Mexico was said to be one step away from entering the “First World.” It was December 1992, and Mexico’s then-president, Carlos Salinas, signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The global treaty came with major promises of economic development, driven by increased farm production and foreign investment, that would end emigration and eliminate poverty. But, as the environmentalist Gustavo Castro attests in our video, the results have been the complete opposite—increased emigration, hunger and poverty.
While the world was entertaining the idea of the end of times supposedly predicted by the Mayan calendar, on December 21, 2012, over 40,000 Mayan Zapatistas took to the streets to make their presence known in a March of Silence. The indigenous communities of Chiapas—Tzeltales, Tzotziles, Tojolobales, Choles, Zoques and Mames—began their mobilization from their five centers of government, which are called Caracoles. In silence they entered the fog of a December winter and occupied the same squares, in the same cities, that they had descended upon as ill-equipped rebels on January 1, 1994, the day NAFTA came into effect.
In light of the 20th anniversary of NAFTA’s implementation and the Zapatista uprising, we set out to explore both the positive and negative effects of the international treaty. The poverty caused by NAFTA, and the waves of violence, forced migration and environmental disasters it has precipitated, should not be understated. The republic of Mexico is under threat from multinational corporations like the Canadian mining company Blackfire Explorations, which is threatening to sue the state of Chiapas for $800 million under NAFTA Chapter 11 because its government closed a Blackfire barite mine after pressure from local environmental activists like Mariano Abarca Roblero, who was murdered in 2009.
Still, one result of the corporate extraction of Mexico’s natural resources and displacement of its people that has followed the treaty has been the organization and strengthening of initiatives by indigenous communities to construct autonomy from the bottom up. Seeing that their own governments cannot respond to popular demands without retribution from corporations, the people of Mexico are asking about alternatives: “What is it that we do want?” The Zapatista revolution reminds us that not only another world, but many other worlds, are possible.
Performances and community collaborations documented in the video at the top of the page:
THE PROMISE Burial in El Ambo Bajo, Chiapas, Mexico
El Ambo Bajo is an autonomous community adherent to The Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona (a national extension of Zapatismo). The men and children of El Ambo Bajo break the land to symbolically bury the past in a post-colonial act embracing the harsh histories of slavery and genocide. They create a “living memory” to enter into a new century with assurance, self-determination and autonomy.
MIGRATION El Pital, Honduras
Casitas Voladoras (“Little Flying Houses”) is a two-week project we initiated in Honduras to investigate the migration caused by low wages and poor working conditions attributed to the Caribbean Basin Initiative. This 1983 agreement between the United States, Honduras and other Central American countries can be seen as a significant precursor to NAFTA. In the performance, children carry houses made of fabric and sticks in an attempt to cross the Cangrejo River. El Pital, Honduras is a community of less than 300 inhabitants of mostly women and children, due to the migration of its men, mostly to the United States.
MANY WORLDS Zipolite, Oaxaca, Mexico
An important aspect of creating “other worlds” through Zapatismo is the belief that each culture, each language and each individual creates its own understanding of beauty, normality, happiness and autonomy. The cultures of capitalism and consumerism introduced by NAFTA persuade large populations that there is only one way toward progress and prosperity. Here, Bartolo Martinez shapes his own image of beauty outside of the commercialization of the body.
RAIN CATCHERS El Ambo Bajo, Chiapas, Mexico
Having declared its autonomy from communities divided by political parties, El Ambo Bajo has no access to water provided by the government. Here, we create symbolic rain catchers to parade through the village in a demonstration of the possibilities of a completely sustainable autonomy.
To view the full performances, visit www.edelo.org.
For more information:
Citizens Trade Campaign
Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch
National Food First
This piece was made possible, in part, by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.