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Diann Rozsa
Geo 530- Rough Draft
November 13, 2013

Zapatistas Revisited: Meaning, Memory, and Imagination
As we edge closer to the twentieth anniversary of the inception of the North American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), there is little doubt that members of the business press are
hailing its successes and singing its praises, while reminding fellow colleagues that [p]lenty of
opportunity remains to be tapped (DG&A 2013). One such so-called business blogger admits
that he was skeptical at first, claiming that wages in Mexico were not falling as fast as they were
in China, and that the race to the bottom may stop well short in Mexico. But alas, no; he cites by
2013 the picture is very different, and [t]he wage gap between Mexico and China had shrunk
by 40 percent (DG&A 2013). The race was back on again. I think that Mexico would be worse
off if it wasnt for NAFTA today, cites Geronimo Gutirrez, in a New York Times article
(Aguilar 2012). We learn that yes, the business class believes the future is wide open (Aguilar
2012), but just who is left at the bottom when the race is over? In spite of these success stories,
there is a dark side to NAFTA, the damages persist and its effects remain twenty years later.
We can not begin to understand the Zapatista uprising without first understanding how it
is not only directly tied to NAFTA, but goes back far beyond its implementation in 1994. In
1982, what historically became known as the Mexican debt crisis, began when then President
Jesus Silva Herzog made an announcement that his country owed private and public foreign
creditors a staggering $80 billion, a sum which could not even meet the interest payments
(Hellman 1997: 3). Mexican president Jose Lopez Portillo waited until the end of his term before
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imploring the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to assist Mexico with foreign debt. President
Miguel del la Madrid, who now inherited the mess, quickly began to implement the demands to
secure the IMFs offer of a $4 billion dollar loanausterity measures.
The IMF required the streamlining of the bloated state sector which had long served a
make-work refuge for the unemployed and underemployed whereby hundreds of thousands of
jobs were cut, and real wages were reduced (Hellman 1997: 3). It is estimated that over
800,000 jobs were lost during this first phase alone. These austerity measures shook the Mexican
economy to its core and unfortunately did not help the already sinking shipinvestments fell,
production in some sectors came to a complete standstill, factories closed and hundreds of
thousands of workers were laid off (Hellman 1997: 3). The standard of living dropped even
further under austerity, and the poverty rate grew. Yet, there were a small handful of elites that
were entering the ranks of the worlds richest (Huck 2008: 110). There were spotty or sporadic
uprisings by various groups during this time and these continued in spite of the militarized police
that came out to break up these protests (Harvey 2005).
By 1990, then-president Carlos Salinas continued with liberalized reform, which
emphasized foreign direct investment and the further dismantling of government
welfareprograms (Harvey 2005: 110). Salinas announced Mexicos entry into GATT
(General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade)in 1990 after months of denials was just the
beginning of a larger program designed to liberalize Mexican markets and open them to FDI
(Hallman 1997: 4). Finally, in 1991, Salinas announced his proposal to amend Article 27 to
permit the privatization of ejidal land, a proposal that would change more than seventy years of
land reform in Mexico. This would now open communally held land to privatization and foreign
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These types of reform would continue through to 1994 with the implementation of
NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), in which Mexico was further expected to
continue privatization of state-owned sectors as well as the implementation of his earlier
proposal to privatize ejidal lands. The effects of this were harsh. Mexican peasants no longer had
the security of land, which allowed for their livelihood via farming, but even worse was they
could no longer compete against the flood of cheap imports from other countries that came
barreling through the borders. The price of corn was driven so low that only the most efficient
and affluent Mexican farmers could compete (Harvey 2005: 101). As peasants were forced off
their lands and into the poor, crowded cities, with no income, the protest movement began to
On December 31, 1994, the day before Mexicos implementation of NAFTA, a group of
armed Maya emerged from the jungle of Chiapas and took control of various cities.
war on the Mexican government, these armed Maya stated that NAFTA would be a death
sentence for the indigenous campesinos and peasants. It was no accident that the group, who
called themselves Zapatistas chose this day, and it is also no accident that they chose the name
Zapatista to represent the group. One of the main complaints of the group was the reform of
Article 27, stating that [t]he lands in question are primarily inhabited by indigenous people who
have historically occupied them (Face Sheet 3). HEREMORE ABOUT
NAFTA and neoliberal theory are forever intertwined. Neoliberalism has its roots in the
1970s and 1980s, and was thought of as a response to ineffective Keynesian policies of the 1970s
and as a way to cure stagflation. Chile was the first country to implement this kind of reform, and

The cities include, Orosingo, Las Margaritas, Oxchuc, Huixtan, Rancho Nuevo, Altamariano, Chanal, and San
Cristobal de las Casas.
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was soon followed by the neoliberal turn when the United States (under Reagan), the United
Kingdom (under Thatcher), India, and Sweden all began to implement their own partial
neoliberal reforms. The goal is quite simple: open markets to investment (deregulation) while
regulating (constraining the power of) labor, in the name of profit maximization. The IMF and
the World Bank are key players in this game of commoditizing and privatizing everything.
Soon they began issuing loans to countries in which the borrowers are forced by state and
international powers to take on board the cost of debt repayment no matter what consequences
for livelihood and well being of local population (Harvey 2005: 29). The goal was to drive
policies away from those of embedded liberalism, which had implanted social programs and
safety nets. When a state takes an IMF loan, they must agree to various terms, or structural
adjustment policies, which must be implemented and followed as a condition of taking the loan.
The stated goal is to restructure the public sector and reduce government spending. For example,
in order to accept an IMF loan a state must implement certain austerity measures, devalue the
national currency or peg it to the US dollar, remove price controls and barriers to trade (like
quotas and tariffs) to open markets, and they must agree to privatize national and state
enterprises, like oil reserves or nationally held land holdings, etc. This is a very simplified
version, but for our purposes here, we will only focus on the privatization of land and natural
There is also a dark side to NAFTA, however, and it is here that I would like to shift our
focus. NAFTA came to Mexico in 1994. Prior to its implementation, Mexico had to agree to
many of these types of restructuring and austerity measures to open its markets. One of such
roadblocks was nationalized landejido. Ejidal lands were a vestige from the Mexican
Revolution of 1910 and had to be reformed (through privatization) in order for Mexico to sign
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onto NAFTA. In 1992, as a condition to NAFTA, the Mexican government, under President
Carlos Salinas, amended Article 27 of the constitution. This one change had big and long-lasting
impacts on Mexican campesinos (farmers), peasants, and indigenous communities. Article 27
allowed private sales on communal lands for the first time since 1917. To further understand the
impact that this constitutional change has made, we must go back in time, to the almost thirty
year presidency of Porfio Diazalso known as The Porfiriatobefore the revolution of 1910.
The Zapatistas as a subject of study consists of a large body of various types of evidence
centered around their 1994 uprising and continues into present day. As a subject of a case study
one could theoretically approach it from various angles. For example, a study on indigeneity and
ties to the land, or just examining their structure or government, as well as just looking at support
from outside Chiapas and how that may have informed other rebel groups and supporters. My
point is simply that while doing research for this paper, I learned that this subject was quite
extensive, and I would need to narrow my focus for purposes of page and time limitation. I chose
to focus on the history of the lead up to the implementation of NAFTA to understand how these
reforms had an affect on the Maya in Chiapas, and also to understand how something like
NAFTA brought about the reform of Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, which was the
catalyst for 1994 Zapatista uprising. Realizing this topic had been covered ad nauseam, I wanted
to look back on the uprising from a different anglethough their collective memory and
community. It is no accident that this group of Mayan insurgents chose the name Zapatista and
also no accident that they did so when attempting to fight for matters having to do with agrarian
land reform. Further, I also wanted to touch on the community beyond Chiapas and look at the
way the Zapatistas used new media (the Internet, which was fairly new in 1994) to elicit support
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for their cause. And finally, as NAFTA heads into its twentieth year, I would like to keep the
Zapatista discussion relevant to today, by rounding out the anniversary of the 1994 uprising (and
NAFTA) and looking in on the Zapatistas today.
This paper intends to show [THESIS]

