dorset chiapas solidarity

November 30, 2016

New EZLN Communiqué Clarifies Joint Proposal with CNI

Filed under: CNI, Uncategorized, Zapatistas — Tags: , , , , , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 12:11 pm



New EZLN Communiqué Clarifies Joint Proposal with CNI


galSubcomandante Galeano (Photo@SIPAZ archives)

On November 17, 33 years after its foundation, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) published an extensive communiqué titled “A History to Understand”, in which it gives further details about the proposal of consultation with the peoples that make up the Indigenous National Congress (CNI in its Spanish acronym) to examine the convenience of naming a national council of government and an indigenous woman candidate for the 2018 elections.

Subcomandante Galeano clarified that, although the proposal was launched by the EZLN, “the CNI is who will decide whether or not to participate with a delegate of its own, and, if necessary, it will have the support of Zapatismo.” But, “No, neither the EZLN as an organization nor any of its members will run for a popular election position in the 2018 electoral process. No, the EZLN is not going to become a political party. No, the EZLN is not going to present a Zapatista indigenous woman as a candidate for the presidency of the Republic in the year 2018. No, the EZLN has not altered its course to any degree, nor will it continue its struggle along the institutional electoral route.” He ratified that “the EZLN does not struggle to take Power.”

Subcomandante Galeano added that in making the proposal to the CNI, the EZLN stated “that it did not matter whether or not they won the Presidency of the Republic, that what was going to matter was the challenge, irreverence, insubordination, the total rupture of the image of the indigenous, subject to the alms and the image of pity so rooted on the institutional right and who, would say it, also on the left of ‘real change’ and its organic intellectuals addicted to the opium of social networks – that their daring would make the whole political system vibrate and that it would have echoes of hope not in one but in many of the Mexicans below … and the world.”


Posted by Dorset Chiapas Solidarity



October 18, 2016

CNI and EZLN: May the Earth Tremble at its Core

Filed under: CNI, Indigenous, Zapatistas — Tags: , , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 2:22 pm



CNI and EZLN: May the Earth Tremble at its Core




To the people of the world:

To the free media:

To the National and International Sixth:

Convened for the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the National Indigenous Congress and the living resistance of the originary peoples, nations, and tribes of this country called Mexico, of the languages of Amuzgo, Binni-zaá, Chinanteco, Chol, Chontal de Oaxaca, Coca, Náyeri, Cuicateco, Kumiai, Lacandón, Matlazinca, Maya, Mayo, Mazahua, Mazateco, Mixe, Mixteco, Nahua, Ñahñu, Ñathô, Popoluca, Purépecha, Rarámuri, Tlapaneco, Tojolabal, Totonaco, Triqui, Tzeltal, Tsotsil, Wixárika, Yaqui, Zoque, Chontal de Tabasco, as well as our Aymara, Catalán, Mam, Nasa, Quiché and Tacaná brothers and sisters, we firmly pronounce that our struggle is below and to the left, that we are anticapitalist and that the time of the people has come—the time to make this country pulse with the ancestral heartbeat of our mother earth.

It is in this spirit that we met to celebrate life in the Fifth National Indigenous Congress, which took place on October 9-14, 2016, in CIDECI-UNITIERRA, Chiapas. There we once again recognized the intensification of the dispossession and repression that have not stopped in the 524 years since the powerful began a war aimed at exterminating those who are of the earth; as their children we have not allowed for their destruction and death, meant to serve capitalist ambition which knows no end other than destruction itself. That resistance, the struggle to continue constructing life, today takes the form of words, learning, and agreements. On a daily basis we build ourselves and our communities in resistance in order to stave off the storm and the capitalist attack which never lets up. It becomes more aggressive everyday such that today it has become a civilizational threat, not only for indigenous peoples and campesinos but also for the people of the cities who themselves must create dignified and rebellious forms of resistance in order to avoid murder, dispossession, contamination, sickness, slavery, kidnapping or disappearance. Within our community assemblies we have decided, exercised, and constructed our destiny since time immemorial. Our forms of organization and the defense of our collective life is only possible through rebellion against the bad government, their businesses, and their organized crime.





We denounce the following:

  1. In Pueblo Coca, Jalisco, the businessman Guillermo Moreno Ibarra invaded 12 hectares of forest in the area known as El Pandillo, working in cahoots with the agrarian institutions there to criminalize those who struggle, resulting in 10 community members being subjected to trials that went on for four years. The bad government is invading the island of Mexcala, which is sacred communal land, and at the same time refusing to recognize the Coca people in state indigenous legislation, in an effort to erase them from history.
  2. The Otomí Ñhañu, Ñathö, Hui hú, and Matlatzinca peoples from México State and Michoacán are being attacked via the imposition of a megaproject to build the private Toluca-Naucalpan Highway and an inter-city train. The project is destroying homes and sacred sites, buying people off and manipulating communal assemblies through police presence. This is in addition to fraudulent community censuses that supplant the voice of an entire people, as well as the privatization and the dispossession of water and territory around the Xinantécatl volcano, known as the Nevado de Toluca. There the bad governments are doing away with the protections that they themselves granted, all in order to hand the area over to the tourism industry. We know that all of these projects are driven by interest in appropriating the water and life of the entire region. In the Michoacán zone they deny the identity of the Otomí people, and a group of police patrols have come to the region to monitor the hills, prohibiting indigenous people there from going to the hills to cut wood.
  3. The originary peoples who live in Mexico City are being dispossessed of the territories that they have won in order to be able to work for a living; in the process they are robbed of their goods and subjected to police violence. They are scorned and repressed for using their traditional clothing and language, and criminalized through accusations of selling drugs.
  4. The territory of the Chontal Peoples of Oaxaca is being invaded by mining concessions that are dismantling communal land organization, affecting the people and natural resources of five communities.
  5. The Mayan Peninsular People of Campeche, Yucatán, and Quintana Roo are suffering land disposession as a result of the planting of genetically modified soy and African palm, the contamination of their aquifers by agrochemicals, the construction of wind farms and solar farms, the development of ecotourism, and the activities of real estate developers. Their resistance against high electricity costs has been met with harassment and arrest warrants. In Calakmul, Campeche, five communities are being displaced by the imposition of ‘environmental protection areas,’ environmental service costs, and carbon capture plans. In Candelaria, Campeche, the struggle continues for secure land tenure. In all three states there is aggressive criminalization against those who defend territory and natural resources.
  6. The Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal, Chol and Lacandón Maya People of Chiapas continue to be displaced from their territories due to the privatization of natural resources. This has resulted in the imprisonment and murder of those who defend their right to remain in their territory, as they are constantly discriminated against and repressed whenever they defend themselves and organize to continue building their autonomy, leading to increasing rates of human rights violations by police forces. There are campaigns to fragment and divide their organizations, as well as the murders of compañeros who have defended their territory and natural resources in San Sebastián Bachajon. The bad governments continue trying to destroy the organization of the communities that are EZLN bases of support in order to cast a shadow on the hope and light that they provide to the entire world.
  7. The Mazateco people of Oaxaca have been invaded by private property claims which exploit the territory and culture for tourism purposes. This includes naming Huautla de Jimenéz as a “Pueblo Mágico” in order to legalize displacement and commercialize ancestral knowledge. This is in addition to mining concessions and foreign spelunking explorations in existing caves, all enforced by increased harassment by narcotraffickers and militarization of the territory. The bad governments are complicit in the increasing rates of femicide and rape in the region.
  8. The Nahua and Totonaca peoples of Veracruz and Puebla are confronting aerial fumigation, which creates illnesses in the communities. Mining and hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation are carried out through fracking, and 8 watersheds are endangered by new projects that are contaminating the rivers.
  9. The Nahua and Popoluca peoples from the south of Veracruz are under siege by organized crime and also risk territorial destruction and their disappearance as a people because of the threats brought by mining, wind farms, and above all, hydrocarbon exploitation through fracking.
  10. The Nahua people, who live in the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Morelos, Mexico State, Jalisco, Guerrero, Michoacán, San Luis Potosí, and Mexico City, are in a constant struggle to stop the advance of the so-called Proyecto Integral Morelos, consisting of pipelines, aqueducts, and thermoelectric projects. The bad governments, seeking to stop the resistance and communication among the communities are trying to destroy the community radio of Amiltzingo, Morelos. Similarly, the construction of the new airport in Mexico City and the surrounding building projects threaten the territories around Texcoco lake and the Valle de México basin, namely Atenco, Texcoco, and Chimalhuacán. In Michocan, the Nahua people face the plunder of their natural resources and minerals by sicarios [hitmen] who are accompanied by police or the army, and also the militarization and paramilitarizaiton of their territories. The cost of trying to halt this war has been murder, persecution, imprisonment, and harassment of community leaders.
  11. The Zoque People of Oaxaca and Chiapas face invasion by mining concessions and alleged private property claims on communal lands in the Chimalapas region, as well as three hydroelectric dams and hydrocarbon extraction through fracking. The implementation of cattle corridors is leading to excessive logging in the forests in order to create pastureland, and genetically modified seeds are also being cultivated there. At the same time, Zoque migrants to different states across the country are re-constituting their collective organization.
  12. The Amuzgo people of Guerrero are facing the theft of water from the San Pedro River to supply residential areas in the city of Ometepec. Their community radio has also been subject to constant persecution and harassment.
  13. The Rarámuri people of Chihuahua are losing their farmland to highway construction, to the Creel airport, and to the gas pipeline that runs from the United States to Chihuahua. They are also threatened by Japanese mining companies, dam projects, and tourism.
  14. The Wixárika people of Jalisco, Nayarit, and Durango are facing the destruction and privatization of the sacred places they depend on to maintain their familial, social, and political fabric, and also the dispossession of their communal land in favor of large landowners who take advantage of the blurry boundaries between states of the Republic and campaigns orchestrated by the bad government to divide people.
  15. The Kumiai People of Baja California continue struggling for the reconstitution of their ancestral territories, against invasion by private interests, the privatization of their sacred sites, and the invasion of their territories by gas pipelines and highways.
  16. The Purépecha people of Michoacán are experiencing deforestation, which occurs through complicity between the bad government and the narcoparamilitary groups who plunder the forests and woods. Community organization from below poses an obstacle to that theft.
  17. For the Triqui people of Oaxaca, the presence of the political parties, the mining industry, paramilitaries, and the bad government foment the disintegration of the community fabric in the interest of plundering natural resources.
  18. The Chinanteco people of Oaxaca are suffering the destruction of their forms of community organization through land reforms, the imposition of environmental services costs, carbon capture plans, and ecotourism. There are plans for a four-lane highway to cross and divide their territory. In the Cajono and Usila Rivers the bad governments are planning to build three dams that will affect the Chinanteco and Zapoteca people, and there are also mining concessions and oil well explorations.
  19. The Náyeri People of Nayarit face the invasion and destruction of their sacred territories by the Las Cruces hydroelectric project in the site called Muxa Tena on the San Pedro River.
  20. The Yaqui people of Sonora continue their sacred struggle against the gas pipeline that would cross their territory, and in defense of the water of the Yaqui River, which the bad governments want to use to supply the city of Hermosillo, Sonora. This goes against judicial orders and international appeals which have made clear the Yaqui peoples’ legal and legitimate rights. The bad government has criminalized and harassed the authorities and spokespeople of the Yaqui tribe.
  21. The Binizzá and Ikoot people organize to stop the advance of the mining, wind, hydroelectric, dam, and gas pipeline projects. This includes in particular the Special Economic Zone on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the infrastructure that threatens the territory and the autonomy of the people on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec who are classified as the “environmental Taliban” and the “indigenous rights Taliban,” the precise words used by the Mexican Association of Energy to refer to the Popular Assembly of the Juchiteco People.
  22. The Mixteco people of Oaxaca suffer the plunder of their agrarian territory, which also affects their traditional practices given the threats, deaths, and imprisonment that seek to quiet the dissident voices, with the bad government supporting armed paramilitary groups as in the case of San Juan Mixtepec, Oaxaca.
  23. The Mixteco, Tlapaneco, and Nahua peoples from the mountains and coast of Guerrero face the imposition of mining megaprojects supported by narcotraffickers, their paramilitaries, and the bad governments, who fight over the territories of the originary peoples.
  24. The Mexican bad government continues to lie, trying hide its decomposition and total responsibility for the forced disappearance of the 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.
  25. The state continues to hold hostage: compañeros Pedro Sánchez Berriozábal, Rómulo Arias Míreles, Teófilo Pérez González, Dominga González Martínez, Lorenzo Sánchez Berriozábal, and Marco Antonio Pérez González from the Nahua community of San Pedro Tlanixco in Mexico State; Zapotec compañero Álvaro Sebastián from the Loxicha region; compañerosEmilio Jiménez Gómez and Esteban Gómez Jiménez, prisoners from the community of Bachajón, Chiapas; compañeros Pablo López Álvarez and the exiled Raul Gatica García and Juan Nicolás López from the Indigenous and Popular Council of Oaxaca Ricardo Flores Magón. Recently a judge handed down a 33-year prison sentence to compañero Luis Fernando Sotelo for demanding that the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa be returned alive, and to thecompañeros Samuel Ramírez Gálvez, Gonzalo Molina González and Arturo Campos Herrera from the Regional Coordination of Community Authorities – PC. They also hold hundreds of indigenous and non-indigenous people across the country prisoner for defending their territories and demanding justice.
  26. The Mayo people’s ancestral territory is threatened by highway projects meant to connect Topolobampo with the state of Texas in the United States. Ambitious tourism projects are also being created in Barranca del Cobre.
  27. The Dakota Nation’s sacred territory is being invaded and destroyed by gas and oil pipelines, which is why they are maintaining a permanent occupation to protect what is theirs.




For all of these reasons, we reiterate that it our obligation to protect life and dignity, that is, resistance and rebellion, from below and to the left, a task that can only be carried out collectively. We build rebellion from our small local assemblies that combine to form large communal assemblies, ejidal assemblies, Juntas de Buen Gobierno [Good Government Councils], and coalesce as agreements as peoples that unite us under one identity. In the process of sharing, learning, and constructing ourselves as the National Indigenous Congress, we see and feel our collective pain, discontent, and ancestral roots. In order to defend what we are, our path and learning process have been consolidated by strengthening our collective decision-making spaces, employing national and international juridical law as well as peaceful and civil resistance, and casting aside the political parties that have only brought death, corruption, and the buying off of dignity. We have made alliances with various sectors of civil society, creating our own resources in communication, community police and self-defense forces, assemblies and popular councils, and cooperatives; in the exercise and defense of traditional medicine; in the exercise and defense of traditional and ecological agriculture; in our own rituals and ceremonies to pay respect to mother earth and continue walking with and upon her, in the cultivation and defense of native seeds, and in political-cultural activities, forums, and information campaigns.

This is the power from below that has kept us alive. This is why commemorating resistance and rebellion also means ratifying our decision to continue to live, constructing hope for a future that is only possible upon the ruins of capitalism.




Given that the offensive against the people will not cease, but rather grow until it finishes off every last one of us who make up the peoples of the countryside and the city, who carry profound discontent that emerges in new, diverse, and creative forms of resistance and rebellion, this Fifth National Indigenous Congress has decided to launch a consultation in each of our communities to dismantle from below the power that is imposed on us from above and offers us nothing but death, violence, dispossession, and destruction. Given all of the above, we declare ourselves in permanent assembly as we carry out this consultation, in each of our geographies, territories, and paths, on the accord of the Fifth CNI to name an Indigenous Governing Council whose will would be manifest by an indigenous woman, a CNI delegate, as an independent candidate to the presidency of the country under the name of the National Indigenous Congress and the Zapatista Army for National Liberation in the electoral process of 2018. We confirm that our struggle is not for power, which we do not seek. Rather, we call on all of the originary peoples and civil society to organize to put a stop to this destruction and strengthen our resistances and rebellions, that is, the defense of the life of every person, family, collective, community, or barrio. We make a call to construct peace and justice by reweaving ourselves from below, from where we are what we are.

This is the time of dignified rebellion, the time to construct a new nation by and for everyone, to strengthen power below and to the anticapitalist left, to make those who are responsible for all of the pain of the peoples of this multi-colored Mexico pay.

Finally, we announce the creation of the official webpage of the CNI:


Chiapas, October 2016

For the Full Reconstitution of Our Peoples

Never Again a Mexico Without Us

National Indigenous Congress

Zapatista Army for National Liberation


Another Government Is Possible National Indigenous Congress of Mexico to Launch Presidential Campaign in 2018

Filed under: CNI, Indigenous, Uncategorized, Women, Zapatistas — Tags: , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 2:01 pm



Another Government Is Possible

National Indigenous Congress of Mexico to Launch Presidential Campaign in 2018



by Emmy Keppler

October 17, 2016

On October 13, the 500 delegates of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) reached complete consensus on the proposal presented by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) at the opening of the fifth Congress three days earlier: the CNI will collectively enter the 2018 Mexican presidential race with an indigenous woman candidate at its forefront.

The Fifth Congress is now in permanent assembly while the delegates return to their communities and hold consultations to decide to either approve or reject the proposal.

This decision represents a major shift in strategy of the Zapatista movement which in 2003, after nine years of betrayed negotiations with the Mexican government, cut off all communication with the political system. In the subsequent thirteen years they have not looked back, focusing instead on constructing autonomy in their own communities. The proposed presidential campaign will not, however, be a return to engagement with the political system, but rather a takeover and, if successful, dismantling of that system.

“We confirm that our fight is not for power, we do not seek it; rather we call all of the original peoples and civil society to organize to detain this destruction, to strengthen our resistances and rebellions, that is to say in the defence of the life of each person, family, collective, community, or neighbourhood. To construct peace and justice, reconnecting ourselves from below,” stated the CNI and EZLN in a communiqué released at the closure of the assembly.

The Indigenous Council of Government will be made up of representatives from CNI communities from all states and regions of Mexico, with the individual candidate serving to “make their [collective] word material”.




The CNI was formed in 1996, nearly two years after the indigenous Zapatistas of Chiapas famously rose up in arms and declared war on the Mexican government. Earlier that same year, the EZLN and federal government signed the San Andrés Accords, which agreed to recognize indigenous autonomy in the constitution, increase indigenous political representation, and guarantee access to justice.

In October of that year, thousands of indigenous people from communities all over the country gathered in Mexico City for the first National Indigenous Congress, agreeing that their primary objective would be to defend the San Andrés Accords. It was at this first Congress that the late EZLN commander Ramona declared what soon became the slogan of the CNI: “NEVER AGAIN A MEXICO WITHOUT US.”

When the EZLN and government met to finalize the Accords one month later, a familiar pattern of denial began to re-emerge: The government refused to sign the Accords. Simultaneously, then president Ernesto Zedillo launched a bloody militarization campaign throughout Chiapas climaxing in the Acteal Massacre in which paramilitary troops massacred 45 members of Las Abejas, an indigenous Catholic pacifist organization.

