Thursday

Interview with Danish mag.

Short Interview with some Danish Magazine
Thanks to Mikas Larsen.



Author:  Ramor Ryan
Book: Zapatista Spring (AK Press)
 
What did you do before coming to Chiapas (live, study, work)?  Lived in an autonomous squatting community in  East Berlin after the Wall came down.
When did you leave for Mex? 1st January, 1995.
Why? 
Inspired by the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, by the new lang age of emancipation they spoke and embodied, and for the similarities 
with autonomous idea of the Zapatista municipalities and the seed of which we had been trying to create in Europe with our autonomous 
communities in squats etc.  Frustrated by the lack of 
hope/radical potential in an increasingly neo-liberal and 
hostile-to-migrant Europe.

How would you describe the situation then? A revolt blossoming, brimming with possibilities. It really seemed that a new world was not only possible but just around the next corner. 
How was the Zapatista movement back then? Exuberant. Overflowing with indigenous people wanting to join up and  internationals enamoured by the writings of sub-comandante Marcos. There was a real sense of of changing history, of being part of a revolutionary moment, of transformation. Anything seemed possible.  

How would you describe the development of the movement? (and when did the foreigners get thrown out?)
Too broad a question, it would take a book to answer! The foreigners got thrown out (1997-98) because of the 
appalling  strategy of the PRI government of the time who seemed to be saying that the indigenous of Chiapas 
were not capable of organising their own revolt, that they must be directed by 'foreign agents' and therefore the 
Chiapas problem was foreign interference -- not institutionalised injustice, deep racism and the exclusion of a 
whole strata of society.  
 
What was your role in the events? What is it today?  See my book Zapatista Spring! Today, things are more 
complicated: the Zapatistas say they don't need direct solidarity in the communities from internationals like in the 90's with the peace and solidarity encampments which brought thousands of global activists in contact with the 
grass roots Zapatistas. The situation is changing, now they are focusing on their own internal development and 
building everyday, practical autonomy in their communities. Be a Zapatista wherever you are, they say, now more than ever. 

How would you describe the present situation in Chiapas? And what is the movement like now?
It is a period of subterranean springs, where the Zapatistas instead of being prominent political actors in Mexican society, are moving quietly in the shadows and fortifying their position. Interestingly, the biggest single 
manifestation of their numbers occurred this year (2011) in San Cristobal, when more than 20,000 base 
indigenous emerged onto the streets to raise their voice against the Drug War ravaging Mexico. 

Which are the most important recent changes and events (the state)?  The main story for the whole of the 
Presidency of Calderon (PAN) has being the catastrophic drug war which is devastating the social fabric of the 
country and in turn, the potential of the previously massive and powerful social movement.  The drug war is a 
consequence of the US market for a (proscribed) product and involves vast segments of the Mexican state 
collaborating with criminals to supply that demand. 
Raw, ferocious capitalism and the unmitigated pursuit of profit.  

How do you see the future of the movement? After the winter must come spring. In a bleak almost hopeless 
scenario, the social movements - and the Zapatistas as part of that - hold the key to returning Mexico into a place of hope once more, beyond the horror of the narco-state. 

ends.

 

Nice Review of Zapatista Spring / Hungry Fool





I recently finished reading Zapatista Spring: Anatomy of a Rebel Water Project & The Lessons of International Solidarity, by Ramor Ryan. I really enjoyed it, so I thought I'd share bits of why this book is a satisfying and compelling one. 

Ryan is a translator and activist from Ireland with anarchist leanings (he doesn't dwell too much on the exact nature of his political views in this book). When he wrote Zapatista Spring he had been working with Zapatista base communities in rural Chiapas, with the help of like-minded activists, to install water systems that deliver clean drinking water to the communities in question. 

