More about the Zapatistas (Part 1)

Published: January 12th 2006
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Admittably I've plopped this in my current location bit although much of this relates to Chiapas, Mexico. A book I'm reading at the moment has captured my political, philosphical and moral imagination and I feel I need to write about it here.

The Zaptistatas are named after Emiliana Zapata, a prominient figure in the 1910 revolution in bringing rights to indigenous people after hundreds of years of abuse. This period was many a subject of a Diego Riviera Mural (see Mexico City bit). He suceeded in creating some land reforms, which have since been recinded in order to allow NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) to take place and basically allow rich companies to kick indigenous people off their land (again) and force them in to confirming with the Capatilist system (basically to live in poverty so the rich can become richer). More about this later.
Founded in 1983 the Zapatistas got thier fame stamped in the conciousness of the masses with an armed uprising in Chipas on the 1st January 1994 (to coincide with NAFTA coming into effect). Only 12 days of fighting followed from the Zapatistas but the army keeps killing and abusing citizens in Chiapas despite the Zapatistas peaceful approach. Most famously in Actuel (I forget the name exactly) when the paramilitaries over an 8 hour period slaughtered 42 people mostly Women and children praying, all unarmed, while the army stood near by, and did nothing.

1994 was seen as the point of '¡Ya Basta!' (That's enough or enough is enough) with the NAFTA agreement, the reversal of part of the constitution and 500 years of discrimination and abuse taking its toll. A 70yr PRI virutal dictatorship, filled with corruption and dodgy elections had distanced Chiapas and it's people from the rest of Mexico (Chiapas used to be part of Guatemala and it's Mayan people, and is culturally more linked to here).
Ruthless right-wing Capitalism, greedy white landowners, and more historically, abusive Religous leaders have all taken their toll. Capitalism (nor communism for that matter) has no room for tradition or conservatism. If you don't fit into the system of making paper and pushing things forward obviously you must be backwards and you don't deserve to exist evidently.

The Zapatistas initially were meant to stand for the poor and repressed in general, rather than being a cultural movement, according to early documentation. Marcos and other well educated middle class members came to Chiapas trying to preach Marxism workers and land-owners etc. The people gave them bemused looks as this didn't fit into the way they saw things, the educated continued their education and become immersed into seeing the cultural aspect. Over time it become a cultural idea, still in very small numbers, with time the movement and ideas spread and Marcos become the effective leader. With this unique approach, much sympathy was felt amongst Mexico's mixed-race population.
The big difference between this and other rebels worldwide was that their demands were simple and fair and only revoluntary in the sense of wanting a fair and just democracy over a corrupt one. They didn't want to turn Mexico into a Communist state, want independence of Chiapas and they insist on negioting peacefully. They have never attacked civilians (unlike the army) while the Government has massacred civilians, insist on violence and refuse to negotiate. Under pressure from the US (aren't all countries) to protect their companies interests and with (surprise, surprise) the old black gold showing isn't ugly facing, untapped in Chiapas.
A clever media was has created huge support worldwide for the Zapatistas, which is fortunate because in terms of military strength they are doomed. Yet despite the public support the strong role of the Army in politics in successive Mexican Governments ensured little is done, and in fact the situation is probably worse now then before. They did help in great part in bringing to end the PRI rule with Vicente Fox (arguably just a populist, though a fairly elected one) looking more hopeful for the cause.

The reason for my great interest in the Zapatistas is because the represent the poor and repressed worldwide, yet they fight for there cause with dignity and patience. Marcos the stylish and creative philosphical leader has kept the public's interest strong through a constant publication of letters. Some of favourite quotes being:
(To the question "Who is Marcos?"): "Marcos is gay in San Francisco, Black in South Africa, Palestinian in Israel, Jewish in Germany, a women alone in the metro at 10pm, a landless peasant, all the minorities searching for a word, their word, which would make a majority out of us, the eternally fragmented ones" (This is abbreviated a bit). Another being: "We want to create a world where many worlds fit". Marcos has even had a Children's book published about the history of colours. Going along the lines of; the Gods designed the world black and white with only grey to keep the opposites apart. From here they discovered the colours of the rainbow one by one to remind us never to think in black and white but look at all the different colours to see how many different ways of thinking there are.
In a way it's a shame that it takes artistic flare to maintain peoples interest, in a long and complicated problem. Without it the MTV generation of today with their 5 minute attention span, which demands to be constantly engaged, would find another issue to take their fancy. Joining the many, myself included, in taking an interest and discussing it with passion but doing nothing more, finding a new war to fight with inactions and sympathy only in theory.
That's my generation, hard to please, only to take an interest in the style of an issue before losing interest and moving on, returning to living a hypocritical lifestyle as mentioned in my Garifuna bit. (Discussing with a Garifuna about how the culture was suffering whilst eating in the Mexico restaurant he was leading people to).

The author of 'Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance' expressed the idea beautifully, annoyingly I can't find the exact quote (being ironic as you will see). But it goes something along the lines of not being fooled by the way the table is laid or how the food is presented in determining how good it tastes and whether it fulfills your desires and needs.
The idea was used to discuss how ideas (or quotes) are remembered best when beautifully set out rather than ugly in presentation but deep in significance. Che Guevara could be applied to this idea, a good looking, cool guy who has great fame from one great photo...


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