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  Number 289 | Agosto 2005
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Mexico

The Zapatistas’ New Face: Towards a Social Left

“Politicians will finish our country off before we can agree on how to stop them,” said Subcomandante Marcos as he detailed “The Other Campaign” that the Zapatistas are embarking on, and have invited others to join. “Let the heart beat where it where it should,” he counseled: “ on the left.” This new stage of the Zapatista movement clearly hopes to bring the Left together.

Jorge Alonso

The Mexican anti-neoliberalism movements that focused their efforts on trying to prevent privatization of the electricity and oil industries between 2002 and 2004 invited the Zapatista movement to join their struggle several times. The Zapatistas always replied that they were immersed in their task of developing autonomous municipalities and those municipalities’ regional organizations, known as Caracoles. The other movements respected those organizational plans and time frames and continued to insist that the government fulfill the San Andrés Accords. There was empathy, but no common efforts. There were, however, signs from the Zapatista movement that something more was to come. At the end of 2004 and the beginning of 2005, Subcomandante Marcos and novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II jointly wrote a novel called Muertos Incómodos, with the subtitle Falta lo que falta (“Uncomfortable Dead: What’s to Come is to Come”). It was first released in installments in the daily newspaper La Jornada and subsequently distributed in book form.

Signs of life during the
wait for “what’s to come”

The Zapatista movement’s immersion in its own processes led the Fox government to assume it was no longer news. And as President Fox likes to interpret everything in terms of how it will play in the media, he declared in Chiapas on January 11, 2005, that the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) was virtually a thing of the past and Chiapas was modernizing. This declaration caused quite a stir in public opinion. Bishop Raúl Vera commented that anyone with such an incomplete and shortsighted vision of the Zapatista movement was better off keeping quiet. Bishop Samuel Ruiz said that only someone completely blinkered could deny the Zapatista movement’s influence, because the Zapatistas were still around and their Good Government Committees were doing important work while nobody expected anything substantial from Fox’s six-year term. Bishop Felipe Arizmendi called the President’s statement unfortunate and inexact, aimed at provoking the rebel group. Civil society organizations also strongly criticized Fox’s false appraisal.

For the time, one event that demonstrated the Zapatista movement’s continuing national and international presence was the announcement in 2005 that the prestigious Italian football club Inter Milan had accepted an invitation to play an EZLN team for the Pozol de Barro trophy, something that made headlines in the world sports press. More serious news came at the end of May, when the EZLN’s Indigenous Clandestine Revolutionary Committee-General Command released a communiqué reporting that they had successfully relocated several Zapatista settlements in the Montes Azules Biosphere into three villages, taking care to protect the environment, thereby depriving the government of the pretext to violently evict them. These people were moved and their new homes built and equipped with the financial support of national and international civil society organizations that had responded to the Zapatistas’ call.

The Zapatistas split
from the traditional Left

In January 2005, Subcomandante Marcos entered into direct conflict with officials in the Mexico City government, run by the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) when, after having investigated the matter, he wrote to its Attorney General’s Office pointing out irregularities in the inquiry into the death of human rights activist Digna Ochoa. He accused the office of inefficiency, acting in bad faith and refusing to receive evidence from Ochoa’s family. And he offered information that contradicted the Office’s hypothesis that Ochoa had not been murdered but rather committed suicide.

The next month, Marcos announced that there would be no more broadcasts from the Zapatista Intergalactic Television System, but added cryptically, “What’s to come is still to come.” He followed up his conflict with the institutional Left by proposing another Left. He argued that Mexico has been socially, economically, legally and politically destroyed. He claimed that the federal government’s intention to impeach Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrado would set the country back a century, while assuring that this did not mean the Zapatistas politically supported López Obrador, who they saw as surrounded by the worst of the pro-Salinas PRI faction. Marcos defined him as “on the left of the right hand,” part of a Left aligned with the PRD leadership but whose common denominator is a mixture of cynicism, amnesia and conformism.

