The third expansion of Zapatismo


By: Raúl Zibechi

August 23, 2019

Despite being surrounded by the Mexican Army, the support bases of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) have managed to break the military, media and political siege that weighed over them. In a communiqué released August 17 and signed by Subcomandante Moisés, an indigenous man converted into the spokesperson of the Zapatista movement after the symbolic “death” of Marcos, the EZLN announced from the mountains of the Mexican southeast the creation of seven new “caracoles” and four autonomous municipalities, which are referred to as “centers of autonomous resistance and Zapatista rebellion.”

We are facing the third organizational push of the Mayan peoples that make up the EZLN. The dates are 1994, 2003 and 2019. In the first one, they announced the creation of the Zapatista rebel autonomous municipalities, in the midst of electoral fraud and the chaos installed with the government of the historic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). In the second, they opened five caracoles to exercise autonomy, when the Mexican parliament, including both the parties of the right and those of the left, rejected what they had already negotiated and signed with official delegates.

The 27 autonomous municipalities (initially there were a few more) overlap the official municipalities and in them group together representatives of the communities within their zone of influence. The Caracoles, for their part, articulate their regions and are home to the Good Government Juntas, which are in charge, on a rotating basis, of governing half a dozen municipalities (on the average) and hundreds of communities.

The Zapatista zone is not homogeneous. In the communities and in the municipalities (that are self-governed through autonomous councils), Zapatista and non-Zapatista families co-exist, with the particularity that they [non-Zapatistas] also go to the clinics and health centers created and directed by the Zapatistas, and that they prefer the autonomous justice that the Good Government Juntas administer, which doesn’t charge them and are not corrupt, as is the case with the State’s justice.

The non-Zapatista families benefit from federal government assistance and also from the state government of Chiapas, with food, housing materials and social plans, which now the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has amplified with assistance projects, like Planting Life (Sembrando Vida) or Youth Constructing the Future. The Zapatistas not only do not receive these plans, but, because of the influence of the women, do not drink alcohol, since they consider that it promotes macho violence.

The Caracoles are “windows to see inside us and so that so that we may see outside,” while the Good Government Juntas “function through principles of rotation, revocation of mandate (recall) and accountability” and are “true networks of the power of below,” in which the municipal councils are articulated. They have become forms of power where “the rulers become servants,” as the sociologist Raúl Romero recalls (La Jornada, 8-17-19).

JUMPING AHEAD – The most important thing about the announcement of last August 17 is that several of the new centers are beyond Zapatismo’s traditional zone of control, while others border it and reinforce the presence that it has had in the region since the 1994 Uprising, when it recuperated hundreds of thousands of hectares from the large landholders. Now the Zapatista centers [autonomous municipalities] add up to 43.

As Luis Hernández Navarro, La Jornada’s director of opinion points out: “the expansion of Zapatista autonomy into new territories contradicts the rumor of the alleged desertion of its social bases as a result of the assistance programs.” They realized hundreds of assemblies, “unfolding as a social-political force, through peaceful sui generis mobilizations, which changed the field of confrontation with the State, taking it to the terrain in which the communities are the strongest: the production and reproduction of their existence.” (La Jornada, 20-08-19).

The next step is the call to society to contribute in the construction of the new spaces, besides the call to urban collectives to create an “international network of resistance and rebellion,” warning those who participate that they renounce “hegemony and homogeneity.” In addition, they summon intellectuals and artists to festivals, gatherings, seedbeds of ideas and debates.

A NEW POLITICAL CULTURE – The most interesting aspect of this expansion of Zapatismo consists of the ways in which they did it, the how of their political action. Because it reveals a culture contrary to the hegemonic, anchored as it is in state institutions or in NGOs and in the affirmation of the crack between those who rule and make decisions and those who obey and comply.

In the communiqué that Moisés signed, as well as in previous Zapatista literature, there is a clear departure from vanguardism, but also from the hierarchical culture of the parties. It was the women and the young people who left their communities to dialogue with other communities, and they soon understood “how it is only understood among those who share not only pain, but also history, indignation and rage.”

The central role was that of women: “Not only do they go in front,” explains Moisés, “to mark the path for us and (so that) we would not get lost: also on the sides so that we would not deviate; and behind so that we would not delay.” They embody community culture, which places the collective ahead of the individual, dignity and worldview ahead of material advantages. That’s why the governments that think –like AMLO’s, but also the other progressives– that with economic plans they can make entire peoples give up their identities are wrong.

It’s about a political culture that can only be understood in community terms. Those who visit Zapatista regions are often surprised when they address their main “enemies,” the PRI bases, as “PRI brothers” or, now in relation to the government party, as “partisan brothers.” A few of those brothers are the ones who now took the step of rejecting the charity from above to become Zapatistas: the way they found to remain being Native peoples.

Aug 23, 2019Raúl Zibechi


Originally Published in Spanish by Brecha

Friday, August 23, 2019

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee, Oakland CA









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