Zapatista Communities Celebrate 20 Years of Self-Government
The Zapatistas are still running their own schools and hospitals, raising new generations, and carrying on a dialogue with the outside world that has enriched both sides.
There are two tests of social change movements: endurance and regeneration. After two decades, Mexico\’s Zapatista movement can now say it passed both.
Thousands of Zapatistas turned out this month to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). At the New Year festivities in the five caracoles, or regional centers of Zapatista autonomous government, veterans and adolescents not yet born at the time of the insurrection danced, flirted, shot off rockets, and celebrated \”autonomy\”—the ideal of self-government that lies at the heart of the Zapatista experience.
The Zapatistas came out by the thousands for their anniversary parties, surprising some. Their movement\’s death, it turns out, had been greatly exaggerated. Accustomed to having a white man talking be the face of politics, the press and the political class began writing obituaries for the movement when Subcomandante Marcos retired from public view in 2006.
Although Zapatista communities have continued to emit a steady stream of communiqués denouncing military and political attacks, land grabs, and the presence of paramilitary forces in Zapatista communities, the media has ignored them. It smugly predicted that the movement was moribund and would soon merit nothing more than a folkloric footnote in the history of the inexorable advance of global capitalism. The return of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to power in 2012 seemed to reaffirm the idea that Mexico was \”back to normal.\”
When nearly 50,000 Zapatistas marched in silence on December 21, 2012, they challenged the official line that their movement had all but died. The EZLN communiqué was brief and to the point: \”Did you hear that? It is the sound of your world crumbling. It is the sound of ours resurging .\”
The 20th anniversary and New Year celebrations this month marked a second moment in that resurgence. The festivities were a family affair. Press was banned, and although a series of articles by Subcomandante Marcos came out before the events, the organization put out no public documents on January 1, the day of the anniversary itself. It was a time for Zapatistas to pat themselves on the back, an internal affirmation more than a political statement.
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