Sunday, February 8, 2009

Interview with John Gibler about his new book, Mexico Unconquered

John Gibler's first book, Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt, recently hit book stores. Gibler's book is drawn from two years of on-the-ground reporting in Mexico. Narco News' Kristin Bricker interviewed Gibler about his new book as he prepared to embark on a West Coast book tour in the US.

Narco News: What was the inspiration for this book?

John Gibler: The idea was born of the experience of covering the [Zapatistas'] Other Campaign[1] during the first four months of 2006. When the Zapatistas issued the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle and announced the sixth-month listening tour that would be the first phase of the Other Campaign, they made a special call out to the alternative media to accompany this tour and use that as a way into all the untold stories of Mexico's struggling peoples, of Mexico's underdogs--los de abajo in Spanish.

During the first four months of the Campaign, Delegate Zero--as Subcomandante Marcos was called--would often point to the motley crew of alternative journalists who hadn't shaved or showered or changed clothes for long stretches of time and he would say, "Don't get worried about those mugrosos [filthy people] out there on the fringes. They're actually the alternative press, and they're here to take your words out to other places." Day after day he would mention that as part of his call for people to participate in the Other Campaign. That was something I seriously felt as a commitment, as a responsibility, and during that time I tried to fulfill it by writing articles, getting stuff out online, launching with friends a small zine that we published on the caravan, and doing radio work with community radio stations in the United States. But I felt as if that was only a part of trying to fulfill that commitment.

And then 2006 exploded: the police repression in San Salvador Atenco, the electoral fraud, and then the sixth-month-long unarmed uprising in Oaxaca. These are all things I covered for the alternative press. It kept fanning the flames of this desire to go deeper into the stories of los de abajo. That was where the idea for writing this book came from.

Narco News: The original title for this book was Ungovernable. Why did you decide to change the name to Mexico Unconquered?

John Gibler: "Ungovernable" was a quotation from the 2006 Oaxaca conflict. That quotation is very specific to a certain time and place: Oaxaca in late summer and early fall of 2006.

One of the strategies of the Oaxaca's peoples movement was to force the Mexican Senate to declare Oaxaca "ungovernable." And by declaring the state "ungovernable" the Senate would have the ability to dissolve the powers of the state. That is the only legal constitutional way in Mexico for a federal authority to remove a state governor from office. This is part of the Oaxaca Peoples' Popular Assembly's strategy, to force the federal government into a checkmate, forcing this legal constitutional move to depose Ulises Ruiz and oust him from the Oaxaca governorship.

I wanted to take that word "ungovernable" and quote it as a way of tapping into that spirit of resistance in Oaxaca. But I thought upon reflection that as a title that word would be taken so far from the context of Oaxaca in 2006 and make it seem as though Mexico as a land is ungovernable or the Mexican people are ungovernable.

That gets away from the political point that I try to make in the book, and that people in Oaxaca were making in their demand, forcing the federal government to declare the state ungovernable. That political point is the spirit of rebellion, the spirit of protest in Mexico, which is an intensely anti-imperialist spirit and a spirit that compels people to risk everything, to put their lives on the line, to engage in action that defends their land, their autonomy, and their dignity. In thinking about how to best and try and touch at that spirit in one or two words, I decided upon "Mexico Unconquered," this idea that after centuries of invasion, foreign and later internal colonialism, and the constant threat of the boot of military and economic imperialism from the United States, that in spite of all of this repression and violence, so many sectors of Mexican society have never fully given in and have never allowed themselves to be fully conquered.

Narco News: Explain what you mean when you say that "hunger is biological class warfare" in the book.

John Gibler: Hunger is people simply not having enough food to eat, and it's the ache in their bodies from not having the nutrition they need. That hunger is unleashed upon the bodies of the people who have been consistently pushed out and pushed away from the development of wealth. It's biological because it's in your body and in your blood, and it's class warfare because it's a direct descendent of colonial invasions.

Poverty is not an act of nature or an accident of history. Poverty is destitution and a form of violence. It is the result of history and concrete human actions in the Americas, as well as many other parts of the earth. In the Americas that history is explicitly a colonial history.

