Zapatistas’ new era

February 13, 2013

World in View

Dec. 21, 2012, was a special date in the Mayan calendar—the end of an era and the beginning of a new historic cycle. For the Zapatistas of Chiapas in southern Mexico, it signaled a new moment of the movement. Some 40,000 Zapatistas from the autonomous Indigenous communities in resistance marched through the five cities where the rebellion began Jan. 1, 1994.

They came without arms, without talking, wearing their masks. Their silence was deafening. To the Mexican government—federal, state, local—their presence in the tens of thousands revealed the lie of the whispers, rumors and hopes of the officials and their corrupt parties, that the Zapatistas had “disappeared.” Their lie lacked any real effect on the Indigenous peoples in Chiapas. To the Mexican news media—who had ignored them, lied about them, and failed to print the news of what has actually happened in Chiapas—the Zapatistas demonstrated their powerful presence.

Perhaps most importantly, it was a signal to the social movements in Mexico and in Latin America—movements that had grown out of the Zapatista rebellion or been inspired by it—that the struggle was not over, but just beginning. Here is how the Zapatistas expressed it in an excerpt from a communiqué signed by Sub-comandante Marcos several days after the march:

We, who never went away, despite what media across the spectrum have been determined to make you believe, resurge as the Indigenous Zapatistas that we are and will be. In these years, we have significantly strengthened and improved our living conditions. Our standard of living is higher than those of the Indigenous communities that support the governments in office, who receive handouts that are squandered on alcohol and useless items.

Our homes have improved without damaging nature by imposing on it roads alien to it. In our communities, the earth that was used to fatten the cattle of ranchers and landlords is now used to produce the maize, beans, and vegetables that brighten our tables. Our work has the double satisfaction of providing us with what we need to live honorably and contributing to the collective growth of our communities.

Our sons and daughters go to a school that teaches them their own history, that of their country and that of the world, as well as the sciences and techniques necessary for them to grow without ceasing to be Indigenous. Indigenous Zapatista women are not sold as commodities….

The communiqué further stated that new initiatives will be undertaken in the coming period.

—Eugene Walker

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