(Passage from the text “A World War,” May-June 2015, by SupGaleano, in “Our View of the Hydra,” part II of volume I of “Critical Thought Versus the Capitalist Hydra”)
The first thing that got our attention was the protests and disagreement on social media. Then came the articles that managed to get a place on the pages of the paid independent media. So a team of Tercios Compas [Zapatista Media] were sent to confirm or dismiss the reports.
If you pick up your camera and photograph a series of “onsite” images of one of the principal cities of the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, you will see the disorder, abandonment, and chaos that reign there.
But if, over time, you zoom out to a broader view, you will begin to notice a particular logic and order to this chaos.
Now, if you combine a panoramic view over time and space, you will have a fairly accurate image of reality. Not of the image represented there, but rather the genealogy of that image. That is, you will see the before, during, and after of that image.
Take for example the capital of Chiapas, the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Originally founded by Zoques, later conquered by Mexicas, it was named by the latter “Tochtlán,” meaning “place or home of the rabbits,” or “where rabbits abound.” Later it became “Tuchtlán.” The Spanish conquest converted the word into “Tuxtla.” Then it would take on the last name of General Joaquín Miguel Gutiérrez Canales. For a time the city would fight San Cristóbal de las Casas for the dubious honor of being the state capital.
In the image you capture, you can find everything except coherence: supposed urban construction projects, carried out without official announcement, traffic signals, or alternative routes; streets that only exist in name on a street sign; large spectacles where that “famous blonde” Manuel Velasco Coello, or one of his accomplices, reiterate that they do in fact honor their word, while the principal transportation routes in the city were or are destroyed.
If you take the time to travel the city streets, you will note this irrationality and begin to think that one would indeed have to be an imbecile to carry out construction projects in this manner. You might even think that those who govern Chiapas are nothing but a bunch of immature adolescents and idiots playing—badly—Simcity on the streets of Tuxtla, San Cristóbal and Comitán. And for that you would lack neither evidence nor argument.
These “urbanization projects” have thrown dozens of small and medium-sized businesses into bankruptcy; they have thrown thousands of Chiapans out of work; they have caused fatal accidents, and they are responsible for more than one tragedy in a Chiapan home due to the delay in transport time for ambulances. The “non-quantifiable” damages with regard to vehicles and time are great.
What’s more, the only small businesses that have survived this urban war are the tire companies, muffler distributors, and mechanic shops. The road projects that have been finished are flanked by “for sale” and “for rent” signs, as well as by abandoned old buildings and shiny new ones.
It would be comical if it weren’t tragic.
If you talk to any former owner of a small or medium-sized business and that person gives you the history of how they—egged on by the municipal and state governments—opposed the mobilizations by the democratic teachers’ movement, they will tell you:
“We carried out the ridiculous. We were complaining that the teachers’ marches and blockades were lowering our sales, and it turns out that it was the government’s construction projects that bankrupted us. Look, this whole circuit here was made up of small and medium-sized businesses and all of them went out of business. Now there are foreign businesses and tons of chain stores. The city literally shut down, as if it was under siege, but it wasn’t the teachers or the Zapatistas who did it, it was the government. Sure, the teachers maintained their blockades for a few hours, a day, a week. But the government shut off transit throughout the city for almost a year and in some places you still can’t get through. Tell me, what business or company can withstand that for such a long time? Only the big ones, those that have the capital to survive the drop in sales. Or those who went so deeply into debt that now they are working to pay the bank back for the loan it gave them so that they could work. Yes, it’s absurd. Now they work to pay the bank that loaned them the money so they could work in order to pay it back. We had to close up shop, fire our workers, and sell the business. Look, that place where there is now a franchise, that belonged to my family for decades. They always told us we should fear those who rebelled, and the teachers, then the Zapatistas, then the teachers again, always the teachers. That all those people wanted to take what was ours, break things, loot our businesses, ruin us—that’s what they told us. And it turns out that the ones who ended up robbing us, breaking us (the speaker gestures to the broken-up street, worse than a dirt road), looting us, and ruining us were the governments themselves. It doesn’t even matter which party. Around here they have said they’re from the PRI, the PAN, the PRD, the Green Ecology Party, whatever they feel like being. But it’s always the same people: the Sabines, the Velascos, the Albores, the Orantes. One day they’re one color and the next day another color. And we like fools were putting up our signs saying “We insist the “Rule of Law” be applied so that the government could exercise repression while alleging that we had demanded it. And it was that damned “Rule of Law” that ended up screwing us over! And if we were to denounce that? Where would we do so? Where, if the local media are totally bought off and the national media also get their part of the payoff? Yes, here and there there’s a local outlet that takes a risk and publishes something on this, but they can do little to nothing against the big media, which aren’t really that big and are merely the spokespeople for the government currently in office: before they were Alboristas, later Mendeguchiistas, then Sabinistas, and now they are Velasquistas, and tomorrow whatever but they are and always will be shameless. No, no problem at all, what does it matter to me if you say that I am from the CANACO, if the real problem I have now is how to pay the debts I have to the bank. I sold everything and it still isn’t enough, and there isn’t anything left to draw from. We were so afraid of the poor and it was the rich and the government that screwed us over.
