Traces of Zapatismo in Latin America: From the Rising to Sowing

You are in Zapatista territory. Where the people govern and the government obeys.

Three decades after the uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), on January 1st, 1994, which placed autonomy at the center of its objectives, the movement is taking a new step, now towards “the common” (non property), highlighting that they propose to cultivate recovered lands with those people and groups willing to do so without property or papers, based on community work with the only limits of not growing drugs or entering into capitalist logic. Furthermore, they point out that non-Zapatista people can participate in the initiative and offer land to solidarity groups from other countries so that they can start working on the land.

In the last batch of communications issued between October and December, they explained the changes underway. They dissolved the autonomous municipalities and the Good Government Councils, but they left the Caracoles in place. The decision was the result of years of self-criticism for poor functioning, which can be summarized in that they did it in a pyramidal way, with separation between the authorities and the support bases, which in extreme cases even led to the mismanagement of resources. In this way, they cut the pyramid or inverted it, dispersing decision-making in local autonomous groups and in regional assemblies of those groups.

They maintain that this is the path chosen to weather the systemic storm and ensure that girls and boys born within seven generations, 120 years, are free to choose their path and, furthermore, take responsibility for the decisions they make. That’s how far Zapatismo looks today, not only because of the prevailing systemic chaos, but I think also by observing the reality of a progressive government that militarized the country.

Zapatista analyses affirm that we are facing “the war of annihilation of large populations to achieve the well-being of modern society”, which can be summarized in “a Nakba for the entire planet.”

In the same tone, they emphasize that a new society will not emerge from the current contradictions and that “the catastrophe is not followed by the end of the capitalist system, but rather by a different form of its predatory character.” War continues to be the way to solve crises, which augurs more destruction.

This is not the first time that the EZLN maintains that humanity is facing a terrible situation. What is new, probably a consequence of their link with movements around the world and the Journey for Life in 2021, in which they met with some 1,000 European organizations, is that they do not find a social force capable of stopping the destruction. “It is not possible to outline or construct an alternative to collapse beyond our own survival as organized communities.” That’s how thorny they find the current reality.

The reasons for this conclusion can be found in the same statement, “The (other) rule of the excluded third”, when they assure that a balanced coexistence between human beings and nature is no longer possible. This reasoning is concluded by pointing out: “The majority of the population does not see or does not believe the catastrophe is possible. Capital has managed to instill immediatism and denialism in the basic cultural code of those below. ” Consequently, beyond some native communities, peoples who resist and a handful of groups, “it is not possible to build an alternative that goes beyond the local minimum.”


You may not agree with the analysis of Zapatismo or even reject it outright, but the coherence of their decisions and the paths they propose should not be denied. They have distanced themselves from hegemonic critical thinking, particularly the assumption that a better world, with more equality and democracy, will emerge from the crisis of capitalism. They do not opt for equality, but for difference.

Subcomandante Moisés, spokesman for the EZLN, says it in his own way: “When we say that “it is not necessary to conquer the world, it is enough to make it anew”, we distance ourselves, definitively and irremediably, from the current political conceptions and from the previous ones.”

The decision to continue resisting is accompanied by the objective of “being a good seed”, that is, inheriting life for future generations, rejecting war, even revolutionary war. The ultimate goal is to “be the seed of a future root that we will not see, which will then be, in turn, the grass that we will not see either.”

Sowing without reaping, sowing without waiting to reap the fruit, I believe is an ethical attitude of enormous coherence of those who fight for the emancipation of humanity, which today is, “barely”, the fight for the survival of oppressed peoples.


Until January 1st, 1994, in Latin America there was no political current oriented towards autonomy. The imprint of Zapatismo, indirect and difficult to detect, can be traced in the less institutionalized movements, attracted by the rejection of the seizure of state power and the option to create their own powers, autonomy and self-government, and the way of understanding social change as building a new world rather than transforming the existing world.

The EZLN showed that hundreds of thousands can govern themselves in another way, without creating permanent bureaucracies, as the triumphant revolutions have done. Perhaps for that reason, thousands of activists from all over the world, the vast majority of them European, came to Chiapas to learn first-hand about the Zapatista reality and contributed by donating material resources.

Zapatista autonomy is comprehensive and covers all facets of life: they opened health clinics and spaces, primary and secondary schools, they produce without agrochemicals through collective work, they have their own forms of justice and power, in addition to a vast self-defense network called the EZLN.

A brief cartography of the existing autonomies in Latin America takes us, for example, to the northern Amazon of Peru, where there are nine autonomous governments and there are several more in formation. But also to the Brazilian Amazon, where 26 autonomous protocols were formed for the demarcation of lands, in 48 territories, by 64 indigenous peoples.

In Colombia’s Cauca, nine towns have their own autonomous authorities and territories, grouped in the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca. In the south of Chile and Argentina there is an extensive process of recovery of Mapuche lands, where autonomous ways of organizing life operate in thousands of communities. To which we should add the Teia dos Povos in Brazil and the numerous urban autonomies in almost all the cities of the region.

An interpretation anchored in size will say that there are few people and spaces involved. But, even though they are a minority, they are not marginal.

Original article by Raúl Zibechi at
Translated by Schools for Chiapas.

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