The Zapatista March and the Drug War in Mexico

The long march arrived at the Plaza de la Catedral—the very same one occupied by Zapatistas on January 1st, 1994. This time, 30 EZLN commanders awaited the crowd.


On the morning of May 7, CIDECI-University de la Tierra of San Cristóbal de Las Casa (Chiapas) was filled with people. The palpable excitement in the air settled to a lull as they began to organize themselves in an orderly fashion: in the front, the EZLN Command and support base, faces covered with balaclavas or paliacates [traditional Mexican scarves]. In the back, communities taking part in the Other Campaign, collectives, human rights organizations, internationalists. Without any slogans or chants, they have been marching in silence towards the center of the city: their banners and placarads alone crying out, “No more blood on Mexican soil”, “Stop Calderón’s war”, “We’ve had it”.

Heeding the call to silence that poet and journalist Javier Sicilia, still grieving for his murdered son, dubbed a ‘March for Peace with Justice and Dignity’, this is the first step in the birth of a national movement against Calderón’s drug war and government impunity. Many have answered Sicilia’s call. Among them is the EZLN, which summoned Zapatistas and the Other Campaign to mobilize in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, resulting in more than 15,000 people assembling in silence, meant to express the impossibility of describing such profound pain. “We have to name the victims of the War on Narco-trafficking, to dignify them”, said Sicilia—and indeed, those names moved in procession among the colorful, low houses of this colonial Chiapan city, written on crosses carried by members of the Sociedad Civil Las Abejas de Acteal. The Sociedad Civil Las Abejas de Acteal has fallen victim to the kind of impunity that rules Mexico: paramilitary forces jailed for the murder of 45 congregants gathered in prayer in Acteal (1997) are now progressively being released.

The long march arrived at the Plaza de la Catedral—the very same one occupied by Zapatistas on January 1st, 1994. This time, 30 EZLN commanders awaited the crowd. Comandante David read a message from Subcomandante Marcos: “We are gathered here for the families of the dead, injured, mutilated, disappeared, kidnapped, and jailed having committed no crime. Because their only fault was to be born, or to live, in a country mismanaged by legal and illegal groups thirsty for war, death, and destruction. The government tells them that it will continue with its plan—the main objective of which is death, impunity. To fear in people’s every word, to see in every critique, every doubt, question, every call, the intent to overthrow this order is something quite appropriate to dictatorships and tyrants. Knowing how to listen with humility and attention what the people say is the virtue of a good government. We are here today to tell those good people who walk in silence, quite simply, that they are not alone”.

The EZLN’s participation was a big surprise: Zapatistas have not shown themselves in public like this for five years now. The long media silence was only broken in January of this year, with the communiqué published in response to the death of Don Samuel Ruíz, and the epistolary exchange concerning ethics and politics that Marcos has been having with the Mexican intellectual Luís Villoro. Re-reading these exchanges, one begins to realize that Marcos has had Sicilia on his mind for quite some time. He wrote to Villoro: “As I begin writing these lines, Javier Sicilia’s pain and anger—physically far away but close in ideals for some time—make echoes that reverberate in these mountains of ours. It is to be hoped that his legendary tenacity, which now summons our words and action, manages to express and bring together that anger and pain that is spreading everywhere on Mexican soil”. In his correspondence with Villoro, Marcos also mentioned the Chiapan governor Juan Sabines Guerrero who, he says, “persecutes and represses those who do not chime in with the false chorus of praise for his lies made into government policy, which persecutes defenders of human rights in the Coast and the Highlands of Chiapas and the indigenous people of San Sebastián Bachajón who refuse to prostitute their land, and which encourages paramilitary groups against indigenous Zapatista communities”.

In later communiqués sent out by the EZLN Command in the context of the march, references to repression in Chiapas (like those on marchers’ posters) have all but disappeared. In any case, it is important to remember what is happening in a State in which militarization, already very advanced, is going to intensify. The announcement of two new military bases on the border with Guatemala and the deployment of the Border Police—an entity whose creation was anticipated by the Migration Law designed to ‘protect’ Central American migrants in Mexico—are two examples. Of course, the real objective of such policing bodies and the army in Chiapas is not to protect citizens from narco-traffickers, but rather the interests of State companies, and to repress any expression of dissent.

In Mitzitón, for example, a stone’s throw away from the Rancho Nuevo military barracks, participants in the Other Campaign resist the construction of the San Cristóbal de Las Casas-Palenque highway, which would rip right through their community. In defense of the project, the government is supporting the Ejército de Dios paramilitary group, which continues to harrass members of the Other Campaign: in 2010, one participant was killed, and this May 7th, while the Zapatista march made its way through the streets of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, paramilitary forces fired on two women tending to sheep. Adherents of the Other Campaign from Bachajón, in the jungle, fight against the same mega-project, which aims to build a great tourist attraction in the waterfalls of Agua Azul. In Bachajón, the people live under the continued threat of OPDDIC [Organization for the Defense of Indigenous Rights 1] paramilitaries: in Feburary, at the entrance to the Agua Azul waterfalls, more than a hundred members of the Other Campaign—five of whom are still in prison—were arrested in a fiersome police operation. As always, in Feburary 19 people were detained on the Chiapas Coast, after a peaceful demonstration for the liberation of political prisoners. Among them were three lawyers for the Human Rights Center – Digna Ochoa. A few days after the march of silence, the father of one of the lawyers and member of the Autonomous Council of the Chiapas Coast, who participated in the Zapatista mobilization, was arrested as well.

The march on May 7th was an important demonstration of power for the EZLN, but the road to ‘Peace with Justice and Dignity’ in Chiapas is still very far.


1. The name is misleading.  “The Organization for the Defense of Indigenous Rights (OPDDIC), considered a paramilitary group for years by the indigenous communities of the Selva Lacandona and recently reactivated, is emerging as principal threat to the coexistence of indigenous communities, with the open support of the PRD government of Juan Sabines Gutie’rrez.” See “En;Jornada,OPPDIC: counterinsurgency group in Chiapas, Feb 13”, See also “OPDDIC Leader Pedro Chulín Offers His ‘Total Support’ to Governor Juan Sabines”,