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Where La Otra has Already begun

by the Centro de Medios Libres

In a six month journey throughout Mexico, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) plans to meet with multitude grassroots organizations and collectives for the initial stages of the Other Campaign, a proposal launched by the EZLN last year to search for a non-electorate, anti-capitalist left in Mexico. Renamed as Delegate Zero, Marcos will spend one week in each of Mexico’s 31 states and the federal district of Mexico City, consulting the bases for the next step in this struggle for national social justice.
So far, media coverage has unfortunately focused on the word of Marcos in each of his stops and not on the people and organizations he meets. Anticipating this treatment, Marcos recognized early on the role of alternative media in the Other Campaign. Calling alternative media the vertebral spine of the Other Campaign, Marcos asked that all independent media makers covering the Other Campaign record the unknown histories of the humble people he encounters along the way.
Delegate Zero is scheduled to arrive in Guerrero in mid-April. A state mired in political violence, extreme poverty and massacres of indigenous people, Guerrero is one of the most dangerous places on the Mexican map. Guerrero also serves as home to the armed insurgency of the People’s Revolutionary Army (EPR).
A laboratory of self-determination, the other campaign has already begun in the ejido of Buena Vista in San Luis Acatlan, Guerrero. Buena Vista was an integral and fundamental part in the beginnings of the Policia Comunitaria (Community Police), a movement that ten years after its founding has practically solved the region’s security problems and since 1998 with the formation of the Regional Coordination of Community Authorities (CRAC) deals out justice in an autonomous matter based upon the customs of the people of Costa Chica.
Prior to 1995, Guerrero’s Costa Chica region was rampant with violence. Robbery, paramilitary activity, rape and murder occurred regularly on the rough mountain roads that string together these indigenous Mixteca communities. Drug abuse and delinquency fueled the crisis. Fed-up with government incompetence and complicity in the crimes, three communities decided in 1995 to take up arms to defend themselves. Since then the Policia Comunitaria has grown to encompass 62 communities in five municipalities.
“We don’t look for recognition but only a good relationship of respect from the government,” said Cirino, one of the founders of the Policia Comunitaria. “As original people of Mexico, we have every right to arm ourselves.”
Carmen, a woman involved with Policia Comunitaria since its inception, said the EZLN uprising in 1994 helped to inspire the Policia Comunitaria’s self-organization.
“We knew that all of the good projects that we wanted to do here would have to come from us, not from the government,” she said.
The success of the Policia Comunitaria stems from its communal approach to criminal justice. Each community selects 8 to 12 men to serve as police. Five comandantes elected from each municipality serve with CRAC. After detaining an individual, the policia launches an investigation, looking into family and community matters that could be involved with the crime. A council of community elders delivers judgment. Once a punishment is rendered, the individual is placed into a program of reeducation where they perform community services and meet every Sunday with town elders for consultation.
Now the ejido of Buena Vista turns its focus toward the other problems that affect their territory. Guerrero’s Mountain and Costa Chica regions are historically forgotten and left behind. Two of its municipalities account for the highest rates of maternal mortality and extreme poverty in the country, San Luis Acatlan and Metlatonoc respectively.
On the contrary, the region is rich in natural resources: lush forests, abundant fresh water, coffee, pineapple and sugar cane. Marginalization, insufficient public education and government assistance programs have created a loss of community consciousness for production and self-sustainability. Buena Vista does not have an adequate educational system nor health services that guarantee the life and well being of the people. Insufficient production in the fields provokes dependence on outside products, creating more poverty, delinquency and domestic violence. This occurs throughout the entire region.
“The Policia Comunitaria emerged from a national social context and we have made many gains, but now we are losing participation from the people,” said Bruno, Buena Vista’s community authority. “There’s a lot of problems to keep people from getting involved and they are mostly economic. The origins of delinquency are poverty.”
In its rejection of Procede (a national program that plans to privatize ejidal lands and expropriate natural resources) Buena Vista, an ejido consisting of eight Mixteca communities, has fueled a discussion and internal analysis about the consequences of this program, which has led them to the identify the root problems of their situation: lack of education, health care and community self-sustainability. In response to this conflictive and degrading situation, the citizens of Buena Vista have created certain committees that look to resolve these problems.
“We have to start a new process where we maintain the Policia Comunitaria and the process of justice that we already have. We now have to combat the problem of poverty,” Bruno said.
In education, a group of teachers originally from the ejido, are working to create a program that fits to the needs and specific situations of their culture, strengthening their people’s identity and molding their history. This led to the realization of a series of murals in the town hall that narrate the history and cosmic perception of Mixteca culture and dignity. Also, they are putting together a community library and have started a book collection campaign.
With health care the women of Buena Vista have begun discussions about how to confront sickness through prevention, motivating families to take sanitary measures like the creation of ecological latrines and the production of organic soap. Through education, the community has tackled the problem of maternal mortality.
Palonia, a women in charge of opportunities for Buena Vista’s women, said during the two years the community has offered the talk about maternal mortality only five women have died from maternal mortality.
“Ten years ago there were many deaths (from maternal mortality) because of a lack of medicine and information,” she said. “A lot of men did not have money to take their wives to the doctor or to the hospital in San Luis. Sometimes, men became jealous of the women’s relationship with the doctor.” In production, they have formed a committee of community development that manages resources and channels different groups of producers of sugar cane, bread, coffee, pineapple, beans, bananas, avocado and aguardiente. The goal was to reduce the consumption of outside goods and to be self-sufficient in food production. From that emerged a cooperative of artisan women that are beginning to distribute their crafts throughout the region.
“People don’t realize the value of their own products and outside companies are telling us that what we produce is worthless,” said Bruno. “If we are capable of producing what we eat, we are capable of creating an economy that stays within the community.” Also they have formed a popular communication committee that among other things promotes an anti-soft drink campaign and educates the community in the points mentioned before. They also hold regional meetings of women for workshops about gender equality.
“There’s a lot of violence against women here. The men don’t allow the women to participate. The men think that they can decide what the women do and that what they say is worth more than what women say,” Palonia said.
Every week a workshop is held to inform women of their rights. Palonia said about 5 percent of the women of the ejido participate. “We invite the women so they can come and participate and listen to the information we have to give them,” she said.
Buena Vista has begun to organize for the arrival of Delegate Zero. Signs, T-shirts, and flyers are being created to spread the Other Campaign throughout the entire region. As Buena Vista struggles with its problems, maybe they could learn something from the EZLN. Or better, the EZLN has something to learn from them.
“We have to organize ourselves and strengthen ourselves internally. When the rich try to divide us it doesn’t matter that we’re not intellectuals,” said Bruno.

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