By: Laura Castellanos*
January 7, 2020 at 11:04 PM EST
The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN, its initials in Spanish) completed 26 years since its January 1, 1994 Uprising, in the midst of an expansive process and one of radicalization against the construction of the megaprojects that the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), has announced and against the increase in violence towards indigenous strugglers and women.
Things have changed drastically for the organization: a year ago, at the start of AMLO’s government, the EZLN stated being isolated, but now has achieved extending its territorial dominion in the state o Chiapas, has emerged as the strongest voice against the State’s megaprojects and also as an inspiration for the new feminist generation that confronts the spiral of femicides in the country.
Francisco López Bárcenas, author of 14 books on indigenous rights and campesino struggles, told me that Zapatismo is now the most consolidated Mexican opposition, distinguished by its anticapitalist posture, and with a bet on long-term deep change.
The Zapatista resurgence is due, in part, to its fierce opposition to AMLO’s megaprojects, like the Maya Train on the Yucatan Peninsula, or the Trans-Isthmus Corridor that would connect industrially the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, because it thinks that it will devastate indigenous territory for the benefit of big capital.
In its recent anniversary event, on January 1, 2020, the EZLN challenged AMLO by pointing out that its ranks are willing to give their life in the fight against his megaprojects, to which the president responded that the organization was misinformed and that it will not affect indigenous communities.
AMLO seems to ignore –or disdain– that the original peoples in Mexico are not the same as when he was the director of the National Indigenist Institute in the state of Tabasco, at the end of the 1970s: they changed with the Zapatista insurrection and now their struggles transcend their own organization.
It’s significant that, on the same day as the EZLN’s anniversary, the robust network of peaceful resistance called “The Isthmus is ours,” created at the end of the 1990s in the state of Oaxaca against a project similar to the Trans-Isthmus Corridor, was reactivated, but now against the government of AMLO.
Among the organizations allied with this network is the National Indigenous Congress (CNI, its initials in Spanish) a front of resistances against megaprojects of which the EZLN is a member, and which just denounced that last year, 11 of its members were murdered in four of the country’s states for defending their territory.
This violence led the EZLN’s leadership, in the voice of Comandante Tacho, to warn AMLO that: “we will defend our autonomy without importance to death, incarceration or disappearance. He added that they would resort to “all possible forms of struggle,” although without specifying which ones.
In 26 years, Zapatismo has struggled in all ways for indigenous rights and has also shown an amazing capacity to reinvent itself in the face of challenges, failures and betrayals, as I documented in my book Crónica de un país embozado 1994-2018 (Chronicle of a masked country 1994-2018).
In 1994, the EZLN announced itself to the world via the armed path, supported by a civilian mobilization that demanded that the government create a table for dialogue, for which the Zapatista Army had to form itself as a social movement.
The EZLN then gambled on the legislative path so that the right to indigenous autonomy would be recognized, and signed the San Andrés Accords, which were also signed by the government and the political parties, who in the end approved an alternative law in 2001. The indigenous autonomy that it demanded implied not only the defense of territory and its ecosystems, but also of their sacred places, their ancestral knowledge and their systems of self-government.
After the approval of that [alternative] law, which the EZLN considered a political betrayal, it broke all relations with the government and built its own systems of government, justice, education and health, outside official institutions. It constructed schools, clinics and productive projects, in a self-governing way, where none had existed.
In their latest gamble, in 2017, the EZLN went from an anti-electoral position to supporting the indigenous Nahua and CNI spokeswoman, María de Jesús Patricio, better known as Marichuy, for her postulation as an independent presidential pre-candidate in the recent elections.
Opting for the electoral path cost the EZLN the distancing of some of its followers and, in the end, Marichuy did not achieve gathering the signatures required for her electoral registry. Meanwhile, AMLO and his party, Morena, won a historic number of indigenous votes in his victory.
But the EZLN rapidly reversed its failure and in August 2019 announced that its administrative centers of autonomous government, called Caracoles, would go from 5 to 11. At the same time it expanded its territorial dominion, in an unprecedented way, to the communities of Motozintla, Chicomuselo and Amatitlán.
The movement is also being discovered by a new generation: in December 2019 it held its Second International Gathering of Women who Struggle and 3,259 of them met, coming from 49 countries.
Now, the EZLN has the challenge of strengthening its resurgence in the face of a national political geography that looks frayed, in which Morena, the governing party that swept electorally, does not assume to be left, according to its president, Yeidckol Polevnsky.
The future of the movement depends on how AMLO “and the state and municipal governments in which they are constructing or plan to construct the megaprojects” face the challenging question that Subcomandante Moisés made during the EZLN’s anniversary: “Are the bad governments willing to try to destroy us at any cost, to beat us, incarcerate us, disappear us and murder us?” The answer is still pending.
Laura Castellanos is an independent journalist and author
Originally Published in Spanish by the Washington Post
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee