On May 18, solidarity actions were held in New York City and in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico, to protest the recent assassination of Zapatista José Luis Solís López, better known as Galeano, who was murdered by paramilitary forces earlier this month.
Within Mexico, organizers announced that solidarity caravans will travel to La Realidad to “hug the family members of Galeano and the Zapatista grassroots.” Meanwhile, more than 75 communiques from various organizations and individuals expressed their condemnation of the paramilitary attacks, including writers and activists such as Arundathi Roy, Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Immanuel Wallerstein, Ivon LeBot, Kristinn Hrafnsson, Manuel Castells, Michael Hardt, Gustavo Esteva and Pierre Beaucage.
The National Indigenous Congress explained: “It is an aggression against all of us who are learning from the many Zapatista teachers who continue teaching us what the face of liberty looks like.” The group demanded “an end to the war against our Zapatista brothers and sisters, and punishment for the intellectual and material authors” of the murder.
On May 2, Galeano was murdered in the community of La Realidad in the Mexican state of Chiapas. According to the Good Government Junta — the Zapatistas’ governing body — those responsible for Galeano’s murder were paramilitary forces that came from two rightwing parties, the Green Ecologist Party and the National Action Party, as well as the Independent Center for Agricultural Workers and Historic Peasants. Galeano was murdered by three gunshots after he, unarmed, was surrounded and refused to surrender.
The attack took place on the eve of a meeting that the Zapatistas had planned to hold with other indigenous organizations and indigenous people of Mexico during which spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos had planned possibly to reappear after a public absence of nearly six years. During the attack, a number of people were injured, and a Zapatista school and health clinic in La Realidad, both of which were symbols of the movement’s autonomy, were destroyed.
Galeano is the first Zapatista from the supportive communities, known in the movement as the “bases of support,” to be killed by paramilitary government forces since 2003. He served as a teacher during the recent escuelita, when thousands of students from across Mexico and abroad came to learn from the movement. His murder further reveals the ongoing counterinsurgent war that is carried out by Mexican government across Zapatista territory. This counterinsurgency, which began after the uprising in 1994, seeks to erode and wear out Zapatistas’ struggle to build autonomous institutions such as schools, clinics, hospitals and its own system of government. In response to the attack, the Zapatistas are asking for justice rather than vengeance, expressing once more their fight for peace.
La Realidad, the area of the attack, is a tropical forest region where indigenous Tojolabal Mayans live. During the Zapatista Army for National Liberation’s struggle in 1994, the community served as the base camp for the Zapatistas leadership and the area became emblematic of the struggle. It was also in La Realidad where the Zapatistas had the first encounters with the federal government. In February 1995, thousands of Mexican troops entered the community to try to detain the Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos, who was forced to flee into the jungle alongside hundreds of children, women and elderly people in order to avoid violent repression by the military.
In 2003, when the Zapatistas organized its autonomous communities into five regions called caracoles, which translates to “snail” in Spanish, La Realidad became known as “The Mother of the Caracoles of the Sea of our Dreams.” Without accepting any resources from the Mexican government, and with their own efforts and daily work, members of the Zapatistas founded the first of the now 32 autonomous rebel municipalities in the caracol of La Realidad. This site is where the first generation of the Zapatistas autonomous government was born.
After the assassination, some of the Mexican mainstream media reported that the death came from conflict from within the community, without waiting for a statement from La Realidad’s Good Government Junta or from human rights organizations that have mediated conflicts in the area. But in a communique, the Zapatistas refuted this account of events.
“This was not about a problem within the community, where different groups confronted one another, caught up in the heat of the moment,” the Zapatistas wrote in the communique. “This was something planned. [Galeano] did not fall into a surprise ambush …. He was surrounded by 15 or 20 paramilitaries — and yes, that’s what they are, their tactics are paramilitary.”
Galeano was born in the community of Nueva Victoria in the municipality of San Pedro Michoacán, which is a community in La Realidad in the southern jungle zone of Chiapas. In the first issue of the Zapatista Rebellion print magazine, published this past February, Galeano wrote his reflections on the escuelita, known in English as the Little School of Liberty According to the Zapatistas.
“Now they have seen with their own eyes and felt the sacrifice that we make in order for us to achieve everything we have,” he wrote. “They lived here with Zapatista families, and they realized how much sacrifice and suffering that family experiences in order to harvest, to get the resources they need to sustain themselves, and to resist bad governance.”
For Galeano, the escuelita was “a way for us to communicate, to know other people from the city, from our country, and from the world. It is a bridge for us to communicate through.”
In response to the attack and at the invitation of the Good Government Junta, part of the general command of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation has relocated to La Realidad in order to investigate the attack and assassination. Upon arrival, the Zapatista Army explained that it could bring further violence to La Realidad if it relocates to the region and takes up the investigation.
“Do you want us here to look into this problem and ensure justice, or would you prefer we go elsewhere? Because you could now suffer direct persecution from the governments and their police and military,” the army explained.
Nevertheless, Galeano’s son insisted that the Zapatista general command should stay and find who killed his father, and Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés is heading up the investigation.
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés and Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos are also listening to the voices of those living in La Realidad, and Marcos has dedicated himself to writing down the words of these compañeros. In one of his entries he recounts that, as one person was crying, another Zapatista explained, “Compañero Subcomandante Insurgente, don’t misunderstand our tears. They are not tears of sadness, they are tears of rebellion.”
The last communique signed by Subcomandante Marcos announced that on May 24 all of the caracoles will pay tribute to Galeano.
“It would be good if on that day, others do something to pay tribute in their places, according to their own modes and times,” he also wrote.
In the postscript of the communique, Marcos reiterated the Zapatistas’ commitment to peace, even in the face of violence.
“If you ask me to summarize our laborious path in few words, it would be: Our efforts are for peace, theirs are for war.”