Knowledge Session: Who are the Zapatistas?

The Zapatista Army of Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion (Ejér­cito Zapatista de Lib­era­ción Nacion­alEZLN) often referred to as the Zapatis­tas is a revolu­tion­ary left wing  group based in Chiapas, the south­ern­most state of Mex­ico.

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.

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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.”

Read more about the Zapatis­tas activ­it­ies

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Gata Malandra

Gata Malandra

Edit­or / Research­er at No Bounds
Gata is a music and arts lov­er, stud­ied anthro­po­logy, art man­age­ment and media pro­duc­tion ded­ic­at­ing most of her time to cre­at­ive pro­jects pro­duced by No Bounds.
Gata Malandra

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About Gata Malandra

Gata Malandra
Gata is a music and arts lover, studied anthropology, art management and media production dedicating most of her time to creative projects produced by No Bounds.

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