“We’re the product of 500 years of struggles: first against slavery in the independence war led by insurgents against Spain, then avoiding being absorbed by North American expansionism, then for promulgating our Constitution and expelling the French Empire from our territory, then Porfirio’s dictatorship denied the fair implementation of the Reform Laws and the people stood up with its own leaders…”
Those were the opening lines of the first public statement by the National Liberation Zapatista Army (EZLN), published on the day of the uprising on Jan. 1, 1994, when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect. The agreement drove the United States, Canada and Mexico into a commercial zone that has since impoverished the poor while making the bourgeoisie even richer.
In that first statement, the EZLN announced they would walk into Mexico City and defeat the national military, inviting people to rise up and join them in the fight. Since then, the Zapatista’s have become an incredible political force, inspiring the international revolutionary movement, setting a new standard for revolutionary action, and drawing in large section of Mexican society to emancipatory politics.
Since the insurrection, the Zapatista’s have focused less on armed struggle and more on building a political support network that is nationally expansive in Mexico, while maintaining an autonomous region in Chiapas that is no longer dependent on the state.
As Mexico welcomes a new left leaning president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the Zapatista’s have issued a stern warning.
We will fight, we will face, we won’t allow him to come here with his destructive projects,” said Zapatista Subcomandante Moises, without naming Lopez Obrador directly, at the closing ceremony of the 25th anniversary celebrations. “We don’t fear his National Guard, a name chosen instead of army.”
Zapatista supporters had been at Guadalupe Tepeyac, part of the autonomous territories, along with members and representatives of the EZLN and support bases discussing future steps in the anticapitalist revolutionary struggle.
The government of Lopez Obrador proposed the creation of the National Guard, a 50,000-strong security force that will be trained and commanded by the military to carry out public security duties.
Detractors describe it as a move to perpetuate and legalize militarization in the country.
Subcomante Moises, one of the two spokespersons of the EZLN along with Subcomandante Galeano, said the new center-left president will “destroy the people of Mexico, but mainly the ordinary people. They come for us, especially the EZLN.”
The Zapatista movement has always been at odds with Lopez Obrador. Since the first time he ran for president in 2006, the EZLN organized an alternative campaign and declared its opposition to the leftist candidate. Now, with its landslide victory in the 2018 elections, the Zapatistas have reiterated their position.
“The consultation they’re doing aims to manipulate the people,” said Moises. “Through votes, they’re asking for permission to attack us. They’re consulting so they come and face us with that Maya Train crap, but if they provoke us we will defend ourselves. We won’t allow someone to come here and take this rebel territory.”
The Maya Train is a large-scale infrastructure project proposed by Lopez Obrador to connect the whole Yucatan Peninsula for tourism, transportation and economic purposes.
To mark the start of the project, Lopez Obrador held a traditional ceremony “to ask Mother Earth for permission” with sympathizing local Indigenous leaders and organizations, a move that was criticized by many because “Mother Earth couldn’t give him an answer.”
The EZLN called Lopez Obrador a trickster. “The one in power is treacherous,” said Moises. “He says he’s with the people of Mexico and keeps tricking the Indigenous people, bowing to Earth asking it for permission and saying that all Indigenous peoples believe him, but we tell him we don’t believe him.”
Instead, the Subcomandante remembered the EZLN’s achievements in 25 years of struggle: “Our work and effort, with our mistakes.”
“Everything we’ve built, we’ve carried it ourselves. There are solidarity sisters and brothers that have helped us, but it’s not easy to face political parties and bad governments are the current one: dishonest and deceitful.
“Five years ago we told the people of Mexico that a worse thing would come. A collapse, a hydra, a monster, a wall. We told them, but they didn’t listen. They listen to that whose name I don’t want to name.”
The Zapatista’s are now poised to be rekindle revolutionary momentum from an anti-state perspective. Particularly since Obrador seems keen on appealing to US imperialism. As the contradictions inherent in fascism, democracy, capitalism and the nation-state project are colliding, the Zapatista project, twenty five years active now, may just be at its inception.