Twenty Years of the EZLN – Steadfastness or Failed Strategy?

19 January 2014 — New Left Project

“There are two tests of social change movements: endurance and regeneration. After two decades, Mexico’s Zapatista movement can now say it passed both.

Thousands of Zapatistas turned out this month to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). At the New Year festivities in the five Caracoles, or regional centers of Zapatista autonomous government, veterans and adolescents not yet born at the time of the insurrection danced, flirted, shot off rockets, and celebrated “autonomy” — the ideal of self-government that lies at the heart of the Zapatista experience… Critics rushed to point out that poverty still exists in Zapatista communities — a fact not denied by the organization and obvious to the many visitors. Journalists and pundits invented and then passed around statistics on the number of Zapatista adherents, or lack thereof, as well as on the extension of Zapatista territory and on living conditions in autonomous regions. Many pronounced the world-famous uprising dead or dying for failing to resolve problems or maintain its high profile. What reporters missed as they snuck into celebrations closed to the press is the significance of “autonomy.” Zapatistas say the word with pride, much as you’d talk about your children or grandchildren. These communities have moved steadily off the traditional power grid. Disappointment at the Mexican government’s betrayal in rejecting its own signature on the San Andres Accords of 1996 led to a decision to de-prioritize pressuring institutions and instead build from below…” – Laura Carlsen

“Rather than offering political leadership, the Zapatistas understand themselves as mirroring the struggles of others, which together make up the diverse heterogeneous movements of global civil society. The message is that subaltern subjects should celebrate difference rather than seek integration, for this would be to play the game of power…  At its founding congress, the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) decreed it would not take part in elections or even allow its members to join political parties. The rejection of all ambition to hold political office became a condition of membership. For all their distance in both time and space, the Zapatistas’ approach is strikingly similar to that of the East European movements of the 1980s, in that they accept their weakness vis-a?-vis the state and, instead of attempting to overcome it, try to create ‘autonomous counter-publics’ that allegedly highlight the exclusionary practices of the Mexican state… It is impossible to ignore the fact that the rhetoric of global resistance coexists with a striking failure of the Zapatistas to achieve any relief from the abject poverty that afflicts Chiapas’ peoples. More than a decade after the 12 day uprising of the EZLN, the Zapatistas’ demands are still ignored by the Mexican government. The EZLN have rationalized this by arguing that their failure to deliver resources is only of secondary importance, since they ‘know their “dignity” is worth more than any government development project’…”  – David Chandler


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