The land belongs to those who work it with their own hands.Emiliano Zapata
November 23-December 2 2017
The cultural capital of Chiapas, San Cristobal is located in the central highlands of the state at 7,000+ feet, much cooler than the warm Oaxacan Coast we had come from.
One of the most isolated largish cities we have been to, a 10 hour bus ride brought us to this Spanish colonial town with many bright and colorful buildings.
It is the center for the surrounding indigenous villages set in a valley between pine forest hills, with many natural sights such as caves and rivers in the hinterlands which we visited via motorbike.
In a way the surrounding countryside reminded us of northern Vietnam, full of small villages set amongst hazy mountains and terraced hillsides for small agricultural growers.
In town we enjoyed wandering the pedestrian streets- full of boutiques, cafes, and local businesses. There was always something interesting going on, from the natives selling their homemade goods (such as blankets and ponchos) to street performers and buskers playing music and putting on a show.
We also got to witness the lead up to one of the areas biggest celebrations, the Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, with fairs along with nightly (and daily) fireworks and parades. The Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is a popular Catholic feast that celebrates the belief that a man encountered the Virgin Mary, Mexico’s patron saint, on December 9 and 12, 1531.
We enjoyed trying Pox one evening. It is a liquor made of corn, sugar cane and wheat, very important in mayan culture for its ceremonial uses. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Mezcal or Tequila, but it was interesting to try the wide range of flavors that it can be mixed with, such as cocoa and coco.
Of course no trip to the area would be complete without making a trip into the misty jungle mountains of Chiapas, to visit one of the rebel strongholds of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).
Oventic is one of the seven outreach caracoles of this ultra-leftist revolutionary group. They are a group made out of the area’s many indigenous tribes, who live in autonomous villages in the Chiapas highlands.
Although the ideology of the EZLN reflects libertarian socialism, paralleling both anarchist and libertarian Marxist thought in many respects, the EZLN has rejected and defied political classification, retaining its distinctiveness due in part to the importance of indigenous Mayan beliefs to the Zapatistas. The EZLN aligns itself with the wider alter-globalization, anti-neoliberal social movement, seeking indigenous control over their local resources, especially land.
As Subcomandante Marcos, the movement’s visionary and poetic faux-leader, explains in the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle:
“We are a product of 500 years of struggle: first against slavery, then during the War of Independence against Spain led by insurgents, then to avoid being absorbed by North American imperialism, then to promulgate our constitution and expel the French empire from our soil, and later the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz denied us the just application of the Reform laws and the people rebelled and leaders like Villa and Zapata emerged, poor men just like us. We have been denied the most elemental preparation so they can use us as cannon fodder and pillage the wealth of our country. They don’t care that we have nothing, absolutely nothing, not even a roof over our heads, no land, no work, no health care, no food nor education. Nor are we able to freely and democratically elect our political representatives, nor is there independence from foreigners, nor is there peace nor justice for ourselves and our children.
But today, we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.”
Part of this fight for peace includes educating people in schools and meetings about the dangers of neoliberalism and corporate capitalism, which ravages countries such as Mexico in many ways, such as bequeathing special water rights to international conglomerates such as Nestlé and Coca-Cola.
One of the Zapatista’s first actions was to institute the Women’s Revolutionary Law and women’s rights are a core foundation of el Zapatismo.
20+ years since their initial uprising, the Rebel Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities control about a third of Chiapas’ territory and they keep the government out. Mexican police, military, and federal and state government officials are not permitted in Zapatista territories.
One of the villages which allow, and encourage, visits from outsiders is Oventic, located about an hour north of San Cristóbal de las Casas. Apparently, you can’t find it labeled on Google Maps. After showing identification and answering some questions from the guards, we were let into the village. We weren’t allowed to photograph any of the people who live or work in Oventic, but were allowed and encouraged to photograph its marvelous revolutionary murals.