Zapatismo and the dispute for (present) history

The EZLN celebrates 25 years of Resistance to Neoliberalism..

By: Mariana Mora and Pablo González*

During the first weeks of 2019 public debates have emerged regarding the role that the Zapatista National Liberation Army (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) occupies in the history of Mexico and in relation to other anti-systemic struggles on a world scale. From the social networks that circulate in Mexico and in the Unites States we have read different attempts to delegitimize the ethical basis and the political horizon that the Zapatistas have firmly maintained through these years, critics who argue that the EZLN is a product of Salinismo or that Galeano is a regional cacique (political boss) who only appears on the public scene to negate the vote of 30 million Mexicans. On the other hand, different actors and collectives have come out to defend the achievements of Zapatismo, to affirm that the autonomy exercised by their support base is a star to follow. Said polarization inhibits the possibility of entering into a profound (and necessary) reflection on the influences and challenges that Zapatismo has generated among diverse struggles of those below during the last 25 years (including many that now militate in Morena), runs the risk of becoming two rigid sides of the same coin and makes a fundamental dispute invisible.

The sum of different criticisms, both intentional and calculated (some politicians and intellectuals accuse the EZLN of abandoning the struggles of other indigenous peoples and organizations of below), as well as apolitical because their reason for being consists in arousing any thematic hornet in order to provoke sharp reactions (the trolls) points out that controlling the narrative about memory of the recent past is a central element central for the permanent legitimacy of the Fourth Transformation. That’s why the 25th anniversary of the uprising has become the pretext for disputing the role that the diverse “lefts” occupy during the neoliberal period.

History, as the protagonists remind us around the memory of ‘68, legitimizes who is or is not a relevant political actor in the present. In that sense, attempts to undermine the moral and ethical character of Zapatismo seek to weaken its ability to be one of the counterweights to the new administration, with the power to anchor proposals for social transformation on a decolonial, anti-racist (and therefore anticapitalist) horizon. From its enunciated politics there is no room for a project of a developmental cut like the Tren Maya (Maya Train) or for the National Guard.

If we don’t pay attention to the trolls and bots that fill the Twitter world, we are still left with the discourses of those who try to turn the conversation into arguing that the EZLN has abandoned them after they supported it and demonstrated their loyalty. Said arguments have an anti-indigenous rhetoric as a subtext. The EZLN not “us” (read, mestizos) owe absolutely nothing. One of the most luminous aspects of Zapatismo has been the invitation not to reproduce a solidarity policy based on the indigenous peoples as actors that require being saved or who should be grateful for having allies. And it goes without saying that the (recycled) rhetoric about the political military structure of the EZLN (read, Galeano and Marcos) manipulates the indigenous communities in order to fulfill obscure political interests is directly racist.

We limit ourselves to asking what is at play in the (re)-writing of those 25 years that denies the lived reality of the daily struggles of those below, including the Zapatista women and men Tseltals, Tsotsils, Tojolabals and Chols. What contributions do they offer to the debate? In their words and actions we hear the elaboration of a counter narrative that reduces advocacy to Salinismo [1] (and subsequent administrations) for being a limited period of time; they are the most recent expression of broader (neo) colonial policies. The current dispossession, murders and forced disappearances are not only the result of the most voracious phase of neoliberalism or of the interests of global gore capitalism, but a reminder of the permanent presence of colonial forces, even after more than 200 years of independence. That’s why the insistence of the support bases on pointing out that the development megaprojects and extractivist policies reflect the return to the epoch of the fincas, of slavery, of the ajvalil, the patron-government. Structural racism, the motor and effect of these policies, disturbs generations, leaving painful footprints, the uts’inel, a pain that attacks against human dignity and the dignity of nature, as the Tseltal intellectual Xuno López describes well.

For many collectives in the United States, these theoretical contributions from the Zapatista communities have permitted producing and comprehending political action under the Trump administration not as a new moment, but rather the neofascist resurgence of the right as part of a settling of racist colonial forces and of patriarchal violence. They also question how transformative the period of Obama was if during his administration so many acts of violence were committed against black communities and the State’s anti-immigrant policy was widened.

From this optic, it is not enough to stop neoliberal policies, nor to resuscitate state multi-cultural policies or national projects, but rather to elaborate cross-border strategies that feed the constant reproduction of counter-narratives that keep in sight the political visions that Zapatismo shares with other movements, communities and indigenous and Afro-descendent organizations. Trying to erase the living legacy of Zapatismo is also undermining the persistence of struggles like those of the families of the Ayotzinapa 43, Ferguson, Cherán or Standing Rock, among hundreds of collective actions.

*Mariana Mora is a professor and researcher at CIESAS-Mexico City MX; Pablo González is a professor at UC Berkeley.


[1] Salinismo refers to the politics of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, president of Mexico from 1988-1994.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee



2 Comments on “Zapatismo and the dispute for (present) history

  1. The corporate mega monster has more to fear from the Zapatista movement than all else. They will go to no ends to discredit and eliminate them. But that will not succeed for these sycophants are now in decline and will continue while truth and liberty will grow.

  2. Pingback: Zapatismo and the Disputedoe Present History | The Cycling Anthropologist

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