Autonomy Against All Odds: 19th Anniversary of the Zapatista Caracoles

by Magdalena Gómez

The 9th of August, 2003, in Oventic, Chiapas, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) announced the creation of the Caracoles and the Good Government Councils, replacing the Zapatista Autonomous Rebel Municipalities (MARZ), whose functions would continue. An genuine second level of mediation and conflict resolution was proposed through the Juntas to attend to complaints against the autonomous councils for human rights violations, investigate their veracity, order the autonomous councils to correct these errors and to monitor their compliance.

They thus constituted an unprecedented organization in Latin America. With this, they reaffirmed their congruence in terms of respect for the indigenous peoples against vanguardist postures. The words of the then Subcomandante Marcos, now Galeano, shared strategic reflections. I highlight two of them: the decision to place the military organization on the level of defense, and to separate this component from the functions of fully civilian government, which speak to us of the reinforcement of the position to not supplant the peoples and, ultimately, to not militarize their culture. In addition, the categorical demarcation against the fantasm of separatism (a defensive official discourse), pointed out: Autonomy is not fragmentation of the country or separatism, but the exercise of the right to govern and govern ourselves as established in Article 39 of the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States.

A decade later, at the end of 2013 and January of 2014, the EZLN made an effort to systematize and share its experience through the Zapatista school, a tremendous effort, with the aim of bringing the mirror closer and giving support to its constant call for organization inside of Mexico and abroad. By the way, the Travesía por la Vida, the European chapter, carried out in 2021, maintains continuity with the conviction of learning and sharing to strengthen the global anti-capitalist struggle.

This anniversary of the snails and the boards of good governance has nothing to do with a mere festive ephemeris. The process has been complex and its development has taken place in the problematic environment with a lack of resources, militarization, paramilitarization, counterinsurgency campaigns, harassment by criminals and drug trafficking, among other factors that define their challenge to the Mexican State to build autonomy in deeds and recreate their right to their own right. It is a terrain of contrasts.

In a significant leap, the EZLN reported on August 17, 2019 that we had broken the siege, created seven new caracoles or centers of autonomous resistance and Zapatista rebellion (Crarez) – most of them would be the headquarters of Good Government Councils (JBG) – in addition to the five it already had, the five original caracoles (Oventic, La Realidad, La Garrucha, Roberto Barrios and Morelia) and four new autonomous Zapatista rebel municipalities in Chiapas. 

And yet, both the Zapatista territories and the rest of the municipalities in Chiapas live under siege and violence marked by impunity, and the negligence or action of the three levels of government. This situation is serious and unfortunately also present in other regions of the country. An example of this is the statement issued on July 28 by the Network of Resistances and Rebellions Ajmaq, the Anticapitalist University Network (Mexico City), Women and the Sixth, Abya Yala, Resistencias Enlazando Dignidad-Movimiento y Corazón Zapatista (Red MyC Zapatista) with the endorsement of numerous people and organizations from Mexico and other countries, denouncing the aggressions against the communities of the caracol 10 Floreciendo la Semilla Rebelde, of the Good Government Council Nuevo Amanecer en Resistencia y Rebeldía por la Vida y la Humanidad of the EZLN: burning of their houses, risk of their crops causing their forced displacement.

Entrance to the community of Nuevo San Gregorio.

Who is in charge of stopping the violence and dispossession? One area of dispute against the Zapatistas is in the territories recovered since 1994, and in the groups that are beyond control or who have alliances with political sectors. Such a panorama leads us to suppose that the EZLN is not in the mood for celebrations, no matter how significant they may be, and in this case, obviously, it is. We do not know the concrete situation of the caracoles as a whole, they are the ones who decide when and how they pronounce themselves with respect to aggressions such as the one denounced against caracol 10, which is not the only one. The atmosphere of provocation is active and directed at various sectors of the social movement and indigenous peoples in Chiapas. While this situation is being experienced in Chiapas and other entities and peoples, we should not be surprised that being next August 9 also the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, on the official side, the rhetoric of the self-satisfied celebration is being deployed, wearing not only a mask, but also a blindfold.

This article was published in La Jornada on August 2nd, 2022. English interpretation by Chiapas Support Committee Oakland and re-posted by Schools for Chiapas.

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