Maybe some background. For those of you who don't know, the Zapatista movement emerged in the mid-90's, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, as an indigenous peasant uprising to assert human rights in the face of extreme poverty and to mount an attack on neoliberal economic policies (especially the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a specific effect of which was the opening up of the indigenous ejido system of communal land ownership to privatization) that they saw as posing a direct threat to their livelihoods and ways of life. On New Year's Day, 1994, adherents of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN is the Spanish acronym) publicly emerged after over a decade of organizing to declare war on the Mexican government, storming and seizing control of towns and cities in Chiapas. Several hundred thousand hectares of Chiapas land were, in the words of the EZLN, "recuperated" and distributed amongst it's many members. They've since shifted to a more nonviolent revolutionary strategy, focusing their resources on developing a network of autonomous municipalities on their recuperated land in order to provide themselves with the makings of a good life, outside of the state and capitalism. The Mexican army regards them with hostility, declaring their autonomous territory a "war zone" and manning its borders with armed soldiers. 

The international spokesperson of the Zapatistas, Subcomandante Marcos, has issued many communiques that detail the demands, political orientation, and philosophy of the Zapatistas. From Marcos' writings, as well as observations of their community structure, it is known that the Zapatistas lean towards what could be described as an anarchist/libertarian socialist outlook. Their system of self-governance emphasizes participatory democracy, with each community organizing a general assembly which sends delegates to larger assemblies in order to make decisions and develop the communities. The Zapatista organizational method’s direct democratic, anti-authoritarian tendencies have garnered solidarity from a global network of anarchists and like-minded activists. Many of these global sympathizers have travelled to the Zapatista communities to express their solidarity by assisting with community development projects. This is where Ryan comes in.

This book details his work, with two other "solidarity water workers" to assist the inhabitants of the Zapatista hamlet of Roberto Arenas in constructing a network of pipes to deliver spring water from a nearby mountain to the community member's homes. Zapatista Spring describes the messy, exciting, and achingly real process of doing that. 

I appreciate Ryan's solid dedication to the titular theme of solidarity, which is a near-constant presence in this book. He is clear in his narration as to the nature of the work he strives for with the people of Roberto Arenas: he and the other water workers are fellow revolutionaries who hope to assist the community members in asserting their rebel autonomy. They are comrades (compañeros) in a larger struggle to challenge capitalism and state repression. They are not paid staff of an international aid NGO, philanthropists, or other roles that imply a relationship of charity and dependence. Ryan and the other members of the water team are careful to involve community members in all stages of the design and implementation of the water system, in order to create a system that truly serves their needs and can be readily maintained by them well into the future. They are adamant about listening to the perspectives of female community members, whose voices are rarely present in the village's general assembly. They strive to honor the idea that this project is not just about a water system, but about furthering the revolutionary goals of the Zaptistas. With that in mind, they attempt to embody the ideals of the revolution in the process of implementing the water system. 

As the subtitle of this book implies, this process is anything but simple. The largely Western group of activist water workers must constantly grapple with the cultural, economic, and linguistic gaps between themselves and the community members they are working with. Far from being a prosperous village populated by zealous revolutionaries committed to the ideals that Subcomandante Marcos espouses, the people of Roberto Arenas are largely illiterate, resource-poor, and (as later events demonstrate) wavering in their support of the EZLN organization. Despite having access to the natural riches of the Lacondan jungle (a relatively pristine ecology that was at the time of writing being partitioned off and exploited by private investors), the population still suffers from malnutrition and preventable disease (and therefore death). Additionally, the socially conservative nature of the base communities lends itself to patriarchal practices, adherence to authoritarian relations, and a disciplined, pious public demeanor. These social conditions are not only unfamiliar to the leftist water workers, but often antithetical to their political practice. Striking the delicate balance between cultural pluralism and advocating for more progressive norms is an ongoing theme. For example, the water workers continually agitate for the traditionally downplayed needs of the female community members in the village’s general assembly, a practice that initially ruffles the feathers of the presiding patriarchs, but eventually results in material gains for the women. Reconciling these cultural differences while acknowledging the common points of solidarity the two groups share is an ongoing process of altering assumptions about what living in a revolutionary peasant community means and looks like. 

