Why the Zapatistas are stronger than ever
June 4, 2014 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Marcos stepping down demonstrates the strength of this autonomous community. On May 2, 2014, José Luis Solís López, better known as Galeano was murdered in the community of La Realidad in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Galeano was murdered by three gunshots after he, unarmed, was surrounded by paramilitary troops and refused to surrender. The attack took place on the eve of a meeting that the Zapatistas had planned to hold with other indigenous organizations and indigenous people of Mexico during which spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos had planned possibly to reappear after a public absence of nearly six years. During the attack, a number of people were injured, and a Zapatista school and health clinic in La Realidad, both of which were symbols of the movement’s autonomy, were destroyed.

According to the Good Government Junta, the Zapatistas’ governing body, those responsible for Galeano’s murder were paramilitary forces that came from two rightwing parties, the Green Ecologist Party and the National Action Party, as well as the Independent Center for Agricultural Workers and Historic Peasants. These paramilitary groups responsible for the murder of Galeano were legitimate peasant organizations that struggled for land rights against the local Chiapas Government in the 1970s. Over the years however, they have flirted with the government to try and receive funding and to get their people into government positions.

These are groups that have been coopted by the government of Chiapas in the past several years to oppose the Zapatistas in exchange for funds. This is a counter insurgency plan by the Mexican government and the Mexican Army to combat the Zapatistas outside of direct conflict. All these groups are involved in violent attacks and land occupations of the Zapatistas since the beginning of the Zapatistas movement in 1994. The lands which Zapatistas obtained and hold for the indigenous people of the region with their blood, is been invaded by these groups, that then look for the local government to legitimize their take over of the land and to undermine the Zapatista movement.
posted by whyareyouatriangle (14 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Chris Hedges: We All Must Become Zapatistas (via truthdig.com).
posted by bstreep at 5:18 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

rightwing parties, the Green Ecologist Party

Orwell would be proud.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:20 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do a significant number of people in Chiapas support the Zapatistas? It never seems exactly clear whether they've succeeded or failed in any of their goals, year after year.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 5:57 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

It never seems exactly clear whether they've succeeded or failed in any of their goals, year after year.

If their goals are to attract money and attention from Europeans and leftist Americans, they are succeeding wildly.

In terms of substantive change to the political and economic structures in that region, not so much.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:15 PM on June 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

In terms of substantive change...not so much

is kind of hard to square with

a Zapatista school and health clinic in La Realidad, both of which were symbols of the movement’s autonomy
posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh at 6:41 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Since their 1994 uprising was countered by the Mexican army, the EZLN has abstained from using weapons and adopted a new strategy that attempts to garner Mexican and international support. Through an Internet campaign, the EZLN was successful in disseminating an understanding of their plight and intentions to the public. With this change in tactics, the EZLN has received greater support from a variety of NGOs. The Zapatistas have achieved documented improvements in Chiapas in the areas of gender equality and public health, although they remain unable to establish political autonomy for the province.

"However there have been tangible, material successes, not just advances in dignity and other abstract concepts.

Pablo Gonzalez Casanova, the former rector of Mexico’s National Autonomus University (UNAM), conducted a public health study comparing Zapatista communities in Chiapas to their non-Zapatista counterparts.

Zapatista health providers extended coverage to 63 per cent of all expectant mothers, double the average for non-Zapatista communities in the area. Seventy-four per cent of Zapatista homes have access to toilets, as opposed to 54 per cent in non-Zapatista homes.

Zapatista communities also have significantly better statistics for infant mortality than other rural areas in Chiapas.

"The position of women in the communities has increased greatly," Petrich says. "They used to be kept in the margins, basically treated like domestic animals. Now the role they play is crucial. This is not a minor result," she says, adding that the Zapatistas have also made major strides in education. "


Might do well to read about some of their many achievements here.

"Each of the five Juntas of Good Government exhibited the community projects in their region, and how they manage and use resources. The Zapatistas displayed everything from their community stores to their health centers.

In the region of the Roberto Barrios Junta of Good Government in northern Chiapas, the Zapatistas set up a coffee cooperative and a grain storage facility that is administered by authorities of the insurgent group. Dividends [revenues] are used for "the needs that we have," they said.

In this region, they also showed the hospital that provides outpatient services, laboratory, ultrasound, hospitalization, dental and emergencies. "Caring physicians" arrive every three months to perform surgeries; there have been 130 so far. Three other clinics in that region operate the same way. In other areas, the Zapatistas have set up a dozen clinics and two more hospitals.

The insurgent group showed the operation of their projects in agro-ecology, transportation, butcher shops, craft cooperatives, concrete blocks, making traditional medicines, kitchens, tortilla-makers and community stores, in addition to a footwear and leather products factory.

A common denominator is that part of the dividends of the collective work goes to support the families of those who work full-time in education or (Zapatista) government, but who do not receive a salary." http://mexicovoices.blogspot.com/2013/08/mexico-zapatistas-hold-open-house-of.html
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 6:56 PM on June 4, 2014 [11 favorites]

This is interesting stuff, thanks whyareyouatriangle. I went through a phase of Zapatista fascination ten years ago or so, probably rooted to being a huge Rage Against the Machine fan in high school, but I admit I haven't caught up on the situation the past few years.

I did however get to spend an afternoon walking around a small Zapatista village in Chiapas on my one and only visit to Mexico in 2007. It wasn't the kind of thing I could have pulled off on my own - maybe things have changed since but I got the impression foreigners/tourists weren't generally welcome - but there was a Polish guy staying at my hostel who was a very seasoned traveler. I think he literally just went out and walked around San Cristobal de las Casas talking to people until he found someone who offered to take him to tour the village, so he invited me and two British guys from the hostel along.

It was fairly uneventful. The people were really nice, at least as near as I could tell through my terrible Spanish ... and actually I'm not sure, do they speak a different dialect of Spanish, maybe with some traditional Mayan mixed in or something?.

What I remember most is that there was a Coke machine. A Coke machine in this ramshackle, dusty little village. So out of place. We weren't allowed to take pictures, but I surely would have won the Pulitzer if I'd been able to get a shot of the guy in camo and a ski mask, holding a giant assault rifle and smoking a cigarette leaning against that damn Coke machine.
posted by mannequito at 8:39 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

So... the dead guy Galeano was Marcos?
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:01 PM on June 4, 2014

Probably not, no. Try reading the article.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:34 PM on June 4, 2014

So... the dead guy Galeano was Marcos?

No, Marcos was always a fictional character, and now the Marcos name has been retired and replaced with Galeano. From what I can tell, the same person is behind the Marcos-cum-Galeano persona and is still the de facto leader and spokesperson for the EZLN.

An English translation of the final Marcos communique is here.

This is how it ends:
We think that it is necessary for one of us to die so that Galeano lives.

To satisfy the impertinence that is death, in place of Galeano we put another name, so that Galeano lives and death takes not a life but just a name – a few letters empty of any meaning, without their own history or life.

That is why we have decided that Marcos today ceases to exist.

He will go hand in hand with Shadow the Warrior and the Little Light so that he doesn’t get lost on the way. Don Durito will go with him, Old Antonio also.

The little girls and boys who used to crowd around to hear his stories will not miss him; they are grown up now, they have their own capacity for discernment; they now struggle like him for freedom, democracy, and justice, which is the task of every Zapatista.

It is the cat-dog, and not a swan, who will sing his farewell song.

And in the end, those who have understood will know that he who never was here does not leave; that he who never lived does not die.

And death will go away, fooled by an indigenous man whose nom de guerre was Galeano, and those rocks that have been placed on his tomb will once again walk and teach whoever will listen the most basic tenet of Zapatismo: that is, don’t sell out, don’t give in, don’t give up.

Oh death! As if it wasn’t obvious that it frees those above of any responsibility beyond the funeral prayer, the bland homage, the sterile statue, the controlling museum.

And for us? Well, for us death commits us to the life it contains.

So here we are, mocking death in reality [La Realidad].


Given the above, at 2:08am on May 25, 2014, from the southeast combat front of the EZLN, I here declare that he who is known as Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, self-proclaimed “subcomandante of unrustable steel,” ceases to exist.

That is how it is.

Through my voice the Zapatista Army for National Liberation no longer speaks.

Vale. Health and until never or until forever; those who have understood will know that this doesn’t matter anymore, that it never has.

From the Zapatista reality,

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos. Mexico, May 24, 2014.

P.S. 1. Game over?

P.S. 2. Check mate?

P.S. 3. Touché?

P.S. 4. Go make sense of it, raza, and send tobacco.

P.S. 5. Hmm… so this is hell… It’s Piporro, Pedro, José Alfredo! What? For being machista? Nah, I don’t think so, since I’ve never…

P.S. 6. Great, now that the colorful ruse has ended, I can walk around here naked, right?

P.S.7. Hey, it’s really dark here, I need a little light.


[He lights his pipe and exits stage left. Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés announces that “another compañero is going to say a few words.”]

(a voice is heard offstage)

Good early morning compañeras and compañeros. My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano.

Anyone else here named Galeano?

[the crowd cries, “We are all Galeano!”]

Ah, that’s why they told me that when I was reborn, it would be as a collective.

And so it should be.

Have a good journey. Take care of yourselves, take care of us.

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast,

Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano

Mexico, May of 2014.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:49 PM on June 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

and actually I'm not sure, do they speak a different dialect of Spanish, maybe with some traditional Mayan mixed in or something?.

There's a good chance you were talking to people whose first language straight-up was a Mayan language — either Tseltal or Tojolabal, depending on the village — and who spoke Spanish as their second language if they really even spoke it at all.

A lot of the reporting on the Zapatistas would give you the impression that being "Tseltal" in Chiapas is a bit like being "Italian" in New Jersey — like it's just an inert historical label you inherit from your great-great-great-grandparents, and maybe there's a few old traditions and stereotypes that come along with it. When really it's more like being a Basque or Catalan speaker in 20th-century Spain — belonging to this live, active, pretty much totally distinct and unassimilated cultural and linguistic group that's struggling hard to retain its identity and getting seriously shat on by the national government. There are close to a million speakers of various Mayan languages in Chiapas, and in a lot of villages the Mayan languages are still the dominant languages in day-to-day life, though that's now changing very quickly in some places.

Anyway, the Zapatista movement is really closely linked to the struggle for Maya political, linguistic and cultural autonomy (Tseltal and Tojolabal in particular, though officially they support all indigenous languages) and in fact one of their big victories has been to get the state of Chiapas to put more support into Mayan language media and education, literacy programs in Mayan languages, etc. There's actually a bit of a literary renaissance going on right now in Chiapas, with a bunch of stuff in indigenous languages, mostly poetry and plays, some stories and novels, getting published in print and performed on the radio. In my opinion that's one of the coolest things about the situation there right now, and I find it weird that that part of the story hasn't gotten more traction in North America.

So yeah, no, tl;dr: you were totally hearing at least a few words here and there of one of the Mayan languages, and probably also hearing Spanish spoken with a heavy Mayan accent, and that's really awesome.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:02 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

maybe things have changed since but I got the impression foreigners/tourists weren't generally welcome

I don't think that's usually the case. People in those kinds of places love to present their case to the outside world directly, if they can.

and actually I'm not sure, do they speak a different dialect of Spanish, maybe with some traditional Mayan mixed in or something?

Various Mayan languages are alive and well all throughout that area, and Guatemala. I stayed with a Mayan family in Guatemala who spoke Tzutujil as a first language, and Spanish as a second.

And yes, the Mayans are not really Spanish people that are kind of Mayan-ish. They're Mayans who speak Spanish, but it's a distinctly different culture and lifestyle. That part of central america was the last to fall to the conquistadors-- they held out in Flores until 1697 (!), and lasted in the jungles for decades after that. There is a lot of racism from the Spanish-descended people toward the Mayans in that region, even today. They've been abused and exploited for centuries.
posted by empath at 12:11 AM on June 5, 2014

I'm pretty unimpressed with this article, both in the way of facts (Partido Verde Ecologista is not "Right-wing" in any American sense of the word, although their politics are kind of fucked up and not very similar to other green parties either), spelling and Spanish (the author manages to get one mistake into each of the Mexican president's surnames, spells "Escuela" with two Ls at one point, and forgets punctuation), and also just the whole tone of the thing.

In Mexico, even on the left, the Zapatistas are not "stronger than ever". Marcos is largely seen as irrelevant, and this latest stunt exactly that, a publicity stunt, the Zapatistas are largely irrelevant too, outside of the few communities where they still hold sway, and in general, nobody cares. This is in stark contrast to the nineties. When I arrived in Mexico in 1998, they were still a pretty big deal.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:16 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah I was not impressed by the article's propagandistic tone at all. I basically just discounted everything he said about politics. There's a tendency on like the true-blue socialist left to project a doctrinaire leftist viewpoint onto what are basically ethnic struggles, and it doesn't sit well with me.
posted by empath at 3:34 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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