In June Marcos released a piece he wrote titled “La (imposible) ¿geometría? del poder en México” [“The (impossible) Geometry? of Power in Mexico”]. He differentiated between right, center and left, then went on to describe how “they all pile up in the middle” during electoral periods. He said that the PAN, led by the ultra-right El Yunque organization, had launched a group of mediocre candidates, while the PRI was mixed up in kidnapping, drug, prostitution and human trafficking cartels. Turning to the PRD, Marcos criticized the way it fosters its own family businesses. He refused to forgive it for the part it played in the indigenous counter-reform and accused it of giving Mexico City’s main square, the Zócalo, away to “show business monopolies,“ teaming up with the pro-Salinas PRI faction, manipulating Digna Ochoa’s death and allying with the capital’s drug rings. He strongly attacked López Obrador and predicted that his project would amount to “growing profits for the rich, with the dispossessed subjected to misery and the imposition of an order that controls their discontent.”

Some responded to such harsh criticism by defending the political parties as the only instrument of electoral struggle. They particularly defended López Obrador’s candidacy as providing an alternative for grassroots causes, and criticized Marcos for falling into the trap of simplistic Manicheism.

Reactivated paramilitaries

The consequences of the counter-insurgency policy and paramilitary activities in Chiapas continued to be manifest through evictions, harassment and above all impunity. In February 2005, after exhausting all avenues with the Mexican authorities, the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center and the Las Abejas organization took the Mexican state to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission for the murder of 45 Totzil people at Acteal on December 22, 1997. They charged that the main people responsible are still enjoying impunity, including former President Zedillo and former Government Secretary Emilio Chuayffet, who was heading the PRI bench in the House of Representatives by the time they filed suit.

The few signs of détente with Chiapas’ state government had vanished by the end of 2004. Relations broke down between it and the Good Government Committees because it failed to honor the few commitments it had made. It did not compensate assaulted Zapatistas, for example, or guarantee justice in the few cases in which it had been asked to intervene.

At the beginning of May 2005, the Good Government Committee of La Realidad accused the Chiapas government of allowing counterinsurgency actions against the Zapatista grass roots on Fox’s orders. It charged that the government was trying to aggravate the situation in the belief that the Zapatistas would turn to force. Over the course of this year, journalists reporting on the situation in Zapatista territory have testified that the counterinsurgency campaign remains an overwhelming presence, supported by militarization and federal spending. They also reported that the paramilitaries were active and still harassing Zapatista communities.

Money given in solidarity
is not money laundering

At the end of May and beginning of June, the BBVA-Bancomer bank branch in San Cristóbal de las Casas urged two civic organizations to close accounts they used to receive international donations supporting the Zapatista cause, citing money-laundering concerns. Interpreted as yet another counterinsurgent maneuver to besiege the Zapatistas, the action resulted in an international outcry.

Nobel Literature laureate José Saramago, Catalonian musician Manu Chao, Danielle Miterrand, Regis Debray and Bishop Ruiz were among the many renowned writers, journalists and other public figures who wrote the bank to protest that the accusations were false and an offense to the civil society organizations, individuals, universities, cultural associations, schools, parents’ associations, municipal governments, government institutions and collectives that had made great efforts to help finance indigenous community development. José Saramago and his wife Pilar del Río wrote another letter to the bank’s Spanish headquarters stressing that thousands of people, including the two of them, had given clean, hard-earned money that was being used in solidarity to help the indigenous communities in Chiapas. BBVA-Bancomer was offending many honest people by pointing the finger of suspicion at them without justification. They demanded an apology and called on the bank to dig out the real dirty money hidden in other accounts. This incident also led to the creation of a movement in Spain inviting people to close their BBVA accounts because of what it had done to the Zapatistas.

