Reviewed: Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt, by John Gibler, 356 Pages, City Lights Publishers, (January, 2009).
Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, calls Mexico home, as do millions of impoverished citizens. From Spanish colonization to today’s state and corporate repression, Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt, by John Gibler, is written from the street barricades, against the Slims of the world, and alongside “the underdogs and rebels” of an unconquered country. The book offers a gripping account of the ongoing attempts to colonize Mexico, and the hopeful grassroots movements that have resisted this conquest.
Gibler, a Global Exchange Media Fellow, has been reporting from Mexico since 2006. While writing for dozens of media outlets, he has covered events such as the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign, the teachers’ revolt in Oaxaca and other stories of police repression and popular resistance. These reports form the basis for much of the book. (His articles are collected at the Global Exchange website.)
In the prologue, Gibler writes of Mexico Unconquered: “each chapter bleeds into all the others: they all share the same blood.” It’s true: the chapters flow together smoothly, bonded by Gibler’s steady class analysis and excellent story-telling skills. He breathes poetry and anecdotes into the history, and empathy and prose into the reporting, so these stories can be understood and felt, not just read.
Mexico Unconquered starts off with an engaging people’s history of Mexico. Gibler guides the reader through the country’s various presidencies and popular uprisings. From Oaxaca, Gibler offers a first hand account of the incredible teachers’ revolt, with unbelievable reports on police brutality and people’s solidarity. From Chiapas, Gibler provides a concise overview of the Zapatistas’ history, contextualized with background information on indigenous autonomy and reports on the Other Campaign. The book also tells stories from Mexico’s ghost towns, with numerous interviews with families that bear the burden of immigration to the US.
But the book is more than just an account of neoliberal nightmares and grassroots revolts. It cuts to the heart of the problems ravaging Mexico today, dissecting the roots of the country’s corruption, state repression, drug wars and poverty. In this respect, the book’s approach reflects what the late folk singer Utah Phillips once said: “The Earth is not dying it is being killed. And those who are killing it have names and addresses.” Well, Gibler offers the names and addresses of the people – and companies and ideologies — that are still trying to conquer Mexico.
“I hope that the thoughts and stories presented herein will be of use to others reflecting on similar social conditions in other lands,” Gibler writes. Indeed, harrowing accounts of Mexican police using torture to spread fear and expand power — but not necessarily get information — recall the torture methods employed in the US-led “War on Terror.” The book’s stories of how the drug war in Mexico is used as a pretext for police to murder and repress with impunity is shockingly similar to the drug war in the Andes. Numerous examples are also given in the book of how the law in Mexico — as in so many other countries — works only for those with political power and weapons.
Beyond its analysis, history and reporting, this book is also call to revolt. Readers around the world could learn much from the popular uprisings in Mexico. Just as the tactics of repressive states and exploitative corporations are similar around the world, the strategies of resistance could be also be connected and shared across international borders. Toward the end of the book, Gibler recalls the words of a friend, “[I]f we are all complicit in the damage, then we all share responsibility in the solutions; that is, we are united, or can be united, in taking a stand, in revolt.”