Zapatismo and Indigenous Resistance

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ZAPATISMO AND INDIGENOUS RESISTANCE . The EZLN's (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) seizure of five municipalities on January 1, 1994, in Chiapas follows a tradition of insurrections and armed rebellions dating back to the arrival of Europeans to the region. Examples of these insurrections include the Zoque community rebellion, 15321534; Mayan descendants executed a Spanish mayor in 1693; the Cancuquero people, in alliance with other communities, rose up in 1712; and in 18691870 the Chamulas and Tzotziles rebelled. San Cristóbal de las Casas, the main city in which the first EZLN uprising played out, is named for Bartolomé de las Casas (sixteenth-century Spanish archbishop and defender of the thesis that the indigenous peoples, contrary to the Catholic Church's position, indeed possessed souls). The experience of the indigenous struggle against the Spanish crown and then the Mexican nation-state took on more clear articulations with the leadership of Emiliano Zapata, who drew upon Zapotec cultural traditions, and the modern anticapitalist conceptualizations of Marxism, Leninism, and anarchism during the Mexican Revolution. Zapata brought the indigenous traditions that informed the politics of the ejidos and the autonomy of the land together with modern revolutionary articulations of the seizure of power. This mode seeks either to maintain the state structure according to Leninist inspiration or to eliminate it according to Bakuninian thought and indigenous beliefs and convictions surrounding land autonomy. Zapata agreed with the anarchist Flores-Magón brothers and favored the dissolution of the state. The most important document of this period (which divides the urban and the villista camps from the land-based Zapatista camp during the Mexican civil war) was the "Plan de Ayala," written by the Zapatista Army of the South on December 11, 1911. The plan sustains that the people must remain armed until the land is concretely transferred back into the hands of the indigenous peoples.

In the 1960s, during the worldwide intellectual movements, the student movements, the inspiration of the Cuban revolution, and the Soviet and Chinese forms of Marxism, the ELN (Army of National Liberation) and other groups developed in Mexico. This party became one of the few that remained active in the 1970s after the student massacre at Tlatelolco under the Diaz Ordaz presidency in 1968. When the urban revolutionaries, among them the future subcomandante Marcos, arrived in Chiapas in the early 1980s with the intent to develop an armed Zapatista uprising, they found the region in a state of political agitation. The diocese of San Cristóbal formed part of the political action inspired by Liberation Theology, and the Mayan communities were clear about the urgent need for liberation in order to continue to exist as autonomous cultures with their own worldviews and pertinent social structures. The Zapatista revolutionaries installed themselves in Las Cañadas and learned from the local peoples. The EZLN began to take shape in accordance with the beliefs and worldviews of the peoplethe value of the word and the ethical responsibility of language making up a central axis of the movement.

President Carlos Salinas de Gotari eliminated Article 27 from the Mexican constitution (which prohibits the privatization of the ejido lands) in 1992, making possible the liquidation of these common lands and thus facilitating the pauperization and eventual cultural and physical disappearance of the inhabitants. On January 1, 1994, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) took effect for the United States, Canada, and Mexico and with it the AngloNorth American exploitation of Chiapas, a state rich in uranium, petroleum, jungle, and hydroelectric resources. The EZLN opened its campaign at dawn with eighteen thousand Mayan men and womenmasked and armed with automatic guns, single-shot rifles, and wooden replicas painted blackmaking known the First Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle against neoliberalism and globalization.

The Word

In Balún Canan (1957) the Chiapas author Rosario Castellanos wrote of the ongoing plight of the indigenous people of the region:

Y entonces, coléricos nos desposeyeron, nos arrebataron lo que habíamos atesorado: la palabra, que es el arca de la memoria. Desde aquellos días arden y se consumen con el leño en la hoguera. Sube el humo en el viento y se deshace. Queda la ceniza sin rostro. Para que puedas venir tú y les baste un soplo, solamente un soplo.