Trying to link the EZLN
to drug trafficking

The army itself struck another blow in the counterinsurgency campaign when the National Defense Secretariat announced that troops based in Chiapas destroyed 44 marihuana plantations in three municipalities under EZLN control in mid-June. The foreign relations secretary demanded that Subcomandante Marcos explain why drugs were being cultivated in Zapatista territories.

But public opinion reacted against this maneuver as well. Those familiar with Chiapas pointed out that the municipalities the army cited were not in fact in the Zapatista zone, while civil society organizations insisted that the EZLN is very strict about drink and drugs. The Chiapas government itself had to correct the army’s statement, confirming that the municipalities in question were indeed not in the Los Altos region. Even a presidential spokesperson felt obliged to rectify the mistake. It was an obvious maneuver to link the Zapatistas to drug trafficking to justify an armed incursion against them. Several analysts stressed that the supposed geographical confusion was just the kind of media set-up that the old US counternsurgency manuals used to suggest.

Red alert from the EZLN

Following this, witnesses in the region noticed unusual troop incursions. The army was operating throughout Zapatista territory, setting up temporary quarters or positions, building roads and carrying out patrol, simulation and training exercises.

In response, the EZLN announced on June 19, 2005 that it had decreed a general state of red alert throughout rebel territory. At the same time, the Caracoles and Good Government offices in the Zapatista communities of Oventik, La Realidad, La Garrucha, Morelia and Roberto Barrios were closed, along with the offices of the authorities in the autonomous rebel municipalities. This involved evacuating the Good Government Committee members and autonomous authorities for their protection. The EZLN explained that they would carry out their work clandestinely, moving from place to place, for an indefinite period, although the Caracoles would continue to provide basic community health services.

The EZLN also announced that all Zapatista personnel involved in social labors in their communities had been called up and that regular troops were confined to their barracks. Meanwhile, national and international civil society groups working on projects in the communities were asked to leave rebel territory.

The Zapatista red alert took both the government and society as a whole by surprise. The fear was that the EZLN would take up arms again. Some in the government believed that the communiqué might be false, as its style differed from previous ones. Some analysts suggested that the Zapatistas were internally divided and that “hard-liners” had issued the communiqué. Journalists going in search of the Good Government Committees confirmed that all the offices and locales had indeed been closed. The Zapatista Caracoles were almost deserted and the people still there seemed tense and nervous.

The EZLN later acknowledged that it had been restructuring its political and military command since 2002, a process now completed. As a result, the Zapatista movement was prepared to survive any enemy attack or other action that wiped out its current leadership or sought to crush the movement.

Reactions, uncertainty
and “pastoral alert”

The Government Secretariat and the Chiapas state government separately announced that the situation was normal in the Los Altos zone and the jungle. Senator Fernández de Cevallos from the ruling PAN party termed the EZLN’s communiqué “quaint,” while the party’s leader commented that the Zapatistas were not even an issue for the PAN. President Fox, who was visiting Russia at the time, minimized the EZLN’s reappearance, although it did not escape notice that the army and state police were confined to barracks.

The moneyed elites then demonstrated their lack of analytical capacity and their frivolity by talking without any basis for their arguments. While the president of the confederation of state-owned companies claimed that the Zapatistas wanted a place in the presidential campaigns, which were already well underway, the president of the Confederation of National Chambers of Commerce pontificated that, as the Zapatistas no longer had any donations, Marcos was showing himself to be the “predator” he really was.

Carlos Montemayor, an expert in armed movements, warned of imminent violence and blamed the new situation on the stepped-up counterinsurgency. Those most knowledgeable agreed that the Zapatistas’ action was defensive in nature, aimed at resisting what they saw as a serious offensive from the other side.

Mexican writers and intellectuals published an open letter calling on the EZLN to maintain its dignified struggle through unarmed channels. Bishops Raúl Vera and Felipe Arizmendi stressed that the lack of effective solutions to the prevailing problems of marginalization, poverty and racism in the country underlay the red alert. Vera proposed the need for some kind of reaction from politicians and businesspeople, while Arizmendi announced that the San Cristóbal diocese had also declared a “pastoral alert” due to the uncertainty in the communities. He suggested that people should listen carefully to the criticisms expressed by the different voices inviting all political, economic and social actors to thoroughly review Mexico’s economic and political system.

