Monthly Archives: May 2015

Having toured 18 cities in 13 countries, the ‘Euro-Caravana 43’ human rights caravan ended its journey in London last Tuesday 19 May, marking the occasion with live music and dance in the main quad of the University College London. The caravan, whose purpose was to build European solidarity around the case of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students, consisted of three participants: Omar García, a student who survived the police attack on 26 September 2014 that spirited away his classmates; Eleucadio Ortega, a parent of missing student Mauricio Ortega Valerio; and Román Hernandez, a human rights defender from the Tlachinollan Human Rights Centre in Guerrero. The caravan successfully brought together activists working in areas as diverse as Palestine, Colombia, Turkey and the UK. After a day of lively meetings and debates, more than a hundred participants gathered on the steps of the Neo-Classical Wilkins’ Portico to express their solidarity for the missing students, and to enjoy a series of performances. Performed by Cambridge-Mexico Solidarity, the jaguar dance featured in this video is a contemporary re-imagining of a pre-Columbian rite: in Mexico, as a primordial symbol beloved by warriors and shamans, the jaguar has always been associated with bravery, strength, and dignity.

“We are here to say that the struggle around the 43 students is a live struggle, it is alive today, and it’s not something that’s staying in the past and that they’re dead. This is a live struggle.”

Speaking at a low-key media conference at the University of London’s Senate House, the words of Román Hernandez, a human rights defender from the Tlachinollan Human Rights Centre in Guerrero, Mexico, summed up the spirit of fearlessness and defiance that has come to characterise the Ayotzinapa movement for truth and justice, now evolving into an international platform for change. The event in London marked the final day in a month-long European ‘caravan’ that sought to raise awareness of – and build solidarity around – the 43 disappeared students of the radical Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.

“We want you to realise that the so-called ‘historic truth’ released by the government is a media truth, an official truth, which does not imply that it is a historic truth,” said Román, describing how media coverage of the disappearances had diminished since they made international headlines last year.

From Reuters to the Associated Press, the official version of events has been so widely repeated as to have practically established itself as fact: on the night of 26th September 2014, having just finished their first week of classes, 43 teacher-students were abducted by local police in the town of Iguala, Guerrero, never to be seen again. Iguala’s mayor, José Luis Abarca Velázquez, and his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, are accused of masterminding the abduction. The students, according to official reports, were handed over to a local cartel, Guerreros Unidos (“United Warriors”), who summarily executed them and cremated their remains at a garbage dump. After uncovering a mass grave of unknown victims who were entirely unconnected to the incident, investigators located some ashes containing DNA traces of one of the missing students. This evidence – along with the confession of a gang member – apparently substantiates the entire official story. Case closed.

But for the families of the victims, questions remains unanswered, justice remains unserved. Despite assurances from the highest levels – including a magnanimous invitation by the President for the families to come visit him at his palace – they and their supporters remain outraged. As a symbol of Mexico’s broken justice system, its institutional corruption, and above all else, the hundreds of thousands of lives extinguished in a long and grotesque drug war (a war whose trail of blood and dollars leads straight to President Peña Nieto’s door) Ayotzinapa has become a powerful rallying point.

Composed of just three activists – one human rights advocate, one survivor of the night of the 26th September, and one father of the disappeared – the Ayotzinapa Euro-Caravan, supported and funded by European collectives, has been one small part of a wider movement that has already dispatched several other caravans to the highways of Mexico, the United States and wider Latin America.

“We are all there, all of us parents of these students, we’re in full fight and we’re united there together in Ayotzinapa. We demand that the government return our 43 sons. We’re not going to let the government off, we’re going to demand, demand, demand, until they return the students… There is no justice in Mexico – and even less if you’re a campesino.”

 Eleucadio Ortega, father of Mauricio Ortega Valerio
Eleucadio Ortega, father of Mauricio Ortega Valerio

Speaking in London, the testimony of Eleucadio Ortega, the father of missing student Mauricio Ortega Valerio, was emotional, personal, and raw. He described his life as a farmer in the mountains of Guerrero, where his family grew coffee and corn and whatever else was needed. Although nature provided, life was hard, and so he always encouraged his son to pursue his education through primary and secondary schools. In high school, Mauricio studied carpentry for three years. He could build doors, windows, ‘just about anything’. After he graduated, to the delight of his family, Mauricio decided to enrol in the teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa. On the 26th September, said Eleucadio, Mauricio was disappeared by the state:

“What is happening in Mexico is that the Mexican government is behind disappearances. It is behind attacks. It is behind killings. So here I am, a representative of the parents of the 43 students and we are united and in full fight until they return our sons to us. The Mexican government thinks we’re going to give up, but we’re not going to give up. We not going to give up and we’re not going to shut up until they return our sons.

“We’re all there, all of us parents of the 43 students, we’re all waiting for them to come back… We had to leave behind our work at home and in the fields. And so the coffee beans just sit on the bush. I haven’t been able to harvest them because I’m at the school. And we cannot leave the school because we are waiting there for the return of the students. And I repeat, we demand that the Mexican government return the students.”

Omar García, a 24-year-old Ayotzinapa student who survived the attack and third member of the Euro-Caravan, reiterated his companions’ convictions:

“While some will continue to speak on behalf of the murderers, we will continue to raise the voice of the victims… We’ve always been clear saying it three times or 43,000 times, it was state. What we say is not part of an ideological position. It’s not because we’re closed to other ideas and don’t admit that there are other possibilities. But all of the investigations say that it was the police who detained the 43 students…

By omission or intention, the Mexican armed forces have responsibility… They put a lot of emphasis on our stories of struggle. In truth, 30,000 people have disappeared from Mexico over 10 years, they’re not all from Ayotzinapa. This is something that’s happened to rich people, to poor people, to men, to women, to young people, to old people. It can touch anyone. The evidence is generalised – this has happened to people involved in making soap operas, it’s happening all over the place, outside people’s houses, it’s not something that you have to look very far to see. And this is all possible because of the activities and corruption of politicians, of public officials, and their complicity with organised crime.”

Thanking his European hosts, Omar highlighted the success of the caravan in not only raising awareness of Ayotzinapa, but in bringing together disparate groups in solidarity. In Mexico, a conspiracy of silence has fallen on some sections of the mass media, with others attempt to smear and discredit the caravans. By contrast, their experiences in Europe, whilst underreported, were largely fruitful: in the Netherlands, a group of academics have promised to pressure their government over Mexico’s human rights abuses; in France, a movement is growing to requesting Hollande does not give honours to Peña Nieto when he visits Europe on 12th July; in Germany, activists are campaigning to prevent the flow and sale of weapons to Mexico.

