After the Ross Perot-led anti-NAFTA debacle in Congress subsided, it looked as though the Trilateral forces of global finance (riding high on the post-Cold War buy-up of Eastern Europe) were smugly on their way to consolidating their grip on yet another chunk of the world’s real estate. In this case, Mexico was to be corralled into our big new “free trade zone” and the whole debate in Congress revolved around whether we Americans wanted them in or not. Yet on January 1, 1994—symbolically the day that NAFTA was to go into effect—the corrupt edifice of the Mexican government (which has been controlled for most of this century by the aptly Orwellian-titled Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI) was thrown off its foundations by the coordinated actions of a then-obscure guerrilla army operating in the remote jungle state of Chiapas near the border of Guatemala.
The Zapatista occupation of four Chiapas towns and the sympathetic shock waves which it generated throughout Mexican society have ushered in a whole new post-Marxist revolutionary era. By rejecting NAFTA and the Mexican government’s heavily financed claims to democracy and embracing Mexico’s revolutionary history (naming themselves after and basing their ideas on Emiliano Zapata), the Zapatistas (or EZLN) were able to call into question the entire world’s headlong march into corporate enslavement. What emerges from the collection of manifestoes, communiqués and interviews newly translated from Spanish that make up this book is that the Zapatistas are a very remarkable guerrilla movement, vastly different from our Oliver Stone-generated Salvador conceptions of a Central American revolution.
The EZLN are in fact of a coalition of indigenous Chiapas Indian tribes for whom Spanish is often a rarely used second language. Where the American media has painted Subcomandante Marcos as the swashbuckling mestizo leader of a humble band of ignorant but obedient indios, his writings and interviews, which make up the bulk of ¡Zapatistas!, suggest instead more of a witty and even poetic press liaison. Rather than waging Maoist revolution from a Pol Pot-style intellectual cabal, the Zapatistas see their actions as part of an overall matrix of economics, politics, and culture which will not be won “by the barrel of a gun” alone. As their mysterious ski-masked spokesman Subcomandante Marcos puts it, “we are not Fidel Schwarzennegger.”
The Zapatistas seem to be alert to the realities of the post-Cold War era as well as the grievous mistakes of Marxist guerrillas of the past. Nor are they falling for the bait of Liberation Theology and domination by the “radical wing” of the Catholic Church despite the brutal poverty and enforced lack of education which they have been stoically enduring. The EZLN seems to be run according to an organically autonomous type of collective system which has allowed these Indians to survive the 500 years since the arrival of the conquistadors with their language and culture intact. ¡Zapatistas! closes with the “Second Declaration From the Lacondona Jungle” of June 10, 1994, in which the EZLN rejects the Federal Government’s peace offer after consulting with their constituent villages, leaving one to believe that more history may well be written in this formerly forgotten corner of Mexico.
Paperback: 350 pages