Zapatista Army of National Liberation
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN), often referred to as the Zapatistas (Spanish pronunciation: [sapaˈtistas]), is a libertarian socialist political and militant group that controls a substantial amount of territory in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico.
|Zapatista Army of National Liberation|
|Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN)|
|Also known as||Zapatistas|
|Foundation||November 17, 1983|
|Dates of operation||1994–present|
|Size||About 7,000 active participants and militia; tens of thousands of civilian supporters (bases de apoyo)|
|Allies||Popular Revolutionary Army (denied by EZLN)|
|Battles and wars|
Since 1994 the group has been nominally at war with the Mexican state (although it may be described at this point as a frozen conflict). In recent years, the EZLN has focused on a strategy of civil resistance. The Zapatistas' main body is made up of mostly rural indigenous people, but it includes some supporters in urban areas and internationally. The EZLN's main spokesperson is Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano, previously known as Subcomandante Marcos (a.k.a. Compañero Galeano and Delegate Zero in relation to "the Other Campaign"). Unlike other Zapatista spokespeople, Marcos is not an indigenous Maya.
The group takes its name from Emiliano Zapata, the agrarian revolutionary and commander of the Liberation Army of the South during the Mexican Revolution, and sees itself as his ideological heir. Nearly all EZLN villages contain murals with images of Zapata, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, and Subcomandante Marcos.
While EZLN ideology is similar to libertarian socialism, the Zapatistas have rejected and defied political classification. The EZLN aligns itself with the wider alter-globalization, anti-neoliberal social movement, seeking indigenous control over local resources, especially land. Since their 1994 uprising was countered by the Mexican Armed Forces, the EZLN has abstained from military offensives and adopted a new strategy that attempts to garner Mexican and international support.
The Zapatistas describe themselves as a decentralized organization. The pseudonymous Subcomandante Marcos is widely considered its leader despite his claims that the group has no single leader. Political decisions are deliberated and decided in community assemblies. Military and organizational matters are decided by the Zapatista area elders who compose the General Command (Revolutionary Indigenous Clandestine Committee – General Command, or CCRI-CG).
The Chiapas region has been the scene of a succession of uprisings, including the "Caste War" or "Chamula Rebellion" (1867-1870) and the "Pajarito War" (1911).
The EZLN emerged during the government of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had ruled Mexico for more than seventy years, in a dominant-party system. The situation led many young people to consider the legal channels of political participation closed and to bet on the formation of clandestine armed organizations to seek the overthrow of a regime that from their point of view was authoritarian, and thus improve the living conditions of the population. One of these organizations, was known as the National Liberation Forces (FLN). The FLN were founded on August 6, 1969 by César Germán Yáñez Muñoz, in the north of the country (Monterrey, Nuevo León). According to Mario Arturo Acosta Chaparro, in his report Subversive movements in Mexico, "they had established their areas of operations in the states of Veracruz, Puebla, Tabasco, Nuevo León and Chiapas ".
In February 1974, a confrontation took place in San Miguel Nepantla, State of Mexico, between a unit of the Mexican Army, under the command of Mario Arturo Acosta Chaparro, and members of the FLN, some of whom lost their lives during combat, reported having been tortured.
As a consequence of this confrontation, the FLN lost its operational capacity. In the early 1980s, some of its militants decided to found a new organization. Thus, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) was founded on November 17, 1983 by non-indigenous members of the FLN from Mexico's urban north and by indigenous inhabitants of the remote Las Cañadas/Selva Lacandona regions in eastern Chiapas, by members of former rebel movements. Over the years, the group slowly grew, building on social relations among the indigenous base and making use of an organizational infrastructure created by peasant organizations and the Catholic Church (see Liberation theology). In the 1970s, through the efforts of the Catholic Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, most indigenous communities in the Lacandon forest were already politically active and had practice in dealing with governmental agencies and local officials. In the 1980s, they joined with the Rural Collective Interest Association--"Únion de Uniones," (ARIC-UU). However, disputes over strategy in the Chiapas would lead to the EZLN taking on over half of the ARIC-UU's membership in the early 1990s.
The Zapatista Army went public on January 1, 1994, releasing their declaration on the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect. On that day, they issued their First Declaration and Revolutionary Laws from the Lacandon Jungle. The declaration amounted to a declaration of war on the Mexican government, which they considered illegitimate. The EZLN stressed that it opted for armed struggle due to the lack of results that had been achieved through peaceful means of protest (such as sit-ins and marches).
Their initial goal was to instigate a revolution against the rise of neoliberalism throughout Mexico, but since no such revolution occurred, they used their uprising as a platform to call attention to their movement to protest the signing of the NAFTA, which the EZLN believed would increase inequality in Chiapas. Prior to the signing of NAFTA, however, dissent amongst indigenous peasants was already on the rise in 1992 with the amendment of Article 27 of the Constitution. The amendment called for the end of land distribution and the regularizing of all landholdings, which essentially got rid of any legal possibility of obtaining land. The end of land distribution heralded the end of many communities that had been growing of the past decade, as they had been waiting for further distribution that was on an agrarian backlog according to the government.
The Zapatistas hosted the Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism to help initiate a united platform for other anti-neoliberal groups. The EZLN also called for greater democratization of the Mexican government, which had been controlled by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, also known as PRI) for 65 years, and for land reform mandated by the 1917 Constitution of Mexico, which had been repealed in 1991. The EZLN did not demand independence from Mexico, preferring autonomy, land access, and use of natural resources normally extracted from Chiapas. It also advocated for protection from violence and political inclusion of Chiapas' indigenous communities.
On the morning of January 1, 1994, an estimated 3,000 armed Zapatista insurgents seized towns and cities in Chiapas, including Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, Huixtán, Oxchuc, Rancho Nuevo, Altamirano, and Chanal. They freed the prisoners in the jail of San Cristóbal de las Casas and set fire to several police buildings and military barracks in the area. The guerrillas enjoyed brief success, but Mexican army forces counterattacked the next day, and fierce fighting broke out in and around the market of Ocosingo. The Zapatista forces took heavy casualties and retreated from the city into the surrounding jungle.
Armed clashes in Chiapas ended on January 12, with a ceasefire brokered by the Catholic diocese in San Cristóbal de las Casas under Bishop Samuel Ruiz, a well known liberation theologian who had taken up the cause of the indigenous people of Chiapas. The Zapatistas retained some of the land for a little over a year, but in February 1995 the Mexican army overran that territory in a surprise offensive. Following this offensive, the Zapatistas abandoned their villages, and the rebels fled to the mountains after breaking through the Mexican army perimeter.
Arrest-warrants were made for Marcos, Javier Elorriaga Berdegue, Silvia Fernández Hernández, Jorge Santiago, Fernando Yanez, German Vicente and other Zapatistas. At that point, in the Lacandon Jungle, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation was under military siege by the Mexican Army. Javier Elorriaga was captured on February 9, 1995, by forces from a military garrison at Gabina Velázquez in the town of Las Margaritas, and was later taken to the Cerro Hueco prison in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas. On February 11, 1995, the PGR informed the country that the government had implemented an operation in the State of México, where they had captured 14 people presumed to be involved with the Zapatistas, of which eight had already being turned over to the judicial authorities, they had also seized an important arsenal. The PGR threatened the San Cristóbal de Las Casas' Catholic Bishop, Samuel Ruiz García, with arrest. Claiming that they helped conceal the Zapatistas' guerrilla uprising, although their activities had been reported years before in, Proceso, a major leftist magazine. It is likely however that the Mexican Government knew about the uprising but failed to act. This adversely impacted Holy See–Mexico relations.
Under the considerable political pressure of a worsening situation, and believing a peaceful solution to be possible, Mexican Secretary of the Interior Lic. Esteban Moctezuma campaigned to reach a peacefully negotiated solution to the 1995 Zapatista Crisis.
In response to the siege of the EZLN, Moctezuma, the interior minister, submitted his resignation to President Zedillo, which Zedillo refused to accept. Influenced by Moctezuma's protest, President Zedillo abandoned the military offensive in favor of a diplomatic approach. The Mexican army eased its operation in Chiapas, allowing Marcos to escape the military perimeter in the Lacandon jungle. Responding to the change of conditions, friends of the EZLN along with Subcomandante Marcos prepared a report for under-Secretary of the Interior Luis Maldonado Venegas; the Secretary of the Interior Esteban Moctezuma and then President Zedillo. The document stressed Marcos' natural pacifist inclination and an unwillingness to get caught in a bloody war. The document also said that the marginalized groups and the radical left that existed in Mexico supported the Zapatista movement. It also stressed that Marcos maintained an open negotiating track.
In April 2000, Vicente Fox, the presidential candidate for the opposition National Action Party (PAN), sent a new proposal for dialogue to Subcomandante Marcos, without obtaining a response. In May, a group of civilians attacked two indigenous people from the autonomous municipality of Polhó, Chiapas. Members of the Federal Police were sent to guarantee the security of the area. The Zapatista coordinators and several non-governmental organizations described it as a "a clear provocation to the EZLN."
Vicente Fox was elected president in 2001 (the first non-PRI president of Mexico in over 70 years) and, as one of his first actions, urged the EZLN to enter into dialogue with the federal government. However, the EZLN insisted that it would not return to peace negotiations with the government until seven military positions were closed. Fox subsequently made the decision to withdraw the army from the conflict zone, so all the military located in Chiapas began to leave the area. Following this gesture, Subcomandante Marcos agreed to initiate dialogue with the Vicente Fox government, but shortly thereafter demanded conditions for peace; especially, that the federal government disarm the PRI paramilitary groups in the area. The Zapatistas marched on Mexico City to pressure the Mexican Congress and formed the Zapatista Information Center, through which information would be exchanged about the trip of the guerrilla delegation to Mexico City, and mobilizations would be articulated to demand compliance with the conditions of the EZLN for dialogue. Although Fox had stated earlier that he could end the conflict "in fifteen minutes", the EZLN rejected the agreement and created 32 new "autonomous municipalities" in Chiapas. They would then unilaterally implement their demands without government support, although they had some funding from international organizations.
On June 28, 2005, the Zapatistas presented the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle declaring their principles and vision for Mexico and the world. This declaration reiterated the support for the indigenous peoples, who make up roughly one-third of the population of Chiapas, and extended the cause to include "all the exploited and dispossessed of Mexico". It also expressed the movement's sympathy to the international alter-globalization movement and supported leftists governments in Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, and elsewhere, with whom they felt there was common cause.
In preparation for this campaign, the Zapatistas invited to their territory over 600 national leftist organizations, indigenous groups, and non-governmental organizations to listen to their claims for human rights in a series of biweekly meetings that culminated in a plenary meeting on September 16, the day Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain. In this meeting, Subcomandante Marcos requested official adherence of the organizations to the Sixth Declaration, and detailed a six-month tour of the Zapatistas through all 31 Mexican states to occur concurrently with the electoral campaign starting January 2006.
On January 1, 2006, the EZLN began a tour, "The Other Campaign", encompassing all 31 Mexican states in the buildup to that year's presidential election, which the EZLN made clear they would not participate in directly.
On May 3–4, 2006, a series of demonstrations protested the forcible removal of irregular flower vendors from a lot in Texcoco for the construction of a Walmart branch. The protests turned violent when state police and the Federal Preventive Police bused in some 5,000 agents to San Salvador Atenco and the surrounding communities. A local organization called the People's Front in Defense of the Land, which adheres to the Sixth Declaration, called in support from other regional and national adherent organizations. "Delegate Zero" and his "Other Campaign" were at the time in nearby Mexico City, having just organized May Day events there, and quickly arrived at the scene. The following days were marked by violence, with some 216 arrests, over 30 rape and sexual abuse accusations against the police, five deportations, and one casualty, a 14-year-old boy named Javier Cortes shot by a policeman. A 20-year-old UNAM economics student, Alexis Benhumea, died on the morning of June 7, 2006, after being in a coma caused by a blow to the head from a tear-gas grenade launched by police. Most of the resistance organizing was done by the EZLN and Sixth Declaration adherents, and Delegate Zero stated that the "Other Campaign" tour would be temporarily halted until all prisoners were released.
In late 2006 and early 2007, the Zapatistas (through Subcomandante Marcos), along with other indigenous peoples of the Americas, announced the Intercontinental Indigenous Encounter. They invited indigenous people from throughout the Americas and the rest of the world to gather on October 11–14, 2007, near Guaymas, Sonora. The declaration for the conference designated this date because of "515 years since the invasion of ancient Indigenous territories and the onslaught of the war of conquest, spoils and capitalist exploitation". Comandante David said in an interview, "The object of this meeting is to meet one another and to come to know one another's pains and sufferings. It is to share our experiences, because each tribe is different."
