Tag Archives: Zapatista

Celebrating 22 Years Of Zapatismo


An important element of the Zapatista movement is women’s leadership and the commitment to women’s rights and equality. | Photo: Tim Russo / Upside Down World

By: Hilary Klein | teleSUR, Published 31 December 2015

The anniversary of the EZLN’s uprising is a chance to reflect on the Zapatista movement’s achievements and lessons that are still relevant today.

Jan. 1 marks the 22nd anniversary of the Zapatista uprising and more than 30 years since the formation of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation, EZLN).

On January 1, 1994, the EZLN captured the world’s imagination when it rose up to demand justice and democracy for the indigenous peasants of southern Mexico. Since that brief armed insurrection, the EZLN has become known more for its peaceful mobilizations, dialogue with civil society, and structures of political, economic, and cultural autonomy. Over the past three decades, the Zapatista movement has won significant changes in its own territory and has inspired other social movements in Mexico and around the world, offering a number of key lessons that are still relevant today.

The date of the Zapatista uprising was chosen for its symbolic importance – as it was the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. The EZLN was one of the first popular movements to recognize neoliberalism as a menacing new stage of global capitalism and called NAFTA a death sentence for the indigenous peasants of Mexico.

Over the past two decades, the impact of the Zapatista movement can be seen at the local, national, and international level.

As night fell on Dec. 31, 1993, the armed forces of the EZLN had begun to gather. It was an army made up almost entirely of indigenous people, and about a third of the soldiers were women. As dawn broke on New Year’s Day, Zapatista troops occupied seven towns throughout the eastern half of Chiapas, including San Cristóbal de las Casas, a quaint colonial city nestled in the misty highlands of Chiapas and a major tourist destination.

The Zapatistas occupied San Cristóbal for less than 48 hours. They stayed long enough to read their declaration of war from the balcony of the municipal palace, but slipped away in time to escape the full brunt of the Mexican military. The uprising would quickly transform the EZLN into one of the most well-known social movements in the world, and one that would inspire an extraordinary level of solidarity.

Over the past two decades, the impact of the Zapatista movement can be seen at the local, national, and international level. Land takeovers carried out after the 1994 uprising — where large ranches were occupied by the Zapatistas and reapportioned to landless peasants — impacted the distribution of wealth in Chiapas and continue to affect living conditions for Zapatista villages farming on reclaimed land.

The Zapatista structures of indigenous autonomy have meant that rural villages in Chiapas have gained access to rudimentary health care and education. They exercise self-determination through local and regional governments, and generate resources back into their communities through economic cooperatives that organize the production of goods.

At the national level, the EZLN and the Mexican government signed the San Andrés Peace Accords in 1996. Although never implemented by the Mexican government, the San Andrés Accords recognized indigenous rights, promised indigenous autonomy, and created a framework that the Zapatistas and other indigenous groups throughout Mexico would implement on their own. The Zapatista movement arguably helped bring an end to 70 years of one-party rule in Mexico when the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI) lost the presidential elections in 2000.

The EZLN continues to be an important reference point for social movements in Mexico today, such as the protest movement that emerged after the disappearance of forty-three students from a rural teachers’ college in 2014.

Around the world, the Zapatistas catalyzed a wave of solidarity that inspired a generation of young activists to organize for social justice in their own contexts. International gatherings organized by the EZLN fostered the burgeoning global justice movement. Events inspired or influenced by the Zapatistas include the World Social Forum, an annual global forum for grassroots activists and organizations, and demonstrations against global capitalism, such as the 1999 protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization.

With its ideological critique of neoliberalism and its internal emphasis on participatory democracy, the EZLN was a precursor to the Occupy and “We Are the 99 Percent” movements that emerged almost two decades after the Zapatista uprising.

The Zapatista movement also offers a viable example of local alternatives to global capitalism. The economic cooperatives in Zapatista communities, for example, are strengthening a local and regional economy based on collective effort and the well being of the community, rather than competition and profit.

Photo: Tim Russo / Upside Down World

Photo: Tim Russo / Upside Down World

Anyone who is 21 years old or younger was born after the Zapatista uprising, and many young people today have not even heard of the EZLN. In addition to understanding the significant achievements in Zapatista territory and their ripple effect around the world, this anniversary is also an opportunity to reflect on the qualities of the Zapatista movement that made it such a compelling and successful social movement.