Yet the two groups do share common ground. Most obvious is their shared resistance to capitalist development and state repression. The water workers come to this point from the world of academic political theory and their observations of capitalism’s corrosive tendencies; the campesinos arrive largely out of material necessity, through experiencing and knowing firsthand the pain of abject poverty and historical dispossession. To them the abstractions of theory are of little comfort (or relevance) if concrete material improvements in their lives are not achieved. Throwing in their lot with the EZLN was an act of faith in the ability of the organization to provide them with a better life, and any developments must be judged by to what degree they accomplish that. 

And to be sure, they enjoy some degree of collective security: their communal and personal plots of corn and vegetables, as well as a litany of livestock, provide them with adequate sustenance and a small income. Income is used to purchase new tools, building materials, and other items to improve the village living conditions. There is also a palpable sense of community and collectivity in the village; a lived practice of social solidarity that eases the pains of poverty and enlivens the everyday tasks of collecting water and weeding the corn fields with laughter and conviviality. Life is imperfect, but it could be much worse. 

And to aid in the development of this struggling but bold rebel autonomy, the water workers bring the knowledge and materials needed to construct a water system. They work with the community to determine needs, organize the necessary labor, and finally to implement the means by which pathogen-free water will be piped directly to the village center. This is accomplished successfully, with only minor structural errors, and thus another layer of security and autonomy is added to life in Roberto Arenas. 

Years later, after focusing on writing and other forms of activism, Ryan and some of the former water workers return to Roberto Arenas to check in with the community that they had grown so close to. Through a series of unexpected run-ins with military personnel and a neighboring Zapatista community, they learn that the village of Roberto Arenas had officially shifted allegiance to the counterrevolutionary group known as the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (OPDDIC is the Spanish acronym), which exists in part to defend the privatization of the lands the EZLN recuperated. OPDDIC's members receive support from the Mexican government in the form of land, community infrastructure, and weapons that are used to mount attacks on Zapatista base communities. It's a survival tactic exemplary of other villages tempted by the large community infrastructure investments offered by the government in order to sway campesinos away from the Zapatista’s revolutionary goals. The water workers learn that a Roberto Arenas community leader they had bonded with remained “committed as ever” to Zapatismo, but saw it as a material necessity to “sell out” and benefit from the infrastructure offered by the government. Ryan notes that while the government is able to offer the communities state of the art structural improvements, the infrastructure often develops issues that cannot be resolved with community resources, and that government technicians are often unresponsive to pleas for assistance. 

Ryan and the other workers are conflicted and depressed about this development. Had they effectively “aided the enemy” by practicing solidarity with the people of Roberto Arenas? Will the people of Roberto Arenas be better off? What does this development portend for the future of Zapatismo, or of revolutionary aspirations in general, in these communities? 

Ryan evocatively compares the work of creating a more just world to Albert Camus’ characterization of the Greek myth of Sisyphus: a Greek king condemned to push a boulder up a hill, only to see it roll down the other side, for all of eternity. This literally unending and meaningless task is likened, by Camus, to the equally unending task of creating meaning and light in an absurd world. Working to develop a radically free, satisfying, and healthy world: in the words of Camus, "The struggle itself...is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Ryan, the water workers, the community members of Roberto Arenas, and the Zapatistas -- they are all actors, compelled by divergent experiences, to engage in this sisyphean project. 

Saturday

The one that got away

I came across this very special review of Clandestines recently, in that fabulous glossy mag Rolling Thunder. It is written by US political prisoner Harold H. Thompson, and it humbles me to think that this must have been one of the last books he read before he died, incarcerated, October 11, 2008, aged 66, in West Tennessee State Penitentiary.

 Harold was an anarchist prisoner serving life-plus sentences in Tennessee after a series of farcical trials. He was well known for his work as a “jailhouse lawyer”, and in his own words, coped with prison by fighting for his fellow prisoners in the courts.

