Local Successes and National Failures of the EZLN Today
On January 1, 2004, over one thousand people in the mountain hamlet of Oventic, Chiapas, celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) rebellion with song and dance. It seems a fitting time to take stock of the successes and failures of the Zapatista movement in the context of its original goals. The success of the establishment of thirty eight autonomous indigenous communities in Chiapas is overshadowed by government’s refusal to permit similar autonomous regions outside Chiapas. Moreover, the Zapatistas have failed to have a tangible effect on national economic policies. In the following pages, we will explore those factors which made the isolated successes of the Zapatistas possible, and extrapolate from Linda Hamilton’s analysis of the “limits to state autonomy” (CITE) to explain the failure of the Zapatistas to implement their broader vision of social justice.
In a letter to President Zedillo in 1994, Subcomandante Marcos demanded for all Mexicans three conditions for a “dignified peace: democracy, liberty and justice.” The Zapatistas’ nationalist ideals were supplemented by practical demands to meet the needs of the impoverished and exploited indigenous peoples of Mexico. In 1993, EZLN promoted an indigenous struggle
“for work, land, housing, food, health care, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace. We declare that we will not stop fighting until the basic demands of our people have been met by forming a government of our country that is free and democratic.”
By the late nineties, the struggle for indigenous autonomy had become “the central basis of the Zapatista movement.”
Since 1994, the Zapatistas have made significant gains towards autonomy, health, and education within Chiapas. As of December, 2003, the EZLN had established 38 autonomous municipalities which “have constructed a series of schools, clinics and co-ops that fill the openings created by the rebels’ refusal to take money from the mal gobierno (bad government).” In addition, the Zapatistas have created five organizational centers (caracoles) and established Juntas of Good Government in each of them in order to “resolve conflicts and disequilibrium between the centers and the outlying autonomies.” The caracoles mark the EZLN’s first success with regional, as opposed to municipal, autonomy. These Zapatista achievements can be attributed to the local terrain of Chiapas, the legal restraints of legislation, as well as local and national scrutiny.
The Mexican government faced legal and practical restraints from launching an all-out war on the Zapatistas. After a government counter-attack in 1995, the federal congress passed a “law for dialogue.” This foreclosed the option of a unilateral show of force by the Mexican army in areas under Zapatista control. Moreover, this legislation catalyzed the signing of the San Andrés...