Inspiration from Chiapas: Why We Still Love the Zapatistas

Source: Roar Magazine

Primero de enero 1994. 3:00am.

The Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari has gone to bed happy that towards the end of his mandate Mexico joins the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Goods, capital and services will now move freely between Mexico, Canada, and the United States of America. Of course the agreement mentions nothing about the border wall between Mexico and the US. Free movement of goods, capital, and services, we said—not of people.

At the same time, the removal of trade protectionist measures practically opens up the Mexican economy to Canadian and American goods that are produced more cheaply and in greater quantities (in some cases even genetically modified). Bad news for the Mexican farmers, that is, who also find a “for sale” sign hanging on their ejidos—the communal land which had until then been protected from privatization by the Mexican Constitution.

The government propaganda machine, however, can “sell” the agreement with plenty of fanfare, praising the president for this “triumph”: Mexico is finally joining the First World!

Riiiing, riiiing, riiiing!!!!!!

The man who awoke Carlos Salinas from his “First World dreams” was his secretary of defense, General Antonio Riviello Bazán, who announced that there had just been a rebellion in Chiapas. Thousands of masked armed men and women had occupied several cities of the southeastern Mexican state. They were calling themselves Zapatistas, and their army the EZLN.

“Apologies for the inconvenience but this is a revolution!”

For Mexico, Latin America and the international left, what emerged from the Chiapan mist along with the Zapatistas was the specter of revolution with a capital R—something the Mexican autocracy of the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the PRI, believed it had killed a long time ago, in the late 1970s.

Ever since the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968, a few days before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Mexico City, Mexico’s youth had stopped believing in the possibility of social change through protests and elections. Some of them influenced by the Cuban revolution, others by Maoist thought and praxis, they took to the mountains and the cities of the country with the idea of organizing a rebel army that would overthrow the PRI government and bring socialism to Mexico. According to Laura Castellanos, in her book México Armado, more than 30 urban and rural guerrilla groups were active in the country between 1960 and 1980.

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