Galeano (José Luis Solís López) was part of the team of teachers who participated in the “Escuelita [‘Little School’] of Liberty According to the Zapatistas”. He came from Nueva Victoria in the municipality of San Pedro de Michoacán, and belonged to the “Mother of the Caracoles, Sea of Our Dreams” in the border area of the Lacandona Jungle.
He saw the Escuelita as a chance to share the autonomous Zapatista experience and achievements of the last twenty years with sympathisers, who could then apply the lessons learned to their own lives. One of the most important things for him was that sympathisers could see how the Zapatistas’ ways of organising allowed them not only to survive independently from the “Bad System” but to “build [their] own system of government”. They could see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts the “sacrifice we make to achieve everything that we have”. They could also see “how difficult it is for us to produce and how much poverty the Bad Government has left us”.
With their “own ears and eyes”, they could “see what we have always said”. They had heard the speeches but now they could see that the Zapatistas “are flesh and bone”. They could see they were “living beings just like them”, and witness their community organisation and self-government first-hand. For Galeano, the Escuelita was a more effective way to communicate with others the meaning of Zapatismo than any communique or article ever could be. He saw it as a bridge between Chiapas and the world outside – both in the rest of Mexico and the rest of the world.
The Escuelita was “one more achievement we have obtained through our resistance and through our struggle”. It opened a space that, during almost 500 years of dispossession and exploitation, the “Bad System” and the “Bad Government” had never given to the communities of Chiapas. “The Bad Government never gave us this freedom that we have now to come together with the different sectors of work that exist in our country”. And, much as Paulo Freire said in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the Zapatista teachers and communities also learned from the Escuelita. Both the young and old in Zapatista society had their eyes opened to the lives of those they were sharing with, and learned more about their own struggle in the process. As Freire himself would have said, there was no was no teacher/learner dichotomy, only teacher-learners and learner-teachers.
Galeano valued all of the comrades who came to learn because he saw their enthusiasm, their interest, and the importance they placed on what they had come to learn. “Great intellectuals”, he said, along with “teachers, artists, tenant farmers, collectives, [civil] societies, and university students” all said that they had never been to a school where they had found the same things they were to find in the Escuelita. He also appreciated their commitment to share what they had learned with comrades who, for different reasons, could not attend the school.
Galeano did say that some people came to the Escuelita a bit disoriented, and without a clear idea of what was going to happen, but he emphasised that there had been no bad intentions, simply a lack of concentration at points which led people to go off topic.
What struck Galeano the most, though, was the enthusiasm of the students, and the fact that some people had needed to leave work behind or save up for a long time in order to get to the school. He discovered that they were also people who had been exploited in some way or another, and who shared the common enemy of neoliberalism with the Zapatistas. He also emphasised that the fact they had put so much effort into arriving meant that they were clearly committed to and interested in struggling against that common enemy (a commitment and interest that, unfortunately, is seldom the case in normal schools). For Galeano, the cooperative and unifying experience of the Escuelita, along with the dedication and enthusiasm of its students, demonstrated a significant step forward in the fight for solidarity, justice, freedom, and autonomy. In his memory, those of us who struggle for these ideals should support the Zapatista experience and share, as in the Escuelita, the example of hope that it offers to us.
Galeano was murdered by government-backed paramilitaries on May 2nd, 2014 in the Zapatista community of La Realidad.
Adapted by Oso Sabio from an interview with Galeano originally seen in Spanish Pozol on May 8th, 2014 at http://www.pozol.org/?p=9359