Zapatistas: the fight goes on

A number of initiatives of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and native communities in 2018 illustrate the practice of resistance and rebellion in Mexico today. Español.

Ké Huelga
29 April 2019, 12.01am
Demonstrator wearing EZLN baclava during May 1, 2017 demonstrations in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Photo: Christopher Dilts/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.


The openMovements series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.

On the "axis of resistance" - to use Zapatista terminology -, the key event was the formation of the Indigenous Council of Government (CIG). Its founding purpose is to expand the experience and spread the example of the native communities' self-government in different geographical areas of Mexico. Its main public expression was the waging of a campaign to denounce the situation of Mexican native communities.

The campaign was led by CIG spokeswoman María de Jesús Patricio, Marichuy. According to official statements released early last year, the primary objective of Marichuy's, the CIG and its allies' participation in the 2018 electoral process was to put the war of extermination against the native peoples back on the agenda of national debate.

The number of signatures (281.955) supporting the registration of Marichuy as an independent presidential candidate was however insufficient for her to make the ballot. In March 2018, when presenting the results of the campaign, the CIG, the EZLN, the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) and the association The Time has Come for the Blossoming of the Peoples stated: "Our journey goes on. The main difference with previous stages is that there is now more of us native people walking together and, MOST IMPORTANTLY, that we as people, groups, and organizations are bent on finding solutions by ourselves, for we know solutions will never come from above."

The final outcome of the CIG initiative is necessarily a mixed one since, even though it managed to get the situation of the native peoples included in the public debate, the campaign did not achieve the support that had seemed feasible in the light of previous initiatives promoted by the EZLN and its allies. Possibly the limited response to the call for signatures to endorse Marichuy's candidacy had to do precisely with the proposal get the indigenous movement involved in institutional politics, which is something that prompted a variety of unfavorable reactions: from those who saw it as an attempt to subtract votes from López Obrador, to those who radically oppose the participation of Zapatismo in elections.

During the second half of 2018, the indigenous-popular coalition held several meetings to assess the situation. A Resistance and Rebellion Networks Encounter in support of the CIG was held in December to discuss what to do next. This meeting came after the ones held in August and October, where the EZLN had proposed, as a guiding element, the idea that the Indigenous Council of Government should stop being indigenous and national to become international and include all fighting sectors.

At the December meeting, a key topic under discussion was the new government, which was defined as a project aimed at depriving the native peoples of their territories. Solidarity with ongoing struggles, support for Zapatista communities and the need to continue joint mobilisations were also reaffirmed.

An outstanding result of the meeting was the creation of the Antipatriarchal and Anticolonial Resistance and Rebellion La Caracola Network. Its founding document said: "We denounce the lack of an anti-patriarchal praxis, on both political and personal levels. We denounce the silencing and the invisibilization of our words, senses, proposals, struggles and experiences. This being so, we ask support networks to comply with what was agreed at the first meeting of support networks in August this year, for we are witnessing the reproduction of the same old patriarchal logics. This struggle is not only about women: it includes all the bodies and territories oppressed by the hetero-patriarchal system."

Our struggle for freedom as Zapatista women is ours. If we want to be free, we have to conquer freedom ourselves as women

The proposals made at this meeting are currently being processed in the grassroots organizations and spaces where those who attended participate, with a view to producing a common fighting plan. The core of these proposals is the creation of a global network of resistances and rebellions to frame and promote the struggles of them all.

Zapatista meetings

In 2018, the second Zapatista pivotal axis, the axis of rebellion, took the form of several meetings involving different social sectors. Without turning attention away from the national situation, the Zapatistas invited attendants to think about the fact that we live in a capitalist, patriarchal system that destroys life and Mother Earth.

Considering the current momentum of women’s struggle in both Mexico and the world, and the response to the Zapatista call, the First International Fighting Women Political, Artistic, Sports and Cultural Encounter, held in Caracol de Morelia on March 8-10, was a highly relevant event. In the first place, it had a strong impact on patriarchy: thousands of women gathered there, in a self-managed meeting in rebel territory, to talk freely about their life and struggle - definitely, an unprecedented event for the contemporary social struggles in Mexico and the world. Secondly, the meeting was able to break the electoral siege which the closeness of the July 2018 presidential elections had laid on the social struggles.

In her welcome address, insurgenta Erika said: "What we are not going to do is to blame men, or the system, for errors which are all ours. Our struggle for freedom as Zapatista women is ours. It's not men’s job, or the system’s, to give us our freedom. On the contrary, the job of the patriarchal capitalist system is to keep us subdued. If we want to be free, we have to conquer freedom ourselves as women".

