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Revolution With a Peaceful Purpose


The OPEC oil crisis of 1973 and Mexico's ties with the international economy of oil and petroleum led to debt and bankruptcy in 1982. Ever since that time, Mexico has tried to resolve its economic problems by establishing neoliberal reforms in which the government abolished welfare programs for poor people and also creating policies that eventually led to a great disparity of wealth among the Mexicans. This continued into the 1990's, when the government began to cut funding on healthcare, social security, and education. It was very bad indeed--the World Bank estimated in 1994 that about 38 percent of the total population of Mexico lived in absolute poverty! Two out of five households had no water supply, one out of three had no electricity, and three out of five had no drainage. When NAFTA (North Atlantic Free-Trade Agreement) was signed in 1994, foreign investors withdrew their capital from many Mexican industries causing the deflation of the peso, thus adding more economic problems on top of what already existed.

Out of poverty and disparity of this nation in the early 1980's slowly arose a small group of Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries known as the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), formed in the Chiapas region of Mexico. The word, Zapatista was derived from Emilio Zapata, who was a revolutionary war hero in 1910 that succeeded overthrowing Mexico's dictator at the time, Porfio Diaz. After a failed peasant-driven uprising in 1983 and the fall of communism in Russia, the group had to abandon their original ideas. Sub-Commander Marcos, their leader, believed that the Zapatistas needed strong leadership to gain power, and this party had to have the power of the people behind it. As good of an idea as it seemed, by the 1990's, the EZLN was caught in the middle of a social struggle: in many areas, they had power, but in others that they didn't, they were answerable to those communities. Since the Zapatistas were led by obeying, and the people (whether under their control or not) commanded them to strike back against the state, they did. On January 1, 1994, the EZLN army emerged from the jungle and seized the major cities of the Chiapas highlands.


The Chiapas region isn't just any region of Mexico, it is the country's most valuable in terms of natural resources. Over fifty percent of Mexico's oil and petroleum supply is collected in Chiapas, as well as over twenty percent of the electrical energy. Also a good majority of the crops and cattle also come from Chiapas. The government, of course, responded by sending in the national army. Even today, over half the army is still in the Chiapas reigon.

But what or who do these revolutionaries represent? The Mexican government does not recognize the EZLN as a "people's army" at all--more like a radical group using the "people" as cover. This is partly due to the fact that not all of the natives in the reigon side with the Zapatistas, nor are in control by them (even though most hate the government). The Zapatistas are anti-neoliberalists, which simply means they are against the idea of globalization. They believe that "globalization" is another term for the "Power of Money" against the minorities that are helpless against stopping it. In their main text, the "Declaration of La Realidad" written on January 30, 1996 in the city of La Realidad, it states that "...a new world war is waged, but now against the entire the name of 'globalization' they call this modern war which assasinates and forgets...concentrating power in power...misery in misery."

The Zapatistas represent the wants of the people, which is, ultimately, autonomy over the political and social matters in the area. Autonomy, simply put, means "self-government" or the people's right to govern themselves. The significance of autonomy is interpreted diversely by members of the indigenous communities. It correlates further into various forms of rights: human rights, indigenous rights, and women's rights. Supporters of the Zapatista Rebellion are demanding to their right exercise their political rights in governing themselves. The supporters and the Zapatistas as well are into protecting the fate of their natural resources in their economy, and protecting exploitation by foreign capitalists. They established so so-called Eleven points which they believed they deserved: work, land, housing, food, healthcare, education, independence, liberty, democracy, justice, and peace. Later after the Declaration of La Realidad, they added five more: culture, information, security, combating corruption, and protection of the environment.

The Declaration of La Realidad

Besides the Mexican government, there are many that have strong feelings against the uprising. These Anti-Zapatistas feel that the autonomous demands of the indigenous population threatens the sovereignty of Mexico. Granting an independently-ruled state to the indigenous people could possibly lead to a succession from the country. The world would look down upon Mexico as not being able to control its own people...this being terribly bad as Mexico tries to crawl out of the hole of debt and poverty which it is trying to rid itself of. In response to this, the Zapatistas have stated their intentions which do not involve a separation from Mexico, but a society which the now-powerless indigenous people would be treated equally and granted full rights as citizens. This, of course, would involve a wide-scale transformation of the political system now in effect. According to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, "...the aim of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and inalienable rights of man; these rights are liberty, property, security, and [of course] resistance to oppression..." They believe they have the right to rebel against the political system that does not work for them as they being citizens of Mexico, just as the people of the French revolution believed when they wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in 1789. This is also comparable to our very own Declaration of Independence, which states "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The Zapatistas, not only battling for a sense of citizenship and autonomy, are fighting also for a sense of justice. They believe in John Locke's ideas on uprightness; "...No man may be accused, arrested, or detained except in the cases determined by law, and according to the forms prescribed thereby...Whoever solicit, expedite, or execute arbitrary orders, or have them executed, must be punished...but every citizen summoned or apprehended in pursuance of the law must obey immediately...he renders himself culpable by resistance..."

Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen

The Declaration of Independence

The Zapatistas are a group of militant revolutionaries, but their goals are understandable and idealistic. Their goals mirror that of the French Revolutionaries of 1789. They want what John Locke outlined in his Natural Rights of Man and Citizen--they want a complete transformation of the political system. In "The Prince," Machaivelli said "the end justifies the means." The Zapatistas have not sought state power, nor are imperialistic. They have taken up arms for a greater space for democratic struggle--and although the Zapatistas have used force and violence to promote their beliefs, their goal and sole purpose in their struggle is to establish an authentic democratic space where local autonomy reigns.

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Last Updated: 8/12/16