One such quality is the EZLN’s remarkable ability to draw from different historical, political and cultural traditions. The founding members of the EZLN were Marxist guerrillas who sought to overthrow the Mexican government through armed struggle. In Chiapas, however, they encountered a centuries-long history of indigenous resistance and a well-organized peasant movement fighting for land reform. They also encountered the influence of the Catholic Diocese of San Cristóbal and several Maoist organizations.

Instead of holding onto a rigid ideological orientation, the EZLN’s leadership in those early years learned from these different traditions and began weaving them into a political praxis we now know as Zapatismo.

This fluidity can also be seen in the blending of indigenous traditions and Western knowledge within the structures of indigenous autonomy. The autonomous health care system, for example, integrates knowledge of medicinal plants and includes traditional healers like midwives and bone-setters, but also makes use of Western medicine and relies on doctors to train the community health promoters.

Another important element of the Zapatista movement is women’s leadership and the commitment to women’s rights and equality. Women’s involvement in the EZLN has helped shape the Zapatista movement, which, in turn, opened new spaces for women and led to dramatic changes in their lives.

When the EZLN began organizing in the rural villages of Chiapas, women there were experiencing an extraordinary level of violence and discrimination. But gender roles were radically redefined in the context
of the Zapatista movement, as women became guerrilla insurgents and political leaders, healers and educators, and members of economic cooperatives. The tremendous changes in women’s lives include public roles of leadership and participation in community affairs, the ability to choose their romantic partner and decide how many children to have, and a significant decrease in alcohol consumption and domestic violence. The great strides made towards women’s liberation within the Zapatista movement offer an array of insights about how gender transformations can be achieved.

They had the courage to declare war on the Mexican government, to take on global capitalism, and to ask themselves what it would mean to dismantle patriarchy in Zapatista territory.

The final quality of the Zapatista movement that I would like to point to is a poignant combination of humility and passion. The Zapatistas are humble enough to know that none of us have all the answers. “Caminando preguntamos,” they say – “walking we ask questions.” In spite of all they have gained, they readily acknowledge that theirs is a long-term struggle. They want to live in a world of justice and dignity and are working on building it, step by step. A Zapatista elder named Eva once told me, “The path of this struggle is long and there is still much we want to accomplish. We don’t know how long it will take. There are many things we will probably not achieve ourselves. It will be up to our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren, and our great-great-grandchildren.”

None of this, however, has stopped the Zapatistas from dreaming big dreams or taking on the most intimidating of foes. They had the courage to declare war on the Mexican government, to take on global capitalism, and to ask themselves what it would mean to dismantle patriarchy in Zapatista territory. If there is one thing about the Zapatista movement I would hope to see contemporary social movements emulate, it would be this combination of humility and chutzpah – the understanding of the enduring nature of this work and the patience and unflinching commitment that comes along with it.

Hilary Klein has been engaged in social justice and community organizing for two decades. She lived in Chiapas, Mexico, for several years, where she worked with women’s projects in Zapatista communities, and she is the author of “Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories.”

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Celebrating-22-Years-of-Zapatismo-20151231-0026.html

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International Women’s Day in Zapatista Territory

Zapatista women at the “Comandanta Ramona” Women’s Gathering in La Garrucha, Chiapas, December 31, 2007 | Photo: Tim Russo

Zapatista women at the “Comandanta Ramona” Women’s Gathering in La Garrucha, Chiapas, December 31, 2007 | Photo: Tim Russo

By: Hilary Klein | teleSUR

Women have played an important role in the EZLN, as insurgents in the rebel army, political leaders, health and education promoters, and as members of economic collectives in the development of the local and regional economy.

Before the Zapatista uprising, women in the indigenous villages of Chiapas were often forced into arranged marriages, had little access to birth control, and domestic violence was generally considered normal and acceptable. A woman could not leave the house without her husband’s permission, and women’s confinement to the private sphere translated into very limited participation in public life. This history of marginalization serves as a backdrop for the striking changes that have taken place in Zapatista territory.

Women have played an important role in the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or EZLN, as insurgents in the rebel army, as political leaders in the civilian support base communities, as health and education promoters in the construction of autonomous infrastructure, and as members of economic collectives in the development of the local and regional economy. Women’s involvement in the EZLN helped shape the Zapatista movement, which, in turn, opened new spaces for women and led to dramatic changes in their lives. Zapatista women have participated at all levels of the movement to fight for justice and dignity for the indigenous people of Chiapas and, at the same time, were able to transform their own lives, their families, and their communities.

In 1994, the EZLN captured the world’s attention with its brief armed uprising, demanding land and freedom, justice, and equality for the rural population of Chiapas, Mexico. In the two decades since then, this indigenous rebellion has inspired grassroots activists around the world.

That year, International Women’s Day was just two months after the Zapatista uprising. The world was just getting to know the Zapatista movement, and Zapatista women in particular touched many of the EZLN’s supporters. The EZLN had dubbed itself “the voice of the voiceless,” while the indigenous women of Chiapas were the most subjugated, the most forgotten of an already marginalized people, breaking this history of silence, rising up to take on their government, and inspiring movements all over the world to challenge global capitalism. During the EZLN’s first public celebration of International Women’s Day, Captain Irma made the following speech:

“I would like to invite all our compañeros, from the cities and from the countryside, to join in our struggle and our demands. Women continue to be the most exploited … In order for this no longer to be the case, we need to take up arms, together with our compañeros, so they will understand that women can fight too, with a weapon in our hands … We will continue onward with our struggle until we achieve our demands: bread, democracy, peace, independence, freedom, housing, and justice, because these things do not exist for us, the poor … We don’t want to live like animals anymore. Today, more than ever, we should struggle together so that one day we will be free.”

In the years before and after the 1994 uprising, Zapatista women experienced social changes that often take generations to unfold.

“The women organized to form a cooperative and we began to see that women can also participate in meetings and assemblies,” Comandanta Micaela told me in 2001. “From there we started thinking, little by little, about how we want our lives to be. We want to change all those ideas that have been put in our heads for the last five hundred years. So we organized and now women participate more. Even if they have children, they can leave the house for a while and go to a meeting or a women’s gathering, help out with the women’s cooperative, or go to a health workshop.”

It is impossible to separate this series of transformations from women’s involvement in the Zapatista movement. During a regional women’s gathering in the Zapatista village of Morelia in 2001, women described this process:

“Thanks to our organization (the EZLN), we have opened our eyes and opened our hearts. It was in the organization that they first began to tell us that how we were living was not right. We joined the struggle and that’s when things started to change and we stopped being oppressed. Now we can participate in political work. In community and regional assemblies we participate side by side with the men. We have the right to hold any position within our organization. We also have the right to leave the house, to dance, to sing, to play sports, to go to a community party. Today there is hope and freedom in our lives.”

Zapatista women from the village of Amador Hernandez prepare to stand off with Mexican soldiers.| Photo: Tim Russo

Zapatista women from the village of Amador Hernandez prepare to stand off with Mexican soldiers.| Photo: Tim Russo

In the year 2000, Zapatista women joined forces with women from Mexican civil society to celebrate International Women’s Day with a large women’s march in the city of San Cristobal de las Casas. This joint effort was the first of its kind, and a manifestation of the close relationship that Zapatista and non-Zapatista women had built since 1994. On the morning of March 8, more than 8,000 women gathered on the outskirts of San Cristobal and then marched through the streets toward the center of town.

The Zapatista women marched first—faces covered by ski masks, some with babies in their arms, others carrying handwritten signs. One sign read, “I like when you give me hugs, I like when you give me kisses, but most of all, I like when you do the dishes.” A group of non-Zapatista women marched behind them.

While the Zapatista women were all from rural, indigenous communities, the non-Zapatista women were a more diverse group: indigenous and mestiza, urban and rural, poor and middle class. It was a typical women’s march in its demands to respect women’s rights and equality. It was a typical Zapatista march in its demands to demilitarize Chiapas and comply with the peace agreement that the Mexican government had signed with the EZLN, but never implemented. What was unique was the combination of the two.

Gloria, a young Tzeltal woman from the Zapatista village Diez de Abril, attended the march that year. “I was very impressed,” she told me at the march. “I really like that we marched together with women from civil society. It was encouraging to have them accompanying us. Now we know they are our compañeras and we are more united.”

