Sorry for the typos. I'm going fast.
Things are moving along slowly for Emily and I. CACTUS has asked us to gather material to put together a short documentary about the political prisoners from La Mixteca and their families. The catch is CACTUS folks are super busy making it hard for us to get out to the communities where the the families live. CACTUS doesn't want us to go alone for safety reasons and because they know the families won't talk unless they are there. It's been a little frustrating, but I'm still learning a lot. I'm watching the roots of a revolutionary social movement take hold. I try not to throw those ideas around, but it really feels like Oaxaca is on the edge of some pretty intense change.
Yesterday Emily and I went to CACTUS's Christmas party. We went to a town about an hour away so that everyone would feel safe meeting together. They have their suspicions that their office might be bugged. The drive there was incredible. On winding roads through the high desert we saw cactus after cactus as tall as trees; a sign that there is life in the desert. La Mixteca is a region politicians have given up on not that they ever cared. People seem complacent, settling on mass migration as a solution to the poverty the Mixteca faces, but CACTUS clearly sees other options. They are pushing for autonomy, better education, and local control of resources like land and water in the hopes that Mixtecos can create a sustainable future based on local resources instead on the seperation of families and the importation of US dollars.
They are expecting a couple years of intense repression for what they believe in and what they have openly pushed for in the last 6 months. There are already warrants out for the arrest of Betty Cariño and Omar Esparza from CACTUS. They do everything they can to avoid being detained. They don't shop in the central market downtown, in fact they don't go downtown at all. They spend as a little time as possible in the CACTUS office because that makes them easy targets. When we drive places we take crazy routes on back roads instead of taking the main drag to avoid the police. It's the most intense security culture I've ever experienced in my life and yet I don't think it's simply paranoia.
From what I've seen so far Betty and Omar are the core organizers for APPO in La Mixteca and they are bottom lining the liberation of the 23 prisoners from La Mixteca. They work really hard to bring lots of different organizations and political projects together, from communists to campesinos. I really respect the fact that they don't promote a particular idealogy except that solutions must come from the desires of the communities they work in.
Last night Emily and I got to observe an APPO meeting. There was a lot of tension between the different groups present and a lot of suspicion about who is going to sell out and negotiate with the state. Omar was encouraging the various groups present to be honest about their goals. To be trite you could have cut the tension with a knife. There was a representative there from the FPR--the Revolutionaries Peoples Front--an organization that displays posters of Stalin, Lenin and Marx in their encampments. He was criticizing anarchists for provoking the violence in the march on November 25th, which eventually landed 24 people from La Mixteca in jail. By the end of the meeting everyone was on board for today's march putting all the organizations name on the same banner. It's hard for me to imagine a community organization teaming up with Stalinists. That's not necessarily a criticism. I'm not sure how I feel yet. Right not I see it as an accomplishment. Hopefully those who aren't wrapped up inm dogma will lead the movement. That's why I put my energy and time into supporting CACTUS. I've been working with them for 3 years and I know they are able to bring people together because people trust their actions as reflecting the interests of the people.
From what I've gleaned so far CACTUS and APPO in La Mixteca are not only fighting to oust Gov. Ulises Ruiz, but for the autonomy of the region and Oaxaca. What are their motivations for doing so? I'm sure there are tons, but the impact of mass migration/immigration to the United States comes up a lot. The area around Huajuapan receives the highest amount of remittances from migrants/immigrants in the United States. The economy is based on the fact that the majority of the Mixtecan work force is in the United States sending money back. I've been coming here for three years and I can already see the detrimental affects that's had on the sovereignty of the local economy. As more and more able bodied people travel to the US there is less and less production of agricultural products and goods locally, meaning products have to be imported. In the last year a huge grocery story resembling something like COSTCO was built just 5 blocks from the central market where vendors are struggling to compete. Communities can't grow their own food, but they can buy cheap crap from transnational grocery stores.
The local government and the state government of Ulises Ruiz does nothing to confront the factors that generate the necessity to go north for work. From what I've heard folks from the Mixteca Alta, which is a drier more arid region, have always migrated. The harvest season is only two months at the most so in order to sustain themselves they migrant to more fertile sections of Oaxaca, but always to return home to their towns. When people migrant to the United States they are divided by a militarized border that separates families and makes it hard for people to return home. It's important to be clear that mass migration to the United States is not just symptomatic of ecology. It's symptomatic of corrupt politics that generate profit for the rich while robbing indigenous and campesino communities of their right to sustenance. It comes in the form of damns that channel water to lands that produce cash crops, and structural adjustment policies that dismantle subsidies for small farmers.
I realize what I've written is a rhetorical rant. Hopefully by the time I leave I will have stories that illustrate what I've said. But for right now Emily and I are hearing a lot of revolutionary rhetoric and we are working on doing more interviews. It's hard because people are super busy and super stressed.
If nothing else it is amazing that these folks have invited us into their lives to watch the construction of what they someday hope will be a revolution or better said a transformation. They share intimate details about their hopes and dreams and strategies that I don't feel like I can talk about yet, but I know in 10 years it will be amazing to look back at how Oaxaca has changed for the better having had a glimpse into how it started.
This morning Emily and I are headed to photograph and record a march to demand the liberation of the political prisoners. If we don't get arrested this morning we'll probably be fine from here on out.
This afternoon there is a "posada del migrante." A posada is Mexican tradition where folks reenacting Mary and Joseph looking for a place for Jesus to be born. CACTUS is borrowing from that tradition to draw attention to the affect migration has on La Mixteca. We'll march in honor of the struggle of migrants everywhere, but especially those from La Mixteca.
Here's a translation of the poem by Rigoberto Menchu that Emily posted yesterday in Spanish:
My homeland, mother of my grandparents
I want to caress your beauty
to contemplate your serenity and
to accompany your silence
I want to calm your pain
to cry your tears to see
your children dispersed throughout the world
struggling for place in far away
lands without joy, without peace
without mother, without nothing