Román Hernandez added:

“We’ve been everywhere from a squat where families and migrants share two metre by two metre rooms all the way to the University of Leiden in Holland. Civil society here in Europe is with Ayotzinapa and they have made that known to us. It’s clear that they’re not going to make it easy for the Mexican government to impose its version of history regarding the 43 students…

“The very fact that we three have been able to be in 18 cities in 13 countries during these last weeks means there is a lot of transformatory capacity… We’ve come to realise that people who have been working in other struggles – for the rights of migrants against dispossession, of resources, against fascism in Europe, and so on – they are also in the struggle for Ayotzinapa…”

Omar García (left) and Román Hernandez (right) at a solidarity meeting in London.
Omar García (left) and Román Hernandez (right) at a solidarity meeting in London.

More than 40,000 protesters swept through the streets of Guatemala City yesterday, Saturday 16 May 2015, to vent fury over the nation’s unfolding corruption scandal, which is set to become the country’s most severe political crisis since the end of the civil war in 1996.

Converging outside the National Palace, the protesters called for the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina, as well as jail time for his former Vice-President, Roxana Baldetti, who resigned last week after her former private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, whereabouts unknown, was implicated as a ring-leader in the infamous ‘La Linea’ crime syndicate.

The syndicate is thought to have defrauded the state of millions of dollars by accepting bribes in exchange for lowered import duties. Guatemala’s current and former tax chiefs are suspects in the scandal, which is believed to involve at least 50 private citizens and public servants.

The protests, which were staged simultaneously in several parts of the country, were not organised by any single group, but appeared to evolve organically through decentralised social media networks. It drew crowds from diverse quarters of civil society, most significantly, the middle classes.

“Given the history and on-going reality of repression and impunity in Guatemala, this is a very courageous display of citizen action,” said Grahame Russell, director of the human rights NGO Rights Action in a recent newsletter. “Repression is a very real reality in the coming days and weeks as a growing number of people overcome their fear and peacefully take to the streets to express their indignation at so many generations of corruption, exploitation, repression and impunity.”

The protest marks the end of a tumultuous week for the government, which many suspect of involvement in the scandal at the highest levels. On Monday, the Associated Press announced it had obtained recordings of wire-tapped telephone calls between businessman and fugitive Luis Mendizabal, various Guatemalan lawyers, and suspects, including some of the 27 currently in custody. Mendizabal’s boutique clothes shop, ‘Emilio’, is believed to have been a meeting place for the fraud ring.

The wiretaps mention ‘the No 2’, ‘the lady’ and ‘the R’, which prosecutors believe may be a reference to the former Vice President, who is currently not under arrest, but has been ordered not to leave the country. The Associated Press noted a conversation on April 16 where Mendizabal told detainee Javier Ortiz that he will soon be free.

“Blanca Stalling is behind it and they have very good communication,” he said.

Judge Blanca Stalling Davila, a Supreme Court justice, was quick to deny any involvement in the scandal, suggesting that perhaps Mendizabal had confused her with her sister, Judge Marta Sierra Stalling. According to prosecutors and a UN investigative commission, Judge Sierra Stalling accepted payment for the release of three suspects on bail, including Oritz. All the suspects have now been returned to custody along with the five lawyers alleged to have paid the bribe.

On Thursday 14 May, Guatemala’s congress selected a new Vice President, Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, from three nominees submitted by President Otto Perez Molina. Maldonado was a constitutional judge, former Cabinet minister and ambassador, described by the President as an ‘exemplary Guatemalan’.

“I ask for the support from the entire country … all those who want to join the effort to bolster and deepen our democracy,” said Perez Molina.

In fact, Maldonado was one of the three judges on the country’s five-member Constitutional Court who ruled in favour of annulling the genocide conviction of dictator Efrain Rios Montt in 2013.

Against the backdrop of general elections later this year, the crisis continues…

Photo credits: Comité de Unidad Campesina
Photo credits: Comité de Unidad Campesina

The following address by Subcomandante Galeano was made on 3 May 2015 at an international seminar in Chiapas, ‘Critical Thought versus the Capitalist Hydra’.

Good afternoon, good day, good night to all listening and reading, no matter your calendars and geographies.

My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano. I was born in the small hours of the morning on May 25, 2014, collectively and quite in spite of myself, and well, in spite of others also.[i] Like the rest of my Zapatista compañeras and compañeros, I cover my face whenever it is necessary that I show myself, and I take the cover off whenever I need to hide. Although I am not yet one year old, the authorities have assigned me the task of posta, of watchman or sentinel, at one of the observation posts in this rebel territory.

Since I am not used to speaking in public, much less in front of so many fine – (ha—excuse me, it must be hiccups from stage fright), I say, fine people, I thank you for your patience with my babble and repeated stumblings in the difficult and complicated art of the word, of expression.

I took the name Galeano from a Zapatista compañero, an indigenous teacher and organizer who was attacked, kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by paramilitaries protected by a supposedly social organization: the CIOAC-Histórica. The nightmare that ended the life of the compañero teacher Galeano began before dawn on May 2, 2014. From that moment on, we Zapatistas began the reconstruction of his life.

During those days, the collective direction of the EZLN decided to put to death the person who called himself SupMarcos, who was at the time the spokesperson for the Zapatista men, women, children, and elderly. Since then, the cargo [assigned duty or responsibility] of Zapatista Army for National Liberation spokesperson corresponds to Subcomandate Insurgente Moises. Through his voice we speak; through his eyes we see; in his steps we walk; we are him.

Months after that May 2, the long night of Mexico “below” became longer and added a new name to its already long experience of terror: “Ayotzinapa.” As has happened time and again in the world, the geography from below was marked and named by a tragedy that had been planned and executed—that is, by a crime.

We have already said, through the voice of Subcomandante Insurgente Moises, what Ayotzinapa means to us Zapatistas. With his permission, and with the permission of the Zapatista compañeros and compañeras who are my bosses, I pick up where he left off.

Ayotzinapa is pain and rage, yes, but it is more than that. It is also, and above all, the stubborn determination of the families and compañeros of the missing.

Some of these family members who have kept memory alive gave us the honor of sharing their time with us, and they are here with us in Zapatista territory.

We heard the words of Doña Hilda and Don Mario, mother and father of César Manuel González Hernández, and we heard from and have here with us Doña Bertha and Don Tomás, mother and father of Julio César Ramírez Nava. With them we make the demand for [the return of] the 46 missing.

We asked Doña Bertha and Don Tomás to make sure these words reach the other family members of the missing of Ayotzinapa. Because it is their struggle that we have kept present in order to launch this semillero [seminar or seedbed].

I think that more than one[ii] person from the Sixth and the EZLN will agree with me that we would have preferred it if they hadn’t had to come here in this way. That is, that they had come here but not as pain and rage, and rather as a compañero embrace. That nothing had happened that September 26; that the calendar, in a friendly gesture, would have skipped that day and that the geography would have taken a wrong turn and not landed on Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico.

