October 23, 2000
Manuel Hernández Aguilár will be a guest speaker in Sheryl Shirley’s class, American Foreign Policy, on November 3. His talk will be held from 11:15-12:05 p.m. in Hyde 120 and is open to the public free of charge. Aguilár will discuss his views on how U.S. economic policies and trade agreements like NAFTA are affecting rural communities in Chiapas, human rights issues, and how indigenous communities are joining together in the struggle for democracy and justice in southern Mexico.
Aguilár was born on a sugar plantation in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico. His parents were indentured peasants, working off a debt owed to the landowner. He says, “My parents owed a lot of money and worked day and night. They would fall down from being so tired. It was a nightmare they could no longer handle. One night we all fled to the mountains and the patron was left without any workers.”
Without workers, the patron was unable to keep the plantation productive and soon abandoned the property. Former workers, including Manuel’s family, returned to the plantation to work it as their own. Eventually they left that plantation to work communal land in the jungle. Manuel became a representative to the commune’s council, and a lay leader for the Catholic church. In addition to the religious work, Manuel is also a peasant farmer, active in community organizations, a husband, and father to six children.
The Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) uprising in 1994 had great repercussions in Chiapas and all of Mexico. Aguilár says “the Zapatistas rose up in arms to demand access to basic social services for Mexico’s rural poor, as well as access to the Mexican political process.” While he chose not join the EZLN because of his work for the church and desire not to take up arms, he says, “I am in agreement with the demands of the Zapatistas. They are the demands of all the social organizations.”