SSP Campsie's Kevin Hattie on the Zapatista Movement.
Latin America throughout history has been involved in a battle for its soul. The Spanish invaders were the first to try and claim the continent for its own gains but by no means the last. Today the enemy does not arrive over the horizon in a fleet of war ships, but it flows southwards in the air from Washington.
Mexico is perhaps one of the best known and most visited countries in Latin America. It is famous for its culture, hats, alcoholic beverages and its incredibly hot food. Unfortunately these days the war on the drug cartels and the US’ fight against immigration tarnishes the image of a country that encapsulates the hospitable and easy going nature of many of Latin America’s people. Without doubt however, contrary to the news reports, the biggest problem in the region is not people heading North of the US/Mexico border, it is the Neo Liberal Capitalism that is heading South.
An example of neo-liberal policy is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Apart from opening the Mexican market to cheap mass-produced US agricultural products, NAFTA spells an end to Mexican crop subsidies without a corresponding end to US ones, and drastically reduced the income and living standards of many southern Mexican farmers who cannot compete with the subsidized, artificially fertilized, mechanically harvested and genetically modified imports from the United States. The signing of NAFTA also resulted in the removal of Article 27 Section VII in the Mexican Constitution which previously had guaranteed land reparations to indigenous groups throughout Mexico. One group who are opposed to this ideology and openly stand against it are the Zapatista Army of National Liberation(EZLN).
The Zapatista’s as they are commonly known have an aspiration to do politics in a new participatory way, from the bottom up instead of from the top down. They have been described as Libertarian Marxist and wish to see not only power but wealth spread more equally in their society. Mexico’s political system has been criticised as being flawed as it has a purely representative nature and is disconnected from the people and their needs. It is a country that is deeply divided through wealth and the gap is only getting bigger under the current regime.
The EZLN have primarily used non violent action as a way of demonstrating their cause. Their social base is mostly rural indigenous people but they have some supporters in urban areas and internationally. Their main spokesperson is Subcomandante Marcos. Unlike other Zapatista spokespeople, Marcos is not an indigenous Maya. The group takes its name from Emiliano Zapata, the agrarian reformer and commander of the Liberation Army of the South during the Mexican Revolution.
Along with many demonstrations in Mexico’s southern states ranging from farmers to teacher protests the EZLN came up with the ‘Zapatista Idea’. The Zapatista idea is the use of tactical media to draw public attention to a political cause. Used as a form of political activism, the Zapatista idea is the notion that “the important thing is the spectacle that you make out of an event in the media, as opposed to the event itself”. The concept derives from the Zapatistas’ ability through new media to communicate and generate universal solidarity in Mexico and worldwide. An example of the use of new media technology is through the Chiapas Media Project
The “communications revolution has generally shifted the ‘balance of power’ from the media to the audience”. This has allowed the Zapatista idea to flourish, opening up new channels and providing a powerful forum for political participation by citizens on a scale like never before. “Digital, networked media allow for faster, diverse, two-way communications between users who have both more control and more choice” as they become simultaneously users, producers and agents of social change.
The hope of many of Mexico’s poor and indeed normal working class people lies with the Zapatista movement. In a country where the poor have had no voice for so long, there is suddenly hope. A hope that they will be recognised as human beings along with the corporate elite in Mexico City. A hope that the rural and indigenous population will be given the opportunity to live in comfort and security. For all across the continent there has been a battle for the very soul of the people. A battle which will determine the future of great cultures like the Mayan one, a battle which will either bring justice to the impoverished or more misery for the forgotten people. It is fitting that Mexico, the country of the Zapatista movement, shares a border with America, because it very well could be the battlefront in a war of ideas. YA BASTA! (Enough is Enough)
We don’t want to impose our solutions by force, we want to create a democratic space. We don’t see armed struggle in the classic sense of previous guerrilla wars, that is as the only way and the only all-powerful truth around which everything is organized. In a war, the decisive thing is not the military confrontation but the politics at stake in the confrontation. We didn’t go to war to kill or be killed. We went to war in order to be heard.
- Sub Comandante Marcos