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Narco News: A Convergence of Dreams – The Third Encuentro for Dignity and Against Displacement

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A Convergence of Dreams
The Third Encuentro for Dignity and Against Displacement

By RJ Maccani
Originally published in Spanish in Desinformemonos magazine

April 2, 2010

The invitation reads, “We propose a coming together, a convergence, to which we can all bring: our histories, what makes us difference, and our dreams.”

And in February, rebel voices from throughout the world came together in East Harlem, New York at the Third New York City Encuentro for Dignity and Against Displacement. Hosted by Movement for Justice in El Barrio (Movement), more than 200 people and 40 organizations joined the gathering. Organizers in South Africa and San Salvador Atenco, Mexico were even in attendance, participating via free video calls over the Internet.

The atmosphere of the five-hour gathering fluctuated between festive, somber, combative and celebratory. There were many roses, much chanting, tostadas and, yes, as is tradition here, a neoliberal piñata for the kids to break at the end of the night.

Inspired by the Zapatista practice of “encuentro”, Movement, an organization of over 600 immigrant and low-income families in East Harlem, sought “…to create an open, safe, and lively space for dialogue, sharing and learning from people who are directly affected by displacement.”

Or as Javier Salamanca of Brooklyn, New York’s Sunset Park Alliance of Neighbors put it, “We are here to see what is going on in other parts of the city, country and world.”

New York City is Not for Sale!

Near the beginning of the gathering, Movement’s Oscar Dominguez announced, “In the past two Encuentros we’ve introduced ourselves and identified our common enemies, in this Encuentro we want to talk about how far we’ve come.”

Movement continues to celebrate the fall of Dawnay, Day Group, a multibillion dollar, London-based corporation that intended to evict tenants from 47 buildings in East Harlem and raise the rent ten times over. After organizing an international campaign against Dawnay, Day, and winning a landmark legal victory against the company, Movement has now been forced to challenge opportunism within their own neighborhood:

“We have been organizing for justice, in our buildings, since before Dawnay, Day became our landlord. In fact, as tenants, we marched, protested and took legal actions against our previous landlord Steve Kessner until he fled East Harlem… With the fall of real estate giant Dawnay, Day group, the opportunistic Mark-Viverito and her lackeys want to claim that they support Dawnay, Day tenants, and that they have all along. We, the tenants of Dawnay, Day buildings, know this is a sham… Movement for Justice in El Barrio will continue the struggle for dignity and against displacement with more strength and energy than ever before. We will not be fooled, we will not be bought and we will not be moved.”

According to Movement’s community newspaper, councilmember Mark-Viverito has both led and voted for numerous development plans throughout Harlem that will displace thousands of tenants, small businesses and workers in favor of luxury apartments, private university expansion, and multinational corporations.

The problem of opportunistic politicians and their patron groups interfering with authentic community organizations was a common theme throughout the Encuentro. As Nellie Bailey of Harlem Tenants Council noted in her presentation, “Three or four years ago we decided not to accept money from elected officials. Being free of their influence is great. Non-profit organizations are increasingly becoming tools of politicians and developers. They are there to blunt the organic militancy of our groups.”

Moving the horizon of the Encuentro to the condition of the city as a whole, Bailey remarked, “Mayor Bloomberg is the richest man in New York City and the 17th richest in the world. He wants a whiter, richer NYC and he will use every means possible. On the other hand, the collapse of the real estate industry has given us room to breathe. What opportunities does this provide us?”

Having suffered a loss against Mayor Bloomberg last September in a struggle to stop the rezoning of their neighborhood, Salamanca of the Sunset Park Alliance of Neighbors asked, “How do we regroup and not react to the timetable that city council creates?”

Bailey encouraged those in attendance to not become complacent in the face of seemingly progressive politicians, “The US government is in crisis and we can’t look at this problem of displacement in NYC in isolation from everything else. We can’t talk about housing without talking about jobs and we can’t talk about jobs without a basic understanding of the Military Industrial Complex. We suffer the same fate regardless of who is in government. With Obama, we got our first African American president, but that can’t meet our basic needs.”

Tom Kappner, a member of the Coalition to Preserve Community and someone who has been fighting the expansion of Columbia University in West Harlem for decades, stood up from the audience to remind everyone, “Every time we engage in struggle with them, we gain power; eventually a trickle becomes a torrent. It pays to remain faithful. If you get strong enough, the politicians come to you.”

From South Africa to San Salvador Atenco, Our Fight is Worldwide

The first group to join the Encuentro through a video call did not need to be reminded of the need to build popular power, or the dangers of putting too much hope in politicians.

In a clip from the forthcoming film, “Dear Mandela,” Mazwi Nzimande of the South African Shack Dwellers Movement, also known as Abahlali baseMjondolo, illustrated that, “There is a new apartheid system that is operating in South Africa, and that apartheid system is between the rich and the poor.”

Legally institutionalized segregation, known as apartheid, divided South African society into three classes of racial stratification: white, colored, and black, each with its own rights and restrictions, until 1990 when the discriminatory laws began to be dismantled. Riding a high tide of struggle and hope, Nelson Mandela became the first black president of the country in 1994 and the African National Congress (ANC) has been in power ever since. In the sixteen years that have followed, the number of South Africans living on less than $1 a day has doubled.

According to Shamita Naidoo, a member of Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), 2005 was the year that the people in South Africa began successfully uniting to fight back against the neoliberal policies of the ANC government. In September of last year the ANC attacked the Kennedy Road settlement, a hub of AbM organizing, killing three people and displacing over a thousand. Over the two weeks that followed, thirteen Abahlali supporters were arrested.

The attack appears to be in retaliation for AbM’s organizing within the “No Land! No House! No Vote!” campaign against party politics in the country as well as their ongoing struggle against the Slums Act, which allowed for the possibility of mass evictions without the possibility of suitable alternative accommodation. A month after the brutal attack, AbM won a victory in South Africa’s highest court that declared the Slums Act unconstitutional.

When Movimiento’s Juan Haro informed AbM members Mazwi Nzimande, Zodwa Nsiband and Mnikelo Ndabankul that 40 organizations were listening to their presentation, Nzimande replied, “You are contributing something to everyone throughout the African continent.”

Reflecting on the ANC’s brutal attack against them in September, Ndabankul noted, “A lot of branches are joining AbM. Their goal was to get rid of the organization, but more people have joined and we are more popular.”

The AbM members told of their political prisoners’ ongoing troubles as well as the government’s initiative to clear out the slums in time for the World Cup games coming to Cape Town this June and July. Nsiband requested that Encuentro attendees, “Continue to support, spread news and put pressure on the South African government. Most things happening are not exposed because of the democratic façade.”

Nzimande concluded their intervention by stating, “We cannot do more than to be there for each other. Let us build this global alliance.”

Across the ocean from AbM, back in the Americas, the people of San Salvador Atenco, Mexico have also been struggling against a government who has tried to hide its brutality behind the image of an emerging liberal democracy.

As Diana Vega from Movement recounted while introducing them, “Displacement is happening all over. There is a group called the People’s Front in Defense of the Land (the Front). In 2002 they successfully defeated the Mexican government’s plans to kick them off of their land to build an airport. In 2006 they were attacked by the government and still have twelve political prisoners in jail today.”

In a video presentation in advance of their participation in the Encuentro, we watched footage of the Front’s groundbreaking victory in 2002, which set a precedent for social struggles throughout the country that the new Federal government could be defeated. We also saw the 2006 invasion of their community by 3,000 municipal, state and federal police, in which two boys were killed and two hundred people were imprisoned, most of whom were subjected to cruel tortures including the rape of 26 women.

Members of the Front were brought in through the video call in time to watch the portion of the presentation featuring footage of Movement’s peaceful occupation and shut down of the Mexican consulate in New York City less than a year ago.

Seeing the footage of Movement’s solidarity action for the first time, Trinidad Ramirez del Valle, a leader of the Front and wife of one of their twelve political prisoners, declared, “Distance, barriers cannot keep us from fighting back against so much injustice.”

Following an update on the Campaign For Freedom and Justice for Atenco, which completed its 12 prisoners/12 States tour involving “over 130 organizations of Mexican civil society in over 100 political actions, marches and meetings” in December and just gained the support of 11 Nobel Prize winners, Ramirez del Valle asked those in attendance to, “Send letters, support our actions and denounce what is happening.”

Another member of the Front added, “In addition to our political prisoners and the heavy repression, the government is launching an environmental project in order to take land and continue with the airport project. We continue informing people of the true intentions of the government.”

A third member, Marta Pérez, directly addressed the conditions of organizing in the US, “We know you are also rebellious in a country where the power of Empire is very great. We are certain that we are going to win in Mexico, in the United States and the world because of people like you.”

Haiti, a Rebel Country

One of the last voices to address the Encuentro was that of Dahoud Andre. A Haitian organizer with Lakou New York, Andre had just returned from his shaken homeland.

Not unlike New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, where elites demolished public housing, privatized public services and drove the black population of the city down to a fraction of its previous numbers, Haiti has become the site of a man-made disaster in the wake of the earthquake.

As Andre reported, “The US military took over the Haitian airport and would not allow aid to come in. We collaborated with the Movement of Dominican and Haitian Women to bring the aid in through the Dominican Republican and over the border to Haiti.”

In words that echoed sentiments heard throughout the Encuentro, he urged participants to, “Support local community groups instead of the larger groups, such as the Red Cross or the Clinton Bush Fund. These are the people responsible for destruction in Atenco, Haiti and Harlem. They will never do the right thing.”

Andre pointed out, “Almost two months after the earthquake the tragedy continues even though it’s not in the media. The biggest problem is shelter: 1.5 million people have lost their homes and are living in make-shift tents,” before reminding the crowd with a fitting close to the Encuentro, “Haiti is a rebel country. In 1804, the enslaved community militarily defeated their oppressors. We’ve supported liberation movements around the world. The US did not recognize us until 1865 and has never forgiven Haiti for what happened in 1804. We don’t expect friendship from our enemies, we expect it from you.”

Des Informemonos: Tercer Encuentro por la Dignidad y contra el Desplazamiento

Tercer Encuentro por la Dignidad y contra el Desplazamiento

Nueva York no está en venta!

El Movimiento por Justicia en El Barrio está conformado por más de 600 inmigrantes y familias de bajos recursos del Este de Harlem (El Barrio). Organiza encuentros de inspiración zapatista para “crear un espacio de intercambio abierto y seguro para dialogar, donde el pueblo puede compartir y aprender de personas que son directamente afectadas por el desplazamiento”.

RJ Maccani

Nueva York, Estados Unidos. La invitación decía: “Proponemos que nos encontremos en una convergencia, en la cual todos podamos traer nuestras historias, lo que nos hace diferente y nuestros sueños”.

Y en febrero las voces de los rebeldes de diferentes partes del mundo se unieron en el Este de Harlem, en el Tercer Encuentro de la Ciudad de Nueva York por la Dignidad y contra el Desplazamiento. Convocado por el Movimiento por Justicia en El Barrio, el encuentro reunió a más de 200 personas y 40 organizaciones, además de la participación de organizadores de Sudáfrica y de San Salvador Atenco, México, quienes asistieron a través de video conferencias por internet.

Por cinco horas el ambiente del encuentro fluctuó entre lo festivo, lúgubre y combativo. Hubo muchas rosas, consignas, tostadas y también, como es tradición aquí, una piñata neoliberal para que los niños la rompieran al final de la noche.

Inspirado por la práctica de los encuentros de los zapatistas, el Movimiento por Justicia en El Barrio es una organización conformada por más de 600 inmigrantes y familias de bajos recursos del Este de Harlem (El Barrio) y busca “…crear un espacio de intercambio abierto y seguro para dialogar, donde el pueblo puede compartir y aprender de personas que son directamente afectadas por el desplazamiento”. Como dijo Javier Salamanca, de la Alianza de Vecinos de Sunset Park de Brooklyn: “estamos aquí para ver qué está pasando en otros partes de la ciudad, del país y del mundo.”

¡La ciudad de Nueva York no está en venta!

Al principio del encuentro, Oscar Domínguez, integrante de El Movimiento recordó que en los dos encuentros anteriores “nos hemos presentado todos y hemos identificado a nuestros enemigos en común. En este Encuentro –dijo- queremos hablar sobre cómo hemos avanzado.”

El Movimiento sigue celebrando la caída de Dawnay, Day Group, una corporación muliti-nacional de billones de dólares radicada en Londres, que pretendió desalojar a inquilinos de 47 edificios en el Este de Harlem y subir la renta diez veces más.

Después de organizar una campaña internacional contra Dawnay, Day y ganar una victoria legal sin precedentes contra la corporación, El Movimiento ha sido forzado a desafiar el oportunismo dentro de su propio barrio.
“Nos hemos estado organizando por justicia desde antes de que Dawnay, Day se convirtiera en dueño de nuestros edificios. De hecho, como inquilinos, marchamos, protestamos, y tomamos acción legal contra nuestro casero anterior Steve Kessner, hasta que huyó del Este de Harlem… Con el derrumbe del gigante propietario Dawnay, Day, la oportunista concejal del Este de Harlem, Melissa Mark-Viverito, y la gente vendida que la apoya, quiere promoverse como si apoyara a los inquilinos de Dawnay, Day, diciendo que siempre ha sido así. Nosotros, los inquilinos de los edificios de Dawnay, Day, sabemos que esto es una farsa… Movimiento por Justicia en El Barrio continuará la lucha por dignidad y contra el desplazamiento con más fuerza y energía que nunca. No nos engañarán, no nos comprarán, y no nos moverán.”

En el periódico comunitario de El Movimiento, se advierte que la concejal del ayuntamiento municipal, Mark-Viverito, ha dirigido y también votado numerosos planes de desarrollo por todo el Harlem, por los que se desalojará a miles de inquilinos, negocios pequeños y trabajadores, en favor de apartamentos lujosos, la expansión de una Universidad privada y corporaciones multinacionales.

En el Encuentro se planteó como una problemática común la práctica de los políticos oportunistas y los grupos patrocinados por ellos que se entrometen con las organizaciones comunitarias auténticas. Nellie Bailey, del Consejo de Inquilinos de Harlem, señaló que “tres o cuatro años atrás nuestra organización decidió no aceptar dinero de los oficiales elegidos., pues es importante permanecer libre de sus influencias”. Bailey dijo que “está aumentado el problema de organizaciones sin fines de lucro que actúan como instrumentos de los políticos y desarrolladores y siempre están ahí para tratar de bloquear a la militancia de nuestras organizaciones”.

Colocando el horizonte del Encuentro en las condiciones de toda la ciudad, Bailey comentó que “el alcalde Bloomberg es el hombre más rico en la ciudad de Nueva York y el número 17 de los hombres más ricos del mundo.

Él quiere un Nueva York más rico y más blanco y usará todas las medidas posibles para conseguirlo. Sin embargo –dijo- la quiebra de la industria de bienes raíces nos ha dado tiempo para respirar. ¿Qué oportunidades nos trae esto?”.

A partir de la experiencia de haber perdido contra el Alcalde Bloomberg, en septiembre pasado, la lucha para poner un alto a la rezonificacion del vecindario Salamanca, de la Alianza de Vecinos de Sunset Park, Bailey cuestionó. “¿Cómo nos reagrupamos sin reaccionar al horario o agenda que crea el ayuntamiento municipal de la ciudad?”

Bailey alentó a los participantes a no ser complacientes con los políticos supuestamente progresistas. “El gobierno de los Estados Unidos está en crisis y no podemos mirar el problema del desplazamiento en Nueva York como algo separado de todo lo que está pasando. Sufrimos el mismo destino sin importar quien está en el gobierno. Con Obama, tenemos nuestro primer presidente afroamericano pero eso no nos cubre nuestras necesidades más básicas”.

Tom Kappner, integrante de la Coalición para Preservar la Comunidad y activista desde hace décadas de la lucha contra la expansión de la Universidad de Columbia en el Oeste de Harlem, recordó al auditorio que “cada vez que nosotros luchamos contra ellos, nuestro poder aumenta y eventualmente un poquito se vuelve en un montón. Nos beneficia ser fieleles. Si te vuelves lo suficiente fuerte, los políticos vienen a ti”.

Nuestra lucha es mundial, desde Sudáfrica a San Salvador Atenco.

Al primer grupo que se presentó en el Encuentro vía video conferencia, no se le necesitaba recordar la necesidad de construir poder popular ni los peligros de cifrar esperanzas en los políticos.

En un clip de la película “Querido Mandela”, Mazwi Nzimande, del sudafricano Movimiento de Habitantes de Casas de Cartón, también conocido como Abahali baseMjondolo, señaló que “hay un nuevo sistema de apartheid operando en Sudáfrica, y ese sistema apartheid es entre los pobres y los ricos.”

La segregación legalmente institucionalizada conocida como apartheid, dividió a la sociedad sudafricana en tres clases raciales y sociales: blanca, colorada y negra, cada una con sus propios derechos y restricciones hasta 1990, cuando las leyes discriminatorias comenzaron a ser derrotadas. Con mucha lucha y esperanza, Nelson Mandela se convirtió en el primer presidente negro del país en 1994 y el Congreso Nacional Africano (ANC) se ha mantenido en el poder desde entonces. En los 16 años posteriores el número de sudafricanos que viven con menos de un dólar al día ha aumentado el doble.

Shamita Naidoo, integrante de Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), explicó que 2005 fue el año que la gente de Sudáfrica comenzó a unirse con éxito para luchar contra la politica neoliberal del gobierno de ANC. En septiembre del año pasado el ANC atacó el poblado de Kennedy Road, una localidad central de organizacion de AbM, matando a tres personas y desplazando a más de mil. En las dos semanas siguientes 13 apoyadores de Abhlali fueron arrestados.

El ataque parece ser ejercido en revancha por la lucha de AbM y su campaña “No Tierra. No Casa. No Voto!”, contra la política de partidos politicos en el país, y también por la larga lucha contra el Acto de Chozas, que permitió desplazamientos masivos sin ofrecerle a los desplazados acomodos alternativos. Un mes después del ataque brutal, AbM obtuvo una victoria en la corte más alta de Sudáfrica que declaró el Acto de Chozas anticonstitucional.

En el momento en que Juan Haro, de El Movimiento de Nueva York, informó a los miembros de AbM, Mazawi Nzimande, Zodwa Nsiband y Mnikelo Ndabankul, que 40 organizaciones estaban escuchando su presentación, Nzimade respondió: “Ustedes están contribuyendo a algo para todos en todas partes del Continente Africano”.

En una reflexión sobre el ataque brutal contra ellos en septiembre pasado, Ndabankul anotó que “muchas ramas están uniendose a AbM. La meta de ellos era derrotar a nuestra organización por completo, pero más gente se ha integrado y somos más populares”.

Los miembros de AbM hablaron de sus presos políticos y de los problemas que persisten.

Y también sobre la iniciativa del gobierno de quitar las chozas antes de que llegue la Copa Mundial a Capetown, en Junio y julio de este año. Nsiband pidió que los participantes del Encuentro “sigan apoyando, corran la voz de los que está pasando, y presionen al gobierno de Sudáfrica, pues mucha de la realidad no está siendo expuesta por la fachada de democracia.”

La lucha contra un aeropuerto en San Salvador Atenco, México

Al otro lado del Océano que rodea a AbM, en las Américas, el pueblo de San Salvador Atenco, en México, también lucha contra un gobierno que a tratado de esconder su brutalidad detrás de la imagen de una democracia liberal emergente.

Diana Vega, otra integrante de El Movimiento por Justicia en El Barrio, introdujo así la participación de los campesinos de San Salvador Atenco: “El desplazamiento está pasando en todos lados. Hay un grupo llamado el Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra que en el 2002 derrotó los planes del gobierno mexicano de sacarlos de sus tierras para construir un aeropuerto. En 2006 fueron atacados por el gobierno y todavía tienen 12 presos políticos detenidos.”

En una presentacion por video antes de su participación en el Encuentro, se proyectaron secuencias de la gran victoria del FPDT en el 2002, precedente para las luchas sociales en todo el país de que se le puede ganar al gobierno. También se transmitieron imágenes de la invasión a sus comunidades por 3 mil policías municipales, estatales, y federales en 2006, cuando dos jóvenes fueron asesinados y doscientas personas fueron detenidas, la mayoría sometidas a crueles torturas, incluyendo 26 mujeres que fueron violadas.

Integrantes del FPDT se sumaron al Encuentro a través de una video conferencia por internet, justo a tiempo para ver la presentación que incluyó imágenes de la ocupación pacífica del Consulado Mexicano en Nueva York por parte de El Movimiento, hace menos de un año.

Trinidad Ramírez del Valle, líder del Frente y esposa de uno de los doce presos políticos, declaró que “la distancia y barreras no pueden pararnos de luchar contra tanta injusticia”.

André explicó que “casi dos meses después del temblor la tragedia continúa aunque no esté siendo difundida en los medios de comunicacion. El problema más grande son los refugios: 1.5 millones de personas han perdido sus hogares y están viviendo en carpas”.

“Haití es una país rebelde”, finalizó André, luego de recordar que “en 1804 la comunidad esclavizada derrotó a sus opresores y nosotros hemos apoyado a movimientos libertarios de todo el mundo”. Los Estados Unidos, dijo, “no nos reconoció hasta 1865 y nunca le ha perdonado a Haití lo que pasó en 1804, por lo tanto no esperamos amistad de parte de nuestros enemigos, la esperamos de ustedes”.

What Does it Mean to be Compañeros?

sábado, febrero 27, 2010
An Other Mexico, and World, is Under Construction between San Salvador Atenco and East Harlem

What Does it Mean to be Compañeros?
An Other Mexico, and World, is Under Construction between San Salvador Atenco and East Harlem

By RJ Maccani
Class of 2010, School of Authentic Journalism

February 26, 2010

“Who can imprison the fury of a volcano, the silence of centuries that explodes in rage and pain?” – Ignacio “Nacho” del Valle, Mexican political prisoner sentenced to 112 years

For Mexico, 2010 commemorates 200 years since the War of Independence and 100 since the Mexican revolution. But as Fernando Amezcua puts it, “Little or nothing remains to celebrate.” Amezcua was one of the 44,000 members of the Mexican Electric Workers Union (SME in its Spanish initials) who were put out of work when Mexico’s current president, Felipe Calderón, issued an executive order in October that shut down the government-owned electric company, Luz y Fuerza del Centro, and sought to break one of Mexico’s oldest, largest and most combative unions. Amezcua continues on as SME’s “Secretary of the Exterior” and I met him just two weeks ago while studying on the Yucatán Peninsula with the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism. As he puts it in SME’s “Plan of the Insurgents”:

The Independence from Spain that two centuries ago cost so much of the first Mexicans’ blood (as always, above all that of the most dispossessed, of the indigenous, campesinos, craftsmen); the resistance against the US and French interventions, the nationalizations of the 20th Century such as petroleum and electricity, have been converted into a new large-scale national dependency on foreign powers, the sacking of our natural resources, and exploitation at the service of the big transnational corporations and international banks.

With this we are reminded that, since the founding of the country, a war has raged over two very different visions of Mexico. And in this symbolic year there is a gaping wound from this war that will be sewn shut, or torn ever wider. This wound is known as the case of Atenco.

The Land Belongs to Those Who Work It

Less than eight years ago the people of San Salvador Atenco and other rural municipalities on the outskirts of Mexico City defeated the most important project of then-President Vicente Fox’s administration, the construction of the International Airport of Mexico City. It was an epic, ten-month battle between communal farmers “in defense of [their] mother earth” and a government intent on carrying out the development plans of national and international businessmen. It took on an even greater importance as the country was just coming out of over 70 years of one-party rule under the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and the new government, headed by the candidate of the National Action Party (PAN), was seeking to dispossess the campesinos even while it established this image of Mexico as an emerging liberal democracy.

The battle’s conclusion set a precedent for every other struggle in the country. In a public letter from Atenco’s People’s Front in Defense of the Land (the Frente) to the Zapatistas, they recounted, “It was then that we understood our role in history, we understood that things are not this way because someone decides, but that we too can decide what to do when faced with a decision from the powerful. When we prevailed in July and August of 2002 we confirmed what we already knew: “The government can be beaten.”

And just like their close allies, the Zapatistas, had done throughout Chiapas, they declared Atenco to be an autonomous municipality. Having kicked out their corrupt mayor as well as the police through the course of their struggle, they discovered that by making decisions in public assembly and organizing their own, community-based responses to violence in the town they achieved a level of democracy and safety well beyond what took place under the political parties.

Indeed, the struggle of Atenco was deeply inspired by the Ya Basta (“Enough Already”) of the Zapatistas of Chiapas who on January 1st, 1994 rose up in arms to win a free and democratic government for Mexico and realize the demands of the Mexican Revolution: work, land, housing, food, health care, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace. They did not achieve these objectives in that uprising, but the Zapatistas did succeed in inspiring millions throughout Mexico and the world. Thanks to their years of preparation, and the mobilization of their newfound supporters, the Zapatistas survived the government’s counterattack in those first days of 1994. In the years since then, they have peacefully constructed their own resolution to those revolutionary demands. In the over 1,100 Zapatista communities, which are grouped into 29 autonomous municipalities and five regions known as “caracoles,” over 200,000 of Mexico’s most downtrodden are leading the construction of their own political and judicial structures and educational, health, communication and economic development programs, and they are doing so while being subjected to low-intensity warfare, being surrounded by 50 to 60 thousand troops—roughly one third to one fourth of the Mexican military.

And so when the Zapatistas released their Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle in 2005, and began making preparations to defy arrest warrants and death threats in order to leave their autonomous territories and join with “the humble and simple people who struggle” in Mexico and throughout the world, the people of Atenco were already with them. That August and September, Ignacio “Nacho” del Valle, one of the great strategists and organizers of the battles of Atenco, and other members of the Frente attended in Chiapas to form the national initiative of the Sixth Declaration known as the “Other Campaign.”

Within this new struggle, the Zapatistas made it clear that they did not intend to lead, but rather to serve as facilitators of its creation and defenders of its core principals. Each adherent, be they a large organization or a single individual, was encouraged to define and defend their own place in the Other Campaign; To become like an embroidery, as Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos put it, “where each color and each shape has its place; there is no homogeneity, nor is there hegemony.”

As the first phase of their participation in building the Other Campaign, the Zapatistas sent Subcomandante Marcos on what they planned would be a six-month listening tour throughout all of Mexico. His tour began on January 1st, 2006, and was to coincide with the final six months of Mexico’s presidential election cycle and be followed, after the elections, by a delegation of indigenous Zapatista comandantes who would make longer visits to each part of the country beginning in September of that year.

An Injury to One is An Injury to All

From the beginning, adherents to the Other Campaign knew there would be repression. They were, after all, seeking to build a national force organized against the entirety of Mexico’s political class, including the self-described “center-left” Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and its presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who was favored to win in the July elections. Motivation for this grew both from the many experiences of corruption and betrayal at the hands of the PRD, as well as AMLO’s stated commitment to continue the neoliberal economic policies of his would-be predecessors.

By mid-February of 2006, over 1,000 political organizations of the left, indigenous groups and organizations, social, non-governmental and artistic organizations and collectives had publicly joined the Other Campaign. It was also at this time that human rights groups were already denouncing a nation-wide rise in actions of intimidation and political persecution against its members. Nevertheless by the time Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos, in his civilian role as “Delegate Zero,” rolled into Mexico City, he was greatly emboldened by what he’d experienced in his tour of Mexico’s southern states.

Speaking in front of the US Embassy to over 40,000 people during May Day celebrations, Marcos declared that the civil and peaceful uprising that the Other Campaign was building was going to “overthrow the bad governments… expel from our land the rich, who have turned not just people into merchandise but also our land, our water, our forests, our biodiversity, our history and our culture.” Members of Atenco’s Frente were serving as Marcos’ security detail during this historic visit to Mexico City. Just two days after this speech, they would also be the target of the Mexican government’s most brutal attack against civilians in recent memory.

On May 3rd, 2006, flower vendors from Texcoco, were attacked by police who sought to prevent them from setting up their stalls outside a local market, on a building site that was to become a new Wal- Mart shopping mall. The People’s Front in Defense of the Land, from Atenco, mobilized to support their compañeros from Texcoco. Following this initial conflict, 3,000 municipal, state and federal police, each under the control of one of the three major political parties (the PRD, PRI and PAN, respectively) violently raided the municipality of Atenco. It was an attack by the political class against the Other Campaign and a brutal act of revenge by the outgoing president against the town that had stood in the way of his great international airport project. Over two hundred people were imprisoned, most of whom were subjected to cruel tortures including the rape of 26 women. Mexico’s commercial media seized on the few images of protestor violence to justify and encourage the repression. The police killed a young boy, Javier Cortés Santiago, and a student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Alexis Benhumea Hernández.

Citing the Other Campaign’s commitment that “an injury to one is an injury to all,” Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos suspended his tour of the country to help mobilize the rest of the national and international network in support of Atenco. By the end of the month, adherents from all 31 States and Mexico City, as well as Mexicans “on the other side” (of the border) had organized and demonstrated multiple times in solidarity with Atenco. Furthermore, at least 124 actions in 52 cities in 24 countries around the world had also taken place.
A Common Enemy

One such organization that began mobilizing then was Movement for Justice in El Barrio (Movimiento). Movimiento is an organization of immigrants, the majority of whom are Mexican, and low-income people of color, in New York City’s East Harlem. I caught up withMovimiento’s spokesperson, Oscar Dominguez, recently to discuss their relationship with theFrente and Atenco over the past almost four years. Like most members of Movimiento, Dominguez had just gotten off of a twelve-hour shift working in Manhattan’s service industry when we met. He began by identifying their common struggle and common enemy:

We, from New York, had begun organizing ourselves for a dignified life and so that we would not be displaced from our homes, and saw that our problems were caused by the capitalists, the rich, the bad governments. And then we saw them [Atenco], and their struggle to stay on their land, the place where they live and their culture, what they are as communities. Thus we saw that in different places, different countries, our struggle is to live a dignified life. And for them the capitalists wish to kick them off of their land… Us here in New York, them in San Salvador Atenco, we are waging separate struggles but against the same thing. The problems that we have are caused by the same people, by capitalism.

Dominguez recounted how they first organized a protest in front of the Mexican consulate in NYC immediately following the attacks of May 2006 to demand that the Mexican government respect Atenco and to put them on alert that people here were watching what was happening. Movimiento also realized that the mass media from Mexico was being reproduced in their local media. The message their neighbors were getting was that “Atenco was a small group of troublemakers who were trying to impede the progress of the country because the airport was for the economic development of the whole country, not only the community, and this small group, with machetes in hand were impeding all of this.” The machetes, of course, are theFrente’s symbol of their struggle, their work in the fields, and their history. To combat the media disinformation, Movimiento created street theater, complete with props such as wooden prisons, which they took out to 116th between Lexington and Third Avenues in East Harlem.
Rough Road

And in this way, they began a compañerismo with Atenco’s struggle to free its prisoners that has endured a rough road in the intervening years. Shortly after the attack on Atenco in May 2006 came the June uprising in Oaxaca and the electoral fraud of the July elections. Some groups previously within the Other Campaign left around this time, as they believed its moment had past and that they would find more meaningful struggle in the Mexico City government-sponsored protests of the elections.

By the end of that tumultuous year, the six month commune in Oaxaca would be put down with even more force than the repression against Atenco, and the Other Campaign would find itself not as an independent force to the left of a “center-left” government led by thePRD and AMLO, but instead a highly visible target of the fraudulently-elected candidate of the PAN party, Felipe Calderón. And beyond that, the political class as a whole had shown that mutual corruption could translate into a closing of ranks, if only to stay propped up: ThePAN provided support to the embattled PRI regime in Oaxaca in exchange for support in sustaining the presidential election fraud, and the PRD walked away with its own fraudulently won governorship in Chiapas.

Around this time, Atenco’s political prisoners had been whittled down to 31, although this included three of the People’s Front in Defense of the Land’s leaders, Ignacio del Valle, Héctor Galindo and Felipe Álvarez, who were being held in a maximum security prison. And those staffing the encampment outside of Almoloya prison, where the majority of the prisoners were being held, were down to five people.

While attending the School of Authentic Journalism last month, I also had the opportunity to interview Fernando León. León is a student at UNAM who has been directly involved in the case of Atenco since 2006. He recounted the governmental context of those difficult early days:

The legitimacy of Calderón from the very beginning was so limited. He supposedly won the elections with less than 1 percent more votes than AMLO. Calderón’s legitimacy was destroyed. What was the way to counteract this illegitimacy? The supposed fight against narcotraffickers and the war on drugs. From here the figure of Calderón has been one of military authority in the streets fighting the supposed evil of Mexico.

And Calderón wasn’t without help in his efforts to militarize the country. Shortly after he assumed office, the US government cooked up what it would eventually dub the Mérida Initiative, a drug war support package a la Plan Colombia. And in the intervening years, with millions of US tax dollars in tow, extrajudicial executions and human rights abuse have skyrocketed, while drug seizures have fallen and the drug war has grown from a regional into a national problem.

From early on it became clear that the true target of Calderón’s war was not drugs, or narcotrafficking, but Mexico’s social movements, and the poor and working classes in general. Although fourteen other Zapatistas, all indigenous commanders, were able to leave Chiapas in March of 2007 to visit the northern states of Mexico, they were met with increasing harassment, and by September of that year, the Zapatistas announced that they would be ceasing these tours and visits of the Other Campaign due to the increasing repression against their communities in Chiapas. But even as much of the public momentum of the Other Campaign has faded, the work that began in that space continues.

In Spite of the Difficulties

Along with numerous national and international initiatives in Mexico, groups such as Movement for Justice in El Barrio have also found ways to advance their struggles “on the other side.” At the beginning of 2007 they successfully kicked out the largest landlord in East Harlem, Steven Kessner, whom the Village Voice had dubbed one of the city’s “10 worst landlords.” A year after this victory, Movimiento began building their own “International Campaign in Defense of El Barrio” to challenge the London-based firm Dawnay, Day Group that had just taken Kessner’s place. They were able to build a multi-national network of allies and supporters that supported them in eventually seeing the fall of Dawnay, Day in East Harlem in October of last year.

In spite of all the difficulties, in many ways the People’s Front in Defense of the Land of Atenco has only continued to build in strength. Narco News’ Kristin Bricker and a journalist from Radio Chapingo in Texcoco met with Maria del Carmen Perez Elizalde of the Frentenear the end of last year to discuss the case of Atenco today. Just twelve prisoners remain in jail, although the prison sentences they have been given are almost unimaginable in Mexico:

To Felipe [Álvarez] and Héctor [Galindo] they have given a sentence of 67 years in prison and to Ignacio del Valle they have given a sentence of 112 years, more than a century. And to the other [9] compañeros, 35 years. How is it possible that they have given more than a century? So much time in prison, right? When according to the government it is fighting against the narcotraffickers and they are only giving them 3 years, 5 years, 6 years and these are sentences that they never complete.

Just this past December the Frente and their supporters completed their 12 prisoners/12 States tour in which they “involved over 130 organizations of Mexican civil society in over 100 political actions, marches and meetings.” The tour culminated in a massive concert in Atenco wherein they announced that the next phase of the Campaign for Freedom and Justice for Atenco “consists in removing our prisoners from jail once and for all.”

And the Frente and Movimiento have remained compañeros throughout these years. Just over a year ago, while delegates from Movimiento were attending the First World Festival of Dignified Rage in Mexico, members of the Frente invited them to visit Atenco. It was there that Movimiento was able to screen its video message to Atenco, which featured many of its members who could not make the journey. The Frente responded to Movimiento with a video message of its own. This creative way of crossing the border to speak with each other “face-to-face” has been essential not only to their growing relationship, but to the overall dynamic of their struggles. As Dominguez of Movimiento puts it:

In May of 2006, it was Vicente Fox who was in government but now it is Felipe Calderón and he continues with the same policy. So we took over the Mexican consulate here to demand the freedom of the prisoners of San Salvador Atenco. In the video message of San Salvador Atenco to us, they told us that it gave them more energy to know that us in New York were watching what is happening with them and that we are helping them in our form, our style, at our pace. It gave us certainty that our struggles in different places have encountered each other. It is how we continue struggling, with more energy and we are confident that in time we will succeed in defeating the enemy that we have in common, which is capitalism and the bad governments. That capitalism is not only in Mexico, not only in New York, it is in all parts of the world and that the bad governments are servants of capitalism.

As for President Calderón? Fernando León, organizer in the Campaign for Freedom and Justice for Atenco, points out that:

The costs of this [drug] war, and what this war has produced, has become so real for the people who are in these situations that [Calderón’s] legitimacy is again being interrogated. The popular cry today is for the military to return to their barracks and that the supposed strategy of Calderón against narcotraffickers is erroneous. Even people within his own party and cabinet say that this strategy is wrong. And so it has had a very big political cost for Calderón. If in the first year or two of his presidency he was situated as a strong figure of authority, this popularity is every day declining more. The military soldiers in the streets provoke the human rights violations. The military only sees an enemy as an enemy to be killed. They are trained in this way and you cannot just tell them to not commit human rights violations because this is their agenda. And this has, in one way or another, fallen into the lap of Felipe Calderón.

The War of Visions Rages On, Compañeros

Legitimate or not, Calderón is not for the moment the most central governmental actor in the case of Atenco’s 12 prisoners. The Supreme Court of Mexico is currently considering the justice of their imprisonment. For this pending decision, León has two predictions:

One is that they are allowed to leave this year thanks to an opinion of the Supreme Court. And the other has to do with the fact that the situation of the airport remains open. That the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) is buying land and the airport project was never dead. This would be the other possibility, that the prisoners are kept inside so that the People’s Front in Defense of the Land remains focused on them and they don’t have all the power necessary to focus on the airport project. Also, we are in the year 2010, which is so symbolic. And some believe nothing will happen, and others want it to not just be symbolic, and the federal government is preoccupied with this and if the prisoners are released the Front can rededicate itself to the struggle they have always been bringing. These are the two possibilities: that they leave, as they should have never been prisoners in the first place, and the other that the revenge of the federal government continues, and the abuses continue.

The war of visions for Mexico rages on. Soon enough it will be time for the Supreme Court to decide for one or the other. Perhaps after last year’s opinion to free those convicted of the 1997 paramilitary murder of 45 unarmed indigenous parishioners in the village of Acteal, Chiapas, the Court will want to add some “balance” to its ledger and close the case of Atenco with freedom for the prisoners. Or perhaps it will tear the wound, and the gap between these two Mexicos, ever larger by closing the legal route for their release.

No matter the outcome, it seems clear that the Frente has its eyes on the horizon, and the calendar. As Frente member Maria Perez Elizalde told Bricker, “What is needed now is for Mexico to wake up in time and this is the principle struggle of the People’s Front in Defense of the Land. Beyond the freedom of the prisoners, beyond the defense the land, a very concrete struggle of the People’s Front is to wake up our brothers and sisters to what is going on. So that we don’t exchange our freedom or land for a few pesos. For a few pesos that you have today but tomorrow are already gone.”

Movimiento and the Frente still continue to find new ways to be compañeros. The most recent was “a simultaneous press conference in Detroit we did through the Internet with thecompas of Atenco,” which Dominguez described to me, “so that they could speak for themselves to the media-makers of the left who were gathered at the Allied Media Conference. It was an honor for us that they joined us in this press conference because their struggle is enormous compared to ours. It gave us confidence to create bridges of communication between different struggles in different countries. It was very moving for the members of Movimiento.”

This Sunday Movimiento will extend these “bridges of communication” even further when they host their Third Encuentro for Dignity and Against Displacement. They will be joined by other organizations fighting gentrification throughout New York City and the region and by many more. Haitian organizers who have just returned from their shaken homeland will share their experiences. The members of the Frente will be present again, as they were in Detroit, through a live video conference. This time they will also joined in this way by Abahlali baseMjondolo, the South African Shack Dwellers Movement. The nine political prisoners of Atenco who are being held in Molino de Flores prison in Texcoco have sent along a written message for the gathering. And surely the other three, Nacho, Hector and Felipe, leaders of the Frente held in the maximum security prison “El Altiplano,” will be present in the thoughts of many in attendance.

So, will Mexico be a country of compañeros, or Calderóns? An armored, open-pit mine and playground for the rich? Or a place where, as the Zapatistas say, everything is for everyone and many worlds fit? After all these years, the question has not yet been definitively answered; in 2010 these two Mexicos are in conflict, from East Harlem to Chiapas.

And how will we respond, dear readers? Will we be compañeros?