The Revolutionary Autonomous Zapatista Movement in Chiapas: a Primer

(This is a reprise from 2013 I’d titled: ‘Israelis help crush the Zapatistas & Here’s why‘.  That reason will come toward the end.  These militant indigenous and their allies are one shining example of  those who threw off the yokes of their neo-colonialist by oppressors shouting Basta! , and  acting on their militancy.  Against all odds, their communities are still alive and growing today.)

Where does one start a story of Chiapas and the Zapatistas?  One useful starting point might be during the Spanish conquest of the lands that comprised the narrow isthmus between North and South America.  At the time, the Chiapas lowlands were considered to be ‘the breadbasket’ to the indigenous of the region; I’ve read that over 125 different heirloom varieties of maize still exist.  But as the Spanish enlarged their appropriated holdings and began farming large coffee and cotton plantations, and created vast cattle ranches, the indigenous Maya were pushed into the rocky, thin-soiled highlands to eke out an agricultural subsistence.  When those lands proved inadequate to their needs, some of the Maya cleared the jungled hills to the east; some poor Spanish-speaking residents fleeing poverty in the south joined them.

As ever, when such an underclass is created by ‘the Victors’ of colonization, so does it evolve that a pernicious form of racism and bigotry is also created.  That condition still exists today.

Until the early part of the 20th Century, the land outside the native villages in Mexico was the property of the oligarch class.  In what now seems a remarkable feat, during the 1930s, President Lazaro Cárdenas created the ejidos system in which millions of hectares of land were distributed to Mexican peasants.  The land could not be sold, just passed down through the generations.  Cárdenas also nationalized the Mexican petroleum industry, which goes by the name Pemex.  During his tenure, he also helped to create a national labor union.

Over the decades, the ejido system was corrupted, and many of the 28,000 parcels of land once again came under the control of the feudal lords of Mexico, often Europeans.

Emilio Zapata, revolutionary hero to the Mexican peasants, often cried, ‘The land belongs to the people who work it’.  It became the anthem of those still infused with the spirit of the ejido concept as they their holdings fall prey to the greedy and powerful.  His murder by Mexican generals under President Caranza in 1919 in an act of betrayal as he sought a truce, reified his battle cry among the peasants, as did the sense of righteous power he willed to the generations who came after him.  That fervor would lie in quiet dormancy for some 40 or 50 years, waiting to be sparked anew.

Poverty and disease among the Maya in Chiapas and neighboring Oaxaca were rampant.  Rumblings of dissent began to emanate from the highlands, rolling among the people.  The recently created Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), or Zapatista movement, began to accrue more and more members.

Adding fuel to the Indigenous fire, in an arguably stolen election in the 1988, Carlos Salinas was elected President.  Under his corrupt rule, privatization of the ejido lands was legalized in 1992; forests, land and water were gobbled up by the feudalist class.  On the first of January, 1994, Zapatista communities approved a military offensive by the EZLN.  Guerillas seized control of the colonial city of San Cristóbal de las Casas and 5 towns in the surrounding Chiapas highlands.

“We have nothing to lose, absolutely nothing, no decent roof over our heads, no land, no work, poor health, no food, no education, no right to freely and democratically choose our leaders, no independence from foreign interests, and no justice for ourselves or our children. But we say enough is enough! We are the descendants of those who truly built this nation, we are the millions of dispossessed, and we call upon all of our brethren to join our crusade, the only option to avoid dying of starvation!”

– Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) Declaration of the Lácandon Jungle, 1993

January 1, 1994 was of course the day NAFTA took effect.  The call went out to the poor and disenfranchised throughout Mexico, and via internet to the wider anti-globalization, anti-neoliberalism movement, including the fact that NAFTA would be deadly to the peasants.  Non-indigenous had been joining EZLN, including their leader, Subcomandante Marcos (his nom de guerre).  His life’s story and writings are fascinating, even at Wikipedia.  It contains this explanation of the black knit masks that Marcos and his army sport (aside from keeping their identities secret from the military):

“Marcos, the quintessential anti-leader, insists that his black mask is a mirror, so that ‘Marcos is gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10 p.m., a peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains’. In other words, he is simply us: we are the leader we’ve been looking for.”

The Mexican government’s military response to the short-lived revolutions was swift: planes and helicopters dropped bombs in the EZLN ejido villages; 145 people were killed.  In the towns, we have this from Democracy Now, 2004, “The Zapatista Uprising 1994-2004: A Look At How An Indigenous Rebel Group From Chiapas Took on Mexico and Corporate Globalization” (illuminating video here):

FREE SPEECH RADIO NEWS: Within less than 24 hours, the almost jovial spectacle turned to full-fledged warfare as thousands of Mexican military and police forces confronted the rebel army and terrorized civilian populations. In one indigenous village, the men of the community were rounded up and three elders were assassinated. Sister Patti, who ran a small popular hospital in the area, was accused by the military of hiding weapons in the hospital. This sister remembers that day.

SISTER PATTI, WITNESS: It was the 5th of January in the afternoon, the federal army arrived. It was a day of incredible silence, an environment of great fear. The military began to give out food to the people. When the families went to receive their food, many of the men were taken by the military, tortured, and taken to the prisons.

FREE SPEECH RADIO NEWS: During the 12 days of warfare, approximately 200 people were killed, most of them civilians. The images broadcast throughout the world of the corpses of poor indigenous men lying on the dirt with wooden guns by their side made people wonder what was behind the decision to make them risk their lives. In February, 1994, the Zapatistas entered the city again to begin negotiations. From the cathedral, they spoke about the importance of peasant and indigenous people’s rights to land.

EZLN REPRESENTATIVE: We decided to go to war so that the peasants could have land, not the ranchers. It wasn’t for one village nor for the state, but rather for everyone who doesn’t have land.

On Jan.12, a cease-fire was called.  The truce was arranged by the well-known Liberation Theologist Samuel Ruiz.  February: Peace talks began in February; the government peace proposal was rejected by the Zapatista communities.  In August, after holding the National Democratic Convention attended by 6000 Mayans and their comrades, the Zapatistas declared autonomy for 38 indigenous municipalities.  They have created cooperative agricultural systems, clinics, schools, and actual democratic institutions  for themselves.

Their point has long been that they simply want autonomous rule of their districts in which all people make the decisions in a true participatory ‘bottom up’ rule.

Not long afterward, a Feb. 1995 report from the Chase-Manhattan Bank surfaced, urging the Mexican government to ‘eliminate the Zapatistas’; their brand of state destabilization is bad for business and the value of a peso, you know.  A month later, the army mounted a massive invasion of Zapatista territory, implementing a strategy of low-intensity warfare (civilian-targeted warfare). The army displaced 20,000 campesinos, and occupied much of Chiapas.

The following years of rule by Zedillo and the PRI were hellish for the self-rule municipalities; Zedillo deported human rights workers by the droves.  There were brief respites of oppression under Vincente Fox’s rule, including dismantling some of the military bases and checkpoints, freeing some political prisoners.  When the Senate passed a weak-tea version of the San Andres Accords in April of 2011, the Zapatistas went home, and entered The Silence once again.

Allow me to neglect the intervening years of oppression and misery, and come to the winter solstice of 2012, when the Zapatistas walked out of the misty jungle highlands in silence, thousands of masked men, women and children.

 ‘To be heard…we walk in silence.’

From Leonidas Oikonmakusm this thrilling prose (and wonderful photos):

As the Maya calendar ends, a new cycle of struggle begins with thousands of Zapatistas peacefully and silently occupying town squares across Chiapas. The Zapatistas are back! Flowing like the water of the river that beats the sword. And while some were anticipating the Christmas holidays, some others the end of the Maya calendar, and others still the new Communiqué from the Comandancia General of the EZLN that was announced back in November, the main cities of Chiapas woke up today with memories of 1994.  New Age freaks around the world may have been gearing up for the end of the world, but it appears that some Mayas had a very different opinion on the matter. They preferred to send us another message: that of the new world they have been building in silence for two decades now.

Several pieces of news concerning the Zapatistas and Mexico have emerged this week.  From Intercontinental Cry comes information that:

“Earlier this month, Jorge Luis Llaven Abarca, Mexico’s newly-appointed secretary of public security in Chiapas, announced that discussions had taken place between his office and the Israeli defense ministry. The two countries talked about security coordination at the level of police, prisons and effective use of technology (and a pdf in Espanol). [snip]

In the twenty years since the uprising, the Mexican government has not ceased its counterinsurgency programs in Chiapas. When Llaven Abarca was announced as security head in December, human rights organizations voiced concerns that the violence would escalate, pointing to his history of arbitrary detentions, use of public force, criminal preventive detentions, death threats and torture. [snip]

According to declassified Defense Intelligence Agency documents [PDF] obtained via a freedom of information request, Israeli personnel were discreetly sent into Chiapas in response to the 1994 Zapatista uprising for the purpose of “providing training to Mexican military and police forces.”

The Mexican government also made use of the Arava aircraft to deploy its Airborne Special Forces Group (Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales, or GAFE). GAFE commandos were themselves trained by Israel and the US. Several would later desert the GAFE and go on to create “Los Zetas,” currently Mexico’s most powerful and violent drug cartel.’

The authors list the weapons sold through out Central America to some of the worst purveyors of genocide, including recently convicted of genocide, Rios Montt in Nicaragua (his sentence has been stayed by the courts for now).  We know how the purveyors of war and neoliberalism operate, and that the CIA and cohorts may even be involved, as they were all over the region for decades.  Be careful, Zapatistas!  Here comes more…

Laura Carlson, writing at Counterpunch, has a piece up about Obomba’s recent trip to Mexico and Guatemala to strengthen ‘trade ties’.  She notes that the hideous drug wars aren’t mentioned, because…our part in all that would be embarrassing and signal corruption, deceit, and part of the Financialization of Fear we’ve come to notice all too well.  Instead, he used code words for strengthening NAFTA, and put in a plug for the TPP (which Carlson seriously low-balls, imo).  But in addition:

Obama threw his weight behind Peña Nieto’s reforms, referring obliquely to the education reform that has provoked thousands of teachers to take to the streets in defense of their jobs and the public education system. He also mentioned the crown jewel for U.S. oil companies and Pentagon planners—the privatization of the national oil company PEMEX.

At the joint press conference in Mexico’s National Palace, Obama stated   “I want to commend President Peña Nieto and the Mexican people for the ambitious reforms that you’ve embarked on to make your economy more competitive, to make your institutions more effective. And I know it’s hard, but it’s also necessary. Ultimately, only Mexicans can decide how Mexico reforms. But let me repeat what I told the President — as Mexico works to become more competitive, you’ve got a strong partner in the United States, because our success is shared,”

U.S. oil companies have long been chomping at the bit to share success in Mexican oil resources. For decades, Mexican governments have run the state-owned enterprise into the ground in anticipation of making the case for greater privatization, taxing away funds for even basic reinvestment and maintenance. Peña Nieto denies he’s promoting “privatization” but believes he can pass legislation to greatly increase areas where private investment is allowed.

Does all of this remind you of other US ‘non-intervention’ across the globe?  It’s just more of the same: Neoliberalism on the March, Military ‘Solutions’ to Civil Rights and Justice Problems.  Put down those who resist, and make way for Bidness.  Privatize Everything, Monetize Every Resource, and Send in the Clowns.  War by other Means.  They really seem to believe that they can keep starving, oppressing, and killing vast numbers of us without reprisal, even of the non-violent sort.

Some lengthy, but fascinating, background and Zapatista philosphy from a visitor to the Zapatista Little School: ‘“Practice First, Then Theory:” The Zapatista Little School Shares Lessons Learned During 19 Years of Self-Governance’, warrior publications, Sept. 2017

a brief snippet:

“Perhaps one of the Little School’s most important benefits for the Zapatistas occurred during its preparation.  The Little School’s four textbooks, Autonomous Government part I and II, Women’s Participation in the Autonomous Government, and Autonomous Resistance, as well as the two DVDs that accompany the books, were all created by Zapatistas themselves.  The textbooks are the result of Zapatistas from all five caracoles (Zapatista government centers) traveling to regions other than their own to collect testimonies and interview fellow Zapatistas about how they self-govern.” 

The Zapatistas’ bottom-up approach to government means that while all of the caracoles operate under the same basic principles and towards the same goals, their day-to-day operations sometimes differ drastically.  For example, every caracol has a Good Government Board, the maximum governing body in the region.  However, each caracol’s Board is structured differently.  Many of the Zapatistas’ questions to their compañeros from other caracoles in the interview portion of the textbooks revolved around their experiences and what has worked and what has not.”

The caracoles are ‘little snails’ that they say resemble human hearts.

The Schools for Chiapas website with even an online store is here.

This is the most recent communiqué from Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés at the EZLN website:  ‘Words from the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee-General Command of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation, January 1, 2018’; 24th Anniversary of the beginning of the war against oblivion.  via

It’s verbose to the Nth degree, but that’s how they do things (smile).  All articles and communiqués at enlace zapatista are merrily enough in Spanish, Portuguese, English, and German, sometimes in Italian and Greek (iirc).

And just because I love inspirational and earthy folk art, a few more:

(cross-p0sted at

12 responses to “The Revolutionary Autonomous Zapatista Movement in Chiapas: a Primer

  1. zounds, this diary’s a barn-burner, similarly at c99 whee folks are always talkin’ about a revolution. #gofigure. but related in a way, as i’d reminded the few commenters over yonder about obama’s handing pena $75 million for a virtual wall at mexico’s southern border…:

    Media, Democrats silent as US Supreme Court rules immigrants can be indefinitely detained’, Eric London, 28 February 2018,

    “In a 5-3 decision handed down on Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Jennings v. Rodriguez that the government can arrest and indefinitely detain immigrants, depriving them of the fundamental right to bail.
    As a result, hundreds of thousands of immigrants will be locked up in internment camps as their immigration cases proceed, with no opportunity for release until their cases are decided—a process that often takes years. Roughly 450,000 immigrants were jailed in detention centers at some point during the last year, and that number will increase astronomically after yesterday’s ruling.

    The decision makes no distinction between undocumented immigrants and those with legal permanent residency. It means millions of immigrants living in the US are subject to arrest and indefinite detention.

    This milestone event has passed with virtually no comment in the corporate-controlled press. As of Tuesday evening, the online front pages of the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC and Politico had no coverage of the ruling, while the New York Times had a single article far down its page. At the same time, these five sites featured a combined 23 front-page articles on the anti-Russia witch hunt.
    No major Democratic Party official has made a statement on the ruling, and the Twitter accounts of Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Charles Schumer, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are all silent.”

    on later edit, and h/t mr. wd: ‘The Core Trembles: New York City for Marichuy!’ by Quincy Saul, march 1, 2018, counterpunch

    “In October 2016, from the mountains of the Mexican southeast, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation sent a message to the fifth National Indigenous Congress and to the world, titled with a warning that the earth would “tremble to its core.” The message proposed:
    to name an Indigenous Governing Council whose will would be manifest by an indigenous woman, a CNI delegate, as an independent candidate to the presidency of the country under the name of the National Indigenous Congress and the Zapatista Army for National Liberation in the electoral process of 2018.
    And as the next communique announced, the earth trembled! The Indigenous Governing Council was formed in May 2017. “This council,” they declared, “proposes to govern this country.” Its council members were sworn in, and its spokeswoman nominated and elected in assembly. Her name is Marichuy. And since then, despite all attempts to stop her, she has been on the move, carrying the ripples of this political earthquake far and wide.” [snip]

    “January 20:
    On the coast-to-coast “Tour for Life”, two members of the Indigenous Governing Council arrived in New York City. They participated in the Women’s March that afternoon. With a sign which reads “Decolonize Feminism,” this contingent breathed fresh air into the movement. As Mexican writer Malú Huacuja del Toro said, “US feminists need a lot of help if their model is Hillary Clinton or Oprah Winfrey.” The message of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist feminism which confronts the roots of patriarchy infiltrated even The New Yorker, which interviewed councilwoman Bettina Cruz Velásquez: “we are trying to amplify the voices of indigenous communities.”

  2. when the usurping brother here’s the lawful duke is living like “robin hood” in the forest of Arden with his merry band of fellow exiles, why, well that calls for an invasion, doesn’t it?

    what’s the thread that runs thru Black Panther, gene drives and crushing indigenous peoples? one of those is a b.s. fairytale, that’s what, justifying the other two.

    whatever it is that they claim they are trying to “fix” w/gene drives is the same thing they will fix by correcting the errors of natives & their primitive commie symp ways: nature. as somebody said to me yesterday, “malaria is here for a reason. wiping out the mosquitos is just…stupid.” wordsmithing skills fail. malaria is worse than stupid; it’s inconvenient. like the natives, it’s getting in the way of all this progress that’s going on! out out damn bugs, no matter what species you are. Our cows need your maize & Coke & the Trump/Clinton golf courses need your water.

    I bet Israel took some gene samples so they could add Mayans to the list of targeted peoples for their gene warfare program. all the while claiming it’s about helping the flowers. and birds. and bees.

    • lotta memes & themes here, j. but if i shut my eyes i do feel their juxtaposition. no autonomy and grassroots democracy: it might catch on, can’t have that, nor socialistic nations in our backyard, and good on ya for robin hoods in arden forest. and yet, as of now, the zapatistas are still alive and thriving, albeit with difficulties from within and the state, but…bless their hearts. the national indigenous congress will make its mark in the coming campaign. more from their collective candidate:

      “‘Marichuy, Mexico’s indigenous candidate: “My goal goes beyond being president”, jan. 23, 2018,

      “We do not bring promises, we do not bring anything to give away, more than the heart, more than sweat, more than the effort of each day. It has been a difficult road because people no longer believe in anything and are tired of hearing promises. That is why we are not promising things. We are launching a call to the organization of society, to a union that goes beyond elections. This is the moment of youth, of childhood, of women. It is time for us to be aware that we can move forward together.”

      “We want the original peoples to flourish again, we want the communities to be strengthened, how are we going to do it? Only by us giving our hand to each other, trusting those who are next to us, only making ourselves strong among us all.”

      One of the things that characterize the electoral platform of María de Jesús Patricio, 54, an indigenous Nahua and a traditional doctor from Tuxpan, Jalisco, is her concern for protecting nature. Unlike most politicians, who speak little or nothing about the measures their governments will take to protect the environment, Marichuy focuses almost all of her speech on the need for all Mexicans to come together to defend forests, waters and life in general, in the face of the megaprojects that are devastating all the natural wealth of Mexico and all of America, and that with the recently approved Law of Biodiversity, the table is set to continue with the dispossession of protected areas.”

      dangerous, subversive stuff, no?

      • sorry, time’s gotten more precious lately. perhaps a good analogy is cops invariably shooting people’s dogs over parking tickets or them getting the address wrong or whatever. invariably (i’m immune to facts so don’t even try to say otherwise.) now to connect this w/another thread, some people would say cops shoot dogs b/c dogs don’t have enough torturous, i mean disciplining, electric shock in their lives.

        Cops shoot dogs b/c dogs are *outside* the “executioner & criminal” (H Arendt) rigidly Manichean binary that our totalitarian society places *everyone* into. capitalism *cannot* allow there to be an alternative. that bit of nature (brought into culture thru domestication) called a “dog” has to go. (yes, I’ve been thinking about dogs a bit more these days. these crazed homelessies & their fucking dogs…)

        it’s a bit loose to say Mayan corn techniques are “nature” & Monsanto is “culture.” but nature doesn’t even exist for a Monsanto. Like words, like people, flowers & bugs are whatever we need them to be. so are radioactive isotopes. so people are not people but slaves, Huxley’s Zetas coked up on some version of soma w/a stream of bright sparkly triviality & mendacity flashing before them constantly. and genes are not carriers of life, but bullets.

        Moby Dick, or The Whale: Sea World aside, the “givenness” of the whale, that it can’t be corralled & herded & poked & prodded & programmed to play some role in capitalist machinery makes the whale a great object of *resentment.* And so the whale, of course, is a metonym for nature itself, that which cannot be inserted into capitalist bullshit w/o being completely destroyed.

        • whew! once you got to the whale, i finally twigged; thank you, and for using some of your wee free-ish time to explain further. but cops kill for failure to obey, monsanto wants to make plants obey to their specifications, as does bill gates…humans. and woe to those who resist the lords of capital!

          remember, too, gates’ gene-mapping, then claiming patent rights on all those seeds? keeee-rikey, #what.a.marauding.merchant.of.death.asshole.

          • the dog analogy is not perfect, but it’s worse than what I said: cops shoot dogs in the name of “security” & “safety” and are there on some completely BS pretext anyway, the dog for many people being the only or a primary love object in their lives, an object for which they care w/o regard to certain rewards (like $$$$) and which shares “free” love in exchange for care, with spontaneity, playfulness, “irrationality,” unadorned pleasure in simple things like eating & touching, etc., etc. no masks, tails wag or fangs bare and that’s it.

            commodify all that shit! put a price tag on it! if it tries to run away, shoot it! while enclosing/destroying any place in the whole world where one might run. b/c, you know, TINA, & the murkin’ lifestyle ain’t up for negotiation! at least, sr. bush’s Carlyle group lifestyle is not. most other murkin’s lifestyles is more & more resembling the Flint water system these days.

            • i see where you’re goin’, and al i keep seein’ is arthur silbur’s dying cat, as arthur dies along w/ him. not enough money for decent food, medicine or any sort of relief to their twined miseries.

              but you’re soundin’ lower than a snake’s belly, my friend. i so wish i could help in some material way. but i send you love, peace when you can, and one of my favorite (although low, low, low down blues) recordings:

  3. Congrats for addressing another ‘view’ that is not in keeping with Trump’s more welfare reform for the rich.
    And this being my fourth post and with the prior three threads, and which did not post properly, it occurred to me that maybe I had been ‘banned.

    Regardless, I will continue.

    • i’m not sure what the actualized zapatista movement in 1994 (which was the day that the clinton signed nafta came into effect) has to do w/ trump, but nonetheless:

      why on earth would i ban you? (not that i always understand you, but…so it goes, lol.) and if your comments weren’t appearing, as i tell all, please contact me (in the categories on the right sidebar). but seeing your comment in email, i did go into the wordpress comments section, and restored three out of ‘trash’ from you, a couple from shootthatarrow, on from diane, and at least one from thd. at least i hope i did; that process seems to work differently now and again… but what in the world?

      i’ll go into the comments via chrome, not firefox, now, see if they’re indeed free.

      • they seem to have been freed, i found two more going back to dec. 2017, but duh…it all of a sudden occurred to me that some of them may have been accidental duplicates. well, for some maybe ‘twice is nice’.

        this looks interesting (no time to read now), and it just came on the popular resistance daily digest: ‘Cracks in the Wall of Capitalism: The Zapatistas and the Struggle to Decolonize Science’,

        great photos, and it ends:
        “The Zapatistas demand that science be reimagined by both scientists and the grassroots together as a technique of resistance. Decolonizing science requires scientists to organize in their own communities, and to deconstruct how their own research methodologies and epistemologies have been employed as tools of colonialism and neocolonialism. Such a process of decolonization also demands scientists become engaged allies, co-conspirators, and accomplices who can share methodological and theoretical insights with grassroots movements about how to build a new vision of science within the cracks of capital’s wall.”

  4. Thanks! I thought the ‘problem’ facing me was what would amount to a ‘technology glitch’ of some sort.

    As of late, I have seeking out couple of sizable financial donors willing to participate in establishing a “baseline Latin America” on the internet in which a few writers would ‘search’ for stories that don’t make the ‘news’ as performed by the traditional new media outlets. Consequently, my intent has been to create a site in which those of us and who would like to see a more constructive approach to the news as it pertains to the Indigenous. Perhaps, some thoughtful donor will come to realize that the “Thoughtfulness Arena” is disconnected from the Agenda of Thoughtlessness. If so, all of us can become far better informed as to the Unassailable Facts.

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