“Without Corn, There is No Country”
International Women’s Day Marchers Target NAFTA and Free Trade on the Streets of San Cristóbal, Chiapas
By Francesca Contreras
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
March 14, 2008
SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS, CHIAPAS: March 8th, International Women’s Day, commemorates the day 15,000 women marched through New York City to demand a shorter work day, the right to vote and better pay in 1908. This Saturday, one hundred years later, Women’s Day was brought to the streets of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico in the form of an anti-free trade march with the participation of various unions and organizations ranging from Section 50 of the National Women’s Health Workers Union, to political prisoner freedom advocate groups, to independent peasants, house wives, workers and students.
During the rally an autonomous group known as the Independent Women’s Movement (MIM in its Spanish initials) targeted NAFTA as just one of many unjust neoliberal agreements that weighs heavily on the backs of Chiapan indigenous women.
MIM was formed in Chiapas, November 2002 by indigenous and mestiza women as an autonomous space for collective organization to fight violence suffered by women; gender/class/ethnic discrimination that results from the neoliberal system; the growing militarization and paramilitarization of local indigenous communities; and to ensure gender equality. “MIM does not identify as an organization but rather as a movement independent of political parties and instutitionalized forces,” according to a woman named Perla who has worked for several years now with MIM.
This same group helped over 100 indigenous women from the northern jungle, the border zones and the highlands of Chiapas arrive in the capital at the Indigenous Intercultural Center of Informal Education (Centro Indígena de Capacitación Integra or CIDECI in Spanish) the day before International Women’s Day.
CIDECI, originally founded in August 1989 as Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Comprehensive Indigenous Training Center, is a self-sustaining educational center both for and run by indigenous people. Opposed ideologically to state power and fostering a pedagogy of resistance, CIDECI teaches a range of skills - from construction metalwork, carpentry, and electric work to architectural drawings - to about 900 young indigenous students a year who then return home and use the skills to contribute to the their communities.
MIM gathered in CIDECI the evening before International Women’s Day for an assembly conducted in Spanish and then translated to the indigenous languages Tzotzil and Tzeltal.
The stated objective of the gathering was simple: discuss in concrete terms how NAFTA affects the lives and communities of indigenous women of Chiapas, and brainstorm viable forms of resistance.
“Sin maíz, no hay país!” (Without corn, there is no country!) the group chanted before breaking off into smaller groups based on geographical origin and native language. In the Spanish-speaking highland group, the main changes noted by the women centered on the use and consumption of foreign products, processed by heavily-subsidized, massive U.S agricultural industries.
With lower prices and access to genetically engineered seeds, fertilizers and chemical pesticides, these industries are hijacking the production and sale of the most fundamental dietary and cultural elements of indigenous life, corn and beans.
The slippery slope of consequences is endless. One woman spoke about the effects that consumption of junk food has on the health and well being of her children. The accumulation of garbage due to the heavily packaged nature of foreign products damages the ecological well being of their land.
The unemployment these communities face pushes husbands out of their indigenous towns and into Mexican cities or the United States, to compete with other poor people for sweatshop wages and slavery conditions in maquiladoras (export-oriented factories).
Several women spoke of the subsequent increased and unmanageable load of familial responsibilities and lamented the unproductive state of their land.
A pamphlet published by MIM and read to the group explained that this unmanageable workload results in women migrating with their children to find work in cities, often as prostitutes. “These hardships in turn deteriorate family relations, push children towards alcoholism and drug addiction and increase domestic violence. When indigenous communities take to the streets to demand liberation and justice, they suffer violence and repression from military and paramilitary groups,” it said.
As the pamphlet was read out loud, several women nodded as though from personal experience.
“Why not create a network of indigenous markets?” a woman named Rosa suggested, after being asked to come up with ways to resist NAFTA on a daily basis. Another compañera responded positively, adding that a similar space called Crescent Moon, where local merchandise is traded, already exists in San Cristóbal.
Mothers suggested organizing to protest the sale of genetically modified products and junk food (Sabritas potato chips and Coca-Cola) in their children’s schools and replace them with traditional foods (tamales, empanadas, tacos, vegetables, and fruits) produced by local indigenous communities.
But as Dr. Raymundo Sánchez Barraza, the general coordinator of CIDECI, pointed out in a presentation towards the end of the meeting, the movement’s vision must not be narrow either. “NAFTA is not the only manifestation of neoliberalism,” he explained. Governmental collaboration between the United States and Mexico when it comes to systemic repression is an old story.
“NAFTA is simply one tool of the system, and for this reason we are not only anti-free trade activists but we are, more importantly, anti-capitalists,” he said.
Although for MIM, the evening before International Women’s Day was not a festive celebration but a critical time to organize, discuss everyday problems and commit to forms of resistance, the democratically-run five-hour meeting ended on an optimistic note, with a guitarist playing indigenous Chiapan songs about liberty, justice and equality for all campesinas.