The Transformative Power of the Struggle, Dignity, and Autonomy of the Zapatistas (#GaleanoLives)

“It was pain and rage that made us challenge everyone and everything 20 years ago, and it is pain and rage that are once again forcing us to lace up our boots, put on our uniforms, strap on our guns, and cover our faces.

And they are forcing me to put on that old, worn cap with three five-pointed red stars on it.

It is pain and rage that have brought us to La Realidad.”

SCI Marcos, “Pain and Rage”, May 2014


On May 2nd, 2014, Galeano (‘nom de guerre’ of José Luis Solis López) was murdered in the Caracol of La Realidad in Chiapas. Galeano was a base of support for the EZLN, and he had been a member of the organisation since its armed uprising in 1994. He participated as a teacher in the Escuelita Zapatista – the latest initiative launched and implemented by the EZLN communities. To date, two generations of “pupils” have passed through the first level of this ‘other school’ (the first in August 2013 and the second between December 2013 and January 2014). Thousands of men and women from around the country and the world have arrived in Zapatista communities to be cared for and accompanied by “Votanes” (guardians), and to ‘live-learn’ about the construction of autonomy by Zapatista families in resistance. As an Escuelita teacher, his words appeared in the Rebeldía Zapatista magazine, making the following appraisal of the process:


“I value the Escuelita because, just as within our struggle there are many youngsters who were born after our uprising, there are also youngsters in the cities who were born after 1994, and they had only heard about the existence of the Zapatista Army through the TV, the newspapers, and the radio. As a result, they knew very little about the EZLN ‘programme of struggle’. For that reason, I see it as a great achievement that we have managed to bring these people together, because the bad government was never going to do what we have done. No other organisation has managed what we have achieved with the Escuelita.


People come from the cities and other countries to train themselves, but we also prepare. Our own youngsters are preparing themselves to continue governing in our communities. With the Escuelita, a space is opened for them. Our explanations and orientations teach them how we govern ourselves, and how the People ought to govern themselves. I value the Escuelita as a truly great achievement, because we learn many things ourselves and the people who enter our communities also learn from us.


The other thing, the greatest thing we see, is that the government is not in control here. Here, the People are in control… Our visitors came to see with their own eyes how the People govern within the villages, municipalities, and districts. They came to see how self-government works in the Zapatista communities, because that is the greatest thing we have.”

(Galeano in Rebeldía Zapatista – ‘The Word of the EZLN’, February 2014, Number 1, p.10)


We know, then, that Galeano participated actively and decisively in the Escuelita Zapatista, and this fact becomes more revealing when we look at the motives behind the escalation in violence against the autonomous Zapatista project. It is also important to mention that the EZLN had previously announced a closed-door “compartición” (‘act of sharing’) between the indigenous peoples of Mexico, which was going to take place in the last week of May. This act would have been followed by a homage to philosopher Luis Villoro, and then a seminar organised by intellectuals and activists like John Berger, Immanuel Wallerstein, John Holloway, and Raúl Zibechi, among others. In these events, the EZLN would have proposed a new initiative to the national and international adherents of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandona Jungle. As a result of Galeano’s murder, however, all of these activities were suspended indefinitely. And we should understand his death precisely within this context.


The Committee of Good Government of La Realidad soon decided that the EZLN command should take charge of the investigation into Galeano’s death. This is the first time, since the creation of the Committees in 2003, that a Committee (the civilian power) has publicly passed the decision-making process to the EZLN (the politico-military power), marking clearly the seriousness of the situation. As narrated in the communiques Pain and Rage and Fragments of Reality, the ambush in which comrade Galeano died had been planned, and took place within the ejido of La Realidadwhere the headquarters of the Caracol’s Committee of Good Government is situated. Together with other men and women from the Zapatista bases of support, Galeano had mobilised in an attempt to stop the destruction of a Zapatista school and autonomous clinic by members of a “peasant organisation” called the Historical and Independent Union of Agricultural Workers and Peasants (CIOAC-H in Spanish), which has been involved in many recent attacks against the Zapatistas in this region and in others.


The CIOAC was born in the seventies as a peasant organisation linked to a section of the Communist Party. It was a national organisation that arrived in Chiapas in 1979, and has been transformed and divided ever since. The national leadership has distanced itself from the actions of the group responsible for the paramilitary-style attack which led to the death of comrade Galeano, and has joined the “calls for a comprehensive investigation” of the events. Is it possible that those responsible were simply a sector of the organisation that lost their way, then?


Another important element to analyse is the way in which the media reported the events. All of the commercial media, including the so-called “left-wing” newspaper La Jornada, reported a version of events that spoke of a confrontation between Zapatistas and elements of the CIOAC-H. The reports began by alleging that 14 members of the CIOAC-H had been kidnapped and found themselves detained in the Caracol, and that at least 15 people had been taken to the regional hospital of Guadalupe Tepeyac by ambulance. The photos that were circulated showed members of the CIOAC-H with bandages on their heads, and there was no mention of any deaths. In other words, all of the information obtained had come from a single source: the CIOAC-H. But there is clearly a big difference between a supposed ‘confrontation’, in which at least one of the parties only exhibited injuries from sticks and stones, and a premeditated and provocative armed attack. And the fact is that comrade Galeano died from three gunshot wounds, with the last bullet entering his head from close range. This information would only be revealed after the initial press reports, once FRAYBA (The Bartolomé de la Casas Centre for Human Rights) and the Committee of Good Government of La Realidad had presented their respective reports. It is worth stressing here that, through both the biased way of presenting information and the tried and tested mechanism of obscuring the facts, the media helped to pass off a declared counterinsurgency strategy as a “conflict” between indigenous people and their organisations. And, unfortunately, that same media forms public opinion.