But no, after that night of terror, the geography extended and deepened itself, reaching the most isolated corners of the planet. And if the calendar continues to surrender to that date, it is because of your [the families] determination, the greatness of your simplicity, the unconditionality of your dedication.

We don’t know your children. But we know you. And we have no other intention but to make sure you are certain how much we admire and respect you, even during the loneliest and most painful moments you encounter.

It’s true, we cannot fill the streets and plazas of big cities. Any mobilization, small as it may be, represents for our communities a significant economic loss. And this is an economy already in difficult conditions, as it is for millions of others, and barely sustained by over two decades of rebellion and resistance. I say our communities, because the support we offer is not the sum of the work of individuals, but of collective, reflective, and organized action. It is part of our struggle.

We can’t shine in the social networks, or make your words reach farther than into our own hearts. We also can’t support you economically, although we well know that these months of struggle have taken a toll on your health and living conditions.

It is also the case that we, in rebellion and resistance, are more often than not seen with resentment and suspicion. Movements and mobilizations that rise up in different corners prefer that we not state our sympathy explicitly. Sensitive to what “they might say” in the media, they don’t want their cause associated in any way with “the masked ones in Chiapas.” We understand; we don’t challenge this. Our respect for the rebellions swarming the world over includes respect for their assessments, their steps, their decisions. We respect them, yes, but we don’t ignore them. We have our eye on each and every one of the mobilizations that confront the System. We try to understand them, that is, to get to know them. We know very well that respect grows from knowledge, and that fear and hate, those two faces of contempt, are often born out of ignorance.

Although our struggle is small, we have learned something over the years, decades, centuries. And this is what we want to tell you:

Don’t believe those who say that sensitivity, sympathy, and support are measured by crowded streets, overflowing plazas, big stages, or in the number of cameras, microphones, leading journalists, and social media trends you attract.

The great majority of the world, not just in our country, is like you, brothers and sisters, family members of the Ayotzinapa missing. People who have to fight day and night for a little piece of life. People who have to struggle in order to wrench from reality something with which to sustain themselves.

Anyone from below, man, woman, otroa, who lives this painful history sympathizes with your struggle for truth and justice. They share your demand because in your words they see their own history, because they recognize themselves in your pain, because they identify with your rage.

The majority of them have not marched in the streets, they have not gone out to protest, they have not posted on social networks, they have not broken windows, they have not set cars on fire, they have not chanted slogans, they haven’t appeared on stage, they haven’t told you that you are not alone.

They haven’t done it simply because they haven’t been able to do it.

But they have listened to and respected your movement. Do not be discouraged.

Do not think that because those who were once by your side and have now gone, after getting paid whatever they could get for it or because they discovered they wouldn’t get paid at all, your cause is any less painful, any less noble, any less just.

The path you have taken up to now has been intense, to be sure. But you know that there still remains much more to walk.

You know something? One of the deceptions from above is how they convince those from below that if you can’t get something quickly and easily, then you can never get it. They convince us that long and difficult struggles do nothing but wear you out and in the end you achieve nothing. They trick the calendar from below by superimposing over it the calendar from above: elections, appearances, meetings, dates with history, commemorations that only hide pain and rage.

The System does not fear social explosions, as massive and illuminating as they may be. If a government were to fall, there’s always another one waiting in the cupboard as a replacement and another imposition. What terrifies the system is the perseverance of rebellion and resistance from below.

Because below, the calendar is different. It has another way of doing things. It has another story. It has another pain and another rage.

And now, as the days pass, the below that we are, so dispersed and multiple, is no longer simply attuned to your pain and rage. We are also paying attention to your persistence, how you continue on, how you don’t give up.

Believe us. Your struggle does not depend on the number of protestors, the number of news articles, the number of posts about you on social media, the number of speaking tours you are invited to make.

Your struggle, our struggle, the struggle of those below in general, depends on resistance; on not giving up, not selling out, not giving in.

Well, of course, that’s according to us Zapatistas. There will be people who will tell you differently. They’ll tell you that the most important thing is to be with them. For example, that it’s more important to vote for such-and-such political party because that’s how you’ll find the missing. That if you don’t vote for such-and-such party you will not only lose out on THE opportunity to recover the missing, but you will also be accomplices to the continuation of terror in our country.

You know how there are political parties that take advantage of the people? You know how they offer handouts, school supplies, phone cards, movie passes, buckets, hats, sandwiches, and Tetra Pak bottled water? Well, there are also those who take advantage of the people’s emotional needs. Hope, friends and enemies, is the necessity most successfully commercialized there above. Hope that everything will change, that finally there will be well-being, democracy, justice, freedom. Hope is what the enlightened from above snatch from the down-and-out below and then sell back to them. Hope that a resolution to their demands comes in one of the colors found in one of the products in the system’s cupboards.

Maybe these people know something that we Zapatistas don’t. They’re wise, and after all, they charge for their expertise. Knowledge is their profession, it’s how they make their living… or how they cheat everyone. You see that they know more and, referring to us, they say that we are “lost out there, in the mountains, who knows where,” and they say that we call for abstention and that we are sectarian (maybe because, unlike them, we do respect our dead).

Ah! It’s so easy to say and repeat sound bites and lies! It’s so inexpensive to defame and slander, and then later preach unity and give lessons on the real enemy, the infallibility of the shepherd, the incapacity of the herd.

Many years ago, we Zapatistas did not march, or chant slogans, or raise banners or even our fists. Until one day, we did march. The date: October 12, 1992, when those above celebrated 500 years of “the meeting of the two worlds.” The place: San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. Instead of banners we carried bows and arrows, and a deafening silence was our slogan.

Without a lot of noise, the statue of the conquistador fell. If they put it up again it didn’t matter. Because they will never again be able to put back up the fear of what it represented.

Some months later, we returned to the cities. We again didn’t use slogans or banners, and we didn’t take bows and arrows. That dawn smelled like fire and gunpowder. And that time, it was our heads that were raised.

Months later, some people came from the city. They told us about the great marches, the slogans, the banners, the raised fists. Of course, they always added that if we Indian men and women (they’re always so careful to preserve gender equity) had survived, it was thanks to them, those from the city who had prevented a genocide those first days of 1994. We Zapatistas didn’t ask them if there hadn’t been genocide before 1994, or if it hadn’t already been prevented, or if these folks from the city were there to discuss something that actually took place or to read us their invoice. We Zapatistas understood that there were other ways of struggling.

After that we had our marches, our slogans, our banners, and we raised our fists. From then on our marches have been only a pale reflection of that march that lit the dawn of the year 1994. Our slogans have the disorganized rhyme of songs from guerilla encampments in the mountains. Our banners are tirelessly elaborate, trying to find equivalents to what we in our languages describe in just one word, and what in other languages requires three volumes of Capital. Our raised fists signal less of a challenge than a greeting. As if they were oriented more for the future than for the present.

