Zapatista Army of National Liberation
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN), often referred to as the Zapatistas [sapaˈtistas], is a far-left libertarian-socialist political and militant group that controls a substantial amount of territory in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico.
|Zapatista Army of National Liberation|
|Participant in the Chiapas conflict|
Flag of the EZLN
|Political position||Left-wing to far-left|
|Area of operations||Chiapas, Mexico|
|Size||About 3,000 active participants and militia; tens of thousands of civilian supporters (bases de apoyo)|
|Part of a series on|
|NGOs and political groups|
Since 1994 the group has been nominally at war with the Mexican state (although it may be described at this point as a frozen conflict). In recent years, the EZLN has focused on a strategy of civil resistance. The Zapatistas' main body is made up of mostly rural indigenous people, but it includes some supporters in urban areas and internationally. The EZLN's main spokesperson is Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano, previously known as Subcomandante Marcos (a.k.a. Compañero Galeano and Delegate Zero in relation to "the Other Campaign"). Unlike other Zapatista spokespeople, Marcos is not an indigenous Maya.
The group takes its name from Emiliano Zapata, the agrarian revolutionary and commander of the Liberation Army of the South during the Mexican Revolution, and sees itself as his ideological heir. Nearly all EZLN villages contain murals with images of Zapata, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, and Subcomandante Marcos.
While EZLN ideology reflects libertarian socialism, the Zapatistas have rejected and defied political classification. The EZLN aligns itself with the wider alter-globalization, anti-neoliberal social movement, seeking indigenous control over local resources, especially land. Since their 1994 uprising was countered by the Mexican army, the EZLN has abstained from military offensives and adopted a new strategy that attempts to garner Mexican and international support.
The Zapatistas describe themselves as a decentralized organization. The pseudonymous Subcomandante Marcos is widely considered its leader despite his claims that the group has no single leader. Political decisions are deliberated and decided in community assemblies. Military and organizational matters are decided by the Zapatista area elders who compose the General Command (Revolutionary Indigenous Clandestine Committee – General Command, or CCRI-CG).
The EZLN was founded on November 17, 1983 by non-indigenous members of the National Libertarian Forces (FLN, founded by César Germán Yáñez Muñoz) from Mexico's urban north and by indigenous inhabitants of the remote Las Cañadas/Selva Lacandona regions in eastern Chiapas, by members of former rebel movements. Over the years, the group slowly grew, building on social relations among the indigenous base and making use of an organizational infrastructure created by peasant organizations and the Catholic Church (see Liberation theology).
The Zapatista Army went public on January 1, 1994, releasing their declaration on the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect. On that day, they issued their First Declaration and Revolutionary Laws from the Lacandon Jungle. The declaration amounted to a declaration of war on the Mexican government, which they considered illegitimate. The EZLN stressed that it opted for armed struggle due to the lack of results that had been achieved through peaceful means of protest (such as sit-ins and marches).
Their initial goal was to instigate a revolution against the rise of neoliberalism throughout Mexico, but since no such revolution occurred, they used their uprising as a platform to call attention to their movement to protest the signing of the NAFTA, which the EZLN believed would increase inequality in Chiapas. The Zapatistas hosted the Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism to help initiate a united platform for other anti-neoliberal groups. The EZLN also called for greater democratization of the Mexican government, which had been controlled by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, also known as PRI) for 65 years, and for land reform mandated by the 1917 Constitution of Mexico which had been repealed in 1991. The EZLN did not demand independence from Mexico, preferring autonomy, land access, and use of natural resources normally extracted from Chiapas. It also advocated for protection from violence and political inclusion of Chiapas' indigenous communities.
On the morning of January 1, 1994, an estimated 3,000 armed Zapatista insurgents seized towns and cities in Chiapas, including Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, Huixtán, Oxchuc, Rancho Nuevo, Altamirano, and Chanal. They freed the prisoners in the jail of San Cristóbal de las Casas and set fire to several police buildings and military barracks in the area. The guerrillas enjoyed brief success, but Mexican army forces counterattacked the next day, and fierce fighting broke out in and around the market of Ocosingo. The Zapatista forces took heavy casualties and retreated from the city into the surrounding jungle.
