The Search for Justice in Atenco

atenco

Alessandro Zagato

@ale_zagato

reblogged from Konkret Media 

Eleven women take Mexico to court for torture and sexual abuse

Almost twelve years have passed since the violent repression against the people of Atenco ordered by the former governor of the State of México Enrique Peña Nieto[1] and the president of the Mexican Republic Vicente Fox. However, the struggle to attain justice for those who were brutally attacked and humiliated by the police is still ongoing.

On November 16 and 17, eleven women brought the Mexican government before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). The events that they refer to took place on May 3 and 4, 2006.

During that time, nearly three thousand policemen stormed the small town of San Salvador Atenco (a few miles away from Mexico City) with orders to repress and crush a community and a movement (the Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra) fighting to defend their territory from the construction of a new airport serving Mexico City.

Two young men aged 14 and 20 were murdered; countless residents and activists were injured; numerous houses were searched, destroyed, and looted; and more than 200 people were arrested—twelve of whom were kept in prison for four years. Dozens of women were raped and humiliated by the police officers. The authorities claim that those were just isolated “excesses.” Since then, not one of the perpetrators has been prosecuted.

Through the IACHR, 11 of those who suffered sexual abuse are now bringing the Mexican state to court, with demands for truth and justice. In their testimony, the women recalled those terrifying moments, their voices cracking with pain and anger.

Sexual violence and torture occurred in police vans and detention centers. As if to underscore the appalling disparity of power, the victims have had to undergo multiple years of trials facing allegations such as offense to public officials, use of weapons,[2] and blockading roads. Yet the serious human rights violations that the people suffered remain unpunished.

As is typical in international court cases like this,[3] the government’s strategy has been to offer remedies involving economic compensation that may “relieve” the victims’ pain and thirst for justice. However, at this point the accusers have no intention of accepting such pacifications. Instead, they are demanding a serious investigation into the chain of command, and prosecution of the material and intellectual perpetrators.

They are also requesting that the Mexican state guarantee that similar events will not recur, given that sexual abuse against activists and dissidents is regularly practiced by the police. Moreover, they require the state to acknowledge its responsibility for the abuse committed against more than 240 people who were arbitrarily assaulted and detained.

Considering that a similar astounding absence of justice and clarity is shaping the aftermath of tragic events such as Ayotzinapa, San Fernando, Atenco, and Acteal—just to name a few of the cases where the state’s direct involvement is abundantly documented—the prevalent question is what type of logic the Mexican authorities are following.

As paradoxical as it may sound, a logic of selective administration of justice (usually referred to as “impunity”)[4] is currently playing a decisive role in the cohesion of a state devastated by violence, criminality and corruption. This apparent (but at the same time very empirical) chaos is the symptom of a transition towards an even more entrenched neoliberal model. It facilitates a new cycle of capitalist expansion alongside the governmental implementation of very specific policies and reforms.[5] A constant and obscene level of violence facilitates the realization of infrastructural mega-projects (like the airport of Atenco) and corporate intervention into territories where popular cohesion and resistance are historically strong.

Generalized impunity sends a clear message both to those who are willing to commit abuse—military, political and economic lobbies—and to those who are resisting and fighting against aggression. Impunity generates an effectively free space of operation for corporate interests, serving at the same time to feed the apparent sense of irrationality of the state’s war machine.

The singularity and power of the legal action undertaken by the 11 victims of Atenco is reinforced by the fact that the IACHR’s verdict, which will be announced in the spring, will be binding. Countries which, like Mexico, recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court are legally bound to respect its judgments.

Even a partial victory for this brave group of women could constitute an unprecedented blow to the Mexican government’s legitimacy, and it would set an important precedent. It could also force the state to implement concrete measures to reduce the levels of impunity and to impose stricter control mechanisms on its armed forces.