But something hasn’t changed: our heads are still raised.

Years later, our self-proclaimed creditors from the city demanded that we participate in the elections. We didn’t understand because we never demanded that they rise up in arms, or that they resist, not even that they rebel against the bad government, or that they honor their dead in struggle. We didn’t demand that they cover their faces, that they deny their names, that they abandon their families, profession, friendships, nothing. But these modern conquistadors, dressed up in progressive leftist garb, threatened us: If we did not follow them, they would abandon us and we would be to blame if the reactionary right were to take over the government. We owed them, they said, and they were leaving us the bill, printed on an election ballot.

We Zapatistas did not understand. We rose up in order to govern ourselves, not so that they could govern us. They became angry.

Sometime afterward, those from the city continue marching, chanting slogans, raising their fists and banners, and now they also have tweets, hashtags, likes, trending topics, followers. Their political parties are made up of the same people who only yesterday were part of that reactionary right. They sit at the same table and converse with the murderers, and the families of the murdered. They laugh and toast together when they get paid, and they grieve and cry together when they lose an election.

Meanwhile, we Zapatistas also march sometimes, we chant impossible slogans, or we remain quiet, raising banners and fists instead, but always raising our gaze. We say that we don’t protest in order to defy the tyrant but to salute those who confront him in other geographies and calendars. To defy him, we construct. To defy him, we create. To defy him, we imagine. To defy him, we grow and multiply. To defy him, we live. To defy him, we die. Instead of tweets, we make schools and clinics; instead of trending topics, we have fiestas to celebrate the life that defeats death.

In the land of the creditors from the city, the master continues to rule with another face, another name, another color.

In the land of the Zapatistas, the people rule and the government obeys.

Maybe that is why we Zapatistas didn’t understand that we had to be the followers, and the leaders from the city had to be the ones to be followed.

And we still don’t understand.

But it could be true, that the truth and justice that you and we and everyone are seeking can be found thanks to the generosity of a leader surrounded by people as intelligent as he is, a savior, a master, a chief, a boss, a shepherd, a governor, and all this with the minimal effort of a ballot and a ballot box, with a tweet, by attending a march, a rally, signing a petition… or by remaining silent in the face of the farce that feigns patriotic interest while what it really longs for is Power.

Yes or No? Maybe that’s what other thoughts will answer for us in this seminar/seedbed.

What we Zapatistas have learned is that the answer is No. That the only thing offered from above is exploitation, theft, repression, disdain. That is to say, all we can expect from above is pain.

And from above, they are demanding, calling on you to follow them. That say that you owe it to them that your pain is now known all over the world. That you owe them for all the occupied plazas, the streets filled with colorful protest and creativity. That you owe them for the hard work of the civilian police that pointed out, followed, and demonized all those “smelly-nasty-anarchist-infiltrators.” That you owe them for all the well-behaved protests, the colorful photographs, the favorable reporting, and the interviews.

We Zapatistas have only this to say:

Don’t be afraid to be abandoned by those who have never really been by your side. They are the ones who do not deserve you. They are the ones who are attracted to your pain as they would be to a spectacle, either because it pleases them or disgusts them, but which they will never be a real part of.

Don’t be afraid of being abandoned by those who don’t want to accompany and support you, but instead to administrate you, tame you, subordinate you, use you, and finally, discard you.

Be afraid yes, but only of forgetting your cause, of allowing your struggle to fall by the wayside.

But while you keep with it, while you resist, you will have the respect and admiration of many people in Mexico and the world.

People like those who are here with us today.

Like Adolfo Gilly.

What I am about to say wasn’t going to be said. The reason? Because initially, Adolfo Gilly, like Pablo González Casanova, had said that maybe he also wouldn’t be able to attend, both of them because of health problems. But Adolfo is here, and we ask of him to let Don Pablo know about this next part.

The late SubMarcos used to tell the story that somebody once asked him why the EZLN paid so much attention to Don Luis Villoro, Don Pablo González Casanova, and Don Adolfo Gilly. The challenger based his argument on the differences that these three persons had with Zapatismo, and said that intellectuals who were 100% Zapatistas weren’t treated with the same deference. I imagine that the Sup lit his pipe and then explained. “First,” he said, “their differences are not with Zapatismo but with the assessments, analyses, or positions that Zapatismo assumes on various issues. Second,” he continued, “I have personally seen these three persons face to face with the compañeras and compañeros who are my bosses. Quite prestigious intellectuals have come here as have some not so prestigious ones. They have come to speak their word. Few, very few, have spoken with the comandantas and comandantes. And only with these three persons have I seen my bosses, the comandantes and comandantas, speak and listen as equals, with trust and mutual camaraderie. How did they do it? Well, you’d have to ask them. What I do know is that it’s difficult to gain the ear and the word of these compañeras and compañeros, my bosses, with respect and love—very difficult. And the third thing,” the Sup added, “is that you are mistaken to think that we Zapatistas are looking for mirrors, praise, and applause. We appreciate and value differences in thought, sure, if they are critical and articulate thoughts and not that sloppy nonsense that abounds in today’s enlightened progressivism. We Zapatistas do not value thinking on the basis of how much it coincides with ours or not, but upon whether it makes us think or not, on whether it provokes our thought or not, and above all, whether it provides a true account of reality. These three persons have held, it is true, different positions and even contrary ones to ours across diverse situations.

Never, ever have they been against us. And in spite the moving trends, they have been by our side.

When their arguments have not coincided with ours, and not just a few times, directly contradicted ours, they haven’t convinced us, it’s true. But they have helped us understand that there are various positions and different thoughts, and that it is reality that gets to judge, not any self-established court within academia or from within militant struggle. Provoking thought, discussion, debate is something that we Zapatistas value very much.

That’s why we admire anarchist thought. It’s clear that we are not anarchists, but their approaches are the kind that provoke and nourish; the kind that make you think. And believe me that orthodox critical thought, for lack of a better phrase, has a lot to learn in this respect from anarchist thought, and not only in that regard. To give you an example, the current critique of the State is something that anarchist thought has been developing for some time.”

“But returning to the three accursed, when anyone of you,” the Sup replied to the one demanding a Zapatista rectification, “can sit in front of any of my compañeras and compañeros without them fearing your mockery, your judgment, your condemnation; when you succeed in having them speak to you as equals and with respect; that they see you as a compañero and compañera and not as an unfamiliar judge; when they develop affection for you, as we say around here; or when your thought, whether it agrees with ours or not, helps us discover how the Hydra operates, helps us ask new questions, invites us on new paths, makes us think; or when it can help explain or provoke an analysis of a concrete aspect of reality, then and only then you will see that we hold the same bit of deference for you that we hold for them. In the meantime,” Supmarcos added with that acidic humor that so characterized him, “abandon that hetero-patriarchal, worldly, reptilian, illuminati envy of yours.”

