¡Viva la revolucion!
Mario Galván is a member of the local
Zapatista Solidarity Coalition, a small group of dedicated supporters who raise money and donate their time and energy to improving schools and other social services in the impoverished state of Chiapas, Mexico. For a man who jokingly calls himself the office “flunky,” Galván sure knows a lot about Mexican history.
How did the coalition get started?
The coalition has a history of almost 10 years now. We organized on January 3, 1994. That was just a couple days after the Zapatista Army of National Liberation rose up against the Mexican government, which was on January 1. That, incidentally, was the day [the North American Free Trade Agreement] went into effect. There’s a connection here, not only to human rights but to trade agreements that are impoverishing Latin America for the benefit of transnational corporations. It’s interesting to just tie it into what happened here with the summit on agriculture and the U.S. push to move genetically modified foods into the arena of common trade. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the fact that genetically modified corn has been shipped to Mexico from the United States, and it’s actually being planted in some areas. And it’s been shown that the genetically modified corn is spreading and contaminating other crops, so the Zapatista communities are creating food banks of their own corn to protect it against contamination.
What are they worried about?
Contamination means that the corn you’re growing that’s contaminated has the gene that’s patented by a corporation so that what you’re growing actually belongs to them. These corporations hire detectives, and if they trace their gene in your corn, they’ll file a lawsuit against you.
Has that happened in Zapatista communities?
It hasn’t happened to Zapatista communities, but it’s happened in the United States. In the Zapatista correspondence that we get, we had already heard about the threat of what they call bio-piracy, where people come to the Indian communities, and they study the traditional medicinal cures that people have been doing there for hundreds or thousands of years. Then they come back, and they get a patent on the active ingredient. So, what indigenous communities have studied and learned over thousands of years is being stolen away.
When the Zapatistas rose, they rose for democracy?
The Zapatista motto that they have on their banners and all their literature is democracy, liberty and justice. They picked those themes up from the Mexican revolution of 1910. The original [Emiliano] Zapata was a full-blooded Indian. He was actually elected. It’s kind of interesting as revolutionary heroes go, that Zapata was elected by his tribe, his village, to protect their lands. When the revolution began, they were fighting against sugar plantations that were taking over the land of the Indian people. There was no food because the land that Indians had been growing food on for centuries was being taken over to grow sugar to send to England.
What’s the status of the Zapatista movement now?
On January 1, 1994, they made a declaration of war against the government, and they actually attacked. That fighting phase only lasted for two weeks, and after that, there was a cease fire. And since then, the Zapatista movement has been transformed into a social movement. In Chiapas, there have been years of negotiations that culminated in what are called the San Andreas Accords, signed between the Mexican government and the Zapatistas, I believe in 1997. Unfortunately, the president of Mexico put them aside.
Are things better now with President Fox?
Actually, Fox did reach back, and he took that accord out of the wastebasket of history, and he brought it up. So, in 2001, he submitted that to the Congress. To me, that was Fox’s greatest moment. What happened is that Congress disemboweled the legislation. They modified it and took out all of the things that would have given indigenous communities legal status and a degree of autonomy, and, most importantly, control over the resources in their own territories.
What brought you personally into that movement?
Well, my family came from Mexico, so my father was a student of Mexican history. I grew up hearing stories of corruption and crookedness in Mexico, and we would often discuss the revolution, the various struggles for justice and democracy. And I would ask my father, you know, “Why don’t the people have another revolution? Obviously, things have gone wrong.” Most of his life, he said, “Well, people are just fatalistic. They’re afraid of change.” It was interesting. Just before he passed away, which was actually just two weeks before the Zapatista rebellion, he said to me, “You know, Mario, I think there is going to be a revolution in Mexico.” So, he was feeling the pulse, too, and if he’d lasted a few more weeks, he would have seen it.
If your office could do whatever it wanted to help …
We would change our U.S. foreign policy. We’re supporting these governments that are persecuting their own people. We’re providing the weapons. U.S. foreign policy supports a government that is at war with its own people, denying its own people democracy, justice, liberty.