Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Zapatista! Mexican Army Attacks Civilians (Intro)

Good timing, terrible event. I happened to be just at the point of wanting to write about the Zapatista so I was catching up on latest news - one of my blogger feeds, Zapagringo reported on an October 8th Mexican Army attack, the story originates at the Narcosphere. I'll summarize the story, but let me provide some background link introductions first.

I became interested in the revolt in Mexico because it has a long history of spontaneous uprisings by the oppressed indigenous Mayan population going back to the 16th century. Another revolution, lead by Zapata in the 1910-20 period was most famous, and in his name the Zapatista movement has become known as the first "post-modern revolution". All the prior uprisings essentially "failed" because they could not sustain with meager arms in the face of always more powerful elitist government. In short, it was the usual story of spontaneous revolution by oppressed peoples, despite their effective economic and social self-organization, inspired by the egalitarian maxim (on all these counts by definition anarchistic) being crushed by the existing coordinates of power. But the history of Mexico shows us once again that always an instinct for mutual aid in opposition to elitist power persists.

I am working to organize and share information on the Zapatista in various ways. My Delicious social bookmarking site is where I collect links. You can find a number of articles (I have provided the link using the "Zapatista" tag). The site that provides the perspective of the movement from the viewpoint of anarchism is What Every Anarchist Should Know About the Zapatista. There you will see they point out something that is historically quite new about the Zapatista movement:

"The EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army)... seized several towns in Chiapas on New Years day in 1994. This image of a new armed rebel movement in the period when such movements were meant to have recognized their own redundancy was startling and demonstrated that history was not yet over. Since then most of the continued support the Zapatistas have received is strongly based on the idea that the Zapatistas are different. Different not just from the neoliberal world order they oppose but, more fundamentally, different from the armed revolutionary groups that exist and have existed elsewhere in the world. Those involved internationally in Zapatista solidarity.. hope there is something in the Zapatista method that they can take home to their own city or region. Hence the popularity of the call from the EZLN to ‘be a Zapatista wherever you are’. So although the Zapatistas remain isolated in the jungles and mountains of south eastern Mexico their ideas have influenced many activists across the globe..."

Though the aspect of the Zapatista movement in its global scope is the core topic of this post, it is important to remember it is in its essence a revolution of the indigenous Mayan population of the Chapias region of Mexico. Its leader emerged in the person of the man known as Subcomandante Marcos, who is not a Mayan, and perhaps it was the nature of his strategic leadership that fostered global solidarity with the movement. Here is an informative introduction from none else but the New York Times in 2006 - The Zapatista's Return: A Masked Marxist on the Stump. Next, I bring to your attention the widget on the sidebar "Stefandav TV". There, using the "On Demand" feature you can find the folder on the Zapatista with a three part video of Subcommandante Marcos telling the story in his own words. Guidance on using the widget is available at my post about Stefandav TV.

More on the background. Please see the exemplary Documents of the New Mexican Revolution. As they say:

"We put this book together because we believe that the Zapatistas should be heard in their own words. In their hurry to analyze the Zapatistas many have ignored the analyses that the Zapatistas themselves have developed through years of struggle. As far as we know, this book is the largest collection of their communique's, letters, and interviews in any language anywhere in the world. We think that people wishing to understand the Zapatistas should listen to them."

I really ought to read it all. Another first hand account is the book "Fire and the Word" by Gloria Munoz Ramirez. There is an excellent review of the book that highlights its content in some detail at one of my blog resources Mostly Water. Some key information from this review:

"The Zapatistas have always maintained that National Liberation Forces (FLN in its Spanish initials) members came to the Lacandon Jungle to teach the indigenous people to organize themselves, but that the indigenous people taught the FLN how to organize... how the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN in its Spanish initials) transformed itself from a small guerrilla army that only accepted “qualified” insurgents into a broad-based grassroots indigenous movement that could no longer organize clandestinely due to its immense size... [they] ... 'didn’t think there would be people to help us'... But there were people to help the EZLN, and they mobilized to demand a ceasefire, forcing the Zapatistas to forge a new path of resistance, one that doesn’t rely solely on weapons... the most important lesson the Zapatistas have to offer activists struggling against neoliberalism: how to build a movement against the government that makes demands of the government without being co-opted by the government... 'We do not accept a shameful dialogue with the legislature, off in a corner with a small group of legislators….' they refuse to allow the NGOification of their movement, something that plagues the US left. The Zapatistas will never play the government’s games designed to trick them into thinking that they’re gaining ground when really they’re just treading water while their demands barely (or rarely) stay afloat... the Zapatista’s Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle expresses the inspiration, hope, and solidarity Zapatistas feel when activists defend themselves where they live and work. In the Sixth Declaration, Zapatistas give shout outs to activists all over the world... 'You are not alone. Your great movements against the neoliberal wars bring us joy. We are attentively watching your forms of organization and your methods of struggle so that we can perhaps learn something.'"

