The Canary | 28 March 2022
Celebrating global resistance against extractivism: from Mexico to Ireland
by Emma McKeever
On 1 January 2021, the Zapatistas, a revolutionary indigenous movement in southern Mexico, called out to the peoples of the world to listen to their ‘Declaration for life’. In this declaration, the Zapatistas stated their intent to visit their comrades in Europe who are resisting the same “exploitative, patriarchal, pyramidal, racist, thievish and criminal system” of capitalism.
The Zapatistas started their European tour in Dublin on 12 October. Towards the end of their time in Ireland, they travelled to the Sperrin Mountains in County Tyrone to spend two days with local activists. These activists are currently protecting the Sperrins from the threat of extractive mining practices. Groups such as Save Our Sperrins, Greencastle’s People’s Office, and others met with the female and queer-centred delegation of Zapatistas to talk about their collective struggles against the same systems of extractivism.
The Sperrins, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), is currently severely under threat from Dalradian Gold Ltd. Dalradian is a Canadian mineral exploration company. And it states that its philosophy is centred around landscape restoration and ecological protection, which will continue even after the mine closes. However, an investigation into a company associated with Dalradian indicates that their environmental philosophy may just be another cause of greenwashing.
Corporate Watch investigated the practices of global mining companies. In doing so, it uncovered a wave of environmental devastation. Its investigation showed that such mining companies typically declare bankruptcy in order to avoid accountability for the destruction they have caused.
Grassroots group the Mexican Network of Those Affected by Mining (REMA) has highlighted that these companies’ paths of destruction include:
Health harms, environmental contamination and destruction, criminalization of social protest, threats, harassment, smear campaigns, surveillance, arbitrary detentions and the assassination of defenders…
The knives of extractivism slice our communities differently, but we all bleed the same
Vcenza Cirefire, an organiser with the Zapatour Ireland network, spoke to The Canary about the historic meeting. She mentioned that many of the Irish activists were alerted to the importance of international solidarity when they started to learn about the threat mining posed to their local communities. Cirefire noted that the parallels between the communities’ struggles against colonialism have helped highlight the need for international solidarity against their common enemies. She also noted that the foundations which strengthen such international connections come from the common guiding principles behind both communities’ resistance. Cirefire stated that:
both communities’ resistance are centred around autonomy, protecting Mother Earth and our right to self-determination.
Building international solidarity allows people to discuss the methods capitalism and its extractive industries use to strip local communities of their autonomy. Sharing intel about the industries’ tactics and learning from each other’s diverse analytical viewpoints will enable our movements to see the common cracks within these systems. Creating spaces in which we compassionately learn from each other will generate imaginative solutions that respect the different realities that inhabit a shared Earth.
A space focused on the organic diversity of thought within these global communities will ensure the imagination of the global collective is respected for its ability to liberate all people from these systems.
Resistance to extractivism gave birth to the Zapatistas
On 1 January 1994, the Zapatistas’ movement against the Mexican state’s extraction of their lands was reborn. This was in response to the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Commander Marcos, a leader within the uprising, branded the NAFTA agreement a “death certificate for the Indian peoples in Mexico“. This was due to NAFTA’s ability to gift private companies the option to bypass national law. This allows said companies to buy or rent indigenous lands without the consent of the communities for the pursuit of exploitative profit.
The Zapatistas’ armed revolt lasted 11 days, until the indigenous rebels and the Mexican state declared a ceasefire to begin negotiating the Zapatistas’ demands. The San Andres Accords came out of these negotiations. During the negotiations, the Zapatistas sought for the indigenous communities to have the constitutional ability to exercise their:
collective right to have diversity respected, control over native territories and recourses with them.
A performative act
However, the signing of the San Andres Accords was essentially a performative act on the side of the Mexican State. These accords held no real weight against the terms of the NAFTA agreement. Under NAFTA, foreign investors were allowed to bypass national law by going to the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
The ICSID helped to facilitate the flow of foreign investment into ‘developing countries’ which would be seen as risky. It did so by ensuring that foreign investors had a system in place that prioritised the market neoliberal ideology of continued economic growth.
The relationship between the ICSID and the NAFTA agreement has essentially created an international panic room for foreign investors. It’s a space where they can drown out the cries of indigenous peoples through a neoliberal white noise machine. And this machine soothes the agents of extractivism with the lullaby of continued economic growth. But this lullaby only works on those who base their value on their productivity and not on the intrinsic value they hold as part of a world of breathtaking diversity.
‘Un Mundo Donde Quepan Muchos Mundos’: A World Where Many Worlds Fit
This appreciation and respect for a world full of breathtaking diversity is central to the Zapatistas’ practice of autonomy. This principle is eloquently expressed through their vision of creating “Un Mundo Donde Quepan Muchos Mundos” (‘A World Where Many Worlds Fit’).
This dedication to diversity is central to the Zapatismo mentality, which has been establishing itself in modern Mexico since the early 1900s. The Zapatistas facilitate cultural diversity by ensuring respect for the multiple indigenous languages of their movement.
While they’ve cultivated this respect within all aspects of their organising, it’s particularly important within their decentralised education system. As volunteers associated with schools for Chiapas explained in the Zapatistas podcast, they place importance on ensuring that every indigenous child has at least one person who speaks their mother tongue present during their lessons.
Economic scholar Jacqueline Best has observed that neoliberal institutions (e.g. the ICSID) want to reduce the ambiguity in this ever-changing world by standardising the solutions for global issues. This stems from their desire to control and profit from the technocratic solutions they force onto communities regardless of the communities’ actual wants and needs. Therefore, in order to loosen neoliberal institutions’ grip on our communities’ futures, we must lean into the endless beauty generated when our futures are built from the bottom up.
We must create spaces that challenge the notion that knowledge can only be created and shared through academic and economic institutions. This is vital in order to fully ensure that communities have enough knowledge to reclaim their autonomy from neoliberal institutions.
‘The same vocation of freedom and justice’
The Zapatistas’ visit to the Sperrins illuminated that the trauma of fighting against extractivism can be transformed into vibrant stories of resistance. These stories cultivate hope and the motivation to keep resisting. The systems of extractivism can only hold on to their power when we don’t heal ourselves by reminding ourselves that we are not alone in this struggle. Rather we are supported by the diversity of resistance in our common struggle for a better world.
The Zapatistas eloquently described this sentiment in their declaration for life:
“ What allows us to move forward is the listening to and the observation of the Other that, distinct and different, has the same vocation of freedom and justice.”
As I leave you to ponder the power of respecting the diversity within movements of global resistance, I invite you to explore the beauty of diversity within our local communities in order to imagine new solutions. Solutions that will be grounded in the need for freedom and justice against the extractive nature of capitalism.