FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Zapatista Women Encounter Themselves

by JOHN ROSS

La Garrucha, Chiapas.

Dozens of Zapatista companeras, many of them Tzeltal Maya from the Chiapas lowlands decked out in rainbow-hued ribbons and ruffles, their dark eyes framed by “pasamontanas” and “paliacates” that masked their personas, emerged from the rustic auditorium to the applause of hundreds of international feminists gathered outside at the conclusion of the opening session of an all-women’s “Encuentro” hosted by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) here at year’s end.

The Tzeltaleras’ line of march which resembled a colorful if bizarre fashion parade, seemed an auspicious start to the rebels’ third “encounter” this year between “the peoples of the world” and the Zapatista communities and comandantes – an anti-globalization conclave last December and an “Encuentro” in defense of indigenous land this summer preceded the womens’ gathering.

Although the call for the event was issued under the pen of the EZLN’s quixotic spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos, the author of a recently published erotic coffee table book in which his penis plays the role of a masked guerrillero, the impetus for the women’s “Encuentro” sprung from the loins of the Zapatista companeras.

Last July, at the conclusion of a meeting with farmers from a dozen counties in the hamlet with the haunting name of La Realidad (“The Reality”), a young rebel from that community, “Evarilda”, apparently without clearing the invitation with the EZLN’s General Command, called for the all-womens’ encounter, explaining that men were invited to help with the logistics but would be asked to stay home and mind the children and the farm animals while the women plotted against capitalism.

True to Evarilda’s word, at the December 29th-31st gathering which drew 300-500 non-Mexican mostly women activists to this village, officially the autonomous municipality of Francisco Gomez, and which honored the memory of the late Comandanta Ramona (d. January 2006), men took a decidedly secondary role. Signs posted around the “Caracol” called “Resistance Until the New Dawn”, a sort of Zapatista cultural/political center, advised the companeros that they could not act as “spokespersons, translators, or representatives in the plenary sessions.” Instead, their activities should be confined “to preparing and serving food, washing dishes, sweeping, cleaning out the latrines, fetching firewood, and minding the children.”

Indeed, some young Zapatista men donned aprons imprinted with legends like “tomato” and “EZLN” to work in the kitchens. Meanwhile, older men sat quietly on wooden benches outside of the auditorium, sometimes signaling amongst themselves when a companera made a strong point or smiling in pride after a daughter or wife or sister or mother spoke their histories to the assembly.

The role of women within the Zapatista structure has been crucial since the rebellion’s gestation. When the founders of the EZLN, radicals from northern Mexican cities, first arrived in the Tzeltal-Tojolabal lowlands or “Canadas” of southeastern Chiapas, women were still being sold by their families as chattel in marriage. Often, they were kept monolingual by the husbands as a means of control, turned into baby factories, and had little standing in the community. Those from the outside offered independence and invited the young women to the training camps in the mountain where they would learn to wield a weapon and a smattering of Spanish and become a part of the EZLN’s fighting force. 14 years ago, on January 1st 1994, when the Zapatistas seized the cities of San Cristobal and Ocosingo and five other county seats, women comprised a third of the rebel army – women fighters were martyred in the bloody battle for Ocosingo.

Key to bringing the companeras to the rebel cause was “The Revolutionary Law of Women”, officially promulgated that first January 1st from the balcony of the San Cristobal city hall which decreed that women should have control over their own lives and their bodies. The law, which had been carried into the Indian communities by Comandantas Susana and Ramona, often meeting with hostility from the companeros, was “our toughest battle” Sub Marcos would later note.

Integrating women into the military structure, which was not tied to local community, proved easier than cultivating participation in the civil structure, which was rooted in the life of the villages. Although women occupied five seats on the 19-member Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee (CCRI), the EZLN’s General Command, their numbers fell far shorter in 29 autonomous municipal councils and the five “Juntas de Buen Gobierno” (“Good Government Committees”) which administrate Zapatista regional autonomy.

But as the Zapatista social infrastructure grew, women became health and education promoters and leaders in the commissions that planned these campaigns and their profile has improved in the JBGs and autonomias.

