Mexican people in rural areas have got economic problems but are rejecting the government’s supposed solution. Its mega-projects are disrupting communities and making them dependent on international markets, big business and national politics. Bici-maquinas are part of a movement that keeps local people in control of their own livelihoods and communities.
Carlos is pushing down on the pedals of a blender-bike-machine on his way to making a refreshing mango-orange shake. Here at the Maya-Pedal workshop in the southern Guatemalan city of San Andrés Itzapa, they are constructing bicycles with a wide range of functions such as mixing juices, grinding coffee, washing clothes, pumping water, and generating electricity. The principle is very simple: if you are able to use the strength of your body for a means of transport, why not harness this energy for a wider range of possibilities?
Next door in Mexico, the government is pushing forward with centralized mega-projects such as dams that generate income for the government but offer little to rural communities where electricity tariffs are high and electricity networks are dilapidated. These mega-projects have given rise to the birth of new resistance groups. In the southern state of Chiapas, for example, 400,000 people out of a million residents are refusing to pay for electricity. Many are organised in a campaign against the government’s machinations, while others simply can’t afford to pay their bills. One response has been to train a network of independent electricians, who in turn are able to give workshops about reconnecting communities to electricity.
Another response can be seen through the group La Cacita that is building bike-machines in the Mexican city of Oaxaca. In resisting the government’s mega-projects, they want to strengthen the autonomy of people in rural indigenous and smallholding-farmer-communities. One of their solutions is to use bici-maquinas to replace tools like corn-moulders, which are worked by hand. The activists of La Cacita point out that the leg muscles are five times stronger than arm muscles. The speeding-up and simplification of daily routines are especially improving the situation of women, who live in villages often characterized by traditional structures. The immense saving of time, which the machines are making possible, for example for the preparation of tortillas, is giving women a basis to organise themselves politically and to push forward the concept of „bien vivir“ (a good life) in their day-to-day life.
The idea of the machines is spreading rapidly. Besides La Cacita in Oaxaca and Maya-Pedal in South-Guatemala, new collectives have been started in Chiapas and Tapachula, with three new projects in Mexico City, experimenting with the use of the bike-machines in an urban environment. All the projects have in common that they are following the principle of popular education: building a bike-machine always goes hand in hand with teaching others how to do the same. Carlos from Maya-Pedal tells us that when a new machine is created or someone decides to ride a bike instead of driving a car, it’s a step towards una nueva vida“ (a new life).
— Moritz Binzer