  1. Now President. ↩︎
  2. Frente members usually carry machetes for self-defense and as an identification symbol. ↩︎
  3. The Mexican state is currently facing several international legal processes for cases of human rights violations. In all of them, it is maintaining a similar posture. ↩︎
  4. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein denounced Mexico’s 98 percent impunity rate. Telesur. 2015. “UN: Over 150,000 People Murdered in Mexico Since December 2006.” Telesurtv, 8 October. http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/UN-151230-People-Murdered-in-Mexico-Since-December-2006-20151008-0009.html ↩︎
  5. For example, with the energy reform approved by the Senate of the Republic on December 11, 2013 (and the aggregate laws of hydrocarbons, electric industry, geothermic energy, and mining, among other) the articles 25, 27 and 28 of the Mexican constitution are modified and the energy sector opens up to the initiative of private international enterprises. With the reform, the extraction and exploitation of hydrocarbons, mining, and the public provision of energy are considered as activities of a primary strategic and social interest, and a matter of public security. Thus, the legislation prioritizes projects of such nature over any other activity involving the use of the surface or the subsoil of any concerned piece of land or territory. This facilitates processes of dispossession of communal or private land benefitting corporate profit making. ↩︎
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Rumbo a Morelia: CASA GIAP organiza sesiones previas al Encuentro de Mujeres que Luchan en San Cristóbal de las Casas

Los Zapatistas convocan al 1er Encuentro de Mujeres que Luchan, el próximo mes de marzo, en el Caracol Morelia. Si estás pensando venir, considera pasar antes por CASA GIAP en San Cristóbal de las Casas: tenemos un programa previo de trabajo académico con alojamiento y traslado. Más info en correogiap@gmail.com

The Zapatistas are calling to the First International Gathering of Politics, Art, Sport, and Culture for Women in Struggle…If you want to come at Caracol Morelia between 7 -11 march, think to be some days before at CASA GIAP, in San Cristóbal de las Casas. We are organizing academic activities, accommodation and transfer. Info correogiap@gmail.com

 

Morelia.jpg

CERRO ÑIELOL CONFERENCIA INTERNACIONAL PUEBLOS INDÍGENAS SOBRE VISITA PAPA FRANCISCO. TEMUCO, CHILE 16 DE ENERO 2018.

1.-       Con motivo a la visita del PAPA FRANCISCO al territorio Mapuche Convocamos a la Conferencia Internacional, día 16 de enero de 2018.

2.-       Desde el Cerro Ñielol, ciudad de Temuco-Chile, las organizaciones Mapuche junto a otras organizaciones de los Pueblos Indígenas, dialogaremos y enviaremos un mensaje al Papa Francisco para un Perdón por el Crimen de Genocidio y por la toma, confiscación y ocupación del territorio Mapuche y sus recursos en la Araucanía, Neuquén, Río Negro y Chubut, como consecuencias de los actos coercitivos militares denominados “Pacificación de la Araucanía” y “Conquista del Desierto”. Esperamos que dicho Perdón se guie bajo los parámetros y principios de los derechos humanos, lo que debe incluir una política de indemnización y resarcimiento con el Pueblo Mapuche de parte del Estado Chileno, Argentino y el propio Vaticano.

3.-       Los Mapuche tenemos mucho que dialogar con el Papa Francisco y, hacerle presente un conjunto de situaciones históricas, en su calidad de representante del Vaticano, desde una dimensión histórica, como fue el acompañamiento de la Iglesia Católica en los actos coercitivos militares denominada “Conquista del Desierto” y la “Pacificación de la Araucanía”. Procesos de despojos de tierras, la evangelización, en definitiva, el colonialismo y la domesticación que ha sido objeto el Pueblo Mapuche y sus derechos con todas sus consecuencias en el presente.

4.-       El Vaticano tiene relación con los Pueblos Indígenas desde la presencia misma del sistema imperial hispano en las Américas Abya-Yala y seguidamente con la aplicación de la “doctrina del descubrimiento”, referido a la adopción y aplicación de las Bulas Inter-caeteras. Cuyo sistema normativo en su tiempo, les dieron una aparente legalidad a los actos de conquista de toma, confiscación y ocupación de los territorios de los Pueblos Indígenas y sus derechos. Tales consecuencias de la “doctrina del descubrimiento” están plenamente vigentes y que parte de ella, ha sido revocada por su carácter ilegal, ilegitimo y contrario al derecho con la adopción de la Declaración de Naciones Unidas sobre los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas, que reestablece el derecho a la libre determinación de los Pueblos Indígenas y la restitución, reparación e indemnización en cuanto al territorio, las tierras y sus recursos que fueron tomados, confiscados y ocupados sin el consentimiento, previo, libre e informado por los pueblos indígenas.

