(Hilary Klein has been engaged in social justice and community organizing for two decades. She lived in Chiapas, Mexico, for several years, where she worked with women’s projects in Zapatista communities, and she is the author of “Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories.”)
Writing at telesur.net/english she introduces the anniversary by giving historical context to Zapatismo:
“Jan. 1 marks the 22nd anniversary of the Zapatista uprising and more than 30 years since the formation of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation, EZLN).
On January 1, 1994, the EZLN captured the world’s imagination when it rose up to demand justice and democracy for the indigenous peasants of southern Mexico. Since that brief armed insurrection, the EZLN has become known more for its peaceful mobilizations, dialogue with civil society, and structures of political, economic, and cultural autonomy. Over the past three decades, the Zapatista movement has won significant changes in its own territory and has inspired other social movements in Mexico and around the world, offering a number of key lessons that are still relevant today.
The date of the Zapatista uprising was chosen for its symbolic importance – as it was the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. The EZLN was one of the first popular movements to recognize neoliberalism as a menacing new stage of global capitalism and called NAFTA a death sentence for the indigenous peasants of Mexico.
As night fell on Dec. 31, 1993, the armed forces of the EZLN had begun to gather. It was an army made up almost entirely of indigenous people, and about a third of the soldiers were women. As dawn broke on New Year’s Day, Zapatista troops occupied seven towns throughout the eastern half of Chiapas, including San Cristóbal de las Casas, a quaint colonial city nestled in the misty highlands of Chiapas and a major tourist destination. The Zapatistas occupied San Cristóbal for less than 48 hours. They stayed long enough to read their declaration of war from the balcony of the municipal palace, but slipped away in time to escape the full brunt of the Mexican military. The uprising would quickly transform the EZLN into one of the most well-known social movements in the world, and one that would inspire an extraordinary level of solidarity.
Over the past two decades, the impact of the Zapatista movement can be seen at the local, national, and international level. Land takeovers carried out after the 1994 uprising — where large ranches were occupied by the Zapatistas and reapportioned to landless peasants — impacted the distribution of wealth in Chiapas and continue to affect living conditions for Zapatista villages farming on reclaimed land. The Zapatista structures of indigenous autonomy have meant that rural villages in Chiapas have gained access to rudimentary health care and education. They exercise self-determination through local and regional governments, and generate resources back into their communities through economic cooperatives that organize the production of goods.”
(Subcomandante Marcos rides horseback in front of the Zapatista support base members in La Realidad during an homage to fallen compañero Galeano, who was killed in a paramilitary attack on May 2, 2014.)
She writes of the beginnings in the preceding ten years, the various political ideologies at play, including the social doctrine of the Catholic Diocese of San Cristóbal, and the fluidity of their drawing from both indigenous and Western thought, weaving it all into their own autonomous self-rule and independent world. She narrates the women’s roles, rights, and equality in their society, and pays great homage to their ‘poignant combination of humility and passion:
“The Zapatistas are humble enough to know that none of us have all the answers. “Caminando preguntamos,” they say – “walking we ask questions.” In spite of all they have gained, they readily acknowledge that theirs is a long-term struggle. They want to live in a world of justice and dignity and are working on building it, step by step. A Zapatista elder named Eva once told me, “The path of this struggle is long and there is still much we want to accomplish. We don’t know how long it will take. There are many things we will probably not achieve ourselves. It will be up to our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren, and our great-great-grandchildren.”
None of this, however, has stopped the Zapatistas from dreaming big dreams or taking on the most intimidating of foes. They had the courage to declare war on the Mexican government, to take on global capitalism, and to ask themselves what it would mean to dismantle patriarchy in Zapatista territory. If there is one thing about the Zapatista movement I would hope to see contemporary social movements emulate, it would be this combination of humility and chutzpah – the understanding of the enduring nature of this work and the patience and unflinching commitment that comes along with it.”
The text of the EZLN’s statement on this occasion is long, as they all have been. I’ve snipped quite a bit out, but have tried to keep enough that the power, and even poetry of some of it, can still be felt. Their explanation of why they made (quite limilted) war on the Mexican government, and why they still haven’t laid down their arms while hoping never to need them again…choosing life over death…is a bit disconcerting for many of us. The ‘blood’ they gave to the struggle including “Within 24 hours the army responds, bombing indigenous communities and killing a minimum of 145 indigenous people. Mexican civil society responds with massive demonstrations calling for peace. A cease-fire is declared on January 12.” (from the timeline of the Zapatista Movement)
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“Compañeras and compañeros, today we are here to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the beginning of the war against oblivion.
For more than 500 years we have endured the war that the powerful from different nations, languages, colors, and beliefs have made against us in order to annihilate us.
They wanted to kill us, be it through killing our bodies or killing our ideas.
But we resist.
As original peoples, as guardians of mother earth, we resist.
Not only here and not only our color, which is the color of the earth.
In all of the corners of the earth that suffered in the past and still suffer now, there were and there are dignified and rebellious people who resisted, who resist against the death imposed from above.
January 1, 1994, 22 years ago, we made public the “ENOUGH!” that we had prepared in dignified silence for a decade.
In silencing our pain we were preparing its scream.
Our word, at that time, came from fire.
In order to wake those who slept.
To raise the fallen.
To incense those who conformed and surrendered.
To rebel against history
To force it to tell that which it had silenced.
To reveal the history of exploitations, murders, dispossessions, disrespect and forgetting that it was hiding behind the history of above.
This history of museums, statues, textbooks – monuments to the lie.
With the death of our people, with our blood, we shook the stupor of a world resigned to defeat.
It was not only words. The blood of our fallen compañeros in these 22 years was added to the blood of those from the preceding years, lustrums, decades, and centuries.
We had to choose then and we chose life.
That is why, both then and now, in order to live, we die.
Our word then was as simple as our blood painting the streets and walls of the cities where they disrespect us now as they did then.
And it continues to be:
The banner of our struggle was our 11 demands: land, work, food, health, education, dignified housing, independence, democracy, freedom, justice, and peace.
These demands were what made us rise up in arms because these were the things that we, the original people and the majority of people in this country and in the entire world, need.
In this way, we began our struggle against exploitation, marginalization, humiliation, disrespect, oblivion and all of the injustices we lived that were caused by the bad system.
Because we are only of service to the rich and powerful as their slaves, so that they can become richer and richer and we can become poorer and poorer.
After living for such a long time under this domination and plunder we said:
ENOUGH! THIS IS WHERE OUR PATIENCE ENDS!
And we saw that we had no other choice then to take up our arms to kill or to die for a just cause.
But we were not alone.
Nor are we alone now.
In Mexico and the World dignity took to the streets and asked for a space for the word.
From that moment on, we changed our form of struggle. We were and we are an attentive ear and open word, because from the beginning we knew that a just struggle of the people is for life and not for death.
But we have our arms at our sides, we have not gotten rid of them, they will be with us until the end.
Because we see that where our ear was an open heart, the Ruler used his deceptive word, and ambitious and lying heart against us.
We saw that the war from above continued.
Their plan and objective was and is to make war against us until they exterminate us. That is why instead of meeting our just demands, they prepared and prepare, made and make war with their modern weapons, form and finance paramilitaries, provide and distribute crumbs taking advantage of some people’s ignorance and poverty.
These rulers above are stupid. They think that those who were willing to listen would also be willing to sell out, surrender, and give up.
They were wrong then.
They are wrong now.
We look at what was before, and what is now.
A bloody night, worse than before if that is possible, extends over the world.
The Ruler is not only set on continuing to exploit, repress, disrespect, and dispossess, but is determined to destroy the entire world if in doing so it can create profits, money, pay.
It is clear that the worst is coming for all of us.
The rich multimillionaires of a few countries continue with their objective to loot the natural riches of the entire world, everything that gives us life like water, land, forests, mountains, rivers, air; and everything that is below the ground: gold, oil, uranium, amber, sulfur, carbon, and other minerals.
They don’t consider the land as a source of life, but as a business where they can turn everything into a commodity, and commodities they turn into money, and in doing this they will destroy us completely.
The bad and those who carry it out have a name, history, origin, calendar, geography: the capitalist system.
It doesn’t matter what color they paint it, what name they give it, what religion they dress it up as, what flag they raise; it is the capitalist system.
It is the exploitation of humanity and the world we inhabit.
It is disrespect and contempt for everything that is different and that doesn’t sell out, doesn’t give up, and doesn’t give in.
It is the system that persecutes, incarcerates, murders.
We have also learned, as Zapatistas, that this is only possible with organization.
We learned that it is good if one person gets angry.
But that if more people, many people get angry, a light ignites in one corner of the world and its glow can be seen, for a moment, across the entire surface of the earth.
But we also learned that if these angers organize themselves… Ah! Then we have not just a momentary flash that illuminates the earth’s surface.
Then what we have is a murmur, like a rumor, a tremor that begins quietly and grows stronger.
It is as if this world was about to birth another, a better one, more just, more democratic, more free, more human… or humana… or humanoa.
That is why today we begin our words with a word from awhile ago already, but one that continues to be necessary, urgent, vital: we have to organize ourselves, prepare ourselves to struggle to change this life, to create another way of living, another way to govern ourselves as peoples.
Because if we don’t organize, we will be enslaved.
There is nothing to trust in capitalism. Absolutely nothing. We have lived with this system for hundreds of years, and we have suffered under its 4 wheels: exploitation, repression, dispossession, and disdain. Now all we have is our trust in each other, in ourselves. And we know how to create a new society, a new system of government, the just and dignified life that we want.
Now no one is safe from the storm of the capitalist hydra that will destroy our lives, not indigenous people, peasant farmers, workers, teachers, housewives, intellectuals, or workers in general, because there are many workers who struggle to survive daily life, some with a boss and others without, but all caught in the clutches of capitalism.
In other words, there is no salvation within capitalism.
No one will lead us; we must lead ourselves, thinking together about how we will resolve each situation.
We have no other possible path but to unite ourselves and organize ourselves to struggle and defend ourselves from the great threat that is the capitalist system. Because the criminal capitalism that threatens all of humanity does not respect anyone; it will sweep aside all of us regardless of race, party, or religion. This has been demonstrated to us over many years of bad government, threats, persecution, incarceration, torture, disappearances, and murder of our peoples of the countryside and the city all over the world.
The blood of our ancestors runs through our veins, it is they who have passed down to us the example of struggle and rebellion, the role of guardian of our mother earth, from whom we were born, from whom we live, and to whom we will return.
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Compañeros and compañeras Zapatistas
Compañeros and compañeras, compañeroas of the Sixth:
Brothers and sisters:
These are our first words for this year that is beginning.
More words will come, more thoughts.
Little by little we will show you once again our gaze, our collective heart.
For now we will finish by telling you that to honor and respect the blood of our fallen compañeros, it is not enough to remember, miss, cry, or pray, rather we must continue the work that they left us, to create in practice the change that we want.
That is why, compañeros and compañeras, this important day is the time to reaffirm our commitment to struggle, to going forward at whatever cost and whatever happens, without letting the capitalist system destroy what we have won and the little that we have been able to build with our work and our efforts over more than 22 years: our freedom!
Now is not the time to retreat, to get discouraged or to tire; we must be even firmer in our struggle, to maintain the word and example that our first compañeros left us: to not give in, not sell out, and not give up.
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.
For the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee—General Command of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation.
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano.
Mexico, January 1, 2016.
Extras from points to the south of Turtle Island:
“The Power to Defend Our Territory:” Indigenous Communities Win Consul(t)ation Law in Guatemala’ at upsidedownworld.org
‘A Peace Community in Colombia: “The resistance to the armed conflict forced us to think about self-sufficiency”, from upsidedownworld.org
‘Justice in Guatemala: Guatemalan Court Upholds Revolutionary Ruling on Ecocide’ via intercontinentalcry.org
‘A Legacy of Shame; Canadian Mining Companies leave behind decades of violence in Guatemala’, via intercontinentlcry.org
‘Landslide Victory’ for Ogoni Farmers as Court Rules Against Shell’ by Deirdre Fulton, Common Dreams by way of itercontinentalcry.org
Zapatista videos on youtube