Magazine article New Internationalist

Making Waves; Interview with Raul Gatica

Magazine article New Internationalist

Making Waves; Interview with Raul Gatica

Article excerpt

`PESSIMISM,' says Raul Gatica, `is something I buried along with my umbilical cord.'

Raul's small, stocky frame contains a humourful and expansive optimist. As an indigenous Mexican activist from the southern state of Oaxaca, his optimism is a form of defiance. A third of the state's population is indigenous, many of them malnourished and living on less than a dollar a day. Oaxaca has the highest infant-mortality rate in the country.

But it also has many people like Raul. The Indigenous Peoples' Council of Oaxaca `Ricardo Flores Magon' (CIPO-RFM) has 2,000 indigenous activists. `Although the majority of us do not know how to read or write,' they declare, `we have two hands and a heart with which to fight.'

Raul explains how it began back in 1997: `Our demands to the authorities for roads, education, health, weren't being met. And a lot of people around the communities were being punished by the police and the army for resisting. That's when we started getting together.'

Since then they've evolved some unique variations on the standard tactics of demonstrating and occupying public buildings. When many of their members were imprisoned in May 1998 no-one in power would speak to the indigenous organization. Raul reports what happened when they demanded a meeting with the Governor of Oaxaca:

`Our delegation arrived but the gates were shut in our faces. So we opened the bags we had brought with us from the countryside in which we had big countryside rats and frogeating snakes. We let them loose through the railings and into the offices. Suddenly all the doors were flung open and everyone rushed out. The big fat Secretary of Political Development fainted. Then we said: "Are you letting us in to talk or shall we release more?"

`"Yes! Yes! We'll let you in!" they said, "but please come and get your animals!"

`That's how we started the process of dialogue to ask for the release of 106 who'd been imprisoned. We were asking for a commission to look into it because there wasn't a case against the prisoners.'

But the CIPO-RFM is also about creating alternatives. They broke a local cartel's monopoly on transport by running their own buses and taxis (`though no airline yet,' jokes Raul), have set up co-operatives and are growing better food to fight malnutrition.

Such activities have won Raul death threats and imprisonment. `We do all this without permission and so we set a bad example,' he explains. `We've been living autonomy, but we've only just discovered there's a word for it. …

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