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By Alejandro Reyes
A recent article by John Ross, an American journalist, has sparked controversy over his criticism of the Red Alert decreed by the EZLN last May. These are some reflections on the subject.
I was very amused by the story that Ernesto Ledesma from CAPISE told me: that when John Ross arrived at Café Tierra Adentro, in San Cristóbal de las Casas, a couple of weeks ago, he asked with ironic shyness if he was welcome or if he would be kicked out . The always gentle Ernesto answered that How, friend Ross, this is not the old left of enlightened vanguards and infallible ideologies, we are multiple and diverse, rebels each in his own way, a world where many worlds fit ... Well, these are already words of my inkwell, but if that was not what he said, something similar would be, or at least he will have thought. The fact is that in Tierra Adentro we met John Ross, comrade Daniel Nemser and I, several times at the end of July, where we had many pleasant talks. Over there he appeared parsimonious and smiling, dressed in his Arab kaffiyeh under his leather vest, his black beret, and his long white beards, to pleasantly argue with caustic cordiality.
But despite the welcome, Ross's question, half teasing, half playful, was not entirely inappropriate. Recently, John Ross has been able to win the animosity of a good number of supporters of the Other Campaign and the ire of a few more. Author of important books and articles on Zapatismo, John has become, in recent months, a staunch critic of the Other Campaign. In particular, his recent article, "A Report from the Red Alert", caused a small earthquake of indignation in some Zapatista circles.
The reaction is understandable although perhaps not entirely justifiable
For many of us, the Other Campaign represents one of the newest and most creative experiments in redefining democracy and the boldest attempt of our day to rethink our world: a new way of doing politics, a new understanding of social relations. This, in a context of growing fanaticism worldwide and a growing disenchantment with the possibilities of electoral democracy. And precisely at the moment when the movement goes through its first serious difficulties, at the moment when it is a victim of state brutality in a context of media manipulation that oscillates between complete isolation and opportune demonization, comrade John comes, with his prestige as a former connoisseur of Zapatismo, to add fuel to the bonfire.
But criticism - and self-criticism - is not only useful but necessary, so I think it is healthier to have a cup of Zapatista coffee with the compa and dialogue with an open spirit, than to fall into paroxysms of indignation.
In his article, as in our personal conversations, his criticism is centered on the logic - and the supposed consequences - of the red alert announced by Delegate Zero on May 3 of this year after the Atenco repression. According to your reading, there are two fundamental problems. First, that declaring a red alert in Zapatista territory - with the resulting damage to the functioning of the communities - because of Atenco makes no sense: one thing would not have to do with the other. And second, that since the decision to do so comes from the military structure of the EZLN, it breaks with its inherent verticality in the longed-for horizontality of civil Zapatismo. The result of this, according to John, has been the dismantling of the Other Campaign and the "mass desertion" of the adherents.
Comrade Daniel Nemser and I began a journey through the Mexican Republic at the end of May, from Sonora to Chiapas [see his blog in Spanish and English at http://pinguinozapatista.blogspot.com/], in order to understand the situation of the Other Campaign before and after Atenco -in the states where Delegate Zero did not arrive and where he did-, participate in the national assembly of adherents in Mexico City and the July 2 march, understand the Oaxacan popular movement and, finally, the situation in Chiapas in the context of the Other Campaign and the red alert. This research allows us to make certain observations about John Ross's criticisms, based on first-hand knowledge.
Criticisms of the logic of the red alert are not exclusive to John: dissatisfaction with the difficulties caused by it is heard with some frequency both in Chiapas and in the rest of the country. However, the vast majority of the people we spoke to in Chiapas understand the red alert as a need for self-defense. And the fact that the decision comes from the military structure is not a reason for conflict, since the alert corresponds precisely to a military logic. This is not simply a symbolic act of solidarity with the political prisoners of Atenco, a few thousand kilometers from Chiapas - although it also serves this purpose - but rather an intelligent and calculated defense strategy against the real danger of repression. Both Onésimo Hidalgo from the Community Action Center for Economic and Political Research (CIEPAC) and Michael Chamberlin from the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) and many other people closely linked to the local situation understand that the weakest point of the Another Campaign is precisely Chiapas. Since 1994, the Mexican government has made every possible effort to confine the conflict to indigenous communities in the state, thus removing its national character. The audacity of the Other Campaign to spread Zapatismo throughout the country represents a threat to the government that, to the extent of its success, becomes intolerable. A military action in Zapatista territory could dismantle the Other Campaign by locating the conflict in Chiapas again and forcing Delegate Zero to return to the jungle.
