17 years after the appearance of the EZLN, the government still maintains a covert war

The communities who have been in resistance since 1994 say that their demands have still not been met

In spite of the counterinsurgency strategy, the indigenous have developed a peaceful autonomy

Hermann Bellinghausen, La Jornada, Friday December 31, 2010, p. 11, originally published in Spanish.

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. December 30.

As the armed uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) reaches its 17th anniversary, the indigenous communities who have been in resistance since January 1994 say that their demands have still not been met by four successive federal and six state governments. In spite of this, and in spite of the prolonged counterinsurgency war in operation against them, the communities and regions in rebellion have developed an important example of peaceful autonomy, recognised on a national level, which has also proved effective in defending the territorial sovereignty of Mexico, at a time when this appears somewhat damaged.

The Zapatistas reached the outskirts of this city on the night of December 31, 1993. Those who saw them appearing in the shadows at first counted hundreds. By midnight there were thousands, armed and uniformed. They concentrated on the ring road, near the Boulevard Juan Sabines Gutiérrez, after occupying the plaza of San Ramon and the White Bridge, which provide access to the city if coming from the Highlands.

At the other end of the city, by the road to Comitan, in the San Diego neighborhood and Avenida Insurgentes, more indigenous troops were advancing toward the centre. During the morning, the new insurgents seized the town hall, the central plaza and, in fact, the city. The same was true in Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, Altamirano and Huixtán.

By then the news had spread throughout the indigenous communities of Chiapas, although it was still still unknown by most Mexicans, including the government of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and the governors Patrocinio Gonzalez Blanco Garrido and Elmar Setzer, who was Secretary of the Interior. The Mayan peoples of Chiapas had launched a war of liberation, which still continues. The “Enough!” which the next morning went round the world is a milestone in the modern history of Mexico.

Since then, the indigenous Zapatista movement has been a key actor in the political struggle of the country. While the rebels declared a truce after 12 days of fighting in January 1994, the war is not over. None of the demands which led to the uprising have been met, although they were recognized as legitimate by the governments of Salinas de Gortari, Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox. Moreover, successive governments have developed a relentless “low intensity” war against the organized communities of the EZLN, its supporters, and today also of adherents to the Other Campaign.

In a broad national, though often obscure, context of full militarization and irregular warfare, it is easy to forget that the mountains of Chiapas are still the most militarized region in the country, and that what seems like a “relative peace” is actually a covert war. With guns as backup (federal troops have occupied several dozen communities in indigenous territory), the government is waging a sophisticated economic, social (sometimes disguised as “religious”) and psychological war.

Throughout this period, the rebel communities have not only resisted and survived, but have undergone a significant transformation. In December 1994, they established 40 autonomous municipalities, giving birth to the most prolonged and effective autonomous rebellion in the modern history of the world. Seventeen years later, the Zapatistas have five Good Government Juntas, which, in the midst of a counterinsurgency war against them, represent an undeniable example of governance and legality, literally despite government policies.

The Zapatistas not only pursued a highly egalitarian land reform which raised the living standards, dignity and freedom of thousands of indigenous campesinos, but through genuine “schools” of government (regarded as a service), the boards of the five Caracoles, which have operated since 2003, have built alternative systems of education, health, justice, and manufacturing and marketing of agricultural products. They also now have seventeen years of relationships of solidarity and politics with other organizations in struggle throughout Mexico, America and Europe.

During 2010, although in active resistance in the mountains of the southeast, the Zapatistas have maintained a stubborn silence, only broken occasionally to denounce attacks by paramilitaries, the police and the military when these reach intolerable levels, which does not permanently prevent them from happening.

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