I’m recounting this anecdote that SupMarcos once said to me because a few months ago, when a delegation from the families fighting for truth and justice for Ayotzinapa came to visit us, one of the fathers told us about a meeting they had with the bad government. I can’t remember now if it was the first one. Don Mario told us that the officials arrived with their paperwork and bureaucracy, as if they thought they’d be tending to a change in license plates and not a case of forced disappearance. The family members were afraid and enraged, and they wanted to speak, but the head bureaucrat claimed that only those already on the list could speak, and he intimated them. Don Mario said that they had been accompanied by a man already of age—“a wise one,” as the Zapatistas might say. That man, to everyone’s surprise, slammed his hand down on the table and raised his voice, demanding that family members who wanted to speak be given the floor. The way Don Mario put it, give or take a word or two, was: “That man had no fear, and this took our fear away too, and we spoke. And ever since then, we haven’t stopped.” That man who, fired up by rage, planted himself in front of that government official could have been a woman or a man or otroa. And I’m sure that anyone one of you would have done the same thing or something similar in those circumstances. But it happened that the one who did it was named Adolfo Gilly.

Family member compas:

That’s what we mean when we tell you that there are people who are with you, who don’t see you as a commodity to buy, sell, exchange, or steal.

And like him, there are others who do not bang on the table because they don’t have it in front of them. If that wasn’t the case, you’d see what would happen.

As Zapatistas, we have also learned that nothing that we deserve and need is achieved easily or quickly.

Because up above, hope is a commodity, yes. But below, it is a struggle for a certain truth: We will get what we need and deserve because we are organizing and we are struggling for it.

Happiness is not our destiny. Our destiny is to struggle, always struggle, at all hours, at every moment, in every place. It doesn’t matter if the winds are not favorable. It doesn’t matter if the wind and everything else is against us. It doesn’t matter if a storm comes.

Because, believe it or not, the originary peoples are specialists in storms. And they’re still there and we’re still here. We call ourselves Zapatistas. And for over 30 years we have paid the price of that name, in life and in death.

All that we have, that is to say, our survival in spite of everything and in spite of everyone above who has come and gone in the calendars and geographies, we do not owe to individuals. We owe it to our collective and organized struggle.

If somebody asks to whom the Zapatistas owe their existence, their resistance, their rebellion, their freedom, whoever responds “TO NOBODY” will be speaking the truth.

Because this is how the collective cancels out that individuality that supplants and imposes, pretending to represent and lead.

This is why we have said to you, families in search for truth and justice, that when everyone leaves your side, we who are NOBODY will remain.

One part of that NOBODY, in fact the smallest of them all, are we Zapatistas. But there are more, many more.

NOBODY is who makes the wheels of history turn. It is NOBODY who works the land, who operates the machinery, who constructs, who works, who struggles.

NOBODY is who survives catastrophe.

But maybe we’re mistaken, and the path that has been offered to you is the one that really matters. If that’s what you believe and if that’s what you decide, don’t expect any judgment from here condemning you, rejecting you, or belittling you. You will continue to have our affection, our respect, our admiration.


Families of the Absent from Ayotzinapa:

There is so much that we cannot do, that we cannot give you.

Instead, what we have is a memory forged in centuries of silence and abandonment, in solitude, in a place assaulted by distinct colors, different flags, various languages. Always by the system, the fucking system that is above us. The system that exists at our cost.

And maybe stubborn memories don’t fill plazas, or win or buy government posts, or take palaces, or burn vehicles, or break windows, or raise monuments in social media’s ephemeral museums.

All stubborn memories do is not forget, and that is how they struggle.

The plazas and streets empty out, government posts and administrations end, palaces are demolished, cars and windows are replaced, museums get moldy, and social media runs from one place to the other, demonstrating that frivolity, like capitalism, can be massive and simultaneous.

But moments arrive, compas family members of the absent, when memory is the only thing left.

In those moments, know that you all also have us, Zapatistas of the EZLN.

Because we should tell you that the persistent memory of the Zapatistas is quite other. It carries with it a record of pain and rage of days past, sketching in its notebook maps of the calendars and geographies that have been forgotten above, but not only this.


As Zapatistas, our memory also looks for what is to come. It signals times and places.

If there exists no geographic location for that tomorrow, we start gathering twigs, stones, strips of clothing and meat, bones and clay, and we begin constructing and islet, or better yet, a rowboat planted in the middle of tomorrow, the place where one can still just barely see the storm looming ahead.

And if there is no hour, day, week, month, or year on the calendar that we recognize, well we begin to gather the fractions of seconds, barely minutes, and filter them through the cracks that we open in the wall of history.

And if there’s no crack, well, we’ll make it by scratching, biting, kicking, hitting with our hands and head, with our entire body until we manage to create in history the wound that we are.

And then it turns out that someone walks by and sees us, sees the Zapatistas, hitting ourselves hard against that wall.

Sometimes that passerby is someone who thinks that they know everything. They pause and shake their head in disapproval, judging and declaring that, “You will never bring down the wall that way.” But sometimes, every so often, someone else will walk by, an other.[iii] They pause, look, understand, stare down at their feet, at their hands, their fists, their shoulders, their body. And they decide. “This is a good place right here.” We’d be able to hear if their silence were audible, as they make a mark on the immobile wall. And then they hit it.

That someone, who thinks that they know everything, comes back, since their journey is one of always coming and going, as if checking in on their subjects. They now see that another one has joined in the same stubborn task. They’re happy to see that there are now enough to constitute an audience, to listen, applaud, cheer, vote, to serve as followers. They speak a lot and say very little: “You will never bring down the wall that way. It is indestructible, eternal, endless.” When they decide to finally conclude they say, “What you should do is see how you can administer the wall, change the guard, try to make it more just, friendlier. I promise you that I can soften it up. In any case, we will always be on this side of it. If you continue this way, you’ll only be playing into the hands of the current administration, the government, the State, the whatever-you-wanna-call-it. The difference doesn’t matter because the wall will always be the wall. You hear? It will always be there.”

Perhaps someone else walks by. They observe in silence and conclude, “Instead of confronting the wall, you should understand that change comes from within. All you need to do is think positively. Look, what a coincidence, I happen to have on me this religion, trend, philosophy, alibi that can help you. It doesn’t matter if it’s old or new. Come, follow me.”

For cases like this, those who are out there giving that wall hell are already better organized—they become collectives, teams, they hand off the baton, take shifts. There are fat teams, skinny teams, tall and short teams; there you’ll find dirty ones, ugly ones, mean and ill-mannered ones; some who are stubborn and clumsy footed; some with hands calloused from work. You will find there the ones—women, men, or others—who hit with their shoulders, their bodies, their lives.

Giving ‘em hell however they can.

