The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN)
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) is a revolutionary leftist group based in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico. Since 1994, the group has been in a declared war "against the Mexican state," though this war has been primarily nonviolent and defensive against military, paramilitary, and corporate incursions into Chiapas. Their social base is mostly rural indigenous people but they have some supporters in urban areas as well as an international web of support. Their main spokesperson is Subcomandante Marcos (currently a.k.a. Delegate Zero in relation to "the Other Campaign"). Unlike other Zapatista spokespeople, Marcos is not an indigenous Mayan.The group takes its name from Emiliano Zapata, the agrarian reformer and commander of the Liberation Army of the South during the Mexican Revolution, and sees itself as his ideological heir. In reference to inspirational figures, in nearly all EZLN villages exist murals accompanying images of Zapata, Che Guevara, and Subcomandante Marcos.Although the ideology of the EZLN is reflective of libertarian socialist politics, paralleling both anarchist and libertarian Marxist thought in many respects, the EZLN has rejected and defied political classification; retaining its distinctiveness due in part to the importance of indigenous Mayan beliefs in Zapatismo thought. The EZLN aligns itself with the wider alter-globalization, anti-neoliberal social movement, seeking indigenous control over their local resources, especially land. Since their 1994 uprising was countered by the superior military might of the Mexican army, the EZLN has abstained from offensively using their weapons and adopted a new strategy that attempts to garner both Mexican and international support. Through an internet campaign, the EZLN has begun to disseminate an understanding of their plight and intentions. With this change in tactics, the EZLN has received greater support from a variety of NGOs and organizations as well as increased attention in both leftist and mainstream media outlets. The EZLN has also entered popular culture thanks in part to the support it has received from bands such as Rage Against the Machine, 47 Ronin, Garotos Podres, Leftöver Crack, Brujeria, Anti-Flag, Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, Manu Chao, Sun Rise Above, Maná, Active Member, and Tijuana No!.
Rage Against Machine
The Zapatistas went public on January 1, 1994, the day when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect. On that day, they issued their First Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle and their Revolutionary Laws. The declaration amounted to a declaration of war on the Mexican government, which they considered so out of touch with the will of the people as to make it completely illegitimate. A masked Zapatista playing a three string Mexican bass guitar.Their initial goal was to instigate a revolution in all of Mexico, but as this did not happen, they used their uprising as a platform to call the world's attention to their movement to protest the signing of NAFTA, which the EZLN believed would increase the gap between rich and poor people in Chiapas. The EZLN also called for greater democratization of the Mexican government which had been controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for 65 years and for land reform mandated by the 1917 Constitution of Mexico but largely ignored by the PRI. The EZLN did not demand independence from Mexico, but rather autonomy, and (among other things) that the natural resources that are extracted from Chiapas benefit more directly the people of Chiapas.On the morning of January 1, 1994, an estimated 3,000 armed Zapatista insurgents seized towns and cities in Chiapas, including Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, Huixtan, Oxchuc, Rancho Nuevo, Altamirano, and Chanal. They freed the prisoners in the jail of San Cristóbal de las Casas, and set fire to several police buildings and military barracks in the area. The guerrillas enjoyed brief success, but the next day Mexican army forces counter-attacked and fierce fighting broke out in and around the market of Ocosingo. The Zapatista forces took heavy casualties, and retreated from the city into the surrounding jungle.Armed clashes in Chiapas ended on January 12, 1994, with a ceasefire brokered by the Catholic diocese in San Cristóbal de las Casas under Bishop Samuel Ruiz, a well known liberation theologian. Some of the land taken over by the Zapatistas in 1994 was retained, but the territory they held militarily for a little more than a year was overrun by the Mexican army in a surprise ceasefire breach in February 1995. The Zapatista villages were mostly abandoned following the offensive, and the rebels fled into the mountains after breaking out of the Mexican army perimeter.
The ideology of the Zapatista movement, Zapatismo, synthesizes traditional Mayan practices with elements of libertarian socialism, anarchism, and Marxism.The historical influence of Mexican Anarchists and various Latin-American Socialists is apparent on Zapatismo; with the positions of Subcomandante Marcos also adding a distinct Marxist element to the movement. A Zapatista slogan is in harmony with the concept of mutual aid: "For everyone, everything, for us, nothing" (Para todos todo, para nosotros nada). The EZLN opposes economic globalization, arguing that it severely and negatively affects the peasant way of life of its indigenous support base and oppressed people worldwide. An example of neo-liberal policy that the EZLN opposes is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Apart from opening the Mexican market to cheap mass-produced US agricultural products, NAFTA spells an end to Mexican crop subsidies without a corresponding end to US ones, and drastically reduced the income and living standards of many southern Mexican farmers who cannot compete with the subsidized, artificially fertilized, mechanically harvested and genetically modified imports from the United States. The signing of NAFTA also resulted in the removal of Article 27 Section VII in the Mexican Constitution which previously had guaranteed land reparations to indigenous groups throughout Mexico.Another key element of the Zapatista ideology is their aspiration to do politics in a new, participatory way, from the "bottom-up" instead of "top-down." The Zapatistas consider the contemporary political system of Mexico inherently flawed due to what they consider its purely representative nature and obvious disconnection from the people and their needs. Instead, the EZLN claims to reinforce the idea of participatory democracy or radical democracy by limiting public servants' terms to only two weeks, not using visible organization leaders, and constantly referring to the people they are governing for major decisions, strategies and conceptual visions. As Marcos has reiterated, "my real commander is the people". In accordance with this principle, the Zapatistas are not a political party: they do not seek office throughout the state, because that would perpetuate the political system by attempting to gain power within its ranks. Instead, they wish to reconceptualize the entire system.In an unusual move for any revolutionary organization, documents released by the EZLN (in Spanish) before the initial uprising in 1994 explicitly defined a right of the people to resist any unjust actions of the EZLN. They also defined a right of the people to demand that the revolutionary armed forces not intervene in matters of civil order or the disposition of capital relating to agriculture, commerce, finances, and industry, as these are the exclusive domain of the civil authorities, elected freely and democratically. It added that the people should "acquire and possess arms to defend their persons, families and property, according to the laws of disposition of capital of farms, commerce, finance and industry, against the armed attacks committed by the revolutionary forces or those of the government."