Knowledge Session: Who Was Comandanta Ramona?

 

comandanta ramonaComand­anta Ramona was an influ­en­tial mem­ber of the Zapatista Army or Ejér­cito Zapatista de Lib­era­ción Nacion­al (EZLN) in Chiapas, Mex­ico. Dubbed “The Petite War­ri­or,” she led the Zapatistas’ ini­tial upris­ing again­st the Mex­ic­an gov­ern­ment, lead­ing to to the Zapatista rebel­lion and the revolu­tion of indi­gen­ous women’s rights through­out Mex­ico.

Comand­anta Ramona influ­enced the early decisions and actions of the Zapatista Army for Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion (EZLN), a group of indi­gen­ous peoples in the south­ern state of Chiapas, Mex­ico who con­tin­ue to struggle again­st gov­ern­ment exploit­a­tion and mar­gin­al­iz­a­tion.

Comand­anta Ramona wears a black face mask and a white shirt with a red scarf. Only her eyes are vis­ible. As a Tzotzil May­an woman, “Ramona” left her home in search of work. She exper­i­enced the dis­par­it­ies between the rur­al com­munit­ies and the lar­ger towns. And, see­ing that life was unjustly dif­fer­ent for Indi­gen­ous women, she joined the Ejér­cito Zapatista de Lib­era­ción Nacion­al (EZLN) to make life bet­ter for rur­al people, espe­cially women.

As a Zapatista, her role was polit­ic­al. She traveled from com­munity to com­munity, teach­ing women about the Zapatista struggle.

Comand­anta Ramona once told a report­er in her nat­ive Tzotzil (Span­ish was her second lan­guage):

‘The women finally under­stood that their par­ti­cip­a­tion is import­ant if this bad situ­ation is to change. There is no oth­er way of seek­ing justice, and this is the interest of the women.’

For Comand­anta Ramona, act­iv­ism was a two-part struggle. The first was with­in the Chiapas com­munit­ies, where women’s roles were tied to tra­di­tion. The second was the indi­gen­ous people’s struggle again­st exclu­sion, sup­pres­sion, and dom­in­a­tion by the Mex­ic­an gov­ern­ment.

In 1993, Comand­anta Ramona drew up the “Revolu­tion­ary Law on Women.” In it, the law declared women equal to men. It was presen­ted and voted on by women and men at an assembly and it passed. The “Revolu­tion­ary Law on Women” was made pub­lic dur­ing the Zapatista upris­ing in San Cristóbal de las Cas­as in ’94. It included 10 demands spe­cific to the wel­fare of women. Comand­anta Ramona couldn’t have been any more clear:

‘First: Women, regard­less of their race, creed, col­or or polit­ic­al affil­i­ation, have the right to par­ti­cip­ate in the revolu­tion­ary struggle in a way determ­ined by their desire and capa­city.

Second: Women have the right to work and receive a just salary.

Third: Women have the right to decide the num­ber of chil­dren they will have and care for.

Fourth: Women have the right to par­ti­cip­ate in the affairs of the com­munity and hold pos­i­tions of author­ity if they are freely and demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted.

Fifth: Women and their chil­dren have the right to primary atten­tion in mat­ters of health and nutri­tion.

Sixth: Women have the right to an edu­ca­tion.

Sev­enth: Women have the right to choose their part­ner, and are not to be forced into mar­riage.

Eighth: Women shall not be beaten or phys­ic­ally mis­treated by their fam­ily mem­bers or by strangers. Rape and attemp­ted rape will be severely pun­ished.

Ninth: Women will be able to occupy pos­i­tions of lead­er­ship in the organ­iz­a­tion and hold mil­it­ary ranks in the revolu­tion­ary armed forces.

Tenth: Women will have all the rights and oblig­a­tions elab­or­ated in the Revolu­tion­ary Laws and reg­u­la­tions.

Comandanta Ramona

Art­work by María María Acha

In March of that year, two months after the upris­ing, the EZLN’s Indi­gen­ous Revolu­tion­ary Clandes­tine Com­mit­tee declared 34 demands be heard and met by the Mex­ic­an gov­ern­ment. And, it was Comand­anta Ramona who coördin­ated the peti­tions of indi­gen­ous women and wro­te it into the declar­a­tion. Under the twenty-ninth demand, she insisted the gov­ern­ment improve the qual­ity of indi­gen­ous women’s lives by doing sev­er­al things. She deman­ded that the gov­ern­ment build birth clin­ics, child­care cen­ters, women’s artis­an spaces and craft mar­kets, and mills where women could spend the four hours it takes to grind corn to make tamales and tor­til­las for their fam­il­ies. She also wro­te that indi­gen­ous women should have access to edu­ca­tion, train­ing, and con­tra­cept­ives to help with fam­ily plan­ning.

In 1996 Comand­anta Ramona went to Mex­ico City to par­ti­cip­ate in the Nation­al Indi­gen­ous For­um, des­pite a gov­ern­ment ban on EZLN’s par­ti­cip­a­tion (stem­ming from earli­er dis­agree­ments on the San Andrés Accords). While there, she was pro­tec­ted by Zapatista sup­port­ers who did not want to see her arres­ted. The for­um led to the found­ing of the Nation­al Indi­gen­ous Con­gress of Mex­ico.

Earli­er that same year, Comand­anta Ramona lob­bied for the San Andrés Accords, deem­ing the rights of indi­gen­ous peoples in Mex­ico. The EZLN and the Mex­ic­an gov­ern­ment agreed to sign the accords. Unfor­tu­nately, the gov­ern­ment did not com­ply and beefed up mil­it­ary pres­ence in Chiapas.

For the next sev­er­al years, Comand­anta Ramona con­tin­ued to remain act­ive in the push for the government’s com­pli­ance of the San Andrés Accords. She also led the EZLN women’s del­eg­a­tion at The First Nation­al Con­gress of Indi­gen­ous Women in Oax­aca in 1997. In 2001, she marched into Mex­ico City with oth­er lead­ing Zapatistas demand­ing that the gov­ern­ment com­ply with the San Andrés Accords.

After a 10-year health struggle with can­cer, Comand­anta Ramona died in 2006 from kid­ney fail­ure. She was en route to the hos­pit­al in San Cristóbal de las Casas—the town she seized twelve years earlier—because there was still no hos­pit­al in San Andrés de Lar­rain­zer, where she lived. She was said to have been 47 years old.

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Gata Malandra

Gata Malandra

Edit­or / Research­er at No Bounds
Gata is a music and arts lov­er, stud­ied anthro­po­logy, art man­age­ment and media pro­duc­tion ded­ic­at­ing most of her time to cre­at­ive pro­jects pro­duced by No Bounds.
Gata Malandra

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About Gata Malandra

Gata Malandra
Gata is a music and arts lover, studied anthropology, art management and media production dedicating most of her time to creative projects produced by No Bounds.

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