Sunday, August 14, 2005

A Penguin in the Selva Lacandona, Part 2

Originally published in Spanish by the EZLN
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Translated by irlandesa


A Penguin in the Selva Lacandona II/II

(The zapatista is just a little house, perhaps the smallest, on a street called “Mexico,” in a barrio called “Latin America,” in a city called the “World.”)


I was speaking to you about the critiques of the points made by the Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona concerning Mexico, Latin America and the World. Well, in response, allow me some questions:

Concerning there’s no place for you in this world

What happens, for example, when, more than a decade ago, a little girl (let’s say between 4 and 6 years old), indigenous and Mexican, sees her father, her brothers, her uncles, her cousins or her neighbors, taking up arms, a ton of pozol and a number of tostadas and “going off to war?” What happens when some of them don’t return?

What happens when that little girl grows up, and, instead of going for firewood, she goes to school, and she learns to read and write with the history of her people’s struggle?

What happens when that girl reaches youth, after 12 years of seeing, hearing and speaking with Mexicans, Basques, North Americans, Italians, Spaniards, Catalans, French persons, Dutch, German, Swiss, British, Finnish, Danish, Swedish, Greek, Russian, Japanese, Australian, Filipino, Korean, Argentinean, Chilean, Canadian, Venezuelan, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Guatemalan, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Uruguayan, Brazilian, Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, Honduran, Bolivian and etceteras, and learns of what their countries, their struggles, their worlds are like?

What happens when she sees those men and women sharing deprivations, work, anguish and joys with her community?

What happens with that girl-then-adolescent-then-young-woman after having seen and heard “the civil societies” for 12 years, bringing not only projects, but also histories and experiences from diverse parts of Mexico and the World? What happens when she sees and listens to the electrical workers, working with Italians and Mexicans in the installation of a turbine in order to provide a community with light? What happens when she meets with young university students at the height of the 1999-2000 strike? What happens when she discovers that there are not just men and women in the world, but that there are many paths and ways of attraction and love. What happens when she sees young students at the sit-in at Amador Hernández? What happens when she hears what campesinos from other parts of Mexico have said? What happens when they tell her of Acteal and the displaced in Los Altos of Chiapas? What happens when she learns of the accords and advances of the peoples and organizations of the National Indigenous Congress? What happens when she finds out that the political parties ignored the death of her people and decided to reject the San Andrés Accords? What happens when they recount to her that the PRD paramilitaries attacked a zapatista march – peaceful and for the purpose of carrying water to other indigenous – and left several compañeros with bullet wounds on just April 10? What happens when she sees federal soldiers passing by every day with their war tanks, their artillery vehicles, their rifles pointing at her house? What happens when someone tells her that in a place called Ciudad Juárez, young women like her are being kidnapped, raped and murdered, and the authorities are not seeing that justice is done?

What happens when she listens to her brothers and sisters, to her parents, to her relatives, talking about when they went to the March of the 1111 in 1997, to the Consulta of 5000 in 1999, when they talk about what they saw and heard, about the families who welcomed them, about what they are like as citizens, how they also are fighting, how they won’t give up either.

What happens when she sees, for example, Eduardo Galeano, Pablo González Casanova, Adolfo Gilly, Alain Touraine, Neil Harvey, in mud up to their knees, meeting together in a hut in La Realidad, talking about neoliberalism. What happens when she listens to Daniel Viglietti singing “A desalambrar” in a community? What happens when she sees the play, “Zorro el zapato” which the French children from Tameratong presented on zapatista lands? What happens when she sees and hears José Saramago talking, talking to her? What happens when she hears Oscar Chávez singing in Tzotzil? What happens when she hears a Mapuche indigenous recounting her experience of struggle and resistance in a country called Chile? What happens she goes to a meeting where someone who says he is a “piquetero” recounts how they are organizing and resisting in a country called Argentina? What happens when she hears an indigenous from Colombia saying that, in the midst of guerillas, paramilitaries, soldiers and US military advisors, her compañeros are trying to build themselves as the indigenous they are? What happens when she hears the “citizen musicians” playing that very otherly music called “rock” in a camp for the displaced? What happens when she knows that an Italian football team called Internazionale de Milan are financially helping the wounded and displaced of Zinacantán? What happens when she sees a group of North American, German and British men and women arrive with electronic appliances, and she listens to them talking about what they are doing in their countries in order to do away with injustice, while teaching her to assemble and use those appliances, and later she’s in front of the microphone saying: “You are listening to Radio Insurgente, the voice of those without voice, broadcasting from the mountains of the Mexican southeast, and we are going to begin with a nice cumbia called ‘La Suegra’, and we’re advising the health workers that they should go to the Caracol to pick up the vaccine.” What happens when she hears at the Good Government Junta that that Catalan came from very far away to personally deliver what a solidarity committee put together for aid for the resistance? What happens when she sees a North American coming and going with the coffee, honey and crafts (and the product of their sale), which are made in the zapatista cooperatives, when she sees that they haven’t commanded any special attention despite the fact that they’ve been making them for years without anyone paying them any notice? What happens when she sees the Greeks bringing money for school materials and then working along with the zapatista indigenous in the construction? What happens when she sees a frentista arriving at the Caracol and delivering a bus full of medicines, medical equipment, hospital beds and even uniforms and shoes for the health workers, while other young people from the FZLN are dividing up in order to help in the community clinics? What happens when she sees the people from “Schools for Chiapas” arriving, departing and leaving, in effect, a school, a school bus, pencils, notebooks, chalkboards? What happens when she sees Hindus, Koreans, Japanese, Australians, Slovenes and Iranians arriving at the language school in Oventik (which a “citizen” compañero has kept functioning under heroic circumstances)? What happens when she sees a person arriving in order to deliver a book to the Security Committee with translations of the EZLN communiqués in Arab or Japanese or Kurd and the royalties from their sales?

What happens when, for example, a girl grows up and reaches youth in the zapatista resistance over 12 years in the mountains of the Mexican Southeast?

I’m asking because, for example, there are two insurgentas doing sentry duty here for the Red Alert in the EZLN headquarters. They are, as the compas say, “one hundred percent indigenous and one hundred percent Mexican.” One is 18 and the other 16. Or, in other words, in 1994, the one was 6 and the other was 4. There are dozens like them in our mountain positions, hundreds in the militias, thousands in organizational and community positions, tens of thousands in the zapatista communities. The immediate commander of the two doing sentry duty is an insurgent lieutenant, indigenous, 22 years old, in other words, 10 years old in 1994. The position is under the command of an insurgent captain, also indigenous, who, as it should be, likes literature very much and is 24 years old, that is, 12 at the beginning of the uprising. And there are men and women all over these lands who passed from childhood to youth to maturity in the zapatista resistance.

Then I ask: What am I saying to you? That the world is wide and far away? That only what happens to us is important? That what happens in other parts of Mexico, of Latin America and of the world doesn’t interest us, that we shouldn’t involve ourselves in the national or international, and that we should shut ourselves away (and deceive ourselves), thinking that we can achieve, by ourselves, what our relatives died for? That we shouldn’t pay any attention to all the signs which are telling us that the only was we can survive is by doing what we are going to do? That we should refuse the listening and words of those who have never denied us either one? That we should respect and help those same politicians who denied us a dignified resolution of the war? That, before coming out, we have to pass a test in order to see whether what we have constructed here over the last 12 years of war is of sufficient merit?

We told you in the Sixth Declaration that new generations have entered into the struggle. And they are not only new, they also have other experiences, other histories. We did not tell you in the Sixth, but I’m telling you now: they are better than us, the ones who started the EZLN and began the uprising. They see further, their step is more firm, they are more open, they are better prepared, they are more intelligent, more determined, more aware.

What the Sixth presents is not an “imported” product, written by a group of wise men in a sterile laboratory and then introduced into a social group. The Sixth comes out of what we are now and of where we are. That is why those first parts appeared, because what we are proposing cannot be understood without understanding what our experience and organization was before, that is, our history. And when I say “our history” I am not speaking just of the EZLN, I am also including all those men and women of Mexico, of Latin America and of the World who have been with us…even if we have not seen them and they are in their worlds, their struggles, their experiences, their histories.

The zapatista struggle is a little hut, one more little house, perhaps the most humble and simplest among those which are being raised, with identical or greater hardships and efforts, in this street which is called “Mexico.” We who reside in this little house identify with the band which peoples the entire barrio of below which is called “Latin America,” and we hope to contribute something to making the great City which is called the “World” habitable. If this is bad, attribute it to all those men and women who, struggling in their houses, barrios, cities – in their worlds – took a place among us. Not above, not below, but with us.

A Penguin in the Selva Lacandona

Alright, a promise is a promise. At the beginning of this document I told you I was going to tell you about the penguin that’s here, in the mountains of the Mexican Southeast, so here goes.