Armed clashes in Chiapas ended on January 12, with a ceasefire brokered by the Catholic diocese in San Cristóbal de las Casas under Bishop Samuel Ruiz, a well known liberation theologian who had taken up the cause of the indigenous people of Chiapas. The Zapatistas retained some of the land for a little over a year, but in February 1995 the Mexican army overran that territory in a surprise offensive. Following this offensive, the Zapatistas abandoned their villages, and the rebels fled to the mountains after breaking through the Mexican army perimeter.
Arrest-warrants were made for Marcos, Javier Elorriaga Berdegue, Silvia Fernández Hernández, Jorge Santiago, Fernando Yanez, German Vicente and other Zapatistas. At that point, in the Lacandon Jungle, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation was under military siege by the Mexican Army. Javier Elorriaga was captured on February 9, 1995, by forces from a military garrison at Gabina Velázquez in the town of Las Margaritas, and was later taken to the Cerro Hueco prison in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas. On February 11, 1995, the PGR informed the country that the government had implemented an operation in the State of México, where they had captured 14 people presumed to be involved with the Zapatistas, of which eight had already being turned over to the judicial authorities, they had also seized an important arsenal. The PGR threatened the San Cristóbal de Las Casas' Catholic Bishop, Samuel Ruiz García, with arrest. Claiming that they helped conceal the Zapatistas' guerrilla uprising, although their activities had been reported years before in, Proceso, a major leftist magazine. It is likely however that the Mexican Government knew about the uprising but failed to act. This adversely impacted Mexico-Vatican relations.
Under the considerable political pressure of a worsening situation, and believing a peaceful solution to be possible, Mexican Secretary of the Interior Lic. Esteban Moctezuma campaigned to reach a peacefully negotiated solution to the 1995 Zapatista Crisis.
In response to the siege of the ELZN, Moctezuma, the interior minister, submitted his resignation to President Zedillo, which Zedillo refused to accept. Influenced by Moctezuma's protest, President Zedillo abandoned the military offensive in favor of a diplomatic approach. The Mexican army eased its operation in Chiapas, allowing Marcos to escape the military perimeter in the Lacandon jungle. Responding to the change of conditions, friends of the ELZN along with Subcomandante Marcos prepared a report for under-Secretary of the Interior Luis Maldonado Venegas; the Secretary of the Interior Esteban Moctezuma and then President Zedillo. The document stressed Marcos' natural pacifist inclination and an unwillingness to get caught in a bloody war. The document also said that the marginalized groups and the radical left that existed in México supported the Zapatista movement. It also stressed that Marcos maintained an open negotiating track.
With the coming to power of the new government of President Vicente Fox in 2001 (the first non-PRI president of Mexico in over 70 years), the Zapatistas marched on Mexico City to pressure the Mexican Congress. Although Fox had stated earlier that he could end the conflict "in fifteen minutes", the EZLN rejected a watered-down agreement and created 32 "autonomous municipalities" in Chiapas. Partially implementing their demands without government support although they had some funding from international organizations.
On June 28, 2005, the Zapatistas presented the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle declaring their principles and vision for Mexico and the world. This declaration reiterated the support for the indigenous peoples, who make up roughly one-third of the population of Chiapas, and extended the cause to include "all the exploited and dispossessed of Mexico". It also expressed the movement's sympathy to the international alter-globalization movement and supported leftist government Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, and elsewhere, with whom they felt there was common cause.
In preparation for this campaign, the Zapatistas invited to their territory over 600 national leftist organizations, indigenous groups, and non-governmental organizations to listen to their claims for human rights in a series of biweekly meetings that culminated in a plenary meeting on September 16, the day Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain. In this meeting, Subcomandante Marcos requested official adherence of the organizations to the Sixth Declaration, and detailed a six-month tour of the Zapatistas through all 31 Mexican states to occur concurrently with the electoral campaign starting January 2006.
On January 1, 2006, the EZLN began a massive tour, "The Other Campaign", encompassing all 31 Mexican states in the buildup to that year's presidential election, which the EZLN made clear they would not participate in directly.
