La Chapis Died, A Woman Always Committed to the Indigenous Communities
By: Hermann Bellinghausen
María David Espejo, known as La Chapis, who participated as determinedly as discretely in the Chiapas peace processes starting with the 1994 Zapatista Uprising, died this Monday ( 27 Febraury 2012) in Mexico City at 81 years of age. As a Catholic religious and a woman committed to theindigenous peoples for decades she maintained a notable closeness with the communities and was a collaborator of Bishop Samuel Ruiz García in the San Cristóbal de las Casas Diocese, especially in the National Mediation Commission (Conai, its Spanish acronym) and the Reconciliation Commission (Coreco).
Pablo Romo, ex-director del Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de las Casas and also protagonist of the mediation and dialogue of the last decade, emphasized today “her ability for discretion.” “With her walked “an impressive history, the ‘people’s secrets,’ as she used to call them”, he added. He praised her as “one of the wisest women that we have known”.
On her coffin were some seashells “that she had in her house in recent years,” one of her compañeras explained. They represented the five autonomous Zapatista caracoles for her; and at the foot, a copy of the book Don Durito de la Lacandona, by subcomandante Marcos, for whom she always had great ad
miration and appreciation.
The priest Gonzalo Ituarte, former vicar of the San Cristóbal diocese and Conai’s former technical secretary, officiated at a mass for the body, present at a small chapel to the city’s south. Referring to the Apocalypse (“she saw a new sky and a new land”), he expressed that La Chapis “lived in the midst of the people,” she knew “the tension towards utopia,” acted throughout an historic process and put how much she was at its reach at the service of this community of peoples so that they would be the constructors of this new land. She always recognized the dignity, ability and rights of the indigenous communities.”
Absolutely separated from public activity, she ran important risks by remaining at the service of the Mayas of Chiapas even in the coldest moments of their recent history. As another compañera of hers remembered today, in 1995, after the military offensive by the Zedillo government against the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN, its initials in Spanish) and its communities, “she risked danger and could have ended up in prison, but she said then: ‘I stay here and risk the consequences.'” La Chapis “was pursued because of justice,” but was never frightened.
Of course she was long in the sights of the military intelligence and national security services, above all between the dialogue in the Cathedral in 1994 and the San Andrés dialogues in 1995 and 1996. Government agents and certain journalists maliciously called her “Comandanta Chapis,” a thing for which she gave no thanks.
She withdrew a few years ago and age did its work. The last time I talked to her, some months ago, she said: “Now I’m ready.” And she was. According to testimony, she died peacefully, and although she would never recognized it, she was certainly satisfied. In this woman of small stature and paused voice, without any stridence, at the same time she was a disarming ingenuity and a roguish liveliness of long reach. She possessed a mental quickness and ability for enormous comprehension, thanks to her rich humanistic and political formation, and to the lifelong commitment with the Indian peoples.
A native of Santa Bárbara, Chihuahua, she arrived in Chiapas in 1972, and was a witness at the historic 1974 National Indigenous Congress in San Andrés Larráinzar. Tied to the collective process of the San Cristóbal de las Casas Diocese, Ituarte remembered accordingly: “she had, like don Samuel, a complete life, she did everything she could.” Quoting Bartolomé de las Casas, he added: “She struggled for those who died before their time” and achieved seeing the fruits, because in those communities “marvelous things have happened, although also very tremendous, and the life of the peoples changed radically.”
Discreet, almost invisible, she was always there. Tatik and the EZLN comandantes, los intellectuals that participated in the San Andrés dialogue and the delegates of the Indian peoples of Mexico trusted in her. With time, and with Comandanta Ramona, she would found the National Indigenous Congress (CNI). Pablo Romo pointed out: “We will never know how many secrets she took to the grave with her.”
First published in The Flower of the Word Will Not Die
An article on her in La Jornada can be accessed here.