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Maclovio Rojas

by Zopilote

September is the month of the motherland. Traditionally MŽxico celebrates patriotic and civic dates throughout the month. The first national holiday of the month, is the state of the nation address, "el informe." A holiday of sorts, were almost everyone gets a day off to hear the president deliver the past year's accomplishments to both houses, the Supreme Court and the military.

On the Thirteenth, Mexicans remember the Battle of Chapultepec, Los Ni–os HŽroes del Castillo de Chapultepec. On this date in1847, a group of teenage cadets battled with U.S.A.. Marines invaders, during the war of occupation of the Mexican Nation. One of the cadets, as he noticed that the defense of the garrison was futile, reached for the flag and wraped it around his body as he jumped from the tower, to die rather than have the gringo invaders take the flag. Five months later on February 2, 1848 the U.S.A.. consummated the occupation of the northern states of the republic.

On the eve of the Sixteenth, Mexicans gather around the town plazas everywhere to reenact el D’a del Grito de Dolores. The cry for freedom, liberty and independence from 300 years of colonialism by Spain, given on 1810 by el Cura Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a parish priest in the town of Dolores, in the central state that now bears his name, Hidalgo. The actual date of the end of the war for Independence is September 21, 1824. September is known for other historic events and celebrates the many heroes that have fought for freedom and social justice. Another historic march for freedom, La Marcha por la Libertad, has etched itself in the annals of the history of Tijuana, Baja California, y La Frontera.

The marchers left from El Poblado Maclovio Rojas, a land squat settlement in the eastern most part of Tijuana. An array of half-built houses and makeshift camps that comprises the homes of more than 900 families. These families have occupied these dusty hillsides on the north side of Highway 2 that runs from Tijuana to Mexicali since 1988, and have been in a bitter battle for the "regulation" of these settlements with the federal, the state and the municipal government. A quick study of the struggle of these families for a decent place to live and raise their families provides an ample view of the political turmoil that MŽxico is currently undergoing.

"Who was Maclovio Rojas M‡rquez?" Julio CŽsar Alonso, a leader of the Central Independiente de Obreros Agr’colas y Campesinos (CIOAC) in San Quint’n, asks himself as his eyes begin a nostalgic and longing stare directly into his dark skin hands. Maclovio was a Mixteca Indian from Silacayoapan in the State of Oaxaca. A farm worker that had migrated following his father, first, then his older brother's footsteps up the corridor of power has seen thousands of Mixtecos, Zapotecos, Triquis, and many other Indians from the southern Mexican states, looking for work in the agro-business fields of Veracruz, Sinaloa, Baja California, California, Oregon, Idaho, and New York. Maclovio was murdered on July 4th, 1987, at the age of 24, killed by a hit and run driver on Highway 1. The driver and passenger were carrying out a contract from a grower, through another Mixteco organizer that had sold-out, to eliminate Maclovio Rojas. "He was a spiritual young man," Jose Rojas, his older brother told us, "he took the whole family down the righteous path... The people understood him and believed his honesty, he quickly became the Secretary General of the CIOAC in San Quint’n (an Independent National Organization of Farm Workers and Peasants)".

At the time of his death, Maclovio Rojas and the workers from the CIOAC were making demands for decent working and living conditions. The majority of the workers were living inside the grower's fields in makeshifts barracks and labor camps, in plantation style conditions. The workers began squatting on vacant lands developing their permanent settlements (colonias) out of the grower's properties. At the height of the harvest in 1987 over 80,000 workers lived in the San Quint’n valley. The majority of the migrants would leave after the harvest every year but thousands of them began to call Baja California their home, their children becoming natives.

After Maclovio Roja's death, the CIOAC honored him by having several colonias named after him. One in the Vicente Guerrero sector of San Quint’n, were Maclovio's family lives, and the other one in Tijuana, were our story is unfolding. The Poblado Maclovio Rojas is situated roughly 20 miles east from Downtown Tijuana, it has dirt streets with no names, no electricity, no running water or sewage, no patches of green, it has an elementary school, several churches under construction, an assembly hall, and an "Aguascalientes."

