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Zapatista National Liberation Army

The Zapatista movement celebrated the 23rd anniversary of its uprising in San Cristóbal on Jan. 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect. Fighting in the region resulted in nearly 100 deaths. In the 23 years that followed the Zapatistas organized by small communities known as caracoles and built autonomous hospitals, schools, health clinics, security, transport, and communications operations. The violence shocked the Mexican government and military, as well as the public, and ushered in a multifaceted political crisis that over the course of the next several months brought into question not only the prospects for democracy and economic development, but also for continued political stability.

Several southern states, most notably Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas, continued to suffer politically motivated violence. The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens, although serious problems remained in some areas, and some states present special concerns. Major abuses include extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, illegal arrests, arbitrary detentions, poor prison conditions, lengthy pretrial detention, lack of due process, corruption and inefficiency in the judiciary, illegal searches, violence against women, discrimination against women and indigenous persons, some limits on worker rights, and extensive child labor in agriculture and in the informal economy. Vigilante killings, attacks against journalists, and attacks and threats to human rights monitors are also problems.

The army and the EZLN had not clashed since the Government unilaterally declared a cease-fire on January 12, 1994. As part of continuing unrest in Chiapas, on December 22 an armed group allegedly organized by the PRI mayor massacred 45 indigenous persons in the village of Acteal, which increased already high tensions in the state. President Zedillo immediately ordered his Attorney General to conduct a thorough investigation. This investigation resulted in the arrest of persons allegedly connected to the massacre and continued at year's end.

The Mexican government initially countered the rebellion by sending troops to the region. The government‘s military cordon - 44,400 troops - was maintained in the Chiapas theater since the February offensive. The government issued arrest warrants for all Zapatista leaders, and creating a new military zone near the site of the Chiapas rebellion, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo subsequently canceled the arrest warrants, ordered the cessation of all offensive actions against the Zapatista Army, and called for dialogue between Zapatista leaders and the Mexican government. Since August of 1995, the Zapatistas have participated intermittently in peace negotiations with the Mexican government.

Desertions reduced rebel strength to fewer than 500 armed members in late 1995 - from an estimated 2,000 in February 1994 - and the group‘s demands on the local populace for scarce food and medical supplies are costing it support. The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) launched no violent attacks in 1996. On 16 February EZLN representatives signed an agreement in southeastern Chiapas with the Mexican Government on the rights of indigenous people and made a commitment to negotiate a political settlement. Peace talks between the Government and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) stalled in September 1996 following disagreement regarding the implementation of agreements signed in February 1996 on indigenous rights. However, intense informal contacts continued through January 1997.

The Zapatistas assumed an uncompromising stance with regard to the issue of democratic reform. At the same time, they remain very weak militarily. They were largely surrounded by the much stronger Mexican army (with Guatemala being their only escape route), and any attempt to resume their offensive would likely prove suicidal. This led to a classic standoff. Neither side wants to resume the fighting, yet their negotiating positions remain incompatible.

The Zapatistas rejected legislation submitted to the Mexican Congress by President Zedillo in March 1998 to promote indigenous rights in Chiapas. President Zedillo visited the region several times in mid-1998 to promote dialogue, but the talks fell apart after the June 1998 resignation of Bishop Ruiz from the mediation commission, and the commission subsequently dissolved. In July 1998, the Zapatistas advanced a proposal for mediation and for a Mexican plebiscite on President Zedillo's indigenous rights legislation.

The Zapatista “command” began shortly after the uprising to consider “another way of fighting” the system of neoliberal economics and bad government that had humanity in its grip, with Indigenous peoples of the world being squeezed the hardest. That is, they began to explore a resistance to this death grip that did not rely on weapons and violence and in which only guerrillas played a role. The leaders of the movement began to speak with the "companeros*" of the Indigenous communities that comprise it about alternatives to fighting the war against them.

The alternative, they discovered, was to include all the rebel Indigenous who struggle — the women, the children, the older people — all together building the just and rational world being fought for “from below” while continuing to face the threat of extermination by the state and capital. As such, the Zapatistas decided they would stop using their weapons against their aggressors and develop a system of self-government, completely autonomous from the state and capital.

Zapatista schools which arose in 1996 in the state of Chiapas in Mexico as a pillar of Zapatista autonomy and also as a result of the indigenous communities' dissatisfaction with the government's bilingual education program. The objectives of the schools were the protection of indigenous culture, values, languages and rights, the promotion of sexual equality, the gearing of education towards the rural context and the strengthening of communities' independence of external organisations. Despite the political, financial and didactic obstacles they face, the schools succeeded in making progress in fulfilling their objectives and building an alternative to the neoliberal development model.

In November 2001, Nature published a letter in which University of California Berkeley's biologists claimed to have found evidence of genetically modified (GM) DNA in regional varieties of maize in Oaxaca, even though the Mexican government had banned transgenic corn agriculture in 1998. While urban protesters marched against the genetic 'contamination' of Mexican corn by US-based agricultural biotech firms, rural indigenous communities needed a framework for understanding concepts such as GM before they could take action. The Zapatistas, mobilized a program to address this novel entity. Their anti-GM project entailed educating local farmers about genetics, importing genetic testing kits, seed-banking landrace corn and sending seeds to 'solidarity growers' around the world. Through its circulation, Zapatista corn serves to perform a biocultural engagement with Zapatista's political project of resistance to neoliberalism.

On 01 Jnauary 2006 Mexico's Zapatista rebels emerged from their jungle hideout to begin a six-month nationwide tour in a bid to influence this year's presidential elections. Rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos led the Zapatistas into the city of San Cristobal de las Casas on Sunday riding a motorcycle to the cheers of thousands of supporters. The rebels planned to visit every Mexican state to build support for the country's indigenous people and the poor ahead of the July 2006 vote. The ski mask-wearing rebel leader - who wanted to be called "Delegate Zero" - said the rebels would avoid big rallies and concentrate on building ties with ordinary workers. The tour began on the 12th anniversary of the Zapatista's bloody uprising demanding greater rights for Indians, and autonomy for the Chiapas region.

As Subcomandante Moisés reported, in the 23 years since the uprising, in the following years of building autonomy under “an offensive cease-fire” instead of “exchanging gunshots,” children are going to school and asking questions. All decisions are made collectively under the sign of “everything for everyone and nothing for ourselves,” and the will of the collectives is carried out by the Zapatista government, where “the people give the orders and the government obeys,” not the other way around. Hospital care is provided to communities throughout the Lacandon jungle, to Zapatista and non-Zapatista alike. “And,” Subcomandante Moisés observes, since then “we do not have so many shot dead, wounded, tortured, or disappeared.” Now, the Zapatistas want “science for life” — a science that flourishes against the sword, the bullet, and the "good vibes" of the bourgeoisie.

On 01 January 2017 the Zapatistas marked 23 years Sunday of their iconic uprising against the Mexican state that inspired social movements around the globe as a leading example of autonomous organizing and Indigenous resistance. The Zapatista National Liberation Army, known as the EZLN, commemorated the anniversary with a private ceremony in Oventic, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The event was closed to the press and people outside the Zapatista community. The celebration also marked the 20th anniversary National Indigenous Congress, an initiative the Zapatistas first launched as a rallying cry in the early years after the movement emerged to bring together Indigenous peoples from Mexico and other countries to advance their struggles through solidarity.

The EZLN also indicated that the movement will announce its presidential candidate for the 2018 elections — which it has already indicated will be an Indigenous woman — in May 2017 after a process of community consultation. According to representatives, the consultation process was extended beyond the original timeline due to security concerns in some communities, La Jornada newspaper reported.




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