A slightly shorter version of this appeared on the Jan 6, 2014 Old Mole Variety Hour.
The well-read red considers Zapatista resistance to neoliberalism.
This month marks "the 20th anniversary of the Zapatista uprising in . . . Mexico, a short moment with a long legacy of struggle for indigenous rights. The Zapatistas–also known as the Zapatista Army of National Liberation or the EZLN–are a movement of indigenous people fighting against the effects of neoliberalism, particularly the privatization of land and other natural resources."
Named for Emiliano Zapata, a peasant leader of Mexico's 1910 revolution, the Zapatistas [took] control of several cities in Chiapas, one of Mexico's poorest states with one of its biggest indigenous populations.
The provisions of NAFTA would force Mexican farmers to compete with a wave of cheap US imports, while under the terms of the agreement the Mexican government had revoked their constitutional right to communal land.
Globally, the increasing economic stagnation since the 1970s has prompted capital to respond with financialization, outsourcing and offshoring, and increasing pressure on workers and their organizations. Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster, writing in the current issue of Monthly Review, note that the various bilateral and multilateral trade agreements currently in effect or in development—from NAFTA to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP—
A report from Public Citizen on NAFTA at 20 points out that NAFTA differed from previous
The report summarizes its effects as "One Million U.S. Jobs Lost, Mass Displacement and Instability in Mexico, Record Income Inequality, Scores of Corporate Attacks on Environmental and Health Laws":
The desperate migration of those displaced from Mexico’s rural economy pushed down wages in Mexico’s border maquiladora factory zone and contributed to a doubling of Mexican immigration to the United States following NAFTA’s implementation.
Though the price paid to Mexican farmers for corn plummeted after NAFTA, the deregulated retail price of tortillas–Mexico’s staple food–shot up 279 percent in the pact’s first 10 years.
Real wages in Mexico have fallen significantly below pre-NAFTA levels as price increases for basic consumer goods have exceeded wage increases.
Facing displacement, rising prices and stagnant wages, over half of the Mexican population, and over 60 percent of the rural population, still fall below the poverty line.
Although the uprising in Chiapas began in response to the dangers posed by this neoliberal governance, some activists have criticized the Zapatistas for later withdrawing from direct confrontations with the state political power; conflicts within the Mexican left arguably weakened resistance to neoliberal advances there, such as the recent privatization of Pemex, the state oil company.
Still, most credit the Zapatista movement with important influence and accomplishments. In addition to achieving the continued self-governance of reclaimed regions of Chiapas through forms of direct democracy, they have, as
Duncan Tucker writes for Al Jazeera, "also influenced numerous international protest movements," including Occupy Wall Street, Spain's Indignados, and Greece's Direct Democracy Now. "At a time of widespread economic crisis and disillusionment with representative democracy, their rejection of capitalism and conventional party politics lies at the heart of their continued global appeal."
Importantly, as Juliana notes on Feministing,
Here are a few things we can learn from this inspiring movement.
1. There is another world.
The Zapatistas took a look at the society they lived in, decided it wasn’t working for them, and started a new way of living. They currently maintain various autonomous communities, under their own systems of governance and their own independent schools. According to Gustavo Esteva at Upside Down World,
2. You don’t have to be powerful, privileged or popular to change the world. In fact, real change often happens from the bottom up.
The Zapatista movement sprang from some of the world’s most marginalized people: indigenous people living in Mexico’s poorest state. These people had extremely limited access to formal education, health services and land ownership, yet their actions had a lasting impact on our world. . . .
3. We must challenge systems of oppression even within our own social justice movements.
As mentioned earlier, the EZLN is a feminist-leaning movement that has demonstrated that it is self-aware when it comes to the welfare of women. The movement has made several steps towards ensuring gender equity among its people. If you walk through Oventik, one of their autonomous communities in Chiapas, you will see many murals of women working alongside men. Of course, the EZLN is very far from perfect and gender equity is always a work in progress. Within any movement, we need to keep pushing each other forward, while acknowledging successes on the road to justice.
4. The road to justice is long
The Zapatistas originally formed in response to the creation of NAFTA. They have now been around for over 20 years, and so has NAFTA. Indigenous activists have suffered greatly for this cause. . . . But that does not mean that the struggle has not been worth it. The same is true for other movements for justice, in which we have to celebrate small victories on the road to success. But twenty years of indigenous resistance is certainly a big victory, and it must be celebrated.
Bill Weinberg points out that spokesman Subcomandante "Marcos says the Zapatistas do not seek to seize power like traditional guerillas, but instead, pursue “a revolution to make a revolution possible”—opening a space for dialogue within civil society on how to reconceive the world." "Marcos called on his army of “moles” to lay the groundwork for resistance throughout the planet."