EZLN: Three Decades of Wisdom and Resistance – A New Stage

This piece is an invitation to build a common vision and embark on a journey to the heart of the learning and unlearning that comes from the actions of grandmothers, grandfathers, men, women, others, young men and women of the Tseltal, Tsotsil, and Tojolabal, Ch’ol and Mam Maya peoples, as well as Zoque and mestizo families of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in Chiapas, Mexico.

Between October and December 2023, the EZLN published 20 statements to publicize the latest organizational stage (http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/.) On December 30th, 31st and January 1st and 2nd, in a public event, they demonstrated that their strength and determination remain intact. During this period, they presented the new territorial structure with their Local Autonomous Governments (GAL), Collectives of Zapatista Autonomous Governments (CGAZ) and Assemblies of Collectives of Zapatista Autonomous Governments (ACGAZ) and some initiatives. They continue to promote the preparation and launch of new “arrows” as challenges to continue generating new ways of seeing and feeling the world, in order to continue building something different while going through the current storm stage and inheriting life for the next seven generations of Zapatista children, that is, at least 120 years.

We consider it essential to return to, understand, respect, analyze, build, deepen and learn from the legacies, traces, roots, paths, directions, interpellations and challenges that the EZLN has posed to the movement for life, radical democracy, freedom and social justice throughout these three decades of struggle.

We propose to reflect on the relevance of historical memory, tangible and intangible, by looking at the heart of what, in our way of understanding, represents “the recovered land.”

Furthermore, it is crucial to recognize Zapatista women, who have acquired a leading role by actively participating in decision-making and strengthening community organization. Their transformative force has made it possible to dismantle patriarchal practices and contribute to the dignity of all its peoples.

Brief Sketches of the Context of Chiapas

Chiapas, a cradle of ancient cultures, has been the scene of a comprehensive war of attrition against the indigenous peoples organized from the autonomies, specifically from 1994 to date, 2024. The main enemy and primary objective of the bad government is to dismantle the Zapatista Liberation Army National (EZLN) and strip them of the “land recovered” during the armed insurrection of 1994. In the last six years, the territorialization of various war mechanisms has been evident in this south-southeast region, renewed with the current progressive government of the Fourth Transformation (4T), which answers to the criminal capitalist system.

Chiapas has become a complex and challenging scenario, where criminal violence, militarization and megaprojects threaten the lives of the population in general, that of its native peoples and communities. This state is home to more than 120 National Guard barracks, the largest military presence in the country. In addition, paramilitary groups continue to appear, see: https://contrahegemoniaweb.com.ar/2023/06/23/que-esta-sucediendo-en-el-sureste-mexicano/ such as ORCAO in the Ocosingo jungle region. See reports of Solidarity Caravans and accompaniment: https://redajmaq.org/es/informes.

The geography of the state is surrounded by the initiatives of the devastating megaprojects of the misnamed Mayan Train and the Interoceanic Train, which are advancing in the extreme northeast and southwest, respectively. Meanwhile, in the interior, government assistance programs such as “Sowing Life” function as control and cultiricide devices, eroding the indigenous-campesino identity and the self-sustenance of indigenous peoples.

Added to this complex situation is the scenario of criminalization, murders, siege of daily life, arms sales, money laundering, forced displacements and disappearances caused by the territorial dispute between the most powerful organized crime cartels in the country: Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation. The coalition and corruption of government officials, of all parties and levels, with these criminal corporations further aggravates the war that sows a climate of terror and uncertainty [1]. Review the latest reports from the Frayba Human Rights Center: https://frayba.org.mx/sites/default/files/Informes/Informe-Frayba-2023/Informe-Frayba-2023_Chiapas-un-desastre.pdf.

Faced with this overwhelming reality, the women of the Movement for the Defense of Mother Earth and Our Territories denounced it in their statement at the V Assembly in March of this year. Young women from different regions of Chiapas identified the problem of organized crime as a direct threat to their security, territories and sense of future life. The women of the Zoque, Coast, North-Ch’ol, Jungle Tseltal and mountain Tseltal peoples narrate the harassment, abuse, forced disappearances, hoarding and contamination of water and destruction of vital natural assets. They agree that this is a prolonged war against their communities and Mother Earth, they call for community organization and the protection of their ancestral territories. https://ladekonstruccion.mx/2024/03/29/en-chiapas-mujeres-defenderan-su-tierra-y-territorio/.

While a repressive machinery is unleashed through the ‘’Guilt Factory” towards defenders of Mother Earth and the territories to keep them hostage in prisons in Mexico, as the Frayba Human Rights Center and the Network of Resistance and Rebellions Ajmaq have been denouncing: this is the case of the political prisoner EZLN support base from the Ch’ol people José Díaz Gómez and the defenders of Mother Earth Agustín Pérez, Juan Velasco, Martín Pérez, Agustín Pérez Velasco, from the Tseltal people of San Juan Cancuc, Chiapas; from San Pedro Tlalcuapan, Tlaxcala, Saúl Rosales Meléndez, defender of the Matlalcuéyetl; and David Hernández from Puente Madera, Oaxaca. As well as the constant harassment of activist Diego Bautista, defender of life and dignity in CDMX. See: https://www.redajmaq.org/es/foro-virtual-fabrica-de-culpables-defender-la-vida-no-es-delito.