The Third Encuentro of the Zapatistas People with the People of the World was held from December 28, 2007, through January 1, 2008.
In mid-January 2009, Marcos made a speech on behalf of the Zapatistas in which he supported the resistance of the Palestinians as "the Israeli government's heavily trained and armed military continues its march of death and destruction". He described the actions of the Israeli government as a "classic military war of conquest". He said, "The Palestinian people will also resist and survive and continue struggling and will continue to have sympathy from below for their cause."
On December 21, 2012, tens of thousands of EZLN supporters marched silently through five cities in the state of Chiapas: Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, Palenque, Altamirano and San Cristóbal. Hours after the march, a communiqué from the CCRI-CG was released in the form of a poem, signed by the Subcomandante Marcos. This mobilization, which included the participation of around 40 thousand Zapatistas, was the largest since the 1994 uprising. Of this number, "La Jornada" estimated that half would have marched through the streets of San Cristóbal de las Casas, 7,000 in Las Margaritas and 8,000 in Palenque; for its part El País calculated that San Cristóbal would have seen the concentration of some 10 thousand participants.
Beyond the number of people, the silence with which they marched and the lack of an opening or closing speech were the elements that marked this action. The poet and journalist Hermann Bellinghausen, specialist in coverage of the movement, ended his chronicle in this way:
Able to "appear" suddenly, the rebellious indigenous "disappeared" as neatly and silently as they had arrived in this city at dawn that, two decades after the EZLN's traumatic uprising here on the new year of 1994, received them with care and curiosity, without any expression of rejection. Under the arches of the mayor's office, which today suspended its activities, dozens of Ocosinguenses gathered to photograph with cell phones and cameras the spectacular concentration of hooded people who filled the park like a game of Tetris, advancing between the planters with an order that seemed choreographed, to get the platform installed quickly from early on, raise their fist and say, quietly, "here we are, once again".
The Zapatistas invited the world to a three-day fiesta to celebrate ten years of Zapatista autonomy in August 2013 in the five caracoles of Chiapas. They expected 1,500 international activists to attend the event, titled the Little School of Liberty.
In June 2015, the EZLN reported that there was aggression against indigenous people in El Rosario, Chiapas; The report, signed by Subcomandante Moisés, indicated that the attack occurred that same month and year. In addition, there was a complaint by the Las Abejas Civil Society Organization that stated that an indigenous Tzotzil person was assassinated on June 23 on 2015.
In 2016, at the National Indigenous Congress and the EZLN agreed to select a candidate to represent them in the 2018 Mexican general election. This decision broke the Zapatista's two-decade tradition of rejecting Mexican electoral politics. In May 2017, María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, a woman of Mexican and Nahua heritage, was selected to stand, but she was unable to gather the 866,000 signatures required to appear on the ballot.
At the end of August 2019, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano announced the expansion of EZLN into 11 more districts. In response, President Lopez Obrador stated that this expansion was welcome, provided it was done without violence.
The ideology of the Zapatista movement, Neozapatismo, synthesizes Mayan tradition with elements of libertarian socialism, anarchism, and Marxism. The historical influence of Mexican anarchists and various Latin American socialists is apparent in Neozapatismo. The positions of Subcomandante Marcos add a Marxist element to the movement. A Zapatista slogan is in harmony with the concept of mutual aid: "For everyone, everything. For us, nothing" (Para todos todo, para nosotros nada).
The EZLN opposes economic globalization, arguing that it severely and negatively affects the peasant life of its indigenous support base and oppresses people worldwide. The signing of NAFTA also resulted in the removal of Article 27, Section VII, from the Mexican Constitution, which had guaranteed land reparations to indigenous groups throughout Mexico.
Another key element of the Zapatistas' ideology is their aspiration to do politics in a new, participatory way, from the "bottom up" instead of "top down". The Zapatistas consider the contemporary political system of Mexico inherently flawed due to what they consider its purely representative nature and its disconnection from the people and their needs. In contrast, the EZLN aims to reinforce the idea of participatory democracy or radical democracy by limiting public servants' terms to only two weeks, not using visible organization leaders, and constantly referring to the people they are governing for major decisions, strategies, and conceptual visions. Marcos has reiterated, "my real commander is the people". In accordance with this principle, the Zapatistas are not a political party: they do not seek office throughout the state, because that would perpetuate the political system by attempting to gain power within its ranks.
