Anarchy and Indigenous Resistance to AMLO in Mexico
This week on The Final Straw, an anarchist living in Mexico talks about the reign of the MORENA gimpparty of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (aka AMLO), the new face of capitalism it presents, it’s relation to social movements and indigenous sovereignty and the anarchist and indigenous resistance to the regime. We cover mega-projects being pushed through around the country, the repression of activists and more in this whopper of an episode.
Here’s a great English-language blog based mostly out of Oaxaca that covers struggle in Mexico and across the northern border: https://elenemigocomun.net/
If you want to understand the politics of Mexico, listen to the voices of Indigenous peoples and communities, women in struggle, campesinos
Indigenous populations and megaprojects:
Airport Lake Texcoco
New International Airport of Mexico City proposed in 2001 by Vicente Fox, but cancelled shortly after due to organized resistance
AMLO cancelled project after carrying out a “popular consultation”
Cancel one mega-project to impose three more
Expansion of Santa Lucia and Toluca airports
Naucalpan- Toluca highway
– Tren Maya (Mayan Train)
950-mile train connecting principal tourist destinations in the states of Chiapas, Campeche, Tabasco, Yucatan and Quintana Roo
17 stations including Playa del carmen, Tulum, Palenque, Merida, Cancun
Infrastructure projects to be built around train stations
For tourists and cargo
– “Corredor Transistmico” Interoceanic corridor
Industrial corridor connecting the ports of Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, on the pacific coast, and Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, in the gulf of Mexico.
The project is meant to compete with the Panama Canal, as a route of land transportation connecting the Pacific with the gulf of Mexico.
United States has been trying to get this project going since the 19th century
Train routes and a super highway, modernization of ports, and various older train routes
– Proyeto integral de morelos (PIM) (Integral Project of Morelos)
Project that began in 2012 and has faced stiff resistance from the Frente de pueblos en defensa de tierra y agua Morelos-puebla-tlaxcala (People’s Front in Defense of Land and Water Morelos-Puebla-Tlaxcala)
The PIM roject includes:
Thermoelectric plant in Huexca, Morelos
A natural gas pipeline to supply gas to the plant which passes through 60 Indigenous and campesino communities in Tlaxcala, Puebla and Morelos
An aqueduct that seeks to move 50 million liters of water daily to the thermoelectric plant from the Rio Cuautla
Italian and Spanish transnationals
Armed Indigenous rebellion in Chiapas in 1994. After failed talks with the government, they took the path of autonomy
2003-formation of five caracoles (zones of autonomous self-government) The caracoles are regional administrative units where autonomous authorities come together and from which clinics, cooperatives, schools, transportation and other services are administered.
The Zapatista communities are managed by the Juntos de buen gobierno (Good Government Councils), which are made up of representatives of the autonomous councils of the rebel municipalities.
Expansion of autonomous territory:In august of 2019 the Zapatistas announced 7 new New Centers of Autonomous Zapatista Rebellion and Resistance (CRAREZ) and 4 new rebel Zapatista autonomous municipalities. Added to the 5 original Caracoles for a total of 16. In addition to the 27 original autonomous municipalities, giving us a total of 43 (CRAREZ). Made up of different assemblies, autonomous municipalities, etc.
Zapatista communities made up of Insignous tzotziles, tzeltales, mames, choles, tojolabales y zoques
Zapatista activities in December of 2019: Celebration of Life: A December of Resistance and Rebellion
Film Festival 7-14 of December 2019
Dance Festival December 15-20
Forum in Defense of Territory and Mother Earth December 21-22
On February 12, 2018- Ignacio Ventura, Luis Angel Martínez and Alejandro Diaz Cruz.
On July 17, 2018- Abraham Hernandez Gonzales
On October 25, 2018- Noel Castillo Aguilar
Concejo Indígena y Popular de Guerrero – Emiliano Zapata CIPOG-EZ (Indigenous and popular council of Guerrero-Emiliano Zapata)
May 2019- José Lucio Bartolo Faustino, Modesto Verales Sebastián, Bartolo Hilario Morales, and Isaías Xanteco Ahuejote of the Nahua people organized as the Indigenous and Popular Council of Guerrero – Emiliano Zapata (CIPOG – EZ).
Samir Flores Soberanes of the Nahua people of Amilcingo, Morelos.
Julián Cortés Flores, of the Mephaa people of the Casa de Justicia in San Luis Acatlán, Guerrero.
Ignacio Pérez Girón, of the Tzotzil people of the municipality of Aldama, Chiapas.
Juan Monroy and José Luis Rosales, of the Nahua people Ayotitlán, Jalisco.
Feliciano Corona Cirino, of the Nahua people of Santa María Ostula, Michoacán.
Josué Bernardo Marcial Campo, also known as TíoBad, of the Populuca people of Veracruz.
This week we had the chance to interview Lelia, who is a community activist and a part of the group Comunidad Colectiva, an immigrant rights group based in Charlotte NC. We got to talk about a lot of things in this interview, the work that they and other groups do with immigrant and undocumented communities, about the February ICE raids that got national attention, what effective rapid response can look like, and the challenging tension associated with both being anti state and being in the position of having to negotiate with police and sheriffs for safety reasons, plus many more topics.
We wanted to mention something called 287(g) and give a bit of information for listeners who may not have heard of this before. 287(g) was a contract between local officials and ICE which essentially made police forces extensions of ICE, and also instituted deportation proceedings as part of run of the mill arrests. More is explained about this contract later on in the interview, but it gets mentioned fairly heavily before that time.
You can keep updated on this group’s work by hitting them up on Facebook and if you have a few dollars you’d like to throw them to recoup the costs associated with their rapid response network, their Venmo is @comunidad-colectiva.
Next week on The Final Straw, stay tuned for an interview with a member of the Montreal based group Ni Frontiers Ni Prison (which is No Borders, No Prison) about fighting a proposed new migrant prison, decolonization, the rise of far right sentiment in so called Canada, and many associated topics, plus a possible other interview.
Update on Kinetic Justice
In a brief update to last week’s interview on the hunger strike by Kinetic Justice of the Free Alabama Movement, we’d like to share the following news. On March 20th, Kinetic Justice Amun (aka Robert Earl Council) resumed his hunger strike as he was transferred briefly to segregation housing at Limestone prison, but ended his hunger strike within a few days and was transferred to general population at that prison. He can be written at the following address:
Robert Earl Council #181418
28779 Nick Davis Rd
Harvest, AL 35749
Consequently, 8 of the prisoners transferred with Kinetic in the middle of the night, began engaging in a hunger strike in response to their own incarceration in solitary. In response to the hunger strike, administration cut off water to the cells they were held in, giving them bottled water.
The 8 prisoners ended their hunger strike on March 22nd, and administration claims they’ll be transferred to general population in the Alabama prison system as they’re not under investigation currently.
This week William got the chance to speak to Bruno Renero-Hannan, who is an anarchist historical anthropologist from Mexico City, about their solidarity work around two of the original 250 Loxicha Prisoners in the state of Oaxaca. This rebellion and imprisonment occurred almost simultaneously to the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas in the mid-late 90s with very different results. We talk about the long and complex history of this case, the similarities and differences between this uprising and that of the Zapatistas, the ongoing political repression of Alvaro Ramirez and Abraham Ramirez, and the economic solidarity push being orgainized by our guest, as well as some stark parallels between this case and that of the remaining 59 J20 defendants. If you would like to see the 45 minute broadcast edit of this interview, you can go to The Final Straw Radio Collection on archive.org.
For a transcript of this interview, you can find an imposed zine for printing here
Or follow this link to the transcribed text at the bottom of this post.
As per the very reasonable request on the part of the folks doing support for Alvaro and Abraham, we have omitted the Sean Swain segment for this episode. The You Are the Resistance topic did not pair well with the main interview content nor were Keep Loxicha Free supporters aware of the segment. We regret any confusion or discomfort that this caused.
We would like to take a bit of space here to explain to new listeners that many of the Sean Swain segments are meant in the spirit of satire; Swain himself has been a political prisoner for over 25 years at this point, and his humor is sometimes abrasive, but he is a committed believer in the dismantling of all forms of oppression.
He and we are open to feedback on this segment, and any content we present!
Sean Swain #243-205 Warren CI P.O. Box 120 Lebanon, Ohio 45036
Resist Nazis in Tennessee
On Saturday, Feb 17, Matthew Heinbach of the Traditionalist Workers Party will be speaking at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville from 1-4pm. If you don’t like this, you can contact the University by calling 8659749265 and demand that they disinvite this open neo-nazi organizer from their campus!
Some Benefits in Asheville
For the drinkers in Asheville, this week features two libation-centric benefits for books to prisoners projects.
On Wednesday, February 14, Valentines Day, three bars in Asheville will be participating in a drink special that will raise money for Tranzmission Prison Project, our local LGBT books to prisoners project with a national scope. You can visit the Crow & Quill on Lexington, the Lazy Diamond around the corner in Downtown or the Double Crown on Haywood in West Asheville on Wednesday for more details.
On Thursday, February 15th at the Catawba’s South Slope Tasting Room & Brewery (32 Banks Avenue #105) for their first New Beer Thursday fundraiser of 2018!! Starting with the release on the 15th and running through March, a portion of the cost of every glass of their pomegranate sour sold will be donated to the Asheville Prison Books Program!
More events coming up this week include: Thursday the 15th at 7pm Blue Ridge ABC is holding a benefit show at Static Age for a local activists with a sliding scale cost. Bands featured are Kreamy Lectric Santa, Cloudgayzer, Secret Shame, Falcon Mitts & Chris Head
Later that night in Asheville, the monthly benefit dance party called HEX will be holding an event at the Mothlight to raise money and materials for A-Hope, which provides services locally to houseless and poor folks. Bring socks, footwear and camping gear to donate!
On Tuesday, April 20th at 6pm at The Shell Studio, 474 Haywood Rd on the second floor, there will be a showing of the locally produced documentary entitled Hebron about human rights struggles in Palestine.
On Friday the 23rd at 6:30pm, the Steady Collective will be participating in a Harm Reduction forum at the Haywood Street Congregation at 297 Haywood St. in downtown.
Also that night, BRABC will be showing the latest TROUBLE documentary by sub.media at 7:30pm at firestorm books and coffee. This will be a second on Student Organizing around the world.
Finally, on Saturday the 24th 9am to 3pm at Rainbow School, 60 State Street in Asheville there’ll be a Really Really Free Market organized by the Blue Ridge General Defense Committee or GDC. Bring stuff that’s still good to share and come back with other stuff that’s still good for free! Perfect for spring cleaning or dealing with inclement weather on a budget.
A Call for Art Submissions for ACAB2018…
A reminder that if you are the sensitive, artistic type, the ACAB2018, or Asheville Carolina Anarchist Bookfair is soliciting art for fundraising and advertising purposes. If you have image ideas that you can put into action and want to share them, that’d be dope. We’re looking for things we can put onto postcards, t-shirts, posters and other swag to spread word about the event and help us cover the costs of operation. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
…and for Yours Truly at TFS
Likewise, if you are feeling artsy fartsy and want to help out this show, we’re looking for swag imagery, either as a logo or a standalone piece of art we can feature for fundraising purposes. If you like the show and want to help, post your files on share.riseup.net and send us a link at email@example.com or share it with one of our social media identities. If we choose to use your art, we’ll send you a mix tape with one side produced by each of our regular contributing editors.
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This is the transcript of an hour and a half long interviewconducted by The Final Straw radio show, which is a weekly anarchist radio show that hosts interviews about a wide range of topics, including Black liberation, anti racism, anti sexism, LGBTQ solidarity, struggles against extraction industry and pipelines, prisoner solidarity,and solidarity with refugees and migrants, among many other topics. While we do some informal fundraising, this show is a volunteer effort and can be accessed free of charge.
