Globalization, the Mexican Government and the Zapatista Army

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On 1 January 1994, as Mexico was celebrating the entry into force of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), masked rebels seized control of parts of the southern state of Chiapas. The Mexican army quickly pushed these rebels, who were mostly indigenous Mexicans, back into the jungles whence they came, but not before the rebellion in Chiapas gained the attention of the world. As time progressed, these rebels did not go away. They identified themselves as the Zapatista Army for National Liberation and their spokesman, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, quickly became a minor world celebrity, renowned for his communiqués denouncing the Mexican government and advancing the Zapatista’s case.

The rebellion in Chiapas and subsequent stalemate were portrayed the world over as a battle between those opposed to globalization, the Zapatistas, and those in favour of globalization, the Mexican government. Those who claim the Zapatistas are anti-globalization generally mean that they are protesting against the trade liberalization policies of the Mexican government and the loss of control of their indigenous culture. Those who support the Mexican government agree that the Mexican government is pursuing trade liberalization policies but claim that these policies are ultimately beneficial to the Mexican people. There is nothing particularly incorrect about these arguments, as both sides properly capture an aspect of globalization. However, it is too easy and simplistic to characterize this rebellion as a simple battle between pro- and anti-globalization forces. To do so would use an incomplete definition of globalization and fail to fully analyze the situation. An examination of the situation reveals that both the Zapatistas and the Mexican government are opposed to some parts of the globalization process while concurrently benefiting from other facets. Hence, the paradox of globalization is revealed: one can be opposed to globalization while simultaneously deriving extraordinary benefit from globalization.

Clearly, much of the debate surrounding the rebellion in Chiapas revolves around the meaning of the term globalization. The problem is that globalization is a multi-faceted process and supporters and apologists only refer to one facet of globalization in their debates. Since these people often use different facets of the term, the sides end up talking past each other, rather than discoursing with one another. To resolve any confusion before this paper launches into a closer analysis of the Zapatista rebellion, a definition of the term “globalization” is needed.

Globalization, properly conceived, refers to what Scholte calls “supraterritoriality.”[1] Scholte proposes that in a globalized world, territory and borders no longer matter or, at the very least, matter far less than they did in previous, non-globalized, eras.

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