But what are the structural causes and reasons for a so-called “left-wing” organisation – or a part of that organisation – doing the dirty work of the State? And what does this mean for the Zapatista struggle and for other struggles that seek to build autonomy and other ways of understanding power?


The CIOAC-H, together with other social organisations in Chiapas, works today as a group of shock troops that aims to stifle and ‘contain’ the Zapatista struggle. And when the Zapatistas say, as they did on December 21st 2013, “we neither sold ourselves nor surrendered, we’re still here”, there is a great truth that ought to be analysed in all its complexity. In contrast to other social organisations, the Zapatistas neither seek nor accept government funding, projects, or programmes. On the contrary, this refusal to accept economic support or State education, and refusal to participate in the decadent system of State healthcare, is the basis of Zapatista autonomy. Swimming against the current, they have built systems of healthcare, education, justice, production and government that are born from a different worldview and that are, in themselves, anti-capitalist and anti-system. And it is precisely this alternative form of organisation that the Zapatistas share with people from Mexico and around the world in their Escuelita Zapatista. They do not call for the State to recover its position as a ‘philanthropist’ or increase its “social” investment in education or healthcare. They call for the People to organise themselves, learn to ‘govern by obeying’, and consolidate their self-government like the Zapatistas have done in their own communities. The Zapatista project, in this way, is a profoundly emancipatory and liberating one.


Meanwhile, conventional social organisations and political parties continue to exist and reproduce themselves, giving benefits and privileges to their leaders first, then to their activists, and finally to the “sector” of society that they represent. In fact, it is not difficult to find reports in state newspapers about different politicians, including the former governor of Chiapas, inaugurating and unveiling construction works and projects for the CIOAC. For the leaders of such social organisations, these groups are simply facades for what are, in reality, money-making machines. And, for the social base, they represent an illusion for which, in exchange for a few crumbs, they are willing to enter into conflict with their own brothers and sisters.


But if there are still people who believe there is a trace of ideology in these social organisations or political parties, what can we do? The centre of the problem is the idea of the State. People still appeal to the State to resolve their problems, and believe that entering into power (rather than transforming it) is the ultimate aim of their activism. As a result of such practices and ideologies, it is easy for certain groups to lose their way and offer themselves as pawns in the State’s counterinsurgency strategy. The short-term vision of prioritising immediate “victories” over the enemy and postponing profound changes and transformations is nothing new. From this standpoint, we could even include those who believe feminist demands can only be achieved after a revolutionary victory, and therefore justify the continuation of patriarchal structures in the meantime.


The disgraceful assassination of comrade Galeano showed us the cruelty of the strategy implemented to stop not only the development of the autonomous Zapatista project, but also its expansion.


So what can we do to stop this? Resist, support each other, and multiply. Many letters of solidarity from around the world have already condemned these horrific acts. And, between the 18th and 24th of May, a week of global action was organised. Then, on May 24th, each Caracol would be joined by communities in different parts of the country and the world in acts of remembrance. A convoy is already planning to travel to La Realidad to pay tribute to comrade Galeano and embrace his family and the Zapatista bases of support who worked alongside him. So, what can we do? Embrace – in the intimate and human sense of embracing – the struggle for transformation, emancipation, and liberation that is the Zapatista struggle. In this way, pain and rage can be converted into a force capable of giving birth to the many worlds that we deserve.



Translated from a text (#GaleanoVive) originally written in Spanish by Rita Valencia



About Ed Sykes

Independent journalist. Co-founder of Phoenix Media Co-operative. Author of Rojava: An Alternative. Ex-Canary editor and writer (2015-2020). Aka 'Oso Sabio' - see @ososabiouk on Twitter.
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7 Responses to The Transformative Power of the Struggle, Dignity, and Autonomy of the Zapatistas (#GaleanoLives)

  1. Pingback: The Transformative Power of the Struggle, Dignity, and Autonomy of the Zapatistas (#GaleanoLives) | dorset chiapas solidarity

  2. Pingback: The Transformative Power of the Struggle, Dignity, and Autonomy of the Zapatistas (#GaleanoLives) | Blog of Zapatista Support Group Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

  3. thank for dropping this story. I am surely tired of struggling to uncover relevant and intelligent commentary on this topic. Every person nowadays appear to go to extremes to either drive home their viewpoint or suggest that everybody else in the globe is wrong. thank for your concise and relevant insight.

  4. Pingback: MEXICO: CNTE, Zapatistas & CRAC-PC Unite Around Ayotzinapa | Resistance Is Fertile

  5. Pingback: The CNI’s Position on the Wave of Repression Waged against the People | Resistance Is Fertile

  6. Pingback: The CNI’s Position on the Wave of Repression Waged against the People | dorset chiapas solidarity

  7. Pingback: The CNI’s Position on the Wave of Repression Waged against the People | Blog of Zapatista Support Group Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

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