by Pablo Vivanco
On January 1st, the governments of Canada, US and Mexico marked the 20th anniversary of the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, the day was being commemorated for very different but connected reasons.
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), often referred to as the Zapatistas, was celebrating 20 years since the start of their armed uprising. With the words “Today we say ‘enough is enough’”, the EZLN declared war on the Mexican government on January 1, 1994.
Among the Zapatista’s three basic principles were the defense of collective and individual rights historically denied to Mexico’s Indigenous peoples. NAFTA attacked the rights of working people in all three countries, but especially attacked the traditional communal land rights of Mexico’s Indigenous peoples.
The Zapatistas’ social base is the mostly rural Indigenous people in Chiapas. Roughly 957,000 out of 3.5 million people in Chiapas speak one of 56 different Indigenous languages. One third of these people do not speak Spanish at all. Out of 111 municipalities, twenty two have Indigenous populations over 90 percent, and 36 municipalities have native populations exceeding 50 percent.
Chiapas has about 13.5% of all of Mexico’s Indigenous population. Most of Chiapas’ Indigenous groups, including the Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Ch’ol, Zoque, Tojolabal, and Lacandon, are descended from the Mayans.
This past January 1st, the EZLN accused the federal government of maintaining a war strategy against them and wanting to take the land recovered by the Zapatista’s during their uprising, leading to a renewed call to rebellion.
In front of several thousand guests and hundreds of grassroots members, Comandanta Hortencia, a Tzotzil woman and spokesperson for the EZLN, read a statement that emphasized the struggle to maintain autonomy and self-government. “We are learning to govern ourselves according to our ways of thinking and living. We are trying to move forward, to improve and strengthen together, men, women, youth, children and the elderly. About 20 years ago, we said enough is enough.”
“We are sharing our experience with the new generation of children and youth. We are preparing our people to resist and to govern. In our Zapatista areas we no longer have bad government, nor do parties rule and manipulate.”
In fog and constant drizzle, the EZLN celebration lasted all day and well into the night, as it was attended by thousands of young people from almost every state in the country as well as students from other countries attending the two courses at the Zapatista school.
To these visitors, Comandanta Hortencia spoke of the possibility of the Zapatista experience of autonomy and self-governance applying elsewhere.
With notes from proceso.mx.com