Understanding Zapatista Longevity

Understanding Zapatista Longevity

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Understanding Zapatista Longevity

When Mexican President Vincente Fox rode into office on a wave of popular support in 2000, he inherited the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas. In 1994, the largely indigenous Zapatista movement began a military campaign to protest economic and political disenfranchisement. Vincente Fox claimed that he could solve the Zapatista uprising in “15 minutes.” Like his predecessor, he has failed to solve the problem. How did the Zapatistas achieve such longevity in the confines of the “perfect dictatorship?”

When Mexico entered the international economy, it opened itself to global scrutiny. Mexico’s trading partners have kept an eye on Mexico’s human rights record. Mexico simply could not crush the Zapatista rebellion with an iron fist: “Mexicans and the international community will not accept a genocidal war in Chiapas” (Collier 167). Furthermore, global connections empowered Mexican human rights organizations to exert more leverage on the Mexican government to moderate their repression. The Zapatistas were particularly adept at using the internet to voice their demands and to protest the excesses of the Mexican government.

The Mexican government also faced legal restraints which prevented an all-out war on the Zapatistas. After the uprising 1994 and the government counter-attack in 1995, the federal congress passed a law for dialogue in 1995. This foreclosed the option of a unilateral show of force by the Mexican army in areas under Zapatista control. The jungles of Chiapas also made a complete military victory improbable.

The government changed its tactics to end the rebellion, resorting to low intensity war. Paramilitaries with differing levels of tacit and explicit support terrorized Zapatistas and their sympathizers. The killings in Acteal in 1997 that claimed the lives of 45 innocent people remains a particularly gruesome example of paramilitary massacres.

Most importantly, the Mexican government lots the war of ideas. Though the Mexican government maintained a virtual monopoly of the press, Marcos and the Zapatistsas managed to diffuse their ideas and goals across the country. Though many did not support their violent tactics, the Zapatistas brought attention to the “plight of those at the losing end of Mexico’s economic globalization, particularly the indigenous groups who were losing both their livehood and their hopes for self-determination” (155). Marcos’ articulate and incisive letters put the government on the “moral defense” (168).

Despite the government’s efforts, support for the Zapatistas increased. The government believed it had scored a victory when it revealed in 1994 that Sub-commandante Marcos was in fact a non-indiginours former philosophy student.

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But soon thousands of protesters arrived in Mexico city wearing ski masks and bearing signs which read “Todos Somos Marcos” (“We’re all Marcos”) (Monitor). Marcos wrote in the summer of 1994 that “Chiapas is the tip of an iceburg which lies beneath the entire country” (McCaughan 3). This was not a movement that would slip quietly into the night.

Works Cited

Collier, George A. and Elizabeth L. Quaratiello. Basta! Land and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas. Chicago, IL: Food First Books, 1999.

Interview with Marcos

Multinational Monitor. March 2001, Vol 22, #3.
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