“In Coatetelco, a group of indigenous women organize the annual Feria de Pescado Cultural y Artesanal (Cultural and Handicraft Fish Fair). This fisherman community is located near a lake of the same name (Coatetelco) and November 2012 will mark the 12th year that these women have been hosting this fair. The purpose of this annual event is to commemorate and celebrate the cultural heritage of Coatetelco and invite handicraft artists to display and barter their products. Because there is no charge for setting up a stand at this fair, artists and cooks are able to share their recipes and traditional handicrafts directly without having to pay an intermediary. The fair also aims to promote “el trueque,” the pre-hispanic tradition of bartering in Mexico. No modern currency is used at the fair. The women we work with never use the term economic solidarity, but what they do with bartering and supporting local handicraft artists is a perfect example of economic solidarity. Yet they would argue that what they are doing isn’t new: they are celebrating centuries-old traditions that predate the arrival of the conquistadores.”
(Paraphrased quote from a dinner table conversation with my host father in Ocotepec, Morelos).
This paraphrased quote is just one example of the numerous dinner conversations I have with my host family in Ocotepec. Throughout my time here in Mexico I have spent many a night at the dinner table listening to my host-parents recount their involvement in social activism. It is clear from these conversations that economic solidarity has long been practiced in Mexico and in Morelos, even if the actors do not employ the term. Acts of solidarity economy are present both in quotidian life and at official events like the aforementioned cultural fair.
On Monday, June 25, Atena, Craig, Erik and I interviewed my host parents to get a better sense of the work they do and the organizations they work for. My host parents Tonia and Humberto have a long history of working with Equipo Pueblo, a national Mexican organization of communist leanings that is committed to supporting cultural, economic and social empowerment of marginalized populations in rural, indigenous and urban zones of Mexico. Their work is one of solidarity, exchange and networking so that various civil society groups can come together and share their experiences. Their work is local, national and global in scale. My host father Humberto has been involved with Equipo Pueblo since its inception in D.F. in 1977. Equipo Pueblo did not establish a local chapter in Morelos until 1985, but now the majority of Mexican states have a local Equipo Pueblo office. The work of Equipo Pueblo has been subject to a great amount of transformation and various stages of evolution throughout the past three decades. It is currently at a low point in its history and its activity is beginning to die down. The local chapter of Equipo Pueblo is no longer active. As a result, today Tonia and Humberto work for Desarollo Integral Autogestionario, A.C., a splinter organization of Equipo Pueblo Morelos founded in 1992.
Equipo Pueblo provided a space for transnational solidarity. The organization worked closely with Frères des Hommes, an international solidarity association based in Europe. Frères des Hommes is committed to eradicating global poverty and sensitizing Europeans to solidarity development. For many years the Belgian chapter of Frères des Hommes funded Equipo Pueblo in its endeavors, and helped organize international conferences throughout Latin America and Europe. As a result, Tonia and Humberto have traveled many times to Belgium and have attended forums in Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Panama and other Latin American countries. Each visit to Belgium involved exchange of expertise and knowledge between social activists. Frères des Hommes has three main sectors of solidarity work: (1) Local Farming (2) Economic Solidarity (3) Democratic Citizenship. Humberto first began hearing about economic solidarity in the early 1990s through his work with Frères des Hommes, though he acknowledges time and time again that long before he ever heard the term from his colleagues in Europe he was already involved in activities of economic solidarity.
The disintegration of Equipo Pueblo in Morelos:
As stated before Humberto and Tonia now work for Desarrollo Integral Autogestionario, A.C., a civil association that provides capacity building and human rights education for various civil society groups. Equipo Pueblo in Morelos began to disintegrate after it stopped receiving funding from Frère des Hommes. When the Belgian chapter of Frère des Hommes began to split, Equipo Pueblo could not continue to operate at the same level. As a result Tonia and Humberto were left with no choice but to continue forward with Desarrollo Integral Autogestionario.
Desarrollo Integral Autogestionario:
Currently Desarrollo Integral Autogestionario is working with three different organizations. The first is a group of campesina women in San José de los Laureles, a small indigenous community located outside of Tlayacapan, Morelos. DIA provides capacity building in natural and alternative medicine for this group of women. The second group DIA works with is a women’s sewing cooperative in Temixco, Morelos. And finally, the third collaboration is with a group of women in Coatetelco, Morelos. These women organize the aforementioned annual fair on Fish, Culture and Handicrafts.
In the past DIA has also promoted organic farming. Their work with organic farming involved strengthening local food markets, so that rural Mexican communities could both produce and consume their own organic food. This project proved very challenging in light of the implementation of NAFTA in 1994.
Desarrollo Integral has also done quite a bit of work in the area of environmental justice, promoting both recycling and compost throughout Morelos. The project they worked on most extensively in relation to environmental justice was Basura Cero – (Zero Trash) – an effort to spread awareness to the local community about the value of reducing consumption and trash production.
It is important to stress here that DIA does not implement or impose its own projects, but rather supports community groups in their own activities. DIA provides regular workshops on human rights and helps facilitate initiatives authored by the members of the various groups. Thus comes the importance of the word “autogestionario.” The term autogestión is prevalent throughout Mexico and is best translated as self-determination/self-management. The type of development DIA is trying to promote is one of self-determination, autonomy and self-sufficiency.
Desarrollo Integral Autogestionario receives funding from various sources. The most prominent one is Fundación Sergio Méndez Arceo (named after a famous bishop who pioneered liberation theology in Morelos). Tonia and Humberto also receive funding from the municipalities in which they work, and various government agencies.
Promotional video of La Fundación:
An analysis of these sources of funding recalls the political schema we drew with Bruno Barronet. Desarrollo Integral would fall under the category of moderate, reformist organizations that work alongside the government to carry out their social work. Additionally, exploring these sources of funding have helped us identify and locate governmental offices and agencies that provide financial support ecosol projects, including SEDESOL, INDESOL and Oportunidades. (Stay tuned for additional blog posts on these agencies).
Important themes from the interview:
- Economic solidarity as a codeword for political capital/purchase/leverage. Humberto made the astute observation that the term economic solidarity is heavily utilized by politicians and governmental figures in Mexico, though they might be from the far right. He related this to a larger history and reality in Mexico in which conservative actors employ the language of the left in order to gain credibility and support. Unfortunately the result is that the language becomes empty. For one, popular and politically correct codewords like economic solidarity are not largely employed by people on the ground, nor do rural indigenous communities know much about this academic terminology. Secondly, this language is largely employed by forces, agents and institutions that have little respect for the interests of the poor and marginalized. It is a great irony that marks Mexican politics. As Humberto put it, a far-right, neoliberal politician can declare his love for Zapata.
- Economic solidarity as an academic term. Building off of the last theme, it seems that economic solidarity is a term unrecognized by the rural poor in Mexico, though they have been engaging in it for centuries.