From self defense to autonomy
When the community of Cherán K’eri began to organize, one of the fundamental demands of the population was security. The process of self defense that initiated and remains in effect today has results that cannot remain unnoticed: the smiles of the people and the life that animates the plazas and streets is noticeable starting at the entrance of the town.
“We now have confidence in our peace, our children walk to school without worry, as does everyone else. We no longer feel that fear that we once had”—shares one member of the community.”
The council of Honor and Justice is in charge of the security of the municipality: while the communal patrol (ronda communitaria) is controlling the city’s entrances and exits, as well as resolving the internal problems of the community. The “Guardabosques” (guardians of the forest), are in charge of protecting the rural zones furthest from the center of town, where the forest is.
Each day and by turns, two groups of six people patrol the territory with their truck. It should be noted that for the indigenous Purépecha men and women, the protection and preservation of their forest is both a traditional and spiritual obligation, and therfore it is an essential part of their struggle. Their defense not only includes their security, but also the enormous work of reforestation, whose effects can already be seen.
In addition to having strengthened their system of communal security, the people of Cherán changed their entire system of governance. The main council, formed by a group of 12 individuals, lxs K’eris, coordinate the actions of the other councils and commissions. However the ultimate authority of the community is the assembly: in each one of the four neighborhoods that form Cherán, the communards come together to carry forth proposals and make decisions at the general assembly.
“Previously, to my memory, never did a municipal president convene a neighborhood general assembly, and much less allowed the people to say what was on their minds. The people couldn’t give an opinion, they (the municipality) only did what was convenient to them.” commented a member of the community. Now, “the agreements come directly from the coordinators of the bonfires, from the bonfires, from the neighborhood reunions”, states another.
It is worth remembering that thanks to the community pressure that was also exerted in the legal arena, the municipality of Cherán K’eri was completely recognized on a federal level as an autonomous municipality. With this victory, Cherán achieved setting a national precedent so that other indigenous municipalities of Mexico can also exercise that right to free self determination.
The struggle has not ended yet
Even though there has been great advancement in the construction of a new world, the residents of Cherán also know that their struggle is barely starting, and that surely they will have to confront more challenges in the future. The upcoming year is particularly critical: while the Electoral Institute of Michoacán had agreed that the appointment of the authorities of Cherán shall be created by practices and customs, the residents know that the political parties will try to take advantage of the municipal elections that will take place in the state to attempt to return to their community.
Nevertheless, their position is firm: they will do all that is possible to impede their entry. In a system in which the drug traffickers, political classes and transnational businesses work hand by hand to impose their control upon the territories and plunder the natural resources –in this case the forests- the residents are conscious that to return to a system of political parties would represent a huge risk for the defense of their territory.
“For us here in the town the political parties are dead, because they never did anything when we began to defend the forest. Why? Because all of the parties are backed by organized crime. And whoever does not want to see that wants to remain blind to what is happening. That is what I think of the parties: that they are shit.” declares one woman. A youth also comments- “They have asked me many times: What will you do the day that this town returns to the parties? What would I do? I would be the first fucker to return to the front and say “no fucking way here”. No to the political parties, no to that bad government, no to that narco-government”.
TV Cherán: a new weapon for the community
Photo: Regina López
To support the struggle of the people and prepare to defend their autonomy, the “Jóvenes Unidos por Cherán” Youth United for Cherán –together with collectives in solidarity such as the co-operative ManoVuelta and the network of independent media Tejemedios– have been working in the construction of a new weapon: their communal television. It was inaugurated on Nov 29, 2014, with the support of all the councils and assembly. During the first transmission, a declaration of agreement of TV Cherán was announced:
This communal TV will exist to strengthen our autonomy and support our organization. In the communal TV, there will be no discrimination, zero institutional religions, will function without commercials and without political parties or groups that hold power.
Through the diffusion of subject matter produced with and from the community, TV Cherán has as its objective to value the sense and life of its people and its reflection, as well as to strengthen its organization. In its program, one finds material that focuses on the Purépecha traditions and customs, its culture, celebrations, cuisine, music and also a newscast, as well as info related to its autonomous government: regularly the distinct councils present to the TV the advances in their work. In the TV the town assembly is valued as its maximum authority and it defends its practices and customs as an alternative to the institutional political route; it is clearly anti-electoral and anti-political party.
With this television station, the members of the team enroll in the long path towards the re-appropriation of the present and future of its community. “Many times we state that the youth are the future, but that is not true, the youth are the present, and the future are our children and our grandchildren, and it is for them that we have to fight, for the generations that are yet to come.”, clarifies one youth.
Although this project was thought of to strengthen the internal process of the community, it is also a strong medium to communicate outwardly, to weave relations of solidarity and invite others to share the struggle. Thus, a woman shares in one of the newscasts produced by the television: The powerful rulers are used to obtaining things by the most vile, cruel and unjust manner and always wants to have power over us. But as we give the power to the people, the people can also choose to withhold power. I call out to all of my country to create consciousness. If we do nothing, we will always be trampled.
Next Friday the 13th of February- TV Cherán will be presented in México City.Starting at 5PM, a talk and video presentation will be shared at- El Rancho Electrónico [Torquemada #76, colonia Obrera]. In the invitation, the team that gave strength to this project will be convened.
This article, along with more photos, was originally published in Spanish by Agencia SubVersiones.