The Final Straw RadioP.O. Box 6004Asheville, NC28816
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The Final Straw Radio: (Introduction) This week, I got the chance to speak with Bruno Renero Hanan, who is an anarchist historical anthropologist from Mexico City about their solidarity work around two of the original 250 Loxicha prisoners in the state of Oaxaca. This rebellion and imprisonment occurred almost simultaneously with the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas in the mid to late 90’s with very different results. We talk about the long and complex history of this case, the similarities and differences between this uprising and that of the Zapatistas, the ongoing political repression of Alvaro Ramirez and Abram Ramirez and the economic solidarity push being organized by our guest. As well as some stark parallels between this case and the case of the J20 defendants.
TFSR: Thank you so much for taking the time to come onto the show. Would you tell listeners a little about yourself and talk about what projects you do?
Bruno: Yeah, sure, I’d be happy to. And first of all, thank you for having me on the show. It’s an honor, a pleasure and I really appreciate the space.
My name is Brune Renero Hanan. I am originally from Mexico City where I grew up, although I’ve lived in the United States for quite a while now. And I am from a kind of bi-cultural, bi-national family. So, currently I live in south east Michigan where I am a PHD candidate in Anthropology at the University of Michigan. And the main work I’ve been working on the last 3 years has been, partly through political solidarity and party through my academic research with political prisoners in Oaxaca Mexico. In particular over the last several years I’ve been writing about and working in different capacities to support a group of political prisoners known as the Loxicha prisoners who were all Zapotec men incarcerated for several decades since the 1990’s up until just last year. And that’s mostly what we’ll be talking about today. But, other projects that I’ve been involved in, I’ve also done other forms of politically engaged research in the state of Guerrero around guerrilla movements there in the 1970’s and state terror and the so-called Dirty War of state violence there.
I’ve also done stuff around anarchist organizing in Mexico City, other left political stuff around the Cult of Santa Muerte in Mexico City. I’ve been involved in political organizing to support the families of the families of the 43 disappeared students of Ayotzinapa. For instance we, here comrades and I in 2014, organized a welcome for the caravan of family members when they came through. I’ve also been involved in anarchistic and antifascist organizing in Ann Arbor and in Michigan, working with Huron Valley. Right now, I’ve kind of brought some of that solidarity with political prisoners in Oaxaca into conversation with folks here in Michigan and that’s sort of become a joint project between folks in Oaxaca and here Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
As far as resources, the one thing I’d like to plug is our Patreon website. It’s a sort of gofundme sort of thing where people can sign up to make monthly donations which can be anything (as little as $1 each month up to as much as they’d like to. And we’re trying to build up to covering the impossible and unjust court fees being called “damage reparations” which our comrades Abram and Alvaro have to pay each month. So that’s the one thing I would ask people to remember and if they’re able to get on there and donate. So, that website is https://www.patreon.com/keeploxichafree . That Patreon website is what we’re trying to build right now.
And it’s challenging, trying to build it up through folks we know and without having to really go through any questionable or unethical ways of getting money or would compromise this project in any way. It’s sort of going peer to peer, our friends, friend networks, or reaching out in a space like this where people who might also feel solidarity, could join on.
TFSR: And let’s talk about the situation. So, like you mentioned, we’re here to talk about an ongoing situation of political repression against two indigenous, Zapotec men, community members Alvaro Sebastian Ramirez and Abraham Garcia Ramirez who are from the Loxicha region in Oaxaca. They were incarcerated for 20 years, also like you mentioned, for resisting the Mexican state and were just given what is ridiculously called early release. And we’ll talk about that more later. But could you talk about the original struggle in which Alvaro and Abraham got arrested?
Bruno: Definitely. So, this is a slightly complicated story and it’s a long history now. So, we’re talking about the situation of political repression against these two political prisoners, Alvaro & Abraham (no relation between the two of them) and they are both Zapotec community organizers from San Augustin de Loxicha, which is a town in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, very close to the state of Chiapas which is very well known as being the site of the rebellion of the Zapatistas as you mentioned. Yes, Alvaro and Abraham were longterm political prisoners known as the Loxicha prisoners. They were the last 3 to be released but originally this was a group of upwards of 200 prisoners, all of them Zapotec men, a few women later, but from the original group almost entirely men, arrested between 1996 and the late 90’s.
All of them were accused of being complicit in a guerrilla armed uprising that took place on August 28, 1996, when a guerrilla group called The Popular Revolutionary Army, or EPR, attacked soldiers, police and marines, naval installations in various part of Mexico simultaneously that night, but the most forceful of those simultaneous attacks took place on the coast of Oaxaca near a very fancy tourist resort town in a place called La Cruzecita Juatulco. And there, close to 20 police and soldiers died and several guerrillas died as well in this confrontation. And according to the state and federal authorities, they discovered amongst these dead guerrillas that one of the members was a municipal authority from this town San Augustin de Loxicha, where there happened to be this very strong indigenous movement which had emerged in the early 1980’s and was at this point very strong, fairly radical.
Alvaro and Abram were both members of this movement that was largely organized around this indigenous organization called The Organization of Indigenous Zapotec Pueblos, or Communities, formed in 1984.
So, in 1986 when the guerrillas of the EPR attacked soldiers and police, the state ended up basically pointing their fingers at this entire region, this entire region of Zapotec communities within the fairly large municipality of San Augustin de Loxicha. It basically uses this guerrilla uprising as an alibi to crush this strong indigenous movement that had been growing for the previous ten years in this area. So, there’s various ways to answer this question of why are Alvaro and Abraham in prison, what was this original struggle? Part of that original struggle that landed them in prison was their many years of activism and organizing in the OPIC, the Organization of Indigenous Zapotec Pueblos in and around Loxicha.
Alvaro had also been involved in the democratic teachers struggle of Oaxaca since the early 1980’s. Abraham had also been involved in other leftist organizing prior to that as well. So, that’s one answer: they were political prisoners because they were political subjects who were very active in their communities, forming assemblies, organizing marches, enormous marches, taking over the central plaza of Oaxaca City, in the Zocalo, taking over the airport. That’s part of what makes them political prisoners from 1986 onwards.
The other is that they’re accused of being Guerrilleros, members of a revolutionary, clandestine organization which has often been the classic definition of being political prisoners. However, Alvaro and Abraham weren’t the only ones arrested, as I mentioned. They were 2 out of upwards of over 200 people from this cluster of communities that share the Loxicha Zapotec langauge who were all arrested under these charges of being guerrilla’s, but many of them were not even involved in even the region social movement. Many of them were completely a-political or perhaps might have had a contrary politics.
The point being that in the kind of witch-hunt that took place there in the aftermath of the EPR attacks, people were just rounded up randomly at times. It was really a situation of state terror that happened there in San Augustin de Loxicha from late 1996 with the militarization of that region, with the beginning of the mass arrests that led them to this sort of locally well-known story of the Loxicha prisoners. So, militarization, mass arrest, kind of explosion of paramilitarism, a return of violent executions. In addition to the prisoners, there’s also the situation of executions, disappearances, rape… You know, it’s really a horrific situation that took place that didn’t end up getting a lot of attention for many reasons at the time. It got a little attention, but nothing in comparison for instance to the attention that the Zapatistas got in Chiapas at the time. And partly, that had to do with the complicatied reputation of the EPR, this guerrilla movement that has it’s origins in the late 1960’s and 1970’s in other parts of Mexico, Central Mexico, also kind of through coalitions and alliances through, it’s roots in the state of Guerrero.
Going back to the original question of what was the original conflict then that got Alvaro and Abraham to be long-term political prisoners and at that having just gotten down to 2017, that they were in fact the longest ongoing cases of political imprisonment in Mexico that I know of. I don’t know of any political prisoner in Mexico in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s that was in for 20 years or even close.
TFSR: Thank you so much for that incredibly detailed answer. Can you talk about just what they were officially charged with by the state? I just remember seeing Alvaro’s statement, his recorded statement on ItsGoingDown.org about “I was charged with this and this and this and this” and it was just this amazing long list of charges.
Bruno: Yeah, definitely I recommend that folks check out that video, it’s like 3 minutes. Especially if you speak Spanish, even though Alvaro’s just reading from his letter, he’s a very charming person. It’s cool to be able to hear his voice. And for me it was special to produce that video and to be able to see it because, having known him for upwards of 6 years now, it was the first that I was able to film him or take a picture of him or use an audio recorder while talking to him. Even though we’ve had this kind of relationship of interviewer, interviewee for half of a decade.
So, in that video he lists all of those charges and it’s kind of ridiculous, this laundry list of every imaginable crime that you could throw at someone, including terrorism, conspiracy, homicide… Basically, every conceivable high-caliber political and violent crime thrown at somebody. To the extent that in the early days when he was first charged, he had a sentence of 190 years. He was a well-known and respected teacher where he was from, kind of a well-respected and radical organizer. And this is why he ended up with those charges. Partly the fact that he was who he was, as someone who was really working to build autonomy in San Augustin de Loxicha, in a model that was similar to what the Zapatistas were doing, not identical, but something similar.
The combination that Alvaro and his comrades were doing that work and the fact that the Mexican state urgently needed scapegoats and the infliction of actual terror in order to clamp down on the uprising of the Popular Revolutionary Army or anything that smelled like it in order to not be dealing with that front as well as the Zapatista front which at this point the state could not simply annihilate or ignore… So, they had to kind of deal and negotiate with it.
The combination of these two situations are what led them to someone like Alvaro having a 190 year sentence. What exactly these were… The most important of these is Omicidio Calificado, which can be translated sort of like 1st Degree Murder. It’s not exactly the same as 1st degree, it can also be translated as Aggravated Murder. That’s the one that ended up adding the most number of years to the sentence as well as attempted homicide. They were kind of pinning the murder of soldiers and police to them, as well as several of the other long-term Loxicha prisoners. In addition to the charges of aggravated homicide and intended homicide, there was also as I mentioned terrorism, conspiracy, stockpiling of weapons, theft, illicit use of foreign property, damage of former property, illegally detaining someone else or impinging on their freedoms… it’s a long mouthful of things which in the end some of those were dropped through appeals, through different legal actions over the 20 years in prison.
Several of them such as terrorism, stockpiling of weapons, were honest symbolic ornaments placed there by the state to make clear what this was about. On the one hand, dismissing these charges as being about criminals and not authentic, political entities that the State should have to negotiate or deal with such as they were with the Zapatistas, but rather to deny that they were political prisoners while placing these very strongly politically tinted and stigmatizing charges onto their sentences such as terrorism, conspiracy, so on. Which were later dropped. So, terrorism, that kind of very particularly stigmatizing and dangerous charge… Being called a terrorist gives states basically a free hand to do whatever they want to people. And that was even before the so-called War On Terror had begun. This was in the 1990’s, sort of the run-up to the logic of this War On Terror, as well as in this sense developing and practicing some of the methods that the State would later use in the so-called War On Drugs. Both as Narcos and as the State.
Yeah, so the charges, I was saying, in the end that Terrorism, an especially flashy one, got dropped I think around 2009 during an appeal, 2010. But, it was notable to me as I was living in Oaxaca, visiting the prisoners regularly, at which point they were transferred from this low-security state prison where some of them had lived/been held captive, this group of the last 7 of them were transferred to a new high security Federal semi-privatized prison 2 hours south of Oaxaca city. I remember that in a statement from the State government explaining why these prisoners were transferred, they would invoke this charge of terrorism even though it had been dropped already. They said something like “The secretary of Internal State Security announced yesterday in a statement that all of the Federal prisoners in the state of Oaxaca being accused of being Narcos as well as the 7 Loxicha prisoners accused of being armed guerrillas and terrorism were all transferred yesterday to the new Federal Prison in Miahuatlan etc etc”.
