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MEXICO
Zapatista tourism
John Ross
3/6/2009
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Zapatista villages become hot tourist destination as Subcomandante Marcos´ popularity falls to new low.

The commodification of the Zapatista movement recently reached new heights with The New York Times designation of rebel villages in southeastern Chiapas as a hot budget tourist destination last Nov. 16, the eve of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or EZLN.

The article´s spread featured a photo of the Zapatista cultural and political center or “caracol” at Oventic, a 45-minute drive from chic San Cristobal. ”Their failed revolution (sic)” has given the Zapatista zone “a frisson of danger” the Times´ “frugal” travel writer Matt Gross.

Spearheading the state of Chiapas´ all-out tourism assault on the rebel zone is the on-again, off-again through highway from San Cristobal (“the new SoHo” according to tourism publicists) to the magnificent Mayan ruins at Palenque that would infringe on a dozen Zapatista autonomous villages en route. The push to open up Chiapas as a transnational tourist venue continues to generate violence between Zapatista and non-Zapatista communities over control of such sites as Agua Azul, an eco-tourist resort in the San Cristobal-Palenque corridor.

Further south, both Zapatista and non-Zapatista communities have been forcibly evicted from the Montes Azules Biosphere, a 300,000-hectare swatch of the Lacandon jungle as big eco-tourism combines, backed by such transnationals as Ford Motors, stake a claim on the untrammeled sanctuary.

The exploitation of sacred Mayan sites like Palenque by the local and transnational tourist trade has also ratcheted up tensions in southeastern Chiapas. In January, Zapatistas threatened to occupy Mayan ruins at Tonina just outside Ocosingo, “the Gateway to the Lacandon Jungle”, over a land dispute. Last October, six non-Zapatistas were gunned down by Chiapas state police after activist Tojolabal Mayans took over the ruins at Chinkultik in the Montebello lakes area near Comitan, demanding a bigger slice of the tourism pie.

Extractive industries take root
Tourism is one of Chiapas´s “four horsemen of progress” notes daily La Jornada correspondent Hermann Bellinghausen, one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Zapatista struggle whose “Heart Of Time” set in the Zapatista zone, was recently shone at Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival. Petroleum, biofuels, and mining also add “frisson” to this southernmost Mexican state´s future.

Interest in drilling for petroleum in the “Lacandon basin” was revived this past December by Mexico´s Energy secretary Georgina Kessel. Although she failed to specify just what she meant by the “Lacandon basin”, drilling for oil in the jungle is sure to conflict with that other horseman of Chiapas´s future, eco-tourism. PEMEX, Mexico´s state-controlled oil consortium, drilled sites in the rebel zone in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Nazaret complex of 31 platforms less than 10 miles from the Zapatista caracol at La Garrucha was sealed up after the indigenous rebellion exploded in 1994. Confidential assessments by PEMEX noted scant oil (400 barrels a day) at Nazaret but tens of thousands of cubic feet of natural gas, exploitation of which was put on hold by the uprising.

The bio-fuel component in the horserace for Chiapas´s future is more transnational flimflam. Under the once-upon-a-time Plan Puebla-Panama, now re-dubbed Plan Mesoamerica and extended through Central America to Colombia, Colombian industrialists are growing 7,000 hectares (17,000 acres) of non-food biomass on the Pacific coastal plain near Puerto Chiapas. Although the plantation involves a non-food crop, it removes considerable land from food cropping. The bio-fuel project represents an initial collaboration between Colombia´s President Alvaro Uribe and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, both darlings of the US State Department.

As the price of gold has soared, transnational mining is gaining a leg up in the race for Chiapas´s future. At least 55 permits for mining development have been granted by state authorities to mostly Canadian speculators in the sierra and highlands of Chiapas. Such transnationals as Linear Gold and Blackfire are decried for widespread deforestation, slave labor wages, and the suppression of workers´ rights at the mining sites.

While the state of Chiapas is being put out to bid, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation marked its 25th anniversary as a rebel force and its15th year on public display over the year-end holidays with an annual conclave of supporters this year slugged “The World Fiesta of Digna Rabia” (“Rage with Dignity”), a more modest outing than previous get-togethers.

One international celebrity who did show up live was the Zapatistas´ quixotic spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos who delivered what has become his yearly diatribe against self-designated political enemies - Marcos´s public statements have been in short supply since the EZLN´s ill-fated “Other” campaign and his once-daily epistemological output was virtually reduced to zero in 2008.

Headlining public sessions of the Digna Rabia Fiesta at San Cristobal´s University of the Earth, the Sup picked up where he left off last year by attacking Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the left leader of the Movement to Defend Mexico´s Petroleum and the Popular Economy, who was swindled out of the presidency by Felipe Calderon in 2006. Among other calumnies: Marcos put down Lopez Obrador´s large social movement and said the former presidential contender and Calderon are on the same side.

Keeping the movement alive
But if Subcomandante Marcos´s public posture has been disastrous for the rebel cause, Zapatista communities in the highlands and jungles of southeastern Chiapas have continued to demonstrate the capabilities of collective action. The rank and file rebels´ creativeness in providing a Zapatista education for their children and their defense of their environment, particularly native plants, are exemplary.

Moreover, epidemiological studies as reported by former National Autonomous University rector Pablo Gonzalez Casanova underscore the continuing excellence of Zapatista health care projects, particularly pre-natal health care, and sanitation.

While the EZLN eschews the public spotlight and has auto-marginalized itself from participation in national and international political activism, autonomous Zapatista communities in southeastern Chiapas continue to be living proof that another world is possible.
—Latinamerica Press.


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