Building “something else”
by consulting everyone

Several days later, the EZLN explained why it had declared its “red alert.” As a “precautionary defensive measure,” it had called its insurgent troops, commanders, regional and local leaders, and grassroots supporters to a consultation. The EZLN recognized the sacrifice, disposition and heroism of its grassroots supporters, leaders, militiamen and women, and insurgents during almost twelve years of war and resistance, describing the point they had reached and analyzing the current national situation. It proposed a new stage in the fight to its grassroots supporters, one that implied, among other things, risking everything they had achieved and possibly increasing the persecution and harassment against the Zapatista communities. The supporters and Zapatistas in general were free to decide whether to accompany the EZLN in this next step that was being discussed, which had to receive majority backing, but not consensus, to be implemented.

At the same time, Subcomandante Marcos issued a letter explaining that all aid received over the years from civil society had been used solely to improve the living conditions in the Zapatista indigenous communities and carry out peaceful initiatives seeking recognition of indigenous rights and culture. None of it had been used to buy arms or make any kind of military preparations.

Summing up the whole indigenous struggle, he stated that during these years he had increasingly seen and felt the injustice and the anger of peasants, workers, students, teachers, employees, gays and lesbians, young people, women, the elderly and children throughout the country. And now, the “we” that spurred them on wanted to grow bigger, to become more collective, more national.

Widespread consultations

Six months earlier, he had announced that “what’s to come is still to come,” and now it was time to decide if they were going to set out to find what was missing, to build “something else.” That was why they were immersed in an internal consultation, which they knew full well could lead to a very difficult decision. He explained that the EZLN leadership was not directing the process, but rather seeking paths, steps, company. These paths were being presented to the people, and together they were analyzing what would happen if they set out on one or another of them. They were consulting everyone in an attempt to achieve consensus.

To avoid any confusion, Marcos stated quite clearly that this “something else” did not imply a Zapatista military offensive. They were not planning or discussing any such thing, and that the government should say whether it was preparing any military or paramilitary offensive.

Civil society organizations urged the political parties and the media not to ignore the Zapatistas, because at a time when national politics was entirely focused on the hollow campaigns of a large number of presidential hopefuls, the Zapatistas had put social issues back on the agenda.

The EZLN subsequently announced that tens of thousands of grassroots supporters—all of them Mexican indigenous adults—had been consulted at meetings and assemblies in over a thousand communities. These events had included a discussion of the Zapatista leadership’s reports, its analysis of the national situation and its proposal for a new step in the struggle. The advantages, disadvantages, dangers and risks of the different options were discussed and then a secret vote was held under the one person, one vote principle. The result was that 98% approved the proposed new step, authorizing the EZLN to undertake a new national and international political initiative.

President Fox, this time on a trip to Belize, interpreted the EZLN’s initiative as a decision to lay down its arms and said he was “at Mr. Marcos’ disposal” to reach agreements to integrate the Zapatistas into political life. The President was very happy with the EZLN’s decision and reportedly even considered the possibility of withdrawing the legal charges still pending against Marcos.

“The time has come
to take another risk”

At the end of June, the Zapatistas released the Sixth Lacandona Jungle Declaration in three installments. The text “seeks to touch the heart of humble and simple, dignified and rebellious people.” It set out the Zapatistas’ current position, how they perceive the world, how they view Mexico, what they are thinking of doing and how they will do it. And it invited people to accompany them.

Following an extensive summary of their struggle, the Zapatistas described where they stand in the first five years of the 21st century, following the creation and consolidation of the autonomous municipalities and Good Government Committees. “According to our analysis and to what we feel in our hearts, we have reached a point at which we can
go no further and could possibly lose everything we have if we stay as we are and do nothing else to advance. In other words, the time has come to take another risk, to take a dangerous but worthwhile step. Because united with other social sectors with the same needs as us, it might just be possible to obtain what we need and deserve. A new step forward in the indigenous struggle is only possible if indigenous people join up with workers, peasants, students, teachers, employees… in other words, with workers from the city and the countryside.”

The text explains how both the Zapatista communities and the EZLN have grown over the years. New generations have renovated the whole organization, giving it new strength. The EZLN has withstood 12 years of war; military, political, ideological and economic attacks; harassment and persecution. It has not been defeated, but nor have the demands for which it is fighting been entirely achieved. “No one can say that the Zapatista organization and struggle was in vain, because even if they finish us off altogether our struggle has meant something.”

Moving on to the situation in Mexico, the Zapatistas maintained that with trhe country governed by neoliberals, the economy has not improved. They looked at both the causes and consequences of migration to the United States, examined the growth of drug trafficking and crime, criticized the abuse of the Constitution and explaineded how the state branches have come together to serve neoliberalism.

But despite it all, the declaration adds, a large number of Mexicans are still resisting, including peasants, urban workers, students, women, young people, gays, lesbians, transsexuals, priests and nuns, people who are lined up behind the struggles of the people rather than the rich: “Many people refuse to be used or to give in.” The Zapatista “we” seeks to include all these current manifestations of rebelliousness in a more organized way.

Messages to the world

The Zapatistas sketched out what they want to do in both Mexico and the world. They are repeating to everyone in the world involved in resistance and struggle that they are not alone. Although small in number, the Zapatistas support them and are going to look at ways of helping them in their struggles. For example, they are going to send corn to Cuba, which has been resisting for many years now. They want the people of the United States to know that the Zapatistas differentiate between the bad US governments and those in the United States who are struggling and support the struggles of other peoples.

They mentioned many different peoples and movements. They told the Chilean Mapuches that they have leaned from their struggles and the Venezuelans that they are watching how they defend their sovereignty. They praised indigenous peoples in Ecuador and Bolivia for teaching the whole of Latin America how to put a stop to neoliberal globalization. They sent their love to the Argentine piqueteros. They expressed admiration for those in Uruguay who want to build a better country and their respect for the Brazilian landless. They told the Latin American youth of the great hope they offer and the representatives of the dignified and rebellious Social Europe that they are not alone, that their great movements against neoliberalism’s wars bring joy to the Zapatistas, and that perhaps they will send crafts and coffee for them to market. And finally, they told those engaged in struggle in Africa, Asia and Oceania that they want to learn more about their ideas and practices. In short, they want “a world so big that it has room for all of the different resisting worlds.”

No longer for or with
indigenous peoples alone

In Mexico, the Zapatistas are proposing to build consensus with people and organizations of the Left. They believe that together they can draw up a plan to go to all parts of Mexico where there are “humble and simple people.” They will not go to tell them what to do, give them orders or ask them to vote for a particular candidate, as these are all neoliberal acts. They hope that all the various struggles, which are now distanced from each other, will be able to come to an agreement.

To clear up any doubts, the EZLN confirmed its commitment not to engage in any offensives, including attacking government forces. Nor will it maintain any secret relations with political-military organizations in Mexico or any other country. Whatever the Zapatistas do will be done without arms, through a peaceful civic movement, but without neglecting or failing to support their communities.

They are going to continue fighting for Mexico’s indigenous peoples in this new stage but will no longer fight just for them or only with them. Instead, they will fight with and for all of Mexico’s exploited and dispossessed. And when they say “with everyone,” this includes those who have had to emigrate to the United States to survive. They are going to use what they hear and learn to build a national program of struggle that is leftist in the sense of being anti-capitalist and anti-neoliberal. They are going to try to build or rebuild another way of doing politics. They will start up a struggle for a new Constitution and for new laws that consider the Mexican people’s demands for housing, land, work, food, health, education, information, culture, independence, democracy, justice, liberty and peace.

