Friday, October 19, 2018
Subscribers Section User ID Password
The dream remains
John Ross
Send a comment Print this page

The Zapatistas’ anniversary celebration in Chiapas reflects the slow pace of change.

On New Year’s Eve, the eighth anniversary of their nearly-forgotten uprising, members of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) gathered under a huge moon in Oventic, 50 kilometers above San Cristóbal.

Last year was a wrenching one for the Zapatistas. Their hopes raised when Mexico’s new president, Vicente Fox, sent Congress the indigenous rights law for which they had crusaded, the comandantes launched a historic march to Mexico City last February and March (LP, March 26, 2001). But legislators stripped the law of all provisions related to self-determination (LP, May 28, 2001), and the comandantes immediately broke off contact with the government (LP, July 9, 2001).

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States shrank their visibility even further.

Unlike last year’s anniversary of the rebellion, when unarmed villagers tore down an army outpost a mile up the misty mountain road, the eighth anniversary celebration seemed almost serene. Hundreds of civilian Zapatistas gathered on the basketball court and bounced to cumbias. No comandantes were present.

Those present, summoned from four rebel autonomous municipalities, showed their faces openly, and local authorities read oddly optimistic statements in Spanish and Tzotzil.

"The bad government issues press bulletins that say we are in ‘holy peace.’ This is not true. We are not happy with the government, which has insulted us by mutilating the indigenous rights law, but we are not disheartened as we look ahead toward 2002. Tonight we celebrate the eighth year of our ‘war against oblivion,’" they said.

Chiapas has changed since the Zapatistas first rose up on Jan. 1, 1994, as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, but the rate of change has been agonizing. Graffiti scrawled on San Cristóbal’s whitewashed walls these days are as likely to mention musician Kurt Cobain as Subcomandante Marcos, although the ragged scraps of a few "George Bush: Wanted for Terrorism" posters remain.

This year on Jan. 1, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), whose seven-decade rule of Mexico was broken by Fox’s election (LP, July 10, 2000), relinquished the San Cristóbal municipal palace, which had been attacked and sacked in the 1994 uprising. The new municipal president, who founded the Social Action Party (PAS), is a radio commentator with a large following among indigenous people.

Enoch Hernández won by a close margin in a low-turnout election in October, defeating the candidates of five long-standing political parties. The indigenous vote made the difference. In that very narrow sense, eight years after their uprising first exploded into public view, the indigenous people had finally taken City Hall.

But the pace of change remains glacial.

For years, critics have carped that the Maya people who built the EZLN have seen little or no reward for their diligence and dedication. But on New Year’s Eve, Oventic seemed like a cultural center carved out of a cold, muddy mountainside. The clinic, auditorium, new middle school, library and basketball court all shone in the moonlight.

The government probably would have built them eventually if the EZLN had voted for the PRI and not taken up arms. But the Zapatistas won the buildings and services themselves and are beholden to no one. This is the dignity and purpose at the heart of the self-determination they seek.

And while they have been rejected time and again by the government, those gathered in the Chiapas mountains still seemed certain of their dream.



Zapatistas anniversary celebr
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
Reproduction of our information is permitted if the source is cited.
Contact us: (511) 460 5517
Address: Comandante Gustavo Jiménez 480, Magdalena del Mar, Lima 17, Perú

Internal Mail:
This website is updated every week.