Letter from Mexico: Zapatistas and science for humanity

February 6, 2018

From the January-February 2018 issue of News & Letters

by J.G.F. Héctor

The second gathering of “ConSciences for Humanity” took place Dec. 26-30 in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. There, scientists shared with the Zapatista Indigenous communities their views of “Science in the face of the wall [capitalism].” The presentation of Dr. Luis David Suárez Rodríguez, “Toward a human medicine that comes from the heart,” available in Spanish in the webpage Enlace Zapatista, allows us to have a general perspective of the gathering.

Suárez stated, “The science on which capitalism has the biggest influence today is probably medicine.” He talked about the major business represented by medical treatment and diagnosis, the role of pharmaceutical entrepreneurship, and how big businesses control the institutions responsible for teaching medicine. He affirmed that the current medical approach is narrow, as it is only based on the biological dimension of individuals.

The cure to our illnesses, he said, is not in a pill, but the transformation of social-economic conditions. He addressed the question: “How do we change this reality?

First, he mentions “dissatisfaction of millions of patients with the current health system…Thanks to Information and Communication Technologies, the patients are many times better informed than their physicians about their condition…This unlimited access to information can sometimes have a negative effect…In its extreme, it causes us to deny several scientific discoveries which are positive and important.”


Finally, Suárez posed the need of a new medical approach: a “bio-psychic-social one,” which includes the input of “alternative” medicines, but also of science. “This brings us closer to a humane medicine, but unfortunately it doesn’t break with capitalism’s control.” For that, he says, “It will be necessary for us, doctors, to get organized…and to use every occasion in every medical visit…to give information to our patients that helps them not to get ill.”

Suárez is not just making a critique of capitalist medicine, but speaking concretely about what can be done. However, he puts all his focus on individual doctors’ efforts to give information to their patients. This is important, but lacking is a wider view of the new type of relationship needed between society and medicine, especially about the role that subjects (patients, medical workers) can play in social uprooting. This is not only missing in Suárez’s talk, but in ConSciences presentations in general.


The importance of this second gathering of ConSciences was, first, that the Zapatistas made clear they consider science in the construction of their Indigenous autonomy. This separates them from “essentialist” positions that claim an abstract “return to nature.” But the problem is not science in itself, but its use under capitalism. Thus, the question is to re-appropriate it. This is quite revolutionary.

Second, by inviting scientists to take part in this dialogue, the Zapatistas are promoting their political organization. Just by listening to the scientists, the Zapatistas were implicitly asking them: What are you doing for revolution?

What is needed is a perspective that helps us “connect all the dots”—science, scientists and struggles from below—in the form of a self-movement for freedom, that is, a dialectical philosophy of emancipation. The Zapatistas have reminded us of the importance of science for social uprooting. However, science can’t substitute for philosophy. This is the task that remains to be done.

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