Zapatistas Amend Laws on Trafficking Drugs & Immigrants

Marking the first year since the formation of "Good Government Councils" in Zapatista territory, the spokesman of Mexico's Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials), Subcomandante Marcos, issued an eight-part set of communiqués and progress reports to the national and international public this month.

The communiques (plus translations of each to English by Irlandesa) appear on the newswire at Chiapas Indymedia.

Of certain interest here is the 5th part, titled Five Decisions of Good Government, which is prefaced:

During the first year of the Good Government Juntas, some internal accords were formalized, which were adopted some time ago now, and new decisions were defined. They have to do with conservation of the forests, drug trafficking, trafficking in the undocumented, the movement of vehicles in the regions and state elections for municipal presidents and the state Congress.

Consistent with the historic call for indigenous autonomy by the Zapatistas, they do not propose "national" or universal policies to be applied to others: they simply wish to determine their own policies, whether drug policies, or on other matters. In some other cultures, "local autonomy" is called "home rule," the concept that laws and polices must be determined from the bottom, and not imposed from the top.

Here's what they say about Zapatista laws regarding the trafficking of drugs and of persons...

Concerning the Planting, Trafficking, Marketing and Consumption of Drugs

Even though the law dates back from prior to the beginning of the war, the Good Government Junta has formalized the prohibition against drug trafficking.

Here is an example:

"The Good Government Junta in zapatista territory still completely prohibits the cultivation, trafficking and consumption of drugs, those who do so shall be expelled by zapatista laws. Zapatista support bases who plant these narcotics shall be rejected by the organization and the community where that person resides. The same shall apply to those who consume.

"If a parcel is found which has been planted, those plants will be burned and destroyed. The person who has done the planting shall be responsible for the costs of the destruction, such as the cost of the gasoline to burn them, and he shall be expelled from the organization. The person who is consuming shall be punished with ten days of work and six months out of the organization. By accord of the Good Government Junta, each municipality in its territory shall make a survey every year in order to be certain that there are no people who are engaged in this illicit work."

The Zapatista policy against drugs includes alcohol. In another of this series of communiques Marcos credits that policy with the sharp reduction of domestic violence in the region. There is also, of course, the high priority put on a collective state of "alertness" in a conflict zone where the authorities engage, pretty much to the letter, in what Pentagon manuals call "low intensity warfare" (warfare that is not meant to vanquish the Zapatistas, because, after all, that would involve a genocide of an estimated 400,000 members at minimum, but, rather, to pin them down.

In 2000 I published a nine-part series here on Narco News about the drug war in Chiapas, in which I interviewed indigenous political prisoners who had been framed on drug charges by the Mexican state (I'm pleased to say that each of them is free now.) On average, they spent six years in prison for "possession" (in each case, marijuana or poppy planted on them by authorities, or mere testimony against them without physical evidence) and, if not for political pressure for an amnesty program, they would have served much longer time. By that context, the Zapatista "penalties" are more lenient, although they neither constitute "decriminalization."

I also think that the existence - the real reasons for it including the pretext of easily framing political dissidents - of a state-imposed drug prohibition certainly has an impact on the Zapatistas' own drug policies. They work very hard not to be tagged as "narco-guerrillas" (imagine the money and arms they would have at their disposal if not for that!) and seem to place a priority on not giving the State a chance to use that pretext against them. Since there is no native, traditional, history of marijuana or opium use (the two drug crops for which Chiapas has favorable growing conditions) it's not as if they're giving anything up in terms of "uses and customs" in the way that coca growers in the Andes have used that leaf for millenia.

So, the Zapatista drug policy is a prohibition, but a different kind of prohibition, one without jails. And, in my experience, it is a more effective prohibition than one with prisons.

One of the things that the indigenous of Chiapas caused me to think hard about years ago was about drug policy. I walked in believing that drugs should be legalized the whole world over. Now I believe more in local autonomy (much in the way that, say, regarding alcohol, Texas has "wet" and "dry" towns). In other words, no imposed policy from above - not criminalization, nor legalization - but rather local decision. I do think there would be sufficient places on earth for people of all chemical tendencies if the world could figure that one out.

Finally, the recent communiqués clarifications on "immigration policy" are particularly interesting. Much of Zapatista territory borders Guatemala and thus is right smack in the middle of the route from Central America toward the North. Check this out (the final section, from La Realidad, is fascinating!):

Concerning Trafficking in the Undocumented

A few months ago the following began to circulate in the Good Government Juntas and the Autonomous Councils:

There has been an increase of late in the number of undocumented persons who are being driven by the so-called polleros on their way to the United States. These polleros are persons who are engaged in the trafficking of persons, who charge them a lot of money in exchange for promising to take them to find work in the United States.