 The series of events that led to Harold's incarceration in 1979 sound like a Woody Guthrie folk song. A woman was murdered. The killer went to jail. In jail he became king rat and squealed on his fellow inmates. A woman was murdered and her killer gets out of jail scot free because he did the states' dirty work. They value more his work as an informer than their own system of justice. Harold H Thompson, Vietnam vet, anarchist activist, found this intolerable. The murdered woman was the mother of his child. One night in 1979, peoples' justice was served upon the woman murderer and rat called Crawley. He was shot as he enjoyed a (last) drink in a bar. Harold went down for the deed, and proved one feisty rebel behind bars. A valiant jail-break attempt led to years of solitary confinement, after which he picked up a law degree and worked solidly for his fellow prisoners release, even if he, serving a life sentence, would never get out again.
 I raise my glass to Harold, and return the sentiment - well done, my heroic comrade, I miss you already.

The review:

 Ramor Ryan’s Clandestines—a modern adventure chronicle of those who have fought, or are fighting now, against injustice and oppression—is inspirational with examples of compassion and solidarity.

From Europe to the Middle East and across the seas to Latin America, the Irish anarchist tells stories of his travels: the people he riots with, drinks with, makes love with, everyone. I consider Clandestines a must-read, no matter what one’s political identity may be; as while one relates to the books’ characters the realization is born that a revolutionary exists in us all.

Being of Irish heritage, I especially was drawn into the chapter titled “The Making of a Rebel,” regarding the tragic Graveyard Massacre in Belfast in 1988 at the funeral of three IRA Volunteers murdered in Gibraltar by British Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers, when the Volunteers were gunned down in cold blood. Ryan’s account of the cowardly attack on the grieving families of the three IRA soldiers and other mourners by a member of the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) with gun and grenades ranks among the best accounts of this Bloody Sunday tragedy I have ever read. Through Ryan’s description of the attack on those attending the funerals of the deceased Volunteers and the aftermath, the reader feels like they were actually there, experiencing outrage, fear, and determination.

Ryan’s Clandestines is one of those rare books a reader hates to put down before finishing, which is the highest compliment paid to any author. As you read each chapter, you find yourself drawn into the events Ryan is writing about, and caring about the characters he introduces to the reader, real people living through extraordinary circumstances; one wonders about their welfare after finishing this book, wishing them well. The only thing I did not like about this amazing journey through events of the past several decades is that each chapter, after drawing the reader into it, ends leaving one yearning for more, exhibiting Ramor Ryan’s skill as a writer. Summing up my thoughts regarding Clandestines would be the words, “Well done, lad!” I would hope my free anarchist brothers and sisters will share any futureworks by Ramor Ryan.

 Harold H. Thompson

Insightful Review of Zap Spring on Truthout

Great review of Zapatista Spring on truth-out.org . Really exciting to see a review on a kind of big web-site, not one I would have expected to pick up the book. Thanks to writer Nick Rahaim, and delighted that he really 'got' the book and what I was trying to achieve...


One Sees a Tree, the Other, a Canoe: The Humor and Struggle of International Solidarity

By Nick Rahaim, Truthout | Book Review


http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/8592-one-sees-a-tree-the-other-a-canoe-the-humor-and-struggle-of-international-solidarity