Go ahead, take a look anywhere. You’ll see I’m not lying. There are signs declaring that the government paved this or that street but they didn’t even fill the potholes. It’s a fraud, a total fraud. Here we were so afraid of those below, and those from the aboves of elsewhere came to conquer us. Employment with the new companies? A lie. Those companies come with their manager, administrator, accountant, and supervisor already assigned. At most they’ll contract somebody to attend the parking garage. They don’t even hire for cleaning services; cleaning and security companies also come in from elsewhere. This city isn’t what it was anymore, and it won’t be that again. It’s worse. Less and less Chiapan all the time.
In effect, the capital city changed its face: instead of the original businesses that were here, now wherever you look there are franchise brands and large companies. In the commercial centers, the small businesses with a small storefront close almost immediately and are replaced by others. At every intersection there is an army of windshield-washers and sidewalk vendors of everything imaginable, taking turns knocking on the passing vehicles asking for something, even just a coin. This image is repeated across other Chiapan cities… and across the rest of the urban scene of the country.
Are those who govern this chaos clumsy idiots?
Yes, they are.
But the urban and neighborhood disorder isn’t due to their collective stupidity, with its changing colors and initials.
What has happened and what is currently happening is a purposeful destruction. The plan doesn’t emerge from the very limited intellectual quotient of those who say they govern (or aspire to do so), from their unlimited ambition for stealing or their ancestral corruption. It comes from further above. Those who govern are mere administrators that get to take a piece of the loot for administering the destruction, and then the reconstruction. The large real estate companies and the usurers, where the names of the local political class also appear, wait for the urban construction projects—purposefully slow and without any rational logic—to drive the fragile local economy into despair and obligate the local “decent people” to sell. Then they wait for the construction projects to conclude at their leisure. And boom: what they bought for ten is now worth a thousand. Of course, they have to give a little something to the authority, the one who holds office and the one who aspires to it. Where else will the advertising and vote-buying money come from? What has been carried out here is a true conquest, and the resulting impoverishment no longer only corresponds to indigenous people, but also to workers and people in the neighborhood. Now a slimmed down middle class has to choose between governmental or political party bureaucracy, badly paid work, or exile.
But this isn’t only in Chiapas.
In Mexico the analysts from above are pulling out their well-groomed hair seeing that the reforms they so applauded have done nothing but create more disorder in the chaotic national economy.
They complain, for example, that energy reform hasn’t brought the immediate ‘milk and honey’ that was promised. But the objective of the reforms was precisely this: to disorder and destroy.
Energy reform, for example, is but the bugle call for the launch of a mad dash toward dispossession. And we’re not talking here only about those territories under the care of the originary peoples. We are also referring to pension funds, that is, the pensions of the working class.
All in all, we see that above there are still those who believe that Mexico’s salvation lies with these reforms. Or that it is merely the selling off of the national patrimony.
But down below it should be clear that the objective of the reforms is to finish the destruction of the little that is still standing… in order to reconstruct and repopulate.
The target of the urban war that has modified the “face” of the cities is not only land plots and buildings. Services make up the main course. The provisioning of potable water is managed with calculating perversity: scarcity feeds the emergence of water pipe companies which displace the traditional companies and gradually monopolize the market. And just as with water, so it goes with transportation, communications, security, and even trash collection.
