During the past three years, through communiques and through the Dialogues
of San Andres, the Zapatistas have raised issues pertaining to indigenous
autonomy and political rights, cultural persistence and integrity, and land
use - these issues are central to the discourse and to the struggle to ensure
indigenous survival and self-determination.
These are not abstract theories or goals, but are very real requirements and conditions which impact on the daily live of each member of the indigenous communities. One recent situation, pertaining to land use and the illegal extraction of natural resources in the community of Las Tazas clearly brings this truth to light.
Las Tazas is a community consisting of over 200 families located about
4 1/2 hours (100 kms) east of Ocasingo along the Jataté river. Initially
78 Maya tzeltal families, taking part in the land reform movement of the
1950's, settled here on the land of a former hacienda.
Today, this predominately Zapatista community located in the heart of the government designated "conflict zone," still has no electricity, except for that supplied by donated solar panels and generators. And since in this area there is no bridge crossing the Jataté river access to the community from the main road is possible only by crossing the river in long narrow dugout canoes.
Las Tazas is primarily an agricultural community, with milpas parceled out to each family. Most compasinos must endure the hardship of traveling over two hours each way to reach their fields from their home, some fields are actually located on the other side of the Jataté. And to make matters worse much of the land is of poor quality and depleted of necessary nutrients.
Although the government has turned its back on the community (children attend government schools which are in extremely poor condition and seriously undersupplied), international solidarity is clearly present in Las Tazas. In the center of the community, health providers are able to supply a limited degree of care out of a small clinic built by a medical based solidarity organization from Spain, and community life is enriched by art programs for children of all ages through a internationally supported project called "La Casa de Todos."
The late afternoons in Las Tazas are the most lively, at this time sports abound as soccer is played in the open field in the center of the community, while others play basketball and volleyball in the school playground. All ages find some form of play. And then on certain evenings there may be informational videos, with the necessary electricity supplied by generator or batteries charged by the solar collectors.
In this overall context of struggle a recent communique came out form
Las Tazas which outlined and condemned the actions of certain poachers who
are illegally cutting hardwoods from the surrounding forest for eventual
sale to the international market. The communique presents the Zapatistas'
strong and consistent position on safeguarding the remaining rain forest
as well as states the existing state and federal laws regarding the protection
of the Lacandon. It then goes on to demand the government to take action
to implement the laws and stop the illegal cutting. The existing laws, along
with the position of the Zapatistas, should represent a position of common
ground with regard to this matter, but in reality the situation in the forest
surrounding Las Tazas demonstrates that the government, both state and federal,
ignore the laws and continue to allow the illegal exploitation of the already
depleted forest to go on unchecked.
The Lacandon, once the second largest rain forest in the Americas, is now over 80% destroyed. The laws to protect the remaining forest are vital and must be enforced - the rights and future of the indigenous living in the Lacandon are clearly at stake.