The return of the old mole

By: Luis Hernández Navarro

A ray in the darkness of Salinas neoliberalism illuminated Mexico from below on the night of December 31, 1993. At the sound of the drum of dawn, tens of thousands of indigenous Zapatistas militarily occupied the municipal capitals of the main cities of Los Altos and the Chiapas jungle.

Formed on November 17, 1983, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) grew for years in silence, underground, until the moment came to rise up in arms. The counter-reform to Article 27 of the Constitution raised the white flag of land distribution and the start of the North American Free Trade Agreement converted the country into “Maquilatitlán;” they left no alternatives on the horizon.

The first public indications of the insurgents’ existence appeared on the 22nd and 23rd of May 1993, when the Army found Las Calabazas rebel camp, in the Sierra Corralchén [mountains] of the Lacandón Jungle [1]. On May 24, soldiers surrounded the Pataté community, gathered its inhabitants in its center and, without a search warrant, went inside to search houses. They found a few low-caliber weapons used for hunting. Eight indigenous men were arrested. Later, they randomly arrested two Guatemalans who were selling clothes. They were charged with treason. The region became militarized and overflowed with new resources from the Solidarity Program. But then path of the rebellion continued.

ANCIEZ member knocks down the statue of Mazariegos. Photo: Antonio Turok.

A warning that something was happening in those lands could be seen in San Cristóbal de las Casas, on October 12, 1992. In anticipation of what would be common in other latitudes over the years, a contingent of the National Indigenous Peasant Alliance Emiliano Zapata (ANCIEZ) knocked over the statue of the conquistador Diego de Mazariegos, during the march to commemorate 500 years of indigenous, black and popular resistance. From then on, the ANCIEZ stopped acting publicly.

Out of the press’ spotlight, great transformations began to take place in grassroots organizations. Not a few democratic teachers had to leave their schools in Las Cañadas and moved to teach in other regions. In the assemblies of the cooperatives of small coffee producers, some of their leaders “disappeared” from the map, only to reappear after the uprising, no longer as coffee growers, but as Zapatistas. Others (many of them young) were absent for some time and returned with a surprising political formation. Several more, usually very active in the assemblies of their associations, visibly tired, stopped intervening in the meetings, while they dozed overloaded in the bundles of coffee. Later, it would be known that they used the nights to train in other tasks.

At the same time, many producers who for years had received credits from Solidarity to finance their crops and had religiously returned them, stopped paying them and used the resources for other things. There were not a few who sold their cows and pigs, nor those who stopped planting corn. They were preparing for something big. Meanwhile, communities voted to declare war on bad government.

The imminence of the armed uprising was an insistent rumor in Chiapas circles. There was talk that it would be December 28, April Fool’s Day. It was uncertain whether it would happen, its magnitude and the form it would take.

The Zapatista cry of “Ya Basta!” on January 1, 1994, shook the entire country and reached the most dissimilar corners of the planet. Its manifestations were as unexpected as they were diverse.

At the height of the conflict, the National Coordinator of Coffee Organizations (CNOC), with a relevant presence in Chiapas, became involved in the search for a peaceful solution to the conflict. Although it was composed mostly of indigenous people, its members did not usually identify themselves as such until then. But the uprising disrupted this dynamic and awakened in them an enormous pride of belonging to the original (native) peoples. At an assembly held in the old Ciudad Real (San Cristóbal), the teacher Humberto Juárez, a Mazatec president of the organization, unexpectedly began his speech in his own language, addressing the attendees as “indigenous brothers.” The change was remarkable. At meetings, Spanish was usually spoken and small coffee farmers referred to themselves as “fellow coffee producers.” Similar events took place throughout the country.

Some 28 years have passed. Since those dates, the Zapatistas have not only survived. They have constructed one of the most astonishing and surprising experiences in anti-capitalist self-government and self-management. They have renewed themselves generationally. They are an exceptional countercultural ferment and a source of inspiration for thousands of those who struggle for a different world all over the planet.

Revolution is the old mole that digs deeply into the soil of history and occasionally shows its head, said Karl Marx. As happened between 1983 and 1994, many of the transformations that the rebels have promoted from below go unnoticed today. Sooner or later, that old mole will come to the surface.

Twitter: @lhan55

[1] The Sierra Corralchén mountain range separates the Zapatista Caracoles of La Garrucha and Morelia in the cañadas (canyons) region of the Lacandón Jungle.

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Tuesday, December 27, 2022, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee.

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