Monday, October 30, 2006

The Conquest Continues

by Alejandro Reyes

Today, it would seem difficult to imagine the despair that drove entire villages to collective suicide during the first decades of colonization. How do we understand, from the perspective of mestizo individuality, the collective decision to die, to cease to be, before the implacable violence of a conquest that destroyed the lives, the customs, the dignity, the forms of survival, and the entire universe of the Mexican indigenous peoples? By the middle of the XVI century, the Judge Alonso de Zorita, in his Brief Story of the New Spain, told the terrible story of the Mixe and Chontal people in the sierras of Oaxaca, who decided to stop procreating in order to disappear with dignity from a world in which they no longer fit.

Stories of a distant, dark colonial past, of a brutal conquest and genocide that five centuries of history, a struggle for independence, and a revolution have supposedly overcome. But no.

In the Northern Baja California desert, well into the 21st century we listen to the story of the last Kiliwa Indians on the planet, who have decided, like their Chontal and Mixe brothers and sisters did five centuries ago, to die with dignity before being devoured by the machinery of the new form of conquest. There are only 54 members of the tribe and of those only five speak the almost extinct language. For years they have fought to preserve their lands and their forms of survival. The words of Kiliwa leader, Elias Espinoza, reiterate what the Other Campaign has heard over and over during its travels throughout the country. The changes to the constitution and the PROCEDE —an institution that permits communal lands (ejidos) to be divided and sold— make Indians lose more and more of their lands, allow capitalist pressures to turn indigenous people against one another, and gradually deprive them of their forms of subsistence.

With a shortage of land, without work, without social services —there are no schools, no health centers, no electricity— more and more indigenous people leave their places of origin in search of another life. For the Kiliwa, this means death. In the face of this, the women of the community decided to stop procreating, a gradual, collective suicide to spare their children from having to live through an even more terrible spiritual death.

We heard the story of the Kiliwa in a Cucapá community near Mexicali, where Delegate Zero and the caravan of the Other Campaign arrived this 22 of October. The Cucapá are also being pushed toward extinction. Only three communities survive —one in Sonora, one in Arizona and the one we visited— with a total of less than 300 members. The community survives through fishing, but in 1993 the waters where they fish were declared an ecological reserve. The fishing of curvina, their principle form of subsistence and an age-old practice, is now forbidden. Once again, the prohibition is a death sentence. Since 2000, and especially in recent years, the protection of the waters has become more aggressive. Armed soldiers patrol the region, confiscating any catch and destroying boats.

How can one remain indifferent to the extinction of indigenous peoples, and worse yet, to their collective suicide? How can one not be horrified by the brutality that this system inflicts on the thousands of peoples? How can we begin to understand the insensitivity of a good part of society that does not seem to care for its own people? Catering to economic and political interests, the mass media say nothing, and public opinion looks the other way.

But the Other campaign struggles from below, having as its only weapons the solidarity and creativity of those who refuse to maintain their eyes and ears comfortably closed. After consulting with the village leaders, Delegate Zero announced that during the next fishing season, from the end of February to the end of May, a Zapatista camp would be established in the Cucapá community, and asked for the presence and support of members of the Other Campaign from both sides of the border. The organizing has already begun: in meetings in Tijuana, Mexicali, San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland and elsewhere, adherents to the Other Campaign have already begun planning the camp. The violence and the brutality caused by neoliberalism are a new form of conquest that day by day annihilates life; the other Campaign is the start of a new form of resistance, built from below. A new form of hope.

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