The argument regarding hunger and poverty that I make in the book is drawn from a wealth of writers and thinkers from across previously colonial territories, such as Eduardo Galeano and Arturo Escobar. They are part of a school of thought that views the very concept of poverty critically. It says that poverty is not something that just happens to people or something that people are born into. That which we know as poverty--different levels of material and political destitution--is the result of concrete historical actions.

In Mexico, it's not an accident that the country's 12 million indigenous people are some of the poorest people in the land or that government statistics show that the poorest municipalities in the country are all heavily indigenous municipalities. The legacy of colonial invasion and conquest in the creation of poverty is apparent. Indigenous people were literally pushed out of the valleys they were farming and cultivating. They were enslaved and brought to Spanish haciendas [estates] and mines to work.

That legacy of colonial violence was transformed slowly through the independence and post-revolution eras but never ended. That legacy is actually the engine of the creation of poverty.

Now folks come along and point to different isolated villages and say "Well, of course they're poor. Look at how far away the are from the towns and cities and the coast and all of those fertile areas." Well, why do you think they're there? They got pushed there. And why do you think they don't have access to the towns and cities? Because the government never built roads to those communities.

If you analyze the transportation infrastructure in the country, you realize that the north is heavily industrialized because that's where all of the powerful landowners went and bought land using the wealth from the silver mines. They created industrial agriculture and heavily industrialized urban centers in the north.

The heavily indigenous south never received any of those infrastructure projects. And when they do receive infrastructure projects it's usually part of a colonial plan, like building highways in order to get access to resources that the state or private landowners want to exploit.

The idea here is that poverty is something that has been and continues to be crafted over the ages through class warfare. That class warfare has fractured over time. Now it's not simply Europeans versus indigenous, though the indigenous in Mexico continue to bear the heaviest blows of state violence and institutional forms of violence. Now it's drawn very much along class lines as well. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) wreaked havoc in rural areas of Mexico that are not necessarily indigenous. That campesino [rural peasant] population has also been pushed out or in some cases chose to stay out of industrial development. With NAFTA you get the final machete blow, cutting people off from their land and forcing them into the economically dispossessed current of migration to the United States.

Narco News: You spend a significant portion of your first chapter explaining how the Mexican center-left's beloved President Lazaro Cardenas cemented the PRI dictatorship. Cardenas is often regarded as Mexico's FDR because of his seemingly socialist policies such as the nationalization of Pemex and land redistribution. What was Cardenas' role in conquest?

In my historical chapter I rely on Mexican historians and their analysis of the importance of Cardenas [president of Mexico from December 1, 1934 – November 30, 1940]. Here I draw on the work of Arnaldo Cordova in particular, and Adolfo Gilly who is an Argentinean but who has lived in Mexico since the 1960's. Gilly is one of the foremost historians on the Mexican Revolution as well as the Cardenas presidency.

Cardenas was one of the geniuses in the creation of the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI). That was the transition point for colonial power in Mexico when it was finally solidified in the new metropolis of Mexico City. Part of the argument I make is that the independence movement didn't sever Mexico from its colonial powers; it shifted the center of colonial power from Madrid to Mexico City. In the hundred years between the War of Independence and the Mexican revolution, the fight was between warring factions within this new internal colonial elite.

The idea of internal colonialism comes from Mexican sociologist Pablo Gonzalez Casanova and his 1965 work Democracy in Mexico where he discusses the way in which the PRI, the one-party state in Mexico, engages with its indigenous populations as an internal colonialism. It's still a war of colonial conquest, but taking place within one nation's borders.

Cardenas' role was to make that transition from foreign colonialism to an internal colonialism possible. He enacted several land and labor reforms that granted a certain level of autonomy and peace to people across the country, though it was an intensely controlled and structured environment. Cardenas separated the campesinos (the rural population) from the obreros or the industrial workers by forming two separate unions, both of which are controlled by the PRI. This was part of the birth of the one-party state where the PRI becames the single arbiter for any conflict within the nation's borders. And that completed the transition from a foreign European colonialism to an internal colonialism.

