Enselmo next day in the village co-op store. "Have you tried the lemon tea?" he proffers.
"Were united here" he says with conviction. And he adds -"Almost". Everybody repeats the unity clause, only some with a little reservation. The lemon tea is splendid.
Interlude. Daniel is leaving the community. Im sad because he was a good friend to many visitors. The organisation asked for volunteers to set up a new community on occupied land in another region.
"There's more land". Daniel and his family are one of the least well-off in the Glen. They had been burnt out of their previous home in January of '94 because the local Pri-istas suspected he was a rebel. Daniel has a bad eye infection. Why don't you go to the hospital? I asked. "No money" He says it costs 25 pesos in the local hospital. The government hospital is free, he adds, but he refuses in principle to go there. His eye is a real mess. At this very moment, two new peace-campers arrived into the room. They preceded to unpack chocolate, sweeties and sugery things on the table in front of Danel and his bad eye. The sweeeties must have cost about 100 pesos. "Have a toffee, Companero" they offer and I feel a bit sick. This is always the contradiction of our presence.
2 Development workers arrive to teach maths and sums to innumerate women in the community. It seems crazy that 2 highly educated graduates from an Ivy League US university have come to teach these women basic sums when there are plenty of people in the community who could also teach. Possibly the numerate people in the village have not the time to spare but the situation still remains...absurd.
The migration authorities are continuing their campaign of expelling international maths teachers and other such undesirables.
They appear to have stopped roaming the streets of San Cristobal hassling crusty tourists, but they continue to serve expulsion papers on people in sensitive areas like Chenahlo, scene of the Acteal massacre. International pressure on the Mexican authorities to desist from this xenophobic campaign has helped the situation...
Don Remitio has been walking around the community with a glossy magazine under his arm for a week. If you ask him what he has there he will look surprised as if -what magazine?!- and then he will open it unhurriedly. "Its nothing" he will say. Its actually a Truckers magazine from Spain full of glossy pix of trucks and women. Don Remitio!! "Ah no,' he will smile, and open it at a back page. There you will see a colour photo of Don Remitio in front of the village truck, fist raised, pride written all over his face.
"Viva Zapata!" reads the caption, "
Don Remitio knows the roads of the highlands of Chiapas in his 3-Ton Ford"...
1997 was a good year for sex in the glen. Everywhere you look there's little baby calves, foals, puppies, ducklings and kittens. And the people have been (re)productive too. Catarina has a new little girl. Already a few months old but still without name." Ramona!" she jokes, to go with her son, Marcos. So many young Marcos' around the place! No name yet because the mortality rate is so high. 20 year old, single Palestino also coyly admits he has a new daughter. As we weed the cafetal he little by little unveils the events that led to this almost miraculous event. It was a Zapatista party to celebrate the 4th anniversary of the insurrection. She was masked and single. They danced and the night was young. Are you going to get married? I ask. "No money," he says. "It costs 1500 pesos to get married."
He tends the coffee with great care. The 1500 pesos I suspect. The story lends credence to Sub Marcos' joke that the Zapatistas could be over-run by the army because all the companer@s are too busy making love...
Anita still hasn't dyed her hair pink but she invites the campamentistas around to her house to watch telly. The Simpsons are on. Here in this tiny house with a dirt-floor, US punks and young Zapatistas watch Bart and laugh their heads off. This situation gets more and more absurd.
This weeks newspapers reports that the Mexican government increased its military spending budget from the USA by 600%. Quite clearly these people are not interested in ratifying the San Andres Peace Accords signed with the Zapatistas in February '96. People in the Glen smile at the innocence of the question can there be a political solution to the situation. " The war is closer" says Jose.
Trinidad from Roberto Barrios, community leader and father of 5 children, is macheted to death by 5 neighbours, pri-istas and members of the paramilitary group Los Chinchulines. Even though this murder took place within a Zapatista stronghold, there is no response, no revenge. With Ghandi-like adherence to their non-violent strategy, the Zapatistas hold tight as the attacks against their militants, supporters and base intensify. But for how much longer can they bear up? Paramilitaries in the Palenque region have been making threats of "more Acteals".
A blue military helicopter lingers over the glen one morning. Later, as we depart from the community, our vehicle is tailed by two dodgy looking secret police/ migration authorities. As night falls, we drive through desolate country roads with these goons close behind attempting to intimidate us. Its beginning to feel like El Salvador or Guatemala more and more each day.