Monday, January 24, 2005

Chris Arsenault: Photo Essay on a Decade of Zapatista Resistance

(courtesy of Matt at pas au-delà)

Arsenault, Chris. Zapatistas: Reflecting on Ten Years of Resistance The Dominion (January 18, 2005)

On New Year's Day 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, 3,000 poorly armed indigenous peasants seized 6 towns in Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state. The Zapatistas demanded work, land, housing, food, healthcare, education, autonomy, freedom, democracy, justice and peace. Their rebellion wasn't an attempt to seize state power; the Zapatistas' stated goal was to draw attention to brutal poverty and ill-effects of NAFTA, which they called a "death sentence". NAFTA allowed heavily-subsidized US crops to flood the Mexican market, eliminating market access for millions of small farmers. As a precondition to the agreement, the Mexican government removed Article 27 from the constitution, an amendment dating to the first Mexican revolution which guaranteed communal land access for small farmers. The Zapatistas' uprising received worldwide attention, and drew much of its support from tens of thousands, particularly in North America and Europe. In the days following the insurgency, the army counter-attacked. Their capacity to destroy the Zapatistas was undisputed, but there was too much popular support behind the rebels; 100,000 rallied in Mexico City, chanting "we are all Zapatistas", and support demonstrations erupted at Mexican embassies and consulates around the world. Twelve days after fighting began, the army agreed to a ceasefire. After a series of fruitless negotiations with the government for indigenous rights and autonomy, three federal administrations, and a 2001 march on the capital drawing hundreds of thousands of supporters and the attention of the world media, the Zapatistas say they are coming to grips with the old maxim, "if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself." Unable to compel the government to negotiate in good faith, they are creating their own political structures, schools, health clinics and economic cooperatives. This photo essay looks back at eleven years of zapatismo, and provides a window onto the future of what the New York Times called "the first post-modern Latin American revolution."

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