On May 3–4, 2006, a series of demonstrations protested the forcible removal of irregular flower vendors from a lot in Texcoco for the construction of a Walmart branch. The protests turned violent when state police and the Federal Preventive Police bussed in some 5,000 agents to San Salvador Atenco and the surrounding communities. A local organization called the People's Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT), which adheres to the Sixth Declaration, called in support from other regional and national adherent organizations. "Delegate Zero" and his "Other Campaign" were at the time in nearby Mexico City, having just organized May Day events there, and quickly arrived at the scene. The following days were marked by violence, with some 216 arrests, over 30 rape and sexual abuse accusations against the police, five deportations, and one casualty, a 14-year-old boy named Javier Cortes shot by a policeman. A 20-year-old UNAM economics student, Alexis Benhumea, died on the morning of June 7, 2006, after being in a coma caused by a blow to the head from a tear-gas grenade launched by police. Most of the resistance organizing was done by the EZLN and Sixth Declaration adherents, and Delegate Zero stated that the "Other Campaign" tour would be temporarily halted until all prisoners were released.
In late 2006 and early 2007, the Zapatistas (through Subcomandante Marcos), along with other indigenous peoples of the Americas, announced the Intercontinental Indigenous Encounter. They invited indigenous people from throughout the Americas and the rest of the world to gather on October 11–14, 2007, near Guaymas, Sonora. The declaration for the conference designated this date because of "515 years since the invasion of ancient Indigenous territories and the onslaught of the war of conquest, spoils and capitalist exploitation". Comandante David said in an interview, "The object of this meeting is to meet one another and to come to know one another's pains and sufferings. It is to share our experiences, because each tribe is different."
In mid-January 2009, Marcos made a speech on behalf of the Zapatistas in which he supported the resistance of the Palestinians as "the Israeli government's heavily trained and armed military continues its march of death and destruction". He described the actions of the Israeli government as a "classic military war of conquest". He said, "The Palestinian people will also resist and survive and continue struggling and will continue to have sympathy from below for their cause."
The Zapatistas invited the world to a three-day fiesta to celebrate ten years of Zapatista autonomy in August 2013 in the five caracoles of Chiapas. They expected 1,500 international activists to attend the event, titled the Little School of Liberty.
In 2016, at the National Indigenous Congress and the EZLN agreed to select a candidate to represent them in the forthcoming 2018 Mexican general election. This decision broke the Zapatista's two-decade tradition of rejecting Mexican electoral politics. In May 2017, María de Jesús Patricio Martínez was selected to stand. She is Mexican and Nahua.
At the end of August 2019, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano announced the expansion of EZLN into 11 more districts. In response, President Lopez Obrador stated that this expansion was welcome, provided it was done without violence.
The ideology of the Zapatista movement, Neozapatismo, synthesizes Mayan tradition with elements of libertarian socialism, anarchism, and Marxism. The historical influence of Mexican anarchists and various Latin American socialists is apparent in Neozapatismo. The positions of Subcomandante Marcos add a Marxist element to the movement. A Zapatista slogan is in harmony with the concept of mutual aid: "For everyone, everything. For us, nothing" (Para todos todo, para nosotros nada).
The EZLN opposes economic globalization, arguing that it severely and negatively affects the peasant life of its indigenous support base and oppresses people worldwide. The signing of NAFTA also resulted in the removal of Article 27, Section VII, from the Mexican Constitution, which had guaranteed land reparations to indigenous groups throughout Mexico.
Another key element of the Zapatistas' ideology is their aspiration to do politics in a new, participatory way, from the "bottom up" instead of "top down". The Zapatistas consider the contemporary political system of Mexico inherently flawed due to what they consider its purely representative nature and its disconnection from the people and their needs. In contrast, the EZLN aims to reinforce the idea of participatory democracy or radical democracy by limiting public servants' terms to only two weeks, not using visible organization leaders, and constantly referring to the people they are governing for major decisions, strategies, and conceptual visions. Marcos has reiterated, "my real commander is the people". In accordance with this principle, the Zapatistas are not a political party: they do not seek office throughout the state, because that would perpetuate the political system by attempting to gain power within its ranks. Instead, they wish to reconceptualize the entire system.
The Zapatistas' response to the introduction of NAFTA in 1994, it is argued, reflects the shift in perception taking place in societies that have experienced colonialism. Over the last 20 years, Chiapas is said to have emerged as a formidable force against the Mexican government, fighting against structural violence and social and economic marginalization brought on by globalization. The Zapatista rebellion not only raised many questions about the consequences of globalization and free trade; it also questioned the long-standing ideas created by the Spanish colonial system. Postcolonialism is the antithesis of imperialism because it attempts to explain how the prejudices and restrictions created by colonialism are being overcome. This is especially obvious in countries that have large social and economic inequalities, where colonial ideas are deeply entrenched in the minds of the colonials' descendents.
An early example of the Zapatista resistance and postcolonialism was their use of organizations like the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to raise awareness for their rebellion and indigenous rights, what critics described as the Mexican government's lack of respect for the country's impoverished and marginalized populations. Appealing to the ECOSOC and other traditionally Western-influenced non-governmental bodies allowed the Zapatistas, it is argued, to establish a sense of autonomy by redefining their identities both as indigenous people and as citizens of Mexico.
From the beginning, the EZLN has placed a high priority on forging communication with the rest of Mexico and the world.. In the first days of the uprising the EZLN issued a flurry of communiqués to Mexico's national press and soon after also to non-Mexican persons and entities, such as Rigoberta Menchú, and the president, congress and people of the United States. Within a few weeks Subcomandante Marcos, the EZLN's spokesperson, was granting interviews to journalists from both the national and international press, including reporters from The New York Times. In the years that followed, Marcos and the Zapatistas would issue hundreds of missives, hold encuentros (mass meetings), give numerous interviews, meet high profile public and literary figures (e.g Oliver Stone, Naomi Klein, Gael García Bernal, Danielle Mitterrand, Régis Debray, John Berger, Eduardo Galeano, Gabriel García Márquez, José Saramago and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán), participate in symposia and colloqiua, deliver countless speeches, host visits by thousands of national and international activists, and participate in two marches that toured much of the country.
For its part, the world has not been indifferent to the Zapatistas but rather has proved equally interested in promoting communication with the EZLN and Marcos. Media organizations from North and South America, as well as from many European and several Asian nations, have granted press coverage to the movement and its spokesperson. Moreover, the EZLN's writings have been translated into at least 14 different languages and Marcos, according to journalist Jorge Alonso, had by 2016 been the subject of ′over 10,000 citations...in the academic world′.
Horizontal autonomy and indigenous leadership
Zapatista communities continue to practice horizontal autonomy and mutual aid by building and maintaining their own health, education, and sustainable agro-ecological systems, promoting equitable gender relations via Women's Revolutionary Law, and building international solidarity through humble outreach and non-imposing political communication. In addition to their focus on building "a world where many worlds fit", the Zapatistas continue to resist periodic attacks. The Zapatista struggle re-gained international attention in May 2014 with the death of teacher and education promoter Galeano, who was murdered in an attack on a Zapatista school and health clinic led by 15 local paramilitaries. In the weeks that followed, thousands of Zapatistas and national and international sympathizers mobilized and gathered to honor Galeano. This event also saw the famed and enigmatic unofficial spokesperson of the Zapatistas, Subcomandante Marcos, announce that he would be stepping down, which symbolized a shift in the EZLN to completely Indigenous leadership.
In popular culture
- Rap metal group Rage Against the Machine's 1996 single "People of the Sun" is about the Zapatista uprising and features footage of Zapatistas in its music video. The group also incorporates the Zapatista flag in its concerts (lead singer Zack de la Rocha's grandfather fought in the Mexican Revolution, and de la Rocha saw this struggle reflected in the Zapatistas).
- Indie rock group Swirlies' song "San Cristobal de las Casas" featured on their 1995 EP and 1996 album, is about the Zapatista uprising and paramilitary backlash.
- Mexican rock band Caifanes themed a song after the EZLN entitled "El Comunicador".
- Franco-Spanish songwriter Manu Chao performed a song for the EZLN on his 2002 live album, Radio Bemba Sound System.
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- Popular Revolutionary Army
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- Indigenous movements in the Americas
- Indigenous peoples of Mexico
- Mexican Indignados Movement
- San Andrés Accords
- Zapatista coffee cooperatives
- Women in the EZLN
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- The Narco News Bulletin – Articles on the Zapatistas
- "A Commune in Chiapas? Mexico and the Zapatista Rebellion (1994–2000)" by LibCom.org
- "Visiting the Zapatistas" by Nick Rider, New Statesman, March 12, 2009
- "Commodifying the Revolution: Zapatista Villages Become Hot Tourist Destinations" by John Ross
- A Glimpse Into the Zapatista Movement, Two Decades Later by Laura Gottesdiener. The Nation, January 23, 2014.
- We All Must Become Zapatistas (2014.06.02), Chris Hedges, Truthdig