5.-       Las organizaciones de los Pueblos Indígenas de las Américas en relación a la Doctrina del Descubrimiento, han sostenido:

“Nuestra posición es que el Estado del Vaticano, la Santa Sede y Su Santidad el Papa Francisco deberán tomar las medidas adecuadas y llevar adelante un proceso de responsabilidad internacional por el papel que la Iglesia Católica ha jugado en el origen y autoría intelectual de las violaciones de Derechos Humanos que siguen siendo normalizadas por laDoctrina del Descubrimiento.  Exhortamos a Su Santidad a hacer comentario público en repudiación de la Doctrina del Descubrimiento y en clarificación de las contradicciones aquí documentadas” V Cumbre Continental Indígena Colombia, (13 sep.2013)

6.-       Desde el Cerro Ñielol, los representantes de los Pueblos Indígenas, ratificaremos nuestros derechos colectivos como es el derecho a la libre determinación hasta la conformación de un autogobierno, asimismo, reafirmaremos el derecho a la restitución de las tierras usurpadas, exhortaremos a los todos los Estados y en especial a los Estados de Chile, Argentina y al Estado del Vaticano y las Iglesias que que depongan su política de colonialismo y domesticación con los Pueblos Indígenas.

7.-       Exigiremos un Perdón de parte del Papa Francisco, por los Crímenes de Genocidio y por la toma, confiscación y ocupación de los territorios y los recursos de los Pueblos Indígenas. Exigiremos también, una política de Indemnización y Resarcimiento por el daño causado.

8.-       Hacemos un llamado a las organizaciones de los Pueblos Indígenas de las Américas- Abaya- Yala y a los Pueblos Indígenas de Chile a participar activamente y reafirmar todos y cada uno de nuestros derechos y libertades fundamentales y legar a las futuras generaciones de los Pueblos Indígenas un compromiso con nuestros derechos y nuestro destino común basado y guiado en los cimientos de nuestra cultura, los principios y el derecho a la libre determinación Indígena.

 

AUCAN HUILCAMAN PAILLAMA

Encargado de las Relaciones Internacionales

Consejo de Todas las Tierras.

 

Wallmapuche, Temuco, Chile 07 de enero de 2018

 

News!! GIAP abre, opens, commence, apre CASA GIAP.

En pleno corazón de San Cristóbal de las Casas, GIAP (Grupo de Investigación en arte y política) abre CASA GIAP, un espacio con 4 habitaciones y un mini departamento con cocina. La casa tiene biblioteca, sala de trabajo, cafetería, terraza y está pensada para residencias de acádemicos y artistas que necesiten pasar una temporada en Chiapas. Además de ser un adecuado lugar de alojamiento, los huéspedes-residentes pueden contar con asesorías, charlas y actividades organizadas por GIAP.

Para mayor información, por favor escríbanos a correogiap@gmail.com o al enlace abajo. También estamos en airbnb en los siguientes perfiles

PERFIL 1

PERFIL 2

In the heart of San Cristóbal de las Casas, GIAP (Research Group in art and politics) opens the doors of CASA GIAP, a space with 4 rooms and an apartment with kitchen. The house has a library, a working space, a coffee corner, a terrace and it will host research residences for academics and artists who are wanting to know the city and the region and do fieldwork in Chiapas. While disposing of a comfortable living and working space , the resident-guests can count on consultancies, talks, and activities organized by GIAP.

For more information, please send us an email (correogiap@gmail.com). We are also on airbnb with these two profiles

PROFILE 1

PROFILE 2

 

 

 

Neo Zapatismo y Era Post Soviética: una conexión estética.

Chto Delat

Chto Delat: New deadline #17. Escuela de arte comprometido. Julio 2016. Fotografía cortesía de los artistas.

El interés y curiosidad que causa el movimiento zapatista en la Rusia de Putin es un tema interesante de abordar: básicamente y a grandes rasgos, se trata de cómo el Zapatismo puede estar inspirando a diversos grupos y colectividades que intentan darle un nuevo sentido a las ideas de comunismo y socialismo, después de la experiencia soviética, y en la urgente necesidad actual de recuperar lo mejor de ese período en una dinámica contemporánea que presenta otros y nuevos desafíos. Re pensar el socialismo en un país que vivió estrepitosamente la caída del bloque soviético y navega hoy con relativo éxito en las aguas turbias del neoliberalismo, suele ser tarea para titanes, de esos que saben trabajar como hormiguitas.

La cronología de la inspiración zapatista en Rusia comienza el año 2002 con la publicación del libro “Otra revolución. Los zapatistas contra el nuevo orden mundial” de Oleg Yasinsky, periodista ucraniano residente en Chile. Le sigue la edición el año 2005 de “Subcomandante Marcos. La cuarta guerra mundial”, del mismo autor. Ambos libros traducen e introducen una serie de comunicados de la Comandancia del Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, y fueron por mucho tiempo prácticamente la única fuente de consulta y aproximación al movimiento indígena de Chiapas disponible en ruso.

Varios años después estas publicaciones sirvieron de base para el trabajo que los documentalistas de San Petersburgo, Elena Korykhalova y Oleg Miasoyedov, desarrollaron en Chiapas desde fines del 2012 y hasta principios del 2014. Ellos armaron el segundo punto de esta cronología de la inspiración: el documental “Las personas sin rostro”, que relata no sólo la historia de la insurgencia armada sino sobre todo y principalmente la organización práctica de la autonomía actual en las comunidades zapatistas.

Ese documental, que combina entrevistas, relato y animación informativa y pedagógica, ha sido proyectado con éxito en el circuito de cines independientes de Rusia atrayendo un público motivado por las ideas y propuestas del zapatismo; entre ellos se cuentan algunos miembros del colectivo de arte Chto Delat, quienes inspirados a su vez por todas estas informaciones del zapatismo (tanto de Yasinsky como de los documentalistas) organizaron su primer viaje a Chiapas en abril de 2016.

Chto Delat llega para (sin saberlo a priori) completar esta trilogía de la aproximación rusa al zapatismo aportando algo diferente: un elemento estético y poético que completa las informaciones y análisis certeros de Yasinsky y la pedagogía autonomista de Korykhalova y Miasoyedov. El ingreso de este factor, el arte como vehículo de la poética política y puente estético de la praxis autónoma desde Chiapas hacia Rusia, es posible de visibilizar a partir de Noviembre de 2017 con la exposición en el MUAC de Ciudad de México, “Cuando pensamos que teníamos todas las respuestas la vida cambió todas las preguntas” y la película “Acercamiento lento al Zapatismo”, presentada (además de Ciudad de México) en Cideci Unitierra de San Cristóbal de las Casas. Ambas operaciones artísticas surgen a raíz de la visita a Chiapas donde Chto Delat conocieron comunidades zapatistas, visitaron Acteal y tuvieron la extraordinaria oportunidad de realizar la primera entrevista al Subcomandante insurgente Moisés en calidad de jefe de la comandancia del EZLN[1]. Estas experiencias fueron posteriormente trabajadas y desarrolladas en colectivo por el grupo y en una sesión de verano de la Escuela de Arte Comprometido que ellos mismos organizan desde 2013.

Chto Delat

Chto Delat: New dealine #17. Escuela de arte comprometido julio 2016. Fotografía cortesía de los artistas.

Chto Delat (Qué hacer? en la frase de Lenin) es un colectivo de artistas, coreógrafos y filósofos fundado el año 2003 en San Petersburgo. Y aunque sus preguntas sobre el post socialismo no son nuevas entre ellos (de facto son la médula que articula su trabajo colaborativo) su aproximación al zapatismo ha tenido el efecto de una conmoción espiritual y luego intelectual, profunda. Al punto que reconocen cambios en su manera de pensarse y actuar desde entonces.

