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Mexico’s Zapatistas Embrace Democracy A Little Too Late

By: Rafael Ruiz Velasco - Oct 20, 2016, 10:01 am
As a movement, EZLN gained international relevance due to their radicalism and their extravagant ways (Animal Político)
As a movement, EZLN gained international relevance due to its radicalism and extravagant methods (Animal Político)

EspañolThe North American Free Trade Agreement kicked off in 1994 with sky-high expectations.

Mexico’s federal government, lead by then-President Carlos Salinas, said the agreement would open the doors of the country to the first world. In the end, what really stole the show and put Mexico on the map was something else: the taking up of arms of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN).

It’s a striking image: armed indigenous people in municipal capitals in conflict with the army. They were led by a mysterious hooded figure who called himself “Subcomandante Marcos.”

At first, the EZLN delivered a tremendous blow to government media outlets, who had drawn attention to the areas hardest hit by violence.

More than 20 years have passed since then, and the actual impact of the indigenous organization’s activities is barely visible. Media campaigns have been the only constant.

Those campaigns have involved reducing poverty, educational backwardness and the lack of opportunities in communities of southeastern Mexico, but all of these problems remain today.

As a movement, the EZLN attracted international attention because of the radicalism of its speech and its extravagant behavior. Communist and socialist activists around the world visit the Lacandon jungle to document their lifestyles and the poetic and solemn way they tend to present their political ideology.

But beyond this, the organizational assessment of the EZLN is clear: it is severely debilitated by the stagnation of its rhetoric and fading moral leadership.

Recently, the group announced it will again seek to enter into the political life of the country by appointing a presidential candidate for the 2018 election. No names have been announced yet but it was made clear that the proposal would be a person of indigenous origin and, moreover, a woman.

A blow by the left to the left
Despite being an organization openly influenced by Marxism-Leninism and belonging to the more collectivist wing of the Mexican political spectrum, the news of its participation, ironically, represents a blow to the establishment of the Mexican left.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, as the most important political leader of the left today, has created tensions with the organization stating that not even they know what the group wants. In response, the EZLN has set a clear political stance on the President of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena): for them it is just another politician, part of the system they want to eradicate.

Lopez hasn’t had the political office to negotiate, even with those who share his ideologies, and the EZLN have made it clear they are not interested in being part of his team.

A Zapatista candidate would take away votes that would most likely be for MORENA.

Strengthening civil society
Regardless of political and ideological positions, if any part of a EZLN candidate is worth celebrating, it is the result of a strengthening of civil society as a viable option for political participation in Mexico today.

It is true that there is still a long way to go; it is undeniable that corruption, vote-buying, back-room deals, nepotism and overall lack of transparency and honesty remain rooted in the depths of the country’s institutions.

However, since the EZLN emerged in 1994 to today there has been very significant progress in the political life of Mexico.

Freedom of expression has improved thanks to new technologies and greater access to information, as well as the emergence of independent candidates as real, legitimate political options.

The new context in which we live today allows the EZLN to opt for an institutional and democratic approach to improving the country, instead of making weapons and killing innocent people.

Freedom is the only responsible way
The EZLN will not represent anything new for the Mexican political spectrum. Its socialist ideology is based on trite populist discourse of “the oppressed versus the oppressor” and social divisions based on the supposed cultural confrontation between the bourgeois and working class, (or in this case, indigenous people).

Its speech, based on hatred and resentment, is far from what a country needs to move forward and advance on the path of building a free and just society.

Rafael Ruiz Velasco

Rafael Ruiz Velasco earned a degree in Business Admininistration from the University of Anáhuac in México. He's passionate about development, project management, soccer, economics, and comic books.