The primary focus of both the EZLN and the CNI, then, became an effort to push the Mexican government to pass the Accords. In 2001, the third National Indigenous Congress was held in the Purépucha community of Nurío in Michoacán. Representatives from 40 of Mexico’s 57 Indigenous Peoples created a list of demands including constitutional recognition of indigenous rights and autonomy, and the recognition of indigenous systems of justice and ancestral territory.

That same year, Comandanta Esther addressed the Congress of the Union: “When indigenous rights and culture are constitutionally recognized in accord with the [San Andrés Accords], the law will begin joining its hour with the hour of the Indian peoples.”

The following month, Congress unanimously approved a constitutional reform concerning indigenous rights and culture that ignored all demands for autonomy and recognition, completely undermining the San Andrés Accords and cementing the betrayal of Indigenous Peoples by the entire Mexican political system.

It was after this ultimate betrayal that the Zapatistas and CNI decided to turn their backs on the Mexican political system which refused to include them. Instead, they decided to take matters in their own hands and implement the San Andrés Accords themselves in their communities and territories. What the government refused to give them, they would build.

For the next thirteen years, the Zapatista communities of Chiapas and indigenous communities throughout Mexico worked to construct their own autonomy from the ground up.



In this Fifth National Indigenous Congress, which also celebrated the 20th anniversary of the CNI, delegates shared the immense achievements of autonomy in their communities:

They have rebuilt their traditional farming structures using organic fertilizers and native seeds.

They have reconstituted their traditional governments, replacing the corrupt government authorities with

elder councils and community assemblies.

They have built their own community police and self-defence forces, ousting organized crime and replacing the similarly corrupt official police who often work with narco-traffickers.

They have created community radio stations to broadcast the truth, drowning out the lies and silence of corporate media which, in Mexico, is monopolized by the media empire Televisa.

They have recuperated territory that was violently expropriated by the government and large landowners.

They have created their own bilingual indigenous schools where students learn about colonialism, capitalism, and the history of their people.

They have revived their traditional medicine and built clinics where before people had no healthcare, fighting dependence on western medicine.

However, they have also faced extreme repression, plunder of their territories, and human rights violations. There was not a single community that did not speak of their fight against what they call ‘death projects’— mining, fracking, hydroelectric dams, gas pipelines, airport construction, highway construction — operated by foreign corporations which do not consult their communities before destroying their land.

They are fighting against agro-industrial chemicals and pesticides contaminating their land and waters, the destruction of their forests, the invasion of genetically modified seeds, and the privatization and expropriation of their sacred water and collectively-held territory.

They are fighting supposedly ‘green’ development in the form of wind farms and conservation reserves that expropriate their territory and farmland, often for the production of monocrops like African Palm.

They are fighting against cultural death— the tourism industry that pillages their sacred sites and perverts their traditions as attractions for foreigners, and the disappearance of their languages and clothing.

And they are fighting against literal death—the murder, disappearance, kidnapping, rape, imprisonment, and psychological warfare that all indigenous communities in resistance face at the hands of the military, police, and organized crime.

The nation is also on the brink of total privatization of the public sector with the 11 structural adjustments passed by President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2013. Though the CNI can prevent these reforms from entering their communities on a certain level, they cannot, through autonomy alone, halt the devastating impacts of the privatization of public healthcare, education, communication, energy, and housing, among others.

In this Fifth Congress, the delegates recognized that walking the path of autonomy, though remarkably successful on a local level, has not allowed the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico to truly unite. Building coalitions on state-wide and even regional or municipal levels has proved exceedingly difficult with most communities remaining relatively isolated. Though they all face the same repression by corporations and the government, each community fights the same enemy from its different corner of Mexico, thus allowing what the Zapatistas call ‘the capitalist hydra’ to divide and conquer. As one delegate from Jalisco said, “they’re continuing to screw us.”




The proposal of the EZLN for the CNI to run a collective presidential campaign is an effort to halt the hydra. At first, nearly all of the delegates were doubtful. They expressed their concerns about sacrificing their autonomy to embark on the electoral route. All, however, also expressed their deep trust in the EZLN as their guide in the struggle and their willingness to be convinced. Throughout the three-day assembly this is exactly what happened.

One of the fundamental principles of both the CNI and the EZLN is that they do not aspire to take state power, which they view as inherently corrupt and oppressive. The delegates spoke of their commitment to this principle and their concern of sacrificing it. Through their discussions, however, they clarified that they would not aim to take power, but rather dismantle this power from below and to the left, from the poor and marginalized indigenous communities fighting for their dignity, freedom, and autonomy.

Another fundamental principle is their opposition to all political parties, which they view as the same elite oppressor class dressed in different colours. They clarified that they would not create a new political party, but rather an Indigenous Council of Government which, Subcommander Galeano (formerly Marcos), urged us not to confuse with an Indigenous Government Council, meaning that they are not trying to indigenize the current government, but rather build a new indigenous government that governs according to the principles of the EZLN and CNI:

  1. Serve, don’t self-serve
  2. Represent, don’t supplant
  3. Construct, don’t destroy
  4. Propose, don’t impose
  5. Convince, don’t defeat
  6. Go below, not above
  7. Govern by obeying

The EZLN is demanding that we disrupt our basic notions of what a government is and what a government can do. In indigenous communities throughout the country as well as in Zapatista territory, the CNI has expelled government officials and revived their traditional systems of self-governance. The EZLN is asking us to envision this happening on a national level: a Mexico that is governed by a council of hundreds of indigenous people from all nations and tribes guided by the wisdom of their ancestors.

Central to the proposal is that the candidate who will represent the Indigenous Council of Government be an indigenous woman. Galeano, in his explanation, continually emphasized this point. He said that both mestizos (non-indigenous) and men have proved incapable of governance, and that this point was not up for debate. He also reminded us that this will not be a government run by any and all indigenous people, because there are of course indigenous landowners, paramilitary, and police, as well as indigenous communities that have been bought out by the government. It will be a CNI government, running not with a political platform, but rather a program of struggle that is explicitly anti-capitalist.

Galeano also emphasized that it must be the CNI that approves and constructs the campaign, not the EZLN. In 2006 the EZLN ran ‘the Other Campaign’ parallel to the presidential race to spread the word of autonomy and urge the people of Mexico to organize their communities outside of the electoral sphere. In his speech at the Fifth Congress, Galeano explained that in the Other Campaign, the EZLN led and the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico followed, and that it needed to be the other way around, with the Indigenous Peoples in resistance leading the nation.

The aim of the presidential campaign will be not only to win, but to fortify and unite the CNI and, as one delegate from Michoacán said, to “force the people of Mexico to turn and look at us”. In his opening speech, Subcommander Moisés repeated the urgency of uniting the people of the country and the city:

“Now is the time to remind the Ruler and his managers and overseers who it was who gave birth to this nation, who works the machines, who creates food from the earth, who constructs buildings, who paves the roads, who defends and reclaims the sciences and the arts, who imagines and struggles for a world so big that there is always a place to find food, shelter and hope.”




Some may question the possibility or efficiency of a collectively run indigenous government. The assembly itself refuted these doubts. Over 500 people from all different cultures and contexts discussed the proposal for three twelve-hour days without a single moment of disrespect. Instead of arguing based on ideology or political views, they truly listened to and, in the face of doubt, convinced one another. Most importantly, no delegate spoke from personal interest, but rather the collective interest of their community.

The consensus, then, that the proposal be brought back to their communities for consultation, was based on a true and complete agreement that the presidential campaign would benefit them all. Compared to the disrespect, corruption, corporate control, and political deadlock that we are used to in our current federal governments, the CNI was an example of the power of traditional governance.

This campaign will be unlike any other in the history of the world. In this moment of global political despair, particularly in the midst of the US presidential elections, the EZLN is once again challenging us to imagine outside of the defined realm of possibilities. After being denied a space in Mexico for over 500 years, they are deciding to construct a new Mexico and eventually, Galeano said, a new world.

In the words of the General Command of the EZLN:

Now is the hour of the National Indigenous Congress.

With its step, let the earth tremble at its core.

With its dreams, let cynicism and apathy be vanquished.

In its words, let those without voice be lifted up.

With its gaze, let darkness be illuminated.

In its ear, let the pain of those who think they are alone find a home.

In its heart, let desperation find comfort and hope.

In its challenge, let the world be seen anew.



May 3, 2014

“The Flower of the Word will not Die” – 20 Years of the EZLN Uprising – Roco Pachukote

Filed under: Zapatista — Tags: , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 4:59 pm


“No Morirá la Flor de la Palabra”- A 20 Años del EZLN – Roco Pachukote

“The Flower of the Word will not Die” – 20 Years of the EZLN Uprising – Roco Pachukote, directed by Leonardo Bondani. Documentary about the 20th anniversary of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation filmed in Chiapas, Mexico which includes the songs “Paz y Baile”, “Caracol de la Palabra” and “El Canto y la Flor” and original songs from the solo material of Roco Pachukote.

Video in Spanish, includes interview with Emory Douglas, Black Panther artist, in English.



The Neo-Zapatistas, twenty years after – Wallerstein

Filed under: Zapatista — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 3:44 pm



Their stubborn resistance and political savvy have shown that a different world is possible

May 1, 2014

by Immanuel Wallerstein


On January 1, 2014, the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its uprising in Chiapas. This year, they are engaging in a self-appraisal. In April, in the official outlet of the EZLN, Rebeldía Zapatista, Insurgent Subcommandant Moisés published an editorial about the “war against forgetting.” He says that in a mere nineteen years, the struggle of the EZLN has “held in check” (toreado) the evil system that has been oppressing the indigenous peoples for 520 years.

What has been the achievement of the EZLN? In what sense can it be said to have been a success? The EZLN has been scoffed at not only by the world right but by certain elements of the world left as being largely irrelevant to the world struggle against imperialism and neoliberalism. What have they accomplished, ask the critics? Has their trajectory been more than a public relations show?

This kind of criticism misses the entire point of the uprising. Their first accomplishment has been to survive against a Mexican army that has been chafing at the bit for twenty years to destroy them. They have held it at bay not by the military prowess of the EZLN (which cannot compare with that of the Mexican army) but because of their political strength — both internally with the indigenous peoples of Chiapas and externally in the rest of the world. It is this strength that has reduced the army’s efforts to no more than harassment (sometimes murderous harassment) at the edges of their autonomous communities.

What was the manifold message of the EZLN to the Mexican government and to the world when they rose up on January 1, 1994? First of all, they were reclaiming the dignity of the oppressed indigenous peoples by renewing their demand to govern their own communities by their own peoples, collectively and democratically. Secondly, they were saying that they had no interest in taking state power in Mexico, which would have been in their view simply exchanging one set of oppressors for another. Instead they were demanding that the Mexican government recognize formally and sincerely their autonomy.

Thirdly, the EZLN chose the date because it marked the coming into effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). By choosing this date, they were affirming their rejection of the imperialist role of United States in Mexico and throughout the world. Fourthly, they were saying that, far from being narrowly focused on the struggle in Chiapas, they were supporting the struggles of all oppressed peoples and classes throughout the world. They emphasized this by convening in Chiapas what they called intergalactic meetings and by refusing to exclude participants because other participants did not want them to come. And fifthly, they sought to promote these views to other oppressed peoples in Mexico through the Indigenous National Congress.

The uprising of the EZLN was the beginning of the counteroffensive of the world left against the relatively short-lived successes of the world right between the 1970s and 1994. The combination of the economic and political impact of the Washington Consensus and the seeming triumph of the collapse of the Soviet Union permitted the world right to crow about permanent dominance of the world-system. What the Zapatistas did was to remind them (and the world left) that there was indeed an alternative, that of a relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian world.

The EZLN on January 1, 1994 paved the way to the successful protests at Seattle in 1999 and then elsewhere, as well as the founding of the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre in 2001. The continuing struggles of the WSF and of what is now being called the Global Justice movement was made possible by the EZLN.

Of course, as Insurgent Subcommandant Moisés reminds us, “there can be no rest; we must give ourselves with great strength to our efforts.” I suppose this is the ultimate message of the EZLN. There can be no rest for any of us who believe that “another world is possible.”

Immanuel Wallerstein is a senior research scholar in the department of sociology at Yale University and director emeritus of the Fernand Braudel Center at Binghamton University. He is also a resident researcher at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris. His many books include “The Modern World-System and Historical Capitalism.” He lives in New Haven, Conn., and Paris.



March 25, 2014

The Zapatistas at 20: Building Autonomous Community

Filed under: Zapatista — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 7:02 pm


The Zapatistas at 20: Building Autonomous Community

Melissa Forbis interviewed by Johanna Brenner

Source: Solidarity Webzine

chiapas-01Johanna Brenner: Many activists around the world have been inspired by the Zapatista project of organizing Indigenous communities in Chiapas around the principles of autonomy and participatory democracy. I’m curious to know more about how they are living there, producing and surviving. But first, can you say a bit about where these communities are located and their population?

Melissa Forbis: The “Zapatista territory” covers roughly the northeast half of Chiapas (corresponding approximately with the Diocese of San Cristobal). The population there is predominantly Indigenous, but in many places Indigenous and non-Indigenous people live side by side.

The Zapatistas have been very successful in organizing autonomous governance, autonomous schools, and autonomous healthcare. Their economic situation has been more difficult to work on. They have some advantages from their location in the countryside where they have been able to take over land and establish autonomous territorial governance. However, they are also embedded as we all are in neo-liberal capitalism—this is the 20 year anniversary of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

NAFTA has been devastating for rural people, forcing them to migrate to the larger cities, to the Northern border, and to the U.S. However, the Zapatistas have had some success in taking control over their economy. For example, some areas produce coffee and in the past growers would have to sell to a middle person, who by the way is also called a coyote, just like the person who transports people across borders, for the same reason, because they extort money.

Growers did not have access to transport or transport was expensive, they could not verify the quality of the coffee, they couldn’t process it or roast it themselves, and therefore were dependent on the coyotes who set the prices for their crop. The Zapatistas have formed a number of coffee cooperatives who can cut out the coyotes by making links to fair trade coffee export groups primarily in the US, Mexico and Europe. Yet, while taking control of what they produce, and sharing earnings collectively, the cooperatives are still at the whim of the market—for example when there is a glut—and are threatened by other places that produce coffee more cheaply.

Zapatista collectives also produce for local consumption, for example there are bread-baking cooperatives, cattle cooperatives, and collective cornfields on lands recovered from wealthy landowners. There are also collective stores that provide local people with lower-cost goods because the collectives purchase in bulk. In addition, community members are saved the cost of travelling to the larger cities in order to shop.

Transportation is another arena where I’ve seen innovation. Most Zapatista communities are rural and people rely on buses or trucks to get around. Small companies provide transportation and in a sense they own the routes, setting the price and schedules. After the Zapatistas created the Juntas de Buen Gobierno (Good Governance Councils) in 2003, I think there has been more oversight on whether those private companies are charging fairly and equally. Additionally, there is now Zapatista-owned transportation; those vehicles are also used for other community needs.

In spite of the development of these collective projects, many families rely on subsistence farming which is quite uncertain. In the past, the military destroyed crops or people were not able to harvest in time because of the military’s presence. But even without that pressure, there are years when crops fail because of weather or other conditions and the community has to purchase corn at inflated prices. So life remains precarious. One of the other recent efforts to improve economic security in the communities has been the establishment of “popular banks” or revolving funds that make low-interest loans to Zapatista support base members.

JB: Could you describe the structure of the Juntas de Bien Gobierno (Good Governance Councils)?

territorio-zapatistaMF: The Zapatistas have divided their territory into five regions which they call Caracoles. Within each Caracol there are several autonomous municipalities (the number varies). Each municipality is governed by a council made up of community members nominated to serve for two or three years. Each of the Caracoles has a Junta de Buen Gobierno. These councils are comprised of a rotating group of members who come from all of the autonomous municipalities that correspond to a particular Caracol. There is no standard way that these representatives are chosen – the autonomy is indeed autonomous – but frequently they are people who have served as community authorities, proven themselves, and then been selected to serve at a higher level. There can be a combination of the community naming someone at an assembly, or someone also desiring to serve and making that known. The number of days this group serves on the Junta varies depending on the Caracol. In some they serve 10, in some 14 days. They deal with ongoing and new matters brought before them. When they leave, a new group arrives.

Municipal representatives serve as a feedback link between communities and the Junta de Bien Gobierno. For example, in the municipality of 17 de Noviembre, located in the Caracol corresponding to the Morelia region, each community sends men and women as representatives to a municipal assembly. Sometimes issues discussed at the assembly need to be brought forward to the Junta. Or an issue may be sent to the assembly by the Junta who wants the communities to discuss it and report back. Autonomous governance begins at the community level, moving to the municipality level (municipio), then to the Caracol with the Juntas. Decision-making flows back and forth on decisions that are of a movement-level nature or of regional importance.

So, there is a lot of consensus decision-making and a lot of consultation with the communities before decisions are taken. Many people from outside would be frustrated because things would seem to move so slowly and you couldn’t get a decision quickly. But, it is because there’s this process of bringing things back to the communities to hear what people have to say, what their ideas are, then bringing it back to an assembly to discuss all of that. Community members who serve in the autonomous governing structures are unpaid, and they rotate frequently so that governance is really a matter of grassroots participation.

JB: Earlier you spoke about the Juntas regulating transportation businesses operating in their region. What other sorts of decisions come before the Juntas?

escuelita-paco-13MF: Individuals and groups come to the Juntas for a variety of purposes. For example, researchers, like me, are required to present their proposals to the Junta(s) in the region(s) where they plan to do research. The Juntas are also responsible for oversight of income that comes into the Caracol and for projects that are undertaken in their region—for example, the secondary school in Oventik or the sort of post-secondary school in Moisés Gandhi. One of the purposes for forming the Caracoles in 2003 was to make sure it was the Juntas rather than the NGOs and other organizations that were setting development priorities, and to also try to balance the distribution of projects and resources within each Caracol.

Since 1994, solidarity groups (national and international) have formed to support the Zapatista struggle and have raised funds to support the movement. Over the years, projects have included health promoter training, education, coffee production, potable water systems, etc. More collective projects have been gradually spreading in the communities, so that these days proportionally more resources are generated internally rather than from outside NGOs and solidarity groups.

JB: Does the Zapatista organization play any role in this system of autonomous governance?

MF: A communiqué from July 2003, “CHIAPAS: The Thirteenth Stele,” is one of the only places that I’ve seen this discussed. The communique says:

“The Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee in each region will monitor the operations of the Good Government Juntas in order to prevent acts of corruption, intolerance, injustice and deviation from the Zapatista principle of ‘Governing by Obeying.’”

That is as much as I can say, because there is nothing else public that I am aware of.

JB: You mentioned increasing migration since NAFTA. I take it the Zapatista communities have not been insulated from those same pressures.

