Open main menu

Zapatista Army Of National Liberation

(Main Page)

(back to Indigenous land sovereignty and re-occupation movements)

(Zapatista Army of National Liberation full article)




The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN), often referred to as the Zapatistas [sapaˈtistas], is a far-left libertarian-socialist political and militant group that controls a large amount of territory in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico.


Since 1994 the group has been in a declared war against the Mexican state, and against military, paramilitary and corporate incursions into Chiapas. This war has been primarily defensive. In recent years, the EZLN has focused on a strategy of civil resistance. The Zapatistas' main body is made up of mostly rural indigenous people, but it includes some supporters in urban areas and internationally. The EZLN's main spokesperson is Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano, previously known as Subcomandante Marcos (a.k.a. Compañero Galeano and Delegate Zero in relation to "the Other Campaign"). Unlike other Zapatista spokespeople, Marcos is not an indigenous Maya.


The group takes its name from Emiliano Zapata, the agrarian reformer and commander of the Liberation Army of the South during the Mexican Revolution, and sees itself as his ideological heir. Nearly all EZLN villages contain murals with images of Zapata, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, and Subcomandante Marcos.


While EZLN ideology reflects libertarian socialism, the Zapatistas have rejected and defied political classification, retaining its distinctiveness due in part to the importance of indigenous Mayan beliefs to the Zapatistas. The EZLN aligns itself with the wider alter-globalization, anti-neoliberal social movement, seeking indigenous control over their local resources, especially land. Since their 1994 uprising was countered by the Mexican army, the EZLN has abstained from military offensives and adopted a new strategy that attempts to garner Mexican and international support.


Organization

The Zapatistas describe themselves as a decentralized organization. The pseudonymous Subcommandante Marcos is widely considered its leader despite his claims that the group has no single leader. Political decisions are deliberated and decided in community assemblies. Military and organizational matters are decided by the Zapatista area elders who compose the General Command (Revolutionary Indigenous Clandestine Committee – General Command, or CCRI-CG).


Ideology

The ideology of the Zapatista movement, Neozapatismo, synthesizes Mayan tradition with elements of libertarian socialism, anarchism, and Marxism. The historical influence of Mexican anarchists and various Latin American socialists is apparent in Neozapatismo. The positions of Subcomandante Marcos add a Marxist element to the movement. A Zapatista slogan is in harmony with the concept of mutual aid: "For everyone, everything. For us, nothing" (Para todos todo, para nosotros nada).


The EZLN opposes economic globalization, arguing that it severely and negatively affects the peasant life of its indigenous support base and oppressed people worldwide. The signing of NAFTA also resulted in the removal of Article 27, Section VII, from the Mexican Constitution, which had guaranteed land reparations to indigenous groups throughout Mexico.


Another key element of the Zapatistas' ideology is their aspiration to do politics in a new, participatory way, from the "bottom up" instead of "top down". The Zapatistas consider the contemporary political system of Mexico inherently flawed due to what they consider its purely representative nature and its disconnection from the people and their needs. In contrast, the EZLN aims to reinforce the idea of participatory democracy or radical democracy by limiting public servants' terms to only two weeks, not using visible organization leaders, and constantly referring to the people they are governing for major decisions, strategies, and conceptual visions. Marcos has reiterated, "my real commander is the people". In accordance with this principle, the Zapatistas are not a political party: they do not seek office throughout the state, because that would perpetuate the political system by attempting to gain power within its ranks. Instead, they wish to reconceptualize the entire system.


Horizontal Autonomy and Indigenous Leadership

Zapatista communities continue to practice horizontal autonomy and mutual aid by building and maintaining their own health, education, and sustainable agro-ecological systems, promoting equitable gender relations via Women's Revolutionary Law, and building international solidarity through humble outreach and non-imposing political communication. In addition to their focus on building "a world where many worlds fit", the Zapatistas continue to resist periodic attacks. The Zapatista struggle re-gained international attention in May 2014 with the death of teacher and education promoter Galeano, who was murdered in an attack on a Zapatista school and health clinic led by 15 local paramilitaries. In the weeks that followed, thousands of Zapatistas and national and international sympathizers mobilized and gathered to honor Galeano. This event also saw the famed and enigmatic unofficial spokesperson of the Zapatistas, Subcomandante Marcos, announce that he would be stepping down, which symbolized a shift in the EZLN to completely Indigenous leadership.


Further Materials:

Film/Video

Zapatista Uprising 20 Years Later: How Indigenous Mexicans Stood Up Against NAFTA "Death Sentence" -- Democracy Now!

People Without Faces (documentary about Zapatistas, Russia-Mexico 2016)

The Uprising of Dignity - The Zapatista Movement in Chiapas

Zapatistas: Crónica de una Rebelión

Zapatista: a Big Noise Film

The Zapatista Uprising: 20 Years Later

Chiapas and the Zapatistas - Mexico's Brutal Land Dispute