19 years of the caracoles and the good government juntas

Mural on front of the first offices of the Good Government Junta in La Garrucha.

By: Gilberto López y Rivas

On August 9, we commemorated the 19th anniversary of the creation of the caracoles and the good government juntas (JBG, their initials in Spanish), which replaced the Aguascalientes and their authorities, and that constitute regional or zonal forms of self-government of peoples (Tseltales, Tojolabales, Mames, Tsotsiles, Choles and Zoques), communities and municipalities that are grouped around the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN, Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional). In 2019, the EZLN reported on the creation of another seven caracoles, in addition to the five already existing, and four new Zapatista rebel autonomous municipalities (also known as MAREZ, their Spanish acronym), to form a total of 43 bodies of self-government starting from the principle of mandar obedeciendo (govern obeying), in what was considered by Subcomandante Moisés, as breaking the counterinsurgent siege and the defeat of its strategy of patronage co-optation, imposed by the successive governments. Thus, the seats of these caracoles were installed within territories of official municipalities: four in Ocosingo, Amatenango del Valle, Tila and San Cristóbal de las Casas, while the five original ones are in La Realidad (Border Jungle, Morelia (Tsots Choj), La Garrucha (Tseltal Jungle), Roberto Barrios (Northern Chiapas) and Oventic (Chiapas Highlands).

Conceptualizing the autonomic process of the Zapatista Mayas as advanced forms of anti-systemic resistance, during these 19 years the transformation of social subjects in multiple directions has deepened in the caracoles, one of the most important being their struggle against patriarchy, and for changing gender relationships, which began in the clandestine years, and was expressed in the Women’s Revolutionary Law, which in March 1993 signified the “first uprising” before 1994, within the guerrilla organization, according to the story of then Subcomandante Marcos.

The meetings of thousands of women from dozens of countries, convened by the EZLN in rebel territory, such as the one in 2019, have been important platforms in the fight to stop violence against women and femicides, and to deploy a feminism with community roots of historical scope and depths.

An EZLN Insurgenta speaks at the EZLN Women’s Gathering.

Pablo González Casanova in his essay “The Zapatista caracoles: networks of resistance and autonomy” points out that: “The idea of creating organizations that are tools of objectives and values to be achieved and making sure that autonomy and ‘govern obeying,’ do not remain in the world of abstract concepts or incoherent words is one of the most important contributions of the caracoles. “

Certainly, this readjustment and strengthening of the autonomous governments at their three levels, during these 19 years, have allowed the consolidation of political, economic, social, cultural, educational, justice and health structures, with their corresponding infrastructures, in a multicultural and multilingual network that has not only achieved a participatory democratic regionalization of the communities and peoples that make up the EZLN,  but, from a policy of brotherhood and conciliation (exercise of hegemony), they have been winning over broad sectors of the “party members,” as evidenced by the exponential increase in “govern obeying” in Chiapas territory. This qualitative development of the autonomies, in turn, makes the Zapatista project more sustainable in the face of counterinsurgency-paramilitary harassment, making the hypothesis of the Latautonomy project network more valid, and its emancipatory significance: “The sustainability of an autonomous system depends on its ability to link the level of local communities with a regional structure in a horizontal and interactive way. Through integration from below, participatory political-economic structures must be created that are articulated both within multicultural autonomies and outward, generating a project of alternative society.” (Leo Gabriel and Gilberto López y Rivas, coordinators.  The autonomic universe. Proposal for a new democracy. Plaza and Valdés, Mexico, 2008, p. 28).

The harmonious coexistence of peoples, which over the years has created its own cultural identity – Zapatista Maya – which has managed to overcome the inter-ethnic conflicts so frequent in other latitudes, proves the veracity of the hypothesis of cultural cohesion, which proposes: “The greater the degree of cultural identity, the greater the effectiveness of an autonomous system” (ditto, p. 36). Likewise, the governance hypothesis, which states that: “The more efficient the conflict resolution mechanisms applying customary law at the local and regional level, the greater the political sustainability of the system” (p. 48), has been patented in these 19 years of existence of caracoles.

Congratulations, EZLN. Another world is possible!

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Friday, August 19, 2022, https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/08/19/opinion/018a2pol and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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