"The Aguascalientes was a ship, a pirate ship." It was built by hand, out of logs, in a town called La Realidad, in the middle of the Selva Lacandona, by the EZLN, the National Liberation Zapatista Army, in August 1994. It was really a "stadium" built to hold the first National Democratic Convention. Subcomandante Marcos wrote on the eve of the convention, while standing on the top of the central stands, that he felt as if he was on this giant battleship, a pirate ship. On February 1995, the Mexican army moved in and destroyed it, along with Marco's library, as well as other cultural and artistic objects. After the destruction of the first "Aguascalientes," Marcos called for the formation of thousands of "Aguascalientes," Cultural Centers of Resistances, throughout MŽxico, and the world.

It's morning Tuesday September 2, the "Aguascalientes" in the main "plaza" of the Poblado Maclovio Rojas, is filled with people, women and children, milling around, painting banners and signs, preparing their bodies and souls for the road ahead, packing some food, water, and hydrolyzed serum, donated by supporters, their resolve is strong. They are ready to march to meet face to face with the governor of Baja California, in Mexicali 100 miles away, to demand the freedom of three of their leaders jailed by the government. Highway 2 will take the marchers through the Sierra Juarez 5,500 feet, down the Rumorosa grade, to the Laguna Salada 110 feet below sea level. With temperatures ranging during the day from 85¡ to 115¡.

Over 300 people begin the march. The corridor of power waits for no one, not even freedom marchers. The madness grows intense and the impatient horns blast through the morning sun, as the massive traffic jam backs up for miles. Dirt and smoke is flying all over the place. Through the dusty lens of his video camera Michael focuses on several teenage kids shouting "No queremos Violencia, queremos a Hortensia." They are marching for the freedom of Hortensia Hernandez Mendoza, Artemio Osuna Osuna and Juan Regalado Ojeda. They are the three leaders of the Poblado Maclovio Rojas that the government has targeted to eliminate, hoping that without them around they will be able to repress the movement.

The pages of the history of Tijuana are filled with "paracaidista" (literally, parachutist) squatter movements that date back to the turn of the century. Hundreds of colonias and housing developments in the city have started with a land occupying movement. Growth by land squat. It has seen the rise and fall of many local "caciques" political bosses, both men and women, who have led thousands of people to claim vacant lots, first in river beds then in barren hillsides, mesas, and canyons as their own. I remember when people would say that along with their lots, they would get 3 coyotes and a rattlesnake thrown into the mix. The squat movement in Tijuana has a history of government repression on one hand, and with corruption on the other. So why is the PAN (National Action Party), a conservative opposition party that has been in power in Baja California since 1989, spending so much time and energy in repressing this one? The Real Estate mantra, location, location, location.

"Why is the government so entrenched in getting rid of the pobladores?" Subcomandante Hortensia, ask herself, "look around you, you'll notice all of those containers stacked over there, they can't wait any longer." She was referring to a fenced lot next to their assembly hall that is owned by Hyundai, the Korean auto giant who operates a "maquiladora" assembly plant next to the colonia. Hyundai has been manufacturing trailer-cargo containers, for 18 wheelers, for train and ship. Here a thousand of them are neatly stacked in rows. From a distance the stacks of containers look like two-story apartments. The Poblado Maclovio Rojas is located between the manufacturing plant and the storage lots. "The government wants this land, so they can practically give it away to the Koreans and Japanese," a young man leader of the CIOAC tells us, "we have seen them with their cameras and surveying equipment." Had this colonia been 20 miles away, instead of 20 feet, from the corridor of power, nobody would care.

"Aqui estamos, y no nos vamos," we're here, and we're not moving. When the people of Baja California in 1989 elected into office a candidate from the PAN, it marked the first time a candidate other than the PRI, the official ruling party, had won a governor's seat in 70 years. The government of change was the motto of the PAN governor, however, the party in power might have changed, but the economic conditions are still controlled by the "globalized" corporations that have been milking millions of dollars, exploiting maquiladora workers. The PAN promised a government with a human face, however to the people of the Maclovio Rojas it has shown the heart of a beast, "rostro humano, coraz—n de bestia." Officials in the State government have been systematically waging a campaign against the movement, repressing the leadership in the colonia, buying out some of the people, and dividing the community. Earlier this year, the colonia was occupied by the state judicial police, people were arrested, houses were burned down, people were relocated under false pretense. The PAN government's insistency of breaking the movement has not succeeded. Both Hortensia and Artemio have been jailed before, it has only made the will of the pobladores of the Maclovio Rojas stronger.

The march had been delayed a week, and many in the colonia were disappointed, they were anxious to start. The delayed was caused because the leadership was hoping that a series of "dialogos" with local officials would settle the matter of the charges levied against the jailed leaders. The government had raided the colonia with judicial police, and had arrest warrants out for ten other people, including their lawyer. They were charged for inciting and conspiring to invade land, the severity of the charges does not allow for the setting of a bail bond. The press reported that the judicial police believed the kidnapped executive from Sanyo might have been housed in the colonia. The dialogue with the State officials only resolved that the ten warrants were thrown out. The three jailed leaders were moved to the state penitentiary awaiting trial.

On Saturday September 7, on the outskirts of El C—ndor, a small village on the Sierra Juarez, without warning a thunderstorm erupts into the quiet afternoon, lightning everywhere in search of ground, discharging the desert's madness, a marcher goes into labor, creating an abrupt halt to the peregrination. Two members of the American Friends Service Committee, a support group from San Diego, rushed the young women back to the City of Tecate. A new revolutionary busy being born holding the line. Guarded by wilting ponderosa pines, Ruben is resting with his family talking to Michael saying he will march into the Palacio del Estado in Mexicali, and tell the governor to expedite justice and free "Los Tres," to hold his flunkies accountable, and stop the thugs from repressing the colonos. He had been leading the support team carrying water and other supplies. On Tuesday September 10, in the dried out shores of El Centinela Beach, near a 100 year old trail that saw thousand of Chinese railroad workers marching north, just 25 miles from Mexicali, the extreme heat finally overwhelmed and felled Ruben with a stroke. Busy being dying.

La Marcha por La Libertad reached the central plaza in Mexicali on Wednesday 11th at 10:00 AM. Ruben's body had been taken to a government run funeral home the night before. More colonos drove in from Tijuana and held a rally with 400 people outside the governor's palace. The marchers wanted to hold a wake for Ruben, and bring him to the rally, his wish to make it all the way. The governor was busy being missing, they met with the governor's chief assistant, and did not resolve any of the issues. Where was the governor? He was back in Tijuana in one of the luxury hotels, having a luncheon meeting with the local and foreign investors and industrialists, busy being a mouth piece to President Ernesto Zedillo's words spoken on September 1, during the State of the Union address, that all the power of the state will be used against the radicals. The speech was a reference to the wave of attacks on the army and federal police, by armed guerrillas from the EPR, EjŽrcito Popular Revolucionario, who has recently appeared in several states in MŽxico. The governor was assuring them that their investments are safe and are welcome. A reassuring comment made by James Jones, US Ambassador in MŽxico, "we're here to assist Mr. Zedillo, in any way, we are very experienced in these matters," he shared.

The attack on the leadership of the Poblado Maclovio Rojas represents an all out strategy by the Mexican government to repress all the struggles for social justice, that have multiplied since the emergence in the State of Chiapas of the EZLN on January 1, 1994. A movement that has uncovered the cloak of NAFTA, and the so-called ascension of MŽxico into the utopia of the first world, so claimed by its last supreme ruler, Salinas de Gortari.

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