Days of Revolt: The New Mexican Revolution
In this episode of teleSUR’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges interviews two activists from Mexico who explain the effects of US-imposed neoliberalism on Mexico, and their demands for a new constitution
CHRIS HEDGES: Hi, I’m Chris Hedges. Welcome to Days of Revolt. We’re filming this segment in New York City, and the focus of today’s segment will be on Mexico, and what’s happened within Mexico with the rise of the 1994 trade agreement NAFTA, the WTO, the whole project of neoliberalism, what that’s done within the state, and what it’s unleashed in terms of repression, including disappearances, and attacks against human rights advocates, activists, journalists, and others. The reign of terror that has enveloped whole parts of Mexico. And with me in the studio are two activists from Mexico, Pauline Luna, who is a member of Jovenes ante la Emergencia Nacional, a national organization that was formed to fight against increased state repression in Mexico. She is based in the state of [Nayargit].
PAULINE LUNA: Yes, Nayarit.
HEDGES: Nayarit, thank you. And I’m also speaking with Jessica Alcazar, who is another organizer for Jovenes ante la Emergencia Nacional, who is based in Mexico City. And we’re going to speak with Jessica in Spanish and we’re going to speak with Pauline in English.
So let me begin with you, Jessica. Perhaps you can chronicle for us the breakdown that’s happened in Mexico.
JESSICA ALCAZAR: Mexico is living a historical crisis, a crisis that not only has to do with the destruction of the economy but also the destruction of the social tapestry, which is related directly with a plan by the Mexican government over the last 30 years, in complicity with the North American government ever since the start of NAFTA.
Yes, [it was signed on] 1994, but it’s a plan that had been on the works since 84. The problem in Mexico is not only one of violence, but it’s mainly about social rights being stripped away, rights which were won in the revolutionary process of 1917.
Such rights allowed anyone to have access to education, health, employment and housing. The state and its Neoliberal politics has been slowly transforming the constitution. This means that the Mexican people have lost all of their constitutional rights.
Add to this the Narco Cartels, an international business which not only deal drugs; but also people, organs, and migrants, plus other sources of income for organized crime. So it’s a difficult situation, so by 2006 the decision is made about sending the army to the streets. This is a questionable strategy because of the corruption inside the Mexican government
HEDGES: Let me ask, what is the relationship now? What you’re speaking about is organized crime, basically. What is the relationship now between these huge organized crime syndicates and the government?
ALCAZAR: The problem is that the drug cartels themselves, in most parts of the country not only act as “The Government”. But their ranks are made of mayors, state officials, county officials, city officials, deputies, governors, and more.
HEDGES: Is it because they have both political and economic power? I mean, in essence, military and economic power?
ALCAZAR: Yes, it is because the Cartels have established other types of local political boundaries; they tax the people in their territories, they are a real alternate power. So there is not only the corruption of the government but also the [Cartels acting as] an alternative power. Fighting to protect its drug market but also taking away any possibilities for a town to govern itself independently. It’s just not possible because they tax people and act like another government.
HEDGES: Let me ask, before I talk to Pauline, how neoliberalism contributed to this crisis.
ALCAZAR: It bears responsibility, because as a result of the signing of [NAFTA] in Mexico, any possibilities of sovereignty were taken from us, even food sovereignty. Since NAFTA the majority of the food we eat today comes from the United States. There is also a big migration problem for the indigenous people, with small farmers leaving to the United States. Such is NAFTA’s vortex. There is a bloom of sweatshop factories, mainly car factories; an important industry. These corporations do not bring in employment but offer low wages, were the majority of workers have no rights and are being paid by the hour, 7 pesos and hour (0.385 US Dollars) which is nothing compared to what people use to make.
There is a looming crisis in the sense that there are no alternatives for jobs, people travel elsewhere looking for jobs. The factories have been suspected of having a connection with human trafficking, because of the disappearance of young girls working in those factories, who eventually turn out to have been assassinated. A clear example of this happens in Chihuahua where there are thousands of missing girls who worked in the factories. [There are] factories that know very well how to disappear a person so they don’t have to pay them.
HEDGES: Entonces, they don’t pay them, and then they kill them?