Ending patriarchy does not happen overnight, even in the context of a revolutionary social movement with a real commitment to women’s rights, and Zapatista women recognize that there is still work to be done. Zapatista women often frame their hopes for their collective liberation in terms of the life they envision for their daughters. Guadalupe, an older woman from the Zapatista region Miguel Hidalgo, said, “I’m making this effort because, even if I never see it myself, I want my daughters not to suffer the way we suffered, with the landowners for example. They’ll be able to go to school, they’ll know how to read and write. We’ve already lived through what we lived through, but we want our daughters to have the right to an education.”

Eva, another Zapatista elder from Miguel Hidalgo, added, “The path of this struggle is long and there is much we still want to accomplish. There are many things we will probably not achieve ourselves. It will be up to our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren, and our great-great-grandchildren.”

From the civil rights movement in the United States to the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, from the campaign against apartheid in South Africa to the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East, women have fought side by side with men for their people’s freedom. In recent months, many have noted women’s involvement in the Kurdish resistance to the Islamic State group.

As women all over the world celebrate International Women’s Day in 2015, Zapatista women – and their stories of courage and dignity – remind us that revolutionary struggles cannot achieve collective liberation for all people without addressing patriarchy, nor can women’s freedom be disentangled from racial, economic, and social justice.

This article is adapted from “Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories,” published by Seven Stories Press in February 2015.


Indigenous Mexico Rising Again


Champa San Augustin mpio – autonomous freedom of the Maya people. You are in Zapatista rebel territory. Here the people govern and the government obeys. Junta of Good Governance ‘Toward Hope’, Jungle Border Zone.

By fnsnews

Representatives of Mexico’s indigenous peoples have issued a new declaration and announced upcoming mobilizations to further their cause.

Unveiled on August 9, the UN-celebrated International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, the declaration followed a week-long meeting between the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and National Indigenous Congress (CNI) in the southern Mexican border state of Chiapas.

Detailing 29 points, the Declaration of the Plundering of Our Peoples blasted the Pena Nieto Administration, big corporations and capitalism in general for threatening the culture and survival of indigenous peoples.

Couched in historical terms that reference the sacrifices made by indigenous people and small farmers for a Mexico that was denied to them, the statement was read by Venustiano Vazquez Navarette, indigenous resident of Tepotzlan, Morelos, in the Zapatista base community of La Realidad.

It read in part: “Capitalism has grown from plunder and exploitation since the beginning. Invasion and plunder are the words that best describe what is called the conquest of America, plunder and robbery of our lands, our territories, our knowledge, our culture. Plunder accompanied by war, massacres, jail, death and more death…”

The declaration accuses “neoliberal capitalists” together with the U.S.-advised Mexican government of opting for military and paramilitary methods in stripping indigenous Mexicans of their patrimony.

“We say to the powerful, to the companies and to the bad governments, headed by the criminal chief of the paramilitaries, (President) Enrique Pena Nieto, that we do not surrender, we do not sell out and we do not give up,” the statement vows.

More than 1,600 people attended the gathering in the Zapatista base community of La Realidad, including 1,300 Mayan Zapatista supporters from Chiapas. Coming from all corners of the nation, the CNI delegates represented more than two dozen indigenous groups, among them the Raramuri, Huichol, Purepecha, Mixteco, and Tzotzil Maya.

In a competing event of sorts President Enrique Pena Nieto, who was on his way back to Mexico from a trip to Colombia, participated in an August 8 ceremony commemorating the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People in the Mayan town of San Juan Chamula, Chiapas,

“My government is an ally of the indigenous peoples, and respects its traditions,” Pena Nieto insisted. In his remarks, Pena Nieto, who was attired in traditional Chamulan dress for the occasion, insisted that his administration’s education, telecommunications, tax and energy reforms would benefit indigenous Mexico.

As an example of favorable policies, the Mexican president cited an agreement between the official National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI) and the Federal Electricity Commission to bring power to 150 communities. Attended by representatives of the nation’s 68 indigenous groups, the San Juan Chamula event featured a speech by Chiapas Governor Manuel Velasco who recognized the historical importance of indigenous movements including the 1994 Zapatista uprising that shook Mexico.

“Today the indigenous peoples are ready to accompany the transformation,” Velasco said.

According to the 2010 Census, Mexico’s 15 million indigenous residents make up 14 percent of the total population. An estimated 76.8 percent of indigenous Mexicans live in poverty, while many suffer disproportionate rates of illiteracy and insufficient access to health care. The National Human Rights Commission recently calculated that legal due process was absent in 80 percent of the cases of 8,334 indigenous prisoners the federal agency studied.

Federico Navarette Linares, history professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the socio-economic conditions of indigenous Mexico deprive the nation’s original peoples their identity and historical integrity.

“This is a paternalistic, racist and discriminatory vision that has no place in modern society,” Navarette said.

The August 2014 La Realidad meeting came at critical historical junctures for the EZLN, CNI and indigenous Mexico as a whole.

Symbolizing the passing of the torch, EZLN Subcomandante Marcos, whose iconic style and literary voice came to personify the Zapatistas in the world limelight, was “retired” and “reborn” earlier this year as Subcomandante Galeano, a personage who was created in honor of a recently murdered teacher and Zapatista leader. With Marcos now history, the EZLN’s public relations desk has been mainly handled by Subcomandante Moises.

Set to celebrate its 31st birthday next November, the EZLN has stood the test of time, recently undergoing a generational transition with the emergence of younger activists and leaders, who were very young children or not even born at the time of the Zapatistas’ armed revolt on New Year’s Day 1994, which occurred on the very same day the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect.

Renewal is likewise on the agenda of the CNI, an organization which enjoyed a national presence after the Mayan Zapatista uprising articulated the aspirations of Mexico’s indigenous peoples.

Later receding from the political scene, the CNI is challenged to once again become an important actor at a moment when localized indigenous struggles are erupting throughout the country. Particular to each region, the struggles nevertheless all have common issues of land, water and cultural survival.

In this vein, more than 100 members of Sonora’s Yaqui tribe are completing a protest caravan scheduled to arrive August 15 in Mexico City. The Yaquis are battling an aqueduct promoted by the Sonora state government that they contend will leave the tribe high and dry and destroy their agricultural base.

In an effort to halt the aqueduct, the Yaquis have repeatedly gone to court, winning some favorable decisions, and organized intermittent blockades of Sonoran highways. The Yaqui fight has now become a national one, garnering the support of former Mexico City mayor and three-time presidential candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, poet and National Movement for Peace and Justice leader Javier Sicilia, human rights activist Miguel Concha, historian Adolfo Gilly, and other prominent public figures.

On August 16 and 17, the Yaqui caravan is scheduled to participate in a national gathering organized for the defense of land, water and energy resources in San Salvador Atenco near Mexico City.

In the run-up to the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, different actions were also reported in the state of Guerrero. On August 7, activists occupied the offices of the CDI and Secretariat of Communications and Transportation in the state capital of Chilpancingo in a protest against alleged government slowness in repairing infrastructure damaged by last year’s devastating Tropical Storm Manuel.

At an August 8 press conference in Chilapa, members of the Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon Human Rights Defense Center and the indigenous women’s organization Noche Zihuame sharply criticized the lack of governmental consultation on issues of natural resource exploitation, environmental contamination, the deterioration of social services, out-migration and the imprisonment of several leaders of Guerrero’s community police forces.

“We want to live in peace and continue maintaining our diet, our clothing, our language, and our territories,” said Noche Zihuame activist Brigida Chautla Ramos.

On August 9, hundreds of indigenous and mestizo protesters marched in the city of Tlapa. The demonstrators expressed grievances ranging from the official lack of attention to climate disaster victims to reforms by the Pena Nieto administration they charged would hand the country over to foreigners.

“It just can’t be that the indigenous people who are affected by Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid continue in a state of abandonment 10 months later,” said Arturo Roman Garcia, member of the Community Front for the Defense of Collective Rights.

For the months ahead, more movement events were laid out at the conclusion of the EZLN-CNI meeting in Chiapas. From September to early January 2015, mass gatherings are on the agenda for Mexico City as well as the states of Morelos, Mexico, Oaxaca, Yucatan, and Chiapas. The events are part of a process of inter-communal story-telling, information sharing and strategizing that is expected to result in another major declaration early next year.

“This encounter should be the beginning of a walk together as brothers,” said EZLN Comandante David as the La Realidad meeting wrapped up last weekend. “This encounter should mark the direction and horizon of our destiny as peoples, and the construction of a new society that we need and deserve.”