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.
While it emerges in the midst of tragic and difficult circumstances, I am excited for the release of the anthology Deciding for Ourselves: The Promise of Direct Democracy, edited by Cindy Milstein and to which I contributed the chapter “The Bonfires of Autonomy in Cherán.” As we make our way through this time of loss and uncertainty and begin to think about what comes next, I hope it may offer some insight and inspiration.
It’s now available for a short time on a “Pay What You Can” basis from AK Press.
As the book description reads, “A better world through self-determination and self-governance is not only achievable. It is already happening in urban and rural communities around the world.” This is what Deciding for Ourselves dives into, a theme that couldn’t feel more pressing and necessary.
My contribution looks at the indigenous P’urhépecha municipality of Cherán, located in Michoacán, Mexico. For the past nine years, Cherán has operated under a form of autonomous communal government after a popular uprising removed cartels, local police, politicians and political parties from the area. While the story of the rebellion and its immediate aftermath have been well documented, the chapter takes an in-depth look at how the communal government functions and meets the daily needs of Cherán’s residents, why the government took the form that it did, and how life has changed and is experienced in a place where community and government are woven into a shared communal fabric.
If mutual aid, solidarity, autonomy, self-determination and collective liberation are ideas that interest or resonate with you, this book is worth picking up. And at up to 75% off, it’s a great deal that also helps support an independent radical publisher.
#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:
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).
Below is a translation of the most recent statement from the Committee for the Defense of Indigenous Rights (CODEDI) following the ambush and killing of three of their members last night. In the audio interview below, Abraham Ramírez Vázquez, the head of CODEDI and former political prisoner, states the ambush was orchestrated by the judicial police (the armed wing of the state prosecutor’s office) and was ordered by the governor of Oaxaca, Alejandro Murat. For background on CODEDI and its origins in Santiago Xanica, see this article.
The organization CODEDI (Committee for the Defense of Indigenous Rights) is an autonomous organization that works for the indigenous communities of the Southern Mountains, Central Valleys and Coast of Oaxaca, in solidarity with all just causes. We currently work with 50 communities, creating the dream of living in autonomy through daily practices, with more than 20 years serving the peoples of Oaxaca. We are part of different alliances in the state, country, and world; alliances based in processes of autonomy and struggle. The leader of our organization is Abraham Ramírez Vázquez, an indigenous leader from Santiago Xanica who was imprisoned from 2004 to 2011 by order of former governor José Murat, the father of the current governor.
Chilpancingo, Guerrero | According to local press reports, the body of teacher Irineo Salmerón Dircio was found the morning of November 25. The teacher and coordinator of the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities (CRAC-PC) was kidnapped by an armed group on November 23.
According to state press reports, one of the two bodies found in bags near the community of Amate Amarillo in the municipality of Chilapa de Álvarez belonged to the coordinator of the CRAC-PC, who had been kidnapped by an armed group the previous Wednesday.
As the violence and repression instigated, permitted and perpetrated by the Mexican State continues to grow, it can become overwhelming to summarize it in these pages in a way that does justice to the victims and survivors of state terror and impunity. Yet as the grim tallies multiply and impact more and more lives, so does the clarity that what the state offers even in its best moments is no solution at all, and from that point resistance flourishes. The sparks of refusal and defiance despite the odds ignite around the country, making meaning out of that which seems so senseless, breathing reclaimed life into a panorama of death. As América del Valle of Atenco said earlier this month, “Even with everything they did to us, we don’t come here today as martyrs. We don’t come to cry…We’ve come here to say NO!” Lxs insumxs. Let’s see what they’ve been up to over the past two weeks.
Happy May Day! Around Mexico today numerous marches will be held, primarily organized by the National Education Workers Union (SNTE) and its more radical tendency, the National Education Workers Coordinating Body (CNTE). A few of the demonstrations are listed on It’s Going Down’sroundup of May Day actions. These marches are usually large, as the teachers union requires their members to show up. That extra incentive probably isn’t needed this year, as the teachers are fed up with the state’s repression and attacks on public education. The CNTE has already announced an indefinite national strike for May 15, and as a warm- up held the largest march in its 37-year history in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas on April 22. Stretching more than three miles with 100,000 participants, the march was in response to the repression faced by teachers there the week before. While the CNTE base has consistently demonstrated its militancy, the leadership remains stuck in the politics of respectability, as demonstrated during the April 22 march when they ordered that “no one should commit acts of vandalism and that anyone caught would be detained; that no one would be masked or cover their face.” The gap between the two seems likely only to widen as the union’s actions intensify.
When it comes to teachers and protests, fresh on everyone’s mind is Ayotzinapa. When it comes to a relentless dedication to preserving impunity at all costs, the Mexican state is quite impressive. This was on full display last week as the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) sent by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH) released its final 600-page report in a four-hour press conference on April 24. The GIEI’s mandate was cut short by the CIDH following the Mexican government’s consistent harassment, subterfuge and non-cooperation. “The experts assured that the authorities have not followed key lines of investigation, evidence has been manipulated, obstructed and investigative work rejected, officials that would have participated in the disappearance protected, and alleged suspects tortured to obtain confessions that support the government’s version.” The details are too expansive to explore here, but the short version is that the GIEI found the students were under surveillance, the attack on them was recorded and coordinated among local and state police and the army, and that the head of the Criminal Investigations Agency (akin to the FBI in the US) had a personal role in manipulating evidence and illegally detaining and torturing someone who later “confessed” to involvement in the disappearance.
Originally posted on It’s Going Down, below is the first entry of what will be a regular column I’m writing for that site, providing new and analysis of social movements and struggles in Mexico. Esta nota también está disponible en español en El Enemigo Común.
Welcome to the first edition of “Insumisión,” a new regular column here on It’s Going Down, bringing you news and analysis from social movements and struggles in the territory referred to as Mexico. Let’s get started.
As readers of It’s Going Down might already be aware, in Mexico City last Wednesday, Yorch, a member of Okupa Che, was kidnapped by police in the latest round of repression to face the autonomous, anti-authoritarian space on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, held since the 1999-2000 student strike. Police planted a backpack full of drugs on Yorch, who is now captive in a federal prison in Sonora. The morning after the arrest, compañerxs blockaded access to UNAM with burning dumpsters, and Molotov cocktails were unleashed on the UNAM Campus Security offices and patrol cars. The clamor to evict Okupa Che has steadily grown since Yorch’s arrest. Okupa Che released a statement, calling for solidarity and for people to be on alert to respond to any eviction attempt. Anarchist political prisoner Fernando Bárcenas (who received acts of solidarity from Tijuana to Bloomington earlier this year) sent an open letter in solidarity with Yorch, which reads in part:
It is not my intention to send a message of sympathy or pity, on the contrary, I intend to send a message of war, insurrectionary love and solidarity…In the streets or in the jail, we have to do nothing more than keep moving forward until all are free…Although along the way we stumble upon death…Unconditional and revolutionary solidarity with compa Yorch, prisoner of war…