Zapatistas vow to remake Mexico

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MEXICO CITY — The Zapatista Army of National Liberation Army (EZLN) has vowed to continue its campaign to change Mexico’s political and economic system.

The Zapatistas, as part of a larger movement known as “The Other Campaign,” say that they will renew their efforts to organize “a civil and pacifist insurrection” across Mexico to transform the country’s political and economic system. The Other Campaign is a loose coalition of individuals and groups that includes the Party of Mexican Communists, one of the country’s left-wing parties.

The primary goals of The Other Campaign are to abolish capitalism, which it says has led to widespread poverty, and to dismantle the country’s repressive political system.

According to EZLN leader Subcomandante Marcos, in a recent interview posted on the web site Radio Zapatista, while armed struggle to change the economic and political system is still an option, The Other Campaign has ruled this out. He predicted that the Zapatista-led campaign could succeed in transforming Mexico before 2010.

Zapatista commanders, including Marcos, have launched a new tour of Mexico to build opposition to the government of President Felipe Calderon. The EZLN is also initiating a solidarity campaign, in Mexico and worldwide, with the indigenous communities in Chiapas, an impoverished state in the country’s southeast.

Marcos said, “We [the EZLN] do not want to take power and from there decide the transformation of society.” He said the Zapatistas reject the traditional Mexican and Latin American revolutionary model of popular movements overthrowing repressive states, taking power and then “imposing another tyranny.” The EZLN only wants to initiate a grassroots movement to overthrow the existing order, he said.

Unlike other left-wing guerilla groups in Latin America, such as FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia), the EZLN and The Other Campaign operate openly with little apparent fear of arrest. The masked, pipe-smoking Marcos and other masked Zapatista commanders travel across Mexico, speaking openly at public meetings. EZLN supporters set up information tables in open-air markets to distribute campaign material and sell Zapatista memorabilia.

After Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s center-left movement, The Other Campaign is the second largest opposition group working for change in Mexico. However, both movements are bitterly opposed to each other.

During the 2006 election campaign, Subcomandante Marcos toured the country urging people not to vote for either the National Action Party (PAN), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) or Lopez Obrador’s coalition For the Good of All (now called the Broad Progressive Front). Marcos charged that Lopez Obrador and his coalition, if elected, would pursue the same right-wing policies implemented by PAN and PRI.

As a result, a bitter rift has emerged between supporters of the EZLN and Lopez Obrador, some of whom charge that Marcos helped PAN and PRI secure more votes by encouraging people who might have been inclined to vote for the left to abstain from voting. Given the history of election rigging in Mexico, The Other Campaign refuses to take part in electoral politics.

The EZLN first emerged on the world stage in 1994 from the jungles of Chiapas in an uprising aimed at rectifying injustices suffered by the indigenous people, fighting the Mexican army to a standstill. The military maintains a cordon around Zapatista-controlled territory in eastern Chiapas, where 100,000 indigenous people reside. Zapatista-controlled local governments run the region.

Since 1994, there has been no further fighting. Recently, the EZLN charged that paramilitary forces are encroaching on Zapatista territory and trying to drive farmers off lands seized by Zapatistas 13 years ago. The EZLN announced it will resist the paramilitaries with force if necessary.

The EZLN, named after Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919), represents a long tradition in Mexico of people taking up arms to overthrow the government. Other smaller guerilla movements such as the Popular Revolutionary Army continue to operate in states such as Guerro. The Other Campaign came out of a Zapatista-organized conference in Chiapas in June 2005.

tpelzer @ shaw.ca