Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rebels with a Damn Big Cause

Last Sunday I got to see a new side of Chiapas when we visited the headquarters of the closest one of five Zapatista Caracols, Oventic. ('Caracol' means snail and applies here to the largest groupings of Zapatista collectives in Chiapas.) In 1994, when NAFTA went into effect, groups of indigenous rebels, led by the erudite and famously non-indigenous Subcomandante Marcos and Comandantes Ramona, David and others. The Zapatistas managed to take the major cities of Ocosingo and San Cristobal, relinquishing them to army battles in later days. In peace talks, they managed to gain autonomy over their own lands and shaky control over certain natural resources. To this day, they survive without any support from the Mexican government, relying on money from NGO's and selling various handicrafts they make.

Since Oventic was established after the nineties uprisings as a new center in a swathe of agricultural lands, it is somewhat small and lacking in life. At the gate we were greeted by a small woman with a bandana covering her nose and mouth. She took our id's and came back to lead us into an office where three ski-masked men bumbled over some forms that were our "permits". We ended up behind the desk of another ski-masked man who sermonized to us about the Zapatista tenets of Marxism, and anti neo-liberalism and capitalism. It was all in Spanish, but I managed to get his gist since Spanish was his second language (after the indigenous language that was his mother tongue) and he spoke in sweeping generalities about his egalitarian and purist ideals. He got a bit muddled when we asked him specific questions about places and technology, and it became a bit creepy to be paying such rapt attention to a man whose mouth was merely a bulge under a black ski mask. Afterwards we took a walk around the village. We were not allowed to photograph people or vehicles, but I took pictures of some incredible murals decorating the buildings there.

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