On January 1st, 1994 in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, a group of people organized for land reform. It was partly as a response to the institution of NAFTA's free trade agreement. One of NAFTA's conditions was to ban subsidies to indigenous farm co-operatives. To this, the people said "Ya Basta!" Enough is enough, and organized to address the 500 years of colonialism. Known as the The Zapatista Army of National Liberation ( Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) the movement fostered a number of changes in society.
For years indigenous people could only be workers on the land but without rights or enough to sustain themselves. Part of the EZLN's re-distributed farmlands were used to create autonomous zones called “caracoles,” (snails) to model relationships withing society. They are run by “good government junta” or “junta de buen gobierno,”. The result is a system of autonomous schools and health clinics that are available to each region’s indigenous people.
Nonetheless, villages still do not feel safe from their own government which is why many choose to wear masks to protect their anonymity as well as serve as a symbol of egalitarianism. At the time of the uprising, they gave up “the word” (or their voices) so that they could be heard and, by wearing masks, they give up their faces in order to be seen.
Gustavo Esteva, a leftist intellectual and longtime advocate for indigenous rights who advised the Zapatistas during the uprising says, "the people are no longer dying of hunger or curable diseases, they have a lot of improvements in the daily life, but living with a lot of tension, and a lot of difficulties." (From PRI)
Nearly 12 years later in 2006, the Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona was written as a political proposal to address issues at a national level. This is part of the Other Campaign.
by John Holloway
The Zapatista uprising has been a fundamental point of refer-
ence for urban struggles over the last ten years. And yet there
are obvious differences in the conditions and forms of struggle.
We who live in the cities and look to the Zapatistas are not
organized as an army. We do not live within the sort of com-
munal support structures that exist in Chiapas.
We do not have land on which to grow the basic foodstuffs necessary for survival, and we are not, on the whole, accustomed to the levels of complete poverty that is the daily experience of the Zapatistas of Chiapas.
There are aspects of the Zapatista uprising that have not found any echo in the cities. We urban Zapatistas generally
do not want to be organised as an army and often reject militarism as a form of organisation and concept of struggle. In the current debates in Italy, the Zapatistas are even held up as a model in arguing for a complete rejection of all violence. The other aspect of the Zapatismo of Chiapas that has found little resonance in the cities is their use of national symbols the national flag, the playing of the national anthem.
The urban-Zapatista movement tends not to be nationalist and in many cases it is profoundly anti-nationalist. It has been not so much an inter-national movement as a global movement, a movement of struggle for which global capitalism and not the nation-state has been the principal point of reference.
Subcomandante Marcos believed that he and members of his uprising knew what the indigenous people wanted. He found out that he had made some assumptions. This awareness became one of the fundamental organizing strategies of affinity groups around the world.
Today, Zapatista affinity groups continue all over the United States and the world. It is in the manner that they work, organize, meet and identify common issues.
They may work on issues of class, race and gender. They may be on food soverignity. But the fundamental structure of how they come together, is one of listening and engaging.