EZLN: Its first 30 years

Magdalena Gómez

In connection with the anniversary of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), some media outlets, though not the case of La Jornada, published several interviews and somewhat apocalyptic versions of the trajectory and current state of the movement, emphasizing crises and declines and, above all, claiming that it has not followed the route that some outside parties have defined.

Photo: Pozol Colectivo

It is not surprising this sort of campaign, but it fortunately finds no echo in the many sectors of 20 countries along with the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) and numerous organizations from vast regions of the country, that, as they have done since 1994, were present in the caracol of Dolores Hidalgo (created three years ago in recuperated lands) for the celebration of the aforementioned anniversary.

On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that during the previous three months the EZLN issued a series of communiqués in which it highlighted the problems of the anti-capitalist struggle on a global and national scale and in Chiapas, which have led it to state that the struggle is for life. The Zapatistas highlighted internal situations that they have been discussing in their autonomous spaces and which have led them to define changes in their current government structure.

However, it was their last communiqué, number 20, where they outlined the proposal that was explained an elaborated on by subcomandante insurgente Moisés this past December 31, before the thousands of attendees, militia members, support bases, adherents and guests, first in the Tseltal language and later in Castilian or Spanish.

Because of its significance, I will concentrate on it, as the announcement of the last communiqué has already been solidified, with the sharing of one more of the strategic cycles that the Zapatista movement has decided, this time on the 30th anniversary of its public appearance.

It is a project critical of the Western or positivist notion of land ownership. Its axis revolves around the common, no one’s land. Property should be of the people and common, Subcomandante Moisés stated; the people have to govern themselves, and reaffirming the pacifist calling they have respected since January 12, 1994, he affirmed: “We do not need to kill the soldiers and the bad governments, but if they come we are going to defend ourselves.”

The agreement foreshadowed in the above communiqué consists of establishing extensions of the recovered land as common land to be worked collectively, even with non-Zapatista inhabitants. And he emphasized: “An important part is that, in order to achieve this, there has to be an agreement among the inhabitants, regardless of whether they are partisan or Zapatista.

Photo: Pozol Colectivo

So they have to talk to each other, not to the bad governments. Seeking permission from the bad governments has only brought divisions and even deaths between campesinos. The lands will have no owners and will be “neither private, nor ejido, nor communal, nor federal, nor state, nor corporate, nor anything else. A non-ownership of the land.”

As they say: ‘land without papers’. Then, in those lands that are going to be defined, if they ask who owns that land or who is the owner, the answer will be: ‘nobody’s’, that is to say, ‘of the commons.'” He clarified that this will be done “respecting the lands that are of personal-family property, and those that are for the work of the collectives, this non-property is created in lands recuperated in these years of war.

And it is proposed that we work together in turns, no matter what party you are, or what religion, or what color, or what size, or what gender you are. “The rules are simple: it has to be with agreement among the people of a region. No cultivation of drugs, no selling the land, no allowing the entry of any business or industry. Paramilitaries are excluded. The product of the work of these lands belongs to those who work it in the established period of time.”

There are no taxes or tithe payments. Each structure that is built is for the next group. Only the product of their work is taken. But we will talk more about all this later.”

The impact of this decision is enormous, in the first place because it is precisely around the recuperated lands that conflicts have occurred and in recent times have worsened, since, for example, the government’s Sembrando Vida program has led anti-Zapatista organizations to try to usurp land to gain access to this program, obviously resorting to violence and official complicity.

On the other hand, in support of this proposal is the conciliatory work that the Zapatista movement has practiced over the years. There is awareness of the complexity of the decision, for this reason, said Sub Moisés: “We are alone, just as we were 30 years ago, until now we have discovered this new path that we are going to follow, here we need the National Indigenous Congress and the people of Mexico to tell us that they are in agreement.” The final chant was “viva lo común” (long live the commons).

Original article published in La Jornada on January 2nd, 2024. https://www.jornada.com.mx/noticia/2024/01/02/opinion/ezln-sus-primeros-30-anos-7538
Photos by Radio Pozol.
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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