Feature photo by Prendido2

January 1st. 1994 Mexico and other North American nations agree to join NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which created one of the largest free trade blocks in the world, a sunny day for capitalism and an all-around shitty day for Mexican farmers. Amongst these angry farmers were the indigenous tribes of Chiapas, Mexico, a region known for its coffee, honey, and corn. This was the beginning of a long stream of civil unrest in the region. The natives of the land disagreed with the official Mexican government position and formed an independent entity. What pops into your head when you hear Chiapas? More than likely, an image of some ultra romanticized man in a black ski mask, the Che Guevara of his era. What is going down in Chiapas is complicated. In sum, Things are Fucked Up. It’s indigenous people versus the Mexican government in an epic struggle to maintain identity in the midst of foreign input and domestic pressure as well as build a properly working economy that is fair to the indigenous farmers.

Recently a spunky group of graduate students from DePaul University’s School of Public Service was led by Dr. Marco Tavanti on a trip south of the border to Chiapas. Their mission was to explore sustainable development in the region. There are multiple meanings and much discourse behind this term. For the sake of this article we will keep it simple: sustainable development is teaching a man to fish as opposed to giving him a fish. The group visited various coffee collectives, civil society organizations, and textile factories in the region to explore sustainable development first hand. The places they visited represent those in the region catching proverbial fish. The people of Chiapas are resilient people who in the face of adversity continue to do their own thing. For example, most of the businesses and collectives that the students visited were run by women because like everywhere else in Mexico, many men have left the rural areas to pursue work in the metropolitan centers or in El Norte.

Conflict in the region will more than likely never come to a real resolution, and things will stay in a North and South Korea-esque stalemate of stagnation. Because nowhere is the Mexican proverb of Los Cangrejos (if you have a bucket of crabs and take one out, the others will hang on to it and drag it down) more applicable than in Chiapas.

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