In the background during this period of transition is United States imperialism. At one point in the book I say that it's like battleships looming on the horizon, which of course, at several points in Mexico's history those battleships did loom on the horizon off the coast of Veracruz . United States imperialism has constantly threatened the integrity of Mexico from its earliest days of independence. So when I say "internal colonialism," that's not to ignore or deny the impact of US imperialism, but to say that the way in which the modern Mexican state evolved after the revolution was into a new power structure centered in Mexico City that was still carrying on policies of conquest. Again, these are ideas that I have drawn from Mexican theorists and historians, as well as people in the streets and in the fields, who use the language of colonialism and imperialism to talk about their own relationship to the state and their fight against repression and dispossession at the hands of the state.

Narco News: Mexico Unconquered's thesis is that Mexico's history is one of perpetual attempts to conquest and resistance to this conquest. How does the drug war fit into your conquest narrative? Some of the same actors you mention in your book are currently engaged in the drug war: government institutions, mafia-like power brokers, military and police forces, media, and private enterprises.

John Gibler: I take a look at the drug war as a way into contemplating the nature of the modern state in Mexico. I don't consider the drug war as something outside of the state, or even as something the state engages in in a 1:1 adversarial relationship with the drug gangs, that is, the idea that there are these criminal drug gangs and the state is fighting them. The drug cartels have penetrated every layer of the institution of the state in Mexico from the municipal through the state and into the federal levels. Thus, the drug war itself--the war between the various fighting cartels--is something that's replicated internally within the state. The warring cartels that are fighting out on the street are also fighting within the structure of the state. Hence you have the constant back-and-forth assassinations of police and military officers, civilians, and people involved in the various anti-drug agencies. One gang will find the "Deep Throat" of another gang inside a given institution and then have them killed.

I use the drug war as a way of analyzing and taking apart the ideological concept of the rule of law in Mexico, the very concept that is used to justify state violence and repression against social movements, peoples' movements, and just everyday people across the country. The drug war is a window into the nature of the very being of the modern state and a way of taking apart its cosmetic presentation of itself as an institution wedded to the concept of the rule of law.

Narco News: You interview Gloria Arenas Agis about her experience as a guerrilla in the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) and later the Insurgent People's Revolutionary Army (ERPI). When she discusses the split between the EPR and the ERPI, she talks about experiences the Guerrero-based ERPI has in common with the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN). What is the relationship, if any, between the ERPI and the EZLN? And why has no one outside of Mexico heard of the ERPI?

John Gibler: I know of absolutely no relationship between the EZLN and the ERPI. And I don't think that any relationship exists between those two organizations. Gloria Arenas, who is now a political prisoner, is one of the ERPI's founders. She's been in jail for almost ten years, and she is very openly an adherent to the Zapatistas' Other Campaign initiative.

The ERPI is not well-known outside of Mexico or even within Mexico. One of the reasons is because two of their founding members [Arenas and her husband Jacobo Silva Nogales] were abducted by the state, tortured, and then thrown in jail very soon after the organization's founding in 1998. Thus, some of the most potentially eloquent spokespeople for the organization have been locked down. Jacobo is in maximum security prison; Gloria was in maximum security prison for several years. About four years ago she moved to a medium security prison in Mexico state where I was able to interview her.

The organization is a grassroots campesino and indigenous organization mainly located in Guerrero state. The ERPI has not really sought media attention. They've only given a handful of interviews to local Mexican media, mainly Canal 6 de Julio, and there was one interview given to a US journalist published in Bill Weinberg's Homage to Chiapas. Otherwise, they haven't given many interviews.

In this case, the interview I did is with a member of the organization who can now speak publicly because she's no longer living in clandestinity. She's a political prisoner. We speak about her experience, her involvement in the organization, the history of the creation of the organization, and how and why they split from the EPR. We don't in any way address the current state of the organization.

The ERPI does continue to exist, and they put out communiques now and again. But it isn't an organization that has sought out much media attention. The media has also been, at least in the early years, very focused on Chiapas and in the later years pretty blase about armed or unarmed people's movements in Mexico.

Narco News: In your book, you briefly mention the Oaxaca Peoples' Popular Assembly (APPO) and the Other Campaign together in the same paragraph. Subcomandante Marcos passed through Oaxaca just months before Oaxaca's 2006 uprising. What role, if any--did the Other Campaign play in the APPO uprising?

John Gibler: The Other Campaign deeply inspired several sectors of the urban youth autonomy movement within the APPO. I think the thirteen years (at that time) of Zapatista struggle had a deep and lasting influence on political and social organizations across the country and the world. And thus the Zapatistas definitely had a profound impact on a lot of both the indigenous and non-indigenous organizations involved in the APPO.

But the Other Campaign as a movement and an initiative was really so young at that point that it's difficult to measure its influence. I know there were several other collectives who explicitly used the language and ideas of the Other Campaign in their involvement with the APPO.

However, the autochthonous experience of Section 22 of the state teachers union had a profound effect on the Oaxaca uprising, as did the distinct and unique indigenous struggles across the state. Oaxaca has 16 distinct indigenous ethnicities within its population, and all of those contributed to the way in which the APPO was formed in an assembly structure. It even contributed to the way the occupied media were used. People were talking to and amongst themselves on the air rather than reporting on something. It was like a continuously broadcasted conversation amongst the people themselves.

Narco News: During the 2006 uprising in Oaxaca, over 20 people were killed. One of them was Brad Will. His murder made international headlines, his case is the only case the government has decided to "investigate," and the only one where the government has brought charges against "suspects"--APPO organizers, witnesses who were ready to testify against the government agents who killed him, and the people who tried to save his life. Both Mexico's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and the falsely accused say that there will never be justice for Brad as long as his case his considered out of the context of the state and paramilitary violence that wracked Oaxaca during that period. Several witnesses and defendants in the case have told me that international activists seeking justice for Brad must start talking about the other murders--which you do in your book. You name many of them by name. So let's talk about who else was murdered during the uprising, how they were killed, and what's going on with those cases.

John Gibler: During the Oaxaca uprising 23 people were assassinated. Several more have been assassinated since the November 25 federal police crackdown, which was the final act of state repression that broke the protesters' hold on areas of Oaxaca City.

Those assassinations came in the context of the slowly unfolding counterinsurgency strategy conducted primarily by the state police, though there was federal involvement in the very beginning and then very heavily toward the end of the conflict, and several people were killed by federal police in late October and early November. Those murders were the state's desperate attempt to inflict terror upon the population and to scare people away from taking the streets.

The amazing thing that happened in Oaxaca is that with every assassination more people took to the streets. Instead of being terrified and running away, the response was a surge in popular support for the teachers and the peoples' movement.

The people who were assassinated were everyday folks who were participating in the movement. Some of the first people to be killed during the conflict were Triqui indigenous people who were killed on their way to Oaxaca City from a village assembly reporting back to an APPO assembly. They were ambushed and killed on the road on the way back to Oaxaca. [2]

The first person to be shot down in the street in Oaxaca was Jose Jimenez Colmenares, the husband of a teacher who was actively participating in the teachers' strike and then in the uprising. He had come out to support his wife and was in a march in Oaxaca City in early August 2006 when gunmen opened fire from two rooftops along the narrow street where the teachers were marching.

That day they were marching to denounce the disappearance of several Oaxacan activists two days earlier. Those activists--German Mendoza Nube being one of them--were seen being abducted off the street, thrown into the back of a pickup truck, and driven away. They appeared about five days alter in federal prison in Mexico City, meaning there is the solid assumption that federal police were involved in those first abductions in early August.

Alejandro Garcia is another person who was assassinated. Alejandro and his wife and kids had made tamales, sandwiches coffee, and hot chocolate and were taking them around to people who were guarding the barricades in one of the central avenues in Oaxaca City. Alejandro was shot in the head while handing out coffee and hot chocolate.

The shootings seem to have targeted the support base--people who were just coming out to help, rather than the people who were grabbing headlines by giving interviews to the press or people who had already had a rather well-known trajectory in local or state politics or activism. These were people from the very, very grassroots coming out to participate and help.

The barricades themselves were a phenomenon of popular organizing to overcome the death squads. On August 20 and 21, the state sent out convoys of 40-something vehicles, some of which were unmarked with no license plates, while others were clearly marked state and local police vehicles. They opened fire on people across the city and killed one man, Lorenzo San Pablo Cervantes, who was an architect who lived in the Reforma neighborhood near one of the radio stations the protesters had occupied. He wandered out of his house, showed up at the barricade closest to his front door, introduced himself, and offered to volunteer and to help stand watch. Minutes later the death squad caravan of police vehicles drove by and opened fire.

Not a single one of these cases is being investigated. Not a single one.

Out of the entire 23 murder cases during the 2006 conflict, the only case that is currently open is Brad Will's case. The only one that is being investigated is the one that involves a foreign citizen. That said, so many people in Oaxaca have told me that they view Brad's case as a fulcrum. They feel that if people are able to fight for some kind of institutional justice in Brad's case--which would mean identifying, apprehending, charging, and sentencing the local parapolice forces who shot and killed him from down the street in Santa Lucia--if justice is achievable in Brad's case, they feel as though there's some sparkle of hope for justice in the Oaxacans' cases. And on the contrary, if the state insists on blaming the protesters themselves and blaming the people who tried to lift Brad up off the street and carry him to safety, if the state insists on accusing the people who tried to save his life of having killed him, then there is no hope whatsoever for any kind of justice in the case of the other Oaxacans. Brad's case is intimately linked to the broader fight for justice in Oaxaca. But Brad's case cannot be thought of or addressed in any way if one tries to extract it from the overarching context of paramilitary and parapolice violence which had preceded Brad's murder for months. At the time Brad was killed on October 27, fifteen people had already been assassinated.

Narco News: In Brad's case, the perpetrators are clearly identifiable. There's photos of them shooting at him and witnesses. Have perpetrators been identified in any of the other cases?

John Gibler: In the case of Jose Jimenez Colmenares who was shot and killed on August 10, 2006, he was shot in the middle of a huge march. There were hundreds of people right there and thousands of people in the march. Immediately after the gunshots rang out and Jimenez fell to the ground, people in the march stormed both of the houses on either side of the road where the shots had come from, and they apprehended several people. Those people were turned over to federal authorities later that night. What's happened to those people? I think all of them have been released for "lack of evidence."

Narco News: But it would've been incredibly easy to run a gunpowder residue test on the suspects' hands to verify if they'd recently fired a gun.

John Gibler: In the Colmenares case, I don't know, because once they were turned over to federal officials at that point in the conflict there was really no dialogue. My several attempts to get information from members of the Federal Investigative Agency (AFI) were all met with absolute silence.

I do know, however, that they were administering those types of tests. In late July, one of the first people to open fire during a protest was apprehended by members of the APPO and turned over to the AFI. In that case, the AFI came down into central Oaxaca. I was present at the university building where they were holding the suspect, the person whom they said had fired a weapon. The suspect told me in an interview that he had not fired a weapon that he didn't know how to fire a handgun. It turned out he was an ex-army soldier and at the time of his detention was a state police officer. He said he'd never been trained to fired a handgun. Sure enough ,when the federal agents arrived they came with two lab technicians who conducted a gunpowder residue test, which showed that he did indeed have traces of gunpowder residue on his hand and had fired a handgun within the previous two hours. [Narco News note: The Federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) released the suspect, Isaias Perez Hernandez, shortly thereafter without charge.]

Narco News: You discuss human rights organizations and how, despite their "truly exhaustive" research and evidence and their own statements of widespread abuse, they don't acknowledge the abuse as endemic and part-and-parcel of governing. You say, "They blindly consider the systematic human rights violations as aberrations rather than defining characteristics of the Mexican state." How does this affect their advocacy and policy recommendations regarding Mexico?

John Gibler: I know this will be a controversial thesis, but I do think that the human rights organizations--especially a lot of the large international human rights organizations that have been following human rights issues in Mexico over the past several decades--have consistently either failed to acknowledge or have failed to act upon the truly political nature of human rights violations. Failing to acknowledge the incredible consistency and pervasiveness of the same types of violations, such as, for example, the practice of torture, is failing to acknowledge the true nature of the state and what's really happening.

Take the case of torture. When a human rights organization publishes year after year after year in their annual human rights report that the majority of police in Mexico still use torture as their principal form of interrogation, and yet they conclude their human rights report with some nod to a recommendation that "police should be trained not to torture" or there should be some sort of reform in the structure of the police forces so that they're held accountable for their actions.

It seems to me that that loses any kind of real integrity because of the persistence of the use of torture over so many years. If you find that year after year after year someone keeps doing the same thing, it's probably because they want to be doing that, because doing that is extremely beneficial to them. And in the case of these human rights violations, the human rights organizations just keep saying year after year, "Don't do that," with no real analysis as to the "why." Why do police in Mexico use torture as their principal interrogation technique year after year?

