Gustavo Esteva and the Long Road to the Zapatistas

Reportage made possible by financing from the Pulitzer Center in Washington, D.C.

You can view the original article here

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Gustavo Esteva before the Unitierra (short for Universidad de la Tierra, or “University of the Earth”) the alternative education school he founded in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Rooted in the radical educational philosophy of Brazilian philosopher Paolo Freire, Esteva has helped develop close ties to the Zapatista movement through the school he founded. Image by Jared Olson. Mexico, 2018.

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When the Zapatistas first exploded into the public eye in an armed rebellion nearly 25 years ago, Gustavo Esteva found himself at a crossroads.

It had been decades since he’d renounced violence as a means of pursuing social justice. The Mexican philosopher, economist and educator—who’d spent nearly forty years working to improve the lives of Mexico’s campesinos—had come a long way towards developing a philosophy that could help his country’s peasants escape the wrenching poverty in which they’re trapped. Now, as the army of indigenous Mayans broke into an unexpected war with the national government, Esteva saw that philosophy crumbling apart.

“In the first week of 1994, I was in a very serious conflict with myself,” Gustavo tells me of that era, when he joined thousands of protesters in the streets demanding the Mexican Army cease attacking the Zapatistas. “I was telling myself, ‘Gustavo, why are you so enthusiastic (about the Zapatistas) if for thirty years you have been against the use of violence?’”

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“A Small, Very Small, Ever so Small Rebellion”

Reportage made possible by financing from the Pulitzer Center in Washington, D.C.

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The Predicament

You would be hard-pressed to imagine anything of importance ever taking place here.

On any other day, approaching it on the cracked roads leading through the rolling ocean of pine, it would’ve seemed little different from the thousands of similar communities which scatter this rugged, mist-cloaked cordillera. The village of Morelia—a soaking-wet redoubt of clapboard wood shacks, high in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state—doesn’t at first glance look like a viable locale for a political meeting in which hundreds of international visitors would be drawn to spend three days in the country’s remote southlands.

But to believe such a thing is to be deluded.

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Nationwide prison strike makes final stop in North Florida

This article appeared originally in the Flagler College Gargoyle. You can view the original here.

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By Jared Olson. Photos by Adriana Cabezas

Just past 9:30 a.m. last Sunday, September 9th, protesters gathered in the sweltering late summer heat before the Hamilton Correctional Institute Annex—a remote prison complex in the pine woods near Jasper, Florida, seven-and-a-half miles south of the Georgia border.

Armed with signs and megaphones, roughly 15 activists gathered in the tangled grass roadside facing the jails north entrance that morning to express solidarity with inmates inside, who were then on the final lap of a 20-day, nationally coordinated strike. The strike—organized to protest deteriorating jail conditions and calling for an end to “prison slavery”—was one of the longest, largest acts of civil disobedience by prisoners in US history, and involved inmates incarcerated in 19 states.

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The Displaced Campesinos of Nicolas Ruiz

Reportage made possible by financing from the Pulitzer Center in Washington, D.C.

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Agustin Gomez Munoz, one of the few Spanish speakers in the Tzotzil speaking group, and thus its de facto leader. Image by Jared Olson. Mexico, 2018.

In the smooth-stone square before the Cathedral of San Cristobal, beneath snarls of pigeons drifting like grey clouds of smoke and a roof of tarps luffing softly in the wind, the people of Nicolas Ruiz–a remote farming village in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico–have gathered to demand land, reparations, and justice for crimes committed against them.

As Tzotzil speaking indigenous Mayans, they are but one of many groups of Chiapas’ “dezplazados” (displaced) who’ve been forced over the years to leave their home following threats and invasions by armed intruders.

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Zapatistas Maintain Suspicion of Mexico’s President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, “AMLO”

Reportage made possible by financing from the Pulitzer Center in Washington, D.C.

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Oventic, a central Zapatista village, or “Caracol,” high in the misty Cañadas mountain region of Chiapas. Image by Jared Olson. Mexico, 2018.

In the months following the political earthquake caused by the landslide July 1 victory in the Mexican presidential election of center-left populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, also known as “AMLO,” the Spanish world’s most-populous country has been electrified by levels of hope unseen in nearly two decades. After the last six years of deepening violence and corruption under President Enrique Peña Nieto- the establishment-scion of whose very party was the one scrapped 18 years ago- many exhausted Mexicans are now anxiously waiting to see whether, following his Dec. 1 inauguration, the maverick López Obrador can follow through on his sweeping campaign promises to purge corruption and gear down theblood-drenched war on drugs.