How to “organize the indignation”

Explaining how they intend to do all of this, the EZLN announced it was sending a delegation of leaders across Mexico for an indefinite period, stressing that they would go only where they were invited. The EZLN announced that it would establish a policy of alliances with non-electoral organizations and movements that define themselves as left wing under the following conditions: no deals would be made at the top level and imposed lower down, but rather agreements would be made to go together to listen and “organize the indignation”; no movements would be built only to be negotiated behind the backs of those responsible for creating them; they would always listen to the opinions of those participating; they would not seek kickbacks, positions, advantages or public posts in power; they would not be restricted to the electoral calendar; and they would not try to resolve Mexico’s problems from above, but rather build an alternative from below.

Other conditions relate to a reciprocal respect for each organization’s autonomy and independence, its particular forms of struggle, its way of organizing and its internal decision-making processes. The goals include the coordinated, joint defense of sovereignty and intransigent opposition to any attempts to privatize electricity, oil, water and natural resources. The Zapatistas are inviting leftwing political and social organizations—the Left that’s been left outside the election process—to organize a national campaign, visiting all corners of the country to listen to and organize around words people’s words. But they stressed that this would not be an election campaign.

Indigenous time

The EZLN issued nine documents in June. During that time, reporters who had covered events in Zapatista territory for some time continued to travel around the communities in search of new signs. They confirmed that the low intensity war was continuing at a slower pace perhaps, but had not stopped. Although public opinion seemed unaware of this, the communities bore witness to it every single day. The militarization continued in Chiapas and the paramilitaries were active. The army’s argument that its actions corresponded to normal practices and exercises was unconvincing, although it had dismantled four military camps in a Zapatista zone following the declaration of the red alert. While some communities were happy that the army had withdrawn from these places, others considered it suspicious that the withdrawals took place just as the paramilitaries were once again stepping up their aggression against Zapatista grassroots supporters. Was this apparent military withdrawal just part of a strategy to allow the paramilitaries more freedom of action?

The autonomous municipal offices and Caracoles emained closed. Although on the surface the autonomous governments did not seem to be operating, they were evidently continuing to do so. Civil society groups that had been working in the autonomous communities remained on the alert and the communities themselves continued their resistance. When asked by journalists, the indigenous people seemed in no hurry to grab any attention. Indigenous time prevailed.

Return to normality with changes

On July 11, the EZLN announced that it was lifting the red alert it had announced 23 days earlier. Those who had become confused and nervous assuming that the Zapatistas had ditched the valuable experience of the Caracoles calmed down when they found out that they had resumed their daily activities. The offices of the councils governing the Zapatista autonomous rebel municipalities were also reopened. But there were some changes.

While Good Government Committee members, who had been named by the autonomous councils, would continue their functions, grassroots supporters would be placed in oversight committees whose task was to know who arrived,
the problems faced by people requesting support or solutions, the projects proposed and the decisions being made by the Good Government Committee members. These oversight committees would be responsible for informing the Zapatista autonomous rebel municipalities and grassroots supporters to ensure that everyone knew about all decisions or actions and could assess them and express their opinions about them. Gradually civilian activities returned to normal throughout Zapatista territory and by mid-July, the offices of the Good Government Committees and autonomous municipalities reopened amid festive celebrations.

“The Other Campaign”

On July 13, the Zapatistas officially announced the “National Campaign with Another Kind of Politics, for a National Program of Leftist Struggle and a New Constitution.” For obvious reasons, the name was abbreviated to “The Other Campaign.”

The Zapatistas may have been frugal with their communications in the first five months of 2005, issuing just three communiqués from January to May, but they have more than made up for it since, with nine in June, another three in the first half of July and then two more just a week later. They announced that still more new documents were on the way that would give a detailed explanation of the new stage in their struggle.

