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Written on: Sunday August 23rd, 2009

A journal entry from: Cycle Mexico - Panama

August 17th

We decided that we wanted to know more about the Zapatist revolution so we went to visit them. Our friend Jocke, who had recently spent some time with the Zapatistas, had mentioned to us about the rebel centre in the mountains.

We shared a taxi which took over an hour from San Cristobal. We were dropped off by the roadside in front of a big metal gate behind which stood a masked man. The taxi sped off with the rest of the passengers and we wondered what to do next. We approached the man and in our very faltering Spanish asked if we could come in. He seemed quite reserved and a little suspicious until we established that we were not journalists. He asked for our passports, took them and walked away....

A few minutes later we were let inside the compound and shown into a small hut where three masked figures were sitting. They asked us some questions and filled out a form. They wanted to know our names, nationalities, occupations and reasons for visting. It was quite difficult to explain our reasons in Spanish but they seemed friendly and helpful so with a little perservence we managed to convey them.

Next we were led to the "Explanation Committe", and we were asked to wait outside. A large mural of an ear of corn decorated the door. Each corn grain was a face of a Zapatista. Among other things it symbolises the importance of the corn to the people. Fortunately we met a French-Spanish couple who were waiting as well, and they suggested that they could do some translating for us. After about 15 minutes the four of us went inside to sit on a bench in front of 2 more masked men. We had to present the same information that we had given before. The men then presented themselves and welcomed us to the community. They talked about the history of the Zapatistas and how it works today. They spoke in Spanish and we did our best to understand, but fortunately Emilie and Pablo translated.

It was fascinating and a bit surreal to sit there listening to these masked men. They explained that the Mexican government didn´t provide for the idigenous people. There were no schools, health care, electricity etc. Today the Zapatistas are autonomous and have their own schools, hospitals, dentists etc. They were proud of the fact that they are totally autonomous, and take nothing from the government. One way of financing the services is through the Women´s Co-operative who make handicrafts and sell them, also in Oventic itself. We later bought a few things from them.

The women are an integral part of the movement. During the period of the revolution the women became a symbol for the resistance against the Mexican army. They played a large part in driving the army out of Chiapas, forming human chains across the roads and refusing to let the military pass. 

The explanation committe told us that there are 7 caricoles (snails), which are the Zapatista zones in Chiapas. Each caricole has an elected member, who represents his or her zone, in Oventic. 

An interesting part of the philosophy is that there are no teachers, doctors or other higher professions - "there is only one teacher and that is God". The people who are in these roles are called "promotores", of education, health etc. The idea is that everyone is equal and everyone has something to contribute and the relationships are not solely doctor-patient for instance.

After this explanation, and a few questions, they thanked us for coming to visit. They also told us that we were allowed to take pictures but not of people or cars. We were then led off to meet "the good government" (as appose to "the bad government" of Mexico) , 7 masked men and women representing the caricoles. Again we explained who we were etc, and then they talked a little about their role. They had rotational posts, and were in Oventic for 1 out of every 3 weeks. The rest of the time they were in their home towns working. If citizens have a problem they can go to their elected member of government. The government admitted that it can often take some time before problems are resolved.

"The good government" were cheerful and seemed happy to recieve us. They told us, just like the "explanation committee", that they are happy that people visit so they will not be forgotten, locally and globally. Before we left they gave us a written permission allowing us to look around the community, including the school and hospital.

The whole town was decorated in amazing murals depicting Emilio Zapata, Che Guevara, masked Zapatista men and women and symbols of the revolution. The hospital was small but seemed to have quite a few different specialities such as a dentist, lab and gynaecologist. However the school was closed for the day. We had a peek inside, and it looked like an ordinary Mexican school but we didn´t have the chance to speak with any of the promoters.  

Generally Oventic seemed fairly quiet and low key. It was also a bit smaller than we expected. Only a few people inside Oventic were wearing masks, except for the committees and guards. We asked a woman why she wasn´t wearing a mask and she told us that it she didn´t think it was necessary since she was inside the area and not one of the guards or officials recieving people from outside. We also noticed that no one was wearing weapons.

There are many rumours today about the Zapatistas next move as things have been quiet for quite some time. Some people say that the movement has faltered, yet the Mexican military presence in the area increased during the last year. The snail is also a symbol for the pace at which the movement is prepared to progress. Of course they want change quickly, but they seem prepared to bide their time. We heard a rumour saying that there will be a new uprising sometime next year but noone knows of course. The government were not prepared to speak to us about it. 

Overall, it was an extremely interesting experience. We didn´t expect to come face to face with the Zapatist government and recieve such an open welcome. However everything was very controlled and bureaucratic and seemed to take some time. It might be a reflection of how things are run in general. We left with a respect for the people at Oventic and a hope that this won´t be the last time we hear of them.     




From Jocke on Aug 24th, 2009

Harligt att hora att ni tog er dit, jag saknar Oventic och aker tillbaka senare i november. Grymt att er resa gar framat! Jag hanger ocksa med Natives, bott i nastan en vecka i Pine Ridge Indian Reservation i South Dakota. Ni har kanske hort om blodbaden i Wounded Knee 1890 och 1973. Tog en kopp kaffe med stammens hovding, Chief Red Cloud igar och naturen ar FANTASTISK. Lycka till med resan soderut!

From Jenny, Issy, Eva and Aldus on Aug 24th, 2009

thank you so much for the jigsaw and necklace for the girls and the picture for us. Issy has already done the jigsaw and worn the necklace! Eva thinks the necklace is a hairband!

From Yasmin on Aug 27th, 2009

Hej Jocke! Roligt att hora att du har det bra i USA. Det later spannande, och vilken ara att fa traffa hovdingen... Jag var faktiskt dar for en si sa dar 15 ar sen, men vi stannade inte lange i reservaret. Hor av dig om vi kan motas upp i Sydamerika, vi har ju massor att prata om! Skot om dig sa lange. Andy halsar ocksa.

From Andy & Yasmin on Aug 27th, 2009

Great that you got the presents. They are all from Caye Caulker which we thought you might like. The necklace was a gift from a guy called Cecil. :) Lots of love to you all.