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Julie Webb-Pullman: The End of the Encuentro

The End of the Encuentro

By Julie Webb-Pullman

By New Year’s Eve the two thousand of Day One had swelled to four thousand, and over the next two days low cloud reduced visibility to about three feet – when it wasn’t raining. Occasional wind gusts swirled the mist away to reveal a landscape changing by the minute, as new arrivals pitched tents and tarpaulins on every spare square inch.

The dampening weather could not, however, dampen either the spirits or the enthusiasm of the majority, nor the total absence of drugs and alcohol, strictly forbidden in all Zapatista communities, limit their enjoyment - New Years Eve celebrations were enthusiastic, with music, dancing, and after midnight, speeches from the Commandantes, including Marcos.

Pouring rain on New Years night transformed the site into a mud-bath, but this did little to deter the revelry, or the hard work of the following days – the discussions, the proposals, the determined searches and sharing of strategies to fight the neo-liberalism and capitalism threatening not only the indigenous Zapatista communities, but also social justice throughout the world. (Links to daily reports:,, )

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The last-day interviews asking the same questions as the first revealed almost-universal positives – from the perspective of foreign visitors, the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and experiences with the Zapatista communities, the indigenous bases of support, and people from the 44 countries present in Oventik, and for the locals, to feel the strength of international support. The worst aspects were similarly almost universal - the weather! It should be noted that many people prefaced their selection of a worst thing (other then the weather) by saying that it was not necessarily a criticism of the encuentro, but merely the only thing they could think of that could be improved for future encuentros.

The following excerpts attempt to convey the wide range of impressions, some changing over the course of the encuentro, especially from France and Kurdistan!

Best thing (B) The Zapatista experience - Viva Zapata!!
Worst thing (W) Zero!!


B To share our experiences of the fight against globalisation, and talk and listen to people about their struggles in many countries eg Kurdistan. There is great awareness and commitment here, a lot of sharing, and support for humanity.

W The consumerism of the foreigners compared to the local people, and lack of concern for the conditions of the local people who suffered much more than us. [Note: Many people from local communities had only tarpaulins stretched across sticks for shelter, and slept on the ground, whilst foreigners were housed in buildings and tents, largely protected from the cold and rain.]


B The News Year’s declarations at about 3am – very sharp, and made us forget it was New Year....
W Although it was very international, there were some regions missing, none from Africa, or Arab countries within the context of a global war on Arab countries.


B To see how strong the Zapatistas remain, despite the bad Mexican governments.

W Repetition in the tables and plenaries – many caracoles said the same thing. Also, it was a bit idealized – I would have liked it to be a bit more practical, like how they deal with specific problems. Ideals are very important, but so is the practical experience.

Basque Country

B The solidarity in every space of the encuentro.
W The mud! And there is a big distance between the bases of support and the people who came from other places.

B Everything, but especially the women’s issues.
W The mud and the rain…


B The strength of the indigenous people who have organised, the strength of the women.
W Mother Earth’s attendance!!!


B Before I didn’t understand why autonomous communities – I thought it was maybe egoistic, but now I understand how important autonomy is to protect and preserve the indigenous language and culture – it is very VERY important.
W Time – I want much more time to get to know better all these interesting people here.

B The global vision of the movement, the concrete goals.
W Nothing


B We learned a lot about organization, and what steps to take, and we are more rich now and able to make the best in our country.
W The weather!


B The hospitality, and to experience the reality of the Zapatistas and the people from around the world and their different perspectives of anti-capitalism.
W Not enough time to give the issues the depth of attention they need.

Czech Republic

B To see with my own eyes and listen to the people to discover what is behind the Zapatista movement.
W Nothing.


B The size of it!
W I should have liked an interpreter so I could get into more dialogue with the women in their own language to talk in depth about their own lives, how they organize their collectives, how they use the economy, how they prioritise.


B Listening directly to indigenous communities speaking in their own voice about their own caracoles.
W The disposition of some people, their intolerance of the difficult situation here.


B Celebrating the anniversary of the uprising on New Years Eve.
W The weather – we didn’t bring a rug. But we’re used to the cold, so we’re happy!


B Sharing and understanding the women’s experiences – how big their hearts are, how strong they are!
W Nothing


B The hospitality, not only the facilities but also the general welcome from the Zapatistas was like an extension of their own communities.

W Lack of pragmatism in the Zapatista speeches, I wanted to hear more from each community about practicalities.


B Being able to talk personally to people meant I learnt a lot and was able to ask the questions I’m really specifically interested in.

W Lack of translations during the presentations – it would have been good to have co-ordinated it so English-speaking people could be in one part with a translator, and others in other parts, to know what was going on – it would have helped me understand.


B So many interesting people!!
W The mud....


B The interchange of ideas from all over the world without any bureaucracy!!
W The weather, and some people didn’t get a chance to share their opinions – there was not enough time to go into depth.

B That we have been given this opportunity to be here and to share.
W We are talking a lot, but not always doing anything – there are some contradictions, eg the amount of rubbish.


B The energy and joy of living, the unity, and sharing between the Zapatistas and the people of the world.
W The mud, the cold!!!


B I have had many opportunities to explain my experiences and my culture. It has been very rich and full of colour – not only the Zapatistas, but everyone from everywhere.

W Nothing!

And the locals said.....

B The closeness of the organisations, communities, autonomous authorities and municipalities – very important.
W The rubbish – there is a lot of rubbish, too much. And children of 12 and 13 years old smoking – apparently they don’t think it causes health problems. Maybe I am not very intelligent, but I feel this is not good.

B To feel the support for our struggle from so many people from civil society, and to see so many different movements represented eg gays, farmers, workers.

W The distance between the local people and civil society – although there is some interaction the locals keeps themselves separate and maintain their groups – it is a contradiction that the Zapatistas keep separate from the foreigners at an international meeting.

B For us to know that we are not alone with our problems, in our neighbourhoods and cities, for example to know that in all of Latin America we have the same problems.
W The mud.

B The dignity and commitment of all of these people from all around the world to change things, and to realise that the fight against neo-liberalism has no frontiers, that it is not all just talk but that many people are doing things, fighting with strength and commitment.
W Some of the relations between people here – in spite of the sense of community and sharing, there are contradictions in the lack of contact between the autonomous authorities and the supporters.

B So many people from many places sharing many experiences – we are friends, we are brothers and sisters, we are campañeros.
W Not enough time for every collective to share in the plenaries and tables.

B All of you, for participating – I like very much your strength in the fight.
W There is nothing bad here - except the weather.


So as the Zapatistas prepare for the second round encuentro in July and August 2007, when the peoples of the world will have the chance to visit several caracoles and see autonomous good government in action, these thoughts, opinions and impressions of locals and civil society will undoubtedly inform Zapatista planning to ensure an even more overwhelmingly successful series of events...and hopefully also induce some reflection on the part of some visitors into their own assumptions, prejudices, expectations – and production of rubbish! But neither they nor the Zapatista’s will be able to control nature’s caprice and undoubtedly mother earth will again be in attendance.... in July and August it will be hot, dry, and.....DUSTY!!


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