Monday, August 08, 2005

Mexico: Zapatistas Going Mainstream? Marcos Unmasked? Penguins, AMLO Slammed, Chiapas Failures

Mexico's Zapatistas have decided to move out of their Chiapas hideouts, put down their weapons, and try to integrate themselves into Mexico's political life.

Zapatistas quit the jungle for soapbox

Subcomandante Marcos leaves four years' hiding to speak out

Giles Tremlett
Monday August 8, 2005
The Guardian

The masked revolutionary icon of Latin America, Subcomandante Marcos, emerged from the Mexican jungle for the first time for four years over the weekend as his Zapatista movement rebranded itself as a non-violent proponent of alternative politics.

Wearing his trademark military fatigues and sweat-provoking black ski mask, the rebel appeared to be kick-starting a recently declared shift towards political engagement by the Zapatista National Liberation Army.

The Rest Here

A Promising Start

It seems they got off to a good start - by upholding traditional Mexican political traditions- slamming PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopéz Obrador. As Marcos said: "They say, 'maybe Lopez Obrador doesn't steal'. But his team has shown its ability and appetite to do so,". The PRD in turn replied by not replying, indicating that they would only respond to candidates for the next elections.

Birds Of A Feather

In an intriguing blend of political theater and avian analogies, Marcos carried around a chicken - dressed up as that most Chiapan of birds - the penguin, explaining the creatures significance in the following terms:"Like penguins in the jungle, the Zapatistas will make an effort to stand upright and find a place for themselves in Mexico, Latin America and the world," Marcos explained in a recent missive quoted by Spain's El Periódico newspaper. "We are coming out, you might as well get used to the idea."

Marcos' identity solved?

Mexican officials have identified Marcos as the former university lecturer Rafael Sebastián Guillén. Marcos, who always denied being Guillén, was educated by Jesuit priests and got a masters degree in philosophy from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Guillén's family has also refused to say whether the pipe-smoking man in the ski mask is one of them, saying they lost contact with him long ago.

Troubles in Paradise?

Maybe this new strategy owes at least a little to the fact that according to conventional measures, Zapatista rule has done very little for the poverty-stricken areas they control. According to this L.A. Times Story reprinted in the July 17 edition of The Miami Herald many poor residents of Chiapas have left the region to the United States or to government-funded lands outside of rebel control.

Zapatistas' glow dimmed by unfulfilled promises


Los Angeles Times Service

MARQUES DE COMILLAS, Mexico - Like many of those living in grinding poverty deep in the rebel-controlled jungles of southern Mexico, Elías Guillén got tired of waiting for life to get better. So he voted with his feet.

A decade after the Zapatista movement took over swaths of Chiapas and shook Mexico's political establishment, life in Guillén's corner of the southern state has not improved. Public services there remain nonexistent. None of his nine children, ages 12 to 31, ever learned to read, partly because of a Zapatista decree banning government assistance in the area.

When the federal Agrarian Reform Ministry offered the poor people living in his hamlet the chance to relocate to this settlement with electricity, streets and a schoolhouse, 26 families, including Guillén's, jumped at the offer.


No big surprise here. The core of the Zapatista movement was transplanted highland residents and local indigenous peoples, who shared a history of mistreatment by landlords, inconsistent treatment from the PRI ruling party, as well as an independent streak. Even before the Zapatista's showed up, many had already joined religious or government-sponsored associations that were clamoring for change. Marcos' organizing skills, discipline, and media savvy, looked like the best bet in order to get attention from Mexico City.

The article points out that the Chiapas residents have a major issue with the collective farms, which the Zapatistas started and ran, on farms they had confiscated. They moved peasants to these so-called "new population centers", something anathema to these independent-minded farmers. A good number of these folks simply aspired to their own piece of individual land, or shared plots for their families, as well as access to basic services. Others wanted to continue to farm and work as hired labor and/or as merchants in their communities. The Zapatistas fundamental misunderstanding of this reality is causing this whole experiment to unravel.

Lecturing local leftists and their American and European brethren, sure seems like a better gig than trying to convince peasants to stay in communal farms under cult-like rule. Marcos already drives the lefties wild with the mask and the heavy rhetoric, throw in the Profesor de Filosofia thing, and that new penguin mascot and his stock will surely go up in foreign circles. Increasing the revolutionary consciousnessof Chiapas residents does not impress people in most parts, but is considered progress by NGO-types.

All kidding aside, if Marcos truly wants to go beyond being a side-show and transform the Zapatistas into a national political party, Mexican democracy can only be strengthened. Their failure to effectively govern Chiapas, will no doubt be brought up by political rivals, but that is the price you pay in a democracy. At the local level, electoral competition can only benefit the local population which is tired of the rhetoric, and wants its needs taken care of. The Zapatista's will be forced to accomodate these basic needs, or be replaced the now chastened 'big three' political parties.

Ultimately as far as Mexico is concerned, this Zapatista change in strategy is a good thing. Thirty years ago this whole Chiapas thing would have ended up in tragedy, the PRI was ruthless when it felt cornered. Mexico's past couple of governments, essentially struck a deal with the Zapatista's, leaving them in control of a good chunk of Chiapas. That allowed the local residents some degree of self-rule - well at least being ruled by a group that pretended to represent their interests. If Marcos really is going to carry out reforms, and allow the central government back in again, the local population only stands to gain.


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