On this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, IGD contributor Scott Campbell interviews Yunuen Torres, a community member from the autonomous P’urhépecha municipality of Cherán, Michoacán. More than nine years ago, on April 15, 2011, the residents of Cherán rose up and removed from their community illegal loggers linked to cartels, the municipal authorities, and the police. In the time since, they created an autonomous communal government where political power rests in the hands of the community and that has been designed to meet the needs of the more than 20,000 inhabitants of Cherán.
The conversation discusses the uprising and its context, how the communal government was formed and how it functions, the changes and challenges experienced in the community as a result of nine years of autonomy, as well as how Cherán is facing the COVID-19 pandemic, and what lessons and inspiration the community’s struggle may offer to other struggles and social movements in other locations.
The interview was conducted in Spanish and rerecorded in English. Many thanks to the comrade who offered their voice for this recording. The two music tracks included in this podcast are both from Cherán. The first is by Colectivo Aho and the second composed by music teacher Mario López and performed by the young musicians of the Banda Sinfónica Infantil y Juvenil Cherán K’eri. A transcript of the interview can be found below.
As men, women, boys, girls, grandfathers and grandmothers of the Indigenous communities that we are: Na Savi, Me´pháá, Nahua, Ñamnkué, mestizos and Afro-Mexicans from the state of Guerrero, and who are organized in the Indigenous and Popular Council of Guerrero – Emiliano Zapata (CIPOG-EZ), together with our comradely communities in the National Front for the Liberation of the Peoples (FNLP) and the Campesino Organization of the Southern Sierra (O.C.S.S.), we have not forgotten that we are suffering a war against our peoples. A war that began 527 years ago and one that continues. Governments come, governments go, be their logos of one color, two colors or three colors, it doesn’t matter: their boss is the same.
We continue dying from hunger, from the lack of hospitals and doctors, and from poverty, but not just that: they are literally killing us. As if we were animals, as if we were something worthless, something that isn’t human. The narco-paramilitaries hunt us on the roads, in our homes, and our families have to flee. They are the ones they call the displaced, and they go, walking, uprooted from their land, entire communities without a home, with the pain of their murdered relatives, and without knowing if they will eat tomorrow or if they will sleep under a roof, worse off than animals.
I want to pause and think about the correct words and also recognize the linguistic paralysis produced by the maelstrom of femicidal violence. Because this is not the first time the tsunami of immediacy has removed the possibility of stopping to reflect on the importance of choosing the words with which we form our discourse. And, I assume, I am not the only one who in the urgency to speak cannot even name what or how much it hurts while I try to reflect more deeply on what we are living through.
Among the feminist reflections sparked by the atrocious femicide of Ingrid Escamilla, there is one that barely resonates and is worth lifting up: we face the abandonment of being citizens of a femicidal state to which we continue to confer our security despite it repeatedly proving itself to be the very perpetrator of violence against women and the propagator of hatred against women.
On January 19, the Indigenous Nahua community of Zacatepec, Puebla, removed its mayor and replaced him with a Council of Elders in response to his failure to stop a toxic drainage system that is part of the Mexican government’s neoliberal Morelos Integral Project. Shortly thereafter, on January 24, Miguel López Vega, the community’s representative to the National Indigenous Congress and its Indigenous Governing Council, was detained moments after delivering official notice of this action to the state government, setting off protests and highway blockades that won his release five days later. The following day, January 30, the municipal government temporarily suspended construction of the drainage system. The below article and photos by Daliri Oropeza for Pie de Página and translated by Scott Campbell documents the assembly to remove the mayor and create a self-government.
While forming lines, residents of the Nahua community of Santa María Zacatepec look at one another. They smile. They check who is in each line, which one is the longest.
Facing the threat of a toxic drainage system emptying into the Metlapanapa River, they have decided to practice self-determination and choose their own government according to their own internal system.
Originally published in Spanish by Radio Zapatista and translated by Scott Campbell. Additional photos, along with audios, can be found with the original text.
Text, audios and photos by all of us.
We dreamed “that the patriarchy burned” and that it was possible to inhabit spaces free of cruelty. For a long time, we graffitied it, theorized it, protested for it, and proposed it. We then came to shout this dream in a territory free of femicides. Here we cried it and wailed it. Here we sang it, danced it, cared for it in this valley of organization and work. From December 26 – 29, 2019, the Zapatista women sheltered us in their collective and rebellious lap to clothe us in dignity inside the seedbed carrying the name of Commander Ramona, who died 14 years ago. Walking in her footprints, in those of Susana and of all the founding mothers of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, we arrived at this gathering that never should have been. Violence against women, the topic of discussion at this international gathering, should have decreased if the systemic conditions of parity and equity we enacted as a result of feminist debates were enough. But they aren’t. These autonomous and self-managed Zapatista rebel islands, that have multiplied in the past year, resist within a rough sea of generalized violence that led to 38,000 murders in 2019 in a Mexico that doesn’t work. That same violence impacts billions of people, particularly women, boys and girls, as explained by the some 4,000 women who came from 49 countries that also don’t work.
Four years ago, on July 31, 2015, five lives were taken in a Mexico City apartment. They were Nadia Vera Pérez, Yesenia Quiroz Alfaro, Mile Virginia Martín, Olivia Alejandra Negrete Avilés, and Rubén Espinosa Becerril. Their torture and execution-style killings received international attention, in particular because Nadia Vera, a social justice organizer and human rights defender, and Rubén Espinosa, a photojournalist, had fled to Mexico City from Veracruz following attacks and death threats due to their work. Before her murder, Nadia stated that should anything happen to her, it would be Javier Duarte who was responsible. Duarte was then governor of Veracruz and is now serving a nine-year sentence for corruption after he fled the country and was extradited from Guatemala. During his rule, widespread human rights abuses were the norm, including the assassination of journalists and political opponents.
While a few people have been detained for the murders, the state’s investigation has been egregiously irregular, incompetent, and disrespectful to the victims and their families. Over the course of four years, it has offered a variety of narratives – from a robbery gone bad to a cartel settling of accounts – yet, unsurprisingly, has assiduously avoided investigating the most likely scenario, that it was an extrajudicial assassination ordered and organized by state actors.
“‘You’re going to die! Sign your deportation and go back to your country!’ was what I heard as I struggled to recover from the asthma attack I suffered in the migrant detention center. I felt cornered by the guard and considered doing it, but remembering the problems that led me to leave my country, I dropped the idea.”
Lizzi is one of 51,607 people detained in Mexico by the National Migration Institute (INM) during the first four months of 2019. She was detained for 45 days, during which time she says she suffered physical and psychological torture. “We felt like we were in a jail, it was horrible! I had two asthma attacks inside. When we came back from the doctor, another guard asked me, “And you want to ask for refuge? Do you know you’ll be locked up for three to six months?”
A few meters from Pakal’ Ná park, near the train tracks in Palenque where hundreds of migrants meet to share their stories, the young, twenty-year-old mother recalls her painful experience. She left Honduras because she had problems with her son’s father, who belonged to one of the gangs. After years of abuse and threats, one day she decided to flee with her son to the United States to start a new life.
#ElIstmoEsNuestro Isthmus of Tehuantepec June 2019
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is a region of Mexico shared by the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz. It is the narrowest part of the country between two oceans: the Pacific to the south and the Atlantic to the north (better known as the Gulf of Mexico), and a meeting point between flora and fauna from the north and south. These characteristics make the Isthmus the most biologically diverse area of the country, an invaluable richness of life concentrated on the territories of 11 different Indigenous peoples. Eight with ancestral lands (Zapotec, Mixe, Ikoots, Zoque/Chimalapa, Zoque Popoluca, Chontal, Chochoco and Nahua) and three peoples who migrated due to displacement and forced relocation (Chinanteco, Mixtec, and Tsotsil). Indigenous peoples who to this day have resolutely protected the natural wealth of our territories.
Facing the imminent threat of the Fourth Transformation government and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to impose on the peoples of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the people of Mexico, and the nation itself, the so-called “Integral Development Plan for the Isthmus of Tehuantepec – Interoceanic Train” (popularly known since 1996 as the “Isthmus Megaproject”), and considering that:
With a sense of urgency, several collectives, organizations and adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle, as well as support networks for the Indigenous Governing Council (CIG), met on May 9 to agree upon actions against the increased military and paramilitary presence in Zapatista territories.
The collectives also spoke out against the recent increase in attacks, including the killings of members of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), particularly in the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca.
For these reasons, the organizations agreed to hold a Global Action on May 31 against the militarization of Zapatista territory and in defense of the land, territory and autonomy of the indigenous peoples and communities of the CIG-CNI.
For the indigenous peoples of Mexico, the winds of war today seem to be the same as those of previous governments. Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) government has been in power just four months and the imposition of development projects, dispossession, persecution, harassment, forced disappearances, and murders continue as before.
On May 4, in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, indigenous Nahuas belonging to the Popular Indigenous Council of Guerrero – Emiliano Zapata (CIPOG-EZ), held a meeting to coordinate actions at state and federal agencies to pressure them into meeting their social and political demands that had been rejected by the three levels of government. At the end of the meeting, at approximately 6pm, an armed group in Chilapa, Guerrero, kidnapped and later murdered José Lucio Bartolo Faustino and Modesto Verales Sebastián, both members of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI).