A Brief History of the Zapatista Movement and the Other Campaign in Mexico

In his second update from a trip to Mexico, a Media Mouse contributor provides a brief history of the Zapatista movement and the Zapatistas recently launched “Other Campaign” to transform politics both in Mexico by uniting people working on progressive social change. The Other Campaign, like their Juntas of Good Government, is seen by many as another innovative project of the Zapatistas to redefine what is considered democracy.


In January 1st of 1994, the indigenous farmers of southern Mexico took up arms and declared autonomy from the Mexican state; they called themselves the Zapatistas, in honor of one of the leaders of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, Emiliano Zapata. This uprising was a response to globalization and free trade, especially The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which entered into effect on January 1st of 1994 as well. The demands of the Zapatistas could be called modest. They wanted dignity, land, liberty and the ability to decide their own future. After the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) occupied the southern city of San Cristóbal and engaged in a bloody street battle with the Mexican military, a cease-fire was reached and peace talks began. These talks eventually produced the San Andrés Accords, legislation that the Mexican government still has not passed. After years of trying to effect change through the state mechanism, the Zapatistas decided that this approach was getting them nowhere. Although they didn’t—and haven’t—laid down their arms, they began to work on autonomy projects within their own communities. In 2003, they unveiled an ambitious project in anarchistic democracy. They developed Juntas of Good Government, governing bodies with rotating membership that are a response to the “bad governments,” the official Mexican state government structure. The Juntas are made up of representatives from autonomous Zapatista communities and make important decisions that would have previously been made by the EZLN. Thus, the Zapatistas have ensured that all the members of their communities have a voice, and, through rotation of representatives, that power does not stagnate.

In June of 2005, the Zapatistas released their Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona. This document, in very accessible prose, summarizes their progress since the 1994 uprising and described their view of the future. It includes a critique of capitalism and neoliberal globalization, a call for the uniting of different worldwide struggles for justice, and a “new way of doing politics.” Following the release of the Sixth Declaration, the Zapatistas launched a tour of the country called The Other Campaign. The Other Campaign, which started in early 2006 and coincides with the political campaigning for the upcoming summer elections, is a tour all across Mexico in an attempt to unite various people who are working for progressive change. The Zapatistas and their highly visible spokesman, Sub-Comandante Marcos—who is now referred to as Sub-Delegate Zero, have met with many people who have a stake in changing Mexico: indigenous campesinos, political organizations, teachers, political prisoners, sex workers, and other oppressed members of society. The Other Campaign is an attempt to re-politicize the people of Mexico—and the world—in a time when Mexico’s democracy not is adequately addressing the needs of the people. The Zapatistas have drawn fire for denouncing the center-left presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD (see footnote), reiterating their stance that meaningful change is not possible through electoral politics, even if a left-leaning candidate wins.

Unfortunately, while The Other Campaign traverses Mexico, there has been a spate of repression against supporters of the Zapatistas. Many people have been harassed and imprisoned and one man was even killed, although the culprit will likely never be captured. This repression comes at a time when evidence is surfacing about the “dirty war” that the Mexican government waged against leftist guerrillas in the 1970s in which hundreds of people were tortured or killed. Amidst a whirlwind of empty campaign slogans and rhetoric, The Other Campaign is a very optimistic and bold attempt to permanently politicize the people, change the face of the Left in Mexico, and promote international solidarity in the struggle against worldwide oppression and exploitation.

Note: Mexico has three major parties: the PAN (Partido de Acción Nacional), the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), and the PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática). The PRI was in power for almost 70 years, and is notoriously corrupt. The PAN, the conservative party, headed by President Vicente Fox is currently in power. The PRD has never held the presidency, although it is widely accepted that the PRI stole a PRD victory in 1988. PRD presidential candidate López Obrador is currently leading the polls for the summer election.

Author: mediamouse

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