MF: No, they haven’t. The Zapatistas have had a policy or they did have the policy up until the last time I talked to someone, that community members wanting to migrate had to first ask for permission. One reason is because the Zapatistas are not only a social movement, they are also still a clandestine movement. But, the greater reason is because participation in the movement requires a commitment to the collective, and absences make it hard to fulfil responsibilities to the community. Generally, people ask to go for a period of time—for three months, six months. And sometimes people don’t come back. But often they do. And there are people who have been able to build a house or use the money for other needs.

JB: Does that pose a risk of increasing economic inequality within the community?

MF: Well I don’t think people can accumulate large amounts of money in a six-month period. And often, permission is given because of an emergency, such as when a family has built up a large debt from hospital bills or the cost of medicine.

JB: So it seems that where the Zapatistas can use volunteer labour—where they can make their own road, so to speak—outside of the neoliberal capitalist system–that is where they’ve built their community.

MF: Yes. And the Zapatistas maintain autonomy through refusing to become dependent on government funding for social services, healthcare and education. The Zapatistas argue that it is necessary to reject government aid so long as aid is not given equally to all people. They refer to this policy of rejecting government aid and programs as being “in resistance” against what they call the “bad government.”

You could say that this is now the heart of the struggle. The Mexican state has moved from low intensity warfare, which was at its highest in the late ‘90s in the region, to what people have called the war of the projects. There is still a paramilitary presence and other kinds of incursions or threats of violence, but the form has changed since the 90s. Now, there is this “war of the projects” in which both the federal and state governments promise aid. Of course people are highly suspicious of these local officials because for decades, this was pretty much what the politicians did—make promises during elections that were never fulfilled afterwards. Now, the cynical way that the government has tried to break the movement is by capitalizing on people’s needs–needs that they helped create in the first place. The government has also shifted from more formally constituted paramilitary forces to offering incentives to competing Indigenous/campesino groups to attack or re-invade Zapatista recovered lands, for example, offering to legalize the land claims of the competing groups.

An informative mural in a Zapatista clinic.

clinic1_redAll of the Caracoles have clinics. In some places, they’re high level clinics with ambulances, dormitories, dentists, doctors, laboratories.

In La Garrucha an entire clinic is organized to provide for women’s health with trained midwives and a pharmacy with both western allopathic medicine and traditional healing and herbal medicine. Most communities have health promoters, who receive ongoing training, who provide basic preventative medical care and some of them are trained for quite high level medical care.

JB: How do the Zapatistas pay for that? How do they pay the salaries and keep the lights on?

MF: The health promoters are all volunteers. This is the case for most of the Zapatista projects. It’s the work that people do as part of their responsibility and obligation to both the movement and the community. This way of thinking does grow out of the Indigenous culture where you are named to a position and you feel a responsibility to do it well for a certain period of time and then other people can be named and if you like it, you could continue and take a higher position.

When the community health promoters come to the main clinic, they’ll stay in dormitories there and food is provided for them. Medicines are either free or very, very low cost. And the Caracoles have established a policy that for any project coming in from outside, for example from solidarity collectives, part of the money for that project is put aside to fund the ongoing autonomous elements of the Zapatista movement and is spread around among the autonomous municipalities in the region governed by the Caracol.

It is like a tax, or redistribution of income coming into the region. And if the state government wants to build a road through the area, then they need to actually contract with the Zapatista authorities and pay a certain amount too. Typically the contractors for an official government infrastructure project, such as roads or electricity, will negotiate permission with the Junta de Buen Gobierno, in effect recognizing their de facto authority.

Education promoters are also supported by the community. The community assembly might come to an agreement to give some food to them or they might help them in their fields when they have to spend time on their assigned tasks or travel to a training. The Zapatistas have tried many different strategies for supporting their autonomous projects. I really want to emphasize that the Zapatista communities are engaged in a process of evaluation and critique and this is one of the most inspiring parts of the movement to me. At the end of every year, there’s an evaluation. Is this working? Is this not working? How could we change it? What are people saying about it? How can we make it better?

book_of_educationJB: That leads me to another question: what does it mean to be a Zapatista community? Do the Zapatistas have their own organization separate from this overall communal decision-making process?

MF: You know, it really depends on the region and the particular community. So, some communities are mixed. They have Zapatistas, members of other peasant organizations, people who belong to political parties, people who might be Zapatista sympathizers, but not officially Zapatistas. The Zapatistas who are there would have their own meetings, make their own decisions, but wouldn’t necessarily “control” the whole community.

In many of the communities that are mixed, there’s a way of living side-by-side that works. There have been conflict in some communities; there’s been violence, not, by the way, started by the Zapatistas, but by people from other groups. But there are also communities that are 100% Zapatista, because they are settled on land that the Zapatista’s have taken over called recuperated lands.

The oldest communities in the Lacandon Jungle were settled at the end of the 1920s and into the 1930s when people from different parts of Chiapas began migrating in. Previously there had been plantations, many run by the church, and also by landowners. In the 1940’s and 1950’s people began petitioning the government for title to the land. After the Mexican Revolution it was legally possible for peasants to settle on land that wasn’t being worked and then seek a collective title to work the land as an ejido, or peasant community. The government could also take over lands lying fallow.

So, some of the land was national land that belonged to the government, belonged to the Mexican nation, the state, and then others were lands that plantation owners, ranch owners weren’t using. In the years leading up to the uprising, peasant organizations had been forming to demand titles, more land, and services from the government. But one of the major triggers of the uprising was the agrarian counter-reform of 1992. In preparation for NAFTA, the Revolution-era Constitution was amended and land redistribution officially ended, and the collectively managed ejidos could be individually parcelled and titled. This was a major blow to poor and landless peasants.

Differences within communities reflect political history as well. There was some disagreement about the decision to take up arms; those who opposed the Zapatistas on this have tended to remain outside of their movement, although they might be considered sympathizers. Some Zapatista members decided later to leave, for various reasons, for example, to join up with a political party or other peasant organization. Some left because of need, as when people decided to take government assistance. And some people left because of the kind of struggles we see in every political organization and social movement—power struggles and personal issues between people, conflicting thoughts on the direction of the movement, etc.

JB: So in the areas where Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas live side by side, how does governing work?

MF: The Caracoles and the Juntas de Bien Gobierno only involve Zapatistas. But their development has definitely been the result of many influences from the different people working with the Zapatistas in these communities, as well as all the people, Mexican and international, who have come to work in solidarity. Indigenous culture has also been a central influence.

The Juntas and the Caracoles see themselves as governing their territory—which includes people living there who are not Zapatista members. For example, the transport that runs up and down the road in La Garrucha, is also subject to their authority. I remember a case where bus and truck drivers were charging Guatemalan migrants more money than local people. When the Junta de Buen Gobierno learned of this, they said, “no, you have to charge everyone the same amount of money or you can’t run this route.” And, you know, the Zapatistas do have the presence and the numbers to be able to enforce that kind of thing.

Also, community members who are not Zapatistas will come to the Junta de Buen Gobierno to try to resolve matters. They say it’s because that kind of justice is something that they feel is more in line with how they see the world, with their culture, both Indigenous and rural and, the Zapatistas aren’t asking for money, like they would in the official municipality. The Juntas approach decisions by not identifying fault but by trying to reach a compromise that will create more harmony than discord. I think their approach to justice is about an ethic of caring that is quite different from a western model of justice, and the emphasis is on restorative rather than punitive justice.

JB: The Zapatistas originally were from outside Chiapas. Now, when you look at, say, a Zapatista community and the people who are setting up the Caracoles and administering and engaging in these decision-making processes, are they people from the area? Have the Zapatistas become Indigenous?

MF: Well, only part of the original nucleus of the EZLN were from further north in Mexico. The others were from the area. Before the uprising the Zapatistas had engaged in base organizing in Indigenous communities that had already been mobilizing around land rights and other demands for decades. So while not everyone who is a Zapatista is Indigenous, the original small group of non-Indigenous organizers have definitely lived side-by-side with Indigenous people and become part of an Indigenous community. And that’s where Indigenous becomes an identity that people use politically even if it is not a personal identity.

JB: So I’m still trying to envision how the Zapatista autonomous bodies of governing, health, education and so on, relate to non-Zapatista members living in their communities.

MF: Zapatista clinics treat people who aren’t Zapatistas. And people who aren’t Zapatistas can bring a matter before the Juntas to try to have it resolved. On the other hand, the Zapatista schools that have been set up are exclusively for Zapatista members. There’s a general sense that people have to participate in making these institutions work, i.e. community participation in designing the curriculum of the autonomous schools, if they want to benefit from them.

JB: Let’s talk about the gender politics of the Zapatista project. What is your assessment of how older patterns of participation and leadership are being challenged or changed?

MF: Well I think people are aware that women were very present from the beginning and took on leadership roles in the insurrection and then as military leaders. This is notably different from the history of the Sandinistas and the post-Somoza Sandinista government. I teach a class called Gender and Social Movements in Latin America and I assign “The Country Under My Skin” by Gioconda Belli, which gives a clear sense of what it was like for a woman to participate in that revolution. The Sandinistas did not include the idea of ending gender and racial oppression from the beginning and that led to considerable disappointment of women and Afro-Nicaraguans once the Sandinistas came to power in 1979.

ezlnwomenFrom the beginning, the Zapatistas emphasized gender equity, as well as the rights of Indigenous people, the rights of peasants, and so on. On the leadership level there have always been women insurgents, large numbers of them, and some in military leadership positions. On the civilian side, there are women who are health and education promoters, political authorities, members of autonomous municipal councils and Juntas de Buen Gobierno.

You see fewer women playing roles as authorities at the community level. One reason is patriarchy, which is just still present. Another is land titles, which give people rights as ejidal members. Women actually do work the land alongside men, although men do more of the work in the fields. Yet there is a persistent belief that women don’t really work the land and so don’t have a right to it. Over the past ten years, Zapatista women have been increasingly raising the idea that they should have rights to the land.

What gender equity looks like is very specific to Indigenous women in the communities. I like to point out that the Zapatista Revolutionary Law of Women, which went into effect in 1993, even before the uprising, included, alongside the rights we would recognize, like the right to control how many children one has, the right to not be forced to marry, the right to education, is the right to participate in the community. I think this right relates to Indigenous ideas that centre on the responsibility individuals have to work on behalf of the community. It’s different from the right to be a leader—which the Law also established. The right to participate comes out of an understanding of a self that is always part of a collective struggle. So to be denied the right to participate equally is to be cut off from being part of the movement in the same way that men are.

A colleague and I are writing a paper looking at Indigenous women’s theorizing and then reflecting back on our own Northern feminism and ideas of citizenship and the challenge to it represented by Indigenous women’s approach.

One of the key things that Indigenous women emphasize is that this is not just a struggle for women and they say that it’s always, always simultaneously a struggle for their people, for themselves as an Indigenous people. Women’s organizing will always have that collective component within it, even as they might be also demanding individual rights.

Outsiders coming to the communities often say it looks like women are still oppressed, because they’re taking care of children or are doing domestic work. Indigenous women are making a more subtle point. They will say yes, men need to help out in the domestic sphere, just as we help out in the fields. But they also say we should not value one kind of work as more important to people’s survival, contentment and happiness than another. They also view all people as inherently capable of doing all of these kinds of work.

The workbooks that were produced for the Escuelita, the Zapatista school, are interesting. They are meant to teach about Zapatista autonomous governance and one of the workbooks is on women. It is written by women from all five Caracoles, and covers different topics. The women reflect back on their struggle. And one of the women wrote “here in my community we think that the women’s revolutionary law needs to be extended from ten points to 43.”

So this is a system always undergoing development through a process of reflection. Autonomous governance is not a model to be simply followed. It’s something that’s worked out through day-to-day practice. The women reflected back on all the years, assessed what has changed and then were very critical about what hasn’t happened. And you see that they engage in this process keeping that utopian horizon in place. It is assumed that “we’re not giving up, we can get there.”

It’s hard, make no mistake. Being a Zapatista, you may be poorer than other people in monetary terms, because you’re not accessing income from government programmes. At the same time, there’s a sense of worth. There’s a sense of struggle, of having built something with other people that has been very empowering.

JB: You’ve described how the Zapatistas are going very deep, developing their autonomy on that land base and for the long-term. They clearly are very interconnected globally and continue to inspire support. I’m curious about their interconnections to organizing in Mexico. I know of one such relationship—with the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. The two organizations engaged in a series of “encuentros” where Zapatistas came up to Blanca Navidad, an illegal settlement near the Mexico-U.S. border, organized by maquiladora workers, and then some of the community activists travelled down to Chiapas.

ezlnotracampanaMF: As it happened, I was at the meetings in Blanca Navidad. My sense is that this connection between the two organizations was one of the outcomes of the Zapatistas’ “Otra Campaña” (Other Campaign), in which a Zapatista delegation travelled throughout Mexico during the national election campaign in 2006. Their goal was to make connections with grassroots organizing projects and to pose an alternative to people passively electing politicians to “represent” them. My sense of the Other Campaign is that they were most successful at the northern border, California through Texas. Blanca Navidad was one of those places. I think it is important to say that these meetings were a real dialogue. People in Blanca Navidad were inspired by the Zapatistas, but they had also been developing their own ways of organizing and their own ideas of building community; so there was a real dialogue.

Despite the fact that the “Other Campaign” did not have the results the Zapatistas had hoped for, which mirrors some of their earlier attempts to reach out to the so-called Mexican civil society, their example continues to inspire people throughout Mexico, as evidenced by the huge response to the invitation to participate in the Escuelita beginning in August 2013. Indigenous communities and areas continue to declare themselves autonomous and are organizing themselves in their own ways.

JB: An interesting contrast with the global connections that the Zapatistas have built.

MF: You know, one global connection I can think of right now that has been important is this question of alternative and social media that I think is something to reflect on with the 20 years of Zapatismo. The Zapatista struggle coincided really with the advent of the internet or at least the popularity of the internet and that it was a tool in the hands of activists. Some have called the Zapatistas the first post-modern guerrilla. Calling a large group of people who are peasants post-modern does not quite capture their daily lives and struggles! At the same time, the Zapatistas’ ability to use that tool for activism was important in shaping the struggle there—in terms of the incredible global solidarity and support they continue to receive– but also in the way that the Zapatista uprising was able to inspire people—for example, the organizing against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999.

JB: Inspiring, yes. But on the other hand, there is a difference between the virtual world and the actual world of ongoing connections to each other. Does the Zapatista presence on the web, expressed through its communiques and reports, fully reflect reality on the ground? Does something important get lost?

MF: That is an interesting point. What inspires me about the Zapatistas is the day-to-day complicated work, often conflictive work of living autonomy and putting it into practice. The communiques don’t always reflect the complexity of life in the communities. Yet it is from those hard, conflictive moments—and how people deal with them—that we have the most to learn.


Melissa Forbis is a member of the Department of Cultural Analysis and Theory faculty at Stony Brook. She has been doing community work and research in Zapatista communities since 1996. Several articles on women in Chiapas and her Ph.D. Dissertation, “Never Again a Mexico Without Us: Gender, Indigenous Autonomy and Multiculturalism in Neo-Liberal Mexico,” are based on that research. She is currently completing her book manuscript based on the dissertation and subsequent research. On the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Zapatista uprising, she was interviewed by Johanna Brenner, a community activist in Portland, OR and an Advisory Editor of Against the Current.



March 12, 2014

Twenty years of Zapatismo

Filed under: Marcos, Zapatista — Tags: — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 6:03 pm

Twenty years of Zapatismo

By Max Horder


A mural showing Zapatista art

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Zapatista rebellion on New Year’s Day in 1994 in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Two decades later, it continues to inspire social activism throughout the world.

Millions of admirers still see the first of January, 1994 as having turned forgotten peasants—los olvidados—into a locus of resistance against political oppression and racial injustice, in Mexico and beyond.

The Zapatistas, or EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional), composed of three thousand indigenous Mexicans, stormed the towns of San Cristóbal, Ocosingo and Las Margaritas in large part because of the implementation of NAFTA.

The signing of NAFTA epitomized the era’s zeitgeist: globalization, free movement of capital and goods, and the tearing down of all barriers to foreign direct investment.

Hilary Clinton boastfully referred to NAFTA as one of Bill Clinton’s ‘successes’ in her 2003 memoir, Living History. In Mexico, its consequences are more ambivalently felt even twenty years later.

Reason to revolt

As a way of removing all the obstacles to the flow of international capital, the Mexican State revoked Article 27 of the National Constitution. The article had upheld in law, the right of peasants to cultivate the land in the form of co-operative holdings known as ‘ejidos’ – a right that was fought for during the Mexican Revolution a century ago.

Besides removing the right to communal land, NAFTA also increased the exportation of heavily subsidized U.S. corn. This, according to a report by Public Citizen in 2014, has destroyed the ‘livelihoods of more than one million Mexican peasant farmers’ and about 1.4 million additional agricultural workers.

At the time of the rebellion, Chiapas was also chronically underdeveloped, lacking schools, hospitals and basic infrastructure.

Rodrigo Pimienta Lastra, a Mexican scholar of rural demographics in Chiapas, has estimated that during the 1980s and 1990s, only around 32 percent of people living in the state could read and write.

When the Mexican government ignored these issues, it was interpreted by many indigenous communities as meaning that it did not know, or care, about life in this forgotten corner of the country.

Their message was straightforward: if the Mexican State would not listen to their pleas, then there was only one other option. “We are sorry for the inconvenience,” claimed the enigmatic, pipe-smoking leader of the Zapatista movement, Subcomandante Marcos. “But this is a revolution.”

The global appeal

Retiring from the towns after their defeat by the government, the Zapatistas took a new direction – creating 32 autonomous zones that are still in existence today.

Chiapas fast became a pilgrimage site for students and rock-stars from all over the world.

Most famously, the singer Manu Chao is a close friend of Marcos and sampled his speeches throughout his 1998 album ‘Clandestino’.

The development of these autonomous areas continue to be celebrated by movements and individuals as providing a blueprint for a different kind of society.

The foundation last year of La Escualita, an educational initiative in Chiapas that teaches outsiders about the Zapatista way of life, drew nearly 2,000 people from all over the world.

Similarly, in southwest Europe’s Basque country, people have drawn on the Zapatistas in their calls for self-government.

This even resulted in a diplomatic fallout between Marcos and Spanish officials in 2003 when the former denounced Spain for banning the Basque separatist party Batasuna.

Despite also asking ETA to call a ceasefire, the Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón penned a letter to El Universal which accused Marcos of being ‘full of arrogance’ and exuding ‘hatred for the victims’ of the separatist attacks.

This kind of personal criticism seems much less frequent than the praise that is still lavished on the Zapatista movement.

In 2013, O Globo reports that the leaders of The Free Fare Movement (MPL) quoted one of Marcos’ speeches when it helped to initiate the protests in Brazil over the hike in public transport fares.

Moreover, academics and activists associated with the anti-globalization movement, such as Noam Chomsky and David Graeber, have incorporated the Zapatista framework when articulating strategies for the goals of universal equality and international harmony.

An uncertain future

Opinions surrounding the Zapatista movement are divisive, and it is difficult to comment unequivocally about its success.