In the great majority of cases, the polleros deceive the men and women from Mexico and from other parts of America, and they leave them abandoned inside the hiding places in the vehicles or in the deserts, and these men and women (and sometimes children) then die in a horrific manner.

It is also known that the polleros have agreements with federal officials of the Mexican government, who are part of the business. The men and women who come from other countries in search of passage to the United States in order to work are, in the immense majority, poor and humble people, and their rights and dignity are being violated by the polleros and by officials from Mexico and the United States.

That is why the decision has been made to declare the trafficking in persons, national or foreign, through zapatista territory, to be a serious crime. This should be made known to all authorities so that they will keep a watch out to see that this is complied with and that those members of the EZLN who participate in, help or protect those who are engaged in the trafficking of persons shall be punished and, in a serious case, be expelled from our organization.

The security committees of the CCRI and the Good Government Juntas shall make sure that no zapatista support base, responsable, committee or autonomous authority commits, helps or protects this crime of trafficking in persons, because it is a crime against humanity.

All those trafficking in persons (or polleros) who are discovered and detained in zapatista territory shall be obligated to return any monies to the affected persons and, after being warned, and if they repeat their crime, they shall be turned over to the proper authorities in order to be punished according to the laws of Mexico.

All persons, nationals and foreigners, who are clandestinely transported shall be freed and helped by whatever means possible (medical attention, temporary lodging and food) and counseled to not allow themselves to be deceived.

All human beings, regardless of their nationality, have free movement through zapatista territory, but they should be subject to the laws of the Good Government Junta, the Autonomous Municipalities and the indigenous communities.

The Good Government Juntas and the Rebel Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities shall inform the zapatista support base compañeros and compañeras and members of other organizations living in zapatista territories, of these recommendations, with the understanding that any zapatista who commits this crime shall not be recognized as a compañero.

The results? Here are some examples:

From the Morelia Good Government Junta:

"Regarding the undocumented, for example: in the Ernesto Che municipality, they detained a pollero on their territory, they incarcerated him for two days and they warned him that next time the punishment would be greater, and the undocumented persons were given shelter, food, and they were warned about the risks of the journey, and they were allowed to leave. There was one case where a compañero sold pozol at a high price. These compañeros who committed this mistake were punished."

From La Garrucha:

"Those polleros who are caught deceiving these undocumented people shall be detained and made to return their money. The sale of food, water and lodging to undocumented persons is completely prohibited in zapatista territory. They are poor like us, and it is our duty to give them water, food and lodging, not to sell it to them. In the event that a pollero is detained for a second time, he shall be turned over to the officials of the bad government."

From La Realidad:

"The JBG speaks directly to undocumented Central Americans and Latin Americans, explaining who they are. They explain how the JBG is the result of the EZLN's struggle. As civil authorities and EZLN support bases. They explain the seven principles of governing obeying and about autonomy. They explain that they are autonomous authorities and that they are struggling against neoliberalism, the Plan Puebla-Panama, etcetera. They counsel them not to abandon their land, that it safer to work their own piece of land, that it is better to struggle for democracy, liberty and justice in their own countries, that their American dream is not safe, because many people have died along the way, that there are no problems with us, and they may travel freely because we are the same as them, that we shall not allow them to be robbed of a lot of money for their trip because that is how people in the business of the undocumented have gotten rich. We give them food, drinks, biscuits. That is when the undocumented begin to gain confidence, they begin talking about their lives, they say that some of them have listened to Radio Insurgente in their countries. They are grateful. All the money carried by those polleros who are able to be identified is divided up in equal parts among all the Central American undocumented, warning the polleros that the next time they are caught they shall be punished.

"On another occasion, when a group of Central Americans who were traveling on foot were spoken to, and the pollero was discovered, who said he was of Guatemalan nationality and that he was taking Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans, and that he had charged 1500 pesos to each of the 27 Central Americans, he was searched and an amount of 31,905 pesos, 700 quetzales and 31 dollars was found, the money was taken away from him and divided equally among the undocumented. At the present time a trafficker in national migrants is being detained, serving a punishment of 6 months, after a warning had been given to him."

Compare that to the border policies of both Mexico and the United States, and we get a glimpse of what a more just world could look like.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.