Tuesday night, The Bloom Collective held a showing of Zapatista at the DAAC in downtown Grand Rapids. Zapatista is a 1999 documentary film about the first 4 years of the Zapatista uprising in Mexico, from 1994 to 1998. The film features interviews with Subcomandante Marcos, Noam Chomsky, and many others. It has been much heralded over the past decade for its accurate and moving portrayal of the post-NAFTA struggle in Mexico and the work of the Zapatistas during that time.
Following the film was a discussion led by a college graduate who studied in Mexico through the Mexico Solidarity Network (MSN). To begin, a brief update on the last ten years in Mexico was given: The Zapatistas decided they did not need the government’s permission to be autonomous and began their own municipalities throughout Mexico. Since the filming of the movie, efforts have shifted to focus on schools and health clinics. In 2005 the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) released the Sixth Declaration of the Lancandon Jungle to initiate a new step in their struggle, to united with “workers, farmers, students, teachers, and employees… the workers of the city and the countryside.” During the 2006 presidential election, the Zapatistas ran “The Other Campaign, ” in which they dismissed the candidates from the two major parties (Party of the Democratic Revolution [PRD] and the National Action Party [PAN]) and began their own tour of the nation, talking to people and listening to their needs.
Women and the Zapatistas
Groups such as MSN have become an opportunity for those living in Zapatista communities to sell their artisanry directly to the consumer, thus avoiding the “middle man” and ensuring a fair price. This has been particularly empowering to women, who are then able to work out of the home and avoid being harassed or degraded in public.
Government Harassment and Targeting
The film mentioned that the Zapatistas do not hold bank accounts – this has changed in recent years, and these bank accounts have become a way for the government to target the Zapatistas. When Zapatistas Fair Trade Coffee co-ops were formed, government owned coffee co-ops would spring up nearby, selling the coffee at a cheaper price and thus undercutting the Zapatista’s coffee sales. Government agents have been known to appear at the Zapatista communities, supposedly searching for marijuana plants – a completely unfounded claim, as the Zapatistas do not allow drugs or alcohol in their municipalities.
Following the update, questions were asked by various filmgoers. Although a good turnout of about thirty people attended the film showing, only a small handful stayed for the discussion. One person asked if any humanitarian laws applied/were enforced in Mexico. Although United Nations measures have passed over the years, they are not effective as there is no system in place to enforce these (and the United States is a powerful member of the UN). Human rights observers have gone to Mexico and documented the situation, which has resulted in enough pressure to shut down government bases.
Discussion turned to NAFTA’s effect on corn production. As of 2008, there are no tariffs on corn coming in to Mexico, making corn from the U.S. and other countries cheaper to buy in Mexico than Mexican corn (which is a huge industry in the country). Because farmers can no longer sell their corn at the price of production, many have moved to cities to find the legendary NAFTA jobs, that don’t really exist.
The narco industry was brought up next, termed “insane” by the discussion facilitator – “narcos run the state now,” as drug lords have infiltrated PAN. U.S. aid has been given to fund the Mexican army, which helps bring drugs to the U.S. Narcos also buy their weapons from the U.S., due to lax gun laws in Arizona and Texas (the facilitator noted that border patrol does not care what goes in to Mexico.) The contradiction of “fighting the drug war by looking for pot plants in Zapataista communities” while this narco situation continues was noted.
The film gave the historical context, and the discussion was useful to gain an understanding of current events in Chiapas, Oaxaca and other regions of Mexico.