There are ones with a book, a paintbrush, a guitar, a turntable, a verse, a hoe, a hammer, a magic wand, a pen. Man, there are even ones who can hit that wall with a pas de chat [a ballet step]. And well, things might start to happen then because it turns out that dancing is contagious. And someone has a marimba, a keyboard and a ball, and then the shifts… well, you can imagine.

Naturally, the wall doesn’t even notice. It continues undaunted, powerful, unchanging, deaf, blind.

And the paid media begins to appear: they take pictures, videos, they interview each other, consult specialists. The such-and-such specialist, whose virtue is that they’re from another country, declares with a transcendent gaze that the wall’s molecular composition is such that not even with an atomic bomb… and therefore, what Zapatismo is doing is totally unproductive and only ends up only serving as an accomplice of the wall itself (once the microphone is off, the specialist asks the interviewer to give a mention to their only book, maybe that will finally make it sell).

The parade of specialists goes on. The conclusion is unanimous: it’s a useless effort; they will never take the wall down that way. Suddenly, the media run over to interview the one who promises to “more humanely” administer the wall. The tumult of cameras and microphones produce a curious effect: the one without arguments or followers will appear to have many of each. A great and moving speech. They will run an article about it. The paid media leave because nobody was paying attention to what was being said by the candidate, or the leader, or the wise one because they were paying attention to their phones which are, obviously, smarter at least than the interviewee, and there was just an earthquake near here, and some official was just found to be corrupt, and James Bond has arrived at the Zocalo, and the fight of the century has attracted millions, maybe it’s because they thought it was supposed to be between the exploited and the exploiters.

No one asks the Zapatistas anything. If they did, perhaps they wouldn’t respond. Or maybe they’d say about their absurd effort: “You think we’re trying to take down the whole wall? It’s enough to make a crack.”

It doesn’t appear in any written books, but rather in the ones that haven’t yet been written and yet have been read for generations, that the Zapatistas have learned that if you stop scratching at the crack it closes. The wall heals itself. That’s why you have to keep at it without rest. Not only to expand the gap, but above all, so that it doesn’t close.

The Zapatista also knows that the wall’s appearance can be deceiving. Sometimes it’s like a great mirror that reproduces the image of destruction and death, as if no other way were possible. Sometimes the wall dresses itself up nicely, and on its surface a pleasant landscape appears. Other times it is hard and grey, as if trying to convince everyone of its solid impenetrability. Most of the time the wall is a big marquee where “P-R-O-G-R-E-S-S” repeats over and over.

But the Zapatista knows it’s a lie, that the wall was not always there. They know how it was erected, what its function is. They know its deception. And they also know how to destroy it.

They are not fazed by the wall’s supposed omnipotence and eternity. They know that both are false. But right now, the important thing is the crack, that it not close, that it expand.

Because the Zapatista also knows what exists on the other side of the wall.

If you were to ask them, they would respond, “nothing,” but smiling as if to say, “everything.”

During one of the handoffs, the Tercios Compas, who are neither media nor free nor autonomous nor alternative nor whatever-you-call-it, but who are compas, harshly interrogated those who were doing the hitting.

If you say that there’s nothing on the other side, then why do you want to make a crack on the wall?

To look,” the Zapatista responds without taking a break from scratching.

And why do you want to look?” insist the Tercios Compas who from then on are the only ones left, since all the other media have gone. And as a way to ratify this, they have the inscription on their jerseys, “When the media leave, the Tercios remain.” And sure, they’re a little bit uncomfortable because they’re the only ones who are asking instead of joining in and hitting the wall with their camera or recorder or with their I-finally-know-what-the-hell-this-is-good-for-fucking-tripod.

The Tercios repeat the question because, well, it couldn’t be otherwise. Even though it will have to be memorized because the recorder is done, the camera is better not described, and the tripod metamorphosed into a centipede right then and there. So, again, “And why do you want to look?

In order to imagine everything that could be done tomorrow,” the Zapatista responds.

And when the Zapatista said “tomorrow” they could have well been referring to a lost calendar or to a future that is to come. It could be millennia, centuries, decades, half a decade, years, months, weeks, days… or already tomorrow? Tomorrow? Tomorrow-tomorrow? Are you sure? Don’t fuck with me, I haven’t even combed my hair!

But not everyone walked past.

Not everyone walked by and judged, absolved, or condemned.

There were, there are a few, so few that they don’t even take up all the fingers on your hand.

They were there, silent, watching.

They’re still there.

Sometimes, once in a while, they utter an “hmm” that is very similar to the utterances made by the most elderly in our communities.

On the contrary to what is commonly understood, the “hmm” does not mean disinterest or detachment. It also does not mean disapproval or agreement. It’s better understood as an, “I’m here, I hear you, I see you, keep going.”

Those men and women are already of age, “de juicio” [wise] the compas say when referring to the elderly, signaling that the pageless calendars in the struggle provide reason, wisdom, and discretion.

Among those few there was one, there is one. Sometimes that one joins the soccer league that the anti-wall commando organizes in order to continue hitting, even if sometimes what he hits is a soccer ball and later what he plays is the marimba keyboard.

As is the custom in those leagues, nobody asks anybody’s name. Nobody is named Juan or Juana or Krishna, no. Your name is the position that you’re playing. “Hey listen, goalie! Pass it, midfielder! Hit ‘em, defense! Shoot it, striker! Over here, forward!” you hear in the ruckus on the pasture with the cows infuriated because the back and forth of all those teams destroys their dinner.

In a corner, a restless little girl starts to put on some rubber boots that, you can tell, are too big for her.

And you? What’s your name?” that one, a man, asks the little girl.

I’m Zapatista defense,” the little girl says and puts on her best “get out of my way if you don’t want to die” face.

The man smiles. He doesn’t laugh out loud. Just smiles.

The little girl, it is clear, is recruiting players to challenge the losing team.

Yes, because over here, the team that wins gets to go hit on the wall. And the team that loses keeps on playing, “until they finally learn,” they say.

The little girl already has a good part of her team, which she shows off to the man.

This is the forward,” she points to a little mutt whose color is uncertain for the crusty mud covering its coat. It wags its tail with enthusiasm. “It runs, barely even stops, and just keeps going and going all the way over there,” the little girl points to the horizon blocked by the wall. “All it needs to do is just remember the ball,” she says seemingly apologetic, “because it’s always taking off in one direction; but the ball’s over here and the puppy forward is over there.

This is the goalie, who they also call the concierge, I think,” she now says, introducing him to an old horse.

My job,” the little girl explains, “is to not allow him to pass the ball because, well look at him, he’s half blind, you see, he’s missing an eye, the right one, so he can only see below and to the left and if the ball comes from the right then forget about it.