 The Zapatistas have lingered in the imaginations of progressives and radicals around the world since the coming out of their rebellion in 1994. People from nearly all leftist persuasions have taken the struggle of the impoverished indigenous communities at the end of Mexico to be one of their own. This, to a degree, has been welcomed by Subcomandante Marcos' prosaic communiqués and has been a key component of building significant international solidarity. Yet, perhaps to an even larger degree, much of what is understood of the Zapatista struggle is largely a product of these same outsiders' imaginations.
Irish writer and activist Ramor Ryan, author of "Clandestines: The Pirate Journals of an Irish Exile," uses a seemingly benign and common water project to delve into the complexities of Zapatismo and of its associated solidarity activism in his book, "Zapatista Spring" published a year ago this month by AK Press. Over the past 15 years, dozens of water systems have been constructed in Zapatista communities with technical help from solidarity activists. The projects have not only had the pragmatic goal of bringing potable tap water to villages which before lacked that basic convenience, but also the heady goal of building solidarity between the Zapatista base and foreigners.
The cast of characters Ryan presents fit the archetypal activist spectrum, from a socially inept yet passionate anarcho-dogmatist and a less ideologically driven, type-A career organizer, to a radical punk sex worker and an academic Chicana in search of her roots in the Lacandon Jungle, among others. The group is far from harmonious and the internal problems of the outsider activists themselves drive the narrative for a good portion of the short work. For an anarchist and self-proclaimed revolutionary, Ryan's humor, empathy and nondogmatic take on politics and personal folly is refreshing. Throughout his narrative, he invites the reader to laugh at him, laugh with him and, most importantly, encourages fellow activists to laugh at themselves.
The story is set in the remote Zapatista community of Roberto Arenas. Ryan and his colleagues are the first outsiders to visit the land recuperated in the 1994 uprising. Ryan highlights the stark realities common in many of the Zapatista base communities: the extreme impoverishment, social conservatism and fervent religiosity combined with a bent toward liberation theology and patriarchal power structure. This is in contrast to the outsiders' imaginations, in contrast to the romanticized image of impoverished yet politically enlightened Mayans with worldly political critiques on autonomy, nonhierarchical decisionmaking and the intricacies of neoliberal oppression.
Ryan's point is not a condemnation of either the Zapatista communities or of the romanticizations of some of those around the world who stand in solidarity with the Zapatista struggle; rather, it is a criticism to massage out the knots to create greater understanding. In the prelude, Ryan describes how, walking through the jungle highlands with a Zapatista compañero, they stumble across an ancient ceiba tree, one of a few remaining after heavy logging and deforestation. He sees a magnificent sight that should be preserved. Upon remarking at the beauty of the tree, his compañero, agrees and says, "It would make a fine canoe." While aware of the constant need for decolonizing one's self and respect for usos y costumbres, Ryan asks the question, can solidarity in shared struggle truly bridge the divide between the perspective of a peasant who lives on less than a dollar a day to that of someone from a overdeveloped cosmopolitan background?
Through the planning and the construction of the gravity-fed water system, whose source lies two kilometers into the hills above the community, the activists attempted to make the process as participatory as possible, engaging the men and women of the community at every step of the way, not only for ideological reasons but also so the community members would know how to maintain the system themselves. To the dismay of the activists, it was nearly always the men of Roberto Arenas who engaged in the process. When activists invited the women, the answer was almost always that they were busy in the kitchen. While the organization of the Zapatistas is ideally bottom-up, the communities are being nudged, from the top down, away from traditional patriarchal structures and ingrained social conservatism.
The reality is, after nearly 18 years of open rebellion, the material condition of many of the Zapatistas' base communities hasn't changed all that much. The Mexican government has also pumped money into neighboring, non-Zapatista communities, providing running water, electricity, bridges and construction materials.
Zapatista communities are not allowed to accept money or aid from government agencies. At the same time, the upper echelons of the Zapatistas require food and material assistance for the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and demand that community members cover their travel expenses on top of necessary time commitments associated with autonomous self-government. After years of rebellion, the revolutionary sacrifice has become overly burdensome for many communities at the base of the movement. A few have looked outside, toward the Mexican government, which is more than willing to provide incentives to lure communities away from the Zapatistas. While Ryan never says it directly, it seems a war of attrition is at hand.
The water project at Roberto Arenas, through blisters, bruises and a few hurt egos, was an initial success. Plus, no story of revolutionary solidarity is complete without references to some sexy times had between the activists.
A few years after Ryan and two enamored fellow activists returned to Roberto Arenas - spoiler alert - they were confronted with unwelcoming carbines at the doorstep of the community. Ryan would learn that the community he worked so hard in betrayed the Zapatistas and took government incentives the Zapatistas could not compete with.
Hurt and dismayed, Ryan wonders if other work building bridges of solidarity was all for naught. He thinks of the people he bonded with, proud Zapatistas, who then ruptured their ties. Throughout the narrative, Ryan references Albert Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus." For Camus, Sisyphus is a hero of the absurd who delights in his task of pushing a boulder up a hill with full knowledge that it will never be completed. Ryan uses Sisyphus as an apt metaphor for the work of rebels - both Zapatistas and their solidarity activists. At times, Ryan's realism borders on cynicism when he discusses the Zapatistas and the illusions of many activists. Yet, he ends with a rallying call, to change history and do what Sisyphus never could and finally push the boulder over the hill.