Compared to Hugo Chavezas frequently as he is to Donald Trump, the wildly popular AMLO, as a candidate, was singular in his power to draw massive crowds and generate voter excitement in a time when faith in national politics has descended to abysmal lows. Now that he’s secured the presidency, some have even suggested that a “New Revolution”is underway in the United States’ southern neighbor.

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Writings on the Wall in the Streets of Oaxaca

Reportage made possible by financing from the Pulitzer Center in Washington, D.C.

You can view my author page with the Pulitzer Center here

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Pasted onto the walls of the quiet streets of Oaxaca lie eerie reflections of a country descending into chaos.

That chaos often remains unseen within the relative safety of tourist cities like Ciudad de Oaxaca, where I’ve come to interview a writer who’s worked with the Zapatistas, and where rivers of foreigners throng the streets in cool summertime dusks, free from the omnipresent violence which stalks Mexico and the majority of its population like a specter. But even when you don’t see it, even in the tourist zones of carefully cleaned cobblestoned streets, that reality is there. Continue reading

In their wake, US-bound immigrants leave communities plagued by poverty and malnutrition

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By Jared Olson (Photographs by Katherine Lewin)

Judging by the glittering decorations and the vines adorning the stores, by the progressive aura of the tourism, or even just by the thousands of foreign hipsters who flock here every year in search of spiritual transcendence- “Los hippies,” as the Mayan locals frequently call them- one wouldn’t at first glance think that San Marcos la Laguna, Guatemala, is a place where children are so malnourished that growth-stunted nine-year-olds look as if they’re only five, or where babies are so underfed that the hair slips off their scalps.

It’s a disturbing reality, one which often eludes the tourists passing through here: outsiders happily wandering the lakeside town’s bewitching, cobblestoned tourism corridor, garbed in flowing flower printed dresses and bead-laced scarves, unaware of the slums that exist just outside the insular bubble of tourism-centric businesses. In those cracked neighborhoods of ramshackle metal, poverty rates soar, spawning an array of social consequences for the towns Ka’qchikel Maya residents, especially malnutrition. Continue reading

Representations of the Intellectual, by Edward Said

 

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Had leukemia not stolen him from us fifteen years ago, one could feasibly presume that, were he still alive today, Edward Said would have had a field day with the people still being passed off as “intellectuals” in the West.

Said provides us many visions of what the intellectual should be in Representations, a slim but powerful volume- originally delivered orally for a televised BBC lecture before later being condensed into book form- which probes the role and responsibility of thinking in a world ripe with injustice.

Said, a Palestinian writer, critic and literary theorist whose works illuminated the gaps between Eastern and Western cultures, dedicated his life with a singular devotion to the defense of the oppressed Palestinian people. He wrote books on the history of Palestinian expulsion, spoke and lectured on the beleaguered people’s behalf, and used his powers as a writer and historian to cast light towards oceans of suffering which, in many cases, would have remained otherwise hidden in darkness.

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Jacksonville community members gather to discuss racially-charged ticketing practices

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Dozens of people gathered that night to listen to the journalists, who were gathered on a panel that included civil rights lawyers, community organizers, and people who’d experienced altercations with the police themselves

Last Thursday, March 8, 2018, dozens gathered in Jacksonville’s Riverside church to listen to and discuss the findings of two Times-Union investigative journalists- Benjamin Conarck and Topher Sanders- who, in a searing article published last fall titled “Walking while Black,” exposed wide ranging and systematic abuses by the Duvall County Police Department. The police department, the journalists attested, has over the past four years used a litany of draconian pedestrian rules to unjustly and arbitrarily “shake down” anyone they suspected of having committed a crime. The majority of people targeted for ticketing, the journalists found, were overwhelmingly poor and black.

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Chasing Memory in Florida’s Juniper Creek

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Griffin Torrey- one of the authors’ two roommates- hanging around over the clear waters of Juniper Creek

Drifting down the headwaters of Florida’s remote Juniper Creek, the lower blade of the paddle held abreast of the kayak draws a thin sucking wake along the surface of the water.

Not even a hundred yards yet from the creeks place of origin- a rocky, moss-laden, subterranean spring of the same name- the water flowing through here, deep in the pine scrub of the Ocala national forest, is unusually, astonishingly clear: the type of water that gives the impression of being suspended weightlessly in the air. Paddling slowly, soft prisms of sunlight dancing in the leafy, turquoise shallows beneath, we make tentative headway down this glassy forest river, which cuts like a silent corridor through a wilderness of pine. Over many moments this morning, we hold our dripping paddles alongside the boats as the current swings us downstream, relishing in what can only be described as fleeting moments of release: all is peaceful in these watery scrublands. All is quiet save the hush of the wind.

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