ALCAZAR: They either kill them or traffic them into sex slavery around the world. Some are [killed] disappeared, others end up …who know where?
HEDGES: I think one of the things that many people in the United States don’t understand is that after NAFTA anywhere from one to three million Mexican farmers went bankrupt because they couldn’t compete with the low price of corn provided by American agribusinesses. So you had huge numbers of families that, because of NAFTA, became destitute.
Pauline–so Jessica’s kind of laid out this nightmare that has gripped Mexico. What are activists, organizers on the ground, including Jovenes ante la Emergencia Nacional attempting to do as a response?
PAULINE LUNA: So it’s been really–Mexico is known, it’s a country known that actually has a resistant history, that’s really important. And our local fights have been done in different places. Not only indigenous, but also workers, farmers, students, and in the cities, trying to fight against all the laws that have been imposed year after year. But with all the repression that it has been, each time it becomes harder and harder.
HEDGES: When you say laws, give me some examples of the kinds of laws that have been–.
LUNA: So in, I don’t know, the last two years, actually, there have been the reform of PEMEX, of the energetic reform.
HEDGES: This is the, PEMEX is the national oil company.
LUNA: Yes. And the reform of education, the fiscal reform, the reform of communication.
HEDGES: And what has that done? What has it–that’s privatized, right?
LUNA: Yeah, of course. It does that. And of course, all the media, controls everything and all the information. And so at some point not only the journalists but also the activists have been persecuted.
HEDGES: What have the activists attempted to do? I mean, groups like yours, what have you done, physically, to respond?
LUNA: Okay. So after the movement of the peace, like four years ago, we are–young folks, we got together trying to respond to that, and to coordinate nationally.
HEDGES: To respond to what? To the–.
LUNA: To respond to what was going on, what was happening, actually. And to coordinate all the work that has been done locally. All the, the work that has been done in the indigenous places, in the worker farm places, in the city, in the student places. And so in the whole territory, [inaud.], Jovenes ante la Emergencia Nacional has been building, this is not only a resistance movement, but is a project movement. And we just said, okay, so we’re not participating right now, you know, with the electoral program. [Speaking in Spanish].
HEDGES: Yeah, the electoral program.
LUNA: But we actually have been discussing that we have to respond about the destruction of the constitution that have happened. And so we’re part of this movement that’s called [Constituyente Ciudadania], the Constitution of the Citizen, and trying to organize locally, actually, not only the discussion but the empowerment of the people to actually decide what is going on in–.
HEDGES: And when you talk about destruction of the constitution, you’re talking about the destruction of civil, basic civil liberties, right. And that these were taken away through emergency measures, is that correct, in Mexico?
LUNA: It’s from [inaud.] the NAFTA treaty, everything has been increasing all the time. And with the new trade that–.
HEDGES: The TPP.
LUNA: We’re afraid that actually, we are actually losing our national–.
HEDGES: Sovereignty, sovereignty. Before I ask Jessica, just give me some examples of the rollback of laws. I mean, some examples of laws that have been imposed to consolidate or solidify state oppression.
LUNA: I think one of the most important laws that have been go through was their energetic law. Because we have to think that PEMEX, it’s one of the ten most important industries in the world, and it was their first income of Mexico and the first industry that actually allows, you know, the people to have the first needs covered. And when they go through this, this law, actually all the organizations, [Speaking in Spanish].
HEDGES: So I want to ask you, Jessica, about, as we have seen this neoliberal project grip Mexico, how it has manifested itself in harsher and harsher forms of state repression.
ALCAZAR: The privatization of PEMEX, the most important oil company in Mexico, happens in the context of the international struggle for oil; the fight for this resource that the United States
and the big powers need to survive.
So in that sense because Mexico is the [US’] neighbor, with a very important oil reserve…
[Pemex] a public corporations which belongs to all Mexicans, “had to be privatized”, and the only way was to change the law. Changing a Constitution that expressly forbids strategic natural resources to be sold to foreign interests.
So what was the Mexican neoliberal government’s plan? They slowly dismantle the company so that eventually they can then say that it needs foreign intervention, [they said] that the oil is still ours but the truth is that by now we have Shell and other big American oil companies already digging and hauling the oil, and not only the oil but also other important strategic natural resources.