In the midst of electoral turmoil, the EZLN convened a meeting entitled Is it Forbidden to Think? which produced an evaluation of Mexico's current situation. In this case, there was strong debate and opinions clashed - always in tune, however, with the thinking of the indigenous and democratic movement. For 9 days, attendants were able to hear multiple analyzes of the situation. Zapatista speakers made the case that progress that had been achieved and supported this with the presence of the CIG councilors and Marichuy, as well as different actors of the war of dispossession and extermination against the native peoples.

"As Zapatista Defense, our sole aim is to take care of Zapatista hope. If this world is unable to deliver this much, then we will have to build another one - one in which many worlds can fit in".

Subcomandante Galeano (EZLN)

In one of the most controversial discussions, Subcomandante Galeano said: "You are proposing to choose between reform and revolution. Reform allows people to take a break, and revolution requires no halfway measures. We say: neither reform nor revolution. We say: survival - that is, resistance and rebellion. Because capital goes all out to get what it wants; capital will not allow any Lulas - however much a reformer Lula is. Neither will it tolerate any Dilmas, Kirchners, Correas, Evos, or López Obrador. It will not accept anyone who says "I offer you a break". It will not allow it. So, it is one thing to prepare ourselves for a respite, and quite another thing to prepare for bloodthirsty persecution..."

"What the CNI, the CIG, Marichuy, the stubborn fight of the relatives of the missing ones from Ayotzinapa, of the fathers and mothers of the ABC Nursery children, the anger of the families of the disappeared, of the murdered, of those who dwell in rooms behind bars, of the individuals, groups, and organizations of la Sexta (the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, a June 2005 EZLN manifesto declaring their principles and vision for Mexico and the world), of the CIG support networks, what all of them tell us, slapping us in the face, is that we have to hold on to that millionth probability. They tell us that we should not let the little crack in the wall, the almost imperceptible crack in the vast and solid wall, close. They tell us that we must keep it open with our nails and teeth... We tell them: it is going to get worse. But what they call the Apocalypse is not the end of the world, it is only the end of a system. It is the end of hegemony, the end of homogeneity, the end of leadership, the end of caudillismo, the end of governments and - we say it bluntly - the end of the State. Whoever is responsible for our pains will have to pay. And we will have to start again, from below, looking for life. This is not a prophecy, it's a promise."

The third CompArte Festival for Life and Freedom – Paint Caracolitos (the Caracoles are the regional organizations of the Zapatista autonomous communities) for Bad Governments, Present, Past and Future - was held at Caracol de Morelia on August 6-9, 2018. This event was based on two axes of reflection, the situation of the planet and the advances in the autonomy of the Zapatista communities, embodied in multiple cultural expressions. It also included the participation of many international artists.

This is an excerpt of a report of the Festival broadcast by Radio Zapatista: "In one of the CompArte 2018 performances, the path which the capitalist system follows as regards the communities is made crystal clear: poor diet makes people sick, people have then to request expensive medical attention, which leads to women and men having to sell their scant properties and even their land in order to pay off debt. The other side of things shown by the native people in resistance is health for the whole population and no more large sums required for healthcare in their clinics and autonomous hospitals. They also call for collective action to support the sick".

In the festival farewell address, Subcomandante Galeano stated: "All over the world rebellions are being born and are growing. They refuse to accept the limits of schemes, laws and precepts. For there are not only two genders, only seven colors, only four cardinal points. There is not only one world. As Zapatista Defense, our sole aim is to take care of Zapatista hope. If this world is unable to deliver this much, then we will have to build another one - one in which many worlds can fit in".

The other side of things shown by the native people in resistance is health for the whole population and no more large sums required for healthcare in their clinics and autonomous hospitals.

Multiple initiatives, analyzes and practices arising from last year's meetings aim at dealing with the diverse faces of capitalism, in Mexico and the world. The strategic importance of these meetings should not be understated, for they fueled the creation of critical and alternative thinking by people who are actually organizing and fighting. This is an essential contribution in that it breaks the social struggles' dependence on dominant thinking and the so-called specialists.

25 years after the uprising

On New Year's Eve, thousands of EZLN support bases and solidary organizations, groups and people gathered at the Caracol de la Realidad, in Chiapas, to celebrate 25th anniversary of the armed uprising. In addition to a military parade and an assorted cultural program, people listened to Subcomandante Moisés, from the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee - EZLN General Command and the "Forward to Hope" Good Government Board. All the Zapatista statements that day insisted on the anti-capitalist nature of their struggle, criticized López Obrador's government, and stressed the need to resist the "projects of death" which are taking shape at the moment - such as the so-called Mayan Train.

Here is a fragment of Subcomandante Moisés's address: "Our achievements, if any, are due to the fact that we have worked hard for them. And if we have committed some mistakes, that is also of our own making. That's the way it is: nobody told us to do it, nobody taught us how to do it - it's our job. Some people wanted to teach us, they wanted to tell us what we should do and what we shouldn't do, when to talk, when not to talk. We are not listening to them. Only those who organize themselves get to know, see, understand. In a speech one just says words; but one has to do what has been said, one has to do what one thinks. We don't have any instruction manuals, we don't have books. Nobody will teach us what we want to build. We will do it with our sacrifice, we will do it with our effort, compañeros and compañeras. It's easy, so easy to say, in a speech, that we should make the impossible possible. But it has to be done in practice, and we are demonstrating it. What is it that we are demonstrating? Here it is, we have it right here: it is the rule of the people, the people's own politics, own ideology, own culture, the people creating, improving, correcting, imagining and practicing".

"Now we see that they are after us, the native peoples. With this popular consultation they have come up with (the November 2018 referendum on the construction of a 948 mile railroad that will cross the Yucatán Peninsula, which resulted in the approval of the project), we have to say it clearly, they are manipulating the population: that consultation is asking for permission to come and attack us, the native peoples. This is what it's about. But people should wake up. We are not going to put up with it anymore: we are sick and tired. The new government is asking permission to come and confront us, the native peoples, and especially us, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation - with that crap of Mayan Train which, to make things worse, is named after the ones who came before us. We don't accept it."

Independent and autonomous thinking is actually good news, not only as a counterweight to institutional logic, but as an anti-state reference that keeps the social and political struggle alive and fosters the building of liberation from below

President López Obrador during a ritual ceremony performed by representatives of indigenous communities in Mexico City, Mexico, December 1, 2018. Photo: Carlos Tischler/SIPA USA/PA Images. All Rights Reserved.

"The change we want is for the people, the world, women and men, to be able to decide, one day, how they want to live their life - not having a group of people deciding on the lives of millions of human beings. No! We say it plainly, in just a few words: the people has to rule, and the government has to obey. This is what we have to fight for. They think we are ignorant, compañeros y compañeras. But here we are, ready and willing to defend ourselves. For all the reasons that I have told you, we are willing to do anything, we are ready for whatever comes."

Facing the new government

Since the victory of Morena and López Obrador at the July elections, the EZLN has established its position on the new government based on two general ideas.

First, the government has a narrow margin of manoeuvre, since real power is not in State or government institutions but in the hands of the owners of capital.

This idea was clearly expressed in the brief postscript to the July 4 EZLN statement: "We, the Zapatistas, are NOT joining the campaign "for the good of all, the bones first". They may change the foreman, the butlers and the herdsmen, but the landowner is still the same". The conclusion that the compañeros draw from this idea is expressed in the fifth "elementary lesson of political economy": "Capital cannot be tamed, educated, reformed, subdued. It is to be obeyed... or destroyed".

Second, Zapatista spokespersons insist on the capitalist nature of the national project promoted by López Obrador, pointing out that the scenario for a substantial part of the initiatives that are currently being proposed is the native peoples' territories.

This is the case of the so-called Mayan Train and the special economic areas. Even though this characterization of the new government may seem rather abstract to those who are delighted to see the traditional political caste being set aside, the territorial dispute will undoubtedly be the battle front where the fate of capitalism in Mexico in the coming years will be elucidated.

For the EZLN, the new government intends to nourish capitalism with the country’s last unexploited riches: "The system chose, out of four candidates, the most efficient one, Mr. López Obrador. And the token of love that Mr. López Obrador has given, or is giving, to big capital - that is, to the landowner - is, among other things, the handing over of the native peoples' territories. His projects for the Southeast, for the Isthmus, for Chiapas, Tabasco, Yucatán and Campeche are, actually, projects of dispossession".

On the basis of these ideas, clearly, the EZLN and its allies will continue to organize both resistance and rebellion to hold back the new government's predatory projects. But contrary to what many analysts, professional politicians and ordinary citizens have expressed, independent and autonomous thinking is actually good news, not only as a counterweight to institutional logic, but as an anti-state reference that keeps the social and political struggle alive and fosters the building of liberation from below: breaking the dependence on capitalism, reaching the critical mass that prevents the destruction of autonomous spaces, and starting to decolonize society.

We’ve got a newsletter for everyone

Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a free openDemocracy newsletter for you.


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData