“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 working classes 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 Zapatistas have come an incredible distance, drawing various sectors of Mexican and international society, regardless of their background and skin color, into a struggle that continues today.
Their stance is different now. Perhaps the invitation to rise up in arms was a “bluff” to intimidate the government, but we will never know. In the early years, they negotiated the San Andres Accords with the federal government, establishing that Indigenous peoples’ autonomy would be respected. The agreements, however, were soon violated by the administration of Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, so the Zapatistas decided to implement them on their own, forever eschewing mainstream politics, including the new National Renewal Movement (Morena) led by Mexico’s newly inaugurated President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
The Support Networks
Claudia T., one of the founding members of a collective named ‘Mujeres y la Sexta,’ was in Mexico City at the time of the uprising, 900 kilometers away from San Cristobal de las Casas. Sympathizers quickly organized protests to stop military action against the insurgents, and out of those connections were born new support networks in urban and rural areas. Some of those people formed brigades to bring aid to Chiapas, where the uprising took on new life. Luz y Fuerza del Centro, a state-owned electricity company with a combative union, even sent workers to install electricity in Zapatista villages where the government had been completely absent.
“There were several ways to help them. People from the pedagogy or nursing faculties used to go and support them,” Claudia told teleSUR. “We would rent a bus and go as far as we could, getting wet to reach the communities and help somehow. Everytime we went there we took more than we brought. They would offer us their love, their teachings, the humanism.”