Laura Gottesdiener: Visiting a revolution that won’t go away

Some people would tell you that a modest-sized group of mostly indigenous people in a poor Mexican state on the Guatemalan border doesn’t matter, but that would be the voice of those who don’t understand how a revolution can work and what victory can mean. The Zapatistas have been a great inspiration to movements globally since they first appeared on the world stage on New Year’s Day 1994. Everything about them was new, except that they were also the voice of the indigenous cultures of the Americas saying, only two years after the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in this hemisphere: we are not gone, we are not defeated, we have not forgotten, and we have a future.

The future they dreamed of and realized in bits and pieces is one that opens up possibilities for us all. Since they rose up, so much has changed. So much else has risen up, including the indigenous activists of the Idle No More movement in Canada, facing down the tar-sands pipeline and fracking, and the astonishing triumph of the Bolivian majority in electing an indigenous leader and defeating so many neoliberal schemes to privatize and control their country’s resources. The Zapatista revolution has helped inspire many voices in this hemisphere telling other stories and demanding other futures than the one that Wall Street and greed laid down as inevitable.

Most of all, it’s the Zapatistas who taught us that revolutions are first of all ideas and not violence.  It’s no mistake that the great anthology of the writings of their principal scribe and spokesperson, Subcomandante Marcos, is titled Our Word Is Our Weapon. The Zapatistas never sought to take state power or overthrow the Mexican government, but to take a stand against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and be free of the brutal domination of the local authorities and military in Chiapas. In that latter goal they have been imperfectly but astonishingly successful for these 20 years since they briefly occupied that state’s cultural capital, San Cristobal de Las Casas, and set afire the imaginations of countless watchers in Mexico and all over the world.

They made feminism central to their revolt. They questioned neoliberalism and the nation-state. They made humor and political theater part of their toolkit, while Marcos’s proclamations, manifestos, and other writings opened up a new political language that was poetic, playful, and a genuine step beyond the stale rhetoric of much of the left. I always thought Marcos deserved the Nobel Prize in literature, but at least Lannan Foundation supported him.

Most of the uprisings in North America and many in Europe over the past 20 years, from Reclaim the Streets in the mid-1990s to Occupy Wall Street in 2011, turned to the Zapatistas for inspiration and ideas. There is another history of the last 20 years, in which the devastating NAFTA goes into effect on January 1, 1994, but at almost the same moment resistance to corporate globalization rises, enough to derail the planned Free Trade Area of the Americas altogether and, starting in 1999, to throw some very large rocks under the tank treads of the World Trade Organization.

We — the we who want an egalitarian and ecologically sound future — have lost much in the past two decades, but we have won much, too.  Without the struggles and voices and victories of the Zapatistas and other groups often seen as “marginal,” the present would be that much uglier, that much more destructive. And around the world, these forces are growing, not shrinking. They are hardly the dominant media’s dominant story, but they represent a genuine counterforce to that story and the power it serves.  They are underground, in the streets, and in the mountains — and as Laura Gottesdiener reports so beautifully today, in the Lacandon jungle, too. TomDispatch regular Gottesdiener, who was part of Occupy Wall Street and last year published a powerful book on the foreclosure crisis’s impact on African-Americans, is in some sense a daughter of that revolution and in another is exactly the right voice to see why, 20 years on, the Zapatistas matter to all of us.

This week I have been looking at the viciousness of many anonymous trolls, petty bullies, and liars in the online world, which is easy to mistake for the whole world. There are other worlds in our world, the worlds of Desmond Tutu standing up for the rights of gays and lesbians, of the quiet toil of organizations like the Catholic Worker, of the Zapatista’s emphasis on “dignidad,” or dignity, of the human rights activists and caregivers and heroes who do the work that matters, of the great climate activists and the scientists to whom accuracy and truth matter deeply, of the current generation of fierce, funny feminists moving us all forward.

The Zapatistas have often spoken of a “world of many worlds” or said, “the world we want is one where many worlds fit.” Even to remember that they are out there, great experimentalists and improvisationalists in social and political possibility, is to feel better about this world.  They remind us just how large and varied our planet still is, how many worlds it contains. The Zapatistas have given our world so much, and in her report from the Lacandon jungle, Laura Gottesdiener gives us the exhilarating pleasure of being inside their world by being inside her beautiful words. Rebecca Solnit

Now you see me
A glimpse into the Zapatista movement, two decades later
By Laura Gottesdiener

Growing up in a well-heeled suburban community, I absorbed our society’s distaste for dissent long before I was old enough to grasp just what was being dismissed. My understanding of so many people and concepts was tainted by this environment and the education that went with it: Che Guevara and the Black Panthers and Oscar Wilde and Noam Chomsky and Venezuela and Malcolm X and the Service Employees International Union and so, so many more. All of this is why, until recently, I knew almost nothing about the Mexican Zapatista movement except that the excessive number of “a”s looked vaguely suspicious to me. It’s also why I felt compelled to travel thousands of miles to a Zapatista “organizing school” in the heart of the Lacandon jungle in southeastern Mexico to try to sort out just what I’d been missing all these years.

