On January 1, thousands of militiamen from five different municipalities celebrated the 25th anniversary of the emergence of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), a Mexican indigenous armed revolutionary group, in La Realidad community in the Margaritas city of Chiapas, Mexico. Since last Friday, people had begun gathering to witness the arrival of sub-commander Galeano, formerly Marcos, and members of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), as well as the Indigenous Council of Government (CIG).
During the celebration, the EZLN warned that it would oppose the projects of president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), such as the National Guard and the Mayan Train.
“The permit to land that president Andrés Manuel López Obrador requested to build the Mayan Train was actually a permit to destroy the indigenous people with his megaprojects,” said sub-commander Moisés, the spokesperson of the Zapatistas. “He [AMLO] does not know or understand what he is saying; (…) it’s simple: you cannot support the exploited and the exploiter, you have to choose one of the two,” he added.
In November 2018, AMLO ordered a national referendum to decide the construction of a train that would link Mayan archaeological and tourist sites in five southeastern states. 65% of Mexico’s population voted in favor of the construction of the “Mayan Train” but the environmentalists and indigenous people fiercely protested and argued that it would promote deforestation and severely affect the biodiversity of the region.
The train will pass through Campeche, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and the Yucatán, where some of Mexico’s most important natural and archaeological treasures are located. Mexico is one of the 17 mega-diverse countries, hosting the world’s second largest number of ecosystems but its forests and mangroves are disappearing at an alarming rate. Despite such concerns, AMLO stated that the plan would move forward.
Moisés also said that AMLO “is going to destroy the people of Mexico, but mainly the indigenous people; they come for us, especially for the EZLN”. He reiterated that they are not afraid of the new federal government. “We’re going to fight. We’re going to face it. We’re not going to allow him [AMLO] to pass his destructive projects here. We are not afraid of his National Guard, that changed its name, so as not to call itself an Army,” he stated.
To control the violence linked to drug trafficking, AMLO seeks a constitutional reform to create a national force of guards with tens of thousands of soldiers. This proposal has been harshly criticized by human rights defenders as they consider that it continues and even reinforces the military anti-drug strategy launched in 2006 that AMLO himself criticized for years. He had promised in the campaign that the military would return to its barracks.
In response to EZLN’s opposition, AMLO said that “we are not going to face any group, we want peace and reconciliation, there can be differences, there are differences, but that does not mean that they will fall into a confrontation or a lawsuit”. He stressed that the government is open to dialogue and that “anyone who asks for a hearing has the right to be served”. But he denied being worried about the opposition shown by the Zapatista movement.
The EZLN emerged on January 1, 1994 when the forgotten, marginalized and poor indigenous people waged a war against the Mexican State in the city of San Cristobal de las Casas in the southern state of Chiapas, to demand freedom, democracy and justice. The same day, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into force, linking Mexico, the United States and Canada. The main reason for the Zapatista rebellion was a series of economic reforms introduced by the government of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, particularly a land reform bill that sought to privatize communal lands. The Zapatistas argued that the land reform bill and NAFTA would add to the impoverishment of the indigenous people.
Sub-commander Marcos, the leader of the movement, urged people to join the rebellion. The uprising spread quickly in different parts of Chiapas and the EZLN expanded. Many indigenous communities supported the EZLN and pro-Zapatista municipalities declared themselves autonomous from the state and the federal government. There were a lot of confrontations between the Mexican state and the EZLN and dozens of people died.
After a ceasefire, a dialogue process was opened. Although both parties signed the San Andrés agreements in 1996, the Zapatistas interrupted the dialogue when the state refused to adopt a constitutional reform guaranteeing their autonomy.
The EZLN began as a social movement that advanced extensively between 2011 and 2018. Today, the Zapatistas have their own government. But despite this, their struggle to be recognized as subjects with public rights by the Mexican government continues.