EZLN, 29 years of persistence

Zapatistas in the Municipal Palace of San Cristóbal de las Casas on January 1, 1994. Photo: Carlos Cisneros.

By: Hermann Bellinghausen

San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas

29 years have passed since the armed uprising and the declaration of war against the Mexican state of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in the mountains of Chiapas. Six presidents and nine governors later, and so much water running under the bridges at the national and local levels since that early morning of January 1, 1994, the challenge posed by the insurrectionary Mayan peoples remains. And its bold and functional autonomy has just turned 28. On December 19 of that same year, the creation of the first 38 rebel autonomous municipalities was announced.

What was born as an experiment in indigenous peoples’ self-government, which the State has never recognized and for seasons has openly fought via the armed forces and police at all levels, still stands when 2023 arrives. The rebellious municipalities persist, different from those at the beginning, but the same. La Jornada toured the regions of some of the at least 12 current Zapatista caracoles and was able to observe the vitality of this autonomy.

In 1995, after the military occupation of the Zapatista communities and, on orders of President Ernesto Zedillo, destruction of the Aguascalientes in the Tojolabal community of Guadalupe Tepeyac, the EZLN created five Aguascalientes, and organized their autonomy regionally around them.

What began as an armed action, for many even suicidal, resulted in new forms of indigenous self-management against the grain of the rampant neoliberal Spring in which the PRI governments claimed to have lifted Mexico. After the San Andrés Accords in 1996, Zapatista autonomy was in fact confirmed by assuming as law the agreements signed and then betrayed by the Zedillo government. This autonomy was rightly seen as an obstacle to the transnational and national megaprojects to come.

Memorable are the police, military and paramilitary aggressions against the rebel municipalities. Tierra y Libertad, Ricardo Flores Magón, San Juan de la Libertad, San Pedro Polhó and San Pedro de Michoacán are among those that suffered the greatest violence and dispossession. Even so, these governments continued, establishing their own systems of justice, health, education, transportation and management of land and its products.

A large part of these autonomous spaces were, and still are, on land recuperated from the finqueros (estate owners) and cattle ranchers of the Lacandón Jungle after the uprising almost three decades ago. Many others are made up of communities in the traditional areas of Los Altos, the northern zone, the jungle itself and the border region of Chiapas. Choles, Tseltales, Tsotsiles, Tojolabales and Zoques who embarked on resistance.

Six-year term after six-year term, government projects and programs have sought to undermine economically and institutionally this unique indigenous autonomy in the world. In August 2003 another twist was known when the creation of the caracoles was announced, new centers of government in the five Aguascalientes that already existed. Thus, the Good Government Juntas were born, around which the Zapatista municipalities were reorganized.

The experience would be very useful to face the new government attacks after the “declaration of war” from the government of Felipe Calderón to organized crime, which in principle meant militarily surrounding the country’s indigenous communities and the virtual paralysis of the National Indigenous Congress. With Peña Nieto would come the Crusade Against Hunger, a new version of economic counterinsurgency. In 2019 and 2020, already in the period of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the EZLN established new caracoles and good government juntas, until adding at least 12, and a redistribution of its municipalities.

Now it’s the new state and federal governments of Morena that dispute followers by electoral means (to which the Zapatistas never go) and promote a renewed partisanship of municipalities and indigenous communities, as well as by economic means through social and welfare programs, to which the Zapatista resistance has remained impervious by peaceful and organized means.

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Saturday, December 31, 2022, https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/12/31/politica/008n1pol and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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