500 Years to Diaz
Prior to the liberalization of the 1980s and 1990s a campaign to modernize Mexico
took place in the early twentieth century. Porfirio Diaz, considered as one of the great Mexican
caudillos (strong men), reigned as president of Mexico for over thirty years, while serving
interrupted terms from 1877 to 1911. Diazs attempts at progress, reform, and
modernization in Mexico was not good for everybody. In a way, he fits well with this notion of
reforming at the expense of the poor and marginalized. In his attempts to achieve progress, the
reforms increased foreign investment, brought new technologies and incorporated parts of
Chiapas into the international economy, while concentrating political and economic control with
the elites thereby increasing the financial dependence of the peasantry (Neu and Heincke
YEAR: 195). Chiapas, which lies in the southern part of Mexico, was particularly hit hard by his
reformas. Dean Neu and Monica Heincke (YEAR: 195) explain the Porfiriatos impact on the
peasant in Chiapas:
Financial mechanisms facilitated the imposition of this new style colonialism in that
macro government policies provided transnationals with incentives to locate in Chiapas.
In turn, these policies had trickle-down effects on indigenous peoples. Native people did
not have any self-subsistence opportunities: without land, the only option for natives was
to be employed on the new large plantations. Payment received was in tokens, which
could only be used in specific stores strategically located, known as tiendas de atarralla.
However, the payment was not enough for their minimum expenses, which obligated
them to acquire loans from the employer or patron. In turn this resulted in a life-long
commitment and dependence on the patron. Thus in this example we observe how the
indirect incentives given to the transnationals effectively governed the day-to-day
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activities of indigenous peoples: in this case displacing them from communal lands and
enrolling them in the plantation market economy.
Diazs formation of the latifundios (large private estates), coupled with bringing the rail system
(another modernization reform) into Mexico, created vast private fortunes for the rich while the
Indigenous populations were either entrapped as forced laborers or channeled into the new
peasant economy at the margins of estates and the frontiers of uncut forest (Howard YEAR:

Chiapas is located in the southern part of Mexico; it borders the states of Oaxaca,
Veracruz, and Tabasco. Chiapas is one the richest states in Mexico, as far as natural resources
go, and one of the poorest as far as people go. It has remained an extractive region prior to Diaz.
Logging began in the Lacandon in 1859, with the first large cedars and caobras being felled at
the juncture of the juncture of the Usumacinta and Jacate Rivers (Howard, Dixon: 360).
During the Porfiato, private logging companies began purchasing millions of acres of forests
(Howar, Dixon: 360). The indigenous in Chiapas took the brunt of this, leaving many displaced
from their native lands (Neu and Heincke YEAR: 195).
The Mexican revolution of 1910 was a direct response to Diazs presidency, and one that
would finally do away with the longstanding dictatorial presidency for good. As revolution from
below, the people of Mexico sought greater equality than that of Diazs reformas, which they
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saw as only beneficial to the business class and elites. One such revolutionary reform was
agrarian reform. Land reform programs sought to give back land that had been taken away from
the people during the Porfiriato. In 1911, during the early part of the Revolution, Emiliano
Zapata, who would become one of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution, called for land and
liberty, and fought for agrarian reform throughout Mexico (Gonzales 2002: 59). Article 27 was
put in place during the Mexican Revolution by the government as a result of the organized
protests and demands of revolutionary leaders such as Emiliano Zapata, the leader of the
Zapatistas (Stahler-Sholk YEAR: 3). Article 27 was considered a radical reform in that it
proclaimed the Mexican people as owners of the lands and waters of the nation. It established
agrarian reform to redistribute land to the campesinos, and provide for communal ownership of
the land (Fact Sheet: 3). Further land reform in the 1930s provided a constitutional basis for
the distribution of 20 million hectares or ejido lands (Fact Sheet: 3)

1938 Painting of President Lazaro Cardenas signing land over to peasants
Lead up to 1994 The Extractive State
Historically, Chiapas has always been an extractive state; it did not begin nor did it end
with the Porfiriato. A short discussion of the matter will put things in context and also allow us
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to see clear reasons that the Zapatistas declared war on the Mexican government in 1994; Article
27 was merely the last straw. The lineage of peasant unrest goes way backrevolt is not new
however, what is new is the ways in which revolt is done. The Zapatistas are new in the ways
that they have done revolt for the modern age.
In the 1930s, when President Cardenas attempted a strong Federal government by
introducing new federal agencies, like the federal department of Indian Affairs in an attempt to
break traditional power relationships, local elites found ways to circumvent[the
attempted]changes (Hencke YEAR: 196). Peasants fought to re-instate ejidal lands, but due
to local corruption and bribes to officials, peasants were given the worst lands, which served to
protect business as well as local elites (Heincke YEAR: 196). Resource extraction was still going
strong from the 1950s to the 1970s. The breadth of natural resources in the area encouraged the
federal government to treat Chiapas as an extractive region, producing income without costs
(Hencke YEAR: 196). This came with a cost, of course. Indigenous and the poor people of
Chiapas suffered and were continually displaced from their native lands. The government
decided in the 1960s to begin to clear the Lacandon forest and the encourage the populations to
relocate, which just echoed previous extractive policiesthe poor were left with the worst
lands, and the policies served to benefit outfits like Chiapas ranching and plantation dynasties,
with government knowledge (Heincke YEAR: 197).
Peasants continually voiced their concerns, and in 1974 the governor instated an
indigenous Congress to try and deal with the complaints by the peasants and indigenous groups
in Chiapas[t]his congress provided a venue for indigenous peoples to publicly present their
demands relating to respect of land and indigenous culture, and to complain about corruption,
government absence, unfairness and inefficiency (Heincke YEAR: 197). This was really for
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naught, for at this time the government was preparing to issue a decree to expropriate land from
37 indigenous communitiesand [give] it to 66 families in order to exploit reserves of flint
(Heincke YEAR: 197). This was not well taken by local indigenous people in the region, and it
took the Mexican army to physically expel peasants from the Lacandon forest (Heincke
YEAR: 197). These types of extractive policies continued well into the 1980s, even into the
Mexican Debt Crisis and subsequent Peso devaluation. By this time, the Mexican government
began to exploit large oil reserves as well as building large hydroelectric plants in the state
Chiapas, to the detriment, of course, to the campesinos living there.
It should come as no surprise, when looking back in context, to see why hundreds of
armed campesinos emerged from the jungle in 1994. Philip Howard and Thomas Homer-Dixon
(Year) explain that the 1990s in particular was a catalyst in itself for the armed uprising.
surmise that there were two particularly explosive factors that culminated in the EZLN. They
site a growing peasant population happening at the same time as an already in place structural
inequality, as well as the already persisting and weak property rights that were easily abused by
powerful interest groups (Howard and Homer-Dixon YEAR: 1996). The continual resource
extraction and land distribution by elites finally hit a wall and peasants said, Enough is
enough. Although the Zapatistas did not just manifest over night, all of these factors helped
push them to revoltthey had been organizing deep in the jungle since the 1980s, it was just a
matter of time.

Chiapas is particularly rich in natural resources, in the 1990s. Chiapas was producing forty-eight percent of
Mexicos hydroelectric power and five percent of the nations oil. Resources are extracted by the Mexican
government in the state of Chiapas.
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Chiapas has been environmentally damaged due to the logging industry.
A large logging project began in the 1980s, and completely altered the natural landscape of the
region. Due to just the logging aspect, people lost their lands, and access to food. One of the causes of
various indigenous uprisings over the years has been due to the logging industry.
(Source: Sexto Sol Center)

From the Forest Itself (Comes the Handle for the Axe)

Using technology

David Harvey (2005) discusses the paradox of neoliberalism. He explains that in spite of
the rhetoric, the goal of the project is to essentially undermine the state by concentrating
everything into private hands; however, the project actually needs, and uses, the state for its own
ends. There is also an interesting paradox in the uses of technology for subversive acts,
something the Zapatistas have done to great success. Maria Elena Martinez-Torres (2001: Page)
discusses the role of technology and the paradox also involved with its use and reachand its
links to burgeoning global capitalism: A paradox has emerged from the revolution in
communications: the same technology that has taken world capitalism to a new stage of
developmentcorporate globalizationhas provided a significant boost of anti-corporate and
anti-globalization movements. Indecently, the same technology that is needed for globalization
to be successful can be used to fight it. The Zapatistas have used this method to expand their
reach and make their complaints known far beyond the jungle of Chiapas. The Zapatistas have

This is a lyric from the song Chop Em Down by artist Matisyahu, from the 2006 album No Place to Be.
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changed the way that revolt is done; they have used technology and media in ways that have
been very beneficial to them, and in doing so, they have also expanded their community. And it
is within this context that Zapatismo joins the new wave of social movements, manifested in the
Latin American region and beyond, that occupy and attempt to transform spaces in civil society,
thereby reframing the meaning of disputing and exercising power (Stahler-Shock 2010: 272).
Since its inception, the Internet has allowed for a more globalized world. It has also
allowed the world to become smaller. The Zapatistas as a movement were different from guerilla
groups and uprising movements of the pastthey used modern social-networking technology to
their advantage. Richard Stahler-Sholk (2010) posits that in our global age, we can no longer
think of revolutions or even uprisings in terms of the old statist, vanguarist notions. We must
construct new ways to think about rebellions in a globalized, technological age. The armed
uprising was but a few days long, we should focus on this new movement using media, and the
Internetthe glocal
aim to change society from below.
Permeable Structures and Imagined Communities
Nations and borders are slippery categories, especially in a globalized age. The Zapatistas
have attempted to remove borders, boundaries, and hierarchical categories. As explained earlier,
revolutions and uprisings of the past were attempted and executed under more modern
constraints clear borders, vanguarist approach, and clear definitions of nations and community.
According to Benedict Anderson (1983), modernity allowed for these fixed social structures,
fixed boundaries, and what he refers to as languages of power, the hallmark of the modern
nation, which performs stable borders. He surmises that the nation itself is an imagined
community, it is imagined, he states, quite simply because the members of even the smallest

This was a fairly common term that was used around 1999 with the Battle for Seattle and other social movements
emphasizing the use of global and local.
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nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear them, yet in the
minds of each lives the image of their communion (Anderson 1983: 6). The nation itself is a
matter of a social identity category, i.e. who is inside of it, and who is not. The technology of the
Internet has allowed us to move beyond this line of thinking. It has allowed us to remove
structural obstacles and at the same time, it has allowed us to tear down the borders of our
mindsthe world is vast, yet it is shrinkingwe are beginning to see, just like the proponents of
neoliberalism, that these borders can be permeated.
In our modern (or postmodern, for that matter) age, we could further expand Andersons
theory of imagined communities to the Internet itself. New media is fast replacing the book as
the dominant language structure, and borders are somewhat imaginary as well thanks to
globalization and the Internet. A community can be considered imaginary for Anderson if people
recognize themselves as having certain bonds that link them together, i.e., they identify as a
community. Globalization is but one way that borders are permeable. The Zapatistas solidarity
network transcends the Lacandon jungle, the state of Chiapas, and even Mexico. A Zapatista
catch phrase that they often use is we are all Zapatistas. By exclaiming that anyone, anywhere
can be a Zapatista, not only erases already permeable borders, but links like minds with members
of the community at large, who share not borders, nationality or culture, but an ideology of
principals (anti-capitalist, anti-globalization, anti-hierarchy), which can be thought of as a kind
of language in itself. Thus, the study of Zapatismo is a study in community as well as solidarity.
Subcommondante Marcos states,
Marcos is gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, Chicano is
San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestine 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 housewife alone in a Saturday night, a single woman on the Metro at 10 p.m, a
peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, and unemployed worked, an unhappy
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student, a Zapatista in the mountains. Marcos is all the exploited, marginalize[d], and
oppressed, resisting and saying, Ya Basta!(Vodovnik 2004: 40).

By taking the oppressed outside of Chiapas, and placing them all over the world, it is clear that
the Zapatistas believe that their fight is everywhere it knows no borders. Marcos expands on
this thought, we see ourselves as a group that posed a series of demands and was lucky because
those demands happened to coincide with and mirror the demands arising elsewhere in the
country and in other parts of the world (Vodovnik 2004: 39). Naomi Klein (YEAR: 20) furthers
this thinking in her discussion of Zapatismo; The Zapatistas staged an open insurrection, one
that anyone could join, as long as they thought of themselves as outsiders. It is clear that
technology has allowed us to break through borders of our minds, and has allowed people who
may live across the world to share in a solidarity movement based not on nations and location,
but ideology. The Zapatista movement has set the stage for other uprisings of this nature.

Landscape and Memory
The Zapatistas use collective memory in several of their manifestos and writings. The
purpose of doing this is to align themselves with struggles of the past, and to show that this
struggle is the very same struggle that has been fought since colonization. Using Emiliano
Zapata is just one of many symbolic examples. Subcommondante Marcos, the articulate
spokesman for the group, recalls the past from which they came in this communiqu, thus
linking not only the current Zapatistas to the former Mexican Revolutionary Zapatistas, but to
five hundred years of colonization and oppression:
We are the product of 500 years of struggle: first against slavery, then during the War of
Independence against Spain led by insurgents, then to avoid being absorbed by North
American imperialism, then to promulgate our constitution and expel the French Empire
from our soil, and later the dictatorship of Porfirio Daz denied us the just application of
the Reform Laws, and the people rebelled and leaders like Villa and Zapata emerged,

Seattle, in 1999, Egypt and Libya come to mind. Social media played a large part in these uprisings.
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poor people just like us. We have been denied the most elemental preparation so that they
can use us as cannon fodder and pillage the wealth of our country. But today, we say
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. We are the inheritors of the true builders of our nation. The
dispossessed, we are millions, and we thereby call upon our brothers and sisters to join
this struggle as the only path, so that we will not die of hunger due to the insatiable
ambition of a 70-year dictatorship led by a clique of traitors who represent the most
conservative and sell-out groups. They are the same ones who opposed Hidalgo and
Morelos, the same ones who betrayed Vincente Guerrero, the same ones who sold half
our country to the foreign invader, the same ones who imported a European prince to rule
our country, the same ones who formed the "scientific" Porfirista dictatorship, the same
ones who opposed the Petroleum Expropriation, the same ones who massacred the
railroad workers in 1958 and the students in 1968, the same ones who today take
everything from us, absolutely everything (Marcos 1994).

By stating this, they are literally re-membering themselves as revolutionaries from the past. And
further, by invoking Emiliano Zapata and his fight for agrarian peasant land rights, they actually
recall (and align themselves) with the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the Porfiato, and finally, the
500 years of indigenous struggle since colonization. It is certainly not an accident that they chose
the name Zapatista to represent this current struggle, and neither is it as superficial as it may
seem. It is literally a lesson in collective memory, to show the links to the past, which align us
today. Only now, in this new technological, borderless imagined age are we all Zapatistas.

Left: Subcommondante Marcos Right: Emiliano Zapata

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Ties to the land are also part of memory. Recall that the final straw for the Zapatistas was
the reform of Article 27, which would take away collectively held land. Also recall that Emiliano
Zapata was the revolutionary who fought for land reform. Indigenous ties to the land are strong,
they do not think of land in terms of commodification. The land to them, literally ties them to the
past, as a living and breathing entity. Indigenous peoples believe they are literally tied to the
land by our umbilical cords and the dust of our ancestors (Sejerson 2011: 71). Furthermore, that
the land and its resources has been handed down handed down over generations, has become
one of the central features describing indigenous cultures throughout the world (Sejerson 2011:
71). Frank Sejerson (2011) discusses collective memory and landscape which are combined in
something he calls memoryscapes, which are constructed by peoples mental images of the
environment, with particular emphasis on locations as remembered places. When one relates to
the landscape as a memoryscape it becomes alive, meaningful, and personal and embeds persons,
places, and activities in the rivers of history (Sejerson 2011: 74).
The 1994 Mayan uprising in Chiapas brought not only the issue of land rights and global
capitalism to the forefront, but also of self-determination and autonomy. Even though the
neoliberal project undermines national sovereignty, in favor of global private entities, the
concept of sovereignty was very much part of the Zapatistas repertoire. Yet, the sovereignty
they speak about is not quite the same thing as national sovereigntysomething that is
undermined in the neoliberal project. Invoking Article 39 of the Mexican Constitution, [t]he
Zapatistas rejected the legitimacy claims of the state itself, and rather bas[ed] their initial
rebellion on Article 39, which provided that the national sovereignty resides essentially and
originally in the people. All public power originated in the people and is instituted for their
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benefit. The people at all times have the inalienable right to alter or modify their form of
government (Shahler-Sholk Year: 275). Furthermore, by using article 39 against the state, once
again the Zapatistas purposefully align themselves with the revolutionaries of the past, thereby
calling up the image and specter of Emiliano Zapata once more. Naomi Klein (YEAR: 21)
reminds us that the Zapatista uprising is about creating free spaces, born of reclaimed land,
communal agriculture, resistance to privatization, [which will] eventually create counter-powers
to the state simply by existing alternatives. This project is what the Zapatistas have been
involved in for the past twenty years. It is clear that old paradigms of the past have been cast
aside with this group. The Zapatistas aim for a social revolt that actually makes a difference in
the lives of the poor and marginalized. In these new ways the Zapatistas are attempting to
reassert their own anticapitalist roots in a new way of doing politics (Mora 2007: 65), with an
emphasis on dignity in the communities (Stahler-Sholk YEAR: 273).
Women are vital to the movement. Prior to the main 1994 uprising, women were already
organized, and it was the Zapatista women who first experienced an internal uprising and
who implemented theRevolutionary Law for Women (Weidman et. al. 2008: 1). This is
absolutely necessary for complete equality in the revolutionary struggle and calls for more rights
like the right to a fair wage, and a right to hold office and participate in community affairs.
The Zapatistas are commanded by several indigenous women (as well as men); Marcos, is
not a commander, he is, as he reminds people, just a sub-commander. Up until her death in 2006,
the group was commanded by a woman named Ramona, who has since become a legend and a
beacon of hope to millions of Mexican women (Wolfwood 1997: 1). Romona is important in
the movement simply due to her being just a mere street vendor prior to the uprising who
evolved into a revolutionary leader (Woolfood 2008: 2). Symbolically, she is important as the
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first EZLN leader to speak in public in the national capital in 1994a woman was the first to
speak as a leader of a revolutionary group (Wolfwood 1997: 1).

Comandante Ramona pictured here in traditional Maya clothing with typical Zapatista black mask

These two photos also conjur memories of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, in which women (Las Adelitas) were
famous for particapiating. The photo on the left is from 1910, and the photo on the right is from 1997. It is clear to
seethe importace of women in the revolutions and uprisings in Mexico.

Clear a Path So You That Can Find Your Way Out

This last section will be a discussion of what has happened to the Zapatista movement
since the initial 1994 uprising. Soon after the initial uprising, the Zapatistas began talks with the
Mexican government for a peace agreement. It seemed as though the Mexican government was
open to this and ready to sit down at the table and come to a solution. What became known as the
San Andreas Accords included not only members of the EZLN and the Mexican government but
also broad sectors of society [which also] called national and international attention to

This is a lyric from the song Chop Em Down by artist Matisyahu from the 2006 album No Place to Be.
Rozsa, D 19
indigenous issues and introduced new ways of doing politics (Navarro 1999: 1). The purpose of
these talks was to be recognized to be heardwhich also could be looked at as a symbol for
other indigenous groupsto finally be present at the table.
Talks were held in January of 1996, and also consisted of [f]ive hundred delegates from
178 indigenous organizations, [which] participated in the forums, including representatives from
32 Indian peoples (Navarro 1999: 2). Hopes were high as this could have a larger impact than
just on the EZLN. The accords themselves consisted of a series of radical (and progressive)
demands, which focused on autonomy, sovereignty, Indigenous rights, womens rights, rights to
natural resources, and education (Gutierrez 2007: 205). The accord was signed by the both the
EZLN and the Mexican government in 1996, which in an unprecedented fashion, spoke to the
indigenous community at large and symbolically said, You are no longer invisible.
Unfortunately, the Mexican government, and more specifically, then-president Vicente Fox
reneged on the agreements and simply refused to acknowledge them. And with that, the
Zapatistas had to go on from there, fully aware that the government would not come to any kind
of agreement for autonomy.
Today, the Zapatistas still focus on maintaining autonomy, but they have done it outside
of the official government channels. They had to navigate through a neoliberal construct that was
in place, and as such, had to operate outside of the system, coming up with new ways to do
politics, and they continue to reach out to other like-minded groups (Mora 2007). In June
2005the EZLNentered a new phase of its 12-year struggle against economic exploitation
and for the radical recognition of ethnic-racial and gender differences in Mexico. In anticipation
of the 2006 presidential campaign, the rebel army launched La Ortra Campana (the Other
Campaign), designed to link nonpartisan anticapitalist national liberation struggles around the
Rozsa, D 20
country in the name of autonomy (Mora 2007: 64). More than two thousand participants came
out in support of the campaign as it kicked off in September of 2005, with the goal of change
coming from below. Marcos stated in his press release in 2005:

What we are going to do, together, is to shake this country from below, raise it up, turn it
on its head. So then all the deprivations will be on display, all the contempt, all the
exploitation. We are going to shake it, and perhaps were going to discover that its not
complete. That it shouldnt be that way. Then were going to have to broaden it once
again, without any other above or any other below than those which are marked by its
mountains, its valleys, its rivers and its lakes, and were going to put it together once
again, anew, between the Pacific and the Atlantic and between the Rio Grande and the
Suchiate, and then it will indeed have to start working. (Marcos, Plan and Tentative
Schedule, 2005)
The purpose of the campaign, according to Mariana More who has written on the subject, was to
not only strengthen local indigenous communities but to bridge the gap between indigenous
communities and the left, which are, in some cases, illiterate in terms of autonomy and that we as
indigenous people are fundamental to the fight against capitalism (More 2007: 66). Again, as
we have seen, the goal of the EZLN, since the 1994 uprising was to inform and to attempt to
build autonomous spaces.
Zapatista women also came out in December of the same year (2005) to specifically
organize around issues having to do with women. The panel, which was organized for the
purpose of community building, touched on a series of topics[consisting of] what womens
lives were like before the uprising, the changes that theyve seen, and how women have
Rozsa, D 21
organized and participated in the Zapatista movement (Klein 2008: PG). The Zapatistas have
continued to build community. In 2007, they began marketing GMO-free corn. Indymedias
featured article states that by purchasing the corn (complete with link to a cart), one can now
Sow the seeds of resistance (Indymedia 2007). The non-GMO seeds were donated by various
Chiapan farmers, and those who make a purchase must take a pledge to never allow this corn to
be used for commercial purposes (Indymedia 2007).
The Zapatistas made news once again in 2011 when the Mexican police raided an EZLN
meeting in San Sabastian Bachojon, and arrested over a hundred supporters of the Other
Campaign. The arrests picked at old scabs and sparked protests across Mexico and in front of
Mexican consulates across the world, leading to the Chiapas government to release the majority
of prisoners (Bricker 2011: 2). Even though there has been no actual fighting between the
Mexican government and the EZLN, the conflict still persists almost twenty years later. In 2012,
the Zapatistas once again took to the streets in various cities in Chiapas to commemorate the
Acteal massacre, in which 45 unarmed civilian Zapatista sympathizers-including children and
pregnant women-gathered at a prayer meeting were brutally murdered by paramilitary forces,
while soldiers stood idly by (Kersen 2013: PG). Furthermore, December 2012 also coincided
with the end to the Mayan calendar, and by marching in silence, to be heard, they are also
aligning themselves with the past and future as a new cycle of resistance begins (Roar 2012:

Rozsa, D 22

Zapatistas and supporters gather in silence. Photo: Roar Magazine 2012.

The Zapatistas have been consistently committed to community building and autonomy
since their inception. Almost a year after their march in silence the Zapatistas opened a
community school in Chiapasthe University of the Peoples Land of Chiapas. In August of
2013, 1,700 students from around the world enrolled in la escuelita de liberdad, or the little
school of liberty (Molina 2013: 1). The school, which is non-hierarchical in stucture, will be an
open space for the community to learn together (Molina 2013: 2). The requirements for
attending are simply an indisposition to speaking and judging, a disposition to listening and
seeing, and a well-placed heart (Molina 2013: 2). The first students left with very important
homework afterwards: to transfer what they learned to their respective collectives and
movements (Molina, Students, 2013). Subcommondante Marcos explains, There isnt one
teacher. Rather, it is the collective that teaches, that shows, that forms, and in it and through it
the person learns, and also teaches (Molina 2013: 2). The goal of the school is to do what the
Zapatistas have been doing since 1994to build bridges, and create community bonds that
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transcend borders, in a non-hierarchical fashion, and we can expect that they will continue these
actions, even in spite of dominant power systems being really nothing more than a small hurdle,
as they have been doing these types of action for more than twenty years.