HEDGES: [Spanish] For example?
ALCAZAR: Gold, silver and uranium. Unfortunately, because of our indigenous cosmovision, these types of mining goods, which are strategic for the United States, happen to be located in endemic indigenous communities.
So what happened? That their lands were to be taken away, and so there is a resistance process from the communities. But there is also repression and assassinations of community leaders, and defenders of the indigenous’ human rights in Mexico. And so it begins massive repression and violations to human rights against the communities and the leaders of the communities who oppose the taking of their lands and the extraction of our resources. The sale of oil in Mexico has to do with the sale of all the other prime resources that we have, including water.
Why? Because one of the biggest companies, Coca Cola, needs water and since NAFTA, [Coca Cola] has become so entrenched in Mexico, that now there is an extreme contamination of the water. Water is industrially extracted and the mining projects contaminate the rest of the environment in which [indigenous communities] live.
Those are some examples of the destruction. It has to do with the fight for prime resources happening all over the world, / the same matrix of extraction and repression is applied by the powerful governments that control those resources.
HEDGES: Let me ask Pauline about the Peoples’ Permanent Tribunal in Mexico, which operated from 2011-2014. This was the tribunal founded by Bertrand Russell to investigate and expose U.S. war crimes in Vietnam. And it operated in Mexico, and your organization, I think, provided evidence and spoke. And it was a very important moment in terms of resistance. Maybe you address why, and what was accomplished.
LUNA: So what we realized, actually, in Mexico, is that we didn’t have actually the information, what was going on. We had some numbers, we had some ideas of the organization who told us, or that we actually lived under persecution ourselves. But we didn’t have a map about what was going on. And someone–.
HEDGES: You mean, like data, figures, statistics, all of that.
LUNA: And so that is really difficult, you know, to create a movement if you actually don’t know what’s going on in your own country.
So the Tribunal actually not only figured out or got together all these datas with all the accusations that were got together, but also allowed us to organize with other organizations that were part of it. And so with the verdict of the Tribunal last year that accused the state, but also the corporation, of delivery, not [Speaking in Spanish].
HEDGES: [In Espanol].
HEDGES: [Didn’t complete].
LUNA: Yeah, all the human rights in Mexico. Actually, all of them were destroyed. And there were accused of, actually of genocide, about what was going on. And the, the state of Mexico is, actually the government of Mexico, is accomplice of this.
And so what we need now, what the result of that is that we all got together and we were all thinking, okay, so our constitution has been destroyed. What are we going to do about that? And that’s why this new project that’s called Constituyente Ciudadania actually was born.
HEDGES: What’s fascinating is that there’s a very similar process going on in the United States. The rewriting of the constitution, the evisceration of privacy, the–of course it’s much worse in Mexico, especially in terms of the violence. But it has direct–that neoliberal assault, not only against the economy, but against democracy, has its parallel in the United States as well. You know, it’s more advanced in Mexico, but it’s the, it shows how it’s exactly the same project, which is essentially reducing working men and women around the world to the status of serfs, you know, who can, who have no rights. No protection.
LUNA: That’s why we coordinate, and we’re trying to coordinate with organizations in here. We actually think that we need to erase the border, because this is human rights we’re talking. Human basic rights. And it’s not only a migrant problem, it’s actually a human problem. And that’s why the constitution movement that has been going on in Mexico, we actually want to spread it out through here, I think an alliance with the two nations that have so many things together, and have suffered so many things from the same neoliberal project, have to work together to do that.
In Mexico what–this movement cannot be separated from, you know, the church movement. It’s been really, also in historical all the time, the church has been present in what is called teologia de la liberacion.
HEDGES: Theology of liberation.
LUNA: So it’s, it’s a resistant movement has built [down]. And one of the leaders of the Constituyente Ciudadania, his name is Raul Vera. He’s a really famous priest over there, he’s really, he’s really funny himself. And not only that, but he has huge perspective about what was going on, what is the project not only in Mexico, but in America. And not America as a country, but America as a continent. And I think it creates [consensus].
LUNA: Consensus, between the population. And I’m not–we’re not participating in that as a member of our organization. We’re participating in that movement as people, you know, as citizens. And that’s important because I don’t have the label when I’m discussing about the constitution that actually as defined, and the way that I have to live. So I’m participating as me, Pauline, I’m living here in Mexico, and I want to decide what’s the future of the country.
HEDGES: I want to ask, Jessica, just as we close, about the Zapatistas, a movement that many of us have followed and have great respect for. And the differences between your organization, which–and there are differences–and those of the Zapatistas.
ALCAZAR: Mexico is very complex and since there are so many problems and the crisis is so
profound, there is an incredible and important history of struggle…
HEDGES: [Speaking in Spanish] A brave one!
ALCAZAR: Right! There are many organizations like ours, which are trying to build [political momentum] from outside the institutional left, from outside the political parties. The Zapatista Liberation Army is one of those organizations. We believe that today’s community resistance, and willingness to take a stand, especially from the indigenous communities are very important, like the work that “snail” cells, of autonomous Zapatistas zones, do on rural communities, which is substantially important. That is but one of many examples around [Mexico]. Because here in Mexico there is a legacy of fighters, which is important, of resistance, of self governing and autonomy. So the outline of Concentracion Ciudadana’s [philosophy] is: That each community of Citizens is fully briefed of the facts and have a say in the political agenda that rules their life and their country.
HEDGES: The Zapatista movement came as a response to NAFTA.
ALCAZAR: Yes, this was precisely a response to NAFTA— they rose up on the January 1st of 1994 when NAFTA was officially signed by the heads of [the U.S., Canadian, and Mexican governments]. There is a political crisis in Mexico. By 2006 these contradictions of the political arena became evident, when Manuel Lopez Obrador became a candidate for the institutional left of the country.
So then all the left with its important grassroots base, had to discuss what to do. Were we going to endorse Lopez Obrador’s neoliberal agenda? Speak out? Try doing something? Or remain doing community work of our own? That was the case for the ELNZ, for the Zapatista movement. They dedicated themselves to community work and didn’t pursued any national project. After 2006, we as The Youth Fighting a National Emergency, facing the wave of murders and the crisis of the war on drugs, declared by Calderon. We didn’t endorsed it or criticize it, as to not oppose a possible progressive government.
After all, the main objective was to oppose the ultra right of the PRI and PAN parties. And as of now with how things have been coming along, we don’t believe in these political parties. We as Concertación Ciudadana believe that for the people and the communities, it’s important to build from the ground up and form independent self-governments. It’s a long process, we have to struggle and, as we say it, “refound the nation”. I mean, we have to rewrite the constitution and have a new way of governance, starting from the communities up. Because Mexico is not just one nation, it is many nations within a nation, Mexico is very complex. For many years now and because of how well social movements have fared in Latin America, [Mexico] has been intentionally blocked from achieving a progressive government of its own.
HEDGES: Is the difference between your movement and the Zapatistas, would it be fair to say, that what you’re really pushing for is a revolution, the removal of these neoliberal structures from power, whereas the Zapatistas, which are primarily indigenous, are focused on indigenous communities, are attempting to create zones of protection, autonomous zones of protection for the indigenous?
ALCAZAR: Yes, because currently The Zapatista movement is again concentrated in local
matters. Nevertheless we believe that the emergency we live in is so profound that at some point we’ll be forced to move forth together. Because [The Zapatistas] are constantly attacked with a subtle war of low intensity. We have now some degree of contact with the ELZ, with the grassroots not so much with the leadership. And during these days we are actually going to attend a big demonstration in Chiapas; not only with the Indigenous, but also with religious grassroots organizations, which are linked to a historical tradition of liberation theology in Chiapas.
We attend so we can promote a Citizen Constituent Assembly, as a political project aiming to rebuild the foundations of our country. [We want to promote] the need to fight for the country as a whole, because we have been blindsided and dispossessed. We live in our country, but it is no longer ours. We have been subordinated by NAFTA and the rest of neoliberal policies imposed by our northern neighbor The United States.
HEDGES: Bueno, muchos gracias. Hasta la victoria siempre, no. Thank you, Jessica, thank you, Pauline. And thank you for watching Days of Revolt.
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