Several facts seem to confirm this hypothesis. First, there is no doubt that one of the main objectives of the Atenco repression was to strike a blow to the Other Campaign, at a time when it was beginning to become uncomfortable - when Delegate Zero's speech was raging, when the allegations of dispossession and brutality of the system were repeated over and over again, in contrast to the empty discourse of political campaigns, when outrage turned into resistance in places like La Parota and, evidently, Texcoco. This is confirmed by listening to the testimonies of victims of repression, members of the Other Campaign who had nothing to do with the conflict of May 3 and who were in Atenco on May 4 with the obviously unsuccessful intention of serving as a human shield. against state violence. Many of these people were beaten, raped, tortured, and explicitly interrogated for their alleged links with the EZLN.
The violent and very alarming eviction of the Ch’ol Zapatista community from Tumbalá, in Roberto Barrios's Caracol (a few days after the publication of John Ross's article) demonstrates the vulnerability of the communities and the real threat of state violence. While it is debatable whether this is simply a continuation of the low-intensity war that has been present since 1994 - although by many forgotten - or a resurgence of repression in the context of the Other Campaign, what is clear is that the precaution of the Red alert is far from being a delusion.
But John's gravest assertion is about the supposed dismantling of the Other Campaign from Atenco. Our visit to the states of Sonora, Chihuahua and Zacatecas revealed a much more complex and ambiguous panorama than the one John paints. In places like Ciudad Obregón and Parral, the visit of Delegado Zero would undoubtedly have contributed to joining forces and attracting reluctant actors. In both places the Other Campaign is incipient; the comrades are committed and talented fighters, but for various reasons the Other Campaign has not taken off; Marcos' visit and the karavana could have given him the necessary push. At the same time, in both places there is a perception that the cancellation of the visit caused a self-cleansing of people with little commitment, more interested in taking a photo with Marcos than in building alternatives. Already in Zacatecas, the suspension of the campaign and the Atenco crisis served not only to unite dispersed forces but to transform the movement into a true political force. Until that moment, the efforts were concentrated in preparing the arrival of Marcos; Starting from Atenco, the Other Zacatecas was born as a well-articulated political actor, comprising a wide and highly creative diversity of groups and individuals.
In the same way, the expressiveness of the Other Campaign in the states where the karavana did take place changes depending on the local context, and is affected differently by the Atenco situation. In Guanajuato and Oaxaca, we saw a lot of division. In Querétaro, on the contrary, we saw an impressive organization.
How John came to the conclusion that there is a "mass defection" was not very clear to me. Perhaps it has to do with the comparison between the estimated 25,000 protesters in the zócalo on May 1 (1), against the 5,000 to 10,000 in the march this past July 2 - untimely organized the day before. There may have been a reduction in the number of adherents after Atenco, although I don't see how this could be quantified. At the same time, the sense of suspense and immobility at this moment is understandable, compared to the continuous movement of the Campaign before Atenco. However, it is important to understand that this is already a new phase of the movement: the moment of organization, of direct action, of transformation into political actors. The karavana represented the moment of listening. This moment did not end, but the events in Atenco precipitated, perhaps prematurely but necessarily, a new organizational stage, less visible, but more consistent. An evaluation of the Other Campaign at this time cannot be based on a quantitative look (assuming that is possible), but on a careful qualitative analysis. Someone said that the members of the Other Campaign "are the best that Mexico has today." It may seem like self-righteous hyperbole, but touring the country with the Other Campaign left us just that impression.
But John Ross's criticisms have, at bottom, to do, I think, with a difference in ideological position: the struggle for change inside or outside the system. Despite acknowledging the problems with the PRD and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, John is convinced that this is a path for change and a hope for the country. According to his own claim, a victory for the PRD would mean a "victory for the people." Criticism of the Other Campaign as partially responsible for Felipe Calderón's supposed "victory" is not exclusive to John; many PRD members share it with unusual resentment. The virulence of the attacks against the PRD by Marcos and the Other Campaign may be questionable. However, what is essential here is that the Other Campaign seeks an alternative that goes far beyond the logic of the "lesser evil." For the Other Campaign, the positioning in relation to the electoral dispute - the decision, for example, to support or not the movement against fraud - is a strategic question that has to do with an evaluation of the most propitious scenarios for its own growth. , and not with a choice between a corrupt pseudo-left and a violent far-right. The Other Campaign cannot and must not waste time and energy with such questions; others are already busy enough with it. The Other Campaign has much more transcendent goals: to build a new political and social reality for the country, to reinvent democracy. It is understandable that those who still believe in the electoral option cannot see this. But it does not matter: the moment of disappointment will come. Then the Other Campaign will have to leave its doors open to sincere fighters who are willing to look for other alternatives: "Come on in, friend John, have a coffee and let's get into the talacha together, there's a lot to do."
(1) "Until death if necessary," La Jornada, May 2, 2006.
Alejandro Reyes is a member of Radio Zapatista (www.radiozapatista.org ) and PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.
AUGUST 18, 2006 - CIEPAC, CHIAPAS; MEXICO - http://www.ciepac.org