Thursday, 9 May 2013

"We went to war in order to be heard..."

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

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Social media is playing an enormous role in the more recent development of Mexican culture and political reform. You only have to look to local news (google news, Mexico) to see examples of 'surprise outcome' articles where people have been taken to task for wrong doings. The "well-heeled" especially find themselves on the receiving end of the social media age as they can no longer remain anonymous as they bribe, cajole and coerce the local cops to let them away with, literally, murder [recently a drunk Porsche driver threatened to have officers sacked, her victim later died and said lady remains in custody, another lady (Lady Profeco) failed to get the table she wanted at a busy restaurant, called upon her Fathers lackies and had the restaurant closed down, her father, a ranking official, and his lackies were fired and the restaurant re-opened].

The Zapatistas are obviously not a freedom fighting organisation in the true sense these days, but to live in Mexico is to garner a feeling from the people that the ideals of Zapata and his followers are often looked upon with some measure of love. Whilst more ceremonial in existence, they have a cause which can be easily transferred to many facets of life in Mexico. These people are not afraid to fight, they have experienced first Independence, then Revolution in 2/3 of the time the UK has been in existence.

If you could sit down with an average Mexican [as I have done] and explain the Scottish predicament, they would find it genuinely bizarre. A strange sentiment when considering the Scots history as a fighting race, something we have in common with Mexicans.

Kevin Hattie said...

You are right, we are Scots who have a history of standing up to invading forces particularly from South of the border. But here in Scotland as I am sure is the case in Mexico aswell, we have to protect the people who weren't born here but have had to flee terrible conditions in other parts of the world. Not only do I believe Scotland has a larger desire for social change and justice than the UK as a whole, but I also believe we have much more compassion.

Unlike Mexico the corruption here is on a much smaller scale. We don't have large cartels who have police forces in their back pockets but we do have lawful crimes if you will, against the vulnerable sections of our society. Just recently an elderly woman commited suicide for what was believed to be pressures from the bedroom tax getting too much.

As a dreamy follower of Latin America's revolutionary history and it's battle to keep its identity from being snatched and bent over to imperialism, I believe that the best examples to follow in terms of people and their actions come from the region where you currently reside. In todays world the rich certainly have gathered a lot of power and they will always try to preserve it, but there will always be a revolution waiting in the shadows for them, and when the time comes, they are going to feel it.

Kevin Hattie said...

I agree Scotland has a history of fighting invading forces, and our people much like the Irish are famous for our rebel-like spirit. Here in Scotland I also believe that we hold a belief in real social change and justice greater than that of the rest of the UK. We also have more compassion particularly in the case of Asylum seekers, who have fled persecution and war in their respective home countries.

I have been a dreamy follower of Latin American history, and have been inspired by revolutions and great historical figures of the region aswell as first hand interaction with the people of Ecuador. I believe the region shines a light for the rest of the world in terms of holding your own in the face of adversity and oppression. Hopefully each and every country in not the region will be free of the imperialist powers of the North and will be able to get around to writing the next chapter in the history of the region in stark contrast to the bloody and oppressive past.

Here in Scotland we don't have nearly as much corruption in our politics as in Mexico, but we do have lawful crimes being commited against the most vulnerable in our society. The bedroom tax for example has proved too much already for an elderly lady who felt the pressure was too much and committed suicide just last week. The rich in the world today hold a great deal of power and they will use any means to preserve their status. But where there is such injustice there will always be revolution waiting in the shadows. And when it comes to light, the oppressive powers that be are going to really feel it.

History to this point hasn't given us the kind of social justice or revolution we feel is needed to really change the world, but from the concrete streets of Glasgow to the moist hills of Chiapas, our day will come.