Published by the Colorado Daily 4/21/95

(still 5 years ahead of its time)


I didn't really understand why my friend Octavio Juarez had not one but three mounted photos of Emiliano Zapata on his wall in Mexico City. I only knew Zapata was the Indian hero of Mexico's 1910-1920 revolution. Octavio died 4 years ago, but Zapata and now Zapatista leader Marcos live in the dreams and prayers of most Mexicans. Not just the 89% of Mexicans who are poor, but the 10% who are middle class, like the Juarez family.

(Octavio died in a freak rockfall while guiding some Americans near the top of Pico de Orizaba, Mexico's highest at 18,850', where I met him in 1987. He had previously guided ascents of Denali and Huascaran.)

His mother has me saying the Lord's Prayer for Octavio, but we honor him best in the here-and-now by supporting the revolution named for his hero. We must. In a strange way we are responsible for the revolt's causes, and our taxes support its continuing repression:

Ever wonder why bananas from Southern Mexico and further South are cheaper than apples from Colorado's Western Slope? It's because field workers down there slave for $0-2 per day. That's also why Mexicans will repeatedly risk arrest crossing the border to come up here to pick apples...for $3 an hour. Your coffee and sugar have similar origins.

US residents live near the top of the global food chain, rather splendiferously, at the expense of our neo-colonial suppliers. To keep this status quo, our government spends billions keeping down democracy: from sending the CIA's mercenaries to Guatemala in 1954 to remove the democratically elected President Arbenz to bailing out the corrupt Mexican government and its bankers this February. As regards corruption, Adan Cristobal Largo observes, "The government of Mexico really has no alternative but to adhere to the custom of its big brother government to the north."

20% of Chiapas workers are not paid at all, receiving pitiful room and board for their long days. Some who escape from labor camps are hunted down and beaten or killed. These are mostly Mayan Indians whose prime land was stolen centuries or years ago. Some places, there's not much land left for native agriculture. In next-door Guatemala, Mayans grow their corn right up to the tops of the volcanoes, on 45-degree slopes, hours hard walk from home.

So "free trade" is no level playing field when NAFTA throws these folks into direct competition with American agribusiness growing corn and beans with giant tractors and center-pivot irrigation subsidized by US taxpayers. NAFTA means the world's cheapest slaves compete against the world's best machines. Only those who own the slaves and machines win. This is why the Zapatistas call NAFTA a "death sentence" for the poor.

Carlos Fuentes, Mexico's leading author and former Ambassador to France, says that current events in Mexico are enough to make one give up fiction. He calls the rebellion "the world's first post-Communist revolution". Here is some non-fiction poetry from Zapatista spokesperson Subcommandante Marcos:

"We bet the present to have a future; and to live...we died." Several hundred died in the bloody first eleven days of 1994, until international pressure forced the government to negotiate.

"We repeated that we wanted democracy, liberty and justice, and they made a face like they didn't understand, and they reviewed their macroeconomic plans and all their neo-liberal points, and they could not find these words anywhere, and 'we don't understand' they said to us."

The Zapatistas held hundreds of square miles of the mountainous jungle of Chiapas for 13 months. Marcos said the women fighters "'convinced' us to accept their laws", including no alcohol, hunting, logging, prostitution or drug dealing. After carrying out health campaigns, he says, "the infant death rate went way down, and became very small, just like the children are."

"And we made all of the major decisions, or the 'strategic' ones, of our struggle, by means of a method that they call the 'referendum' and the 'plebiscite'." This form of decision-making 'by the people' was the long-range goal of our 1993 "Voting by Phone" ballot issue for the City of Boulder. If it were all Americans deciding things, not just our 535 federal "representatives", NAFTA wouldn't have passed, according to all the polls.

This February 8th the Mexican army attacked the liberated area, apparently under pressure from the Chase Manhattan Bank of New York and others. Chase's leaked internal memo reads "The government will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control..." Chase was afraid their investors would bail out otherwise. The memo says "Financial markets might not respond positively to increased democracy because it leads to increased uncertainty."! Clearing out natives to get at their oil may well be the real motive, however.

Marcos: "And behind the war tanks of the government came again prostitution, drinking, theft, drugs, destruction, death, corruption, sickness, poverty."

The School of the Americas in Georgia is training Mexican officers in "insurgency tactics and low-intensity repression", according to Mexico's La Jornada (8/17/94). This is the infamous "School of Assassins" which trained the CIA's Julio Roberto Alpirez, finally now under Federal investigation for the 1990 murder of a U.S. citizen and the 1992 torture/murder of the Guatemalan husband of a U.S. citizen. (Over one hundred thousand other Guatemalan victims of our 41-year "low-intensity repression" are never mentioned.)

The Mexican flag is unusual: it features an eagle devouring a snake. This is said to represent one's higher nature conquering one's base ego. Marcos says they are the eagle. The snakes are legion.

We whose national symbol is the eagle should aid these inspired but tired revolutionaries. You can send contributions to: Mexican Exiles for Democracy, PO Box 13665, La Jolla, CA 92039-3665. Please make out checks to "MEPD" for "Chiapas". I can tell you how to confirm their legitimacy. You can also send checks made out to "IFCO/Pastors for Peace" to local activists Tom Moore and Nancy Sullo, 2830 5th St., Boulder CO 80302.

My friend Octavio is dead. But his brother Leonardo and his girlfriend Anabeli are married and have a new baby...named Octavio. Octavio's mother Cristina is sending me one of the Zapata photos from his wall. For the future of all the Octavios and Cristinas and Leonardos and Anabelis in Mexico, and to enable real democracy to devour the snake of ego-bound politics, please help. Beg your representatives for what mercy they've got. Copy this and send it to your friends.

The revolution is not being televised. But it is being Interneted. If you'd like to be on the "chiapas-l" e-mail list, message me at the address below, and I'll tell you how.

As Bishop Samuel Ruiz of Chiapas, set to mediate the upcoming peace talks, and now the foremost exponent of "liberation theology", says: "To be neutral in Chiapas is a sin."

Evan Ravitz is director of the Voting by Phone Foundation, board member of the Boulder, Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and a founding member of Bolder Bicycle Commuters. He entertains on the tightrope on the Pearl St. Mall as "Evan from Heaven". Reach him at: (303)440­6838 or