By Luis Alonso Pérez
A bus full of Zapatistas traveling all the way from Chiapas arrived last Wednesday to the beaches of Tijuana, the corner of Latin America.
Their mission is simple: listen to the people’s struggles and experiences in order to build a new nation project from the ground up.
This effort is called “La otra campaña” or the other campaign.
For two days Zapatista supporters adhered to the other campaign discussed the problems affecting their societies in Multikulti, an old run down movie theatre now used as an independent cultural center.
Subcomandante Marcos, the iconic leader of the Zapatista movement, listened patiently to activists and members of oppressed social groups from both sides of the border talk about their struggles and their community efforts.
He sat quietly and smoked tobacco in a wooden pipe while taking notes.
Labor injustices, environmental threats and gender discrimination where some of the subjects discussed between several Tijuana social groups and Marcos, now known as Delegate Cero, who explained that the essence of the other campaign is to listen to the voices of the oppressed and unify them in a common quest for a new form of government and a new Constitution.
Problems like military recruitment in schools, housing shortages and police brutality where discussed by representatives of American groups on the second day of meetings, paying special attention to discrimination against immigrants, women and homosexuals.
87 year old Felipe Muñóz was a part of the Bracero program, and he shared his experience during the temporary guest worker program implemented during the Second World War and the hardships of working in the field.
“We came to tell our story to our migrant brothers, so bad governments who have been lying to us to keep our 10 percent they owe us since 1942.”
Don Felipe described how the Mexican government has refused to pay back the 10 percent of the earnings collected during their years of exhaustive farm labors and the inhuman conditions they had to work and live with.
Marta, a maquiladora worker who organizes coworkers to demand their labor rights talked about the common labor injustices they suffer on a daily basis.
Her name was changed for this story in order to maintain her privacy.
“Like the braceros where mistreated and enslaved in the fields, we are now mistreated and enslaved in a company, with small paychecks and few breaks that only allow us to go to the restrooms. We have children to support and we can’t even pay for their schools with our salaries.”
Marta shared the story of Galdis, a maquiladora worker who had just died of pulmonary intoxication from constant exposure to harmful chemicals used during the manufacturing process.
Gladis was buried the same day Zapatistas held their meeting.
Josefina is an activist working with a non-profit that monitors and promotes environmental justice in the border region.
Her name was also changed for this story.
“Maquiladoras not only sell labor force in Mexico, they are also selling our health and our environment.”
The maquiladora manufacturing system is very common in Mexico’s northern border states and works under very lax regulations, allowing foreign owned corporations to get away with labor and environmental abuse.
After everyone told their stories, Sub Comandante Marcos shared his reflections.
“If we have a system damaging our health, there is no better medicine than to destroy the virus, which is the system. Then we can build a new country with other systems, where we pay attention to indigenous groups and labor rights, but also the caring, maintaining and growth or our environment.”
After the meetings concluded there was a public meeting, with the testimonies of a member of the National Indigenous Congress and the Land’s Defense People’s Front, with a closing message from Sub-comandante Marcos.
The Zapatista leader explained to the predominantly young crowd the results of his visit to the Baja peninsula and his main findings, surprised by the large Oaxacan indigenous population in the state, lamenting the establishment of American gas redistribution plants and the extinction of autochthonous indigenous traditions.
The Other Campaign caravan will continue their tour through the rest of Mexico’s northern border states and will go back to Chiapas, where they will bring together the knowledge acquired during the tour, in order to create a new alternative for Mexican society.