A note here: the false argument that tends to “support” the necessity for the privatization of these services is that privatization will improve service; it will be cheaper and of better quality.
There is not a single case that supports this claim. All privatized utilities are more expensive, of poorer quality, and terrible service.
Accustomed to a world where poverty and misfortune always afflict another geography or calendar, the poorly-named middle class begins to find itself more and more often among the victims and not among the spectators (and never in the position of executioner, although it longs to be so).
The process of urbanization, which would be slow if it were rational, is now madness. It is as if a war were under way, and instead of armored vehicles, it is the construction machinery that, paradoxically, destroys. If a logical reasoning would be to create adequate services and then urbanize, the reality is the contrary: urbanize and later see about services.
Here you have an option: to attribute this chaos to lack of skill, corruption, and government blunders; or attribute it to an administered chaos with the goal of later reordering.
The first option implies that the majority of the population look for changes in [the governing] colors, with the hope that having someone in government who is less stupid, less thieving, and less clumsy will lead the cities to recover their idyllic image of the past, to a yesterday where problems happened outside of one’s immediate environment and one’s home wasn’t just an extension of the nightmare.
In this option, the same names of the political class appear, claiming experience and maturity, but under different initials. And since the decisions to be made are over colors and promises, well then if red failed, let’s try blue, or green, or brown, or orange, or whatever old pattern now appears dressed as the new.
In this schema, the problem is an administrative one. And in this case, social problems are not systemic but an issue of an administration that is poor, corrupt, or clumsy, or in Mexico, all three.
For this option as survival plan, there are calendars: each calendar period you can try to change colors; maybe this time it will work. But life continues its course and one’s basic needs don’t subordinate themselves to the electoral calendar. So you follow whoever offers to resolve things most immediately, even though this means the destruction of your future.
You understand that the majority of people will react in that fashion. Or you don’t understand that and you think those people are ignorant, or lacking dignity, conscience, and shame.
So you decide to participate, or not. With passion alight, you make one color yours as if it were a sports team. You join the game, yelling and shouting your head off. The game ends, with its winners and losers, and life goes on. Until the next game.
This isn’t about judging, but about understanding. And here is a problem that requires critical thought, now not only an effort at scientific thought, but rather one aimed at defining a strategy of resistance, of survival, of life.
Are social problems due to a lack of administrative capacity, of political purpose, of integrity, of State vision? Or are they the unavoidable consequence of a social system?
That is, do the fundamental decisions, those that set the path of national society let’s say, still belong to the state sphere, the government, the public administration?
Even palliatives and short-term remedies, are they possible?
A good part of the world thinks this problem has been located in public administration. And the almost unanimous diagnosis is that it is an issue of corruption in the governmental apparatus.
But here the issue is that there is no politically defined flag to combat corruption. The right, the left, and the “independent” political sphere are all against administrative corruption. All are eager to offer integrity and honesty… and all end up caught up in some scandal.
And here then is a fundamental question, according to we Zapatistas: the nation-state, that is, the state as we know it, has it remained untouched in the system’s war?
Or are we faced with a hologram, an image of what it once was, a cardboard figure into which various people put their face for the photo of the season?
Or perhaps neither one thing nor the other; rather that the nation-state is no longer what it was, but it maintains some resistance against supranational powers?
When the representatives of some European state, let’s say Greece, sit down to talk to Madam Angela Merkel, are they talking to the Bundestaq or to the International Monetary Fund… or with the European Central Bank… or with the European Commission… or with all four… or with none of the above?
In order to know the answer, according to our thinking, we need to reconstruct the genealogy of the nation-state and compare our conclusion to the current reality. Then we can ask: what were the foundations of the state, and which of these have been maintained, which have been disappeared, and which have mutated?
What were its functions, its place, its sphere of influence, its areas of interest?
At first glance it appears evident that some of its principle characteristics lie as victims of the ongoing war. It is more and more difficult to talk of sovereignty, territory, authority, the monopoly on violence, of juridical domination, of independence.
Of course, one has to be careful about the evidence, but clarifying what the State is, is necessary and urgent.
Oh yes, I’m sorry, but this thing of “the State” is much more complicated than the twisted plot lines of Game of Thrones.
(prequels and sequels in volume I of “Critical Thought Versus the Capitalist Hydra”)