Massimo Modenesi, author and historian, explains, “Without a doubt, the EZLN show a form of rural, small-scale communitarianism. But it is harder to think of it in other levels. That would require a political, social and cultural rupture revolution in respect to the forms of contemporary capitalist societies.”

Modenesi’s perspective is shared by Dolores Gonzalez, the Director of SERAPAZ. She told the International that she thinks Zapatismo is “fully applicable in the construction of alternatives for social transformation.”

The Zapatistas, she continues, are the “most emblematic movement of the vindication of the rights of indigenous peoples.” This serves to promote new forms of production and consumption that can prefigure a “new society – one based on collectivity, solidarity and the notion of bien común [good living.”

In contrast, Dr. George Philip, Head of Latin American Politics at the London School of Economics, thinks that the Zapatista movement has “lacked political configuration.”

For him, it seems doubtful that it could be re-created “anywhere else outside of Chiapas.”

“It is a problem,” Philip says, “in the sense that the Left often has a problem with general electoral appeal. Democracy is fundamentally about parties and elections and what the EZLN stood for has dissipated. The show has run out, and, it seems, the Emperor is without clothes.”

Others, like Mexican journalist Sergio Sarmiento, also have criticised the leadership of the Zapatistas on these grounds. Sarmiento has suggested that the movement has indeed petered out. Although life in Chiapas has improved for some, dire poverty still plagues the region, as does a lack of adequate healthcare.

The extent to which the EZLN can be blamed for this is still fiercely debated. The revolution for which they fought for might not have borne fruit, but it inspired the world to consider what a different society might be like.

As Modenesi explains, “It’s always worthwhile to fight, in order to create a counter-weight, in order to construct an anti-establishment movement. What the Zapatistas achieved is the conquest of a space of self-determination, of self-government, of autonomy. So then it was doubly worthwhile.”

Perhaps it will take more time, though, to see how exactly the original rebellion has made a place for itself in the transformation of the modern world.

January 27, 2014

Now You See Me: A Glimpse into the Zapatista Movement, Two Decades Later

Filed under: Zapatista — Tags: , , , , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 6:34 pm

Zapatista 20th Anniversary

Now You See Me: A Glimpse into the Zapatista Movement, Two Decades Later

By Laura Gottesdiener 


Line to search delegates, Zapatista Encuentro, 1996. (Image: <a" target="_blank"> Julian Stallabrass / Flickr</a>)

Line to search delegates, Zapatista Encuentro, 1996.

Growing up in a well-heeled suburban community, I absorbed our society’s distaste for dissent long before I was old enough to grasp just what was being dismissed. My understanding of so many people and concepts was tainted by this environment and the education that went with it: Che Guevara and the Black Panthers and Oscar Wilde and Noam Chomsky and Venezuela and Malcolm X and the Service Employees International Union and so, so many more. All of this is why, until recently, I knew almost nothing about the Mexican Zapatista movement except that the excessive number of “a”s looked vaguely suspicious to me. It’s also why I felt compelled to travel thousands of miles to a Zapatista “organizing school” in the heart of the Lacandon jungle in southeastern Mexico to try to sort out just what I’d been missing all these years.

Hurtling South

The fog is so thick that the revelers arrive like ghosts. Out of the mist they appear: men sporting wide-brimmed Zapata hats, women encased in the shaggy sheepskin skirts that are still common in the remote villages of Mexico. And then there are the outsiders like myself with our North Face jackets and camera bags, eyes wide with adventure. (“It’s like the Mexican Woodstock!” exclaims a student from the northern city of Tijuana.) The hill is lined with little restaurants selling tamales and arroz con leche and pozol, a ground-corn drink that can rip a foreigner’s stomach to shreds. There is no alcohol in sight. Sipping coffee as sugary as Alabama sweet tea, I realize that tonight will be my first sober New Year’s Eve since December 31, 1999, when I climbed into bed with my parents to await the Y2K Millennium bug and mourned that the whole world was going to end before I had even kissed a boy.

Thousands are clustered in this muddy field to mark the 20-year anniversary of January 1, 1994, when an army of impoverished farmers surged out of the jungle and launched the first post-modern revolution. Those forces, known as the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, were the armed wing of a much larger movement of indigenous peoples in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, who were demanding full autonomy from their government and global liberation for all people.

As the news swept across that emerging communication system known as the Internet, the world momentarily held its breath. A popular uprising against government-backed globalization led by an all but forgotten people: it was an event that seemed unthinkable. The Berlin Wall had fallen. The market had triumphed. The treaties had been signed. And yet surging out of the jungles came a movement of people with no market value and the audacity to refuse to disappear.

Now, 20 years later, villagers and sympathetic outsiders are pouring into one of the Zapatistas’ political centers, known as Oventic, to celebrate the fact that their rebellion has not been wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men.

The plane tickets from New York City to southern Mexico were so expensive that we traveled by land. We E-ZPassed down the eastern seaboard, ate catfish sandwiches in Louisiana, barreled past the refineries of Texas, and then crossed the border. We pulled into Mexico City during the pre-Christmas festivities. The streets were clogged with parents eating tamales and children swinging at piñatas. By daybreak the next morning, we were heading south again. Speed bumps scraped the bottom of our Volvo the entire way from Mexico City to Chiapas, where the Zapatistas control wide swathes of territory. The road skinned the car alive. Later I realized that those speed bumps were, in a way, the consequences of dissent — tiny traffic-controlling monuments to a culture far less resigned to following the rules.

“Up north,” I’d later tell Mexican friends, “we don’t have as many speed bumps, but neither do we have as much social resistance.”

After five days of driving, we reached LaUniversidad de la Tierra, a free Zapatista-run schoolin the touristy town of San Cristóbal de Las Casas in Chiapas. Most of the year, people from surrounding rural communities arrive here to learn trades like electrical wiring, artisanal crafts, and farming practices. This week, thousands of foreigners had traveled to the town to learn about something much more basic: autonomy.

Our first “class” was in the back of a covered pickup truck careening through the Lacandon jungle with orange trees in full bloom. As we passed, men and women raised peace signs in salute. Spray-painted road signs read (in translation):

“You are now entering Zapatista territory. Here the people order and the government obeys.”

I grew nauseous from the exhaust and the dizzying mountain views, and after six hours in that pickup on this, my sixth day of travel, two things occurred to me: first, I realized that I had traveled “across” Chiapas in what was actually a giant circle; second, I began to suspect that there was no Zapatista organizing school at all, that the lesson I was supposed to absorb was simply that life is a matter of perpetual, cyclical motion. The movement’s main symbol, after all, is a snail’s shell.

Finally, though, we arrived in a village where the houses had thatched roofs and the children spoke only the pre-Hispanic language Ch’ol.

¡Ya Basta!

Over the centuries, the indigenous communities of Chiapas survived Spanish conquistadors, slavery, and plantation-style sugar cane fields; Mexican independence and mestizo landowners; racism, railroads, and neoliberal economic reforms. Each passing year seemed to bring more threats to its way of life. As the father of my host family explained to me, the community began to organize itself in the early 1990s because people felt that the government was slowly but surely exterminating them.

The government was chingando, he said, which translates roughly as deceiving, cheating, and otherwise screwing someone over. It was, he said, stealing their lands. It was extracting the region’s natural resources, forcing people from the countryside into the cities. It was disappearing the indigenous languages through its version of public education. It was signing free trade agreements that threatened to devastate the region’s corn market and the community’s main subsistence crop.

So on January 1, 1994, the day the North America Free Trade Agreement went into effect, some residents of this village — along with those from hundreds of other villages — seized control of major cities across the state and declared war on the Mexican government. Under the name of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation, they burned the army’s barracks and liberated the inmates in the prison at San Cristóbal de Las Casas.

In response, the Mexican army descended on Chiapas with such violence that the students of Mexico City rioted in the streets. In the end, the two sides sat down for peace talks that, to this day, have never been resolved.

The uprising itself lasted only 12 days; the response was a punishing decade of repression. First came the great betrayal. Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, who,in the wake of the uprising, had promised to enact greater protections for indigenous peoples, instead sent thousands of troops into the Zapatistas’ territory in search of Subcomandante Marcos, the world-renowned spokesperson for the movement. They didn’t find him. But the operation marked the beginning of a hush-hush war against the communities that supported the Zapatistas. The army, police, and hired thugs burned homes and fields and wrecked small, communally owned businesses. Some local leaders disappeared. Others were imprisoned. In one region of Chiapas, the entire population was displaced for so long that the Red Cross set up a refugee camp for them. (In the end, the community rejected the Red Cross aid, in the same way that it also rejects all government aid.)

Since 1994, the movement has largely worked without arms. Villagers resisted government attacks and encroachments with road blockades, silent marches, and even, in one famous case, an aerial attack comprised entirely of paper airplanes.

The Boy Who Is Free

Fifteen years after the uprising, a child named Diego was born in Zapatista territory. He was the youngest member of the household where I was staying, and during my week with the family, he was always up to something. He agitated the chickens, peeked his head through the window to surprise his father at the breakfast table, and amused the family by telling me long stories in Ch’ol that I couldn’t possibly understand.

He also, unknowingly, defied the government’s claim that he does not exist.

Diego is part of the first generation of Zapatista children whose births are registered by one of the organization’s own civil judges. In the eyes of his father, he is one of the first fully independent human beings. He was born in Zapatista territory, attends a Zapatista school, lives on unregistered land, and his body is free of pesticides and genetically modified organisms. Adding to his autonomy is the fact that nothing about him — not his name, weight, eye color, or birth date — is officially registered with the Mexican government. His family does not receive a peso of government aid, nor does it pay a peso worth of taxes. Not even the name of Diego’s town appears on any official map.

By first-world standards, this autonomy comes at a steep price: some serious poverty. Diego’s home has electricity but no running water or indoor plumbing. The outhouse is a hole in the ground concealed by waist-high tarp walls. The bathtub is the small stream in the backyard. Their chickens often free-range it right through their one-room, dirt-floor house. Eating them is considered a luxury.

The population of the town is split between Zapatistas and government loyalists, whom the Zapatistas call “priistas” in reference to Mexico’s ruling political party, the PRI. To discern who is who, all you have to do is check whether or not a family’s roof sports a satellite dish.

Then again, the Zapatistas aren’t focused on accumulating wealth, but on living with dignity. Most of the movement’s work over the last two decades has involved patiently building autonomous structures for Diego and his generation. Today, children like him grow up in a community with its own Zapatista schools; communal businesses; banks; hospitals; clinics; judicial processes; birth, death, and marriage certificates; annual censuses; transportation systems; sports teams; musical bands; art collectives; and a three-tiered system of government. There are no prisons. Students learn both Spanish and their own indigenous language in school. An operation in the autonomous hospital can cost one-tenth that in an official hospital. Members of the Zapatista government, elected through town assemblies, serve without receiving any monetary compensation.

Economic independence is considered the cornerstone of autonomy — especially for a movement that opposes the dominant global model of neoliberal capitalism. In Diego’s town, the Zapatista families have organized a handful of small collectives: a pig-raising operation, a bakery, a shared field for farming, and a chicken coop. The 20-odd chickens had all been sold just before Christmas, so the coop was empty when we visited. The three women who ran the collective explained, somewhat bashfully, that they would soon purchase more chicks to raise.

As they spoke in the outdoor chicken coop, there were squealing noises beneath a nearby table. A tangled cluster of four newly born puppies, eyes still crusted shut against the light, were squirming to stay warm. Their mother was nowhere in sight, and the whole world was new and cold, and everything was unknown. I watched them for a moment and thought about how, although it seemed impossible, they would undoubtedly survive and grow.

Unlike Diego, the majority of young children on the planet today are born into densely packed cities without access to land, animals, crops, or almost any of the natural resources that are required to sustain human life. Instead, we city dwellers often need a ridiculous amount of money simply to meet our basic needs. My first apartment in New York City, a studio smaller than my host family’s thatched-roof house, cost more per month than the family has likely spent in Diego’s entire lifetime.

As a result, many wonder if the example of the Zapatistas has anything to offer an urbanized planet in search of change. Then again, this movement resisted defeat by the military of a modern state and built its own school, medical, and governmental systems for the next generation without even having the convenience of running water. So perhaps a more appropriate question is: What’s the rest of the world waiting for?

Celebrating Dissent

Around six o’clock, when night falls in Oventic, the music for the celebration begins. On stage, a band of guitar-strumming men wear hats that look like lampshades with brightly colored tassels. Younger boys perform Spanish rap. Women, probably from the nearby state of Veracruz, play son jarocho, a type of folk music featuring miniature guitar-like instruments.

It’s raining gently in the open field. The mist clings to shawls and skirts andpasamontañas,the face-covering ski masks that have become iconic imagery for the Zapatistas. “We cover our faces so that you can see us” is a famous Zapatista saying. And it’s true: For a group of people often erased by politicians and exploited by global economies, the ski-masks have the curious effect of making previously invisible faces visible.

Still, there are many strategies to make dissent disappear, of which the least effective may be violence. The most ingenious is undoubtedly to make the rest of the world — and even the dissenter herself — dismissive of what’s being accomplished. Since curtailing its military offensive, the government has waged a propaganda war focused on convincing the rest of Mexico, the world, and even Zapatista communities themselves that the movement and its vision no longer exists.

But there are just as many strategies for keeping dissent and dissenters going. One way is certainly to invite thousands of outsiders to visit your communities and see firsthand that they are real, that in every way that matters they are thriving, and that they have something to teach the rest of us. As Diego’s father said in an uncharacteristic moment of boastfulness, “I think by now that the whole world has heard of our organization.”

Writing is another way to prevent an idea and a movement from disappearing, especially when one is hurtling down the highway in Texas headed back to New York City, already surrounded by a reality so different as to instantly make the Zapatistas hard to remember.

The most joyous way to assert one’s existence, however, is through celebration.

The New Year arrived early in Oventic. One of the subcomandantes had just read a communique issued by the organization’s leadership, first in Spanish, then in the indigenous languages Tzotzil and Tzeltal. The latter translations took her nearly twice as long to deliver, as if to remind us of all the knowledge that was lost with the imposition of a colonial language centuries ago. Then, a low hiss like a cracked soda can, and two fireworks exploded into the air.

“Long live the insurgents!” a masked man on stage cried.

“Viva!” we shouted. The band burst into song, and two more fireworks shot into the sky, their explosions well timed drumbeats of color and sound. The coordination was impeccable. As the chants continued, the air grew so smoky that we could barely see the fireworks exploding, but in that moment, I could still feel their brilliance and the illumination, 20 years old, of the movement releasing them.

Laura Gottesdiener is a journalist, social justice activist. She is an associate editor for Waging Nonviolence, and she has written for Rolling Stone, Ms. magazine, The Arizona Republic, TomDispatch, and other publications. She lived and worked in the People’s Kitchen during the occupation of Zuccotti Park.


From Fire to Autonomy: Zapatistas, 20 Years of Walking Slowly By Andalusia Knoll and Itandehui Reyes, Truthout             Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.


January 26, 2014

On the EZLN’s Escuelita: Neo-Zapatista Autonomy

Filed under: Women, Zapatista — Tags: , , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 9:01 am

Zapatista 20th Anniversary

On the EZLN’s Escuelita: Neo-Zapatista Autonomy

by Javier Sethness Castro

CounterPunch, 23rd January, 2014

As many readers of CounterPunch are likely aware, the Chiapas-based Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) has recently launched an open initiative called the Escuelita (“little school”), a four or five-day program by means of which outsiders, both Mexican and international, are invited to reside with Zapatistas to learn more about the EZLN’s politics and the daily lives of the organization’s members, as well as to promote cultural exchange. The openness reflected in the launch of the Escuelita stands in contrast to the relative aloofness of the organization in recent years—with the EZLN’s command observing a period of silence for more than a year after Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos’ plaintive condemnation of the Israeli military assault on Gaza during winter 2008-9. Of course, at the end of the thirteenth Baktun and the beginning of the fourteenth (21 December 2012), up to fifty thousand Zapatistas silently marched through five of the municipalities the EZLN had liberated in its 1 January 1994 insurrection—thus overthrowing their prior reclusiveness while dialectically preserving their verbal quietude.

Indeed, in this sense the Escuelita’s founding recalls the early years that followed the EZLN’s public appearance with its uprising, when the organization hosted Intercontinental Encounters for Humanity and against Neo-Liberalism—and even Intergalactic ones—that brought together radical thinkers and dissidents from Mexico and the world over to publicly strategize on ways to bring down capital and the State. I was greatly pleased, then, when in response to a form I had sent the EZLN some time ago, I received a letter signed by Marcos and fellow Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés inviting me to the second round of the First Level of the Zapatista Escuelita, to be held in late December 2013.

Registration for the Escuelita took place at CIDECI, or the Indigenous Center for Comprehensive Training, which has its campus on the outskirts of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, the largest highland city in the state of Chiapas. Also known as Unitierra (Earth University), CIDECI hosts weekly international seminars on anti-systemic movements, in addition to monthly seminars dedicated to contemplation and discussion of the thought of Immanuel Wallerstein. Much of the art adorning the buildings on the CIDECI campus depicts Zapatistas, and the Center has hosted Sups Marcos and Moisés to speak on several occasions, so it is natural that it would be chosen as site of registration for the Escuelita.

Arriving with my friend Reyna, we entered the short registration line established for foreigners—the lines for those hailing from Mexico City and the states of Mexico being much longer than this one—presented our documents to the receiving team, paid the 380-peso fee (about $30US), and then were told we would be placed in a community belonging to the La Realidad (“Reality”) region located deep in the Lacandon Jungle. I was pleased to hear this, as La Realidad is my favorite of the five Zapatista caracoles (“snails”), or administrative centers located in the zones with Zapatista presence. Reyna and I then got in line to board the various vehicles the EZLN had organized outside CIDECI to transport us to our respective caracoles.


Map of the 5 Zapatista caracoles and their corresponding regions. From Niels Barmeyer, Developing Zapatista Autonomy (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2009), xvii.

When the caravan from CIDECI entered the jungle and arrived at La Realidad some ten hours after having departed, we were asked to remain in the vehicles outside the caracol compound for just a few more minutes. Thus were we faced with a white banner draped above the iron gate that served as entrance commemorating 20 years since the Zapatista uprising in general and the caída (“fall”) of Subcomandante Insurgente Pedro during the fighting in Las Margaritas in particular. Once the Zapatistas had finished preparing themselves, the alumn@s were invited to file through to enter the caracol, just as skilled masked players struck joyful tunes on the marimba from the stage above where the students came to join the assembled Zapatistas for a brief orientation to the Escuelita.

After declaring our support to the cause of revolution—responding with ¡Viva! to the mention of various persons and groups, such as the EZLN, Subcomandante Marcos, Comandanta Ramona, the Escuelita, the peoples of the world, the world’s women, and so on.—we were assigned to our guardian@s individually and then sent to sleep as segregated by sex while the marimba continued to play into the night. My guardián was a young Tojolabal male BAEZLN (base de apoyo, or “support base”) named Héctor—his name here is a pseudonym for reasons of clandestinity.