So, constantly invoking this terrorism charge even though it was dropped years ago and was always useless, but symbolically those things ring out and give the State a lot of power in being able to manipulate people and coerce people or throw them in prison or use violence against them when you accuse them of being a terrorist. Especially when there’s a lot of silence and un-memory, I would call it, around the issue such as there were around Loxicha, where there’s always been a committed solidarity movement around the prisoners since 1996, but it has waxed and waned, kind of in and out of public perception, submerged and then emerging again into awareness locally, sometimes nationally. At times, gotten international attention. Certainly there has been committed International solidarity from anarchists in France, from the CGT in Spain, folks locally in Oaxaca City, in Mexico City. From, sometimes, fairweather solidarity and sometimes really long-term. I think it’s particularly different anarchist groups or anarchist leaning groups in Mexico and Europe who really stuck with Alvaro in particular. On account of his kind of adopting the 6th Declaration of the Lacondon Jungle of the Zapatistas in the last 7 years. That’s something we can talk about…
TFSR: As you were talking I was thinking about this aspect that the state has which is a kind of toxically manipulative… especially with the stigmatizing charges that you were talking about like terrorism, which… I was interviewing somebody some time ago and they said something like “The war on terror is a war on emotion”, which issomething that is very very difficult to contain and very difficult to define. And it’s something that, even though the charges were dropped, it’s something that follows folks around forever. Which I think is the nature of the carceral state and will sound very familiar to people who have been keeping even half an eye on political repression cases around the world. And you did answer the question that I had, to some degree, I was going to ask “What have solidarity endeavors been like throughout their incarceration and what kind of media attention have they gotten?” And I was wondering if you had any other words about the fair-weather nature of support for the Loxicha prisoners…
Bruno: You’re absolutely right in seeing that one aspect of what the state does is manipulating and coercing. Particularly in some of it’s most egregious ways through methods or strategy such as War on Terror or War on Drugs. You’d mentioned that someone you had interviewed before had called it a sort of War of Emotion against Ghosts, not that one metaphor has to exclude the other.
But I think that you kind of need the emotion in order to animate the war, to allow it to happen. And in order to have the emotions, you need to have the ghosts and they can be ghosts on illusions of things that are there or things that are made up. And I think that toxicity is also really an important concept when thinking about State violence, especially the most directed State of Exception-y violence really depends on ideological toxicity. It strikes me as relevant to the Loxicha story..
The Loxicha story is, as I’ve come to know it, there’s the pre-96 Loxicha story, which is politically the story of a growth of the Inidgenous Movement. And the second half is the story of a community or cluster of communities dealing with State violence and political stigma that particularly took its most direct form in the formation of this group of people that became known as the Loxicha prisoners. As I mentioned, some of them were highly politicized (even radical) political subjects, organizers, militants. Some of them, who became part of this group of hundreds of political prisoners, were completely non-political or political in ways that you wouldn’t think would get them in prison for being Leftist Insurgents. But many of them, almost all of them were Inidgenous, many of them spoke very little Spanish. That’s partly a manifestation of structural racism and classism in the Mexican political/legal/carceral system. Mexican prisons are full of poor people, indigenous people, innocent people… Not that I think that innocent or non-innocent is a formula that works to put people into cages, I don’t think that you can put people into cages. But this is one of those lines that people in cages, the prisoners themselves would say to me “Prisons are full of poor, full of Indigenous, full of Innocent people.” So, that’s sort of some of their thinking.
So, in any case, you get hundreds of people thrown in there and part of what this focused mass-incarceration of Indigenous people from this one area accomplished was to fracture this political Indigenous movement that had emerged there in the previous ten years. Kind of fractured, and stopped it in its tracks. The State is always good, the Mexican State in particular, at causing infighting, infiltrating social movements and here it really showed its talent at undoing and fracturing a social movement, pitting it’s leaders and members against each other. While at the same time, they were being attacked on all sides. They were confronting militarization, the rise of paramilitarism, the return of caciquismo and pistolerismo, the rule of old political bosses and gunmen which that organization had emerged partly in order to oppose.
What the State needed at this point in 1996 when it was dealing with the Zapatista Uprising in Chiapas, really taking the State by surprise… There was certainly a lot of fear on the part of the State of other Indigenous rebellions or other rebellions of the poor, of other Zapatista movements and uprisings happening in other parts of the country. The State, quite frankly, was terrified of this. So in ‘96 when you get yet another surprising attack, but at this point the Mexican State, the Federal government, had no other choice but to engage with the Zapatistas because they were very successful in what they did. In forming their communities and their rebellions, a revolutionary army. Throughout the 1980’s and early 90’s, the Zapatistas… it wasn’t all victories.
Now in the decades that they’ve been around, they’ve suffered many losses and confronted great struggles, but it’s been a successful revolution. I guess that’s just one of the important things that has to be noted in this discussion. The Zapatista uprising has been success, and that’s why in 2018 you can visit Chiapas and visit the Caracoles and actually witness a successful living, breathing and walking Revolutinoary society, small and embattled as it may be. And this other story that we’re talking about here, this kind of other Revolutionary movement that emerged in Oaxaca in the early 80’s and 90’s, is the story, sadly, of a failed revolution on the other hand.
It’s a story of a rose that failed for many reasons. Part of them might have been internal contradictions, but part of it was unrelenting and effective State violence. And it’s really hard to talk about what happened in Oaxaca and with the Loxicha prisoners and not refer it to what happened and was happening in Chiapas at the same time. It was about surviving. The Mexican state certainly tried to annihilate it, using military force against it, and could not. They couldn’t use military force and they were not effective with the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party / Partido Revolucionario Institucional), the long-term ruling party in Mexico. None of it’s large and well-tried arsenal of political, social-economic tools of co-optation was effective at undoing the Zapatista movement, either. It was somewhat effective, they lost some of their Caracoles/autonomous regions, but 5 of them, there they are!
But this is the reality that the Mexican State had to deal with in 1994, 95, 96. And with the emergence, then, of this other Guerrilla uprising with the face of the EPR, the Mexican State effectively made it’s project to take a different course of action then to basically annihilate them. Because of how well the Zapatistas grounded themselves, the state was negotiating with them and refused to do this on two fronts. They said “we’re going to recognize the Zapatistas as a political entity, we’re not going to say that specifically, but we’re at the negotiating table.” By 1996 you had the State negotiating with the Zapatistas over potential Constitutional reforms that would recognize Indigenous autonomy. As the EPR makes itself known, it’s strongest in parts of Oaxaca and Guerrero and parts of central Mexico, but the state at all levels organized itself to focus on the military solution to dealing with the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) and with other Indigenous communities that may or may not have been involved, may or may not have sympathized but where there was a risk of that… That was the Loxicha story. Yes, there was some presence of this revolutionary movement, the EPR, but in throwing so many people (including “innocent people” into prison) part of what you get is this sort of social punishment. It doesn’t matter if you were in or you weren’t, whether you knew or you didn’t. It was here, it was around you, so you were all going to pay for some kind of a random act.
Some of the high profile prisoners among the Loxicha prisoners, were the Municipal Authorities. So, essentially the entire democratically elected, local government of the municipality in Oaxaca, the majority of local government municipalities. More than 400 of the 500 of these entities, like counties, are ruled by Usos y Costumbres. It means that indigenous communities at the municipal level can determine their own way of electing local authorities and it also means that they do this to the exclusion of political parties. So, this is how the authorities in Loxicha are elected, that this has practically been happening pretty much always in indigenous communities in Oaxaca but had only become Constitutionally recognized one year earlier in 1995 as part of efforts of the Oaxacan State level (Mexico’s most indigenous state). It was their way of trying to placate the indigenous communities in the way of throwing them a bone in the form of recognizing autonomy to a limited extent. So obviously it’s not coincidental that it’s one year after the Zapatista Uprising.
TFSR: I was really curious about the relationship between the Loxicha uprising to the Zapatista revolution, and you spoke to that really really eloquently and I thank you for that because you know, the Zapatistas are world wide such a revolutionary example and are very very looked to, and the examples that they bring into revolutionary discourse are very cherished I think. And I think that it’s a really poignant situation to me when I’m hearing you talk about it cause these two things were going on so concurrently and one of them is way more lower profile and the one that’s way more lower profile somebody you know, was in prison for 20 years, you know? It’s very poignant to me that these two things were happening simultaneously. But yeah I thank you for talking about that, that wasn’t really a question it was just a reflection.
Bruno: I can actually say one or two things more about it, so I wouldn’t want to make it sound like the Zapatista’s fault that the Loxichas and the indigenous movement in Loxicha kind of was dealt a harder hand, you know I wouldn’t want to kind of say “oh well because the Zapatistas were getting all this attention people in Loxicha were screwed over”.
A way of understanding the different forms of attention they got but it’s very much to its credit that the Zapatista movement is still there today, and I think it’s partially due to the fact that they really knew how to organize. It’s why they’re there now. But I do want to say something more about the more substantial versus fair weather forms of solidarity.
So, one of the facets or one of the realities of the Loxicha story in its second phase as a story of many many political prisoners and their many families, tons of fractured families and fractured communities who then, while faced with a lot of violence, have to organize themselves in order to out of nowhere create this prisoner solidarity freedom movement, one important aspect of that Loxicha story as a prisoner liberation story is that the struggle was made particularly difficult by its association with this particular armed group, the EPR. So, while in the mid ’90s a lot of people wanted to be on board with supporting the Zapatistas because really they did have a very novel, very moving, very inspiring political message, which is why they really changed political discourse at the time. And a lot of people wanted to be involved with them, whereas the Popular Revolutionary Army, the EPR, at least kind of at its leadership level – this was a national, IS still a national organization, it’s still around – their discourse was fairly stuck in the past, it was still a very old fashioned stodgy Marxist-Leninism with a Maoist streak that really wasn’t speaking to people. To be honest, I’ve been studying this cluster of movements for years, and I find it really hard to get through a statement by the EPR through to the end, it’s just really hard to read.
Whereas with the Zapatistas stuff, it’s impossible to put down! So there’s partly this: the EPR’s political discourse, its rhetoric, its public statements, don’t really inspire. Also the EPR comes out of the longer lineage of armed clandestine movements in Mexico, and some of these such as the PROCOUP-PDLP, which is the Partido Revolucionario Obrero Campesino Union del Pueblo – Partido de los Pobres. So this predecessor of the EPR, one of its predecessors, has a lot of dark associations; in the 1970s and ’80s that group was involved with a lot of violent infighting within its own ranks, there are these stories of so called “revolutionary trials” against its own former comrades, very foul treatment of its own political prisoners and then disavowing them, and in some cases killing its own former prisoners who had abandoned rank.
So there were these dark associations, some of which are on the level of legend some of which are actual, around this organization. And the fact that also then in 1996 when the EPR rises up, the Zapatistas who really are holding a lot of the world’s political imagination, or at least in Mexico and many other places, they’d already put down their weapons. The actual armed confrontation between the Zapatistas and the Mexican state lasted for twelve days. Then because the Zapatistas have always been really good at listening – the practice of listening has always been really integral to a lot of their political praxis on many levels – they heard this public outcry calling for an end to the war, and they put down their weapons and have since then, while there is still a revolutionary army that is a part of its movement and it’s not going away. But it has managed to successfully implement and develop its revolutionary society and communities without having to ever go on the military offensive since 1994.
Anyway at that point, it had been two years since then when in 1996 the EPR rises up, shooting up police and soldiers, and for several of these reasons then a lot of people weren’t that sympathetic when you then get this story of indigenous political prisoners who are all accused of being members of this particular revolutionary organization. And, you know it really doesn’t matter, clearly for most of them the Loxicha movement wasn’t the EPR. The Loxicha prisoners were really the product of a witch hunt, and you had a very diverse group of individuals in there. So because these many associations around the EPR, the state was very good at stigmatizing that movement. And so then as you arrest people who you accuse of being members of the EPR, you call them “terrorists”, and then it’s very easy to throw them away and to make people think twice before getting associated.
