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Zapatistas Go Back to the Grassroots (Two Stories)

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  • Dan Clore
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Zapatistas go back to the grassroots to start again Ten years after their uprising, the
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 26, 2003
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      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      Zapatistas go back to the grassroots to start again
      Ten years after their uprising, the Chiapas rebels are
      feeling the chill of neglect
      by Jo Tuckman in Morelia
      Saturday December 27, 2003
      The Guardian

      Through a door under a painted rainbow Zapatistas sit in an
      office with a computer, a couple of manual typewriters, a
      satellite phone and not much else.

      "We are satisfied and proud to be working against the
      system," says José Luis Hernández, spokesman for the "junta
      of good government" recently established in his village of
      Mayan peasants. "We are creating a new culture."

      A decade after its brief but bloody uprising the largely
      indigenous Zapatista Army of National Liberation, led by the
      mestizo (mixed race) Subcomandante Marcos, is still talking big.

      The difference is that far fewer people are listening.

      The rebellion began on New Year's Day 1994, shaking Mexico
      to its core and catapulting Marcos and his ragtag army on to
      the world stage.

      Their rhetoric against centuries of racism and neglect, the
      implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement
      (Nafta), which was launched he same day, and the party that
      had governed Mexico since 1929 struck many chords.

      The fighting lasted 12 days, killed a few hundred and turned
      the Zapatistas into an international symbol of indigenous
      struggle and the fledgling anti-globalisation movement. It
      made Marcos the most romanticised Latin American
      revolutionary since Ché Guevara.

      Ten years on the Zapatistas have been largely forgotten in a
      world caught up in more pressing battles, and even in Mexico
      Marcos's communiques barely make the newspapers.

      President Vicente Fox, whose election in July 2000 brought
      democratic government to Mexico, can largely ignore the
      conflict. The Zapatistas have little to show for the years
      of struggle.

      After their initial success putting indigenous demands on
      Mexico's political agenda, they have failed to secure the
      legal reforms to answer them. Many indigenous villagers
      sympathetic to the Zapatistas still live in the abject
      poverty that prompted the rebellion, banned by the
      leadership from using the schools, clinics and other
      development projects lavished on Chiapas state after the

      Free trade has continued marching forward, leaving Mexico's
      poor farmers floundering in its wake.

      But the Zapatistas show no sign of giving up. Their
      challenge is to prove that they can not merely survive but
      make Mexicans and the world heed their message.

      "The movement is tired. It has lasted for too long in
      difficult conditions," said Jan de Vos, the Belgian
      historian and anthropologist who has written extensively on
      the Zapatistas.

      "Let's see if Marcos still has enough imagination to give it
      new energy."

      Marcos, a former university lecturer who says he set off to
      make revolution with a copy of Don Quixote under his arm,
      has a much-lauded strategic eye. It was he who timed the
      uprising to coincide with the launch of Nafta, and who
      reinvented the Zapatistas as an indigenous movement after
      recognising that their original rhetoric of socialist
      revolution was falling flat.

      Now he and other rebel leaders seek to rejuvenate the
      movement by forcing forward the vision of indigenous
      autonomy, with or without the acquiescence of the authorities.

      The strategy was launched in August with the creation of
      five regional governments, called juntas, also designed to
      tighten the leadership's hold over far-flung Zapatista
      communities and rein in control of international donations.

      At the junta in Morelia Mr Hernández explains how Zapatista
      jurisdiction works.

      He says there is no need for jails because lawbreakers are
      "persuaded" to "understand" their crimes, and that there is
      no resentment at the lack of resources, since Zapatistas
      know their "dignity" is worth more than any government
      development project.

      Seven masked comandantes sit silently by: there to provide
      guidance to the new civilian authorities.

      The Zapatistas' peaceful image has been tainted by cases of
      non-conformist families being hounded out of rebel
      communities, but their war is still far less associated with
      violence than most other armed rebellions. So much so that
      the Chiapas conflict has always verged on the surreal.

      Never more so than in early 2001 when Marcos and the rest of
      the high command mounted a rock star-style tour of Mexico,
      designed to rally support for the peace accord signed in
      1996 by the previous government and then forgotten in favour
      of a huge military deployment, support for anti-rebel
      paramilitaries, and lavish spending in indigenous areas.

      The collapse of the 71-year-old regime in 2000 raised hopes
      for a return to the peace process, but it was not to be.
      Parliament eventually passed a watered-down version of the
      reform, angering the Zapatistas, who pronounced Mr Fox no
      better than the regime he had replaced.

      Neither side has set out to rekindle the violence, but
      neither is looking for peace.


      25 Dec 2003 02:04:00 GMT
      FEATURE-Autonomy a key test for Mexican rebels 10 years on
      By Elizabeth Fullerton

      OVENTIC, Mexico, (Reuters) -- Ten years ago, Mexico's 13
      million Indians lived in silent resignation to their
      poverty, ignored by the majority of Mexicans and trapped in
      a historical stereotype as dumb servants.

      Then on January 1, 1994, Zapatista rebels in the southern
      state of Chiapas declared war on the federal government in
      the name of Indian rights, the same day as Mexico supposedly
      joined the first world as the North American Free Trade
      Agreement with the United States and Canada went into effect.

      A decade later, Mexico's Indians still live in abject
      conditions, often with no running water or electricity; they
      have the country's highest illiteracy and child mortality
      rates. But many feel they have at least discovered a voice.

      "Due to the armed uprising, men, women and children have
      become more aware of their situation, learned what we live,
      what we suffer," said a rebel in the Chiapas town of
      Oventic, one of eight masked Tzotzil Indian rebels who
      received reporters in a basic wooden hut under a naked light

      Although open warfare has not been seen since the initial
      uprising, bloody clashes between rebel sympathisers and
      paramilitary groups continue and many Chiapas towns are
      riven by bitter political and religious differences.

      The Mexican government has in effect ceded control of many
      towns in the state, and dozens of Zapatista-controlled
      villages have refused to accept government aid.

      One of the rebels' biggest achievements is the formation of
      self-governing communities like Oventic, whose success is
      viewed as key to the Zapatistas' survival given the impasse
      in peace talks with the government.


      Oventic, shrouded in heavy mountain mist, represents a
      barebones version of an indigenous utopia.

      Indian history is taught in Tzotzil tongue in Oventic's
      secondary school and Indian health workers treat residents
      in the local clinic, which desperately needs medicine and
      has no doctors.

      The school has no heating and closes in freezing
      temperatures, but both facilities underscore the efforts of
      rebel communities to become self-sufficient.

      In August, the Zapatistas announced the creation of five
      "committees of good government" to rule over some 30
      autonomous communities not recognised by the federal government.

      Outside Oventic, a sign declares, "You are in Zapatista
      rebel territory. Here the people command and the government

      Inside, colourful murals of Mexican revolutionary peasant
      champion Emiliano Zapata and Zapatista military leader
      Subcomandante Marcos adorn public buildings.

      President Vicente Fox's election victory in 2000, ending
      seven decades of one-party rule, briefly kindled hope of a
      resolution to the conflict by withdrawing some troops from
      sensitive zones and freeing Zapatista prisoners.

      The Zapatistas then marched to the capital and addressed
      Congress, urging legislators to approve a bill recognising
      the Indians' constitutional right to govern themselves, as
      agreed with the previous government.

      But Congress passed a diluted version of the reform, the
      rebels' most important condition for resuming peace talks.
      Hopes for peace receded.

      Michael Chamberlin, an activist with the Capise rights group
      in Chiapas, said the reform granted Indians a few benefits
      but no rights.

      "The issue isn't a house, a school, a clinic. It's having
      access to this level of decision-making on education,
      health, development, which are fundamentally political
      conditions," he said.

      The Zapatistas, who have female commanders, also preached
      greater equality for long-downtrodden Indian women.

      "We as women are participating in every area. Now we are
      taken into account," said a masked woman on the Oventic
      committee. However, women's rights workers say that in the
      home, Indian women remain subordinate and domestic violence
      is a problem.


      The main challenge now for the Zapatistas is to show that
      self-determination can work, and Indian communities in other
      regions are proposing similar projects.

      But with the rebellion no longer a hot issue, charity aid is
      drying up as emergencies arise worldwide.

      Rights workers say the autonomy project is also threatened
      by government handouts and higher infrastructure spending
      which are dividing communities and luring rebel sympathisers

      "These divisions are taking strength away from the
      Zapatistas. It's a very well planned counter-insurgency
      policy," said Mercedes Olivera, a women's rights activist in

      Xochitl Galvez, the government's top Indian affairs officer,
      said recently that she hoped to renew debate on a new Indian
      rights reform in Congress next year and resume dialogue with
      the rebels in 2005.

      In Oventic, the Zapatistas were dismissive.

      "There are no signs right now" of government will to talk,
      they said. "We're going to keep advancing, advancing. We're
      not going to ask them if they like it or not."

      Dan Clore

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