After visiting Guatemala for two months, we crossed the border into Chiapas on December 21 -- Winter Solstice and the 13th Baktun -- the first day of the New Mayan Era. On that very day, the Zapatistas made a dramatic reappearance. After four years of silence amid speculation about the status of their movement, more than 40,000 Zapatistas appeared in five towns they had occupied by force nineteen years earlier on January 1, 1994 -- Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, Altamirano, Palenque and San Cristobal de Las Casas. Inspiring a profound sense of awe, men and women marched silently together in the rain, wearing ponchos and their trademark ski masks, unarmed, with young children on their backs.
The Zapatista marchers made no demands, but their solemn presence carried an unmistakable message: We are still here, we are many, we are organized, and we are a force that must be taken seriously. Subcomandante Marcos, the charismatic Zapatista leader, wrote a poem for the occasions that was published in several newspapers. The newly elected governor of Chiapas, in a timely gesture of reconciliation, released Zapatista political prisoners on the very same day. Rumors abounded in the media that peace talks between the government and the Zapatistas might resume for the first time since they broke off in1995. Several days later the Zapatistas issued a communique' explaining the next steps in their struggle for autonomy.
It was against this backdrop that we were present at the Zapatista-inspired Universidad de la Tierra (University of the Earth) on the outskirts of San Cristobal de las Casas for the 3rd International Seminars of Reflection and Analysis, Planet Earth: Anti-Systemic Movements, on Dec. 30 -- Jan. 2.
People from around the world gathered to hear social activists, academics, feminists, indigenous leaders and a former Black Panther present inspiring histories and ideas for creating new political, social, economic, food, and justice systems. We learned how indigenous peoples are resisting the free-market capitalist system and creating their own, bottom-up, from the left, autonomous organizations and spaces.
Below are excerpts from three of the speeches that impressed us the most.
Silvia Ribeiro: Indigenous people are threatened by genetically modified corn
Silvia Ribeiro is a Mapuche journalist and environmental campaigner in Mexico and the Latin America Director for ETC Group.
Corn has never been just food, not just a crop; it is something that is born intrinsically. It can't be grown by itself -- it was just a kind of grass and is an agricultural creation and has produced a variety of foods - it was never separated from the people We cannot live without each other, so it has been carried though religious cultural values that make it enormously strong and important. So everything that has been involved with the mutual raising of the corn is also part of the people. Corn allows us to count time and decide what to eat and gives us autonomy."
In addition to discussing the close connection between corn (maize) and the people who grow it, Silvia talked about related problems:
-Monsanto, DuPont and Dow want to plant 2.5 million hectares of genetically modified corn in Mesoamerica, the center of origin of corn, where 30,000 different varieties of corn were developed.
-Farmers whose maize is contaminated by Monsanto seeds are being charged fees, sued, and made criminals by Monsanto. There are also laws criminalizing the saving of seeds.
-Land and water are contaminated by the tons of cancer-causing pesticides and herbicides that are required to grow GMO foods.
Campesinos (small farmers) are responsible for 70% of the food in the world. The remaining 30% (corporate agriculture) are putting their rules out for all of us. We need to support the Network in Defense of Corn to defend corn, seeds, the corn people, and the world's food supply."
For more information on the struggle for the defense of corn, go to the website of the ETC group.