So as I began saying, a lot of people wanted to get on board with the Zapatistas in terms of NGOs, human rights organizations, legal aid, translators, all sorts of solidarity. But with the Loxichas, people were very hesitant. It was a very very limited kind of people, of organizations, essentially it was one of each category: one human rights organization, one team of solidarity lawyers, one NGO, that got on board with the legal and political defense of the Loxichas in the aftermath of ’96. And you know, this was making a full loop back to one of your questions, I think this is really one of the manifestations of the state being effective at using toxicity and stigma as it needs to. So here because of its political needs it was essentially effective at stigmatizing an entire community, a racialized stigma, such that for years young men or adult men from Loxicha would never say they were from Loxicha to this day. People will say they’re from the coast, or any other town, but people just won’t identify with being from Loxicha because it’s very dangerous. And nobody wants to get involved in anything that smells of Loxicha much less the EPR, because as late as 2007, whatever you say about the EPR the truth is that its own militants are still being disappeared by the Mexican state. So effectively being branded as EPR is to be branded as someone that the state might very well disappear or at the very least thrown into prison for years.
It became a very very toxic accusation, and that’s one of the byproducts of this whole conflict, of the Loxicha crisis.
TFSR: (Break audio) You’re listening to our conversation with Brunero Rennero-Hanan about the situation regarding Alvaro and Abraham Ramirez – no relation between the two – who are two out of the two hundred fifty original indigenous people arrested in the Loxicha region of Oaxaca in the mid ’90s. If you’d like to hear a 45 minute edit of this interview you can visit archive.org and search for The Final Straw Radio Collection. We’ll be back with the rest of the interview after a short musical break, what you’re hearing right now is Gabylonia with her 2012 release Abuso de Poder. Shoutout to subMedia’s hip hop podcast Burning Cop Car which is where I first heard this track.
TFSR: I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mid talking about who are Alvaro and Abraham personally, you mentioned at several points that you had a personal relationship with Alvaro, but will you talk about who they are and the projects that they do, and what is important to them politically these days?
Bruno: Yeah, definitely. So first how I got to know them -and I have a personal relationship with both of them, Alvaro and Abraham – because both of them were among the last 7 of the Loxicha prisoners. So of that group of prisoners that was upwards of of 200, maybe as many as 250 in the late ’90s, all those that were originally associated with this case there were still seven of them in prison in 2012. I started visiting them and interviewing them to record their oral histories. So, I started visiting Oaxaca regularly around 2008 because I was beginning my doctoral research around questions of social movements and historical memory, and originally I was interested in students around the popular assembly of the peoples of Oaxaca, and around then is when I became aware of the Loxicha prisoners who were definitely an old story, it’s kind of one of these long still breathing stories of state violence and grassroots solidarity that I didn’t quite understand too well but it was something that was because of the effervescence of the 2006 urban uprising of the Iapo, there was this rising to the surface of other forgotten or dormant political struggles.
I got to know Abraham and Alvaro in 2012 when I shifted my research from the popular assembly of the peoples of Oaxaca in that 2006 movement to the Loxicha story. And so I moved for a while to their community, to San Agustin Loxicha, where I lived for a bit over a year conducting interviews there and doing historical research, ethnography. At the same time that I started visiting them in two state prisons close to Oaxaca City, in Iscotel and Etla, I would visit these last seven of the Loxicha prisoners. I ended up getting to know five of them, or interviewing and recording the oral histories of five of them, and I got to know particularly well a few of them. In particular, Alvaro and Abraham as well as a couple of others.
So my relationship with them was from the beginning one of political solidarity and accompaniment as well as being centered around this project of recording their oral histories. It’s partly for my academic research in order to try and get this piece of paper, but I’ve often seen my role in politically engaged research as being someone who can amplify the voices of others, or share stories. That really became the basis of our relationship, the beginning was I would go and visit them, and six of them were in Iscotel Prison. This being kind of a low security prison, I would be able to spend several hours hanging out with them just listening and writing down stories in my notebook.
Low security prisons in Mexico might be kind of surprising to what Americans imagine prisons being like. The fact is that it’s still a prison, and a place that is locked up and constrained, but a place like Iscotel Prison, the prisoners didn’t have to wear uniforms. They could walk around in the periphery inside the gates, and around the building. And the Loxicha prisoners having been there so long, when I got to know them they had already been there for like fifteen years, they’d kind of accrued some seniority, some respect from both the guards, authorities, other prisoners. One of them was on his own in a different prison in Etla, Zacharias who became a master carpenter there, but the other six were in Iscotel. They were all in one single cell, cell 22, where several had been since 1996. Originally there were maybe 50 or 60 of them in two cells, but as they ended up slowly getting out and just those with the longest sentences remained in, the first six of them lived in cell 22 there in Iscotel Prison. And it was always striking to me that a prison, its main purpose is kinda to isolate humans, to de-socialize them, to try to extract them from society, and I was always struck by how limited the state could be for just how great humans are at subverting that. How the Loxicha prisoners had over these 15 years been able to carve out a little habitable space, a little human corner, within this dehumanizing place.
So Alvaro had also become a carpenter in prison, he’d picked up the trade there, and for instance built a second story inside the cell, what’s called a tapanco, kind of a little loft so that they wouldn’t be so cramped and that way two of them had their beds upstairs and the other four were down below. He also ended up building a little altar to the Virgin and their other patron saints, in Mexico it’s not uncommon at all to be leftist, even radical, perhaps even revolutionary, and still be devout, they’d organize events.
So anyway that was their life in there, and I got to know them through this relationship of interviews and recording their stories. The first time I got to know Alvaro actually was in the context of a forum that was organized by a collective known as La Voz de Loxiches Zapotecos en Prision, which is a collective that Alvaro is part of, along with some of his relatives and other supporters. And so they in conjunction with La Rev Contra la Revolucion, the network against repression which is part of the Zapatista network. So they collaborated to make this forum about Alvaro or for him, in solidarity with him, as well as other political prisoners in Oaxaca, in Chiapas. And the second day of this forum involved making a visit to Iscotel, so that’s kind of how I first went in. I was hesitant at first to just go in to try to visit them and say like “Hey I just want to hear about your stories.”
I thought it was important to first go in on the side of political solidarity rather than the side of oral history. And so my first encounter with Alvaro was in the context of the second day of this forum when about a dozen of us, including some members of his collective and relatives and then a few other anarchist-anarchist leaning comrades from Mexico City and Chiapas, Zapatista supporters who ended up going in and to my surprise ended up having a seminar – you know, sitting in a circle and discussing politics and prison with Alvaro himself – inside the prison. I never really expected that something like that could happen, so that to me was one of my early lessons in what effective prisoner accompaniment and solidarity looks like.
Let me tell you about them as well, and my impressions of them. So, of those last seven Loxicha prisoners who were in when I got to know them in 2012 and started working with a few of them, the first one I got to know was Alvaro. He’s the one I’ve gotten to know best so far, and this is partly because his political project and his views align the most with mine, and I’ve just found him to be a very inspiring and inspired political collaborator and interlocutor, he’s someone I’ve learned a lot from. But anyway so, Alvaro has been a political organizer and radical pretty much his whole life. He grew up in a small community called Iganoma Guay, which is a little village in the municipality of San Agustin de Loxicha, as a Zapotec speaker in a peasant family. I think he didn’t have a pair of shoes until he was 12 years old, he grew up farming but ended up working in the country side and then as a young man went to become a teacher.
In Oaxaca since the 1980s, which is when he started the teacher’s union, there has been a fairly powerful and at times radical movement. He was part of that original radical emergence of that kind of the Democratic Teacher’s Movement in the early ’80s, and then some of his early political struggles back in Loxicha, back near his home, were the establishment of schools for communities. Then in 1984 he was one of the co founders of the organization of indigenous Zapotec communities or pueblos, the OPIZ, and he also became a member of the local municipal government. So from the mid ’80s to the mid ’90s, Alvaro basically dedicated himself full time to becoming an organizer, and so this meant organizing the communities of Loxicha politically, internally, often in order to really try to break the power of casicas and pistoleros, political bosses and gun men in the region.
Loxicha was a place where political violence was really rampant, there was a lot of land theft, peasants were really badly exploited by middle men purchasers – coyotes – who would buy their coffee, this was a coffee growing region. And so some of Alvaro’s early struggles with the OPIZ were to try and combat some of the biggest problems of the communities which were poverty and that political violence and marginalization. He ended up being an important figure within the OPIZ through the ’90s and up until he had to go into hiding once the persecution of the movement began particularly in earnest, although he’d been in hiding and kind of living a partly clandestine life in the past before. And then he was arrested in 1998, as he mentions in that video that’s on the publication on It’s Going Down, he mentioned that he was detained in mid December in 1998 but then it wasn’t until 11 days later that he was actually presented at a prison and this was because for 11 days he was disappeared and tortured by the authorities who were trying to force him into making false confessions, to denounce his comrades, and this was something that happened frequently with many of the arrests and detentions of people from Loxicha. Many cases of torture and forced confessions, signing hundreds of blank pages.
So then Alvaro is later sent to state prison in Etla where he stayed for many years. He was a victim of an assassination attempt there several years later and then he was transferred to Iscotel Prison where most of the other Loxicha prisoners were. That’s where I got to know him. At the point when I got to know him he had gotten kind of a new political faith and he was by then the most politically active and most radical of them. I think several of the others were perhaps experiencing political burnout after so many years of struggle, of different failed options. And I think Alvaro also suffered from burnout, that’s something that I’m sure is common for prisoners in general. But at this point Alvaro was going through a kind of political re-animation that had been brought about probably a few years before when he became really invested in the project of the Zapatistas and particularly that which is explained in the 6th Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle. That has really become one of the most important parts of his political project since then, he kind of found a new political energy at that point sharing it with other prisoners, trying to enact it. I think the Zapatista discourse really served for him to re think a lot of his current political practice; inside the prison he started thinking about how to think about new forms of organization, how to talk to other people about horizontal organizing and autonomous work, how to get that message through in a successful way.
He also began corresponding and engaging with other prisoners who were adherents of the 6th Declaration of the Lacondon Jungle. And I think it also served partly to reinterpret his own political trajectory and his past.
Some of the most insightful and exciting political discussions I’ve had were with Alvaro, and his daughter and her partner who were some of the members of the collective that has supported Alvaro for many years, at least since 2009, built around this Zapatista model. Not that it’s trying to replicate, but to just use some of those basic principles. And some of that work has been around re-thinking as people in solidarity with him, cause his relatives are his allies but also for himself, kind of re-thinking what it is to be a political prisoner as a political subject. To re-think what solidarity looks like, that solidarity isn’t charity, or a favor, that it’s not done for someone but with someone. Really trying to place a political prisoner at the very center of his, her, their struggle for liberation. So in sum, Alvaro is someone who has inspired and taught me a lot about prison, about freedom, about solidarity, about autonomy. His Zapatismo has become a really influential thing for him, and so as soon as he got out of prison in 2017 one of the first things he did was, instead of now just corresponding with that Zapatista network and that network organized by adherents of the 6th, he went and started meeting people.
He got involved immediately with the campaign to support Marichuy, the potential candidate for the National Indigenous Congress, was kind of a recent Zapatista project to try to subvert the national elections in Mexico. He joined the campaign to support her and get signatures, and joined their tour through southern Mexico and followed them to the Zapatista communities. He ended up visiting all 5 caracoles, which I know a lot of people who claim to be Zapatista supporters who haven’t visited even one, certainly not 5!
He had just gotten out of prison, been inside for 20 years, that’s a scary moment for a lot of people getting out of long term incarceration. People are often very flustered, maybe kind of scared, suffering from some trauma. He certainly had no money but he somehow just made it work.
And then I can tell you about Abraham. Abraham was one of the next prisoners that I got to know by recording their oral histories. Abraham Garcia Ramirez is like Alvaro someone who grew up very poor in a rural community in the municipality of San Agustin de Loxicha, he’s from Santa Cruz. He tells a story about not being able to get past the 5th grade at the closest school because he suffered an accident when his teacher’s donkey had a rope attached to it that accidentally caught on his leg and ended up dragging him several meters and messing up his leg really badly to the extent that he couldn’t walk. And his parents were afraid to take him to a doctor because they were afraid that they would amputate his leg, which may sound silly but it’s not a story about these ignorant parents, those stories are expressions of what structural racism and poverty look and feel like where indigenous people, speakers of Zapotec like Abraham’s parents, were generally treated so poorly with so much derision, discrimination, by authorities, by doctors, judges, police, people who held power, it was so common that they were afraid that if they took their son in that they would sooner amputate his leg than fix it.
So Abraham tells a story about not being able to back to school because he basically sat at home on a little stool for a year and would just read by himself. He sat on his own, he continued working as a coffee cultivator from a very early age. Then in his youth he ended up getting involved first through a kind of leftist political party, the PRD, on the coast of Oaxaca, and then I think being disappointed with party politics, he ended up then hearing about the indigenous movement of the OPIZ that was forming back in his hometown and around Loxicha. And when he went back there in the early ’90s he ended up getting involved.
And so I would say that Abraham like Zacharias, another of the last prisoners to get out, were part of kind of like a second generation of all these militants and community organizers. So Abraham was very charismatic, he was very charming and effective political organizer, so at this point the OPIZ in the early ’90s really had a lot of political presence throughout most of the 70 odd towns and villages that make up the municipality of San Agustin de Loxicha. So Abraham was someone who was organizing people to organizing assemblies, getting people to come out. Things he would do would be to organize in communities internally to counter an absence of the state in many places, to be able to deal with problems on their own whether it was questions of, say, domestic violence: Abraham would say “ok we’ve got this problem, how do we get to the root of it?” This led to women organizing themselves and saying that alcohol was one of the biggest problems behind domestic violence in the communities, and so many communities ended up banning alcohol. Enacting that kind of local change was part of what these organizers including Abraham were doing as well as in some cases organizing to make demands of the State, whether through negotiating with the State itself at points or organizing enormous marches of hundreds or in some cases thousands of people to take the highway and march to Oaxaca City, four hours to the north, or to occupy the central plaza in Oaxaca, to take the airport.
So then by 1996 when the EPR uprisings happened, Abraham was a well known organizer. And certainly the State had its eye on him, because he’d been one of the important organizers in taking the plaza in Oaxaca City, the airport. So it was very easy to pin the guerilla accusation on him, as well as many others who were well known activists or organizers with this organization of the OPIZ. By the time I got to know Abraham as another of the long term prisoners who’d been in for decades, he always struck me for being extremely humble. I’m not sure if that’s the most flattering thing..
TFSR: It’s not necessarily like a quality you would find in – you mentioned that he’s very charismatic and very charming, and humility is a really interesting character trait to go along with those two things. I don’t often find that.
Bruno: One of the striking things about Abraham is that he is humble, and you’re right that is sometimes an unusual feature in charming or charasmatic figures. But that’s I think one of the things that’s notable about indigenous and peasant movements in a place like Mexico, I was always struck by the motto or the principles of the organization that Abraham and Alvaro were militants in back in the ’80s and ’90s, the OPIZ, their 3 core principles were discipline, honesty, and humility. And you say ok, discipline and honesty are pretty standard fare for the values of activists, maybe even revolutionaries, but humility is not something you often find in the espoused values of revolutionary movements. But I think it’s certainly an expression of this being a peasant and indigenous movement rooted in the country side, and humility is something that’s really highly valued in the communities.
And it’s something like someone like Abraham certainly really lives by. By the time that I got to know him better and was recording his stories, he was not as politically involved. At that point he was a bit more focused on his legal case, plus he had a baby daughter; he’d separated from his previous partner in prison and met another partner there. This was at that time a co-ed prison, and they had a baby daughter who was born there in prison, and in fact grew up there for the first couple years of her life, and that was really the main focus of his attention at that point. Now currently, since he got out in 2017, he’s returned to some of his organizing but at a very local level. I think he’s been re adjusting to life on the outside slowly, but he’s been living in a shelter that was one of the material gains you could say of the Loxicha Prisoners Movement. They eventually managed to extract this shelter from the State in a concession in the early 2000s where now several families who were victims of state violence in Loxicha now live. It used to be mostly for families of prisoners to be able to stay in Oaxaca while they visited from Loxicha.
But anyway, now people who were victims of violence in different forms now live there, and Abraham and Zacharias are both living there. Abraham is kind of taken upon himself to reorganize the space where you’ve got dozens of people living in order to make it a little more comfortable and clean and pleasant for the people living there. And on that, he’s also working to try and support himself and his family, his wife who’s still in prison and his smallest daughter who’s 5 in school. He’s weaving baskets to support himself like that, to try and help his comrade Zacharias to set up a carpentry workshop. And that’s what he’s up to these days.
TFSR: One of the reasons that we both are talking right now is that they are out of prison, but they are being forced to pay some pretty exorbitant fees to the Mexican State for so called “damage reparations”. Could you talk a little bit about what they are being forced to pay per month and is this a common tactic on the part of the Mexican State for extracting funds from former political prisoners?
Bruno: Yeah, so Alvaro and Abraham got out finally after 20 years in prison, on July 7th of 2017. And so for 20 years the demands for them and for the other prisoners has always been immediate and unconditional freedom. And finally they were able to get their freedom after being robbed of 20 years of their life, but in order to accept it they basically had to sign onto a really sordid deal where in order to be recognized as being accepting of a quote unquote “early release”, because at this point their sentences were around 30 years, and having gone through 2/3rds of their sentence and proven that they are well behaved or something like that, then they were granted this so called benefit of being given an early release. In order to do that they said ‘we’ll give you the early release but you have to accept a whole list of conditions’ some of them just kind of being symbolic nonesense, like “I promise not to do drugs or commit crimes”, but also they had to promise to pay these so called damage reparations to the court. Which allegedly are a way of monetizing the deaths that they accuse them of causing. But really this is just ransom money that goes to the courts.
So each of them are being charged slightly different figures, but close to around 125,000 pesos, which is sort of like 7,000 dollars depending on the exchange rate, over the course of 2 years. Which translates basically to paying in the case of Abraham 250 dollars more or less to the courts each month and for Alvaro, about 280 dollars each month. Which is a ludicrous amount! I mean I would find it hard to be paying that each month on top of my rent, and frankly the kind of money that you can come by even as a relatively modestly living person in the US is impossible compared to Mexico. So to assume that ordinary people, not to mention poor people, could pay this in Oaxaca is unrealistic. Not to mention people from rural communities who happened to have spent the last 20 years in prison and just got out. It’s just another slap in the face right, this added injustice heaped on top of a mountain of injustices, the core of which is 20 years of prison built of course on top of all the injustices that led these people to rising up against the State in various forms, or confronting the State, and then being made political prisoners. So anyway, this is just yet one more injustice. And part of why we’ve taken it up here.
Through my connections with the Loxicha prisoners to help out however I could, and we’ve taken it up here in the US, even though there’s a network of support for Alvaro and Abraham in Mexico, it’s just doing something in the vein of economic solidarity is much easier here in the US. Even just a few dollars that might not be a lot to people here, even ordinary people who might have low-paying jobs, just a couple of bucks a month is something that we can afford. If we hit up some wealthier Liberals, maybe they can throw in some more. That’d be great! But even with some very small donations built up from a pool of friends and comrades, I think we can hopefully get to covering that $530 a month that would cover both of their damage reparation fees. Thus, helping them to not be forced to go back to prison. That’s really the punchline behind this. They’re being charged these damage reparations, essentially ransom by the courts, under the threat of being forced back into prison for another 10 years.
They both realize that this is a threat that they face and they’re both very philosophical about it, but it’s impossible to fathom (for them, their families, friends) that they’d go back in for another 10 years for this completely unjust and counter-insurgent political imprisonment.
TFSR: In a recent statement by Alvaro that’s posted on ItsGoingDown, he makes a declaration of solidarity with the J20 defendants and he calls the process “an attack against the youth who resist, reveal themselves and rebel.” Will you talk about the parallels between this case and those of the J20 defendants, 59 of whom are still facing decades in prison?
BR: Gladly. To be forced to think of the parallels between the Loxicha case and the J20 defendants amongst the friends and comrades here in South East Michigan who have worked with us to start this economic solidarity project with the Loxicha Prisoners, Abraham and Alvaro, that includes a couple of the J20 defendants who live here in Michigan. As we started up this economic solidarity project, I was really pleased, I thought it was really cool, that these comrades in the J20 defense, were keen to help out. And then it struck me that it made perfect sense, that you would get really heart-felt solidarity without having to really think about it much from folks who are facing the prospect of political imprisonment with people who are just emerging from it. The conditions and situations of the two movements are different in many ways: one in the United States during the Trump Era; the other we’re talking about in the mid-90’s in Mexico. And yet, the parallels are looking at violence and political imprisonment from opposite sides of a prism.
It’s sort of like in the case of the J20 defendants, you’ve got this original group of around 250 (coincidentally 250 people arrested and accused of ludicrous crimes, these really symbolically charged & trumped up charges aimed by the state at putting dissidents behind bars and at dissuading people from dissenting against the state; politically motivated use of the courts and of prisons to scare people, to inflict a bit of terror against dissidents or possible dissidents… Even among the J20 defendants, it was very clearly targeted against people who were marching under the banner of anti-capitalism, anti-fascism. But you’ve also got people who were thrown in there who were journalists, photographers, who weren’t directly involved in protesting but it doesn’t matter, it’s a part of the message. Similarly in Loxicha, in the mid-90’s, again you’ve got different conditions, but a group of around 250 people who were arrested, detained, sent to prison, under these symbolically loaded political charges. Again, some of them were resisting, protesting, organizing against capitalism and the State. Some of them just got caught up in the violence, swept up in the witch-hunt. And yet, I think that what caught the imagination of these comrades who are J20 defendants in Michigan who want to support Alvaro and Abraham is to think… Here the J20 defendants are looking down the barrel, looking at the prospect of decades of political imprisonment for resisting the state, for protesting it. And they’re looking at these comrades in Mexico, from very different worlds, but one which also for resisting capitalism and organizing these hundred of people. Instead of looking at the prospect of it, they’re emerging from decades of political imprisonment.
This led to conversations here about how there must be a lot to learn from one site to the other. What can folks who are young organizers such as the J20 defendants, what can they learn, what can we all learn from listening tot he story of people who did suffer through decades of political imprisonment. And the other way around, what can folks like Alvaro and Abraham learn from new forms of resistance and solidarity that are emerging from and being expressed by something like the J20 defense. So, it was this cool surprise here to get J20 defendants in on the project and to have these discussions and to compare the two phenomenon. And then, when some of us visited Alvaro this past December, we had a visit with him now the first time in freedom, recorded this video, did some interviews. We were talking about J20 and the J20 defendants so, on one had he hadn’t heard about the J20 (which shows that we need more communication across Leftist networks internationally) but then we had a really great conversation where we explained what had happened on J20 and the situation of the defendants were.
It took so little explanation, he was immediately captivated, perceptive, clapping his hands “Of course, that makes perfect sense. Obviously these are the repercussions, this is what the State did in reaction to those who are marching under the banner of anti-capitalism and anti-fascism.” And we had one of those classical, great discussions that Alvaro is fantastic at, discussing some of these comparisons. One fo the great things to come out of it was that we kind of proposed that this could be the beginning of some exchanges. We thought it’d be really great to organize some form of dialogue, exchanges, encounters somehow between Alvaro, his comrades, the former prisoners in Mexico and J20 defendants and their allies in the US to give this conversation some actual substance. And there, Alvaro and comrades offered then that they could disseminate that and share it in a newspaper like Unios (a newspaper of the network of adherents of the 6th Declaration [of the Lacondon Jungle, the Other Campaign of the Zapatistas]).
TFSR: That’s so wonderful that it was such a productive conversation. That makes me really happy to hear that and congratulations for being a part of that and for setting that up and drawing those parallels. I think that’s really really awesome.
