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The Zapatista Horizon

by Luis Hernández Navarro
Mexico City, Mexico

Translated from Spanish by irlandesa

“Now you can see the horizon,” says the first stanza of the Zapatista hymn. This horizon is not a distant or unattainable destination. It is not an abstract idea. The communities in rebellion of the Mexican Southeast have, at least in part, turned it into a real fact.

This Monday, November 17, it will be 25 years since the founding of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). Two and a half decades of an experience which has transformed politics and Mexican society and which has inspired in numerous ways the altermundista archipelago which is fighting for another world in a multitude of countries.

Zapatismo has built one of the most profound and revitalizing self-management experiences of the many that have been developed in Latin America: the Commune of the Lacandona. Despite the military siege and economic offensive against it, the communities in rebellion have made stable forms of self-government for themselves, they live according to their rules and they have taken charge of their own development.

Far from declining with time, the passing of the years has consolidated and deepened their laboratory of an alternative future and of another politics. Here autonomy is not only a proposal or a political demand, but a practical action, a systematized experience. It is thinking with one’s feet on the ground.

This feat of rebellious resistance is reference and incentive for millions of indigenous throughout the country. It is a demonstration that de facto autonomy is possible. It is the evidence that there are those who do not surrender or sell out.

For 15 years, four federal and six state administrations have allocated many millions of dollars in resources in order to contain and do away with Zapatismo. They have not been able to do so. Despite the fact that they have spent thousands of millions of pesos in public works, economic projects, food distribution, and cash in order to buy hearts and minds, they have not been able to extinguish the flame of indigenous dignity. The insurgents have not accepted one single peso from the governments.

The government money has been under the leadership of the club. The police-military harassment against the uprising has not stopped. The Mexican Army keeps thousands of men quartered in the rebel area. Nonetheless, neither that presence, nor that of the different police forces, have managed to dismantle the resistance.

Among the consequences which the Zapatista uprising has had for the social movement is that of having built a vision of what it is possible to achieve in the struggle, a much broader one than existed prior to 1994. The margin of state action is less, and the concessions they have to make to the organizations, greater. Although they do not always know or take advantage of it, today the independent movements have a much wider space for their development.

Since 1994, when the National Democratic Convention was established, the Zapatistas have convened various initiatives in order to organize and to provide a channel for the national discontent. In the majority of cases, they have suggested that others lead them. Until the Other Campaign, none of them succeeded: they failed in the midst of internal disputes for power by the different personalities and currents of the left. The Other Campaign is still waiting for its great acid test. Still pending is the diffusion of a national program of struggle and the demonstration of where the networks of solidarity and action are going to come from which will build the path.

The Zapatistas still have great support in the Indian world, among young people, poor campesinos and urban residents. But the support they enjoyed among important sectors of the intellectual world has vanished. The solidarity they once had from a wide swath of the partisan left has turned into marked hostility. Many of the NGO’s which were once close to their cause have moved away.

The uprising of 1994 revived and encouraged the creation of important protest and opposition social movements. For years the EZLN was a catalyst for very different social protests outside its area of direct influence. Today that role seems to have come to its end. The Zapatistas seem to have favored the building of their own forces. Notable political and social movements outside its orbit of ascendance have not merited explicit expressions of solidarity on its part.

The Zapatistas have very clearly drawn a line of division between its friends and those who are not, including very important figures of the left. An important part of their former allies of the past have ceased to be so for various reasons. The behavior of the legislators of the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) in the approval of the indigenous law, the countless repressive practices by the PRD government of Chiapas and the presence of notorious caciques in its ranks have closed the door to any collaboration with the political class which claims to be progressive. Although they denounced the fraud of which they were the object, the Zapatistas very clearly distanced themselves from the electoral campaign of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and they did not take a public position on the movement in defense of oil.

The difficult conditions of their struggle and the military discipline with which they act has, at times, led them to severely judge many of their friends and allies. The enormous complexity of the social struggle in the country has not always been reflected in its political decisions.

As has repeatedly happened since 1994, there are those who now maintain that the rebels no longer have an impact in the country. Experience proves that those who say that are wrong. The rebels have, time and again, successfully returned to the centre of national politics. If some of their political definitions might have been wrong, they have enormous political capital which lends them credibility and the ability to convene.

Zapatismo represents a formidable rupture with the old ways of doing politics which, despite the passing of the years, retains its freshness. Twenty-five years since the founding of the EZLN, its horizon is here, and it will continue to make itself felt.

Luis Hernández Navarro is the Opinion page editor and a columnist for La Jornada. This article originally published (in Spanish) in La Jornada.

Published in In Motion Magazine December 1, 2008

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