Friday

book launch in dublin

"Zapatista Spring" by Ramor Ryan
Party, book launch and reading
22nd October, 8:00pm-00:30am
Dj- music- byob
Seomra Spraoi, 10 Belvedere Court, Dublin 1
http://seomraspraoi.org/

http://akpress.com/2011/items/zapatistaspring
"Ramor Ryan is a brilliant story-teller, and Zapatista Spring is impossible to put down. In this vivid account of democracy and solidarity in action, the pages overflow with humanity, wit, and the mountains and mud of Chiapas. This candid story should be read by anyone who has been inspired by the Zapatistas."—Ben Dangl, author of Dancing with Dynamite.

In "Zapatista Spring", Irish activist Ramor Ryan tells the exhilarating story of eight international volunteers working with indigenous campesinos to build a community water system in a Zapatista hamlet called Roberto Arenas in Chiapas, Mexico. A fantastic storyteller, Ryan vividly brings to life the interpersonal dramas of the international brigade, the challenges of doing Zapatista solidarity work amidst a dangerous climate of right-wing military repression, and day-to-day life in a remote Tzeltal community of subsistence family farmers. Ryan's writing is especially rich and you really feel like you're in the Lacandon Rainforest, knee-deep in mud, experiencing first-hand the mountains, rivers, snakes, alligators, and mosquitoes that comprise this tropical bioregion. The eight volunteers are themselves fascinating characters that you will enjoy meeting, from Josef, a straight-edge vegan from Poland, and Nebula, an anarchist sex worker from Barcelona, to Omar, a gay Arab filmmaker, and Tlaxlocaztla, a Chicana student looking for her roots. I won't spoil the ending, but I will tell you that it is sad and tragic and all too typical of the Mexican government's campaign to crush the Zapatista movement. (To find out what happens you will have to read the book!) In summary, not only is it highly important and informative, it is also really good literature. Moreover, it is also visually very beautiful, containing many powerful black-and-white photos of Chiapas and an awesome cover.

Friday

April Publication

Zapatista Spring: Autonomy and a Water Project
by Ramor Ryan
Publication Date - April 2011. AK Press. 210 pages.

The book tells the story of a solidarity project to install a potable
water system in a Zapatista base community located on occupied land.
Offering their technical knowledge, their solidarity and enthusiasm
for the Zapatista struggle for autonomy and self-determination, a
group of anarchists from Mexico City, the US and Europe are sent by
the Zapatista Revolutionary Clandestine Committee to the village of
Roberto Arenas deep within the Lacandon Jungle. Living and working
with the companer@s for 10 weeks, the activists experienced rebel joy
and the wretched hardships of abject poverty in equal measure.
"Zapatista Spring" explores the notion of international solidarity,
and examines questions provoked by the water project experience: how
are meaningful bridges of solidarity built between privileged
activists of the North and those of the disadvantaged South? When is
solidarity no more than charity, and when does it really help build
autonomy?

Thursday

Oaxaca: Aftermath of the Ambush


San Juan Copala Calls for Second Human Rights Caravan to Break Siege.
by Ramor Ryan, Oaxaca May 12th.
UpsideDownWorld.com


In an act of implacable defiance, the Autonomous Municipality of San
Juan Copala has called on civil organizations to organize another
Human Rights caravan to attempt to break the paramilitary blockade
surrounding their besieged headquarters in the indigenous Triqui
region of Oaxaca, Mexico. The caravan, called for May 30-31, hopes for
the participation of hundreds of national and international human
Rights observers and activists, and will be convened by Diocesan
Commission of Peace and Justice, and the Bartolomé Carrasco Regional
Human Rights Center .