[Read more...]

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NSA hacked Mexican president’s email

Der Spiegel reports: The NSA has been systematically eavesdropping on the Mexican government for years. It hacked into the president’s public email account and gained deep insight into policymaking and the political system. The news is likely to hurt ties between the US and Mexico.

The National Security Agency (NSA) has a division for particularly difficult missions. Called “Tailored Access Operations” (TAO), this department devises special methods for special targets.

That category includes surveillance of neighboring Mexico, and in May 2010, the division reported its mission accomplished. A report classified as “top secret” said: “TAO successfully exploited a key mail server in the Mexican Presidencia domain within the Mexican Presidential network to gain first-ever access to President Felipe Calderon’s public email account.”

According to the NSA, this email domain was also used by cabinet members, and contained “diplomatic, economic and leadership communications which continue to provide insight into Mexico’s political system and internal stability.” The president’s office, the NSA reported, was now “a lucrative source.” [Continue reading...]

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Video: The Mexican media scandal

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Four Mexican journalists murdered in last week

The Guardian reports: Two press photographers have been found dead in a canal in the Mexican port city of Veracruz alongside a former cameraman and a fourth body, less than a week after another journalist based in the city was killed in her home.

The state attorney general’s office issued an initial statement identifying photographers Guillermo Luna and Gabriel Huge as among the victims. Both were reportedly working for a local website called Veracruz News and had been missing since the day before.

State authorities later said Esteban Rodríguez, a former cameraman, was also among the dead as well as a woman named as Irasema Becerra, said to be Luna’s girlfriend.

It followed the discovery of Regina Martinez, the Veracruz correspondent of the weekly national news magazine Proceso strangled to death in her home last weekend.

The latest murders underline Veracruz’s current status as the most extreme focal point for attacks against journalists which have become commonplace in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against the drug cartels in December 2006 and extreme violence exploded across the country.

Of the nine Mexican journalists killed last year probably because of their work, four were from Veracruz.

Ricardo Gonzalez, of the press freedom activist group Article 19, said journalists in Veracruz are being targeted because of their position “as witnesses to the decomposition of the state.”

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The drug war’s impact on Mexico

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Bloggers vow to continue fight against organized crime in Mexico after fourth person killed for online comments

“Remember the bloggers vs. journalists debate?” tweets Jay Rosen “The journalists had to give up and now the bloggers are getting murdered.”

Journalism in the Americas: For the fourth time in two months in the city of Nuevo Laredo in Mexico, a body has been found with a message threatening users of social networks, reported GlobalPost and La Jornada.

The decapitated man was found Wednesday, Nov. 9, with a sign identifying him as “El Rascatripas” (or “Belly Scratcher”), the administrator for the Nuevo Laredo en Vivo website, which allows residents to denounce organized crime in the border city, according to the Associated Press. Nuevo Laredo en Vivo, however, said the body in fact did not belong to any of the site’s moderators.

The decapitated man showed signs of torture, reported Voz de América. His body was found at the Monumento a Colón, the same place where the body of journalist María Elizabeth Macías, alias “La Nena de Laredo” (or Laredo Girl), was found in September after denouncing drug crimes on the Nuevo Laredo En Vivo site.

At the beginning of September the bodies of two youths hanging from a bridge in the same city also were found with similar warnings against using online sites to report on organized crime and drug trafficking. The deaths of the youths and of Macías were attributed to the Mexican cartel of Los Zetas.

The Nuevo Laredo en Vivo website remains online, highlighting a comment Laredo Girl made just days before she was killed: “Yesterday the SEDENA (Secretary of National Defense) rescued six hostages, arresting one of the criminals. We continue denouncing, thanks to your reports.”

The website, created more than a year ago, warns visitors to change their user names but to continue reporting on and denouncing crime in the area.

Ovemex, who writes the blog Borderland Beat, said he was working to create a Twitter manifesto calling for people to unite against crime, and offering tips on how to report safely and anonymously. Ovemex told MSNBC, “These deaths will not be in vain…They cannot kill us all!”

News media in this border city have stopped reporting on the actions and atrocities of organized crime because of the threats against journalists. As such, citizens have turned to social media like Facebook, Twitter and blogs to inform themselves and to denounce crimes. “For Zetas, and the other cartels, the less people talk about them, the better,” columnist Raymundo Riva Palacio told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

Don’t be afraid to report,” Nuevo Laredo en Vivo user Anon4024 wrote Nov 9. “This is how we make a difference in this city.”

See this Knight Center map for more information about attacks on journalists in Mexico.

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