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The Zapatista Army of National Liberation The Zapatista Army of National Liberation

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) is an armed revolutionary group based in Chiapas, one of the poorest states of Mexico. Since 1994, they have been in a declared war "against the Mexican state." Their social base is mostly indigenous but they have some supporters in urban areas as well as an international web of support. Their main spokesperson is Subcomandante Marcos (currently a.k.a. Delegate Zero in relation to the "Other Campaign"). Unlike other Zapatista comandantes, Subcomandante Marcos is not an indigenous Mayan.


The group takes its name from Emiliano Zapata, the agrarian reformer and commander of the Liberation Army of the South during the Mexican Revolution, and thus see themselves as his ideological heirs. In reference to inspirational figures, in nearly all EZLN villages exist murals accompanying images of Emiliano Zapata, Che Guevara, and Subcomandante Marcos.


The New York Times called the Zapatista movement the first "post-modern" revolution: an armed revolutionary group that has abstained from using their weapons since their 1994 uprising was countered by the overpowering military might of the Mexican Army. The Zapatistas quickly adopted a new strategy by trying to garner the support of Mexican and international socialist-anarchist societies. They try to achieve this by making use of the Internet to disseminate their communiqués and to enlist the support of NGOs and solidarity groups. Awareness of the Zapatista Movement has also been raised due to support by the bands Rage Against the Machine and Leftöver Crack. The Zapatista feature prominently in the bands' songs, in particular People of the Sun. Outwardly, they portray themselves as part of the wider anti-globalization, anti-neoliberalism social movement while for their indigenous base the Zapatista struggle is all about control over their own resources, particularly the land on which they live. Their ideology combines libertarian socialism, libertarian municipalism, libertarian Marxism, and indigenous Mayan political thought all of which have little or nothing to do with Emiliano Zapata's original fight for Mexican agrarian reform inherent in the ideals of the Plan de San Luis or of his latter Plan of Ayala.

History of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation

The Zapatistas went public on January 1, 1994, the day that the NAFTA went into effect. The initial goal of the EZLN was to instigate a revolution in all of Mexico but as this did not happen, they used their uprising as a platform to call the world's attention to their movement to protest the signing of NAFTA, which the EZLN believed would only intensify the gap between the rich and the poor in Chiapas. The EZLN does not demand independence from Mexico, but rather autonomy, asking (among other things) that the natural resources that are extracted from Chiapas benefit more directly the people of Chiapas.


Short armed clashes in Chiapas ended on January 12, 1994, with a ceasefire brokered by the Catholic diocese in San Cristóbal de las Casas under Bishop Samuel Ruiz, a well known liberation theologist. Some of the land taken over by the Zapatistas in 1994 was retained, but the territory they militarily held for a little more than a year was overrun by the Mexican army in a surprise raid in February 1995. While army camps were set up along all major thoroughfares, the Mexican army failed to capture the guerilla movement's commanders. After that, the Mexican government instead pursued a policy of negotiation, while the Zapatistas developed a mobilization and media campaign through numerous newspaper comunicados and over time a set of Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle with no further military actions on their part. A strong international internet presence has prompted the adherence to the movement of numerous left-wing international groups. Other groups within Chiapas, such as the pacifist Las Abejas, support many of the goals of the Zapatista Revolution without condoning the use of violence to achieve those goals.


The Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and against Neoliberalism held in Chiapas in 1996 resulted in various pro-Zapatista support groups emerging outside of Mexico, particularly in the US, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and Britain.


Government talks with the EZLN culminated in the signing of the San Andrés Accords (1996) that granted autonomy and special rights to the indigenous population. With the new government of President Fox in 2001, the Zapatistas marched on Mexico City to present their case to the Mexican Congress. Watered-down agreements were rejected by the rebels who proceeded to create 32 "autonomous municipalities" in Chiapas, thus partially implementing the agreements without government support but with some funding from international organizations.


On June 28, 2005 the Zapatistas presented the so-called Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, declaring their principles and vision for Mexico and the world.

The first such declaration, issued in 1993, had amounted to a declaration of war on the Mexican government, which they considered so out of touch with the will of the people as to make it completely illegitimate. Subsequent declarations have focused on non-violent solutions, both through political channels and through the assumption of many of the functions of government in the Chiapas state of southeastern Mexico.


This latest declaration reiterates the support of the Zapatistas for the indigenous peoples who compose roughly one third of the population of the state of Chiapas, and extends the cause to include "all the exploited and dispossessed of Mexico." It also expresses the movement's sympathy to the international alter-globalization movement, and offers to provide material aid to those in Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and elsewhere, with whom they make common cause. The declaration ends with an exhortation for all who have more respect for humanity than for money to join with the Zapatistas in the struggle for social justice both in Mexico and abroad. In this new Declaration, the EZLN called for an alternative national campaign (the "Other Campaign") in opposition to the current presidential campaign. In preparation for this alternative campaign, the Zapatistas invited to their territory over 600 national leftist organizations, indigenous groups and non-governmental organizations in order to listen to their claims for human rights in a series of biweekly meetings that culminated in a plenary meeting in 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 that took place concurrently with the electoral campaign starting January 2006. "Everything for everyone, and nothing for ourselves." ("Para todos todo, para nosotros nada.") is a Zapatista slogan.

Zapatista IdeologyZapatista Ideology

This sign reads, in Spanish: Top sign: "You are in Zapatista rebel territory. Here the people give the orders and the government obeys." Bottom sign: "North Zone. Council of Good Government. Trafficking in weapons, planting of drugs, drug use, alcoholic beverages, and illegal sales of wood are strictly prohibited. No to the destruction of nature." Federal Highway 307, Chiapas.


The EZLN opposes corporate globalization in the neoliberalist sense, arguing that it severely and negatively affects the peasant way of life of its indigenous support base and oppressed people worldwide.


The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is an example of neoliberal policy that the EZLN opposes. Apart from opening the Mexican market to cheap mass-produced US agricultural products, it spells an end to Mexican crop subsidies and drastically reduces income and living standards of many southern Mexican farmers who cannot compete with the subsidized, artificially fertilized, mechanically harvested and genetically modified imports from the United States. The signing of NAFTA also resulted in the removal of Article 27 Section VII in the Mexican Constitution which previously had guaranteed land reparations to indigenous groups throughout Mexico.


Another key element of the Zapatista ideology is their aspiration to do politics in a new, truly participatory way, from the "bottom-up" instead of "top-down." The Zapatistas view the contemporary political system of Mexico as one that is inherently flawed due to what they claim is its purely representative nature and obvious disconnection from the people and their needs. The EZLN claims, in contrast, to reinforce the idea of participatory democracy or radical democracy by limiting public servants' terms to only two weeks a term, not using visible organization leaders, and constantly referring to the people they are governing for major decisions, strategies and conceptual visions. As Marcos reiterates time and time again, "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 and wish to reconceptualize the entire Mexican political system rather than perpetuating it by attempting to gain power within its ranks.


In an unusual move for any revolutionary organization, documents released by the EZLN (in Spanish) before the initial uprising in 1994 explicitly defined a right of the people to resist any unjust actions of the EZLN. They also defined a right of the people to "demand that the revolutionary armed forces not intervene in matters of civil order or the disposition of capital relating to agriculture, commerce, finances, and industry, as these are the exclusive domain of the civil authorities, elected freely and democratically." Furthermore, it added that the people should "acquire and possess arms to defend their persons, families and property, according to the laws of disposition of capital of farms, commerce, finance and industry, against the armed attacks committed by the revolutionary forces or those of the government."

Zapatismo, the ideology of the movement, combines traditional Mayan practices with elements of Anarchism, libertarian socialism, and Marxism.


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