The first Caravan which attempted to break the San Juan Copala siege
was ambushed on the isolated road to the community on April 27 by 25
masked and heavily armed paramilitaries, resulting in the death of two
activists, while injuring a dozen more.

Blame for the attack was attributed by the Autonomous Municipality
authorities to “groups of paramilitaries from the Union of Social
Welfare for the Triqui Region Organization [UBISORT, in its Spanish
initials] linked to the PRI [the governing party of Oaxaca State, the
Institutional Revolutionary Party].”

The two dead were well-known and respected human rights defenders.
Bety Carino Trujillo, director of the local NGO Cactus, which focuses
on indigenous and communitarian rights, was one of the primary
organizers of the fated caravan, and had recently toured Europe giving
testimony to the violence suffered by indigenous communities in
resistance in her home state of Oaxaca. Her words, somewhat
prophetically dwelling on the life and death struggle of her people,
are recorded here in Dublin, Ireland. The Finnish citizen Jyry Antero
Jaakkola was a popular activist who worked on a (as yet unrealized)
project to send a ship full of humanitarian aid from Europe to
beleaguered communities in Mexico–from Oaxaca to Chiapas. Jyry was
currently working closely with the Oaxaca City- based, and
predominantly anarchist group VOCAL (Oaxacan Voices Constructing
Autonomy and Freedom). Understanding the dangers faced in the struggle
in Oaxaca, he expressed his willingness to stand alongside his Mexican
companeros and the social movement in their resistance against
government repression.

“We know the risks involved in social activism in Oaxaca, and we knew
the risks going into San Juan Copala on April 27,” explained one of
the survivors of the ambush in an interview given to to Upside Down
World this week in Oaxaca City. The radical activist who asked to
remain anonymous for reasons of security, maintains they did the right
thing despite criticisms from other activist sectors that it was a
dangerous and foolhardy expedition.

“When the autonomous municipality put out a call for observers to
break the siege, we answered that call because of the terrible
situation faced by the people. These companeros had come to Oaxaca
City during the uprising of 2006 and now it was our turn to go to them
in their time of need. Solidarity, togetherness–this is what the
movement is all about.”

While the first caravan was initially imagined as far bigger, various
actors pulled out at the last moment out of fear, while others simply
couldn’t find the meeting point, and so the eventual group that set
off on the road numbered a much reduced 22 people. The group agreed
amongst themselves that at the first sign of trouble, they would turn
back. They didn’t want to provoke anything with the paramilitaries,
but they also wanted the beleaguered community to know that they were
not alone. And so they set off hoping to get as close as they could,
and maybe even achieve the goal of delivering humanitarian aid in the
form of food and medicine thus breaking the 5 month long siege, both
materially and psychologically.

The Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala, created in January of
2007 by a breakaway group of Triqui’s inspired by the Zapatista model,
was an act of rebel impudence that did not go unnoticed by the state
authorities, who immediately began consolidating other Triqui groups
into an armed opposition. The state government, according to Proceso
magazine, “ channeled millions of pesos into the Triqui organizations
Ubisort and Mult to contest the newly created Autonomous
Municipality.” That financial support was used to arm and train the
paramilitaries and a reign of violence engulfed the zone – there have
been 19 politically-linked assassinations in the Trique region since
December 2009 alone.

The siege on the autonomous municipality began in November, 2009.
Paramilitaries from Ubisort set up road-blocks and cut the town’s
electricity and telephone lines. The town market closed as the flow of
goods and services ceased, and the schools shut down. Some 700
families were trapped within the blockade. Meanwhile, the governor
Ulises Ruiz Ortiz and state authorities looked the other way or
insisted, cynically, that it was an “internal Triqui issue.” Citing
“ancestral conflicts and inter-community strife”, they washed their
hands of the situation. “The Mexican State benefits more than anyone
else when the Triqui are fighting amongst themselves. But the region’s
political and economic bosses also benefit,” explains lawyer and
investigator Francisco López Bárcenas, emphasizing the political
interests in maintaining the violence. Why send in the security forces
or army, when the paramilitaries are doing the job of destroying the
Autonomous Municipality for them?

