Eleven years ago, I sat in a room in San Andres Larrainzar, Mexico, across a table from three people who where surrounded by at least 20 others.
They all wore ski masks heightening an awareness of their eyes.
Minutes before, I had passed through three security cordons set up around the municipal building just off the town’s main plaza.
The sprawling one-storey colonial building housed the Zapatista leadership during its peace talks with the Mexican government.
Long years of repression and isolation had been broken by the largely indigenous Zapatista uprising of January, 1994.
Brief but bloody clashes with the military led to an uneasy church-brokered truce.
The peace talks of 1996 hoped to build a lasting peace based on a just settlement of the grievances long afflicting Chiapas, the state in Mexico with the highest level of poverty but at the same time among the richest in the country in natural resources.
“This is a time for hunger for us,” Commandante David (who wearing the beribboned hat and embroidered shirt of a Tzeltal speaking man) told our three-person delegation from Development and Peace.
“It will be a long road through hunger for us, a road made more difficult by militarization. How can we survive?”
Directly and unequivocally he told us: “We need your solidarity and assistance.”
Commandante Tacho, a younger man with piercing eyes, spoke next: “We have peace as a clear objective. We believe that the peace of the Zapatistas is a peace that all Mexico wants, a just and dignified peace for all Mexicans.
“This peace will be one that provides for all the needs of the people.”
Tacho challenged us as directly as David had: “How can we build this peace together?”
Last week, Antoine Libert Amico, the 23-year-old co-ordinator of the Community Action Centre for Economic and Political Investigations in Chiapas (www.ciepac.org), spent a whirlwind two days of speaking to schools and the public here in Whitehorse as Development and Peace‘s 2007 Solidarity Speaker.
He noted that struggle for social justice has achieved some notable advances.
“Fourteen years ago, indigenous peoples were not allowed to walk on the sidewalks of Chiapas!” They can now walk anywhere but they do so still in poverty.
Antoine noted that the 12 different indigenous peoples of Chiapas face a new threat from a pro-development government that has granted 72 mining concessions, some of which have been awarded to Canadian corporations.
Many of these compromise the indigenous people’s use of their traditional lands without consulting or compensating those impacted by the developments.
The challenges aren’t always external ones though.
A communiqué from CIEPAC, Libert Amico’s organization, earlier this week noted that Zapatistas seek to continue developing community structures that truly do respond to the needs of the people.
However, it cautioned but “at times it is difficult to realize collective efforts because of the individualistic mentality that has been placed in our heads.”
In subsistence communities in Chiapas and across the Global South spring is a time of hunger and hope.
The last of the previous year’s seed has been sown. There will be little left to eat until the first of the new harvest comes in.
This continues to be a time also of a great spiritual hunger for justice.