Southern Mexico's Revolutionary Movements: The Government's New Plan to Crush Them

By Jake Carman

On December 16, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, Subcomandante Marcos, military leader and one spokesperson of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) delivered a speech titled "Feeling Red: The Calendar and the Geography of War." During the speech, Marcos warned his comrades of an impending invasion by the Mexican government. He said, "The signs of war on the horizon are clear," and that he would withdraw from the public eye in preparation for a government attack on Zapatista territory.

According to Naomi Klein in her article "Zapatista Code Red" in The Nation, "researchers at the Center of Political Analysis and Social and Economic Investigations have been tracking with their maps and charts. On the fifty-six permanent military bases that the Mexican state runs on indigenous land in Chiapas, there has been a marked increase in activity. Weapons and equipment are being dramatically upgraded, new battalions are moving in, including special forces - all signs of escalation." This, in combination with an increase of the government's use of paramilitaries to threaten, rape, murder, and maim Zapatistas and their supporters, explains why there is a sense of "war on the horizon."

On January 1, 1994, the small and poorly armed EZLN rose from Mexico's incredibly poor and mostly indigenous southern state of Chiapas to fight forautonomy. After a few days of unproductive conflict with the Mexican army, Marcos and his rebel comrades turned to the international media - through the Internet especially - to halt the government's attack and spread their call for "Peace, Justice, and Democracy." A cease-fire followed, although the Mexican Government continue what they call "low intensity warfare" against the Zapatistas. However, the Zapatistas have been winning the information war; a battle for the hearts and minds of their fellow Mexicans, rebels, and activists worldwide. The Zapatistas now control at least 38 autonomous municipalities in Chiapas, but their influence is certainly international.

The recent government escalation should come as no surprise; besides maintaining autonomy for 12 years, the Zapatistas launched a campaign in 2006 - "The Other Campaign" - empowering and coordinating radical democratic social movements across Mexico. Instead of supporting any of the presidential candidates in the national election, "The Other Campaign" spearheaded a grassroots organizational surge against the Mexican Government and its political parties. This coincided with the height of the popular rebellion in Oaxaca, a state directly west of Chiapas. Along with the contested presidential election results of 2006, the campaign bought valuable time for Oaxaca's movement to blossom that summer and gave the government reason to target the Zapatistas.

When the electoral confusion died down by last fall, the government used a brutal military strategy to reclaim Oaxaca City in December and crush the movement for Popular Assemblies (or at least to drive the international media out) at a time when Oaxaca's autonomy was poised to destabilize the entire Mexican governing system. Before the government invasion, the people of 13 different Mexican states had started Popular Assemblies, and everyone looked to Oaxaca to take the lead. Today, the government still represses Oaxaca's continuing movement, including using paramilitaries against a youth march on January 15. But with international attention off of Oaxaca, the government has set its sights on the Zapatistas.

According to Klein's article, the Zapatistas feel "their calls for help are being met with a deafening silence." The Zapatistas, through their dedication not only to their own liberation but also their tireless contribution to the global movements for freedom and equality, have inspired us all. They have reached beyond the borders of their autonomous rebel territory to spread the seeds of a bright future. It is time we return the favor and turn a "deafening silence" into a raging storm of action in defense of our southern comrades in struggle.