And then, furiously they dispossessed us, they carried off what we had treasured: the word, which is the ark of memory. Ever since those days they smolder and are consumed with the logs of the bonfire. The smoke rises in the wind and dissolves. Faceless ash remains. So that you can come, and with only a puff, just a puff. (Castellanos, 1984/1957, p. 9)

Globalization, like other words of its kindmodernization, pacification, or industrialization connote neutral if not humanitarian processes in the world of mass media and consumer culture; people take them for granted without seeing their morphology and ideological weight. Such words appeal to first world consciousness, and people accept them, act upon them, and live with them as though they were trees that express the passage of time. If one attends the words carefully, looks at the meaning attached to each root, prefix, and suffix, and reinserts them into the memory and the narrative of time, one can reestablish the connection between word and deed, and one can recover meaning.

Within modernization are assumptions of backwardness. Within industrialization lies the classification of inefficiency and "primitive," small-scale production. Within the idea of normalization is assumed erraticness, abnormality, diversity, and the need to establish patterns in what is unpredictable through Western paradigms. Calling for stabilization attributes chaos to the object of that stabilization and the need to make it secure. Pacification deems the people and place in question warlike. Secularization identifies the necessity to eliminate religious thought and the sacrality of the everyday: sunrise, harvest, slaying animals, and eating. Secularization also proposes science as truth and unideologically suspect.

The postmodern era of the world economy has its socially accepted words, as did the era of modernity and colonial economy. The moral high ground of the civilization depended on the belief in the savagery and cannibalism of the Other. Christianization assumed paganism, idolatry, and witchcraft. Supporting colonization assumed the inferiority of cultures and the inaptitude of targeted "races" for self-government and for the management of the resources of the land they inhabit. Inside the mission of population lies the assumption that the people of the targeted lands are not people.

These words are euphemisms, coded signifiers that say nicely, according to their contemporary social mores, what may otherwise offend the morality and self-image of the people whose cultures promote and support these market-driven processes. This long-standing language strategy belongs to the strategies of discourse and rhetoric, particularly writing discourse in its character of self-reflective materiality and class-constructed hegemony.

When these words are naturalized, they become necessary, indisputable, and unavoidable. Embedded in language, they form part of the macronarrative into which every culture's history is made to conform, describing how all the world's peoples fit into the history of the Western tradition. The words originate in the language of the dominant narrative (Spanish from the sixteenth century to the early nineteenth century and English in the era of the American economic system). These are the words of the macronarrative that deems the social organization of non-Western peoples as "underdeveloped" or "developing." The unavoidability of the terminology becomes another layer in the mission of modernity, science, and progressthe belief in the superiority of secular society and republican governance. This conviction, bolstered by self-professed objectivity, overlooks the fact that modernity is a historical phenomenon not unlike the previous era's belief in the Catholic Church.

To see globalization or any other such terms as natural, neutral, or necessary, one accepts the implicit negation that such cultural processes of transformation are dual, involving a subject and an object: the one who globalizes, modernizes, democratizes, and so on and the one that is globalized, modernized, or democratized. They are not horizontal dialogues between subjects as the colorful image of "global culture" suggests. One entity carries out the project, and another entity purportedly receives the benefits. The straightforward characterization of subject and object, however, overlooks the histories that demonstrate quite the opposite, that the modernizer, for example, benefits more economically from the modernization project than does the object of that modernization.

Globalization is a capitalist project requiring expansion in order to grow (key word of the economic vocabulary). Growth, acquired by the institution of profit, is the core of globalization. When internal markets and tariffs become a barrier for the health of accumulation and the movement of the capitalist economical machinery, expansion is imperative. This expansion goes hand in hand with the justification of political and military invasiona traditional way of creating markets and resource pools with positive industrial and commercial results.