It took place in one of the insurgent barracks, a little more than a month ago, just before the Red Alert. I was on my way, heading towards the position that was to be the headquarters of the Comandancia General of the EZLN. I had to pick the insurgentes and insurgentas up there, the ones who were going to make up my unit during the Red Alert. The commander of the barracks, a Lieutenant Colonel Insurgente, was finishing up the dismantling of the camp and was making arrangements for moving the impedimenta. In order to lighten the burden of the support bases who were providing supplies for the insurgent troops, the soldiers in this unit had developed a few subsistence measures of their own: a vegetable garden and a farm. They decided they would take as many of the vegetables as they could, and the rest would be left to the hand of god. As for the chickens, hens and roosters, the alternative was to eat them or leave them. “Better we eat them than the federales,” the men and women (most of them young people under the age of 20) who were maintaining that position decided, not without reason. One by one, the animals ended up in the pot and, from there to the soldiers’ soup dishes. There weren’t very many animals either, so in a few days the poultry population had been reduced to two or three specimens.

When only one remained, on the precise day of departure, what happened happened…

The last chicken began walking upright, perhaps trying to be mistaken for one of us and to pass unnoticed with that posture. I don’t know much about zoology, but it does not appear that the anatomical makeup of chickens is made for walking upright, so, with the swaying produced by the effort of keeping itself upright, the chicken was teetering back and forth, without being able to come up with a precise course. It was then that someone said “it looks like a penguin.” The incident provoked laughter which resulted in sympathy. The chicken did, it’s true, look like a penguin, it was only missing the white bib. The fact is that the jokes ended up preventing the “penguin” from meeting the same fate as its compañeros from the farm.

The hour of departure arrived, and, while checking to be sure nothing was left, they realized that the “penguin” was still there, swaying from one side to another, but not returning to its natural position. “Let’s take it,” I said, and everyone looked at me to see if I were joking or serious. It was the insurgenta Toñita who offered to take it. It began raining, and she put it in her lap, under the heavy plastic cape which Toñita wore to protect her weapon and her rucksack from the water. We began the march in the rain.

The penguin arrived at the EZLN Headquarters and quickly adapted to the routines of the insurgent Red Alert. It often joined (never losing the posture of a penguin) the insurgents and insurgentas at cell time, the hour of political study. The theme during those days was the 13 zapatista demands, and the compañeros summed it up under the title “Why We Are Struggling.” Well, you’re not going to believe me, but when I went to the cell meeting, under the pretext of looking for hot coffee, I saw that it was the penguin who was paying the most attention. And, also, from time to time, it would peck at someone who was sleeping in the middle of the political talk, as if chiding him to pay attention.

There are no other animals in the barracks…I mean except for the snakes, the “chibo” tarantulas, two field rats, the crickets, ants, an indeterminate (but very large) number of mosquitoes and a cojolito who came to sing, probably because it felt called by the music – cumbias, rancheras, corridos, songs of love, of spite – which emanated from the small radio which is used to hear the morning news by Pascal Beltrán on Antena Radio and then “Plaza Pública” by Miguel Ángel Granados Chapa on Radio UNAM.

Well, I told you there weren’t any other animals, so it would seem normal that “penguin” would think that we were its kind and tend to behave as if it were one more of us. We hadn’t realized how far it had gone until one afternoon when it refused to eat in the corner it had been assigned, and it went over to the wooden table. Penguin made a racket, more chicken-like than penguin-like, until we understood that it wanted to eat with us. You should understand that Penguin’s new identity prevented the former chicken from flying the minimum necessary for getting up on the bench, and so it was insurgenta Erika who lifted it up and let it eat from her plate.

The insurgent captain in charge had told me that the chicken, I mean penguin, did not like to be alone at night, perhaps because it feared that the possums might confuse it with a chicken, and it protested until someone took it to their tarp. It wasn’t very long before Erika and Toñita made it a white bib out of fabric (they wanted to paint it [Penguin]with lime or house paint, but I managed to dissuade them…I think), so that there would be no doubt that it was a penguin, and no one would confuse it with a chicken.

You may be thinking that I am, or we are, delirious, but what I’m telling you is true. Meanwhile, Penguin has become part of the Comandancia General of the Ezeta, and perhaps those of you who come to the preparatory meetings for the “Other Campaign” might see it with your own eyes. It could also be expected that Penguin might be the mascot for the EZLN football team when it faces, soon, the Milan Internazionale. Someone might then perhaps take a picture for a souvenir. Perhaps, after a while and looking at the image, a girl or a boy might ask: “Mama, and who are those next to the Penguin?” (sigh)

Do you know what? It occurs to me now that we are like Penguin, trying very hard to be erect and to make ourselves a place in Mexico, in Latin America, in the World. Just as the trip we are about to take is not in our anatomy, we shall certainly go about swaying, unsteady and stupidly, provoking laughter and jokes. Although perhaps, also like Penguin, we might provoke some sympathy, and someone might, generously, protect us and help us, walking with us, to do what every man, woman or penguin should do, that is, to always try to be better in the only way possible, by struggling.

Vale. Salud and an embrace from Penguin (?)


From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Mexico, July of 2005