Banner in La Realidad Commemorating Sup Pedro, Who Died in the Insurrection on 1 January 1994.

The next morning, 25 December, the Escuelita at La Realidad officially commenced with a collective presentation made by Zapatista teachers of the region regarding different aspects of life and politics in the BAEZLN communities pertaining to this caracol. In basic terms, these teachers spoke to the EZLN’s autonomous health and banking systems—with the former comprised of health promoters, male and female, who are trained in the three fields of acute care, obstetrics, and herbalism, and the latter comprised of lending institutions (BANPAZ and BANAMAS) which offer loans for productive projects at 2-3% interest and provide economic support for Zapatista families struck by illness—as well as their democratic system of governance, which in parallel to the official system is made up of three tiers: the local popular assemblies at the communal level, the autonomous Zapatista rebel municipalities (MAREZ) at the intermediary level, and finally the Good-Government Councils (Juntas de Buen Gobierno, or JBGs), which coordinate matters at the regional level. Of the three, the JBGs represent the highest authority for the Zapatistas, yet legal proposals can be raised at the local assembly level, and the BAEZLN representatives voted into the JBGs through assemblies are fully recallable. The autonomous authorities, moreover, receive no wage or salary for their work but are instead supported with food from their base communities.

While the Zapatistas’ methods in civic administration thus seem to bear a great deal of similarity to the positive policy proposals made in Euro-U.S. settings by Karl Marx and some anarchists alike, they resemble and develop the political customs of many indigenous peoples of the Americas as well. Indeed, in philosophical terms in this sense, one of the teachers expressed the idea—as recognized also by G.W.F. Hegel and others—that the perpetuation of oppressive social conditions drives forward the dialectic: he spoke specifically of the memory of the Zapatistas’ ancestors enslaved by the feudalism imposed by the colonia as propelling the strength of the movement of BAEZLN’toward autonomy. At this time, one of the teachers noted that the EZLN’s goal at present is two-fold: one, to “liberate the people of Mexico,” and secondly to uphold and extend the autonomy of the organization and its constituent members.

The situation of women in the EZLN was first examined an hour and a half into the teachers’ presentation, when various female representatives spoke to the issue. Like Friedrich Engels on private property, the introductory speaker argued that the patriarchal enslavement of indigenous women began with Spanish colonialism, whereas previously the worth of women had supposedly been fully recognized, as based on women’s ability to reproduce the human race. This speaker noted both males and females to have been oppressed by the patrones imposed by European invasion and genocide, and she welcomed the vast changes provided by the EZLN in terms of women’s ability to participate in socio-political matters, whether as health promoters, communal radio progammers, JBG authorities, or milicianas in the guerrilla movement.

Several of the speakers on women’s issues stressed that the struggle to increase women’s participation in the EZLN has not been an easy one, due both to resistance from men as well as the internalization of self-deprecating values on the part of many indigenous women themselves. Another issue is that females in this context tend to be less literate and knowledgeable of Spanish than males, such that engaging in administrative work using Spanish as the common language among BAEZLN from different ethno-linguistic groups proves challenging.

One teacher noted that Zapatista women face exploitation on three fronts—for being female, indigenous, and poor—and based on her and other compañeras’ words, it seems they largely bear responsibility for domestic affairs and child-rearing within the dominant sexual division of labor which prevails in Zapatista communities. Speakers in this section also analyzed the Revolutionary Law on Women, passed by the EZLN before its January 1994 insurrection, by enumerating its stipulations—such as the right to freely determine the total number of children to bear, to reject imposed marriage and freely choose partners, to resist domestic violence, and so on—and afterward simply stating that all the conditions of the Law are being observed in Zapatista settings. However, this claim came too quickly, as we will shall see.

In the third part of the initial presentation in La Realidad, the teachers addressed some of the challenges the EZLN has faced in the development of its autonomy in the 20 years since its armed revolt. They claim now that their form of resistance is the word, both spoken and written: while in January 1994 their resistance took on armed form, it has now become peaceful and civic—with the resort to arms opening the subsequent possibility for the Zapatistas’ impressive development of autonomy.

Despite this difference between January 1994 and everything after, the Zapatista movement remains under siege, with the “bad government” (el mal gobierno) working now to divide indigenous communities among themselves by encouraging participation in official political parties and recourse to state-provided services—a strategy it adopted in direct response to the insurrection, yet one that was subordinated in the years of peak intensity (the years following 1994) to the overtly repressive resort to direct militarization and the fomenting of paramilitary groups designed to terrorize BAEZLN and Zapatista sympathizers in eastern Chiapas.

However, forced displacement of BAEZLN still takes place—consider the cases of San Marcos Avilés in 2010 and Comandante Abel more recently. One speaker mentioned the Lacandon indigenous people who live quite close to La Realidad as an example the Zapatistas do not wish to emulate—for the Lacandones have been made dependent on the State after having been stripped of their rights to fell trees and cultivate agriculture for residing in the region which has been designated as belonging to the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve (RIBMA). Defining the principal problems which the EZLN confronts at the moment, one representative noted the issues of the occupation of lands “recovered” by the Zapatistas in 1994 by indigenous persons belonging to rival political groups, forced displacement, paramilitary activity, and the arbitrary incarceration of BAEZLN. This speaker connecting the experience of these problems with the “peaceful and civil” Zapatista approach, which is to engage in public denunciation through the JBGs.

To close this introductory presentation, the teachers accepted written questions from the audience of alumn@s. In response to a question that would continually be raised over the course of the Escuelita, one teacher said that the Zapatistas “respect” the ways of gays, but no more specifics were given on this. As for the question as to how to reproduce the neo-Zapatista model in other contexts—particularly in cities, where living conditions are clearly rather different—the teachers said that that prospect could be helped along by means of the promotion of an autonomous sense of politics, however that be translated into reality. Intruigingly fielding a question about Zapatismo and ecology, one of the teachers noted that the EZLN seeks to carry through the word of the people in terms of how to manage natural resources, such that the question of whether nature be ravaged or left alone is secondary to adherence to the vox populi—an interesting permutation of “green” anarcho-syndicalism or ecological self-management.

Another question-and-answer had a maestro clarifying that BAEZLN practice a “high level” of abstention in official elections at the three levels (municipal, state, and federal). Perhaps most controversially of all, some of the teachers shared the general neo-Zapatista skepticism toward family planning methods, which are apparently considered in the main to be measures imposed from above to limit indigenous population growth. Along these lines, one maestra clarified that abortion is not performed at Zapatista autonomous clinics, considering it a practice of infanticide that should be suppressed if there are to be numerically more zapatistas. Separately, though relatedly, a different teacher declared that the Zapatista midwives are not trained by the Public Health Ministry.

Following the morning presentation, the alumn@s and their guardian@s traveled by group to the communities in which they would experience the Escuelita. Transport of these 500 people (about 250 students and their chaperones) took place by means of large sand-trucks—traveling in one of these during the journey out to community and back truly reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of the anarchist troop-transport vehicles used in the Spanish Revolution of the 1930′s. Upon arrival to the — community affiliated with the — MAREZ pertaining to La Realidad to which the group in which I was included had been sent, the first session of the Escuelita began for me, as Héctor and I were welcomed into the abode of the — family. (Thus, like many others, Héctor and I experienced the Escuelita with one family, though some alumn@s and guardian@s apparently experienced a more collective setting, such as took place in the actual space of an autonomous school.) The first text to be examined was Autonomous Government I, which like the remaining three volumes of written materials provided for alumn@s and guardian@s to study is comprised of varied testimonies from BAEZLN with different charges who belong to MAREZ affiliated with each of the five caracol regions.


A Scene from the — Community, Affiliated with the La Realidad Caracol

This first volume tells its readers that the EZLN base is comprised of a total of 38 MAREZ, with 4 belonging to La Realidad, and it notes that this caracol was the successor to the first Aguascalientes established in 1994 by the EZLN in the nearby community of Guadalupe Tepeyac—Aguascalientes referring to the Mexican state in which the 1917 Constitution was drafted—which was in turn occupied by the Mexican Army in 1995, its residents displaced for six years until 2001. In 1995, the EZLN responded by founding five more Aguascalientes, administrative centers which would in 2003 become the caracoles and the seats of the JBGs.

In terms of La Realidad, the region itself has an autonomous Zapatista hospital in San José del Rio—with a large state-based one recently installed in Guadalupe Tepeyac, and a government clinic (physically protected by barbed wire) constructed within the last three years just a couple minutes’ walk from the caracol itself. The text on autonomous governance says that the San José hospital has recently acquired ultrasound equipment for obstetrical purposes, but it remains unclear to me to what extent there exist rehab or harm-reduction programs for Zapatistas in public health terms—consumption of alcohol and all other drugs is forbidden for BAEZLN.

Moreover, in sharing the names of all the Zapatista MAREZ which exist, the volume speaks to the role of revolutionary memory in the EZLN’s program: municipalities are named for Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, San Manuel (Manuel being the founder of the EZLN), Ricardo Flores Magón (a renowned Oaxacan anarchist involved in the Mexican Revolution), Comandanta Ramona, Lucio Cabanas (a left-wing guerrillero who formed the Party of the Poor in Guerrero in the 1970′s), La Paz, La Dignidad, 17 November (date of the arrival of the urban-based Maoists to the selva Lacandona in 1983), Trabajo (“Work”), and Rubén Jaramillo (a campesino insurrectionary who sought to carry on Zapata’s vision until his 1962 murder by the State), to give just a few examples. Politically, volume I lists the seven principles of mandar obedeciendo (“to command by obeying”) which is to govern the action of representatives of the JBGs and all other civilian Zapatista institutions:

“To serve and not to serve oneself”; “to represent and not to supplant [or usurp]”; “to construct and not to destroy”; “to obey and not to command”; “to propose and not to impose”; “to convince and not to conquer”; “to go down instead of up.”

Beyond this, the interviews in the text discuss problems with rival organizations in the region corresponding to Morelia such as ORCAO and OPPDIC, and it provides some history showing the necessity of direct JBG oversight of projects proposed by internationals and NGOs to be implemented in Zapatista communities. Moreover, with regard to the northern region affiliated with the Roberto Barrios caracol, the text specifies that economic donations from visitors often go toward expanding cattle-herds, in accordance with the wishes of base communities.

The second volume, Autonomous Government II, which Héctor, my teacher, and I examined on the Escuelita’s second day, gives details about the specific autonomous social projects implemented by the EZLN, especially health and education. Interviews with educational promoters specify the types of classes on offer at the ESRAZ (Escuela Secundaria Rebelde Autónoma Zapatista, or the Zapatista Rebellious Autonomous High School): languages (Spanish and indigenous), history, math, “life and environment,” and integration (on the EZLN’s 13 demands). In the La Realidad region at least, autonomous education programs are designed in consultation with students’ parents, who are asked what it is that should be preserved from standard public education approaches, and what should be added. With regard to autonomous health, the text specifies that EZLN health promoters have composed a list of 47 points for preventative health, that medical doctors assist in solidarity with health projects, and that the San José del Rio hospital had recently acquired an autoclave thanks to revenue from the 10% tax the JBG collects on all construction projects undertaken by community, corporation, or State in its territory.

In the northern zone of Chiapas, vaccines arrive every three months for Zapatista children, and the organization SADEC (Salud y Desarrollo Comunitario, or Communal Health and Development) assists with their administration; my teacher assured me that vaccines are regularly given to BAEZLN children in the zone of La Realidad as well. Furthermore, the second volume mentions various difficulties and successes experienced by the EZLN, both internally and externally: for example, the forced displacement prosecuted by federal forces of the Zapatista San Manuel community located in Montes Azules and the scarcity of land limiting the scope of collective projects to be taken in the highlands region corresponding to the Oventik caracol, or the exportation of Zapatista coffee to Italy, Greece, France, and Germany.


Zapatista School in the — Community with Anarcho-Ayndicalist Colors (Rojinegro)

This same day, my guardián, teacher, and I decided to begin study of volume three, Autonomous Resistance, as well. This collection of interviews provides great insight into neo-Zapatista culture and resistance, as well as relationships between BAEZLN and members of other organizations, particularly officialist grupos de choque (“shock groups”). Providing an interesting perspective on Zapatista child-rearing practices, one representative explained the various alternative cultural activities Zapatista communities offer to their youth so that they not fall into “ideologies of the government”: sports, poetry contests, and dance. Also in terms of cultural norms, another interviewed spokesperson notes the celebration of religious holidays to be more popular outside the ranks of the EZLN than inside it—a reflection of the organization’s secular orientation. A socio-cultural milestone for the EZLN, the first and only appearance of the neo-Zapatista air force is also described in this volume: to protest the military’s occupation in 1999 of Amador Hernández, a La Realidad MAREZ, local BAEZLN organized a mass-production of paper airplanes carrying subversive messages which were ceremoniously launched into the barracks of the soldiers upholding the occupation. The resistance to this occupation also took on the form of sit-ins, dance, and exhortative speech.

In addition, the third volume examines Zapatista diplomacy and relations with other organizations. The construction of water-irrigation projects with which many internationals involved themselves—as is described in Ramor Ryan’s Zapatista Spring: Anatomy of a Rebel Water Project (2011)—is mentioned as a sign of international cooperation and solidarity, while in contrast relations with local communities affiliated with the PRI (the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party) and ORCAO/OPPDIC (comprised in part by ex-BAEZLN) are shown to continue to be tense and problematic.

Indeed, it seems there is a true political competition going on between BAEZLN on the one hand and PRI militants on the other, with a number of respondents from the Morelia and La Garrucha regions expressing faith and pride that BAEZLN in many cases live better than their PRI counterparts, thanks to the organization’s reportedly consistent besting of the official system in health and educational outcomes—this despite the myriad social programs offered by the Chiapas state government, and the millions of pesos it spends on them. In universal (or galactical) terms, an education promoter from the Roberto Barrios region tells his interviewer that the neo-Zapatista struggle proceeds not only with the interests of BAEZLN in mind, but of all—tod@s.

The reading for the the third day was the fourth volume, Women’s Participation in Autonomous Government, perhaps the most interesting one of all—for it is testament to the patent conflict between Zapatista rhetoric and everyday life in this regard. From the La Realidad region, an ex-JBG member notes proudly that in neither organized religion nor in established political parties have women experienced the kind of participation that female BAEZLN have been allowed. A member from an autonomous council of the same zone claims the lot of Zapatista women to be better off than that of indigenous women in PRI communities, where high rates of alcohol and other drug abuse and sexual violence reportedly obtain.

Nonetheless, a great deal of tension between the end of women’s liberation and respect for established patriarchal custom can be readily detected in this volume on women’s involvement. For example, the 47 points on preventative health from La Realidad include one endorsing family planning, while health promoters affiliated with Morelia suggest to their female clients that they ideally try to leave a 5- or 6-year gap between each subsequent birth, all in accordance with article 3 of the Revolutionary Law on Women, which grants female BAEZLN the right to elect the number of children they will bear—yet sources from Oventik and Roberto Barrios note that it is precisely this law no. 3 which is being least observed in practice, given the strong opposition expressed by many male BAEZLN to the use of birth control methods.

Indeed, summarizing the results of a public discussion among BAEZLN in the Roberto Barrios region on women’s issues, one educational promoter reported the widespread opinion that women should not unilaterally decide on the question of number of children—thus expressing a popular repudiation of law no. 3! From La Garrucha, another educational promoter claims that women’s participation in her MAREZ is 2-3% of what it should be—that is, if I’m not mistaken, that >97% of female Zapatistas from that municipality opt out of taking on the charges passed to them through election. Sexual education would seem underdeveloped in the Roberto Barrios region, according to a Zapatista educator there, and in this zone marriage is common by 15 or 16 years of age, while in the Oventik region unmarried couples are apparently expected to ask permission from their parents to date—so that they avoid the “bad customs of the cities where lovers just get together without respecting their parents.”

In these terms, an interesting proposal from the base is that of the recommendations made in the Oventik zone in 1996 for an expanded Revolutionary Law on Women—a proposal that has yet to be adopted by the EZLN. While from volume IV it is unclear how this proposed expansion came about, and who precisely composed its articles, it in some ways reflects regression from the original Revolutionary Law: here, it is only married women who have the right to birth control, and this only to the extent to which agreement with male partners is achieved, while non-monogamous relationships are declared unacceptable: “it is prohibited and inappropriate that some member of the [Zapatista] community engage in romantic relations outside of the norms of the community and populace—that is to say, men and women are not allowed to have [sexual] relations if they are not married, because this brings as consequences the destruction of the family and a bad example before society.” In a similar vein, “arbitrary abandonment” and coupling with others while formally married are also tabooed in the articles of this recommended expansion. Whether such attitudes are representative of the thought of many or most female BAEZLN is unknown; however conservative such ideas may seem, it is also worth noting that 17 years have passed since their proposal.

Thus after finishing the last volume on women’s participation, the Escuelita in community had ended, and Héctor and I expressed our gratitude for the generosity showed by our maestro and his compañera (female partner) during the classes and our stay in the — community. We then met up with the other alumn@s (including Reyna) who had come together in the local assembly space and then departed for our hike to the access road at which we were to be picked up and returned by sand-trucks to La Realidad. Once the afternoon progressed into evening in the caracol, as more alumn@s continued arriving from other communities, the Zapatista teachers called us all back together once again for a final round of questions-and-answers, followed by the presentation of the Mexican and Zapatista flags and the singing of the anthems to State and EZLN, which in turn gave rise to more creative musical performances by the teachers and artistic interventions from alumn@s. I will confess that I cried for Sup Pedro when the maestr@s sang about this “simple” and “decent” man from Michoacán, born to a beautiful mother and killed in insurrection.

After the conclusion of the participatory cultural event, it was announced that all those desiring to return to San Cristóbal would be leaving in a caravan departing before dusk the next morning. Then the night was ceded to a large dance on the basketball court, as animated by a sustained series of ludic perfomances on marimba played by male BAEZLN of differing generations.

Fin de Año in Oventik


Presentation of Zapatista flag, 31 December 2013

Upon returning to San Cristóbal, I was already greatly missing Héctor; I hope we will stay in touch. I considered which of the 5 caracoles to visit for the New Year’s celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the armed uprising and launched myself to Oventik, the closest to San Cristóbal. After being admitted into the foggy caracol with a crowd of other visitors shortly after arriving, I placed my belongings in one of the classrooms of the escuela autónoma, as a new friend had just recommended to me, and we then made our way to the basketball court where live music was being played under a roof, protected from the rain. Standing on stage alongside Zapatista authorities and BAEZLN, the performers included highland indigenous musicians and conscious freestyle rappers from Mexico City, among others.

At a certain point in the evening, as the rain continued, the assembled Zapatistas performed a “political act” involving the marching presentation of the Mexican and EZLN flags and the public reading of the Revolutionary Indigenous Clandestine Committee’s (CCRI) declaration on the event of the twentieth anniversary of the neo-Zapatista insurrection, as performed by a Comandanta. The text was subsequently read in Tsotsil and Tseltal translations—with these being two indigenous languages spoken in the highlands region in which Oventik finds itself. In the Tsotsil translation, the word kux’lejal (“bodily pain”) could be heard uttered several times.