And well, right now the entire team isn’t here. We’re missing the cat… well, he’s more like a dog. He’s very different, this whatever-you-call-it, like a dog but he meows, or like a cat that barks. I looked in the book on herbalism to find what a little animal like that is called. I didn’t find him. Pedrito told me that the Sup used to say that he was called a cat-dog.

But you can’t always believe Pedrito because…” the little girl, glancing over her shoulders to make sure nobody else is close enough to hear, reveals a secret to the man, “Pedrito’s team is America.” And then she whispers, “His dad roots for Chivas and so he gets pissed. If they fight, his mom knocks them both on the head and they calm down, but Pedrito argues a lot about freedom according to the zapatillas [house slippers] and who knows that else.

Don’t you mean, Zapatistas?” the man corrects her. The little girl doesn’t notice. Pedrito owes her and he has it coming.

Well, this whatever-you-call-it, this cat-dog—don’t you wonder if he knows how to play?

Oh, he knows,” she answers her own question.

It’s because the enemy can’t really tell if he’s a dog or a cat, so he can go from one side to the other real fast and then POW!—there’s the goal. The other day we almost won, but the ball went into the bushes and then it was time to drink our pozol and the game was suspended. But anyway, I tell you, that cat-dog whatever-you-call-it, one of his eyes is yellow like this.

The man has been left stunned. The little girl has just described a color using her little hands. The man had seen many worlds and many hardships, but he had never met anyone who could describe a color with a mere gesture. But the little girl didn’t come to give lessons on the phenomenology of color, and so she continues.

But that cat-dog isn’t here right now,” she says with worry. “I think that he’s gone off to become a priest because they say that he went to a seminary against that stubborn-ass capitalism. You know how that stubborn-ass capitalism works? Well look, lemme give you a political lecture. It turns out that the fucking system doesn’t take a bite out of you from just one place, no. It messes with you all over the place. It bites everything, the fucking system. It scarfs everything down and if it sees that it has gotten all big and fat, then it vomits it up so it has room again to keep going some more. I mean, just so you understand me, that damned capitalism is never satisfied. That’s why I told that cat-dog why would he go become a priest over at that seminary. But he rarely follows orders. You think that a cat-dog is really going to become a priest? No, right? Not even with all the goals he’s made, not even for the yellow in his eye. You’d let a cat-dog with a yellow eye perform a wedding ceremony? You wouldn’t, right? That’s why for me, when I marry my husband, I don’t want no priest. Only the autonomous municipality. And then only if there’s dancing, if not, then not even that. Just with permission, so nobody can go around talking bad about us. Just me and my what-do-you-call-him, and if he turns out to be no good, well, let the buzzards take out his eyes. That’s what my grandma says, she’s already really old but she fought in combat on the first of January of 1994. What—you don’t know what happened on the first of January of 1994? Well, later I’ll sing a song for you that will explain everything. Not right now because we have to play in a bit and we have to be ready. But just so you’re not kept in suspense, I’ll tell you that what happened that day was that we told those damned bad governments that we’d had enough, that we’d had it up to here, that we weren’t going to take any more of their shit. And my grandma says that it was all thanks to the women because if it would have been left to their husbands, well, forget about it, we’d be here feeling sorry for ourselves, just like the political party followers. Well, I’m not really sure who I want to get married to just yet because husbands you know because men can be such knuckleheads you see. And right now I’m still a little girl. But I know that soon these damned guys are going to be checking me out but I’m not going to be all like “yes”, “no,” “I don’t know.” That is, I’m going to take my pick and if that damned husband tries to push me around well then, he’ll see why I’m a Zapatista defense when I kick him to the curb. He’s going to need to respect me for the Zapatista woman that I am. Of course, he won’t get it right away so it’s going to take a few smackdowns before he can understand the struggle we women have.

The man has listened to every word of the little girl’s long-winded speech. Not so much the little dog with the crusty mud, who knows where he ended up, or the one-eyed horse slowly chewing a piece of plastic left by the Little School student body. The man never laughed in any moment of it—he has barely managed to blink to the same rhythm of his surprise.

There’s going to be more of us soon,” the little girl says with encouragement. “It might take awhile, but there will be more of us.

It takes a while for the man to understand that the little girl is referring to her soccer team. Or not?

But now the little girl is studying the man with the eyes of a talent scout. After a few “hmms” she finally asks, “And you, what’s your name?

Me?” He answered knowing that the little girl wasn’t asking for his family tree or his family crest, but for a position.

After running the options through his head, he responds, “My name is ball boy.

The little girl keeps quiet while she assesses the usefulness of that position.

After thinking it through for a while, she tells the man, not seeking to console him, but to have him know how important he will be:

Hey, not just anybody could be a ball boy. The way it goes is, if the ball goes even just over there, over to the tall grass, well forget it, nobody will want to go because it’s too wild out there. Lots of thorns, vines, spiders, and even snakes. Or maybe the ball goes over to the stream and it’s not easy to grab it because the water carries it away, so you have to run in order to catch the ball. So yeah, retrieving balls is important. Without a ball boy there is no game. If there’s no game, well then there’s no party, and if there’s no party then there’s no dancing and if there’s no dancing then what’s the point of combing my hair and putting in my colorful barrettes for nothing. Look,” the little girl says, digging in her bag. She takes out a handful of hair clips of various colors, so many colors that some don’t even exist yet.

Not just anybody would be a ball boy,” the little girl repeats to the man and gives him a hug, not to console him but to have him know that everything that is worth doing has to be done in a team, in a collective, each with their task.

I would do it, but no. I’m too scared of spiders and snakes. The other day I even dreamt something fierce because of a damned snake that I ran into in the pasture. Just like that,” and she extends her arms out as much as she can.

The man keeps smiling.

The game is over. The little girl hasn’t completed making the team that will challenge the loser, and has fallen asleep on the ground.

The man gets up and puts on his jacket because the afternoon is getting dim and the breeze soothes the earth. It might even rain.

A miliciano[iv] is now returning with the identification documents that the Good Government Council had requested. The man awaits his turn.

They finally call his name and he walks up to retrieve his passport, which has “Eastern Republic of Uruguay” emblazoned on it. Inside there’s a photograph of a male with a face that says, “What the hell am I doing here?” and next to it, it reads: “Hughes Galeano, Eduardo Germán María”.

Hey,” the miliciano asks him. “Did you take Galeano as your nom de guerre in honor of the compa sergeant Galeano?

Yes, I think I might have,” the man responds, holding onto his passport, unsure.

Ah,” the miliciano says, “I thought so.

Hey, and your land, where exactly is it?

The man looks at the Zapatista miliciano, he looks over at the wall, he looks at the people giving it hell right at the crack, he looks at the children playing and dancing, he looks at the little girl trying to talk to the puppy, to the half-blind horse, and with a little animal that may well be a cat or a dog, and he says, resigned, “also here.”

Ah,” the miliciano says, “And what do you do?