The review also provides commentary on one of the other well recognized books on the Zapatista, "The War Against Oblivion" by John Ross . Noted is that his book, unlike that of Rameriz, was not accountable to the EZLN prior to it publication. It therefore includes information the EZLN itself did not want revealed. The review judges the Ross book as better detailed, especially since it is indexed.

That's a good beginning on resources for the background. Returning now to the Zapatista movement in its international dimension, one of the best articles I have found is The Global Zapatista Movement, found at one of my resource sites Americas Program. What seems so important to me, in fact what I am doing now, is the new role of net-activism in the global struggle. As the author of the article, Luis Hernandez Navarro says:

"The Internet became key in the international spread of the movement. Communiqu├ęs and articles began to circulate all over the world with tremendous speed. While the Internet eliminated physical distance, dozens of volunteer translators... helped hoist the Zapatista message over language barriers. The average person didn’t need the New York Times to know what was happening in Chiapas, or to publicize it to the world... Computer networks also enabled supporters to cut through government information censors and mainstream media filters."

The article is very detailed in references to organizations and individuals involved, political events, and influences of the Zapatista movement on several other revolts in the world, the contributions of many writers and artists from many countries, and the connections of the Zapatista movement to emerging voices of humanity against neoliberalism: pressure on the Mexican government by the governments of Denmark, Italy, France and Spain, the demonstrations in Prague and Seattle against the World Bank and the IMF, and the inspiration of several important Global Justice movements. An excellent detailed article as I say, concluding:

"Two factors are key to understanding the success of the Zapatistas’ call to action: the renovation of politics and language... 'Zapatista has meant hope. For us it’s a movement. It came out when Internet came out. To be Zapatista was to be modern—if you were a Zapatista with Internet you were doubly modern. But also it was a new way to do politics. People stopped being leftists because it seemed like the same old thing. They went out to vote for the left to confront the right, but once in government they discovered that it was the same politics. Zapatisma was a new form of expression, of giving people the floor.'”

Bringing things more up to date, Naomi Klein published an article around the beginning of the year,Zapatista Code Red (Lookout), which brings us back to the ground in Chapias. She had interviewed..

"Ernesto Ledesma Arronte... referring to a speech Marcos made the night before... titled 'Feeling Red: The Calendar and the Geography of War.' Because it was Marcos, it was poetic and slightly elliptical. But to Arronte's ears, it was a code-red alert. 'Those of us who have made war know how to recognize the paths by which it is prepared and brought near,' Marcos said. 'The signs of war on the horizon are clear. War, like fear, also has a smell. And now we are starting to breathe its fetid odor in our lands.'... Arronte and his fellow researchers at the Center of Political Analysis and Social and Economic Investigations have been tracking with their maps and charts... the fifty-six permanent military bases that the Mexican state runs on indigenous land in Chiapas, there has been a marked increase in activity. Weapons and equipment are being dramatically upgraded, new battalions are moving in, including special forces--all signs of escalation... 'Now,' says Arronte, 'they have their method.' The method is to use the deep desire for land among all peasants in Chiapas against the Zapatistas... the government... expropriating land and giving it to many families linked to the notoriously corrupt Institutional Revolutionary Party. Often, the land is already occupied by Zapatista families. Most ominously, many of the new "owners" are linked to thuggish paramilitary groups, which are trying to force the Zapatistas from the newly titled land. Since September there has been a marked escalation of violence: shots fired into the air, brutal beatings, Zapatista families reporting being threatened with death, rape and dismemberment. Soon the soldiers in their barracks may well have the excuse they need to descend: restoring "peace" among feuding indigenous groups."

I will introduce and further discuss the article we are talking about in the next post.

Blog Guide: A discussion of blog features and primary topic content may be found at the initial entry. The first few entries give a good idea of how best to use the blog, especially for the tagging and social bookmarking at my external Delicious site, and for instructions regarding the Stefandav TV widget.

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