The government just didn’t get it. President Fox praised the fact that they had laid down their weapons and calculated that Marcos would want talks over their reintegration into civilian and political life. The business sector insisted that Zapatistas not be allowed to tour the country with their faces covered, arguing that if they had laid down their arms they should also take off their balaclavas. But the Zapatistas have not disarmed. Most of the EZLN will remain armed in their area of influence, not with any offensive in mind but rather in self-defense, to protect their communities from the dangers of paramilitary and military attacks.

The Zapatista National Liberation Army has not been dissolved. While Zapatistas will tour the country unarmed, they will be using all of their symbols and are still protected by the Pacification Law. It should not be forgotten that their balaclavas were firmly in place during the 1997 and 2001 national tours. Fox’s anticipated dialogue with Marcos never happened, because the Zapatistas are looking for a meeting not with those at the top, but rather with grassroots people, a meeting between the poor and their allies, the different representations of the non-electoral Left.

A tower of Babel?
Do they fill a void?

The political class continues to squander millions on worn-out, hollow campaigns to ensure the respective parties’ presidential candidacies. The politicians’ disappointing reactions to the Zapatista proposals have been criticized for their contempt and avoidance of any discussion of the questions raised.

A debate did take place in public opinion, however. Some complained that the Zapatistas had returned to their meta-territorial obsessions when the real resistance to neoliberalism had to be built locally, from the base, through natural resource management. Others argued that separate, unconnected forms of resistance can never take on the powerful forces of neoliberal globalization and praised the Zapatistas for maintaining their Caracoles and seeking to build broader alliances in Mexico and the world to forge new organizational models. There were also voices that warned of the risk of creating a new Babel, particularly regarding groups from an older Left that tends towards sectarianism.

Yet others pointed out that the Zapatistas have already failed in several attempts to launch initiatives aimed at broadening their struggle throughout the nation. They felt that before going ahead with the new initiative it was worth examining why the previous attempts had not worked.

Some suggested different courses. The Zapatista movement is not stepping into a void, they argued. For many years now, pluralistic coalitions have been forming to resist the impact of neoliberalism and sketch out alternatives. The combative Mexican Electricians’ Union, the recently constituted Peasant, Indigenous, Social and Grassroots Union Front—which successfully united a wide variety of grassroots movements—and the National Peace Promoter have been holding meetings and reaching agreements for some time, such as developing more active forms of civil resistance to stop a handful of people from deciding the future of the majority of Mexicans.

At the beginning of 2005, they proposed an alternative national program in the Querétaro Declaration. They had already covered a lot of ground and the Zapatista movement was always invited to join in. It should not be forgotten that time, tolerance, openness and respect for a great number of different struggles were all needed to arrive at that Declaration. In any case, the Querétaro Declaration, the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandona Jungle and other similar initiatives appeared very compatible. They could all form the basis of joint efforts towards a free, just and democratic Mexico.

What about the 2006 elections?

Another issue that has raised many questions is how to achieve one of the proposals of the Zapatistas’ Sixth Declaration: a new Constitution that defends grassroots sovereignty and rights. This necessarily touches on the makeup of the legislative branch and the general elections. There is general agreement with the EZLN’s deep disparagement of the political class. There is no confidence that the political parties have the capacity even to look for, let alone find, solutions to the country’s pressing problems. But while many sectors are convinced that it is essential to break the party-based system, there is also a strong sense of the need to discuss what to do with regard to the 2006 elections. They point out that if the grassroots forces have nothing to do with the process, then the PRI could end up winning the elections, which would represent a dangerous step back into authoritarianism.

In such a scenario, it is highly likely that the PRI and PAN legislators would revive their alliance, approving all the anti-grassroots reforms, such as privatizing the electricity and oil industries, education and health, and crushing the rights of workers and peasants. Wouldn’t it be worth running independent candidates in the 2006 elections to try to wrest the monopoly away from the dominant classes and their parties? There are various options in this respect: boycott the elections altogether, run independent candidates, or establish alliances with the least neoliberal candidates.

Underpinning this new stage of the Zapatista movement is the desire to enter into in-depth discussions to reach firmly rooted agreements. The evident and growing deception with democracy is because it has been limited to electoral democracy and usurped by the moneyed powers, and because the alternation of power has offered no solutions to the needs of the majorities.

The Zapatistas don’t
support López Obrador

After explaining their plans in the Sixth Declaration, the Zapatistas announced that they had received a large number of critiques, arguments, doubts and advice. They asked those who referred to the danger of abandoning the indigenous issue to carefully re-read the parts of the Sixth Declaration that insist that while the struggle will expand, it will remain indigenous. They reassured others who urged them to remain in Chiapas doing what they’ve been doing by confirming that they will continue the Good Government Committees and are not competing “to be the most anti-neoliberal.” They reminded people that the Zapatistas have their sights set on those below rather than on the institutions at the top.

They replied to those who defended Lopez Obrador’s project as leftist by saying that he has defined himself as a centrist and insisted that they would not support the political center he represents. They specifically referred to some of those responsible for coordinating López Obrador’s civic networks at a national level, pointing out that these people were pro-Salinas and had made aggressive declarations against the EZLN.

The PRD leadership avoided responding to Subcomandante Marcos’ comments. But those in its civic tendency felt that he exaggerated some points, did not go far enough in others and was plain wrong in yet others. It was a mistake to confuse the PRD’s grassroots supporters with the party bureaucracy because they were not an enemy of the Zapatistas. They also felt it was a mistake for the Zapatistas to want to exclude the grassroots supporters of registered political parties from the new movement. Some think that this clear definition on the part of the Zapatistas presages a future dispute over these very grassroots sectors. Finally, the European movements supporting the EZLN view the Sixth Declaration as a chance to land another blow against neoliberalism and European Zapatista networks have agreed to build democracy from below.

Slander them, lock them up,
murder them...

Having announced that they will leave Chiapas to tour the country, the Zapatistas are anticipating different forms of pressure on them to abort this new stage. These include a “preventive” attack, intense media campaigns accusing them of links to drug trafficking and organized crime, as well as armed attacks and damage-control campaigns, including the buying off opinion makers. Another option would be to take them into custody either at the beginning of or some time during “The Other Campaign,” which among other things would involve Congress voting to annul the Dialogue Law. And finally, they might even be murdered through the kind of classic forced disappearance that invariably implies absolute impunity. Given the possibility of such scenarios, the EZLN made an important distinction: while the state of alert had been lifted among the Zapatista peoples, it remains in force among the insurgent troops. It reminded people that its military structure was prepared for the possible decapitation of its leadership.

Let society define politics

It should be recalled that while the first roundtable in the 1996 talks achieved the yet-to-be implemented San Andrés Accords, the government aborted the second roundtable on democracy. And that one was to have been followed by others related to economic policy.

The EZLN is currently reworking these missing roundtables, this time not with the government but rather with a broad current identified as the new Left. The aim is to build a country that truly responds to the fundamental demands that gave rise to the Zapatista movement in the first place. But this time the discussion will not be limited to Chiapas; it will cover the whole Mexican territory.

The importance of this new phase of the Zapatista movement is its insistence that the people be taken into account. Respected intellectual Pablo González Casanova referred to the Zapatista’s Sixth Declaration as a new, creative step taken by one of the most original movements of our times. He recalled that the Zapatistas have broken new ground regarding the importance of dignity, autonomy, pluralism, overcoming differences and coordinating indigenous peoples with the rest of the Mexican people and with the peoples of the world. They have linked the global to the local and redefined and reconnected national and social struggles of indigenous peoples, workers, communities and citizens. Their project implies that society define politics, and aims at a social Left. It is a cause for renewed hope.


JORGE ALONSO is a researcher with ciesas Western and envío correspondent in Mexico.

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