At the end of this “act,” with the retiring of the Mexican and Zapatista flags, representatives of the EZLN wished all those assembled in the caracol a happy new year, and they particularly wished all Zapatistas a joyful twentieth anniversary for their resort to arms. Similarly to the case in La Realidad just days before, the remaining hours of 2013 and the first several hours of 2014 in Oventik were celebrated with several hours of cumbia rebelde, during which the basketball court was full with dancers, Zapatistas and their well-wishers together. Also present at the cumbia were organizers of the Climate Caravan through Latin America (Caravana Climática por América Latina), who sought to connect the assembled dancing rebels with this compelling initiative from below to combine direct action and information-gathering activities in resistance to unchecked ecocidal trends.


Entrance to Oventik caracol, 1 January 2014

Questions, Critique, and the Future

There can be no doubt that the BAEZLN have been truly impressive in their efforts to “conquer liberty” and extend the cause of autonomy in the 20 years since their declaration of war against capitalism and the Mexican State. Nonetheless, it would contradict the spirit of critique and autonomy not to raise questions and concerns regarding different facets of the Zapatista movement. For one, what is the political model the EZLN is pursuing? As against the original demand for independence made in 1994, this model is not that of formal statehood—as is made, for example, in the Palestinian case—but rather that of developing the new society within the shell of the old. In his Developing Zapatista Autonomy (2009), German anthropologist Niels Barmeyer argues that the Zapatista example advances the creation of a counter-state to the official one presided over by the Mexican government (el mal gobierno).

Contemplation of the various details provided in the four volumes of text assigned to alumn@s of the Escuelita would seem to confirm this diagnosis, from consideration of the Good-Government Councils (as counterposed to the bad government) to the Zapatistas’ alternative health and education systems. As Barmeyer notes, moreover, the EZLN provides protection to its members, even if the organization does not necessarily exercise a monopoly on “legitimate” use of force in the territories of its influence.1 Nonetheless, if the overall claim is true—that the Zapatistas really desire a State, or that the nature of their principles of self-government effectively express their wish for such, as an anarchist confided in me at the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City a year and a half ago—one must then interrogate the attraction the Zapatistas have represented for libertarian socialists and anti-authoritarians the world over these past 20 years.

Clearly, the 1 January 1994 insurrection has proven seminal for the adoption of the Black Bloc tactic all over the globe, while the indigenous character of the movement and the radical humanism expressed by its principal spokesperson—Sup Marcos—have enlivened and illuminated the radical imaginations and hopes of millions of observers. But what do anarchists have to say about the processes of socio-political autonomy undertaken by the EZLN since January 1994? Are they too similar to State institutions, or are they sufficiently distinct? Is it just a matter of “contradict[ing] the system while you are in it until it’s transformed into a new system,” as Huey P. Newton observed with reference to the “survival programs” the Black Panther Party implemented in the late 1960′s, “pending revolution”?2

How are outsiders, especially internationals, to engage with the persistence of authoritarian and inegalitarian attitudes toward women in social movements putatively based on the principles of “democracy, justice, and freedom” with which they express solidarity—despite the relative improvements seen in these terms over time? Can it justly be said that feminist perspectives are simply irrelevant if they are held by those who do not pass the course of their lives within a given movement? If it were to be affirmed, the principle underlying this second question would betray a cultural nationalism and relativism of sorts, one which undermines internationalism and global notions of solidarity. It would also effectively trivialize the disappointment expressed from the start by many Mexican feminists at the perpetuation of patriarchy within the EZLN—and, indeed, paper over the absurd expulsion of COLEM (el Colectivo de Mujeres, or the Women’s Collective, from San Cristóbal) from Zapatista territory on the charge that its feminist organizing threatened to “incite a gender war”!3

Conceptually, the idea of “autonomy” cannot immediately tell us which of the conflicting principles is to be held superior: in the first place, autonomy likely should presume substantive freedom for all as a precondition of its existence, yet in practice it is taken to mean the outcome of popular self-determination, as opposed to Statist or capitalist imposition. Such tensions clearly exist in appraising Zapatismo, especially with regard to the situations faced by female and non-heterosexual BAEZLN. A similar critical line of thinking could also bring to light the extensive deforestation which Zapatista communities have produced through their “autonomous” desire to raise cattle en masse in jungle environments, or it could criticize the Zapatistas’s drinking and selling of Coca-Cola and their generally non-vegetarian lifestyles—or at least the ambivalence Marcos expresses as regards the prospect of even discussing this latter point, for he declares vegetarian tactics of moral suasion to be an imposition to be disobeyed. As Mickey Z. Vegan could be expected to point out, the collective Zapatista butcher-shop from the Roberto Barrios region mentioned in volume III may not be the most liberating project to engage in, for either BAEZLN workers or the beasts themselves.

Thus, in spite the issues I have observed and the doubts they produce in me, I consider the EZLN nothing less than a world-historical revolutionary movement, one which has played a critical role in inspiring and spurring on the multitudinous activist militancy seen throughout much of the world following the self-implosion of the Soviet Union—a militancy which radically seeks the abolition of those power-groups which threaten the entire Earth with social and environmental catastrophe. I also believe that the EZLN’s struggle has much more to offer the world still—given that the Zapatistas had originally sought to incite other Mexican revolutionary groups to join them in insurrection in 1994, and in light of the continued strength of the capitalist monster against which the BAEZLN revolted—no matter how optimistic Marcos’s declaration last year on the occasion of the new Baktun and the silent Zapatista occupation of the townships the EZLN had taken in 1994, that the world of those from above is “collapsing.”

However, I do agree with Sup Marcos that the world of those from below is resurging. Hence was I very glad to have been able to attend the first course of the Escuelita and to celebrate the twenty years since the Zapatista insurrection together with them. I wish the BAEZLN the very best for this year, and the next 20 as well. ¡Zapata vive!

Javier Sethness Castro is a translator and author of two books who worked as a human-rights observer in Chiapas and Oaxaca during 2010. His current project is to complete a political and intellectual biography of Herbert Marcuse. Visit his blog on libertarian eco-socialism here.


1) Niels Barmeyer, Developing Zapatista Autonomy: Conflict and NGO Involvement in Rebel Chiapas (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2009), 5, 214.

2) Cited in Alondra Nelson, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 63.

3) Barmeyer 99-100, 206.


January 24, 2014

At anniversary of Zapatista uprising, rebellion belongs to all

Filed under: Zapatista — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 7:28 pm

Zapatista 20th Anniversary


At anniversary of Zapatista uprising, rebellion belongs to all

Marta Molina

ezln photo1
Thousands of people flocked to Oventic, one of the Zapatistas’ five political centers, to celebrate the new year and the 20-year anniversary of the armed uprising. (WNV/Moysés Zúñiga Santiago)We were in the Los Altos mountains in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. It was cold, foggy, and there was a light drizzle, making it nearly impossible to discern what was just a few meters away. Long lines of people appeared with backpacks and camping gear, waiting to enter Oventic, the headquarters of one of the Zapatistas’ five main communities, known as caracoles, or “snails” in Spanish. This caracol is titled “Resistance and Rebellion for Humanity.”

On December 31, 2013, the Good Government Council of Oventic received people from the surrounding indigenous Tzotzil and Tzeltal communitiesas well as those who came from other corners of Mexico and the world, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Zapatistas’ armed uprising on January 1, 1994.

Out of the five Zapatista caracoles, Oventic is the closest to the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, the cultural center of Chiapas. It serves as the meetings place for many international visitors and for those who come to celebrate the new year in solidarity with the Zapatista movement. Yet, unlike most years, Oventic was overflowing with visitors. Not only was it the 20th anniversary of the armed uprising, but thousands of students attending the second and third rounds of the escuelita, the little school of liberty, had recently arrived in Zapatista territory.

It was a joyful celebration, full of rebellion and color, in spite of the fog’s attempt to hide the lively murals on the walls of Zapatista offices or the rainbow of colors on the traditional Tzeltal hats. The musical group Los Originales de San Andrés began to play on stage as night fell, their revolutionary ballads tracing the past and present of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, known as the EZLN.

This narrative ballad style, called corridos, has a long history in Mexico. It is perhaps the best format for telling the story of the Zapatista struggle: from the organization’s inception on November 17, 1983, to the 1994 uprising and occupation of five Chiapas municipal government offices, all the way through the bloodiest battles, such as battle of Ocosingo, and the sad, widely-mourned death of Subcomandante Pedro, one of the movement’s leaders. The lyrics to their songs also explain how the Good Government Councils began 10 years ago and how they are organized today.

EZLN photo 2

Zapatista bands performed at the 20-year anniversary of the armed uprising. (WNV/Marta Molina)

The last two songs performed by Los Originales were dedicated to the 20 years of devastation and displacement caused by the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was signed by Mexico, the United States and Canada on January 1, 1994, at the behest of transnational corporations.

“They should go, once and for all!” Los Originales cried. “And those who are here,” they said, referring to the Zapatistas, “They should stay.”

The celebration continued joyfully with dancing and music. As the Zapatista leadership expressed in a recent communique, “Resistance, friends and enemies, is not only the legacy of the neozapatistas. It is the legacy of humanity. And that is something that must be celebrated, everywhere, every day, and at all hours. Because resistance is also a celebration.”

A little before 9 p.m., those on stage announced the entrance of the Mexican and Zapatista flags so that those present could pay homage. An equal number of Zapatista men and women participated in the ceremony, singing first the Mexican national anthem and then the Zapatista anthem. Next came the highlight of the evening: Comandanta Hortensia, a woman of small stature but with a potent, confident and energetic voice, read a communique on behalf of the Zapatista leadership. It explained, in Spanish, that although indigenous peoples were “forgotten, suppressed into ignorance and misery … 20 years ago, we made it known, before the nation and the world, that we exist, that we are here.”

The uprising

On January 1, 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation rose up in arms against the Mexican government, at the time headed by Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and against an unjust, neoliberal social system.

In the EZLN’s first First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle in 1993, the army’s general command wrote, ”In accordance with this declaration of war, we ask the other powers of the nation to come together to restore legitimacy and stability to the nation by deposing the dictator.”

While those in power toasted to the promises of modernity and the enactment of the North America Free Trade Agreement, on January 1, 1994, the Zapatistas launched a 12-day armed insurrection against the Mexican army. The demands of these indigenous Mayan communities were no less than a new world with work, land, housing, food, health, education, independence, liberty, democracy, justice and peace. Their objective was to to attain these basic demands with a free and democratic government.

Working towards autonomy

Although the EZLN issued a communique saying that mass media journalists would not be welcome at the festivities, they arrived anyway, ready to evaluate the Zapatistas’ advances and shortcomings and to photograph the faces covered by ski masks or bandanas.

The organization has been judged and analyzed by myriad commercial media sources in Mexico. Despite never having spent a significant amount of time with them and not having followed their trajectory over the decades, the media has published long specials and supplements about their achievements and their errors, pulling out archived photos and old interviews with the so-called spokesperson of the organization, Subcomandante Marcos. Some outlets even featured interviews with his supposed girlfriends.

However, it isn’t easy to capture the essence of this movement, which is one of the reasons that they began inviting thousands of outsiders to the escuelita so the world could witness the movement’s progress unmediated by mainstream media. At the new year’s celebration, the Zapatistas continued to tell their own vision of this nuanced history — their story, their errors and their lives and deaths — through the voice of Comandante Hortensia.

“Twenty years ago we didn’t have anything, no health or education services for our communities,” she began. “No community could elect its own authorities without these officials being recognized or controlled by political parties. No community could impeach their authorities when they did not meet their obligations, or when they became corrupt and manipulative, because they were backed by the state and federal governments. There was not a single level of authority that was truly there to serve the people.”

Today, 20 years later, Zapatista communities have their own autonomous governments at the local, municipal and regional levels, and the community has no interaction with the official Mexican government. “Whether it’s done well or badly, the government represents the decision and the will of the people to choose their own authorities and to take away their authority when necessary,” she added.

During her speech on behalf of the Zapatista leadership, Hortensia highlighted the organization’s achievements. One of the most important: The community has begun to live its own version of autonomy and liberty. “This is the building of our own autonomy, this is democracy, liberty, equality, and justice in action, and it continues on its path and nothing can stop it,” she said.

The elders have been sharing their knowledge and experiences with the younger generations in order to prepare them to both resist and govern. Much remains to be done, said Hortensia, “but we are sure that [our struggle] will advance, because it is based upon true democracy, liberty and justice.”

The war continues

One January 12, 1994, the Mexican government declared a unilateral ceasefire in Chiapas as a first step towards peace negotiations. The EZLN agreed to participate in the negotiations, but its conditions and demands were never met by the Mexican government. Instead, the organization set out to meet its needs on its own, and began building autonomous programs to fulfill their demands.

Meanwhile, the army and the paramilitaries never left the state of Chiapas. Even today, these forces continue a fierce secret war of counterinsurgency. In spite of the ceasefire declared in 1994, which the EZLN has honored, the Mexican government has instead sought to eliminate and intimidate the communities that act as the base of support for the EZLN. As Hortensia recounted on new year’s, the government’s paramilitaries and politicians have harassed, provoked, displaced, threatened, and robbed the EZLN’s bases of support. Today, the government is trying to force the Zapatistas off the lands they recuperated from plantation owner and cattle ranchers during the uprising in 1994, and those who resist displacement are sometimes jailed and even murdered for defending themselves.

The Zapatistas have resisted these attacks without using their weapons. As Comandante Hortensia explained, “We have the best weapons to fight against that which is bad, to fight death and build a new life for all: Our weapons are resistance, rebellion, truth, justice, and reason, all of which are on our side.”

To enrich and strengthen their resistance and autonomy, the Zapatistas have invited three rounds of students for the first level of the escuelita. In total, approximately 6,700 people from all over the world have come and spent five days living with Zapatista families, sharing their homes, listening to their stories and experiencing their autonomy.

What is to come

The Zapatistas know that the government will continue to attack their movement.

“We are clear that these bad governments will continue spending millions of dollars to finance war, to continue their counterinsurgency programs with the objective of destroying the resistance of the Zapatista communities,” Hortensia said. “That’s why every presidential administration our state and country are falling further into debt — because they are financing a war against indigenous peoples and against all of the social sectors that fight to defend their rights and improve the conditions of their lives.”

But, the movement is also confident that it is supported by people across the world who agree with, and want to further, this vision of autonomy. The Zapatistas are convinced that there are thousands of men and women, children and adults, representing all races, languages, levels of society and cultures throughout the world who are ready and willing to fight for a better world wherein many worlds are possible, where liberty reigns, and justice is a right for all.

And now, more than 20 years after first launching onto the global stage, the Zapatistas are continuing to work towards this goal, autonomously, without depending on the government.


January 22, 2014

Mesoamérica Resiste! The Beehive Collective: Building Solidarity through Storytelling and Art

Filed under: Zapatista — Tags: , , , , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 6:31 pm

Zapatista 20th Anniversary


Mesoamérica Resiste! The Beehive Collective: Building Solidarity through Storytelling and Art

Written by Brendan O’Boyle
Source: The Argentina IndependentJust a few weeks ago, Mandy Skinner was ringing in the new year in the foggy, muddy town of Oventic, Mexico, a community located in the heart of the country’s rural, southern state of Chiapas. Mandy had reached Oventic, travelling from Austin, Texas, and arriving in time to celebrate not only the new year, but also, more importantly, the 20th anniversary of the revolutionary 1994 Zapatista uprising in Chiapas.

Mandy made the journey with fellow members of the Beehive Design Collective, a self-described “art activism collective” based in the north-eastern United States and with connections throughout the Americas. The collective produces intricate portable murals and posters, which Mandy describes as “huge cartoons that tell stories” about complex issues, connecting environmental and social challenges with ongoing socio-political processes.

Members of an indigenous, Zapatista community in Chiapas, Mexico, look at a banner displaying the Beehive Design Collective’s Mesoamérica Resiste graphic. (Photo Courtesy of the Beehive Design Collective)

Members of an indigenous, Zapatista community in Chiapas, Mexico, look at a banner displaying the Beehive Design Collective’s Mesoamérica Resiste graphic. (Photo courtesy of the Beehive Design Collective)

For Mandy and her fellow “bees”, spending New Years in Oventic was a full-circle experience. The three of them were delivering copies of their latest completed graphic, entitled ‘Mesoamérica Resiste’, a project that began in Chiapas ten years earlier at the Zapatista’s tenth anniversary. The 1994 uprising rewrote the narrative of globalisation when Zapatista communities took up arms to resist the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in their territories.

The Beehive Collective’s Mesoamérica Resiste graphic, which tells the story of such resistance, was first envisioned in 2004 when an initial team of “bees” made a research trip through Mexico and Central America – a journey that took them to Chiapas. It was here that they heard from the indigenous communities in Zapatista territory about the dangers of a regional development plan, the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP). The PPP, which was later re-branded as Project Mesoamérica, included large scale transportation, energy, and communications infrastructure which Mandy says would “literally pave the way” for free trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA.

The year before, in 2003, Mandy was studying in Mexico at the height of the organising against the PPP, which had been announced two years earlier. It was in Mexico that Mandy learned the dangers of the PPP and the destructive infrastructure and transportation projects associated with it.

Mandy returned to the US unsure of how she could take part in the mounting resistance to the PPP. It just so happened, however, that one of the Beehive Collective’s touring teams of educators was passing through her town. When Mandy learned that the group was in the early stages of planning a PPP graphic and subsequent education campaign, she knew she had to become involved.

“I thought, ‘This is what I want to do with my life right now – getting this poster out in the world that will share these stories that I just learned so much about while in Mexico’,” reflects Mandy.

Later that summer, Mandy headed to the Beehive Collective’s home in rural Maine, where she remembers seeing the first drafts of what would slowly, but surely, become the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic. She began touring as a Beehive educator, giving presentations using other Beehive graphics and splitting her time between travelling and working in Maine.


Above is an example of just one section of the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic. The Beehive Design Collective describes it: “A giant swarm of ants…working tirelessly…embody the phrase, la revolución es el trabajo de las hormigas (the revolution is ant’s work)… Their collective work…reminds us that together, we can create tremendous changes in the world around us. Some of the ants carry messages from Indigenous communities in southern Mexico who have been slowly and steadily building autonomy for several decades. These sayings are Zapatista principles: “work from below, without seeking to rise to power”; “walk by asking questions”. Each ant is a different species, reminding us that the beauty of the world lies in its diversity… “we are the same because we are different”; “a world where many worlds fit”.

After nearly a decade of stops and starts, the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic was recently finished and is in the distribution process due largely to an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign this past December. The campaign, which asked for donations to cover printing and distribution expenses, raised US$118,000 from nearly 3,000 backers – more than three times its goal of US$36,000.

“It’s been years of anticipating the moment where we are be able to bring the graphic to communities that are actively organising and facing these issues, whose stories are in the graphic,” Mandy tells me of the excitement in finally being able to take the graphic to Mexico.

Mesoamérica Resiste was conceived as part of a trilogy of graphics that began with two previous graphics, one about the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas in 2001 and the other on the Plan Colombia agreement in 2002.

“The three plans, the FTAA, Plan Colombia, and the Plan Puebla Panama, were all very important aspects of neoliberalism, free trade policies, and militarisation,” says Mandy. The trilogy, which is now complete, is tied together by “a focus on Latin American solidarity and the big picture of free trade and globalisation on the continent.”

A detail of the Mesoamerica Resiste graphic, depicting 500 years since the Spanish 'discovery' of the Americas. Photo courtesy of the Beehive Collective.

A detail of the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic, depicting 500 years since the Spanish ‘discovery’ of the Americas. (Image courtesy of the Beehive Design Collective)

While the first two graphics were completed relatively quickly, Mesoamérica Resiste’s completion was never guaranteed, Mandy tells me.

“There were definitely times we thought the poster would never be finished,” Mandy says. “It was on its own timeline. Any timeline we tried to set for it never worked. It had a life of its own.”

The massive, detailed graphic was reworked numerous times, and even had to be re-sketched onto larger sheets of paper, delaying the process. The Collective’s reliance on voluntary labour did not help speed things up, though Mandy believes that the reliance on a diversity of partnerships is what made the graphic possible.

“We counted that, at different points, 26 collective members had worked to create the graphic, including 13 illustrators,” Mandy says. “However, that’s kind of a misleading number because we really worked with hundreds of people and talked to so many people over the years, down to really specific references for a specific species of ant or a plant species that we needed feedback on how to draw. There are so many collaborators, roles, and skills that go into making a graphic like this.”

The graphic will now be printed onto posters and fabric banners that touring teams of “bees” will use to educate others on the historic and modern realities of globalisation.

One current development that Beehive educators are using Mesoamérica Resiste to bring up is the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an Asian-Pacific free trade agreement that, if signed, would become the largest international trade agreement since the creation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1995.

“This fall and winter we’ve been making connections to the TPP and generally using the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic as a way to bring up the TPP and tell people that this is the next massive free trade agreement on the table and is part of the same story our graphics are telling.”

Mandy also talked about some of the ways the Collective’s artistic approaches parallel its education strategy.

“A mural puts many stories on one surface or page and, as educators, we connect the dots. We are able to zoom into the little picture or on local stories and then show the big picture as well.”

A detail of the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic, depicting a community assembly. (Image courtesy of the Beehive Design Collective).

A detail of the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic, depicting a community assembly. (Image courtesy of the Beehive Design Collective)

Looking at the Beehive Collective’s graphics, one sees a collection of lived experiences illustrated without the actual inclusion of people. In an effort to blur the division between human society and natural ecology, the Collective’s illustrators only depict animals, plants, and insects endemic to the communities they are depicting. This helps achieve what Mandy describes as “a storybook or fable style of telling stories”.

“Kids really connect to it and get it right away,” Mandy says. “They’re used to reading storybooks that are full of animals, but sometimes grown ups just don’t get it right away.”

The way the Beehive Collective releases their work is also very intentional and in line with their goals. Each one of the Collective’s graphics, whether those in the globalisation trilogy or their large-scale piece on mountain-top removal, is released under Creative Commons and is free of any copyright restrictions. Mandy says this is integral to the Beehive Collective’s mission.

“Everything we do is very collaborative, and we credit everything to the collective, and I think that definitely models the world we want to live in. Also, in terms of the art world, we do that to take the focus away from any individual artist and to put the focus on the collective process,” Mandy says. “All of our projects are collaborations with frontline communities and organisations that are organising around the issues we’re depicting.”

These moments of cross-border, cross-cultural connection are how the Beehive Collective lives out its model of “cross-pollinating the grassroots”.

Carefully working to maintain a balance between its local and global work, perhaps the Beehive Design Collective’s greatest strength is its ability to use society’s most traditional forms of art and storytelling to create innovative networks of solidarity and resistance, redefining what community and activism has come to look like in our complex, globalised world.

For more information on the Beehive Design Collective, visit their website:


January 21, 2014

Mexico’s Zapatista movement transforming lives 20 years on

Filed under: Zapatista — Tags: , , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 7:12 pm

Zapatista 20th Anniversary

Mexico’s Zapatista movement transforming lives 20 years on

Michael McCaughan,

Irish Times, January 14, 2014

Outsiders are invited to visit and see how local autonomy works in practice

Marcelo and Maria, Michael McCaughan’s  hosts at the Zapatista village of Moises Gandhi, with their youngest two children, outside their home. The ski masks are worn as the Zapatistas still remain officially outside the law. Photograph:  Sergio Chua




Marcelo and Maria, Michael McCaughan’s  hosts at the Zapatista village of Moises Gandhi, with their youngest two children, outside their home. The ski masks are worn as the Zapatistas still remain officially outside the law. Photograph:  Sergio Chua

On January 1st, 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) launched an uprising in southeast Mexico, demanding land, democracy and freedom.

The Mexican army responded with bombs and bullets until a series of mass rallies forced then president Carlos Salinas to call a ceasefire. The pipe- smoking rebel spokesman, Subcomandante Marcos, became a global celebrity, his witty missives shifting public opinion in favour of the movement.

The negotiations that followed produced the San Andres accord of 1996, which granted autonomy to rebel villages.

In a historic address to parliament in 2001 EZLN Commander Esther urged deputies to approve autonomy legislation, but Mexico’s political parties diluted the agreement previously signed by the government. The rebels retreated into silence, vowing to construct autonomy on their own.

In 2003 the Zapatistas launched five regional headquarters, covering an area almost the size of the Irish republic. Known as Caracoles (a snail or conch shell, used to summon the community), they represent a political process without a manual. Each Caracol has aJunta de Buen Gobierno, (good government junta), which resolves legal disputes, land registration, births, deaths and marriages and tackles five development goals: health, education, agro-ecology, politics and information technology.

Little school

Last year the rebels announced the launch of the “escuelita”, or little school, an invitation to visit rebel territory and get a first-hand look at the autonomy process. The cost of the five-day programme, which included text books, transport, food and lodgings, was €20.

On Christmas Day I found myself carrying a backpack into the Zapatista village of Moises Gandhi, alongside my Votan, a Tzeltal guardian from a distant village, appointed to take care of me. David (23) wore a silver chain and leather jacket, buzz haircut and a ready smile.

He joined the movement at 13, picking up responsibilities along the way. He is currently administrator of the regional Zapatista coffee co-operative, handling emails and money transfers for shipments of coffee to Germany. The rebel project is collective in nature but allows each individual to make the most of their own initiative.

The income from David’s own coffee crop allowed him to buy a dozen pigs last year. My guardian took his duties seriously and each evening prepared notes for his final report. My job was to share in the life and work of the community and study the text books. The 1,500 pupils included teachers and anarchists, home-makers and carpenters.

As we approached the basketball court the entire village (57 families) had lined up to greet us, violins and an accordion striking up Las Mananitas, a traditional song of welcome.

Our names were called out and a villager came forward to claim me; Marcelo took my bag and trudged up a muddy pathway to his home. We arrived at a wooden shack with a few chairs and an open fire where boiling pots signalled dinner ahead. Maria awaited with the family’s six kids, aged two months to 15 years. David and myself shared a small room, sleeping on wooden slats, a blanket each to ward off the cold. We were summoned to the kitchen for beans, tortillas and coffee.

King of the jungle

At 6am the next morning Marcelo woke me up and after another ration of coffee and beans we headed off to work, machete in hand. This work tool is the king of the jungle, used for cutting, clearing, planting and building.

My family, like the others, farmed a small allotment, or milpa, planting coffee, beans and corn. They also had chickens of their own along with a share in the village cattle. The latter served as emergency cash in times of crisis or a shared feast in times of celebration.

Michael McCaughan and his “votan”, or guadian, David, in front of the dental clinic in Moises Gandhi. Photograph: Sergio ChuaMichael McCaughan and his “votan”, or guadian, David, in front of the dental clinic in Moises Gandhi. Photograph: Sergio Chua

David walked beside me, urging me to be careful as we headed out to clear weeds on land where the cattle graze. After an hour spent swinging at the bush, my hand bleeding, David discreetly took the machete and effortlessly eliminated every unwanted plant. The daily tasks are divided along gender lines, with women in charge of the home and men in charge of the milpa. Marcelo and Maria’s home was remarkable in that, apart from light bulbs, there wasn’t a single electronic device: no cooker, fridge, TV, computer, radio or phone.

Each afternoon I spent time reading my books, written by the same indigenous men and women, outlining their experiences of self-rule. The anecdotes offered an insight into a project where “everyone is the government” as community assemblies pick candidates, pool resources and rotate representatives, putting an end to the notion of career politicians.

Each representative spends two weeks at a time in the Caracol, while family and friends mind their cornfield at home. No one is paid for their work on behalf of the community, which is part of a shared responsibility. Money is regarded as problematic and divisive and financial transactions are reduced to the absolute minimum.

The days followed in quick succession as we visited the primary and secondary schools where local teachers educate children in their native Tzeltal tongue. At the health clinic we met a dozen workers who combine antibiotics with homeopathy, while a fully kitted out dentist’s clinic is open 12 hours per day. Attention is free but medicines must be paid for.
Constant challenges

None of the jobs bring a salary but volunteers spoke of their pride in serving their people. The autonomy project faces constant challenges, notably government welfare programmes that offer cash and building materials to those who abandon the rebel ranks.

The Zapatista population ebbs and flows, but while some villages lose members, others take up the challenge, and I observed seven new autonomous communities that had sprung up since my last visit in 2008.

There was a sense of wellbeing and harmony in Moises Gandhi that contrasted sharply with the stressful lives of my peers in Ireland. Come early afternoon Marcelo and Maria settled down in their kitchen, one child in a hammock, gently rocking, another infant napping happily in his father’s arms.
No crime, no fear
The sound is of contented laughter and low tones of idle conversation. There is no crime and no fear, the armed rebels project a sufficient barrier to the drug gangs that have turned large swathes of Mexico into a bloody war zone. Alcohol and other drugs are prohibited while women enjoy, in theory at least, 50 per cent of jobs in the autonomous government.

As I hugged David and said farewell, I asked him how we might keep in contact. He had no phone number, no email address, not even a street address, as the rebels remain outside the postal system. Instead he gave me the name of his village. “Everyone knows me there,” he said, as I contemplated the strangest of beings; a man without an online life or a street address, with no bills or mortgage to pay, happy with his life, and apparently secure in his future.


January 17, 2014

The political significance of Zapatismo

Filed under: Zapatista — Tags: — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 8:44 pm


Zapatista 20th Anniversary

The political significance of Zapatismo

Neil Harvey

EZLN 13-7In early August 1994 the Zapatistas held the first National Democratic Convention in the rebel community of Guadalupe Tepeyac, site of the political and cultural centre known as Aguascalientes, deep in the Lacandón jungle of Chiapas. I recall how a great storm hit the place and turned everything into a huge mud-bath. But more importantly, I remember the procession, before the storm, of the Zapatista support bases that seemed endless due the large number of men, women and children who marched carrying rifles with white ribbons attached, as symbols of the peaceful commitment of a movement that had rejected the dominant idea that there was no alternative to neoliberal globalization.

Twenty years after the rebellion, we can say that, against the current, the Zapatistas have maintained this peaceful struggle to create other forms of living and thinking. Today, they continue to defy a Mexican political system, which, despite changes in the parties that hold power, conserves many elements of the authoritarianism that existed prior to 1994.

We can address the political significance of Zapatismo from two perspectives: one that concerns its interactions with the existing political structures and one that focuses on the construction of autonomous forms of government where alternatives created by the communities themselves are practiced. The Zapatistas have made contributions in both senses and at the same time have encountered problems that they have had to overcome. In this regard, Zapatismo shares with indigenous movements in Latin America the problem of how to change the national political system while simultaneously maintaining autonomous spaces in which the right to difference is respected.

Before discussing these two aspects of Zapatismo, we should remember some of the conditions that existed prior to the rebellion, particularly three forms of authoritarianism that existed in Chiapas in the 1970s and 1980s: corporatism, clientelism and caciquismo. Corporatism was characterized by the control that the governments of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) held over peasant organizations, which did not allow communities to express their interests or dissent outside the existing channels. This type of control was reflected in impunity for acts of corruption and a slow response to many land petitions. Corporatism represented the interests of the government, not the peasants, and as long as the PRI continued to control this form of political mediation, it was unlikely that solutions would be given to the many demands of peasants and land claimants.

Clientelism allowed government agencies and the dominant party to divide and control communities by giving some material benefits to certain groups in exchange for their political support, especially at election time. The manipulation of clients by their patrons avoided the emergence of large opposition movements and in this way contributed to the reproduction of an authoritarian political system.

Caciquismo was the third element of control, based on the regional power of dominant families who combined clientelism with the use of force against their opponents. Amnesty International denounced the impunity for acts of repression by caciques or government authorities in a report by in 1984, ten years before the Zapatista rebellion.

ImageProxyThese forms of control were challenged in the 1980s when several independent social movements emerged in Chiapas. Through peaceful means and accompanied by members of the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, these organisations tried to free themselves from the PRI’s corporatist control, rejected clientelism by demanding their rights, and denounced in marches and demonstrations the growing wave of repression against their leaders and supporters.

Repression, the lack of response to old and new land petitions and the government’s indifference to the negative consequences of its neoliberal policies are factors that explain the decision of thousands of indigenous people to support the armed rebellion. The Zapatista uprising on January 1, 1994 expressed this accumulation of dissent that had crashed against a wall of intransigence and authoritarianism. The rebellion opened up a new horizon in which it was possible to propose, along with broad sectors of civil society, deep reforms of the state and the full recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples, not only in Chiapas, but in the whole country.

After the initial fighting between the government and Zapatista forces, the two sides participated in a dialogue which, among other things, allowed for closer interactions between the Zapatistas and different groups and members of civil society who participated in peace cordons, solidarity caravans, peace camps and other initiatives. In this context, the Zapatistas sought to intervene in political life, accepting dialogue with the government as a way to achieve solutions through peaceful means.

However, for the Zapatistas, the results of the dialogue were not positive. The minimal agreements on indigenous rights and cultures, signed by both delegations in February 1996 (known as the San Andrés Accords), represented the possibility for a real transformation of the Mexican political system by modifying the Constitution to include the right of indigenous peoples to exercise autonomy. It was a moment of much hope, which was dashed not long after when the government of then President Ernesto Zedillo refused to send the accords to Congress for incorporation into the Constitution.

In other Latin American countries, indigenous movements had the chance to insert their own demands in the debates of new constituent assemblies (for example, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia). In contrast to these experiences, the political transition in Mexico has been limited to the electoral arena, allowing greater alternation of power between the main parties, but without tackling problems of impunity, corruption and discrimination. The Zapatistas once again insisted on the need for constitutional reforms when the National Action Party (PAN) candidate, Vicente Fox, won the presidency in 2000, but Congress manipulated and modified the content of the San Andrés Accords and approved a watered-down law that reproduces the state’s paternalistic approach towards indigenous peoples.

Although the Zapatistas were unable to change state institutions, they have created new forms of politics within indigenous communities in Chiapas. At the same time, they have made new contributions for rethinking politics that have resonated among many sympathizers in Mexico and other countries. As mentioned above, one of the unforeseen consequences of the rebellion was the solidarity from civil society groups nationally and internationally. For these groups, Zapatismo represented something new, an alternative to neoliberalism that does not seek to take power in the way that previous armed movements had sought, but a movement that poses the question of power in a different way.

The central issue is not who exercises power, but how power is exercised. In rejecting corporatism, clientelism and caciquismo, the Zapatistas are questioning not only a political party, but all those who see politics as a way for some to dominate others. For the Zapatistas, breaking with these forms of politics has been essential in their struggle for freedom. In practice, this struggle is based on the construction of autonomous governments at three levels: the local community, the municipality and the wider region or zone.

80230005The Zapatistas propose that it is possible to organise without falling in to the authoritarian tendencies of the political parties and the government. To achieve this, the principle of “governing by obeying” seeks to create a relationship of greater commitment and responsibility of the Zapatista authorities towards their own communities. Through decisions of community assemblies, the people who occupy positions in the autonomous governments can be removed if they are not fulfilling their obligations. The frequent rotation of authorities allows more people to have the opportunity to participate in commissions and posts, although it also produces problems due to lack of experience in these tasks.

It is a challenge that the Zapatistas themselves recognise. For example, during the first “Escuelita Zapatista” in August 2013, several Zapatistas said that for them there is no guide or model that they can follow. The only thing they know is what they learn in the work itself, correcting mistakes and looking for solutions with everyone’s participation. For them, autonomy is a process that is built in practice and its form can be modified over time.

Although the Zapatistas are attempting to build their own forms of government, this does not mean that they seek to isolate themselves from the rest of the society and retreat to a closed life in their communities. On the contrary, during the past twenty years the Zapatistas have convened many meetings with individuals and groups from Mexico and internationally with the goal of sharing their experiences of their struggles and ways of doing politics. In fact, autonomy could enrich national political life by furthering respect for diversity and the capacity to create new forms of government more in tune with the country’s cultural heterogeneity. In this sense, we can think of autonomy not as a break with the nation, but as a mechanism of inclusion in a reconstituted nation, one that leaves behind discrimination and marginalisation of indigenous peoples.

In facing the encroachments of neoliberal globalisation, counter-insurgency actions and the government’s refusal to respect the San Andrés Accords, Zapatismo has survived against the current. Today it continues to be a relevant force due to the simple fact that there are many pending reforms needed, not only those demanded by indigenous peoples, but also those that concern the majority of the population, including respect for the fundamental rights of access to work and dignified housing, and the basic conditions of security which have been undermined by corruption, impunity and drug trafficking.

In August 2013 I participated in the first level of the “Escuelita Zapatista” in Chiapas. Each student was accompanied by a guardian (votán or votana) who assisted in the study of the written materials on autonomy and Zapatista resistance. My votán was ten years old in 1994 and had grown up with the movement. He described in detail and with pride the advances of autonomy, the training of new education and health promoters, the participation in the autonomous governments and the way in which his community rebuilt the offices of the autonomous municipality of Ricardo Flores Magón after it was violently dismantled by the government in 1998.

This reminded me of another image that has stayed with me, that of seeing Aguascalientes, the site of the National Democratic Convention in August 1994, destroyed and burned by the Mexican army in February 1995. A few years later, it was revived in the nearby community of La Realidad as one of the Zapatistas’ five regional centres for political-cultural meetings known as caracoles. Perhaps this is the political significance of Zapatismo, in the unshakeable presence of dissent that demands today, as it did two decades ago, democracy, justice and dignity.

Neil Harvey is a professor in the Department of Government, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces and a contributor to the CIP Americas Program






January 16, 2014

Letter to Our Compañer@s of the EZLN

Filed under: Zapatista — Tags: — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 5:46 pm


Zapatista 20th Anniversary


Letter to Our Compañer@s of the EZLN

Letter to Our Compañer@s of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation

Sergio Rodríguez Lascano


history10Almost 20 years ago, we awoke to the news that the indigenous Mayans from the state of Chiapas had risen up in arms against the bad government of the ineffable Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Since then, great mobilizations and a not always easy dialogue have been developed with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

In a fundamental manner, a new generation went out then to the streets and identified with the Zapatista rebellion. They were those who made up a good part of the mobilizations that were developed in that first phase of the Zapatista struggle.

The Zapatista insurrection of January 1st has shaken national consciousness. Effectively, as José Emilio Pacheco said: “We closed our eyes to suppose that the other Mexico would disappear upon not seeing it. On January First of 1994 we woke up in another country. The day that we were going to celebrate our entry into the first world we went back a century until we again found ourselves with a rebellion like that of Tomochic. We believed we were and we wanted to be North Americans and our Central American destiny stepped up to us. The blood spilt cried out for an end to the killing. It is not possible to put an end to the violence of the revolters without putting an end to the violence of the oppressors” (José Emilio Pacheco, La Jornada, January 5th).

The Mexican and worldwide left was to be found in that moment in an apparent dead-end street. On November 11th, 1989, like bowling pins, the so-called “popular democracies” began to fall (Democratic Republic of Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Albania). In 1991, the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics “came undone” and, regardless of what each one of us thought of that process, what cannot be denied is that, in practice, its collapse made way for the arrival of a savage capitalism lead by a criminal mafia.

In Latin America, on February 25th, 1990, the Sandinistas lost the elections and not only did the process of plunder against the Nicaraguan peasants start, the same as the end of cooperativism, but also a dynamic of corruption was developed among the Sandinista leaders. It still weighs heavy that one of the founders of Sandinismo and an emblematic figure of the revolution, Tomás Borge, had realized a libellous-praise-book—disguised as an interview with Carlos Salinas de Gortari—titled “Dilemmas of Modernity.”

January 16th, 1992, the Chapultepec agreements were signed which put an end to the war in El Salvador, without a series of the poor people’s central demands having been conquered, in particular, the right to land. Amid that process, Mr. Joaquín Villalobos (FMLN “leader”), who already carried on his shoulders the terrible decision to kill the great poet Roque Dalton, turned over his AK-47 to Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

After this, it was sought to locate everything within the institutional framework of representative democracy. Everyone advocated for a left that limited itself to being an insolent client of the capitalist State.

Amidst the anti-communist euphoria and the dialogues that proclaimed the end of history and the arrival of a new world order, someone described well the period in which we lived and made an affirmation that gave meaning to our foolishness: Eduardo Galeano, who wrote a memorable text: “In Bucharest, a tow truck carries away the statue of Lenin. In Moscow, an eager crowd lines up at the doors of McDonalds. The abominable Berlin Wall is sold in pieces, and East Berlin confirms that it is located to the right of West Berlin. In Warsaw and Budapest, the Ministers of Economy speak the same as Margaret Thatcher. In Beijing also, while the tanks crush the students. The Italian Communist Party, the most numerous in the West, announces its upcoming suicide. Soviet aid to Ethiopia is reduced and Colonel Mengistu suddenly discovers that capitalism is good. The Sandinistas, protagonists of the most beautiful revolution in the world, lose the elections: The Revolution in Nicaragua Falls, the newspapers headline. It appears that there is no longer a place for revolutions, except for in the displays of the Archaeological Museum, nor is there room for the left, except for the reformed left that accepts a seat to the right of the bankers. We are all invited to the worldwide burial of socialism. The funeral procession includes, they say, all of humanity.

I admit that I do not believe it. These funerals are dead wrong.

(Eduardo Galeano: El niño perdido a la intemperie).

escuelita-esteva-maderos-391x260The Zapatista insurrection on January 1st opened a new cycle of social confrontations. The ability to transmit their message, which was and is that of the damned of the earth, opened a gap to be able to re-walk the path in search of an emancipatory practice.

The liberatory Zapatista thought opened a great hole in the apparently solid ideological building of capital’s power, and allowed old good ideas and new good ideas to be expressed.

Amidst the great euphoria of the dominant class; when the glasses of champagne were lifted to toast for our entry into the first world (on January 1st the Free Trade Agreement would come into force); when priísmo was more secure, as it had managed to reveal its candidate without great fissures in its interior occurring; when the 15 richest families in the country celebrated the ability that the control mechanisms had had for dominating the “screwed” (as the Czar of private television, Emilio Azcáraga Milmo, likes to call the poor); the uprising of the Zapatista people occurred. They chose that date as if to show that memory had not been defeated by an exclusive modernity.

Nor the government and the right-wing parties, nor the left or the democratic sectors, had the least idea that something like this was going to happen. We knew of the resentment that had been accumulating on the chest in a concealed manner, but we did not think that it could be expressed in this manner.

We began to try to understand. Of course, not only did we not always understand perfectly the collection of the Zapatista rebellion’s new grammar, but rather many ideas were foreign to us and, many times, we misinterpreted them.

The most important thing is that January first was a breath of fresh air. We went out to the streets not only to demand that the government stop the war, but to prove that all the chants on the end of history were, before all else, empty ideological discourses.

The idea that everything was NOT lost was key to understanding that, in the end, that rebellion was but a crack through which we could see that there still were many struggles ahead. That history not only had not ended, but was, still, many pages in blank.

Now we can add that, for us, the Zapatista insurrection is not an anniversary, an event that runs the risk of being swallowed by the omnivorous character of capitalism. That, in spite of the attempts carried out by the media, Zapatismo does not form part of the society of spectacles.

Zapatismo has been a process, effectively, full of various bright moments but, before all else, has been an uninterrupted process of struggles, actions, experiences which, chained together, have constituted a new practice of the left from below.

So, in spite of the times that the pundits and analysts—who confuse their illusion with reality—have given up Zapatismo for dead, it not only has continued but has gone on generating new social processes.

Internally, with the development of autonomy (authentic process of self-organization without parallel in history, at least in such a profound and prolonged manner) and the construction of new social relations, that is to say, of new forms of life. And toward the exterior, by not seeking to hegemonize or homogenize nor direct other social movements.

Locating itself always at the side of the persecuted, humiliated, and offended, in particular, of the most persecuted, most humiliated, and most offended.

Not with the basis of defence in abstract of the homeland or of the nation, but rather with the basis of the human beings which, living below and further below, are considered as the expendable or as simple cannon fodder who deserve nothing else but going behind their leaders always so willing to tell them when to raise their hand. Those human beings who are the fundamental essence of the homeland or of the nation.

If someone were to ask a Zapatista: What have been your best years? He would respond: “those which are to come.” Because some of the most important things that Zapatismo has shown us is its permanent will to struggle, it organizational ability and its conviction—put to the test of everything, including the incomprehension of many—that we are going to win.

If the Zapatista rebellion—of which we want to be collaborators—is not a date, nor a birthday, nor an event, nor something petrified, dogmatic, or finished, then, it is something which is put together, is constructed, is cemented every day.

If others want to give themselves up for defeated because they think that the “mother of all battles” has already been lost, that is their right. We prefer the vision that, as the French students of May 1968 said: “this is no more than the beginning, the combat continues.”

An mexican member of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation group rise hands in Khona BahiaMuch water has run under the bridge since January 1st, 1994. And many the attacks of the lords of money, the political class and its groomers, junk “intellectuals” who from the first day were hired for an impossible mission: vilify with a certain credibility the Zapatista peoples and their army. The olive green feathers were offered to the highest bidder, from the libellous Nexos up to what today is its mirror: La Razón. All of them have taken in various inclined pen pushers to exhibit themselves as what they are: mercenaries who write with their right hand and charge with their left.

The vital impulse that came from below was heard and understood only by a part of all the Mexican left. That which does not suffer from that sickness that is a stiff neck, the result of having one’s head and one’s glance always turned toward above, longing for a power that—although none of them has realized—no longer exists, that is a hologram.

On our side, those who maintained the rebellious approach of the Other Left decided, with the help of the Zapatista peoples’ example, to remain below and to the left. Determined to construct another reality, where the communitarian mechanisms of self-organization are the motor of practical and theoretical transformations. Beside those who live in the basements and on the ground floor of the capitalist building.

To achieve that construction it was necessary to be willing to relearn many things, as we will see below.


In that process in which “the educator must be educated” re-learning has been fundamental.

Of course, the path has not been easy. Several theoretical paradigms of left-wing thought were put into question:

a)   The idea of a vanguard which leads the movement from outside.

b)   The idea that theory is something exclusive to university thinkers.

c)   The idea that the working class is the only revolutionary class.

d)   The idea that what matters in the concept of class struggle, is the first element and not the second.

e)   The idea that diversity and difference is a hindrance for struggling together.

f)   The idea that the State is the only instrument which can be used to change in an enduring manner the living conditions and the social organization of the people.

g)   The idea that we struggle for a socialist revolution to which a blank check must be signed, leaving aside the misnamed minoritarian struggles (indigenous people, women, homosexuals, lesbians, other loves, punks, etc.).

h)   The idea of the left—which also has a unique thought—that those who do not fit in its vision are enemies.

In the face of that crisis of paradigms we have begun to construct a very Other thought. The first thing has been to break from that vision that politics is a task that only specialists can undertake. That it is a discourse full of arcane secrets not suitable for the population in general.

We discover little by little that another theory exists: that which is born from within true movements, those which are not swallows that do not make a summer. That it is there in the communities, the neighbourhoods, the ejidos, the towns, where people begin to reflect on the significance of taking control of their destinies into their own hands and, from there, making a theory produced by they themselves.

That eruption of the “pedestrians of history,” as the Zapatista compañeros say, has put into crisis more than one of those who think of themselves as the possessors of political thought, of those who have “answers” for everything that happens in the world, the result of a profound reading…of the newspapers. Of course, as always happens, the people pay no attention to them.

The undocumented of politics, those who have no papers nor university degrees, are those who, for a number of years now, are making true political theory.

The great question for those who claim to be vanguard organizations and for those who consider themselves “opinion formers” is to know if they are going to have the modesty to listen to those voices. If they are going to be able to lower the volume of the clamour that their theories produce, almost always the result of analogical designs, that are valid for any moment in history, that is to say, for no moment.

Learning to listen is only achieved when one becomes quiet. Will it be possible that after so many years of talking, the left will have the ability to be quiet and listen? The voices that come from below, although being a few decibels, are clear and sharp. It is only necessary to lean in a little and pay attention.

And, then, we will realize that from the most profound part of Mexican society, which stream, are flowing such a level of ideas and thoughts like those which we today see in the Escuelita Zapatista. If we prick up our ears to look we will have to recognize that yes, it is true, the new generations of Zapatistas are much more splendid and capable than those who made the insurrection. The multiple voices of the Zapatista support bases confirm that, in spite of the important effort of their military leader and spokesperson, he only managed to transmit to us a pallid reflection of what was happening in Zapatista territory.

The richness of that experience has given us new practical and theoretical tools. It is our responsibility for its use to be fruitful. We know that it has not been easy, and we are far from having achieved it, but we are trying it, really trying it. And today we can say that here we are.

That we do not give up, that we do not sell out, that we do not renounce. That, without a doubt, we have mistaken, but we have managed to preserve the fire and separate the ash. That that fire is today just a flame, perhaps a little flame, but that every day it is fed with two things: the destructive actions of an exclusive and rapacious neoliberal power that forces us to continue with the express imperative of eliminating it, and the unbreakable will of what we are.

Every day with our practice and thought we look after that flame or little flame, which represents our will to struggle against exploitation, plunder, repression, and contempt, that is to say, against the essence of capitalism.

That we make ours the following words, which you enunciated in the festival de la Digna Rabia:

“Allow us to tell you: The EZLN had the temptation of hegemony and homogeneity. Not only after the uprising, also before. There was the temptation to impose ways and identities. On Zapatismo being the only truth. And the peoples were those who prevented it first, and later taught us that it is not like that, that it is not over there. That we could not replace one dominion with another and that we had to convince and not conquer those who were and are like us but are not us. They taught us that there are many worlds and that mutual respect is possible and necessary…

“And so what we want to tell you is that this plurality so much the same thing in rage, and so different in being felt, is the course and destination that we want and propose to you…

“We are not all Zapatistas (a thing which in some cases we celebrate). Nor are we all communists, socialists, anarchists, punks, skaters, darks, and however each one names their difference…”

(Fragments of Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos’s speech: “Siete vientos en los calendarios y geografías de abajo”).

That conception implores us to go formulating a response. In continuation we will give a few ideas, which of course only are an initial reflection.



“In the Sixth Declaration we do not say that all the Indian peoples should join the EZLN, nor do we say that we are going to lead workers, students, peasants, young people, women, others. We say that each one has their space, their history, their struggle, their dream, their proportionality. And we say that then we should lay out an agreement to struggle together for everything and for that of each and every one. By laying out an agreement among our respective proportionalities and the country that results, the world that is achieved is formed by the dreams of each and every one of the dispossessed.

“May that world be so multi-coloured, may there be no room for the nightmares that any one of us from below live.

It worries us that in that world born from so much struggle and so much rage women may continue to be viewed with all the variants of contempt which patriarchal society has imposed; different sexual preferences may continue to be viewed as strange or sick; that it may continue to be assumed that the youth must be domesticated, that is to say, forced to “mature”; that we the indigenous may continue to be despised and humiliated or, in the best case, confronted as noble savages which must be civilized.

“Well, it worries us that that new world is not going to be a clone of the current one, or a GMO or a photocopy of that which today horrifies us and we repudiate. It worries us, well, that in that world there may not be democracy, nor justice, nor freedom.”

“So we want to tell you, ask, that we not make from our force a weakness. Being many and so different allows us to survive the catastrophe that approaches, and will allow us to raise up something new. We want to tell you, ask, that that new thing also be different.”

(Fragments from Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos’s speech: “Siete vientos en los calendarios y geografías de abajo”).

What would we write if today we had the intention to say what it is that the Zapatista experience shows us.

oventic4Each time that a man, a woman, a child, or an elderly Zapatista support base speaks of their struggle, of their autonomy, of their resistance there is a word that is repeated with insistence: organization. But, how do you get there? The problem is not resolved using the word like a sort of “open sesame,” good for everything.

Nor can what they themselves tell us is not a model simply be held up as a model. That they have done it like that, but that there will be other ways.

If we reject the single thought of the right, it is impossible to think that now we are going to implant a sort of single thought of the left from below.

No, what it is about is learning from the daily experiences that we go on working. And those experiences although similar will not be the same. But, would there be something that allows us to orient ourselves on that winding path?

Yes, there are several things, at least that is what we believe.

a)    Locate ourselves always at the side of the damned of the earth.

b)    Not to look above, but nor look below. Seek always to cast glances of complicity to the side, that is to say to where we belong, below.

c)    Privilege listening to speech. Give opportunity for the below to speak and tell us what it knows.

d)    Understand that it is inevitable that from power and its media tasks of lynching are going to be realized against those others who sing out of tune, who do not fit in: against the rebellious.

e)    Avoid the temptation to direct movements. This always causes vertigo. The question always arises on how those who struggle, the population that inhabits below, are going to express themselves, if there is not someone who leads them. Well the answer being simple has great complexity in being accepted: by they themselves.

f)    Respect the organizational forms that each one gives, even if they appear torturous and hopelessly slow to us. For each their own.

g)    Not peruse the circumstances that they impose upon us from above, but work to create our own circumstances. Moving the board of politics means not respecting the rules of the “politically correct.” We aspire to be “politically incorrect.”

h)  Work and build in difference. Generating habitable spaces where women are not harassed for the simple fact of being women. Where different sexual preferences are accepted. Where a religion is not imposed but nor is atheism. Where the encounter of the diverse, of the others is promoted.

i)    Where we do not self-limit because the city is much more complicated than the jungle. Many have said that the Zapatistas are able to do what they do because their society is not complex. But that in the great metropolises we live in a complex society which hinders the possibility of the people taking control of their destiny. That has been theorized, as much from the right as in the left. This “argument” contains two stupidities: thinking that the Zapatista peoples make up a simple society. Those who say that never have set foot in Zapatista territory, where almost every compañer@ is an autonomous municipality. It simply must be remembered that in a Junta de Buen Gobeirno compañer@os who speak up to four different languages come together. The other stupidity is to belittle the peoples of the great cities and expropriate from them their ability to decide, for a technical problem: the difficulty of communication. I say, those same ones are those who sing the glories of the Internet and social networks.

In the end, these are only some ideas. Nor are they all of them and quite probably they are not the best.

The question is that if as some say: history bites us in the back of the neck, we should turn around and eat the back of history’s neck. Of course, all of this done with great serenity and patience.

In that process many experiences will arise from which to learn. Here indeed “one hundred flowers bloom,” which represent one hundred or more forms of varied organization. There are no limits aside from those which we ourselves put.

In the words which we remember from the compañer@s of the EZLN during the festival de la Digna Rabia, the fundamental is located of what will be that new good new: Yes, it is true that the people united will never be defeated, but provided that it is understood that it will be in diversity that the great We that this country and the world need shall be constructed.

On our side, finally, we want to say that since January 1st, 1994 we decided that our future was next to our Zapatista brethren and compañer@s. That we were not of those who sought simply to take a photo in the moment in which the media, and those who always pursue style, lied in wait for the Zapatista leaders, in particular Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos.

And today, almost 20 years after their great insurrection and 20 years after we knew that their rebellion was also ours, we tell the Zapatista compañer@s:  here we are, here we will remain, seeking to walk with you, shoulder to shoulder, as part of the Sexta. We tell you that, effectively, we also have a very modest objective: change life, change the world.

For the aforementioned and for many other reasons and injustices, a group of men, women, children, elderly, others, have decided to organize ourselves, because we have understood that organized rebellion is one of the paths, for us the most important, that indeed takes us where we want to go.

To not construct a single and obstacle-free path, but one where we find ourselves with many others and can work together without that meaning that we tell them: “come to this one, the good one is this one.” Because after twenty years we are learning that the paths are made walking, in action and not in theoretical debates without practical roots.

From the Zapatista visions of the world, of Mexico, and of life, we seek to generate a common frame, a refuge habitable for our rebellion, a casemate that is a point of support to be able to continue with our work of the old mole (or better: of a beetle called Don Durito de la Lacandona) which corrodes the foundations of capital.

Therefore, we, rebellious and unsubmissive, manifest our will to walk together with the Zapatistas and our desire to be their compañer@s. We tell them that we are going to put all determination into it and that, effectively, in the long night that has been what some call day, sooner or later “night will be the day that will be the day.”

Outside it is no longer midnight…we now look to the horizon.

Mexico, December 2013.

Translated from Spanish by Henry Gales.

Originally published on Dec. 20th, 2013.




Click here for original Spanish text.


Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at