Zapatista movement celebrates its 25th birthday

This January, the Zapatista movement has just officially celebrated its 25th birthday. They are still building their reality and innovating in their practices in the mountains of Chiapas.

When the dawn of a 1 January announced the beginning of 1994 several large columns of guerrillas, men and women, made their entry into various towns and cities in the state of Chiapas, southern Mexico.

Although their faces were covered with scarves and balaclavas, it was not difficult to realize that the components of this peculiar insurgent army were indigenous.

That same day Mexico launched the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US and Canada, that according to the Government and the power elites, should take the country to prosperity and turn it into a "developed and modern" country.

At the same time Mexicans and the world watched in amazement the appearance, from the mists of the jungles and mountainous areas, of an indigenous nation, always forgotten and humiliated, which had called itself Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN)

The peculiarity of the "Zapatista movement" was that the armed insurgency for the first time did not intend to seize power, nor to wage a traditional guerrilla war. What it wanted to do was sending its messages to the world, to make society aware of the existence of this "forgotten nation" throughout history. A nation that still lived in conditions of poverty and abandonment, but that also retained its pride, cultures and languages.

Various were the Zapatista contributions in the political and social arena: a practice of direct and participatory democracy based on indigenous traditions. The leading and executive role of women in the life and functioning of the communities. The use of the net and the media as a powerful and effective speaker to spread their claims, their realities and promote solidarity around them.

Over the years the Zapatistas decided unilaterally to stop using weapons, sticking to the sole mechanisms of self-defense, and move to a stage of transformation of a reality close to them, building from below on a criterion of political, administrative and social "autonomy", and in that direction put into practice community productive projects as well as educational and health plans, all accompanied by a deep respect for their diverse and exuberant natural environment.

Politically, the Zapatistas have expressed on numerous occasions that they do not believe in traditional electoral channels, so their actions have to do with social movements, and especially with the realities of the original communities, for which they were founders and formed part of the National Indigenous Congress of Mexico.

In recent years the Zapatistas have stopped receiving the important attention dedicated to them by the media. But this does not mean that their community work having ceased to exist. The reality is that their practices of Autonomy are not a good "example" for the elites that rule in the political, economic and ideological arena. Likewise, they are not to in the liking of much of the traditional Latin American left, too attached to the classic strategy of "taking power".

As part of the latter comment, we can also register the new Mexican President, Antonio Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), and his National Renewal Movement (Morena), which holds for the first time the Government of the State of Chiapas.

AMLO has among his proposals two major plans for the region, which are an ambitious development program (which would include the border areas of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador). And the so-called Mayan train, to open up the door to a massive tourism to the territory where the impressive Mayan culture developed - Maya of which, incidentally, the Zapatista indigenous are direct descendants.

These two mega-projects will have strong repercussions throughout the area: A growing presence and direct intervention by the State. Strong investments induced in infrastructure that would greatly affect the environment, and generate a growing interest from local landowners for usurping "uncolonized" indigenous lands, which would logically grow in value. Or the promotion of a tourism model that is accompanied by high consumption of services and natural resources and carries a proven capacity to cause strong social deformations.

Political relations between the Zapatistas and AMLO have never been good, so the President's plans will be a new and difficult challenge for the immediate future.

In any case, this January, the Zapatista movement has just officially celebrated its 25th birthday. They are still building their reality and innovating in their practices in the mountains of Chiapas.