On January 1, 1994, the day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) begins, a new revolution unfolds. There are no calls to overthrow the government or unleash revolutionary terror, but only the demand to exercise Article 39 of the constitution: The people, the repository of national sovereignty and political power, have the “inalienable right” to alter or modify their form of government at any time. Their spokesman, his face hidden behind a ski mask, calls for creating a space in which civil society and the government can meet to discuss the nation’s future.
And so the Zapatistas of Mexico declare war on the Mexican government, NAFTA, and neoliberalism/ globalization. Three thousand ski-masked Zapatista soldiers take over Chiapas’ state capital and several towns, claiming that their state’s natural wealth does not benefit them,1 that constitutionally protected communal land is given illegally to government supporters, and that electoral fraud ensures their continued oblivion. Within 24 hours, planes bomb indigenous communities and at least 145 people die. Massive demonstrations by outraged Mexicans are immediate.
Within 12 days, a strange process unfolds: The army cannot defeat the guerillas. In February, to counter uncomfortable international media scrutiny, President Zedillo sends a hand-picked negotiator and asks a local Catholic bishop to mediate. For a week, Zapatista leaders make their case on national television and radio from a cathedral, around which Mexicans from all over the country form a human barrier to protect them.
Steadily increasing Zapatista popularity meets official vacillation between negotiation and force. Military action results in casualties and provokes massive demonstrations throughout Mexico and in front of Mexican embassies. The Zapatistas reach out through the Internet and find enthusiastic support (e.g.,http://chiapas.indymedia.org; www.zapatistas. org; www.utexas.edu/students/nave; http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/zapatista.html). Local and foreign journalists and well-known people flock to Zapatista forums in Chiapas.
Subcomandante Marcos’ charisma and obvious intelligence intrigues a now-global audience. Through this book, Marcos hopes to reach yet more people who oppose the worship of profit, control of others, and multinational corporations. In his words: “We are united by a world order that destroys nations and cultures. Today, Money-the great international criminal-has a name that reflects the incapacity of Power to create new things. Today, we suffer a new world war, a war against all peoples, against humanity, against culture, against history. It is an international war, of Money versus Humanity, carried out by a handful of financial centers, without homeland and without shame. Now, this international terror is called neoliberalism” (p. 167).
All of his words, whether in the form of epistles or stories from the Mayan past, make the same point: We are human beings. You cannot ignore us, for we are not going away. We deserve a better life. Give us what the constitution promises us: democracy, freedom, and justice. Do this, and we will work with you for a new Mexico.
On July 2, 2000, the ruling PRI loses its 71-year grip on power, and businessman Vincente Fox of the conservative PAN party is elected. During the campaign, he offered “neoliberalism with a democratic face” and was hailed in the American media as a “friend of Wall Street.” On February 21, 2001, 24 Zapatists leaders begin the “Caravan of Peace and Dignity” from Chiapas to Mexico City. Until March 8, when they reach its outskirts and are greeted by about 250,000 people, conferences are held wherever they stop to rest. In Mexico City, they spend 17 days in front of the Congress building talking about “indigenous autonomy, self-determination, a society that does not exclude anybody.’
Finally invited inside, Comandante Esther, an indigenous farm woman whose house has a dirt floor and whose village is unreached by a paved road, and 3 other comandantes speak at a special session about indigenous rights. Subcomandante Marcos does not participate-he is not a comandante-and declines to meet with President Fox until Zapatista demands are met. The Zapatistas then return to a Chiapas long since militarized by the presence of government soldiers and bases. Determined to be “other” and to bring about peaceful change, they wait for President Fox to act
- Chiapas produces 55% of Mexico’s electricity, 21% of its oil, 47% of its natural gas, 35% of its coffee, and large quantities of tropical woods. It is the second largest producer of beef, corn, bananas, honey, melons, avocados, and cocoa, all of which are exported. And yet it lacks modern infrastructure and schools, and endures massive poverty, illiteracy, malnourishment, and high death rates from non-fatal diseases.