(The following piece was written by our Croatian comrade, who previously authored this piece about a year of anti-lockdown organizing in Croatia. Check it out for added context if you haven’t already)
When it was obvious that Covid-tyranny was not going to not end soon, I decided to fly to safe haven from the measures… to Chiapas, Mexico.
Mexico is still one of the most open countries in the world—not requiring any test for entrance—and its southern state of Chiapas is one of two that most often have been in “green light” phase. Masks are required in shops and on public transport, but practical enforcement of these measures is very weak, like of any other state policy around here. The library is the only place I know of that has been closed (a local friend tells me with a smile that the government knows Mexicans don’t like to read, so no one would miss it.) They imposed a few months’ alcohol prohibition last spring which—as you might guess—didn’t really prevent anyone from drinking.
I wasn’t the only one with the idea of escaping. It seems like every hippy, artist, squatter, and traveler has migrated to the same place. So many different events are taking place around here that they feel like they’re part of a festival every day of the week. I feel the same. I hear comments that the demographics of tourists here changed recently from ordinary leftist “zapaturistas” to a mix of people with a keen interest in new age ideas, alternative medicine, conspiracies, and covid-skepticism. More importantly, it seems covid-skepticism is general mood of the locals here. Measures are not followed, and some tourists think indigenous people in town are recognizable as “those who are not masking.” My friend is always taking the opportunity to ask taxi-drivers how they see the situation, and she estimates that 70% simply think its a government hoax. We enter a bar while scouting out for a place to organize a covid-sceptic presentation. Checking out the atmosphere, we ask two unmasked waiters, locals of the town, if measures are followed in the establishment. They tell us they don’t wear masks because… well… the body needs oxygen. I understand perfectly what they mean.
Another local friend tells me she and all her friends hear rumors that they’re killing people in the hospitals, and think that’s the case. A young nurse tells me that some of her colleagues aren’t going to take the vaccine… though a majority are. What’s more, Chiapas may be the only place in the world where vaccination is partially prohibited. Nearly a hundred indigenous communities decided to ban vaccination and are refusing to distance and wear masks. They are able do that because they have some degree of medical autonomy as a part of indigenous rights. Derrick Broze from Conscious Resistance Network went to research this further and made a good video about it. They told him they’re skeptical about western medicine in general and about the intentions of the the government whenever it offers them something for free. I think that‘s similar to what the critical people elsewhere have asked themselves: why are governments, who do not even not offer a “cure” for hunger, being so generous with vaccine for a flu-like disease? People from communities are also saying that they don’t think the virus exists at all. It seems that all these statements are coming more from common sense and healthy intuition rather than from reading and debating over scientific papers. I was fascinated when I discovered that Cheran, an autonomous town in central México famous for kicking out authorities some 10 years ago, holds a similar position. They remained open to outsiders and volunteers, making them maybe the only internationally-known autonomous community that didn’t buy into the covid story.
While that seems to be a wide-spread indigenous sentiment here, the Zapatistas, also indigenous, are doing the exactly the opposite. Last March they closed their territory promptly, and that has remained unchanged. They declared it’s due to a “newly discovered and scientifically proven disease” and that they found about 10 cases with similar symptoms in their territory (which are, by the way, the same as with common flu). I feel depressed by seeing so much anti-science in one sentence. Beside this, I can imagine that it may be easier to enter North Korea than their communities at the moment. I know that because not one zapatourist I know has tried; there literally was no way. I met French reporters who wanted to make a documentary about the Zapatistas trip to Europe, and also how they are managing the pandemic. They didn’t get a chance to see anything or even get an answer from the organization.
I had a rare opportunity to talk with some Zapatistas about the subject. One guy was telling me that he is sure its a American bioweapon against third world countries; another was motivated about making vaccination obligatory in their community. In events where more people gather, they are strictly masking (with medical masks, not the cooler, more decorative ones); even small children are masked. While probably with good intention, they quite possibly did the most effective thing they could to keep themselves in ignorance—they cut themselves off physically from any outside influence, and in areas where they generally don’t have internet—so there’s literally no way they could hear another side of the story. Moreover, their stance has caused them some bigger problems. In communities where tensions with pro-government sides exist, provocations escalated, as there has been a lack of international presence or events gathering activists. Before the pandemic, in a particular place where the pro-government side occupied Zapatista agricultural fields, Zapatista representatives managed to start the mediation process. The two sides came to agreement that they would leave the fields until the mediation ended. Then the pandemic started, and the Zapatistas stopped the mediation process so as not to spread the disease. Soon after, the invaders occupied the field again and the problem remains to today.
Junta de Buen Gobierno, the umbrella organization of the Zapatista communities, doesn’t even want to meet to make a revision of the decisions taken last March. I asked a friend and journalist who writes about local social topics why they reacted so differently from many other indigenous people here. He thinks it was due to influence of the European left on the Zapatistas, while other indigenous groups are more independent in their thinking. That’s just it. The left in San Cristobal is behaving exactly the same as the European left at the moment. They are even spreading conspiracy theories like that there are a lot of false negative results in the covid tests. I’m not surprised by any of this because I know it’s a trait of prescribed ideologies. The ideology asks always from its followers to believe and not to doubt… and when it asks them to doubt, these doubts are the expected and prescribed ones, and free-styling is not welcomed. The same goes for leftist and anti-authoritarian ideologies as any other; and the doors that were opened by identity politics now let the plandemic into Chiapas. Other Mayan communities, who were not so preoccupied with ideology, preserved their free minds and the true meaning for freedom. Major anti-authoritarian entities seem to want to be taken more seriously, and act institutionally merely following the protocols rather than experimenting with new positions. This the also the case of Rojava, Sarvodaya Shramadana from Sri Lanka; Abahlali Basemjondolo from South Africa; and others. Those, like Rojava, who had the power to impose lockdowns, used it. Despite all the great things they’ve been doing, I don’t think they should be held sacred and exempted from hard criticism for not thinking clearly in these times of fascism.
I recently found out that beside it being impossible to enter Zapatista territory, a foreign organization called Schools for Chiapas is organizing an educational (touristic, actually) tour through Zapatista communities (for fully vaccinated persons) for a certain amount of money which will go as a donation to the communities. This tells me two things: first, that money is maybe the better argument for entrance than the goodwill of comrades willing to help; and secondly, that they may really be waiting for mass vaccination to roll out before they open up again. If they vaccinate themselves at a high rate, I can imagine how rumors about side-effects would spread in a rural area… and there would be no fact checker to tell them that side-effects are good, and some deaths necessary. They might possibly get a bit angry. If it were to play out like this, it would be a hard way to learn, but that’s what they’re choosing for the present.
As an interesting coincidence, last week I watched a documentary about their history. The film ends with a Zapatista man saying his brother, mentally ill from war trauma, was given an unknown medication from a state doctor. The bottle doesn’t have a description, seems out of date, and he doubts it’s the cure the doctor declared. He thinks the state willingly offered him a dangerous drug. Where has this kind of critical thinking gone now?