Women’s Lib a la Zapatista has been boosted by the rebels’ prohibitions against the consumption of alcohol in their communities. Whereas many inland Maya towns like San Juan Chamula are saturated in alcohol with soaring rates of spousal and child abuse, the Zapatista zone has the lowest abuse indicators in the state, according to numbers offered by the womens’ commission of the Chiapas state congress. As a state, Chiapas has one of the highest numbers of feminicides in the Mexican union – 1456 women were murdered here between 1993 and 2004, more than doubling Chihuahua (604) in which the notorious “Muertas” of Ciudad Juarez are recorded. The low incidence of violence against women in the zone of Zapatista influence is more remarkable because much of the lowland rebel territory straddles the Guatemalan border, a country where 500 women are murdered each year.

With the men tending the kids and cleaning latrines, the women told their stories in the plenaries. Many of the younger companeras like Evarilda had grown up in the rebellion – which is now in its 24th year (14 on public display) – and spoke of learning to read and write in rebel schools and their work as social promoters or as teachers or as farmers and mothers. Zapatista grandmothers told of the first years of the rebellion and veteran comandantas like Susana, who spoke movingly of her longtime companera Ramona, “the smallest of the small”, recalled how in the war, the men and the women learned to share housekeeping tasks like cooking and washing clothes.

“Many of the companeros still do not want to understand our demands,” Comandanta Sandra admonished, “but we cannot struggle against the mal gobierno without them.”

The Zapatista companeras’ struggle for inclusion and parity with their male counterparts grates against separatist politics that some militant first-world feminists who journeyed to the jungle espouse. Lesbian couples and collectives seemed a substantial faction in the first-world feminist delegations. Although no Zapatista women has publicly come out, the EZLN has been zealous in its inclusion of Lesbians and Gays and incorporate their struggles in the rainbow of marginated constitutioncies with whose cause they align themselves.

Sadly, the Encuentro of the Women of the World with the Zapatista Women did not provoke much formal interchange between the rebel companeras and first-world feminists – who were limited to five-minute presentations on the final day of the event. Nonetheless, a surprise Zapatista womens’ theater piece did imply a critique: in the skit, a planeload of first-world feminists with funny hair (played by the companeras) lands in the jungle to deliver the poor Indian women from oppression.

Among international delegations in attendance were women representatives from agrarian movements as far removed from Chiapas as Brazil and Senegal, organized by Via Campesina, an alliance that represents millions of poor farmers in the third world, and a group of militant women from Venice, Italy who have been battling expansion of a U.S. military base in that historic city. Political prisoners were represented by Trinidad Ramirez, partner of imprisoned Ignacio del Valle (67 year sentence), leader of the farmers of Atenco. A message from “Colonel Aurora” (Gloria Arenas), a jailed leader of the Popular Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI), who now supports the EZLN, was read. Although he reputedly lives only a few villages away, Subcomandante Marcos (or his penis) did not put in an appearance at the womens’ gathering.

Ladling out chicken soup at her makeshift food stand, Dona Laura told La Jornada chronicler Hermann Bellinghausen that once the womens’ “Encuentro” had concluded, everything would return to normal – “only normal would be different now.”

Although the Encounter amply demonstrated the increasing empowerment of the Zapatista companeras, how much of what was said actually rubbed off on those who came from the outside is open to question. “I didn’t really get a lot of it,” confided one young non-Spanish-speaking activist on her way home to northern California to report back on the womens’ gathering to her Zapatista solidarity group.

Be that as it may, the EZLN is going to need all the women – and men – it can muster in the months to come. 2008 looms as a difficult year for the rebels with the “mal gobierno” threatening to distribute lands the Zapatistas recovered in 1994 to rival Indian farmer organizations and paramilitary activity on the uptick.

As has always been the case since this unique rebellion germinated, the Zapatistas turn the corner into another year in struggle.

EDITOR’S NOTE – After 11 years and 600 editions, MexBarb/BMB is now self-distributed by the author. If you already have a one-year subscription, you now have a lifetime subscription. If you did not have a subscription, you too have a lifetime subscription. If you think a lifetime subscription is a good thing send a donation to me at 3258 23rd Street/Apt. 3/San Francisco 94110 Ca. WARNING! There is no way to get off this list! You will receive 40 to 50 BMBs a year until either you or I gasp our last. In solidarity JOHN ROSS. Contact: johnross@igc.org

 

 

More articles by:

JOHN ROSS’s El Monstruo – Dread & Redemption in Mexico City is now available at your local independent bookseller. Ross is plotting a monster book tour in 2010 – readers should direct possible venues to johnross@igc.org

February 21, 2018
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail