CIDECI and Zapatismo

After many lectures and charlas with DESGUA and Julio Cesar, we finally arrived at the last leg of our trip. Week three began for us in San Cristobal de Las Casas, a city located in central Chiapas and only a few hours away from San Caralampio. The transition between places was pretty extreme. Just that morning we had been talking with the ejido farm workers in San Caralampio and suddenly we were at a fancy hotel with cushy beds and Internet in the touristy city of San Cristobal. Of our experiences during our last week of traveling, I’d most like to talk about our visit to the Centro Indigena de Capacitacion Integral (CIDECI) and our visit to the Zapatista caracol of the Morelia buen gobierno. The rest of the week we had a lot of free time to explore and get giardia.

CIDECI is a school with a philosophy of communal learning that is geared towards supporting community sustainability. Students come to CIDECI from all over Chiapas to study what they choose without financial cost. The different vocations are Health, Weaving, Painting, Ceramics, Music, Baking, Computer Science, Agriculture, Carpentry, Blacksmithing, Auto-Mechanics, and Printing. Students come to CIDECI from their various communities and the idea is that they bring the skills they learn back.

In solidarity with the Zapatista movement, CIDECI educates individuals not so that they can guard their skills as specialists but so that they can share their new skills with their home communities. I asked Julio Cesar to clarify the intention to not have specialists and he answered me with the example of the Zapatista health care system. Instead of training doctors to be financially dependent on their trained specialty, community doctors spread their knowledge to their patients. When we go to the doctor in the United States, we tell him or her our symptoms and they proscribe us medicine. When a student of CIDECI goes to health services, they describe their symptoms and the doctor teaches them how to collect or cultivate the medicine that they need to cure their ailment.

It was not clear how much CIDECI depended on outside funding, but it was clear that the students’ vocations did a lot to keep the place running. Each of their studies was put to use at the school (including construction of the buildings, welding of the window frames, cooking meals, growing food and decorating the campus). Visiting CIDECI was an amazing opportunity for us to see alternative forms of education and alternative economics at work.

Zapatista Caracol Morelia

Before visiting the caracol Morelia, we sat down with Julio Cesar to discuss the history of Zapatismo and the development of the caracols. For those who don’t know or need a refresher, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) is a revolutionary group of mostly indigenous peoples centered in Chiapas that erupted in response the modern continuation of colonial exploitation and indigenous repression. The Zapatistas proclaim thirteen demands: land, labor, work, bread, education, health, shelter, communication, culture, independence, democracy, liberty, and peace. Their Struggle for the realization of indigenous rights has manifested in the creation of autonomous Zapatista communities within the state of Chiapas. Below is a map that roughly estimates the land under Zapatista control. The boundaries of these communities may be intentionally unclear but what is clear is that there are hundreds of thousands of people qho call themselves Zapatista in the state of Chiapas.

The EZLN was formed in 1983 by three indigenas and three mestizos, including the well known Subcomandante Marcos. Throughout the first decade of the movement, the EZLN built a following in indigenous communities as well as an army 3,000 strong. On January 1, 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement was put into action and in response the EZLN occupied six cities. The Mexican military reacted violently and fighting continued for twelve days. Amidst peace negotiations, the Zapatistas formed a base which they called “Aguascalientes” and later that year declared 38 autonomous indigenous municipalities. As the Zapatista movement continued to struggle and grow, four more Aguascalientes were built.

In 2003, the Aguascalientes were reformed into caracoles, meaning both spiral and snail in Spanish. The caracoles were created in order to make a formal distinction between Zapatista civilians, government, and army so that the communities might be more protected against military violence. The Mexican military cannot now justify the killing of innocent and nonviolent civilians under the claim that they are part of the armed rebel forces. Each of the five caracoles host the Zapatista buen gobierno during the time that they serve their terms. It was the caracol Morelia that we were able to visit.

We arrived at Morelia and gathered together to decide upon a handful of questions to submit to the Morelia buen gobierno before our meeting. It is standard that any questions for the government must be submitted in advance so that the members of the government can discuss and decide upon the most appropriate answers. After a half hour of discussing questions amongst ourselves, we entered a meeting room with the members of the Morelia buen gobierno. When we first walked in, the air was thick and partially because of the initial formality of the situation, we could all feel the tension. Very slowly, we went around and spelled our names for their records and answered where we were from and our organizational affiliation. It took a really long time and there was lots of writing in between each answer for each person. We were told that in other years, students had to pass in their passports for the time that they were at the caracol.

After we gave them  our questions we ate lunch and played basketball for what felt like many hours. It turned out that our questions weren’t as clear as we had meant them to be so the buen gobierno didn’t get to answer most of them. They did tell us about their systems of government, education, economy, and health. The government of the Morelia caracol represents three municipalities and within each municipality there are distinct pueblo communities. On these three levels (pueblo, municipal, and buen gobierno), there are representatives who serve in government positions for up to five years. The governments role is to carry out the projects proposed and demanded by the pueblo. The buen gobierno divides itself into three committees: education, health, and production.

The Zapatista educational system is based on the idea of combining theory with practice and with a focus on development of communities rather than individuals. In each municipality, students attend school for a month and then return home to implement their new skills and knowledge in their pueblos for half a month. Once they are finished with their schooling, they will work in collectives, working together so that their communities may continue to be self sufficient and self sustaining.

By the time we left the office of the buen gobierno we were all very tired, especially after playing basketball for so long, so we slept very deeply (except those of us feeling the first effects of giardia…). The next day we took a tour to one of the municipal schools and had the opportunity to talk to the students there. The students stood in strict rows as we lined up sloppily in front of them. We told the students about the migrant experience that we’ve been learning about, particularly the challenging parts. Since, even in Zapatista communities, youth is exposed to a certain about of mainstream culture and propaganda, it seemed important (at least to the adults we were with) that the students understand the struggles and hardships that migrants face when they come to the United States.

We then walked to the health facilities of the municipality which was also part of an ejido. There we learned about the system of free health care and spreading of health knowledge that is so lacking in the United States. Three promotoras de salud greeted us and told us about their own health care system as we told them about ours. After this exchange we headed back to the caracol, packed up our things and drove back to San Cristóbal.

-Hendrix Berry

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