Me?” he tries to respond while picking up his backpack.

And suddenly, as if he finally understood it all, he responds with a smile, “I am the ball boy.”

And the man is by now too far to hear the Zapatista miliciano murmuring in admiration: “Ah, ball boy. Not just anybody.

Now in formation, the miliciano turns to say, “Hey Galeano, today I met a man from the city who named himself after you.

Sergeant Galeano grins and retorts, “Yeah right, man.

For real,” the miliciano says, “Where else is he going to get a name like that?

Ah,” Galeano, militia sergeant and Little School teacher says, “And what does he do?” he asks.

He’s a ball boy,” the miliciano replies, running over to serve himself some pozol.

Galeano, the militia sergeant, picks up his notebook and puts it in his bag, muttering through his teeth, “Ball boy, as if it were easy to do. Not just anybody can be a ball boy. In order to be a ball boy you would have to have a lot of heart, like being a Zapatista, and not just anybody can be a Zapatista, although it is true, sometimes there’s someone who doesn’t know that they’re a Zapatista… until they know.


Maybe you all won’t believe me, but this story I just told you actually happened just a few days ago, a few months, a few years, a few centuries, when the April sun slapped the earth, not to offend it, but to wake it up.


Sisters and brothers, family members of the Ayotzinapa missing:

Your struggle is a crack in the wall of the system. Don’t allow Ayotzinapa to close up. Your children breathe through that crack, but so do the thousands of others who have disappeared across the world.

So that the crack does not close up, so that the crack can deepen and expand, you will have in us Zapatistas a common struggle: one that transforms pain into rage, rage into rebellion, and rebellion into tomorrow.


Mexico, May 3, 2015.


[i] This could also be translated as: “I was born in the small hours of the morning on May 25, 2014, collectively and to my own sorrow, as well as that of many others.”

[ii] The text uses “uno, una, unoa” to give a range of possible gendered pronouns including male, female, transgender and others.

[iii] The text uses “otroas” meaning “other,” to give a range of possible gendered pronouns including male, female, transgender and others.

[iv] Member of the EZLN’s civilian militia or reserves.


Source: Subcomandante Galeano (2015) Enlace Zapatista, available at

The award-winning 'Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians’ screened in London last night to a full house.

Two indigenous Huichol shamans from western Mexico met a packed lecture theatre at the University of London’s School of Asian and Oriental Studies (SOAS) last Tuesday night, where the audience enjoyed a screening of the intimate and urgent ‘Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians’.

Playing rustic violins and guitarritas – sacred instruments that are ever-present in Huichol ritual life – Enrique Ramírez Ramírez and Juan José Ramírez García entered the stage attired in traditional Huichol costumes, including white trousers and tunics embroidered with emblems of their culture: peyote, maize and deer. The audience was invited to participate in a ritual blessing that called on the five Huichol cardinal points before the film’s director, Hernán Vilchez, opened the screening.

Shot between the rugged sierras of the Huichol homeland and their five places of spiritual pilgrimage, the Last Peyote Guardians proved to be a fascinating and ambitious odyssey into the complex cultural landscape of Mexico’s ‘purest’ indigenous people. Known as the Wixárika in their own language, the Huichol claim pre-Toltec ancestry and an unbroken living tradition said to be more than two millennia old. Unlike many other Mexican cultures whose cosmovisions were diluted or destroyed by overzealous Catholic missions, the Huichol guard a form of untainted pre-Columbian mysticism rooted in the worship of land and nature. Pantheistic and animistic, their spiritual life orbits around the collection, cultivation, consumption, and reverence of Lophophora williamsii – the hallucinogenic peyote cactus native to Mexico, whose visions teach, bond and connect the Huichol with their ancestors and guardian spirits.

During its two hour running time, The Last Peyote Guardians supplies an astonishingly personal document of Huichol cultural life, including scores of startling scenes never before captured by outsiders. Punctuated with otherworldly songs, chants and ritual dances, footage of an all-night peyote vigil dedicated to the light of dawn marks the stunning visual climax of Vilchez’s highly aesthetic work.

Such images are entirely thanks to a collective decision by the greater Huichol community to open their doors to the media in an effort to raise awareness and solidarity. Starting in 2011, the Mexican government has granted some 78 mining concessions in and around the ore-filled deserts of Wirikuta, an ecologically diverse stretch of arid wilderness sprawled at the foot of the sierras near the crumbling colonial town of Real de Catorce. Here, the desert’s the fragile cacti garden is the land where the beloved peyote blooms – the holiest of holy sites in the annual Huichol pilgrimage.

Thus the Last Peyote Guardians is not simply a treasure of anthropological inquiry, but a vital record of social and political struggle. Bolstered by an army of experts and interviewees on all sides, Vilchez explores a thorough and almost sprawling range of themes as he narrates the Huichol’s efforts to protect their ancestral heritage: the economic benefits of mining versus its environmental impacts; the sacred and profane in the pursuit of profit; the destructive nature of neoliberal economics; sustainable development; modernity and cultural tourism; to name a few. At the end of two hours, viewers are confronted with their own contribution (or lack of) to the state of the planet – what are you doing for nature, asks Vilchez.

The screening in London last Tuesday was not without problems: the start was delayed by 30 minutes due to a technical hitch, and later, less than half-way through, a tripped fire alarm caused the entire building to be evacuated until the fire brigade arrived (‘there are strong energies in this city’, joked Vilchez, adding that the previous night’s screening had had to be cancelled due to a technical problem). Nonetheless, the audience remained patient to the end, when they were rewarded by a Q and A with Vilchez and José Ramírez.

Questions ranged from ‘do you let foreigners take the pilgrimage’ to ‘what are the best ways to support you in your struggle?’ One of the most intriguing responses came from Ramírez as he explained why, according to Huichol thought, nature had bestowed humanity with powerful plants such as peyote.

“It is like food and water.” Said Ramírez, translated into English by Vilchez. “Five days without that and you don’t have energy. Spiritually, it gives you the essence… these are the tools the earth gives us to connect to the essence… to realise that we are all temples, each one of us, we are temples…

“This is the seed of the essence of what is contained in the earth. The plants come from this essence, all the plants of certain use. The bees are carrying pollen and fertilising the flowers and bringing all this mixture of herbal knowledge that is contained in the earth. The peyote and the other sacred medicines are like the essence contained and concentrated. They are very old plants.

We are connectors, antennas between the sky and the earth… for humanity there are no frontiers, we are all one. There are no borders and we all have to check that from our own temple… each one of us is important in this big network.”

Huicholes in London. Source:
Huicholes in London. Source:

Vilchez and his companions have a few more stops on their UK tour, including a Stonehenge ceremony on Thursday 14 May and a screening in Leeds on Friday 15. For the latest news, see their website, or their Facebook page, If you can’t make it to a live event, the documentary is also available to watch online: