CNI, EZLN and the power from below

Zapatistas at the Fifth National Indigenous Congress.

Zapatistas at the Fifth National Indigenous Congress.

By: Neil Harvey*

The recent comunicado from the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), “May the earth tremble at its core,” published on, has the virtue of placing at the center of attention the defense of land, forests, water, and everything that is threatened by the development megaprojects and the dispossession of the commons. It also represents a call to society as a whole to organize for supporting a new political initiative that would be expressed in the independent candidacy of an indigenous woman, a CNI delegate, in the 2018 presidential elections.

The comunicado was issued at the end of the 5th National Indigenous Congress, held in Cideci-Unitierra, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, on the 20th anniversary of the CNI and on one more anniversary of the resistance of the indigenous peoples throughout more than five centuries. The CNI continues being an expression of hope for a new nation, despite the government’s refusal to implement the San Andrés Accords signed in 1996. The resistance struggles against the economic model continue, with the arduous construction and defense of their own spaces that now form the basis of this new group of the CNI and the EZLN.

Although this proposal will be based on these experiences of struggle, it will not be limited only to ethnic demands, but it will also include civil society in general. What’s new is that it proposes another view of national politics; in other words, it represents an invitation to re-think the nation from the experiences of dispossession and repression lived by the indigenous peoples in the countryside and in the city. It’s not about something external or additional to the nation’s defense, but rather that it forms the central part of that. Nor is it about seeking power, but rather of constructing one more solid, articulated and national defense against the megaprojects and dispossessions all over the country. Finally, what it seeks is to reaffirm the value of life, as the Zapatistas declared in January 1994, when they rose up to not die in abandonment.

The proposal not only assures that there will be an indigenous woman as an independent candidate in the presidential elections, but it also seeks to give a new political form to ancestral demands and the new ones that were expressed in the last Congress. As the same comunicado points out, it’s “the power from below that has kept us alive.”

The method of selecting the independent candidate is based on the organization of this “power from below.” The CNI and the EZLN have declared themselves in permanent assembly with the proposal to take the agreement of the 5th Congress to consultation “in each one of our geographies, territories and directions” to name an indigenous government council. From that council will emerge the proposal that will declare an indigenous woman as a candidate for the Presidency of the country.

The proposal is also different from other experiences in Latin America where indigenous peoples have not always had favorable results when they decide to participate in the electoral ambit in alliance with political parties. In Ecuador, for example, in the middle of the “90s, the Coordinator of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) decided to participate in the elections, taking advantage of a 1994 electoral reform that permitted candidacies of independent organizations and removed a law that obliged registering members in at least 10 provinces and registering candidates in 12 provinces. In that new context, the Conaie decided to form the party of the Movement of Plurinational Unity Pachakutik, or the MUPP, which participated in alliances with other parties to remove corrupt presidents, attaining spaces in the government headed by Lucio Gutiérrez in 2002. Nevertheless, Pachakutik remained marginalized when that same government, once elected, decided to adopt austerity policies and other unpopular measures that derived into the resignation or removal of the Pachakutik representatives. Such a situation also negatively impacted that same indigenous movement and led to a re-evaluation of the importance of local and community organization versus alliances with candidates of national parties, which tend to impose their own agenda, as has happened in the case of the government of Rafael Correa. Something similar has occurred in Bolivia, where the emergence of the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) as a political party, based in great part on the indigenous mobilizations, has led to contradictions and tensions between the momentum the MAS governments have given to the extractivist economy and the resistances to said model because of its damaging effects for self-management and the environment in indigenous territories.

In the case of Mexico, the CNI and EZLN’s proposal is not about forming a party or allying with political parties, but rather creating an “indigenous government council” and, from there, promoting its proposals through an indigenous woman, a delegate of the CNI, as an independent candidate in 2018. It’s an initiative that seeks to assure that the relationship between the peoples that compose said council and its candidate is stricter and less inclined to cooptation. It’s a different way of confronting the political dilemma of how a popular movement can gain a national presence without losing the relationship with the social bases that support it. Also, as is to be expected, the proposal of the CNI and the EZLN is going to compete with that of other candidates and parties, which could derive into mutual disqualifications, or into a necessary debate about the country’s direction and the role of the indigenous communities, barrios and towns in the process of defining that direction. We still don’t know the reception this proposal will have. For the moment, it’s necessary to recognize that it’s an idea that guaranties that the problems of dispossession, impunity, violence and repression expressed by the CNI and the EZLN will be inescapable in the national debates and, for that very fact, the proposal constitutes an opportune and welcome contribution.

*Professor-researcher, New Mexico State University


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Monday, October 17, 2016

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee


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