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Report on 1st Organisational Meeting for Encuentro II,

Zurich, 20-22 December 1996

by P.Cunningham


The factories to the men and women who work in them,

The land to those that work it

And houses to those that need them.


(From the opening statement of the Zurich meeting by the Zurich

"Direct Solidarity with Chiapas" Group)

Zurich, the city of Zwingli, of Puritanism, of the Protestant work ethic, of capitalism, of anonymous international banking a.k.a money laundering (the sister-in-law of Mexican ex-President Carlos Salinas was arrested there earlier this year attempting to withdraw millions of dollars from one of Raul Salinas' many bank accounts where under false identities he stashed away possibly even billions before being arrested for a PRI internecine murder). Zurich, "from the heart of the beast" as the European meeting signed its letter of greeting to the FZLN - the perfect place to begin to organise the Second Intercontinental Meeting for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism in Europe in 1997.

For three days 140 people from 15 European countries, plus Mexico and Nicaragua, met at the "Volkshaus" in the centre of Zurich to thrash out where, when and how to host the next Intergalactic Encuentro (from now on Encuentro II - my choice of words) in Europe in 1997, a decision taken at the 1st Encuentro in Chiapas, Mexico, in August 1996.

1) The Decisions

Despite being primarily an organisational rather than a political meeting, at times political, personal and linguistic differences and confusions (the official languages were Spanish and German, although the Women's pre-meeting caucus was in English) seemed about to conspire to produce a repeat run of the Berlin May 96 meeting which ended without a final document - not that political agreement is always necessary or desirable. It seemed as if the cold and fog of the wet, gothic streets of Zurich were reflected in our minds and in our apparent inability to "interface". But at last, amidst some mirth too - one of the London delegates, while speaking in German, was asked by a bamboozled interpreter if she understood English! - some (relatively) firm decisions were made:

1.1) Encuentro II will be held in Spain, but this decision is to be ratified by the Spanish groups not present in Zurich within the next 28 days.

1.2) It will be organised by the Spanish national commission, with the permanent and ongoing technical and political support of 3 European (international) Commissions on:

a) Preparation & Organisation

b) Finances & visas etc for non-European participation

c) Contents and themes of the tables and sub-tables

Each commission will be made up of at least 1 member from each of the 15 European countries present, plus whoever else wishes to participate.

1.3) Encuentro II will be held in 1997 during one of three periods:

a) late July/early August (same as Chiapas)

b) mid/late August, in order not to clash with World Youth Festival in Cuba in late July/early August which many Latin American delegates will be attending

c) at another later period to be decided at one of the next European organisational meetings

1.4) The next organisational meetings will take place in Barcelona (Feb 1-2) and Prague or N.Italy on an as yet unspecified date in March. The comrades in Prague must decide by mid Jan if they are able to host what should be the main organisational meeting. If not, the comrades in N.Italy (Brescia, Turin, Milan,Padua and Venice) will host the meeting in one of the above cities. However, we were all in agreement that every effort needs to be made to increase the participation of E.European comrades,none of whom were present in Zurich.

1.5) The aims of the Barcelona meeting are purely technical and organisational. (The contents of Encuentro II will be discussed at the Prague meeting.) They are to:

a) agree the form of the International Consulta on the 2nd Declaration of La Realidad to be held in mid Feb

b) organise the Prague meeting in March

c) set up and begin the tasks of the 3 International Commissions

1.6) The International Consulta will be held in mid Feb 97. It will also consult on what should be the main issues and themes to discuss at the next Encuentro. The Hamburg group already held it in Dec and involved the general public with a questionnaire which we may need to obtain and translate.

A group of French, Belgian and Swiss comrades are preparing a document on the Consulta for the francophone countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. I propose we obtain a copy, translate and adapt it for use in the anglophone countries outside Europe.

1.7) The national commissions in each European country (as well as from outside Europe) will collate and forward the results of the Consulta which will be used at the Prague meeting to decide on the contents of Encuentro II.

1.8) The Prague meeting in March will bring together the work of the 3 international commissions and begin to finalise preparations for Encuentro II, particularly on the contents, i.e. the categories of the tables and sub-tables. At the moment these will be the same five as in Chiapas (political, economic, social,cultural and indigenous/identity aspects) plus a separate table on the Women's Question.