BR: Thanks. And out of that conversation is where Alvaro wanted to send a shoutout to the J20 Defendants that we recorded that’s on the video on Its Going Down. So, I have to confess that last line in the video which you quoted where he says “we recognize this as an attack against the youth that organizes and rebels and reveals itself”… I was the one who wrote the subtitles on that video. I was translating this letter which he was reading from. The word “to rebel” in Spanish, which is “que se rebela” he spelled it “revela” which means “reveals itself”. I knew he meant “rebels” and I wondered if whether that had been purposeful, so I translated it as both: it both rebels and reveals itself. You never know, was it a slip of the pen or that might have just been Alvaro’s message itself. In one word, you both rebel and reveal yourself.
TFSR: I liked it very much, especially in the context of J20, which was a Black Bloc, which is supposed to be an anonymous thing, that was then revealed by police, it was then also… people were doxxed by fascists and members of the alt-right. I found it to be a very great, linguistic insertion. Like, you revealed yourself, that’s courageous, you rebelled and that was courageous. I thought that was brilliant.
BR: I love that. And you know, you’re totally right. You mention, it was the Black Bloc where people concealed their identities, their faces, and that they do so in order to reveal themselves., in order to rebel. It’s kind of like what the Zapatistas did in covering their faces. “In order to be noticed, in order to have a face, we had to cover our faces.” I’ve always loved that through this kind of anonymizing yourself, you become someone.
I kind of imagine that in rebelling and revealing themselves, Alvaro might be saying that in that act of rebellion that you reveal yourself, not only to the State, to others, but even to yourself. People discover themselves in that moment of action, as Frantz Fanon said, “Consciousness is born in action, not the other way around.”
TFSR: Could you remind us of the Patreon link and talk a little bit about the economic solidarity project / endeavor being organized under the banner “Keep Loxicha Free”?
BR: That’s kind of the main focus of what we’re tryihng to organize with this economic solidarity, so I really appreciate the change to broadcast it a bit. For most of us who are working on this, this is our first time doing this kind of economic solidarity. I, personally at least, find that economic solidarity can feel kind of tricky or off-putting. Economic Solidarity is one tiny fragment, one tiny instance of what solidarity can look like. And I think for those of us who are further left, with anarchistic leanings, Zapatista sympathizers, dealing with money is something that’s really uncomfortable. We don’t like doing it and it’s partly why Alvaro and Abraham themselves have not been able to raise that money.
A couple of the other last Loxicha prisoners who got out last year had the same conditions but were able to raise that money through connections to Unions or through asking the State. Alvaro and Abraham had not wanted to do that. A part of the way that these ransoms work in Mexico is that you have to ask someone powerful to help you out and you end up indebted. So, what we’re trying to do by bringing that economic solidarity pitch here to the US (and
internationally, if people want to donate) is to try to take that weight off of having to ask for the money over there. Instead, we said “let us ask for you, it’ll probably be easier.” But several of us have never done fundraising, so it’s figuring it out as we do it. We thought that one of these go-fund-me type pages would work and that Patreon with it’s monthly donation system would work for this.
So, we’re trying to work up to $530 per month, we’re currently at $201, almost halfway there. In recent months we’ve been making this work also by presenting this story at events, going to events organized by comrades and friends, and making little 5-10 minute pitches and passing the bucket. Through that along with the Patreon we’ve been able to cover their payments so far. But you can only present so many times in your community and pass the bucket, so we’re really hoping this Patreon website will be a self-sustaining effort so that for the next 2 years Alvaro and Abraham will be covered and don’t have to live every day with this hanging threat the moment you wake of “if I don’t pay this money, I go back to prison.” So, that’s what we’re trying to do with the Patreon site. https://ww.patreon.com/keeploxichafree
TFSR: Bruno, thank you so much for taking the time. I got a lot out of talking with you about this topic. Many thanks and solidarity from here!
BR: Thank you so much, I really really appreciate the space. I really appreciate the attention. There are a lot of things that you all could be covering, so I appreciate that you also thought this was important and were willing to open your space, your time for this story. Also, thank you to all of the listeners.
Again, hopefully, what we’re trying to do is to plug that Patreon website, but we also think it’s really important just to be having these conversations. A part of this is that we want to raise this money to help our comrades, but we also think that sharing their story, their testimony, their experience and also our own experiences. Making that a conversation is really an important part of building grassroots solidarity, awareness and political education. I’m really glad to be a part of the conversation!
This week William spoke with Maria and Jeff, who are two long term members of the humanitarian aid group based in Arizona called No More Deaths. This group does solidarity work with those who are crossing the border in that region, as well as advocacy, legal work, and work which runs along many other vectors of solidarity. We will speak about the group and how each member got involved, the exact nature of the work and some media myths that the group gets leveled at them, along with the rise in repression that No More Deaths has faced in recent weeks, culminating in highly militarized raid on Bird Camp, a remote outpost that serves as a clinic, on Thursday, June 15. We will go on to discuss the strategy behind Border Patrol’s surveillance and repression of those who are crossing and aid workers, and will talk about asks for assistance that the group is thinking of.
You can visit NMD online at nomoredeaths.org, plus follow them on Facebook and Twitter if you want to keep up with calls for solidarity and with updates on their situation.
Those titles that Maria mentioned for further reading if folks want to learn more about the border and how it got that way are:
The first musical track in this episode is by Calle 13 with “Pa’l Norte”. They are a Puerto Rican hip hop group that often tackles themes that are oppositional to the border, border patrol, and FBI. The episode closes with a track from an Argentinian atmospheric metal band called Ruinas/Raíces with Dos Colores Fundiéndose which is the first track off their title album that just came out in April. You can find them on the blog Red and
Anarchist Black Metal.
This week we are airing two short interviews, the first is with an anarchist legal worker who has been participating in resistance at Standing Rock in so called North Dakota. This interview is specifically about the grand jury summons which was recently served to someone who was struggling at Standing Rock, we speak about what a grand jury is and how people might resist them, also a bit about what it means for this movement to have a grand jury subpoena occur at this moment.
Scott Campbell on upcoming tour of Mexico with It’s Going Down
The next interview we will present is a conversation with Scott Campbell who writes the Insumisión column for itsgoingdown.org. Insumisión is a semi regular publication which aims to highlight anarchistic and anarchist struggles and news all around Mexico. Scott and members of IGD are in the process of launching an information gathering and affinity building tour around Mexico in early next year. In this interview we talk about Insumisión and what inspired it, as well as some of the strategies and influences both North American and Mexican struggle can take from one another, among other topics. To read Insumisión and for a write up about the upcoming tour, you can visit https://itsgoingdown.org/insumision/. To donate to the tour and to see a write up about it, you can visit the rally dot org website https://rally.org/igd-mexico
“[This project] is an international watchdog against state sponsored repression. It is the project of a small collective of volunteers in the U.S. and Mexico. We publish and translate communiqués, articles, and other media by, about, and for social movements. Our primary focus is on indigenous peoples, women, and youth, in both urban and rural communities in Oaxaca, but we also publish about other struggles against neoliberalism throughout Mexico”.
A quick shoutout of thanks to KFED for the lovely new image for the series podcast. Much appreciated!
Since the time that this episode of the Final Straw podcast was recorded, Steve Martinez, a Water Protector and grand jury resistor appeared at the U.S. District Court in Bismarck, North Dakota. On January 4th, 2017 Steve gave a statement outside the courthouse amidst dozens of other Water Protectors who braved the single digit temperatures to stand in solidarity.
My name is Steve Martinez. I have been subpoenaed to this federal grand jury. I refuse to cooperate with these proceedings on the grounds of not helping opposition towards water protectors. I will in no way condone or cooperate with this attempt to repress the movement here at Standing Rock. I know that by refusing to cooperate I will most likely be incarcerated. The loss of my own freedom is a small price to pay for keeping my dignity and standing up for what is right- the defense of the earth and all that is sacred. Mni Wiconi!
The motion to quash the subpoena was denied by the federal judge and a new subpoena was issued by the U.S. Attorney demanding that Steve appear on February 1st, 2017 in Bismarck.
What we know about grand juries is that they have a long history of being used to target those in resistance to the state and engaged in political or revolutionary movements. The purpose of this grand jury and all grand juries that target revolutionary people and communities is to cause division, manufacture prisoners of war, and create paranoia or suspicion amongst comrades. We will not be intimidated and resistance to this is only strengthening our resolve to kill this black snake and all the others.
Water protectors stand in resistance to this grand jury and all tools of state repression, be it on the ground through Morton County’s violent tactics or in the shrouded secrecy of a grand jury courtroom. We will continue to build on the vibrancy of our resistance movement here at Standing Rock in order to destroy the pipeline, the grand jury and their world.
– Water Protector Anti-Repression Committee
TFSR: So we are here talking with an anarchist legal worker who has been participating in the Standing Rock resistance, and we’re here to talk about the grand jury subpoena, which recently came to a Water Protector at
Standing Rock. Would you briefly explain what a grand jury is for those listeners who don’t know and how they have historically been used to divide and subdue radical movements?
Standing Rock: So what a grand jury is is a federal proceeding and it’s intended to produce a federal felony indictment. So in order for a felony indictment to happen, there has to be some process, and it’s typically a grand jury process, that determines whether there’s enough evidence to proceed with a federal indictment and formal charges. And while grand juries are used as a way for U.S. attorneys to produce indictments for a wide array of things, they are especially used as a tool of repression towards political movements, resistance movements, and have a long history of that, going back to the origins of grand juries, which are a holdover from British legal proceedings. So it goes back a really long way, but most recently people have memories of their use around political resistance movements, like the Black Panther Party, American Indian Movement, even more recently
earth and animal liberation movements.
TFSR: Gotcha. And I think that we can remember people like Jerry Koch who got sent to prison for nine months for doing grand jury resistance in response to a bombing that happened in Times Square in New York City. I was wondering if you would talk a little bit about what the specifics of grand juries tend to look like on the ground, or how participants of grand juries, what people have to go through if they are subpoenaed for a grand jury.
So the first step that typically happens when somebody’s called to be a witness at a grand jury, or provide testimony or physical evidence, is that you would be served a subpoena by a federal agent. So in the case of Water Protectors at Standing Rock, a federal agent could be an agent from B.I.A. (or Bureau of Indian Affairs), which is a federal policing force, but often times it would be an F.B.I. agent or even a U.S. Marshall who might serve you the subpoena. And then what that means is that you’re required to attend the grand jury and provide information to them. So at a grand jury, they’re unlike any other court proceeding, where normally there’s a judge in the courtroom and you’re allowed to have your own legal council present with you at a legal proceeding. But at a grand jury, there’s no judge in the courtroom, the courtroom really belongs to the U.S. attorney and the
prosecutor. And you are the person who’s been called to the grand jury, you don’t know for sure why you’ve been called because they operate in almost total secrecy. You don’t know if you’ve been called just as a witness, you don’t know if you’re the target, or the person that they are
potentially trying to indict. And so you’re also not allowed to have your legal council in the room with you. You can, and you really should, obtain legal council if you’ve been subpoenaed to a grand jury, because they can provide you support in the process of resisting a grand jury.
So once you’ve been served and you’re required to go to the grand jury, you have a few options as a person who is working to resist the grand jury. Your first option is that you can just ghost. That’s a really hard option for most people because it means you can’t talk to your friends, your loved ones, your family, your comrades, it means you can’t go to the normal places that you go to. It means that you probably need to leave your hometown, or maybe even the country as a whole. And some people have done that, andthe people have done that have had very difficult experiences. It also puts you at risk still of being in contempt of court and my understanding is that if you just ghost after you’ve received a subpoena, that the contempt can turn into a criminal contempt versus a civil contempt, which I’ll explain a little bit as well.
And so your other option would be, well basically some people have never walked into a grand jury room. They would just show up, hold a press conference with all their friends, loved ones, comrades, and legal council and read a statement in front of the courthouse, or in front of the grand jury room, and that says “We’re never gonna talk to you. I stand in solidarity with my community and this is a tool of repression, and I’m part of a impenetrable wall of silence.” And people have certainly taken that tactic.