In a context of civilizational and ecological collapse, in Mexico we observe a diagram and territorial configuration of criminal corporate power where the Mexican State functions as a large hacienda/corporation of savage neoliberal capitalism, at the disposal of the “Big Boss” represented in the power of the organized crime corporations. With the current government of the Fourth Transformation (4T), we are witnessing a transition from a party dictatorship (PRI) to a dictatorship of capital headed by organized crime, and with a foreman who, following the slogan “the poor first”, hides a landscape of control and domination of territories for a criminal economy.

However, in the midst of this storm, and after three decades of public existence of the EZLN, we observe how they have transformed spaces of dispossession, exploitation, contempt and slavery of pigeonholed peons into territories of life and social justice, even in the midst of war. Since their armed uprising in 1994, they have built another way of doing politics, rooted in revolutionary love and in “the recovered lands,” dignifying the fallen insurgents, keeping alive the memory of their genealogies and respecting Mother Earth.

One of its first objectives was to obtain the material bases that would provide freedom and sustenance to life from social justice.

The Land Recovered in 1994

The organizational experience over three decades invites us to see in a new way the political, ethical and spiritual relationship between land, territory and Mother Earth. It is not only about rethinking the agrarian question, with its revolution, reforms, distribution, qualifications, as well as its betrayals and non-compliance by the political class in power, nor is it only about thinking about territorial expressions of space-times, but about rethinking an approach different from the agrarian and autonomous proposals of various organized indigenous peoples.

 “Land and freedom”, and “it is better to die standing than to live on your knees” were not simple slogans taken from the revolutionary Zapatismo of 1910, but rather the vital breath to materialize a soil and sky as the fundamental basis of its existence. The “recovered land” refers to the more than 250 thousand hectares that were in the hands of large landowners and that, with the armed insurrection of the EZLN in 1994, became the seed of the territorial construction process.

The EZLN’s 30 years of struggle remind us that the revolution is not a destination, but a path that is taken while stepping on worthy ground and leaving seeds, day by day, from the humility and determination of those who refuse to live on their knees.

In this process, women acquired a numerical and substantial participation in the organization. In some cases, ancestral uses and customs were recovered, but those that perpetuate internal domination and colonialism were also discarded, especially those linked to patriarchal practices, such as the limitation of women’s political participation in decision-making.

The non-patriarchal character is also in the rescue of the deep attachment and respect for Mother Earth as the material, subjective and spiritual base that nests in the hearts of these people. This sacred bond with the land is the foundation on which Zapatista autonomies are built, understood not only as a political project, but as a way of life in resonance with nature and with the cycles of existence.

Tracing, recovering and trying to understand that, over 30 years, the “land recovered” with the armed uprising of 1994 represents much more than simple ownership, it is to preempt non-ownership. It is land for life, land for freedom, understood not as possession, but as that humus that shelters and welcomes a bond of attachment, respect and, therefore, responsibility towards Mother Earth. This humus is rooted in the genealogies and living memory of the people, guaranteeing the continuity of “what is common and in common” in the long term.

From this first seed, interwoven threads continue to sprout to flourish the stages of autonomies: the self-government, which flourishes on multiple scales, and which for thirty years gave shape to the Zapatista Rebel Autonomous Municipalities, and 20 years of the Good Government Councils, and at this moment they intend to weave a network of Local Autonomous Governments (GAL), Collectives of Autonomous Zapatista Governments (CGAZ) and Assemblies of Collectives of Autonomous Zapatista Governments (ACGAZ). A spiral of self-government that is born from collective work to walk “the common”, and that flows from the communities, to the regions and expands like a spring towards the areas of the 12 Zapatista Caracoles. Other threads develop with material self-sustenance, a comprehensive system that nourishes body, mind and spirit with the fruits that arise from not exploiting Mother Earth but from caring for and respecting her. Where education is collective learning, health is community healing and food springs from the fertile land irrigated with the dignified sweat of collective work. Other threads are in self-defense, but not a defense that generates the cult of violence and wars, but a defense of life itself, of the sacred bond with the Earth and of the revolutionary symbolism that represents being in a territory for which indigenous and non-indigenous insurgents gave their lives. We are facing other forms of non-state territorial configuration, friendly and creative in its link with Mother Earth. The design of territoriality from this other way of doing politics, which we find, is defined by the journey of hundreds of communities and thousands of families and groups that propose responses to their needs and challenges from human, ethical and ecological expressions.