However, the fHUMAN pre-meeting document could be a useful starting point in discussing how to change these abstract categories with which hardly anyone is satisfied and which risk to end up repeating the same discussions as in Chiapas.

1.9) Following the women's pre-meeting caucus on Fri afternoon (from which it was decided to exclude men), it was proposed to organise the contents of the Women's Table at Encuentro II as follows:


A) History of the resistance of women to capitalism and patriarchy:

. Witches: history of the rebel social body in primitive accumulation

. . . 11 connections between the antagonisms of women: past,

present & future

B) Imperialism (USA & EU) & women:

. the creation of surplus value in domestic work

. . 1 women in the fields, in the factories etc.

. . 11 international migrations of women: wives, housework, sex workers

C) Women & Nature (water, land etc.):

. women's movements for the defence of the environment

. 11 IMF/World Bank & women (e.g. debt & child prostitution link)

D) Gender discrimination in various sectors of society (family, artistic & cultural production):

. the image of women in the mass media

. . 11 emancipation or liberation ?

. . 11 education of children, rights of reproduction & abortion

E) Inequalities among women:

. social class

. . 11 language & religion

. . 11 heterosexism, monogamy & rape

. 11 bisexuals & lesbians

F) Racism among women - deconstructing white privilege:

. three times oppressed

. 11 indigenous women of the world (Mexico, India, Alaska, Apaches)

Other decisions:

A letter of greeting was sent to the FZLN, of protest to Mexican president Zedillo and of solidarity with MRTA political prisoners in Peru, but not with the MRTA's action at the Japanese Embassy in Lima,"understand the motives for" rather than "support" the words being used after much disagreement. (Copies attached - translate?)

Other items on the original agenda, such as a new solidarity campaign with the Zapatistas and days of action in Europe, were not discussed due to lack of time.

2) How the discussions went

Having accredited at the Infocafe Kasama (a meeting place of the Zurich movement and the nerve centre of the meeting, connected to the Volkshaus - hired from the council - by mobile telephone), the weekend's activities began with the women's pre-meeting caucus on Friday afternoon, aimed at agreeing on a proposal for a women's table at Encuentro II (E2) and from which it was decided to exclude men (although not all the women agreed with this decision) on the basis that the issue of the women's table would be fully discussed later in the weekend during a whole session. (See Astra's report for an analysis of the women's caucus.)

The main meeting began a few hours later with quite a few delegates still absent and an opening statement was read out in Spanish and German, the official languages of all the European meetings so far since Berlin. In the statement, the 3 preparatory circulars were mentioned (of which fHUMAN only received the third) as was the fourth which will be an analysis of the Zurich meeting. The stated aim of the Zurich meeting was to "deepen the discussion (began at Berlin & Chiapas meetings) and develop joint perspectives for the next year."

Chiapas was immediately put at the centre of our work, "the Chiapas which is becoming more and more forgotten in the world and by the mass media ..., where it appears that in each Peace Camp there are only a couple of western(sic)people left... which is running the risk of being forgotten and abandoned also by the Left." The statement went on that the Zapatista indigenous uprising of January 1994 was principally one against "the lethargy of being forgotten" and that we cannot allow them to be forgotten once more "without our lives being threatened by it... Worse than death in combat is death by being forgotten. If we learnt one thing at the intercontinental meeting it was precisely this."

The above gives us an idea of both where this movement "for humanity and against neoliberalism" is coming from and where it needs to change in order to grow and consolidate itself into something more concrete than an information and solidarity network which is where we are at the moment. The fall off in direct solidarity activity with the Zapatistas since the Chiapas Encuentro is worrying but may be explained as "burn out" induced by the Encuentro itself (a danger inherent in huge international meetings despite the obvious benefits) and by the confusion created by the emergence of the EPR since June and the breakdown of the peace talks, both of which the Mexican government has capitalised on in its "good guys (EZLN), bad guys (EPR)" divide-and-fool propaganda strategy. Yes, we definitely must increase the level of our direct solidarity with the Zapatistas and indeed with all the movements for real social and political change in Mexico. However, the essential message that came out of the Chiapas Encuentro, that we need to go beyond being a network of solidarity activists and start to link up with the already existing and about to exist struggles against neoliberalism in our own immediate localities, many of which we are already involved in through work, studies, home, unemployment etc. Ultimately, this is the best form of solidarity wecan give the Zapatistas (and something they themselves have called for!): to link up and intensify the struggle against neoliberalism and for humanity in Europe and everywhere else. At times in Zurich it seemed that this message too was in danger of being forgotten.

In fairness, the opening statement finished by outlining the situation in Zurich itself, where despite the creation of various autonomous structures such as the Infocafe Kasama, Radio Lora (alternative radio station), alternative restaurants and cafes, and many squatted and semi-squatted houses (all of which provided their invaluable services during the weekend), "there is less and less space due to the restructuring of the city centre, where the presence of the police and army is silently growing"; something we witnessed at first hand when a group of us tried to intervene to prevent the harassment of two African immigrants by the police before reinforcements arrived and forcibly moved us on - another fine example of "Fortress Europe" and the Shengen Accord in action, and Switzerland isn't even a member of the EU - yet!

So far so good, but then a good hour and a half was lost with shenanigans over the "moderation" (two men, two women, one German- and one Spanish speaker, plus a translator) and translations. A Monty Pythonesque scene ensued with a Swedish comrade vehemently protesting (in English) about being continually asked in German and Spanish if he could understand German or Spanish, neither of which he did. But almost everyone present was able to follow in one of the official languages. The system of moderation started off promisingly but in later sessions completely broke down, with people ignoring those who had patiently waited their turn to speak and leaping up (often for the third or fourth time) to shoot their mouth off sometimes for 10 minutes or more. This must be prevented in future meetings as tempers were definitely beginning to fray. The moderators need to be much tougher with impromptu contributions and "points of order" from the floor and not interrupt those who have queued to speak.

Before we heard the main proposals for the site of the next Encuentro, a German comrade and others suggested that E2 needed a central theme of struggle: the fightback against the EU Maastricht Treaty, the European version of neoliberalism, and to highlight the growing trade links between the EU and Mexico which will soon be enshrined in a "free trade" treaty. It was also stated that there will be a demonstration against the EU summit in Amsterdam in April (?) and for "a Europe for all". The following proposals were then made:

Madrid, Spain:

Five tables (the same as in Chiapas ?) to be held in five different cities in Spain, including Zaragoza, Barcelona and Madrid, ending with a two-day plenary in Andalucia, one of the poorest regions of Spain.

The main theme of E2 would the "land and freedom", struggles around land, working and squatting the land. This was a common link, for example, between Southern Europe and North Africa, from which a sizeable delegation needs to come. A delegation from the rest of Europe will need to arrive a month before it starts to help with the organisation of E2 and the visit to Europe of a Zapatista delegation as well as staying behind afterwards to help clear up. E2 will be financed through subscription on arrival and accreditation, as was E1, in order to subsidise the travel of those coming from outside Europe._

Gorleben, Wendland, N.Germany:

The main theme of E2 here would be the international struggle against nuclear power, as Gorleben has been the site of a 20-year-old fight against a local nuclear power station and against the nuclear power industry in general, leading to the development of a strong alternative culture with co-ops and infoshops, along with an average of three new cases of arrested activists appearing before the courts every week. A "tent city" would be set up, with two large tents for meetings and 12 tents holding 200 people each for accommodation.

There would also be cultural events, a computer and a women's tent and guaranteed continuous coverage from a local alternative TV station. Registration would be 20DM plus 200DM to cover expenses and help subsidise those coming from outside Western Europe. E2 would take place in the second half of August. The timetable was:

Day 1 - arrival,

Day 2 - introductions,

Days 3-7 - discussions,

Day 8-9 - final plenary,

Day 10 - march to local nuclear power station and demonstration for humanity and the environment and against neoliberalism and nuclear power.

Again, they called for a month of help with preparations.

Comments to:

fHUMAN, BM-CRL, London WC1N 3XX, England.

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