Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, February 26, 2018

When is rebellion seccession?

Mexico’s Zapatista rebels, 24 years on and defiant in mountain strongholds
[T]he Zapatistas, [are] the indigenous peasant rights movement from dirt-poor Chiapas state, which took up arms and occupied San Cristóbal on 1 January 1994, the day Mexico signed up to Nafta, the North American free trade agreement.
Welcoming committee for tourists
The rag-tag rebel Zapatista national liberation army (EZLN)… freed prisoners, burned military posts and seized ranches in protest at centuries of what they saw as oppression by large landowners and the government…

“Zapatourismo is big,” says Manuel Heredia, a young Chamula Indian who was brought up in what is now a Zapatista community. “We have many American, British, Italian and others coming here. Every day sympathisers come to San Cristóbal. They want to know about 1994, and what happens now.”

Today the Zapatistas, who have never disarmed, claim to control much of the state of Chiapas. “There are 50,000 families, or nearly 300,000 people in 55 municipalities. Their rules of ‘good government’ involve giving their time several days a week to the community, sharing food, helping to teach the young, and organising,” says Heredia…

Three masked Zapatistas sit, as in an interviewing panel, at a table… “I will answer your questions all as one,” says their young spokeswoman, a masked Tzotzil woman, who will not give her name or say where she is from… “We were forgotten. Now we are known by everyone. In 1994, we had no hospitals or schools. Now we have them. Our work was hard. Now it is much better.”

She says the Zapatistas are unvanquished and happier, despite the Mexican government’s continuing hostility. “We do not need the government. We do not use them. We have our own indigenous government. We have different problems now, but we are finding the solutions ourselves…

But while they reject globalisation, they are its beneficiaries, receiving aid from support groups in Britain, the US and across Europe. “Capitalism exploits and dominates. We are developing a new form of governance. The decisions [about how we live] are now made by the communities, not by government,” the young woman says.

She rejects suggestions that the Zapatistas have become a political cult that has turned its back on the outside world. “No. We are now self-reliant. We have email and the internet. We are part of a global indigenous movement. But our children don’t go to university. We teach ourselves. Our people work everywhere now, as teachers, farmers, communicators. We work with other Zapatistas and indigenous groups. The base of our society is people, not the capitalist system…

There are signs that the Zapatistas are ready to play a bigger part in wider Mexican politics. Although they have stated in the past that they want no part in state elections, they have an elected leader, María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, also known as “Marichuy”, who hopes to stand in the May presidential elections as the first indigenous woman candidate. She is not a Zapatista herself but there are 25 million indigenous people in Mexico, and many back her stand against deforestation, mining and the mega-projects that are devastating the country…

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