Orin Langelle at Casa De Arte Gallery, Buffalo, NY

The photographs are numbered. Following the fifteen photographs are more details about them, along with brief historical explanations, and additional information to see more photos pertaining to the exhibit. After that text are ten more additional photos that were on display at the gallery entitled OTHER REALITIES. The exhibit ran from 22 June to 28 July 2013.

New_La Realidad_2_card1. Comandante in La Realidad, Chiapas, Mexico—headquarters for the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee, General Command of the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation)

Rebel territory, Mexico 1996

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2. Comandante Tacho—of the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation Army) in La Realidad, Chiapas, Mexico

Rebel territory, Mexico 1996

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3. Street scene in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico––The graffiti on the wall refers demands freedom for people accused of being members of the EZLN and imprisoned following the 1994 uprising

Chiapas, Mexico 1996

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4. Zapatistas in the village of La Realidad

Rebel territory, Mexico 1996

19 Zapatista Comandante

5. Zapatista with Che shirt—Comandante with side arm wearing Che Guevara shirt in La Realidad

Rebel territory, Mexico 1996

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6. Mother and child in San Cristobal

Chiapas, Mexico 1999

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7. La Selva—Mist rises from the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in the Lacandon Jungle

Chiapas, Mexico 2011

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8. Mayan Ruins of Bonampak

Chiapas, Mexico 2011

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9. Milpa—Nuevo San Gregorio Campesinos in Nuevo San Gregorio tend maize in a milpa. The community was facing forced relocation from the Lacandon jungle for a conservation project. Nuevo San Gregorio refused and was not evicted

Chiapas, Mexico 2003

Indigenous Woman with Calla Lillies

10. Elder Indigenous Woman with Calla Lilies—takes part in march for world peace in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. The march was led by Bishop Felipe Arizmendi, days before the U.S.’s next “official” bombing of Iraq began

Chiapas, Mexico 2003

Zap horse_0084 11. Man on horseback—in Amador Hernandez, Chiapas, Mexico. Horseback is one of the few ways to travel the fifteen kilometers out of the community and to the nearest village. There are no roads to or from Amador Hernandez

Chiapas, Mexico 2011

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12. Young girls play in Amador Hernandez—Life in the village goes on four days prior to a potential forced relocation by the Mexican military

Chiapas, Mexico 2011

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13. Women medicinal healers—prepare their traditional medicines, which they harvest from the jungle. In an attempt to force the residents of Amador Hernandez to leave the jungle, the Mexican government stopped sending medical supplies, and suspended emergency transport of the gravely ill

Chiapas, Mexico 2011

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14. Woman and daughter walking—another way out of Amador Hernandez is to walk the fifteen kilometers

Chiapas, Mexico 2011

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15. Elders in Amador Hernandez

Chiapas, Mexico 2011

¡Tierra y Libertad! (Land and Liberty)

The Zapatista Uprising (Photos #1-5)

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect on 1 January 1994. When it did, the Indigenous Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) rose up throughout Chiapas with the resounding cry “¡Ya Basta!” (Enough Already!). Chiapas is Mexico’s most biologically rich state, and home to the highest concentration of Indigenous Peoples in the country.

Prior to its passage, the Zapatistas had denounced NAFTA as a “death sentence” for the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico. In order for Mexico to be accepted into NAFTA, Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution had to be eliminated. Article 27, won during the 1910 revolution led by Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa and others guaranteed the people of Mexico the right to ejidos, or communal lands. The passage of NAFTA drove thousands of Mexican peasant farmers from their lands.

The demands of the Zapatistas were simple: work, land, housing, education, autonomy, freedom, democracy, justice and peace. And with dignity.

I began photographing in Chiapas in the spring of 1996 behind rebel lines to document the Indigenous Zapatistas’ struggle against neoliberalism in Mexico. Most of my photos from 1996 were taken in La Realidad, “headquarters” of the EZLN.

Photos #1,2,4 and 5 were taken in La Realidad. Photo #3 was taken in San Cristobal de las Casas, the original state Capital of Chiapas that was captured by the Zapatistas on the first day of the uprising.

Early one morning in La Realidad I heard an explosion. Then another. I rolled out of my sleeping bag, grabbed my cameras in belief that the Mexican military was shelling the Zapatista community. In actuality the Zapatistas were shooting fireworks to celebrate Easter.

When asked why they wear masks, the Zapatistas responded, “We gave up our faces in order to be seen.”

The Zaptista uprising continues to this day and has been an inspiration to millions of people throughout the world.

Unmasked (Photos #6-8)

Photo #6 was taken in San Cristobal de las Casas, home to Indigenous Peoples, solidarity activists, ex-pats, foreign intelligence agents and artists.

The home of the EZLN is the Lacandon Jungle (photo #7). It is the largest rainforest in North America. Comprising only .4% of the surface area of Mexico, the jungle is home to at least 33% of the country’s bird species, 25% of its mammals and 11% of its amphibians and reptiles.

The jungle has also supported 25 centuries of Indigenous populations and contains over 100 archaeological sites, such as Bonampak (photo #8).

Because of the jungle’s natural wealth, the Mexican government has long sought to control it. In 1970, the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, covering 330,000 hectares, was established without consultation of the Indigenous communities who lived there.

Neuvo San Gregorio (Photo #9)

In 2003, the Mexican military, with the support of some international environmental organizations like Conservation International, charged that indigenous communities including Nuevo San Gregorio were destroying the rainforest. This charge was used to justify the attempt to forcibly remove these communities from the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve–which would enable further commercial exploitation of the region, such as oil exploration, bioprospecting and the construction of hydroelectric dams.

I was called to help organize an emergency delegation of journalists to fly into the jungle to investigate the claims of the Mexican government that the Indigenous communities were destroying the Biosphere Reserve; and to interview those communities about their experiences.

We flew into the Indigenous village of Nuevo San Gregorio. The community took us on a tour of their traditional agricultural milpa–a small plot that had been cleared to grow corn using organic practices.

This community was not destroying the jungle. Our overflight of the jungle documented that ecological damage to the jungle was the result of roads, cattle ranches, logging, military bases and other commercial uses of the land.

We exposed our findings to the world and the village was not relocated.

The struggles of the Indigenous Peoples of Chiapas are not in isolation. The Zapatistas have always acknowledged the connections between their struggle and the struggles of other peoples around the world against militarism (photo #10), ecological destruction, economic domination and social injustice.

Amador Hernandez (Photos #11-15)

The effort to clear the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve of its Indigenous inhabitants did not end in 2003, however, and in 2011 I undertook another investigation into the region–this time to the village of Amador Hernandez.

In March 2011, I traveled to Amador Hernandez, another Indigenous community in the Montes Azules threatened with eviction. A journalist, two Spanish videographers and I were invited by the community to interview residents and document the village. We traveled a long bumpy road for over a day in the back of a pickup truck, followed by 15 kilometers through the mud on horseback to arrive in Amador Hernandez, deep in the Lacandon Jungle, on the border of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve.

This was the first time in many years people from outside of the Lacandon jungle were invited to enter this particular Indigenous territory. We were invited due to our long time activism in the region and the trust we had built there.

We were asked by the community to inform the world that all medical supplies and emergency help had been cut off by the Mexican government in an attempt to force the community to voluntarily leave their land.

The community explained that the Mexican military was expected to begin a forced relocation within four days. This relocation was part of an agreement between the states of California and Chiapas known as “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation” or REDD+. Under REDD+ polluting industries in California can use the carbon stored by the trees in the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve to “offset” their pollution under California’s new climate legislation. In this way they can continue business as usual unimpeded.

For the deal to go through, however, communities in the Montes Azules had to be relocated. Amador Hernandez refused.

Because of the presence of a documentary team that would record the military’s actions and the community’s resistance, the military did not move in. Amador Hernandez remains in place today and community members are organizing resistance in that region, educating others about why the government wants to relocate them under the REDD+ scheme.

2011 Communiqué from Amador Hernandez:

We, the residents of the Amador Hernández region in Chiapas, which forms the core of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, well-known for its extraordinary biological richness, and is the site of historic resistance by indigenous peoples, denounce that the illegal threats by the bad government to expel us, culturally and physically, from our territories, have moved from words to deeds.

Our opposition to the theft of our territory, as decreed in May 2007; our rejection of the unilateral delimiting of the agrarian border of the Lacandona Community demanded by investors in projects associated with the REDD+ Project; our refusal to accept the conservationist programs of “payment for environmental services” and “productive land reconversion,” and our decision to reinitiate a process of self-determined community health based in our traditional medicine, together have aroused the arrogance of the bad government, motivating them to advance a “new” counterinsurgency strategy to undermine our resistance.

It is a strategy that doles out sickness and death, dose by dose.

Amador Hernandez: A History of Resistance

The history of struggle in Amador Hernandez goes back to the Zapatista uprising. Deep in rebel territory, it was a hotbed of resistance to the Mexican military’s attempt to crush the Zapatistas.

In the Mexican daily, La Jornada, journalist Hermann Bellinghausen wrote in 1999:

“A detachment of 500 Mexican Army troops, made up of elite troops and Military Police, are keeping the access blocked leading to the road that joins Amador Hernandez with San Quintin, where the chiapaneco government and the soldiers are trying – at all costs – to build a highway.

“Hundreds of tzeltal indigenous from the region have been holding… a protest sit-in at the entrance to the community, which is also the entrance to the vast and splendid Amador Valley, at the foot of the San Felipe Sierra, in the Montes Azules.”

The people of Amador Hernandez did not let the army go through with their road plan and the army broke its encampment.

After leaving Amador Hernandez in 2011, we flew out of the jungle in a small airplane and were immediately confronted by African oil palm plantations on the edge of the jungle that the government says will be used to make biofuels.

When we landed and emerged from the plane, a submachine gun was jabbed into my stomach by a Mexican soldier, suspicious of what we saw during our trip to the jungle.

Note: To view more documentary photographs of Amador Hernandez and the government project city of El Pinar, please see Langelle’s photo essay Chiapas, Mexico: From Living in the jungle to ‘existing’ in “little houses made of ticky-tacky…”

For more on the show including previews from Artvoice, Buffalo Spree and The Buffalo Daily News: Gusto.

Photographs: Hundreds attend opening of the exhibit Chiapas: Resistance and Renewal

For additional information please contact Orin Langelle <langellephoto@photolangelle.org> or call +1.716.536.5669

OTHER REALITIES

The following ten photographs bring back different memories than ones above. Some of those memories are sad, but they are part of the struggle and history surrounding Chiapas, Mexico.

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Protesters, mostly students at the US-Canada border near Swanton, VT attempt to blockade commercial traffic near near Swanton, VT in opposition to the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Border Patrol guard (left) attempts to clear the border highway. Later that night, several of the organizers’ residences were raided. (1993)

OP *21-Cecilia Rodriguez

Cecilia Rodriguez, US representative of the EZLN, speaks at a rally protesting the World Bank’s 50th anniversary in Washington, DC and Mexican President Zedillo’s visit to the US. In her speech she demanded suspension of US military and technical assistance to Mexico for any purpose until human rights violations cease. While in southeastern Mexico two weeks later, Cecilia Rodriguez was brutally raped by Mexican paramilitary. (1995)

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In a continual state of harassment, the Mexican military patrols roads in the Zapatista Autonomous territories in Chiapas, Mexico. The soldier’s hand up was not a wave, but a command not to take photos. Obviously the command was not heeded. (1999)

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A Chol Mayan woman lays sick in her bed after being relocated from Rio San Pablo in the Lacandon jungle to a cramped governmental compound in Comitan, Chiapas, Mexico. Rio San Pablo was one of the first evictions. (2003)





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A Chol Mayan boy screams as his sister looks on after being relocated from Rio San Pablo in the Lacandon jungle of Chiapas to the governmental compound. (2003)


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The “Sustainable Rural City” project of Santiago el Pinar, Chiapas claims to enable rural populations to have services such as electricity and roads that Indigenous Peoples could not have otherwise in those areas. The new town consists of flimsy, rapidly built pre-fabricated structures. (2011)

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In reality, projects like Santiago el Pinar, are designed to enable the relocation of communities that are based where development projects–such as large-scale hydroelectric dams, agrofuel plantations, mines, etc.–are planned. (2011)

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The Government overseer of Santiago el Pinar said Chiapas Governor Sabines had been there for the official dedication of the city. He informed Sabines that a few days earlier overseer’s children had been playing inside his pre-fabricated home—and they fell through the floor. (2011)

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On the southern edge of the Chiapan jungle, near Guatemala, a multitude of African palm oil plantations emerged. The government says the palm oil will be used for agrofuels (biofuels). (2011)

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A Chiapas “Ecobus”, later seen being filled with normal petrol, took many participants to and from the meeting of the UN Climate Conference in Cancun, Mexico. (2010)

All photographs are copyrighted by Langelle Photography (2013), all rights reserved. No photo can be used without the consent of Langelle Photography. See Publishing and Acquisition Information.

Why Copyright? One of the reasons I copyright my photographs is to track where these photos are being used in order to monitor the impact of my work and evaluate the effectiveness of Langelle Photography, a nonprofit organization.