A couple of these reports even mention in their list of concerns, "Well, it seems as though there might be a lack of political will." That two-word phrase "political will" seems to me to contain the first indication of the true nature of the problem. Not having the political will means you don't want to do something.

In the case of torture, the entire international community, with the exception of the United States and Israel, has come together to declaim this practice as something that is horrid and should be erased from use and implementation across the planet. Yet you have these human rights organizations documenting year after year that everybody still does it, and they never ask why.

Narco News: So what should human rights organizations do in order to be effective in Mexico, since what they're currently doing apparently isn't working?

John Gibler: I don't know if human rights organizations can be effective anymore.

There was a heyday of human rights activism in Mexico in the last years of the PRI in the late 1990s. Back then, throwing incredible amount of energy and resources just at the documentation of the scale and nature of human rights abuses was itself a very powerful thing. Here, the majority of that heavy lifting was conducted by Mexican human rights organizations, national and local.

When President Vicente Fox was elected president in 2000, and soon thereafter one of Mexico's most gutsy and hard-working human rights attorneys, Digna Ochoa[3], was assassinated, those two moments in Mexican history served to blast apart the human rights community in a way that I don't think it's ever recovered from.

In the case of Fox, all the international organizations starting patting each other on the back and saying "Great, now Mexico is a democracy," just by the simple fact that in one year during one election, the ruling party was voted out of office. That is definitely something historic and it inspired many people with the hope of real lasting change in Mexico--hope that was rather quickly squashed[4].

In Digna Ochoa's case, the state actually engaged in the same kind of tried-and-true blame-the-victim smear campaign to make the assassination look like a suicide. Surprisingly--and appallingly--they seemed to sway a significant portion of the human rights community with all of their mud-slinging. The internal divisions that occurred around the Digna Ochoa case tore apart the human rights community in a way that it hasn't recovered from and in a way that would become more devastating years later with the candidacy of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and several the divisions that occurred around that candidacy and around the PRD electoral efforts during the 2006 presidential elections.

The work of documenting human rights abuses can be extremely powerful, especially in the cases of Atenco and Oaxaca in 2006. Local Mexican human rights organizations on the ground risked their own safety to quickly document the nature and the scale of the abuses against people there. Most of the big name international human rights NGOs were nowhere to be seen. Several of them tried to jump into advocacy around these cases once most of the damage had been done and once the conflicts had been beaten down through police repression.

Local human rights organizations went jail to jail in Oaxaca to find out if someone who had just been disappeared was in fact disappeared of if they'd appeared in jail, and if they had appeared, in what condition. They evaluated to see if they had been tortured, applying the Istanbul Protocol[5]. It's really important for social movements to have that sort of documentation.

The human rights political project, on the other hand, utilizes a framework of shaming states into complying with the UN human rights declarations. I think that project has been completely exhausted. The fact that the United States of America could, in the name of human rights, invade and destroy a country, that Mexico, in the name of human rights, could send thousands of riot cops to beat and rape people, shows the true final co-optation or failing of that human rights political project. What that project might've hoped to accomplish now falls back fully into the hands of the grassroots movements themselves.

Narco News: A year ago you and I and other Narco News journalists were in Salon Corona in Mexico City. I remember you mentioned that you watched a documentary with some Mexicans about the 1999 protests that shut down the WTO meeting in Seattle, and when you reached the part where police are brutally beating kneeling protesters who were doing nothing to resist the blows, you and the Mexicans you were watching with exclaimed, "Why don't they fight back?!?" What is it about unconquered Mexicans and their collective history that makes them more likely to defend themselves from attacks perpetrated by authorities? Last year, for example, UNAM high school students occupied their principal's office and the major highway in front of their school for days because a school security guard had broken up an unpermitted chess tournament. That sort of resistance is not likely to happen in the US, but it's commonplace in Mexico.