This phenomenon is paradoxical because what is discussed is the globalization of capital, and capital is an object, not a subject. Given that paradox, globalization is not the expansion of the will of a subject over an object but the contrary, the globalization of an object (capital) over subjects (the people and cultures of the world). Globalization is the action of an agent of capital over nature, resources, people, language, ideas, and imagination in order to expand the sphere of influence of that capital to increase the amount of capital in return. It is an operation where humans are agents of an object that oppresses them, that robs them of subjectivity and agency, and that functions through them. The will of the object loosely follows "the economical laws," it is the invisible hand. In practice, in a highly racialized, socially divided and gendered society, the rationale for participatingideologically speakingis given by the most prestigious and influential part of society. Women, people of color, and other social classes unenfranchised with the international corporate economic forces only participate, consciously or unconsciously, as collaborators or assimilated people. The project is not in their interest but in the interest of inertia. Even though some reap more material benefit as agents of capital, they are all oppressed by it, all doubly objectified.

Zapatista Worldview

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos wrote in "Como nace la palabra en la montaña" from Relatos de El Viejo Antonio :

Decía el Viejo Antonio que los viejos más viejos de los dioses enseñaron a los hombres a leer el cielo y el suelo. en esas dos grandes hojas del cuaderno del mundo (dijo el Viejo Antonio que dijeron los más grandes dioses, los que nacieron el mundo), los hombres y mujeres verdaderos pueden leer la orientación para que su corazón camine. Cuando el cielo calla, cuando el sol y la luna reinan con silencio, y cuando el suelo se esconde tras su dureza su quehacer interno, los hombres y las mujeres de maíz guardan la palabra y la trabajan pensando. Cuando el techo de la tierra se agrieta con nubes, lluvias y viento, cuando la luna y el sol sólo asoman cada tanto, y cuando la tierra se abre con verde y vida, los hombres y mujeres verdaderos nacen de nuevo la palabra en la montaña que es su casa y camino.

Old Man Antonio used to say that the old ones older than the gods taught men to read heaven and the ground. In those two big pages of the notebook of the world [Old Man Antonio said that the biggest gods said this, the ones who gave birth to the world] the true men and women can read the directions so that their heart can walk. When heaven becomes quiet, when the sun and the moon rule with silence, and when the ground hides its inner workings behind its hardness, the men and women of the corn hold the word and work thinking. When the roof of the earth cracks open with clouds, rain and wind, when the moon and the sun only appear once in a while, and when the earth opens up with green and life, the true men and women bare the word again in the mountains which are their home and their path. (p.131)

The recovery of the word is central to the project of democracy, liberty, and justice for the Zapatistas of Chiapas. Changing the world and countering the force of the global economy that have been destructive to indigenous cultures and their integrated worldviews means changing the word. Achieving democracy, one of the central goals of the movement, necessitates mending the relationship between language (oral and written) and meaning. This recuperation establishes a move from a liberal (formal) democracy to a participative or authentic democracy as signified by the word itself: demos, coming from the Greek root meaning "people," and cracy, meaning "from government." The search for the true word is the search for collective participation and consensus. The Zapatista practice mandar-obedeciendo (to command-obeying) better explains this idea: the leader has to be part of the bases and represent them according to their will. Thus Subcomandante Marcos has a secondary rank (deputy commander) in the Zapatista army, because the comandante are the Mayan people of Chiapas. The recovery of the word then means that this subordinated rank of Marcos is not a rhetorical construction to justify his power but instead a word, which represents a real subordination of an individual to the collective.

The recovery of the word is deeply rooted in the historical silence and invisibility in which the original people autochthonous to the Mayan homelands and the Americas were compelled to remain for five hundred years. The silence was enacted by European conquerors, their descendants, and their religious-cultural-governmental structures that are the foundation for the New World governments and institutions that have developed into a dialogical relationship of imitation, counteridentification, and reform with the worldview and corresponding structures of the conquerors. They have established a religion, which separates the natural and the social from the divine. This religion allows for the brutal exploitation of the planet, creating an economic system that separates producers from consumers and making room for profit and poverty, and institutionalizing a political system that has divided the representatives from the represented, allotting space for the burial of local holistic worldviews and the fragmentation of communities.

The weight assigned to the truth in the act of recuperation of the word is a frontal challenge to the hegemonic ideology that sustains itself in the double standard of domination and justification. It is not enough that the word represent reality or that its utterer have honest intentions to do so; only with the practice of horizontal (not hierarchical) dialogue can democracy be held accountable.

The recovery of the word not only implies the return of the original inhabitants to the scene of the continent but also the return of the autochthonous worldviews, which present new ways of dealing with human liberation in the postmodern world. This implies a new praxis beyond the structure of the liberation movements that are born of modernity and based on a historical trajectory anchored in the European, such as Marxism and industrialization.

The Zapatista collective (wearing masks in order to emphasize the collectivity of the group and to reflect the government's rhetoric of hiding meaning, holding weapons, and taking over five municipalities) forced the dialogic exercise of democracy with the formal democratic government of the Republic of Mexico, which is complicit in global economics. In this way the movement recovered the meaning of the word, putting indigenous beliefs about the necessary connection between language and meaning at the forefront and holding the formal democratic institution accountable to the word with which it describes itself. The Zapatistas are willing to remove their masks if the government does the same: the Zapatista mask functions as a metaphor for the hiding of the true face: "Detrás de nuestras máscaras estamos ustedes (Behind our masks are you)," writes Marcos. The mask is a means for maintaining the memory of the lies behind the official truths that are based in different forms of privilege. The purpose of the word is to communicate, to exchange ideas, to understand, and to create consensus. With the social distortion of oppression in any of its forms (class, race, and gender), the word also has been distorted to fulfill the will of the privileged groups, creating the need of ideology or false consciousness to make people collaborate willingly with their own oppressors. Dialogue, on the other hand, set within a horizontal arrangement, is a tool for democracy where participation is exercised with respect and human dignity.

The recovery of the word becomes an ethical imperative in the modern and postmodern world, a world that has privileged economic goals and systematically forgotten the promise of meaning. Proponents of globalization have arranged the world in a way that enables them to live relatively unaffected by the consequences of the enactments of falsely named operations, operations like democratization or stabilization. They have established a monologue and constructed a dehumanized common sense through euphemism and other distortions. Ironically the proponents of globalization have become the emblematic figures for human perfection, spreading the institutionalization of the misuse of words like democracy and peace in the targeted path of economic expansion. The expansion in turn has fractured the integrated worldviews of the indigenous peoples of the locations of economic homogenization. They have created an equation that imposes a Western particularism as the universal standard: socioeconomic improvement means capitalism, security means militarism, humanity means ideologically in agreement with the globalizing forces.

For the original people, the reintegration of meaning and the word is essential for liberation on all fronts, including the cultural, spiritual, economic, and intellectual. Their naked exploitation at the hands of the agents of capitalism makes the confrontation with meaning inescapable. Their experiences reveal the incongruous relationship between the Western word and its manifestations. The word has to represent reality: killers must be killers, abusers must be abusers, and democracy must be democracy. Original people do not need to sever meaning from word to live. They, because of their place in the structures of globalization, live with the violent consequences of the separation of word and meaning. NAFTA came into being on January 1, 1994. At the dawn the same day the EZLN invaded San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, and the four other municipalities. The NAFTA agreement, they explained, was a sentence to death to more than a million Mayan people and their worldviews. For the NAFTA project, Chiapas was one of the most important states to be incorporated into this new brand of hegemony called globalization due to the unusually rich and diverse natural resources of the land. These natural resources and the Mayan people to work in a new setting of maquiladoras were all part of the strategic plan to make southeast Mexico a participant in the global economy. The EZLN understood well the move and confronted the army, starting a rebel movement that has attracted sympathizers from all over the world in its years of resistance, motivating indigenous movements the world over to struggle against globalization.


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