“Mexico is a dangerous country to defend Human Rights,” commented
Amnesty International in their Demand Dignity report, highlighting the
case of two young Triqui women, Teresa Bautista Merino and Felicitas
Martinez Sanchez who worked on the autonomous community radio station
The Voice That Breaks the Silence. The duo, presenters of a radio show
denouncing human rights abuses, were similarly ambushed and killed by
paramilitaries in the region in April, 2008.

Nevertheless, even in a country where according to the Office of the
High Commissioner of Human Rights of the United Nations, eleven human
rights activists have been murdered since 2006, the ambush of the
Human Rights observers caravan is unprecedented in its audacity.

“These kind of brazen attacks on Human Rights missions don’t even take
place in war zones like Colombia, Iraq or Afghanistan,” pointed out
Contralinea, an investigative magazine who sent two reporters on the
caravan.

So nobody on the caravan expected what came next as they approached a
makeshift blockade of stones strewn across the road in a quiet,
deserted part of the hilly terrain on April 27.

The human rights defenders, sensing danger, decided to turn around
immediately and head back. As they u-turned the three vehicles,
legions of masked figures started streaming down the rocky hillside
towards them, pointing AK-47’s. Without warning or indication the 20
or so gunmen opened fire and didn’t stop for a quarter of an hour. “A
rain of bullets enveloped us,” explained one survivor. In the panic
and confusion of the assault, Bety and Jyry were both shot dead on the
spot, while others fled into the surrounding hills seeking cover,
pursued by the attackers.

A few days later, sitting in a dark bar near the bustling Oaxaca City
market, the radical activist and ambush survivor is pondering upon his
escape, while his good friend Jyri perished.

“It’s the fourth attempt on my life since 2006,” he explains. “I’ve
been lucky so far. I’m just trying to be as effective as possible as
long as I’m still alive.”

As we talk, news comes through on the attack on another militant from
the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) on his way to
work that morning. Marcelino Coache, a well known public speaker and
movement activist who last year was kidnapped and tortured by unknown
assailants presumed to be a death squad, was once again attacked by
assailants, who stabbed him and left him for dead. But he survives.

“Here in Oaxaca such is the level of state-sponsored aggression and
total impunity,” explains the activist, “that these death-squads or
the paramilitaries can pull off yet another stunt like this on
Marcelino or the ambush in Copala without fear of consequences. They
can do whatever they want to do. They have backing right to the top.”

Indeed, State Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz insists on referring to the
ambush as a “confrontation between the community and national and
international activists.” The governor, publicly denounced recently as
a tyrant (by members of his own PRI party!), when asked about the
death of the Finnish Human Rights activist Jyri, countered by asking
about the visa status of the foreigner. “It is against the
Constitution for foreigners to be involved in Mexican politics.”

Which brings to mind the problematic of the second caravan to break
the siege of San Juan Copala. Not all activists in the city are in
agreement in sending another caravan into the “intractable Triqui
situation.” Add to the measure the suspicion that Ubisort are involved
in narco-activities and therefore, like in other parts of the country
wracked by the "Drug War", where narco-lords, state officials and
security forces are in tight collaboration (‘Colombiaization’), the
security of the caravan is anything but certain. Members of the
Autonomous Municipal Authority have called for State police protection
for the caravan, while Governor Ruiz Ortiz has promised to block the
caravan, and deport any foreigners on it.

“If we can get 1000 people, or more, they can’t stop us,” says the
radical activist. This seasoned militant is hopeful that the teachers
union, Section 22, the backbone of the 2006 uprising, will mobilize in
big numbers for the second caravan. But the teachers have been in a
state of disarray of late and will be overseeing a state-wide teachers
strike at the same time. Meanwhile the formerly powerful social
movement is also heavily divided, and feeling the pressure of years of
unceasing repression.

“We reaffirm our commitment to never give up, because the future we
yearn for is near,” ends the communique from the San Juan Copala
Autonomous Municipality, sent out from the municipal headquarters now
under its fifth month of blockade. “We know that the night is darkest
before the dawn."