Pero más allá de los efectos particulares del zapatismo en los integrantes de Chto Delat, lo que queda por trabajar en adelante es cómo se articularán las poéticas de resistencia y construcción en Rusia con el cuerpo estético-político del Zapatismo. No como copia, como no podría copiarse el modelo autonomista, ni como traslado, como no podría trasladarse ningún proceso político a otro contexto. Y aquí radica un paso fundamental: Chto Delat capturó una esencia zapatista, que es la capacidad de articular lenguajes de diverso origen[2] para crear una estructura semiótica diferente que permite crear y articular ideas nuevas para crear otras políticas diversas a las conocidas. El camino que están empezando es necesario, sobre todo para la articulación entre movimientos, intelectuales, diálogos y reflexiones en la Rusia contemporánea de hoy, donde las informaciones ya disponibles sobre el Zapatismo son ahora estéticamente puestas en un movimiento centrífugo hacia delante. El factor seductor de la post- estética zapatista, de acuerdo al film “Aproximación lenta al zapatismo”, surge cuando el colectivo ha sido capaz en poco tiempo de capturar signos de la cosmogonía zapatista- maya, construir y deconstruir continuamente una secuencia de película donde se metaforiza dentro de un metalenguaje que, creo, pudo y puede ser comprendido tanto por las bases de apoyo indígena como por adherentes a la Sexta del resto del mundo. Ciertos símbolos e imágenes (los títeres y sus recreaciones de seres fantásticos de la selva Lacandona, los pasamontañas místicos con cuernos de toro y lunas, la escena final de navegar en canoa hacia atrás) condensan poderosamente búsquedas y encuentros que trascienden idiomas. Chto Delat estaba buscando mensajeros del Zapatismo y se han vuelto en uno de ellos. Pero a su manera.

 

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Chto Delat: New dealine #17. Escuela de arte comprometido, julio 2016. Fotografía cortesía de los artistas.

 

La originalidad radical de esto es que, si bien otros artistas visuales han acompañado al movimiento zapatista cumpliendo otras funciones para éste (por ejemplo a modo de ilustración de la vida en las comunidades o de la representación de las ideas de autonomía, o divulgando las imágenes y propuestas estéticas que surgen desde el seno mismo del movimiento,) Chto Delat dió un salto hacia adelante capturando una esencia y modelándola para las urgencias de su contexto. Es un proceso estético novedoso por estas características y plantea otros desafíos: ¿Cuál va a ser la relación con lo monumental? ¿Quién será el interlocutor que buscará ser interpelado? ¿Qué hacer con la herencia del arte soviético? ¿Dónde depositarán las nuevas preguntas? ¿Con quiénes se articularán en la rebelión? ¿Cómo se va a navegar?

 

Natalia Arcos

GIAP Grupo de Investigación en Arte y Política

Chiapas, Noviembre 2017.

[1] La entrevista está disponible en youtube y en ella Oleg Yasinsky ejerce de traductor en vivo.

[2] Hemos señalado anteriormente que en la base de la estructura del zapatismo actual se encuentran el lenguaje de guerrillas marxistas latinoamericanas, la cosmogonía maya y probablemente también elementos de la Teología de la Liberación.

Marichuy at the Ballot Box

marichuy4

Challenges ahead for Mexico’s indigenous presidential candidate

Reblogged from Konkret Media

Alessandro Zagato

@ale_zagato

On the 7 of October, María de Jesús Patricio Martínez (also known as Marichuy), the spokesperson for a recently created Indigenous Governing Council (CIG), turned up at the offices of the National Electoral Institute (INE) of Mexico City escorted by a crowd of grassroots organizations and sympathizers. She had come to register as an independent presidential candidate, for the upcoming 2018 elections. “This structure [the INE] is designed for them, not for the people below, not for the working people. But we have still managed to take this first step,” she declared after submitting her application.

To make her candidacy official, María will need to collect 867 thousand signatures distributed in at least 17 states by February 12, 2018. This will entail an exceptional logistical effort from those who are actively involved in the initiative. “How will we do that?” she asked. “According to our style. With the support of our people. Not that different from the way we organize our festivities, when we get ready to receive people from other communities… this is how we are going to proceed.” She also announced that her campaign will not accept a single peso from the INE.

María has no formal political education. She grew up in poverty in Tuxpan, a small indigenous town in the state of Jalisco. From a young age, she was trained as a healer. Now she is the director of a health center that practices and researches indigenous medicine. After the Zapatista uprising of 1994, María became a founding member of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), which the EZLN has integrated into their movement.

She speaks a language that one could describe as sincere and familiar to ordinary people. Her vocabulary does not include specialized or technical expressions; her discourse is never obfuscated by double meanings or rhetorical flourishes, and it is accessible and comprehensible to everybody. In her latest public appearances there was a marked improvement in the rhythm of her speeches, highlighting her ongoing learning process.

She repeatedly explained that the movement selected her as an individual candidate only to comply with electoral law, which does not allow a fully assembly to register. However, the movement firmly rejects an individualist conception of politics, and she emphasized that “the Council will always come first.” Any decision or declaration issued by María will be the result of a collective discussion and the expression of popular will. Not only will the CIG follow the seven principles of mandar obedeciendo (ruling by obeying)[1] that underpin autonomous government in Zapatismo, but it will also attempt to apply them to the functioning of the state.

The conformation of the CIG still needs to be completed. So far, it comprises 141 members (concejales) representing 35 indigenous groups based in 62 regions. The initiative plans to eventually cover 93 regions. The idea is that the Council will operate as an intermediate space between the state apparatus and society, between the government and the organized people affiliated with the CNI.

Using this strategy, the indigenous movement of Mexico intends to use or “occupy” the electoral deadline as a means to set off a widespread process of articulation of autonomous and grassroots organizations at the national scale, aimed at radically transforming a highly corrupt political system from the bottom up. The CNI and the EZLN present this as an openly anti-capitalist project with four principal goals:

  1. Bringing to an end widespread/structural violence. In Mexico, constant low-intensity warfare has turned into a form of governance facilitating processes of accumulation by dispossession (predominantly of land and natural resources) and producing a passive, fragmented, and confused type of subjectivity that is conducive to corporate profit-making. Between 2007 and 2014, at least 164,000 people were murdered, and about 25,000 are currently reported missing (desaparecidos).
  2. A new environmental approach respecting “Mother Earth” and indigenous people’s dignity. Because of recent constitutional reforms, it is estimated that a quarter of the national territory (more than 50 million hectares) has been leased to international extractive companies.[2] The impact of these developments has been particularly harmful for territories that are legally organized under collective forms of tenure and mainly (but not exclusively) inhabited by indigenous groups.
  3. Confronting patriarchy and macho culture and working toward a society shaped by gender equality. “Women live in a condition of oblivion and marginalization, especially when they are indigenous and poor. The time has come to fight for our rights, to get ready and rise up”, declared María after submitting her application to the INE.
  4. A widespread process of decolonization of Mexican society and statehood, with the ultimate goal of inclusion, respect, and legitimation of indigenous forms of life. This is a task that María de Jesus has referred to as the “reconstitution of our people, who have been under attack for centuries. The time has come” she observed, “to find a new configuration for us to keep existing.”

From the 13th to the 19th of October the CIG and its spokesperson toured Chiapas to meet the authorities of the five regions that comprise the Zapatista territory. This was a symbolic act expressing a continuity with the struggle of the EZLN. However, it cannot yet be considered as part of María de Jesús Patricio’s electoral campaign. Indeed, as the result of a decision to be fully independent from the state, the Zapatistas have no voting credentials. From the beginning of this initiative, the EZLN has declared that it would not take part as voters. So their mobilization in the electoral process would be paradoxical, like the participation of milicianos armed with wooden rifles in the 1994 uprising, whose sacrifice became a statement of war and revolutionary commitment, and played a decisive role in that conjuncture.

Between November and December, María de Jesús Patricio will visit dozens of indigenous communities around the country. Political powers and lobbies have already begun to test their boycott mechanisms, from the repeated technical failures of the application designed by the INE for the collection of signatures to the actual breakdown of the telecommunication services in the areas where María was meeting the Zapatista authorities. “No obstacle or trap will make us move a step back,” declared María. The indigenous movement’s challenge to the Mexican political system has just started.


  1. These are the 7 principles: Lead by Obeying; To represent – not replace; To work from below and not seek to rise; To serve – not self-serve; To convince – not conquer; To construct – not destroy; To propose – not impose. ↩︎
  2. See Toledo Victor, Garrido David, and Barrera-Bassols Narciso. 2015. “The struggle for life. Socio-environmental conflicts in Mexico”. Latin American Perspectives 204, Vol. 42 – 5: 133-147. ↩︎

Anatomy of a Disaster

Reblogged from Konkret Media, a new independent media platform from Los Angeles

konkretAlessandro Zagato @ale_zagato

Photo reportage by Francisco Lion

“By removing rubble they want to disarticulate popular solidarity”: The earthquake aftermath in Mexico City

The earthquake that hit Mexico City and the wider region on September 19 was not as strong as the one that occurred on the same day in 1985, but it was the most devastating the city has seen since then. While the official death toll has reached 370 and thousands of people are still sleeping in their vehicles or in one of the emergency shelters erected across the city, the popular mobilization that followed the tremor continues to grow and evolve.