John Gibler: I think it's because there's this deeply anti-imperialist root to protest in Mexico. Here you're not fighting to slightly reform or recast something; you're fighting to protect your home and your dignity from invasion. From the smallest of fights like university occupations or fights to protect a small community radio station, to very large fights like the Zapatista uprising and fifteen years of the construction of autonomy in Chiapas, and the teachers' rebellion that became a popular rebellion in Oaxaca in 2006, all of these fights share in common this spirit of defense of dignity, land, and autonomy. There's something fundamentally illegitimate about the power weighing down upon you, power that threatens to crush you and dispossess you. The questioning of the legitimacy of the state and authority and actions of repression lends to the intensity and the risky nature of Mexican protest. And when I say risky nature I mean really risking one's life.

Narco News: It seems as though indigenous autonomy movements--the "most radical sites of revolt" as you call them--are in some ways the ideological or spiritual leaders of anti-imperialist struggles in many parts of Mexico. What possibilities do you see for an anti-imperialist movement within the United States that would at the very least include, if not put at the forefront, indigenous autonomy?

John Gibler: There are many very deep pockets of resistance--especially indigenous resistance and autonomy--within the borders of the territory now called the United States that are simply not acknowledged, not noticed, and not considered, much less understood. Those movements have an incredible wealth of dignity and strength to offer an anti-imperialist struggle.

I also think and hope that many of those movements as well as non-indigenous movements stand a lot to learn, benefit, and take inspiration from the stories of indigenous autonomy struggles and resistance in Mexico. Some element of that cross-fertilization is one of the hopes of the book and its political project, which is following through with that commitment to take the stories and the words of the underdgos of Mexican resistance (los de abajo) and help spread them to other communities of resistance and rebellion.

Narco News: You say Mexico Unconquered is part call-to-action for readers. What are you calling upon us to do?

John Gibler: My biggest hope is that it inspires very genuine and deep reflection upon strategies of resistance here in the territory known as the United States and Canada. I personally think many protest tactics we've been using in the north, including marches, non-governmental and non-profit organizational structures, and human rights frameworks, have been proven ineffective and that others need to be explored. I don't think it's my place or really anyone's, to say from an abstract level to a concrete and practical level what should be done. That needs to spring forth from the community of people directly involved in a particular struggle. My hope is to inspire expanding the realm of political imagination, thinking about what could be done, thinking beyond the regions of possibility that we've been presented with and confronted with by the media and the state. I hope the book inspires taking those down and truly stepping out into much broader territories of political imagination.


[1] The Zapatistas launched the Other Campaign in 2005 as an alternative to the political parties' campaigns for the presidency. Gibler writes in his book: "The Zapatistas announced: 'A new step forward in the indigenous struggle is only possible if the indigenous join together with the workers, campesinos, students, teachers, employees: the workers of the city and the countryside'....The EZLN's Other Campaign calls for building an anticapitalist movement outside the traditional political party structures that are inseparably wed to the state precisely for this reason: the new politics must be built from outside--as they say, 'from below and from the left.'"

[2] The assassinated Triquis' names are: Andrés Santiago Cruz, 70-year-old Pedro Martínez Martínez, de 70 años, and 11- or 12-year-old, Pablo Octavio Martínez Martínez.

[3] Prior to her death, Digna Ochoa had been kidnapped and tortured on two separate ocassions as a result of her political activities and human rights work. She said the first kidnapping and torture was carried out by Veracruz state police officers. The second abduction resulted in a court protection order for her. The protection order was lifted in August 2001. She died on October 19, 2001 of a gunshot to the head. There were signs of struggle, and a note was found next to her body that warned the human rights organization where she worked that the same could happen to its other employees. The Mexican government attempted to defame her in order to promote its conclusion that she had committed suicide. During the investigation, government officials painted her as psychotic.

[4] Felipe Calderon, the candidate from Fox's conservative Catholic National Action Party, "won" the 2006 presidential elections thanks to wide-spread and thoroughly documented electoral fraud.

[5] Physicians for Human Rights defines the Istanbul Protocol: "The Manual on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (known as the "Istanbul Protocol") is the first set of international guidelines for documentation of torture and its consequences. It became a United Nations official document in 1999 and is available in a number of languages on the United Nations web site. The Istanbul Protocol provides a set of guidelines for the assessment of persons who allege torture and ill treatment, for investigating cases of alleged torture, and for reporting such findings to the judiciary and any other investigative body."

For a review of Mexico Unconquered, click here.

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