The Politics of Dignity

In a world where politics has been reduced to the struggle for power and control, indigenous peoples and women remind us that doing politics is, above all, a political act of love and commitment to life in all its forms. A “politics of dignity” from some keys for a necessary reflection on the current context of civilizational collapse and comprehensive war against life (Gutierrez Luna, 2024):

  1. The importance of the organization in relation to land and territory, not as property but as a bond of attachment, respect and responsibility with Mother Earth;
  2. The struggle to recover in common the material and subjective bases necessary to build and defend collective dignity as a sensitive and/or ethical-political matter;
  3. The proposal of a policy that goes through the heart, recovering the experiences of indigenous peoples and the autonomous organizational expressions of women’s groups. A policy in a spiral movement of contraction and extension, which seeks the depth of life processes and which are channeled through love and dignity;
  4. The commitment to fertilizing “what is common” for “the common” from collective experiences, recognizing pain but walking through it from love, to build a frequency-hope rooted in the genealogies of resistance, in criticism and self-criticism and in knowing how to recognize and walk through mistakes to continue learning.

Resonances and organized proposals have been generated from the reflection of the 20 EZLN documents, such as those articulated in the “Zapatista Horizons” Forums from Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Colombia. Different organizational expressions, such as Women and the Sixth, Abya Yala Break the Siege and Movement for Water and Territories (Mujeres y la Sexta, Abya Yala Romper el Cerco y Movimiento por el Agua y los Territorios), have promoted reflections and dialogues committed to social issues. These initiatives have had the participation of personalities capable of being moved and actively engaging with the wisdom and strength of the voices and representations of the people, revealing a deep connection with the struggles for dignity and justice, beyond theoretical analyses.

Among these personalities are Márgara Millán (Mexico), Raúl Zibechi (Uruguay), Francisca Fernández (Chile), Raúl Prada (Bolivia), Vilma Almendara and Manuel Rosental (Colombia), Mayra Sepúlveda of the Mapuche people along with Mayrita of the Omaguaca People (Argentina). Organizations from Chiapas such as the Frayba Human Rights Center and the Ajmaq Network of Resistance and Rebellions also participated. The latter agreed in pointing out from the Mexican southeast that: “memory is only inherited, as long as there are seeds that continue to be sown, thrown with hope into a dignified soil that shelters them and, awaiting their possible harvest by the hands of those generations that will come.”

The current Zapatista proposal reminds us that the true ways of “doing, entering and being in revolution” do not reside in the power structures from above, but in the capacity of the people to organize and provide material bases from the common, maintain the resistance and rebellion to face the challenges of a global and criminal system that generates hunger, dispossession, contempt and violence.

For those of us who are adherents to the political project, it allows us to ask some questions: what do we need to build a political practice that is based on a deep bond of roots, respect and responsibility with Mother Earth? How can we integrate a spiritual dimension and a political dimension of dignity, recognizing our interconnection with the living memory of our genealogies, with those absent and fallen in revolutionary processes?

In a world where capitalism and consumerism have generated ecological collapse, dehumanization and have uprooted and disconnected us from our roots and Mother Earth, the Zapatista proposals emerge as a beacon of hope, their example inspires us to reconnect with the ancestral wisdom of our people, to defend life in the very long term, and in all its forms, and to weave, day by day, dignity, justice and respect for Mother Earth as the threads that unite us as humanity.

We have the ethical and political commitment to look this painful reality in the face, to name it with all its letters and to weave, from below and to the left, the resistance and rebellion necessary to face the storm. May the keys to doing politics with codes of dignity challenge us, may love sustain us, may hope as a force guide us. Continue shooting arrows, asking questions and sowing dignity, until the storm subsides and the thousand new worlds that we carry in our hearts, that is, in our actions and revolutionary consciousness, flourish.


ENLACE ZAPATISTA: http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/.


GUTIERREZ LUNA, D.I. (2019). “El neoextractivismo de la cuarta transformación en México: el molino satánico y una mirada crítica al patriarcado”. La Tinta, 16 de agosto, https://latinta.com.ar/2019/08/16/el-neoextractivismo-de-la-cuarta-transformacion-en-mexico/

GUTIERREZ LUNA, D.I. (2024). [en publicación]. “Una política enraizada con la Madre tierra y desde el corazón. Claves para una política de la dignidad”. Revista Utopía y Praxis Latinoamericana, CESA-Universidad de Zulia, Maracaibo-Venezuela.

POLANYI, K. (2009). La Gran Transformación. Juan Pablos, México.

RED DE RESISTENCIAS Y REBELDIAS AJMAQ: https://www.redajmaq.org/es

TAIBO, C. (2018). Colapso. Capitalismo terminal, transición ecosocial, ecofasismo. Ediciones Junetik. Conatus. Universidad de la tierra/CIDECI, México.

[1]  The Report by Civil Society Organizations on violence in the border region of Chiapas has been very timely: “Siege on Daily Life, Terror for Control of Territory and Serious Violations of Human Rights.” Prepared by the Monitoring Collective – Southern Border, Cross-Border Coordination Committee on Migration and Gender, Guatemala-Mexico, and the All Rights for All Network (TDT Network).

Original article by Diana Itzu Gutiérrez Luna at contrahegemoniaweb.com, June 17th, 2024.
Translated by Schools for Chiapas.

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