Mexican Political History; Chiapas Rebellion

A discussion of the problems in in Southern Mexico and the plight of the Zapatista rebels. Information on changes, causes, outcome, and the current struggles for peace.

On January 1, 1994, the state of Chiapas in Southern Mexico (Chiapas shares a border with Guatelmala) lost its nickname of "the forgotten state" forever. What had once been a quiet, predominantly indigenous populated state became a place of unrest, rebellion and slaughter. It was on this date that a group of rebels who had been training quietly in the Lacandon jungle walked into San Cristobal de Las Casas and Ocosingo with ski-masks and loaded guns. In a bloody few days one-hundred and fifty people lost their lives and countless others were injured. But the Zapatistas had succeeded in doing what they had set out to get the world's attention.

The Zapatistas (named for Emilio Zapata who fought for, and won, indigenous land rights in the early part of the twentieth century) are fighting for land that had once been theirs but was taken away by the Mexican government and sold to farmers who could make the land more profitable.

Many of the indigenous Mayan population once had land to work. They were able to support their families and still have some extra produce to bring to local markets to sell. This maintained them, but did little to improve the Mexican economy in the eyes of the world. With the land being sectioned off and sold to profit-driven farmers, many Mayans were forced out of their homes and their our of their livelihood.

The cities have become inundated with homeless Mayans, they are forced to beg, sell gum to tourists or sell their handicrafts for much less than they are worth. Among all this chaos, a man with a persuasive gift and an idea about how to organise an army came along and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberation Nacional, or ELZN) was created.

He was known only as sub-commandant Marcos and he was able to mobilise a surprisingly impressive army composed primarily of indigenous Chiapans trying to regain the rights to their land.

Fear of being caught as sympathisers to the cause, anonymity in the ELZN was of the utmost of concern to the leaders and their constituents and they tried to remain nameless and faceless by wearing ski-masks or bandanas. Suddenly red bandanas and black woolen masks were springing up everywhere. Sub-commandant Marcos himself was separated from the others only by his trademark pipe that dangled out of the mouth-hole of his mask.

Nothing has changed since 1994. Well, almost nothing. The situation has been exasperated by the fact that some of the Mayans have taken their land back with force. They have taken up arms against the rich landowners and are once again working their land. The landowners are now unable to make the payments on their land and have lost their livelihood, their homes and often all of the money that they had. Instead of one unhappy group, the Chiapan government now has two distinct parties of disgruntled individuals.

While the Zapatistas have been fairly quiet since 1994, they are certainly not finished. Sub-commandant Marcos is still in the Lacandon jungle and his constituents are still training. Everyone involved would like to see this situation resolved without violence but it seems as though a stalemate has been reached and it will remain until someone tries to catch the attention of the world one more time.

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