Another tactic that people used to resist a grand jury, if they’ve been called to testify, would be to enter the grand jury room and provide only their name. And then any question that they’re asked after giving their name to the U.S. attorney, they would invoke their 5th amendment right, which is their right to not say anything that would incriminate yourself. What happens typically though, is that a prosecutor then says, “Okay we get it, you’re using your 5th amendment right.” And then they might let you go for the day, or they might right on the spot go have a hearing with a judge in another room, and at that hearing the judge would almost certainly impose on you immunity. And I say impose because a lot of people have the idea that immunity would be a good thing, right? That they can’t say
the things that you’re saying in the testimony against yourself, but the thing is they can still use it against your friends, they can still use it against the movement as a whole, they can still use it against all kinds of people,
you might not be aware of how they would use it.
And so then once you’ve had immunity imposed on you, you’re no longer allowed to invoke your 5th amendment right against self-incrimination. And so when you refuse to answer questions, then the U.S. attorney is going to say, “Okay I get it, you’re not going to answer any of my questions.” They’re going to have another hearing with a judge. And that hearing is a civil contempt hearing. Which is not a criminal proceeding, it’s a civil proceeding. And what grand juries do is if you refuse to cooperate, they
try to coerce your cooperation out of you. And if you’re charged with civil contempt in that hearing, then they can incarcerate you for up to the length of the grand jury.
Like you mentioned before with Jerry out in New York, he was incarcerated for around nine months. People in the Pacific Northwest who were resisting a grand jury in 2012 were incarcerated for around four-to-six months, and that’s a coercive incarceration that’s meant to pull testimony out of you. But they’re not allowed to punitively incarcerate you, which is like all semantics right? We all know that all incarceration is punitive. It’s all meant to punish us for something. But they’re using tricky legal language, so that it’s not punitive, “It’s just coercive, we’re just trying to torture all of your testimony out of you by incarcerating you and removing you from your community and your loved ones.”
But, because people have used this tactic of being really public and saying that not only are they not personally going to cooperate, and they personally have put up a wall of silence, but also that they’re whole community is in a silent resistance to this grand jury. Then that can be used as evidence further that you’re not ever going to cooperate, and something then that can happen is called a grumbles motion, which is a fantastic name and it’s actually named for people who were a married couple who resisted a grand jury, it has a really beautiful history of it’s own.
A grumbles motion can be filed by your council, by your attorney, and it’s basically saying “This person has made it evident and clear that they’re not going to cooperate with this grand jury, and this incarceration has gone from coercive to punitive.” Which is illegal for a civil proceeding, which is what that is, it’s a civil contempt charge. And so that’s how Jerry was able to get out of coercive incarceration, and that’s how many other people have been able to do that. But I think it also really ties into this public display, community-wide, nationally, even internationally, that people have taken up around grand jury resistance, especially in this last decade, of being really firm and open from the onset, from the moment they receive a subpoena, instead of being quiet as a community which is what the feds hope will happen. That you get scared and that you self-isolate. But instead, build your own vibrancy in our communities of resistance and that same loving solidarity that we have, we continue that as a way of resisting.
TFSR: Yeah, like you said it seems like so many things in the legal system, this just seems like a pretty diabolical framework for doing this sort of thing and I think that like so many things, the success of it just rides on isolation,it rides on personal despair or being worn down. And it seems really interesting to me, and really telling, this grand jury subpoena has come pretty hot on the heels of the supposed easement of the Dakota Access Pipeline. I was wondering if you would speak about the timing of this
grand jury subpoena.
SR: I think it’s smart for us to be looking at the whole picture like that. You know on November 20th there was a battle, a kind of stand off, at the backwater bridge, which is just on the North end of the Oceti Sakowin Camp, there
at Standing Rock, which is the Northern camp, which originally had been an overflow camp for Sacred Stone and Rosebud on the reservation side. And that battle that happened on November 20th, which a lot of people have now burned into their memory, not just across the so-called U.S. but really across the world because of the use of water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures by Morton County Sheriffs. There was also a young woman, Sophia Wilansky, whose arm was horrifically injured, and another woman named Vanessa who might lose her eye due to the insane force that was used by Morton County. So just a little more than a week, a week and a half later, is when this grand jury was convened. And what we know from
on the ground is that those things that happened on November 20th on that bridge, what happened to Sophia Wilansky, we know that Morton County Sheriffs were already trying to victim blame her, saying that somehow she had blown her own arm off. I personally was on that bridge and I can tell you that no one was blowing their own arms off there. What I saw was people who were not, it wasn’t even street fighting in that setting, it was really just people who are so incredibly frustrated and incredibly broken at the continued horrific use of colonial forces in their territories and in their homelands. And I saw a lot of young indigenous people who were just trying to turn that knob on the pressure valve and let some pressure off of them. It’s not just been building for the last month at Standing Rock, but really people are letting the pressure off of ancestral trauma that goes back more than five hundred years. And I think all of that context is really
important when we’re looking at this grand jury situation as well. What we know about this grand jury is that it has something to do with, at least in part, with what happened on the bridge on November 20th. And we know so far that they are looking at potentially eco-terrorism that’s taking
place at Standing Rock, which isn’t taking place. The only terrorism that’s taking place is the terrorism of the state.
The person who received this first subpoena, we believe has been targeted because of their close proximity to Sophia Wilansky. This is a person who helped to transport Sophia when her arm was injured and get her to medical care. And so there’s very little information that any body has right now about what exactly this grand jury is trying to put together information-wise. But at the end of the day, we don’t need to know for sure. We know it’s being used as a tool to repress the work that’s happening with water
protectors at Standing Rock, and potentially to connect it to other resistance movements to extraction and environmental terrorism that’s happening at the hands of capital and the state.
And that first subpoena was received a day before that announcement from the Army Corps (of Engineers) about the easement. And I don’t think that the timing is coincidental. I think the timing is probably pretty intentional. You had a lot of people distracted feeling like they won, and I don’t want to say that that was an entirely false victory, but it’s not a permanent victory. In the camp, when the announcement of the denial happened, and there were cheers, you know rippling throughout the camp for the entire day and night, people celebrating and feeling excited. And I do want to recognize that that only happened because of people’s collective power. The Army Corps didn’t deny the easement, the people who’ve been
fighting this pipeline denied the easement and will continue to deny it, and will continue to deny Dakota Access Pipeline and their ability to do what they’re doing.
I want to recognize that while that is a victory, it’s a victory of one battle in a long-game war. What’s happening is that the state, while people are distracted by the victory of that particular battle, are doing the backdoor dealing with the grand jury and that they’re trying to prey on people who
are in resistance to extraction and to the Dakota Access Pipeline, and really to colonialism in general, and imperialism in general. This is a movement about indigenous sovereignty, and not just about one pipeline. But I think that the timing is really purposeful, and this is also a movement where a lot of people are really new to being in resistance. A lot of people are really new to political and social organizing, and so what is important and the work that’s happening amongst legal workers and supporters at the camp right now is that because there’s so many new, fresh people, it’s also a ripe environment for the feds to prey on people who might not understand that
what feels like innocuous testimony they might give to a federal agent, in or out of a grand jury room, that information is never innocuous to the state. While it might seem like not a big deal to say that you ate dinner with so-and-so or yes once you had coffee with so-and-so, the state can then use that to socially map an entire movement of resistance, and that’s why people have really taken on this work, running full speed ahead, and moving as quickly and strategically as possible to disseminate the
information and make sure that people aren’t just distracted by the victory of one battle, because there’s a whole war that we’re trying to fight right now.
TFSR: I think that’s a fantastic point because I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion about “Yay we won! We can go home now!” But I was wondering, maybe you’ve already answered this as much as you want to, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how real the easement is, or how permanent you think it is. Do you think that people will just come back and start building once the regime has flipped, or what are your thoughts on that?
SR: Things up there (at Standing Rock) are in a pretty delicate situation. The tribal government of Standing Rock and their chairman Dave Archambault, you know in the beginning he said that a re-route would never be a victory
of Standing Rock and for Sioux Nation, and the only victory would be a complete block of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Well now you have Dave Archambault, who came to the camp and drove around in his personal pick-up truck, announcing to people that they have won, and that people could return to their homes. And what is suspected to be happening with this denial of the easement by the Army Corps, they’re denying the easement in that spot at the Oahe Lake, which is actually just a lake that’s resulted
by the damming of the Missouri River, which is a whole other history that I encourage people to look into, the way that the Missouri River has been a point of struggle for the people at Standing Rock and the Sioux Nation for many, many years.
And so denying the easement in this one tiny spot on Lake Oahe on the Missouri River is not a victory, because we all, tens of millions of people, rely on the water from the Missouri River, the largest water basin in this region of the country. And putting the pipeline crossing of the Missouri
River twenty miles north or, forty miles north, is still going to result in the same risks for everybody who drinks that water and for all the people of Standing Rock, and for all the people of Sioux Nation. And so I think it’s important for people to be examining. You know, I’m an anarchist, I’malways examining the people who hold power, and I think my indigenous comrades who are up there, or who have been up there at Standing Rock, they also come from a perspective that somebody who is in tribal government, these are governments that mirror colonial government and colonial power. And so there’s something to question there. This isn’t the ways in which traditionally indigenous people of Sioux Nation would have governed themselves. And if we’re going to be talking about being in solidarity with indigenous sovereignty, then we as non-native people,
allies and accomplices to them, need to be following their lead, but we also need to be critical of whose lead we’re following and what kind of power those people are wielding.
But I think that there’s a lot of people who are not going home, and I think that’s really important to remind people right now, that there are hundreds and hundreds of people who will not be returning home. Over on the reservation side at Sacred Stone and Rosebud camp, there’s still around six hundred or more people on that side, at Oceti Sakowin which I believe has actually been renamed to Oceti Oyate, which that rename has come from the indigenous youth council and from this person Chase
Ironeyes who actually had run for U.S. Congress, he did not win, which I think is a good thing, so that he can stay in the community as opposed to ascending to actual power, but Chase Ironeyes is actually from Standing Rock. Him and his wife have been fighting this pipeline really along with the people, and he’s stepped into a real role of leadership that I think is a positive role of leadership. And he is encouraging people along with Ladonna Allard whose land Sacred Stone is on, is one of the founders of Sacred Stone Camp, are telling people to not go home, that people who are already there need to continue holding space, to continue to fight this pipeline, but also to continue to assert their indigenous sovereignty over
these lands that don’t belong to North Dakota and were never ceded by the people of Standing Rock and Sioux Nation.
TFSR: So earlier in the interview you spoke a lot about ways to resist grand juries; ghosting, press conferences and invoking the fifth amendment. Are there any other ways that you would recommend people fighting a grand jury scrutiny?
SR: Yeah, so the first thing, I said a little bit earlier, but I think it bears repeating, it’s scary when you are the person who receives a subpoena, and it’s meant to be scary, that’s the tool that the state is using, is to be the big scary,
secretive entity that intends to isolate you. So number one, reaching out to people and not staying silent I think is one of our strongest tools. And also, I think the grand jury that happened in the Pacific Northwest, the grand jury that happened with Jerry out in New York, I think those are really great recent examples, the grand jury with Carrie Feldman in Minnesota a few years ago as well, are really great examples of building not just localized community resistance, but really started reaching out through the
very vibrant national networks of anarchist, anti authoritarian and radical people. And so I think doing that as well, reaching out in through all the networks that we have, whether they’re political or personal networks, and
building these ways of resisting together.
Also the Water Protector Legal Collective and the National Lawyer’s Guild have a really strong presence up there at Standing Rock and they’re doing a lot of work in the camp and out of the camp to help mount resistance to this grand jury and offer the support necessary. So just as a heads’ up to any person who, because people who are possible targets for subpoenas for this grand jury, so many people have come and gone from Standing Rock, that you could be back home in Ohio and receive a subpoena. You don’t have to be at Standing Rock or in North Dakota or that region of the country to be subject to this risk, and I don’t say that to stoke any fear but just to be really honest with people, that you may have come and gone but this is still a possibility. So reaching out to the Water Protector Legal Collective as quickly as possible is really important because they’re able to offer legal council that could represent you through the grand jury process, they’re able to connect you to those networks of resistance that are already existing if you yourself aren’t already plugged into them.
