A Visit to San Manuel

The Red Alert lasted almost seven months. Our last visit had been in March and we wanted to visit with our brothers and sisters in San Manuel.  So, we sent a letter telling them we wanted to visit and were delighted to receive a quick response inviting us to come. Early one morning in Oventik, at the Encuentro between the Zapatista Peoples and the Peoples of the World, as I was walking up the mountain, I looked up to see five ski-masked men standing in front of me. “Buenos días,” I said.  They responded “buenos días” and asked if I knew who they were.  I said “no” and they told me they were from San Manuel. After each one identified himself, we began to talk about our visit to the Cañadas after the Encuentro.  They confirmed the invitation we received and said to “bring everyone.” Lisa and I were the two Chiapas Support Committee (CSC) members going on to San Manuel after the Encuentro and we had collected a gang of folks to visit our sister municipio (county) with us; among them a Bay Area doctor, two who are staying on as long-term volunteers, a Bay Area resident with communications technology expertise, two people who work with fuel-efficient wood stoves and a New Zealand writer who was on her way to join the international human rights group (the CCIODH) investigating the rampaging military police in Oaxaca.

Getting to San Manuel proved to be a bit more difficult than usual. The obligatory check-in with the Junta in La Garrucha was a challenge because it had been raining and the road from Ocosingo to Garrucha is a nightmare when it rains.  The first truck driver we talked to in Ocosingo said we had to get out and walk a ways near San Miguel because of the mud. It had been raining and it did not take much imagination to envision the baches (huge pot holes filled with mud) with which we were painfully familiar from previous trips. We saw black clouds in the distance and knew we were in for more rain and mud. The size of the truck was a deterrent. We had met up with several peace campers and our number had grown to eleven. The truck was too small!  The bigger truck didn’t leave until morning. What to do?  Suddenly, as if sent by one of the original gods that indigenous storytellers speak of, another truck appeared. Yes. He would take us to Garrucha. 

We left Ocosingo. It rained more and more. The “road” was not just full of pot holes; it had mounds of squishy mud in its center and on its sides, deep ruts in the middle.  The truck driver skillfully wound his way through the brown goo and we eventually (3 hours later) arrived in La Garrucha. Rumor has it that a certain pipe-smoking subcomandante thinks such trips test our revolutionary commitment! 

Next morning, the truck from San Manuel came for us, but on the way to San Miguel the suspension broke due to slipping and sliding in a big old bache. Something was rubbing against a tire, so we had to go back to Ocosingo for repairs. After a couple of hours we were on the road to San Manuel, a much better road. We arrived in Nuevo Arena late in the evening to find a delicious chicken and rice soup awaiting us. Afterwards, we went to (Emiliano) Zapata to set up camp (hang hammocks). It was good to finally be home after trying to get there for two days. It was warm! 

The best news of all was seeing the Farmacia Bodega (Pharmacy Warehouse) under construction at last and learning that a clinic would be built close by to serve the whole county. The clinic is a full-scale clinic being constructed in San Manuel by Paz y Solidaridad, an NGO from Basque Country in Spain. It is one piece of a comprehensive regional health care plan in the region of the Caracol of La Garrucha. Health promoters will be trained to staff the clinic and a doctor will be on duty also.  The Pharmacy Warehouse and the Clinic compliment each other. While the clinic will provide free health care services to everyone in the county, regardless of political affiliation, ethnicity or religion, the Pharmacy Warehouse will sell medications to all health promoters throughout the county. It will also sell to the clinic’s pharmacy and will eventually serve to finance the clinic when the NGO’s leave. 

After the 1994 Uprising, this region (the canyons east of Ocosingo) became dependent on international NGOs like the Red Cross, Doctors of the World and Doctors Without Borders for their medications.  After ten years of low-intensity warfare, all the international health care NGOs pulled out and the whole region was without medicine, Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas alike.  It is hoped that the Pharmacy Warehouse will break the cycle of dependence on international health care organizations for medications.  After the initial supply is purchased, medications will be replenished from sales, much like the grocery warehouse. The Pharmacy Warehouse is a joint project of the Chiapas Support Committee and the San Manuel Autonomous Council. 

We saw the autonomy which was explained in Oventik put into action as we met with the autonomous council, several health care promoters and one of the Compañero Manuel Grocery Warehouse specialists. The Warehouse (they called it the “other commerce” at the Encuentro) earned a hefty profit last year, more than 10,000.00 US dollars (over 100,000 pesos) for the county coffers! Trucks don’t last long on these roads and the demand for transportation is never-ending. Consequently, the Chin Tzajal Ek (Little Red Star, in Tzeltal) was purchased with the Warehouse proceeds. The Tzajal Ek (Red Star), a three-ton truck belonging to the Warehouse, and the smaller pickup truck are used for everything from purchasing supplies for the Warehouse and delivering them to customers, all the way to medical emergencies and making the rounds with the health care promoters when they give vaccinations.  The Compañero Manuel Grocery Warehouse was a joint project of the Chiapas Support Committee, Enlace Civil, San Manuel Autonomous Council and Mani Tese of Italy. 

No visit to San Manuel is complete without an outdoor community dance. The weather in this beautiful river valley cooperated, so the musicians got out their marimba and we celebrated the visit with music and dancing, leaving us with many happy memories until our next visit.   

Mary Ann Tenuto Sánchez
January 2007