Zapatismo Returns to the Streets of Mexico City to Demand a “Stop to the War” in Chiapas

A young woman marches in front of a banner that reads “Stop the War on the EZLN” on June 8th in Mexico City. Photo: IÑAKI MALVIDO

Alejandro Santos Cid

Thousands of people march in the center of the capital in defense of the EZLN, against attacks on their communities and to demand an end to the growing violence in the region.

Zapatismo has once again taken to the streets. A collective cry of thousands of voices tinged the air between the Angel of Independence and the Zócalo in Mexico City this Thursday afternoon. The demonstrators demanded a “stop to the war” against the communities of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), the guerrilla group that on January 1, 1994 took up arms against the structural inequality suffered by the indigenous peoples of Chiapas and all of Mexico. Since then, the masked rebels became an example and a symbol in the face of the unstoppable advance of globalization and capitalism, defending the idea that another world was possible. Their ideas took root as a sort of beacon of the international left and today they have returned to the Paseo de la Reforma.

It is not a massive march, but it shows that Zapatismo still has a pulse in the streets despite its media silence. With barely a week’s notice, a few thousand demonstrators are marching with flags, banners and revolutionary chants. The profile is varied, covering all ages and rhetoric. Here are the most informed and the most practical discourses: those who have their feet on the ground and do not know inequality from political theories, but rather from being the protagonists of it. Udelia García protects herself from the sun with a large hat. She carries a sign that reads: “Stop the war against the Zapatista communities”. She is 83 years old, comes from a peasant family in Oaxaca and says she has always supported the EZLN: “They are fighting for something good, for the peasants, who are the ones who suffer a lot, work hard and are poorly paid. In Chiapas there is a lot of violence against the humble people,” he summarizes.

Contigents of the march on Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City. Photo: Inaki Malvido

The situation in Chiapas is threatening to explode. The state is at its lowest ebb, besieged by a cocktail that includes paramilitary groups, armed self-defense groups, a growing militarization of police duties promoted by the government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and the incursion of organized crime. The EZLN and experts who monitor violence in the region have been warning of the danger for years and denounce the ineffectiveness and passivity of the authorities. Zapatista communities are especially under constant siege by armed groups, the Army and spying by the Ministry of National Defense (Sedena), as revealed by a massive leak of emails from the agency.

Joaquina comes as part of a contingent from the Otomí community of Querétaro. She advances down Reforma in the center of an elongated flag carried by a handful of women. She is 26 years old: “For us, Zapatismo is an example of struggle, that’s why we are here. As they were able to stand up, we want to fight and raise our voices and not be afraid of this bad government. We have come to demand that the war against the Zapatista communities in Chiapas stops. When this government came in, it said that there would be no more repression, but nothing has changed.

The last straw that broke the camel’s back and brought Zapatismo back to the streets was the attack of a paramilitary group, the Orcao, against the Moisés Gandhi community, part of the Lucio Cabañas autonomous municipality, on May 22. During the incursion, Jorge López Sántiz, a member of the EZLN support bases, was wounded. The guerrillas regrouped through a wall of 800 international organizations and more than 1,000 personalities from the world of culture, arts and politics who launched a joint manifesto in their defense. They called for an international mobilization that this Thursday has reached 22 Mexican cities and 13 others in the rest of the world.

A pickup truck carries a military statue with an Orcao sign on the roof, as a way of denouncing the paramilitary group. Photo: Iñaki Malvido

“Chiapas is on the edge of a civil war,” warned that communiqué. And the response in Mexico City has been a demonstration filled with posters with the white dove of peace -with the traditional red Zapatista bandana around the neck, of course- demanding an end to the aggressions against the EZLN and the situation of general violence in the state. The roots of the problem go back decades. After taking up arms, the Zapatista movement signed a truce with the government of Carlos Salinas de Gortari and since then has opted for the peaceful way. “Despite the fact that instead of investing their work in the war, they have invested it in building hospitals, schools and autonomous governments that have benefited Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas, governments from Carlos Salinas to López Obrador have tried to isolate, delegitimize and exterminate them,” reads the manifesto.

Agustin wears a green cap with a red star, a red scarf around his neck and a T-shirt with the word liberty on it. He is 52 years old and this is not the first time he has marched in favor of Zapatismo. From Mexico City, he belongs to a collective in “defense of the work, land and territory of the indigenous peoples.” “It’s our turn to come and raise our voices about what is happening in Chiapas. The situation is extremely serious, the rule of law is being violated in terms of citizen security. Communities are being displaced and the state does nothing,” she says.

Jessica Marjane is 26 years old, she belongs to the Trans Youth Network, comes from a Hñähñu community and has come today “summoned by the movement for social justice and liberation, from the body to the territories.” “The sexual diversity movements,” she continues, “particularly the trans movement, find a lot of affinity with the Zapatista principles of freedom, of an anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal movement and for liberation from all oppressions. I also come because fear moves me, because I live in Mexico and I am a trans woman in a country that ranks second in hate crimes. I want to stop being afraid and I find in Zapatismo principles of freedom for me and the communities.”

Contingents of the march pass by the Roundabout of the Disappeared, this Thursday. Photo: Iñaki Malvido

As the afternoon falls over the Zócalo, demonstrators congregate between the Cathedral and the National Palace. They make graffiti, shouts of “EZLN!” are heard. From a small stage set up for the occasion, representatives of the National Indigenous Council, Zapatista-related collectives and personalities from the world of culture such as actress Julieta Egurrola launch their demands: medical attention to guarantee the improvement of Jorge López Sántiz, a halt to the armed attack against the communities, punishment for the “material and intellectual authors of the paramilitary attacks,” and the disintegration of “the armed groups through which the war against the Zapatista communities is kept active and growing.”

Original article published in El Pais on June 9th, 2023.
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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