Collapse and Rebirth in the Zapatista Maya World
By: Luis Hernández Navarro
What has never gone away cannot reappear. What made the rebel Zapatista Mayas to occupy peacefully and in silence five Chiapas cities this December 21 was not to reappear, but rather to reaffirm their force.
The EZLN has been here for more than 28 years. It has never gone away. For ten years it grew under the radar; it announced itself publically more than 18 years ago. Since then it has spoken and guarded silence intermittently, but has never stopped. At one time or another its disappearance or irrelevance has been decreed, but it has always re-emerged with force and with a message.
This start of the new Maya cycle was no exception. More than 40, 000 Zapatista support bases marched in the rain in five Chiapas cities: 20, 000 in San Cristóbal, 8, 000 in Palenque, 8, 000 in Las Margaritas, 6, 000 in Ocosingo, and at least 5, 000 more in Altamirano. We’re dealing with the most numerous mobilization since the emergence of the rebels from the Mexican southeast.
The magnitude of the protest is a signal that their internal strength, far from diminishing with the passage of years, has grown. It is an indicator that the counterinsurgency against them, carried out by the different governments, has failed. It is sign that their project is a genuine expression of the Maya world, but also of a whole lot of poor Mestizo campesinos in Chiapas.
The EZLN never abandoned the national scene. Guided by their own political calendar, loyal to their ethical congruence and with the force of the State against them, it strengthened its forms of autonomous government, it kept alive its political authority among the country’s indigenous peoples and kept the international solidarity networks active. The fact that it has not appeared publically does not mean that it is not present in many significant struggles in the country.
In the five Good Government Juntas that exist in Chiapas and in the autonomous municipalities the authorities of the Zapatista support bases govern themselves, exercise justice and resolve agrarian conflicts. Within their territories, the rebels have made their health and education systems function at the margin of the state and federal governments, organized production and commercialization and kept its military structure standing. They successfully resolved the challenge of the generational relief of their commanders. As if it were nothing, they efficiently dodged threats from drug traffickers, public insecurity and migration. The book Luchas “muy otras” Zapatismo y autonomía en las comunidades indígenas de Chiapas is an extraordinary window for looking at some of these experiences.
The Zapatistas marched this December 21 in order, with dignity, with discipline and cohesion, and in silence, a silence that was loudly heard. In the same way in which they had to cover their face in order to be seen, they now interrupted the word in order to be heard. We’re dealing with a silence that expresses a fertile generative capacity for other horizons of social transformation, a great potency. A silence that communicates the will of resistance in front of power: “He who stays in silence is ungovernable,” Ivan Illich said.
A cycle of the political struggle closed in Mexico this December 1, at the time that another opened. The EZLN has a lot to say in the nascent map of social struggles that begins to be drawn within the country. Their mobilization can impact them in a relevant way.
Among the contours that define the new stage of social struggles are: the return to Los Pinos of the old PRI dinosaur, manned by Salinismo and its authoritarian ways of exercising state command; the pretension of managing social conflict starting from a pact among elites that excludes the subordinate sectors; the crisis, decomposition and reorganization of the partisan left, and the emergence of new social movements.
The EZLN is a new player that, without invitation, sits down at the table of the party that recently came out in national politics.
The Pact for Mexico, subscribed to by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the National Action Party (PAN) and, individually, by the president of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) seeks to agree on a program of reforms at the margin of broad social sectors. The EZLN’s mobilization makes evident that a very broad part of Mexican society is not included in that agreement, and that what its subscribers agree to does not necessarily have the endorsement of the citizens.
The party of the Aztec Sun (the PRD) is locked in an internal struggle that can provoke its rupture. The New Left’s pretension of yoking its destiny to the Peña Nieto government mortgages any possibility of a critical distance from power.
The National Regeneration Movement (Morena, its Spanish acronym) has been occupied with the organizational tasks for obtaining its registry. It is probable that the Workers Popular Organization (OPT, its initials in Spanish) continues the same path. It exists because there is a broad political and social territory that the partisan left is not occupying. The Zapatistas enjoy an indubitable political authority among those who people those latitudes.
In the last year and a half social movements have emerged that question power at the margin of the political parties. They don’t feel represented by any of them. The Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, #YoSoy132, the community struggles against public insecurity and ecological devastation, the student protests in defense of public education, among others, walk along different paths than those of institutional politics. The sympathies toward Zapatismo within those forces are real.
But, beyond the conjuncture, the marches of the Maya 13 Baktún are a novel “¡Ya basta!” similar to what they enunciated in January 1994, and a renewed version of “Never more a Mexico without us!” formulated in October 1996, which opens other horizons. They don’t ask for anything, don’t demand anything. They demonstrate the power of silence. They announce that a world is crumbling and another is reborn.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
English translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Saturday, December 22, 2012