Postcolonialism scholars have argued that the Zapatistas' response to the introduction of NAFTA in 1994 may have reflected a shift in perception taking place in societies that have experienced colonialism.
The Zapatistas have used organizations like the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to raise awareness for their rebellion and indigenous rights, and what they claim is the Mexican government's lack of respect for the country's impoverished and marginalized populations. Appealing to the ECOSOC and other non-governmental bodies may have allowed the Zapatistas to establish a sense of autonomy by redefining their identities both as indigenous people and as citizens of Mexico.
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The EZLN has placed a high priority on forging communication with the rest of Mexico and the world. In the first days of the uprising the EZLN issued a flurry of communiqués to Mexico's national press and soon after also to non-Mexican persons and entities, such as Rigoberta Menchú, and the president, congress and people of the United States. Within a few weeks Subcomandante Marcos, the EZLN's spokesperson, was granting interviews to journalists from both the national and international press, including reporters from The New York Times.
In the years that followed, Marcos and the Zapatistas would issue hundreds of missives, hold encuentros (mass meetings), give numerous interviews, meet high-profile public and literary figures including Oliver Stone, Naomi Klein, Gael García Bernal, Danielle Mitterrand, Régis Debray, John Berger, Eduardo Galeano, Gabriel García Márquez, José Saramago and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, participate in symposia and colloqiua, deliver speeches, host visits by thousands of national and international activists, and participate in two marches that toured much of the country. Media organizations from North and South America, as well as from many European and several Asian nations, have granted press coverage to the movement and its spokesperson. The EZLN's writings have been translated into at least 14 different languages and Marcos, according to journalist Jorge Alonso, had by 2016 been the subject of ′over 10,000 citations...in the academic world′.
Horizontal autonomy and indigenous leadershipEdit
Zapatista communities claim to practise "horizontal autonomy and mutual aid" by building and maintaining their own health, education, and sustainable agro-ecological systems, promoting equitable gender relations via Women's Revolutionary Law, and building international solidarity through humble outreach and non-imposing political communication. In addition to their focus on building "a world where many worlds fit". The Zapatista struggle re-gained international attention in May 2014 with the death of teacher and education promoter Galeano, who was murdered in an attack on a Zapatista school and health clinic led by local paramilitaries. In the weeks that followed, thousands of Zapatistas and national and international sympathizers mobilized and gathered to honor Galeano. This event also saw the unofficial spokesperson of the Zapatistas, Subcomandante Marcos, announce that he would be stepping down, symbolizing a shift in the EZLN to completely Indigenous leadership.
In popular cultureEdit
This section needs additional citations for verification. (December 2019)
- Rap metal group Rage Against the Machine's 1996 single "People of the Sun" is about the Zapatista uprising and features footage of Zapatistas in its music video. The group also incorporates the Zapatista flag in its concerts (lead singer Zack de la Rocha's grandfather fought in the Mexican Revolution, and de la Rocha saw this struggle reflected in the Zapatistas).
- Indie rock group Swirlies' song "San Cristobal de las Casas" featured on their 1995 EP and 1996 album, is about the Zapatista uprising and paramilitary backlash.
- Mexican rock band Caifanes themed a song after the EZLN entitled "El Comunicador".
- Franco-Spanish songwriter Manu Chao performed a song for the EZLN on his 2002 live album, Radio Bemba Sound System.
- Spanish ska group Ska-P's 1998 song Paramilitar references the EZLN.
- In the liner notes on their album Sueños Liquidos, Mexican rock band Maná dedicated "Me Voy a Convertir en Un Ave," "to all those who, the for defending an ideal of justice, are persecuted or find themselves imprisoned. To the Zapatista Army of National Liberation communities for peace and dignity."
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- Chiapas conflict
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- Popular Revolutionary Army
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- Indigenous movements in the Americas
- Indigenous peoples of Mexico
- Mexican Indignados Movement
- San Andrés Accords
- Zapatista coffee cooperatives
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