Thanks to the Zapatistas
By Hermann Bellinghausen, originally published in Spanish in La Jornada, May 2010. This translated version appeared on The Narcosphere.
The indigenous peoples of Mexico became visible at last on New Year’s Day 1994, and forced the entire country to listen, thanks to the legendary cry of ‘enough’ from the Zapatistas, when they opened a crack in history, rose up in arms and said ‘here we are’. Never before had the country’s indigenous peoples, their demands and protests, taken centre stage in the national debate. The national civil society now knew that they had much to learn from the indigenous peoples, whether those of Mayan descent or all the others.
Thanks to the Zapatistas, new hope was reborn in the left, demoralised following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Mexico and other countries gave birth to a new generation of activists and social thinkers born out of new ideas of liberation and democracy, and new ways of expressing the old good ideas.
The Indians became confident, they stopped merely asking, they were determined to demand and to resist. The epicentre of this great explosion onto the world stage was the recovery of lands, which had been taken over by farmers and ranchers who despised the people and despised their workers, whether or not they were in bonded serfdom. Now a historic wake-up call was given to the Maya peoples of Chiapas, when, thanks to the Zapatistas, thousands of indigenous families took over the land in order to work it for themselves. It has been said that over 700 000 hectares were taken. Much of this land benefited people who were not Zapatistas; further, thanks to the movement, the rebel peoples, particularly in the Lacandon jungle, finally had somewhere where they could grow and could live well, with dignity. Mexico found that dignity is deeply rooted in its people. For once, the shameful Mexican racism crashed headlong into the mirror.
The Zapatistas have, from the beginning, called things by name. They taught us to speak with reality, Carlos Monsivais once said. Shining moments, such as Comandanta Esther addressing the Congress and the country, imprinted on the national consciousness the indelible legitimacy of the indigenous demands and the revolutionary transformation of their women.
Thanks to the Zapatistas, the old Latin American concept of the guerrilla – with its long tail of pain -gave way to something new, yet as old as civilization: a campesino (peasant) army. This was committed to life, to the people and to national liberation, with an unexpected lucidity. Meanwhile, civil society became aware of its own existence.
The Zapatistas have shown that paradoxes are a disturbing way of telling the truth: everything for everyone, nothing for us / governing by obeying / good government / a world where many worlds fit / an army which wants to stop being an army. Theirs has been a solid armed peace, unprecedented, almost miraculous, which has taken place while under siege from a low intensity war conducted by the massive occupying military force of the federal government.
Thanks to the Zapatistas, for example, now that the country burns in flames, and above all in fear, Chiapas is one of the most peaceful areas. In other words, the government’s desperate war against belligerent and well armed organized crime is not waged in Chiapas, because here there is government in the actual communities themselves. There are many things in the autonomous municipalities and their areas of influence, but not organized crime.
Thanks to the Zapatistas, there are laws in those territories, and they are respected, even though the three powers of the Union and the political parties betray their word whenever it suits them. The construction of the autonomy of the people has resulted in significant changes in education, health, political participation and collective organization. These achievements would not have been possible without the dedication of the troops of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
Thanks to the Zapatistas, writers, thinkers, leaders and artists in America and Europe have strengthened the intellectual basis of their political and ethical positions. Their criticism, which led to resistance against the new stage of capitalism and imperialism, that of neoliberalism in the era of globalization, found in the Zapatistas its final impetus. Their ideas for action were developed and elaborated in the writings of Subcomandante Marcos, and in the more reflective interviews done after 1994 by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of researchers, journalists and writers around the world.
The great demonstrations against globalisation that took place ten years ago took advantage not only of the message, but also of the experience, through what are now called social networks. The Zapatista actions and encuentros (gatherings) inspired other actions and gatherings, and inspired organization and struggle right around the world. Thanks to the Zapatistas, super-powerful world rock bands found new subjects to sing about.
The word regained its status of truth, which political practice had beaten out of it in Mexico. And just as their voice is a weapon, a shield, a source, the Zapatistas have also taught us the meaning of silence.