Young people have systematically transformed their leisure spaces into hubs of solidarity. They organize the collection and distribution of goods to the affected areas. Some of them offer free psychological support. Many are opening their own houses to the displaced.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, volunteers across the city worked together to clear rubble in search of survivors. Neighbors continue to provide one another with basic goods. Bikers and cyclists deliver messages and supplies, and restaurants give away food and access to the internet. Trucks full of carpenters and workers reach the affected areas.

From day one, ordinary people have spontaneously taken control of the situation. “After that building collapsed, neighbors got together and started removing the remains piece by piece. We also got organized to bring water, food, blankets and whatever else was needed” one resident explains.

mexico-city-earthquake

At the same time, the army has been gradually taking position, forcing civilians to step back. On the first night, heavily armed military units lined up and surrounded a number of collapsed buildings, preventing the people from getting closer. “We are now in charge,” they declared. Politicians, public servants, and police officers are trying to take control of the situation—but popular resistance is firm.

“Why should people who arrived first and spent all night volunteering be forced to leave?” asks one volunteer. Civilians are challenging the legitimacy of state agents who arrived late and show little commitment to the cause. “Where were you before?” a young man asks the officer who is pushing him away.

On the radio, authorities have requested that people not get involved and instead leave relief efforts to the authorized personnel. Critics targeted Graco Ramírez, a member of the ruling PRI and governor of Morelos, after he ordered “the end of the rescuing operations” just twenty-four hours after the earthquake. Typically, search and rescue efforts continue for a minimum of three days after a disaster of this magnitude.

The army and government response serves only to increase the suspicion that their aim is to disarticulate popular mobilization in order to preclude conditions that might lead to a mass movement like the one that followed the 1985 earthquake.

Even the authorities’ decision to use heavy digging machinery is controversial. “Those who pretend to give us orders have no clue of what they are doing” is a sentiment shared by many topos, the famed volunteers who led rescue operations in 1985. “The army is employing heavy machines to accelerate the process, but they refuse to collaborate with us in the rescuing operations because that’s not their priority”.

mexico-city-earthquake-night

The topos recommend a strategy that allowed them to rescue people for 15 days after the 1985 earthquake. It consists of opening breaches through the remains of the buildings, making use of still intact structures like elevator ducts or load bearing walls. This allows rescuers to reach areas where people may still be alive. “Heavy machines could kill them,” the topos warn.

Moreover, a serious investigation should look for causes and responsibilities before the demolition of collapsed buildings takes place. Hashtags like #RescatePrimero (rescue first) and #NoMaquinaria (no machinery) are currently gaining traction on social media.

Mainstream media outlets are trying to impose an artificial and openly ideological narrative that often has only a tenuous relationship to facts. An illustrative example is the coverage of the tragedy that hit the Enrique Rébsamen School, where 21 children and 4 adults died. On the morning of September 20, Televisa (a national TV channel) began disseminating the illusion that a primary school girl trapped under the building could still be saved.

“We found a girl who is still alive. But a big effort will be required because the operation is highly risky,” a police officer told a Televisa reporter.

For nine hours, the live broadcast of the operations captivated millions of Mexicans awaiting a miracle in the midst of the tragedy. The coverage resembled a reality show; cameras, microphones, and drones were deployed to cover every single detail of the process.

A teacher confirms that the girl attended primary school. A soldier says that he saw her asking for water and moving her hand. Other media outlets reveal that the girl is twelve years old. The presenter constantly calls for hope, repeating the slogan “fuerza Mexico” (go Mexico) as a mantra.

Frida Sofía (the name given to her by the media) was never found. In fact, no girl with that name was ever part of the school’s register. At 5 AM Televisa announced that the rescue operation was suspended. Civil rescuers were removed from the area – and nobody ever mentioned Frida Sofía on Televisa again.

The cynical reality show manufactured to hypnotize the public and manipulate their emotions was also an attempt to conceal the increasingly acute polarization between organized sectors of civil society and a profoundly unpopular government.

Now, three weeks since the earthquake, the popular movement is reflecting on duties and goals for the upcoming months. Numerous open assemblies are taking place across the country. With so much governmental inconsistency, it is clear that a population with an outstanding capacity for self-organizing will provide the foundation for what comes next.


This is the first installment in an ongoing series from Alessandro Zagato on the ground in Mexico. You can follow Alessandro on Twitter at @ale_zagato