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Zapatistas Celebrate 10 years of Autonomy with Escuelitas

by Leonidas Oikonomakis On August 6, 2013   from

It was 10 years ago, on January 1, 2003, when — having exhausted the road of dialogue with the government as well the one of a “big R” Revolution that would overthrow the Mexican state — the Zapatistas of Chiapas decided to “abandon the politics of demands, and with it, all contact with the state.” Instead, they chose to concentrate on building their own autonomous, horizontal forms of self-government within their own territories and with their own means.


In other words, to ignore the state as an institution and “act as if they had already won”, comrade ‘Bruce Lee’ of the CCRI in San Cristobal declared during the commemoration of the 1994 uprising that “we don’t have to ask the government’s permission to be autonomous.” Or, as Major Infantry Insurgent Moses put it in an interview with Gloria Muñoz:

The dialogue with the government didn’t work but it enriched us, because we met more people and it gave us more ideas. After the “Color of the Earth march” in 2001 we said that with or without a law we were going to build our government the way we wanted.

It was 10 years ago, on August 9, 2003, when the Zapatistas announced the death of the Aguascalientes and the birth of the Caracoles. Five caracoles were created, each with its own Junta de Buen Gobierno (JBG) established within it, responsible for its own Zapatista Autonomous Rebel Municipal Zone (MAREZ). The five caracoles are the following:

  • “The Mother of Caracoles — Sea of Dreams” (La Realidad)
  • “The Whirlwind of Our Words” (Morelia — 17 de Noviembre)
  • “Resistance Until the New Dawn” (La Garrucha — Fransisco Gomez)
  • “The Caracol That Speaks for All” (Robero Barrios)
  • “Resistance and Rebellion for Humanity” (Oventik)

The municipalities and communities in each zone are not only divided on the basis of geographical criteria but in other ways (like ethnic composition and distance from the caracol) as well. Each caracol has its own autonomous health clinic, normally a primary and/or secondary school, and each of them is also involved in one form or another with one of the five Projects of Zapatismo: health, education, agro-ecology, politics, and information technology.

It was 10 years ago when the Zapatistas announced that they don’t need anyone’s permission to be autonomous, and started to work on what for them constitutes liberty and autonomy. And now, 10 years later, on August 8, 2013 the Zapatistas invite the world to a three-day fiesta to celebrate the ten years of Zapatista autonomy, in the five caracoles in Chiapas!

And not only that. When the fiesta is over, in one of the very few public initiatives they have undertaken since the Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona (La Sexta) in June 2005, and since the start of the Other Campaign (La Otra Campaña) in January 2006,  the Zapatistas now invite the world to an initiative that they call “the Little School of Liberty according to the Zapatistas”.

For this Escuelita, around 1.500 activists from all over the world have been invited to visit Chiapas and study the Zapatistas’ experiment with autonomy through lived experience. The teachers will be the Zapatista communities themselves, which will host each and every student in their lands, one with every family, and let them experience what it is like to be member of the Zapatista Bases of Support; in other words, what it’s like to be a Zapatista.

There will be students from five continents. Some of the countries of origin of the students in the course, Freedom according to the Zapatistas, include: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, the United States of America, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Venezuela, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Slovenia, the Spanish State, France, Greece, Holland, Italy, the Basque Country, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, South Korea, India, Iran, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the Canary Islands. The furthest point of origin of students is Sri Lanka, which is more than 17 thousand kilometers from Zapatista territory. Then follows India (more than 15 thousand kilometers away), Australia (more than 13 thousand kilometers away), and new Zealand (more than 11 thousand kilometers away).

More than 30 students have PhDs in various fields, while more than 50 are professors and researchers in various universities. Some 200 students will also attend the Little School through video conference. Just like the Zapatistas did in the years of the Global Justice Movement, with their Encuentros in their territories, now, in the years of the Real Democracy Movement, they again invite the world to come and see what autonomy and freedom looks and works like for the Zapatistas.

“What for?” some may ask. “The Zapatista example is one that cannot be followed everywhere: we don’t live in the jungles of Chiapas to create rebel armies and autonomous communities,” others say. You may have heard these arguments before, as have I. Well, the answer is simple: the Zapatistas never projected themselves as the one and only example to be followed. They have constructed a world in which they have realized their own vision of freedom and autonomy, and continue to fight for a world in which other worlds are possible.

That’s the world they invite us to experience. And, on the last day of theEscuelita, the Zapatistas will tell the students: “the school is over, what are you still doing here? Go back to your lands!” After all, “We didn’t invite you in order to recruit you, train you, un-train you, program you, or, like they say, “reset” you. We have opened a door and invited you to come in and see our house, to see what we have constructed with the help of people all over the world… The outcome of the Escuelita is not militancy, belonging, submission to command, nor fanaticism. What follows the Escuelita is something that you, and only you, can decide… and act upon.”

In the next days, ROAR will keep you updated on the fiestas and the Escuelita. For those of you who would like to be part of it, the Zapatistas are organizing another course, in December-January 2013-’14, which coincides with the 20th anniversary of the original Zapatista uprising of January 1, 1994. Those interested to participate in person or through video conference will find information on how to do so on Enlace Zapatista.

Vale. Salud y hasta la próxima.