Water Protector Legal Collective has a website which is waterprotectorlegal.org, but if you received a subpoena, you should call them immediately. Twenty-four hours a day they have a hotline, and the number is 605-519-8180.
And also, right now people who want to help support grand jury resistance, donating to the legal collective fund is especially helpful. Not only does that legal fund that exists through the Water Protector Legal Collective going towards supporting people’s criminal cases, it’s also going towards supporting the people who are up there doing legal work who’ve left their homes and their families back in their own communities and are up there doing that work. The amount of resource that’s necessary to help 571 people, and that number of people with criminal cases is growing, to help those people with their criminal cases, also fighting a grand jury, also trying to support the people who have given up their lives at home to be engaged in full-time legal support. So donations are vital and that is
a way that people at home and outside of Standing Rock can continue to support not just grand jury resistance but also all the people that are facing criminal charges as well.
TFSR: I was wondering, you mentioned looking into the cases of recent grand jury resistance as a way to be more informed, but are there any other resources for grand jury resistance that you would recommend to listeners?
SR: Yeah, so I would say one of my number one favorite spots for grand jury resistance information is there’s a lot of really great detailed information that’s available through the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, OR, and their website is cldc.org, and they have a number of resources that are available on there, both for a person or people in a community that are thinking about grand juries but also resources available for legal workers or attorneys about grand juries and how to fight them when they are being used against people of political or social resistance. Other good stuff that’s out there; crimethInc has some information, also the Midnight Special Law Collective has a grand jury training available on their website which is midnightspecial.net, and there’s also some really good history and information that’s available through the Freedom Archives. On the Freedom Archives, if you just search on there, which is freedomarchives.org; you can search “grand jury” or “grand jury repression” or things like that. There’s a lot of really good information on there, and there’s a lot of really good historical context about how grand juries have been used against people in social and political movements. People like the Puerto Rican Independinistas, people from the American Indian Movement, and the long history of grand jury use and FBI repression.
TFSR: Do you have anything else that you’d like to add?
SR: I think the only thing I would want to add is I think that there’s a lot of really exciting and beautiful and hopeful things that are coming out of this movement at Standing Rock. We’re seeing that spirit of resistance spread from Standing Rock Reservation, which probably most people had never heard of until a few months ago, but that’s spreading out not just across this country and continent but really globally, there’s global solidarity for this. And I think, I really want to drive home to people who are non-native people who are allies and accomplices to Indigenous people who are in this struggle, that part of what I feel like our responsibility is, we’re in solidarity
with Indigenous people who are fighting for sovereignty, that we not only be in solidarity with them on the frontlines, we not only be in solidarity with them in those kind of glamorous moments of resistance, but that we
be in continued solidarity with them when the repression, the inevitable repression comes raining down on those movements of resistance. And that we really take it very seriously that the grand jury, the feds, and local law enforcement, more importantly County law enforcement, that this isn’t something that’s just going to be happening in this next couple of months, that the repression that’s going to be coming against people who are in struggle for indigenous sovereignty over their lands, their water,
their communities, their spiritual practices, that this repression is going to last for a long time. I hope that non-native allies and accomplices are in it for the long haul as well.
This week, we present a conversation with a member of CNA-DF, or Anarchist Black Cross of Mexico City. During the hour she speaks about the work of CNA-DF, prison in Mexican society, anti-prison organizing versus prison abolitionism, transformative justice, counter-repression and prisoners the CNA is working to support.
Specific prisoners CNA-DF supports include: Alvaro Sebastian (Oaxacan teacher); Fernando Bárcenas (accused of burning the Mexico City Xmas Tree in 2013 during anti-fare increase demonstration in Mexico City. Publishes Cimarron newspaper, involved in punk rock, alternative health care, horizontal education and organizing in prison.); Luis Fernando Sotelo (accused of burning a bus during day of global action in solidarity with the Ayatzinopa 43, Normalista students disappeared by the Mexican State. Sotelo has received a 33 year sentence for damage to the bus. Recently on hunger strike, in prison 2 years now); Abraham Cortés (13 years for attempted murder of a cop, arrested during October 2nd memorial demonstration in Mexico City of the 1968 massacre of hundreds of demonstrating students. Recently on hunger strike w Fernando Bárcenas against: 1. Prisons, calling to revolt against the state; 2. in solidarity with the #PrisonStrike starting Sept 9 in the U.S.; 3. And against the Bárcenas & Cortés); & Miguel Ángel Peralta Betanzos (from Oaxaca, accused of attempted murder of politicians in opposition with communal indigenous council of his community).
Raids at Standing Rock
After a series of violent raids which saw over 100 people arrested, the most recent on October 27th at Standing Rock and other camps resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline, there has been a call for renewed and amped up solidarity for this resistance. This could include coming to North Dakota and fighting the pipeline and joining the struggle, organizing where you live and taking action against banks, the Army Corp. of Engineers, and politicians backing the project, and sending money and supplies to the encampment. Already solidarity actions are taking places, such as the occupation of buildings, solidarity demonstrations, and more.
To get more ideas of what solidarity could mean, and where to send supplies and funds if you are able, you can visit https://nodaplsolidarity.org and click the tab “Support the Camps”.
Kinetic Justice of FAM transferred
Kinetic Justice of the Free Alabama Movement has been transferred out of Holman Prison in Alabama to Kilby Correctional Facility and from there to Limestone Corrections, known among Alabama prisoners to be a “bully unit,” where prisoners deemed disruptive are brutalized. This occurred one day before he was reportedly scheduled to meet with an advocate from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SLPC). This is in clear retaliation on the part of the prison system, and is an attempt to silence a dissenting voice which has been very important both in FAM and in the Prison Strike. In response, Kinetic is ending the first week of a hunger strike, to protest his treatment and bacaause he doesn’t trust Limestone to not tamper with the food they give him.
Keep your eyes on the free alabama movement’s webpage at http://freealabamamovement.com/ for updates on Kinetic’s situation and how to help. You can also follow them on twitter @freealamovement, you can also follow Freedom for Kinetic @for_kinetic
Anti-Nazi march in Harrisburg, PA
Lastly tho not leastly, DON’T FORGET that Saturday the 5th of Novemeber will see resistance to a National Socialist Movement rally (or more plainly, neo nazi) in Harrisburg PA. The NSM is teaming up with the Traditionalist Worker Party for this charade in the so called “heart of democracy”, the TWP being the same boneheads who were responsible for drawing knives in Sacramento this past summer. Central PA Antifa and related anti racists are calling for as much support as possible at this event, to help run the nazis out of town.
You can get up with this situaiton by connecting with Central PA Antifa on facebook by searching their name, you can also donate to them by visiting:
you can also get super up to date information by following them on twitter @centralpaantifa
Asheville Prison Books Cover Band Show
If you’re going to be around Asheville tonight, Sunday October 30th, and want to get your ghoul on for a good cause, consider visiting the Prison Books Cover Band benefit. For over a decade now, punks have been showing up and rocking out to raise funds for Asheville Prison Books, a 501c3 non-profit that sends literature to prisoners. Cover bands include SubHumans, Green Day and many, many more. The show starts at Toy Boat on 101 Fairview Rd, just off Sweeten Creek Road.
Over the hour, Hilary talks about her 7 years of living in Chiapas and recording the stories and experiences of women there, collecting stories on their behalf. The book covers the Zapatistas experiences before the EZLN uprising of 1994, during that period and after. Discussion address what gender, indigeneity and class looked like and how that’s changed in the Zapatista communities, the state of Chiapas and in Mexico. William and Hilary also explore the effects that the EZLN & La Otra Compaña have had on radicals and anarchists abroad, the origins of the EZLN, some parallels and distinctions between anarchism and Zapatismo and much more.
This week’s show, we rebroadcast an interview from 2013 with Krow, aka Katie Kloth, followed by updates on the 2-week old hunger strike at OSP Youngstown, the release of the 5e3 prisoners in Mexico & recent metal, deathrock and punk from around the world.
Krow is an anarchist, environmental and indigenous rights activist. At the time of the original interview, Krow had been facing charges stemming from a protest where eco-activists found workers from Global Taconite, a mineral mining company attempting to extract iron ore from the hills of Iron County, Wisconsin, secretly test-drilling. Krow was charged with throwing a worker’s camera away and minor assault which was caught on a video. A link to the video will be included in this episode’s blog post.
Krow was sentenced to 9 months in jail this January, 2015. In addition, according to the Ashland Daily Press, Krow will have five years of probation with the felony charge and two years with the misdemeanor including a work release where they’ll be pressed to work a full-time job as a way of normalizing them and their activities. Otherwise known as domestication. Krow is now also facing charges from District Attorney Martin Lipske of bail jumping for allegedly participating in an anniversary protest in a “forbidden zone” in the Penokkee range controlled by Global Taconite along with 45 other people. Lipske appears to have it out for Krow, who had initially filed charges could have resulted in a 15 year sentence for Krow.
You can write to Krow at:
Iron County Jail
300 Taconite Street
Hurley, WI 54534
Also this hour we announce the recent news of the release of Amelie, Carlos & Fallon from prison in Mexico on March 13th. They were charged with a molotov attack January 5th of 2014 on a Nissan dealership and the neighboring government offices of the Mexican Department of Transportation and Communication and had faced serious charges relating to terrorism because people were in the government office at the time. The 3 collectively were known as the 5e3. Amelie and Fallon, both Quebecoise, were deported back to Canada. We’re happy that they’ve been able to rejoin their friends and loved ones and that Carlos Lopez Martin with his child.
To hear some words from Amelie & Fallon while they were imprisoned in Mexico, check out our website.
Translations of their letters can be found here: http://waronsociety.noblogs.org/?tag=5e3
On Monday March 16th, over 30 supermax prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary went on hunger strike. Warden Jay Forshey and OSP staff are refusing to meet their demands or negotiate with them. Some of the hunger strikers have not even been met and consulted with regarding their demands. Eleven prisoners remain on hunger strike and are committed to staying through to the end, if necessary.
This week we spoke with Dawn Marie Paley. Dawn came onto the show last year to discuss her essay, Drug War Capitalism. Dawn is now about the publish a book by that same title with AK Press.
On September 26, teaching students from the leftist Normalista College in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, Mexico, protested in the city of Iguala against public policies and in remembrance of the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre in the run-up to the Olympics. In response to the protest, their buses were fired upon by about a dozen police vehicles later that day. Following that, 57 of the normalista students were detained, with 14 later returned. That leaves 43 unnaccounted for, rabble-rousing students in southern Mexico who’ve been disappeared. Soon the story that Narco’s had taken the students from the police emerged but was withdrawn. The police chief and the Mayor are on the run. The search for the students brought news of 11 recent mass graves discovered in Iguala which an Argentine group is investigating, despite interference by the government. Protests have spread across Mexico, from the burning of the State Congress building in Guerrero to the blocking of freeways in Michoacan to demonstrations in Mexico City and abroad.
Dawn tells us about the overlaps between Narcos and the Mexican State in such state crimes as this and the involvement of U.S. policy/training/weapons & money in the formation of the Mérida Initiative (Plan Mexico) and creation of Drug War Capitalism seen in so many countries in Latin America. Also, this new moment that appears to be flowering in Mexico where people, despite the fear of the impunity of their attackers and the spinning of their webs, are talking and acting against government as a solution and seeking answers in their own hands.
This week we get to speak with Amélie Trudeau and Fallon Rouiller. Amelie and Fallon, alongside Carlos Lopez Marin, make up the 5E3, who are being charged by the mexican state for an arson of a Nissan dealership and the neighboring ministry of communication and transportation in January of this year. We talk about prison, freedom, dignity, solidarity and more. For more info on the case of the 5E3, check out our episode of August 10th, 2014, where you can find links to sources of their writings and updates.