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Zapatistas… what have they done lately?

11 January 2008

Immanuel Wallerstein, the anti-globalist academic historian and sociologist, presumably is pro-Zapatista, though even he is hard pressed to find any anything they’ve ever accomplished.Wallerstein (and his publisher) would prefer one not use excerpts from “Mexico: What have the Zapatistas Accomplished“) but print the essay in full (“Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. … Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed.”). I assume Wallerstein’s entire essay series is meant to advance a thesis of some sort about globalization in general, but my concern is solely with the Zapatistas. At the risk of annoying the Yale scholar, I’m only using him as a “straw man”.  I am going to rely on the time-honored right to except a small bit for discussion purposes … and my “creative commons” license.


…Armed insurrection as a tactic was suspended after about three months. It has never been resumed. … the truce agreement reached with the Mexican government – the so-called San Andrés accords providing for the recognition of autonomy for the indigenous communities – was never implemented by the government.

In 2001, the Zapatistas led a peaceful march across Mexico to the capital, …The march was spectacular but the Mexican Congress failed to act. In 2005, the Zapatistas launched “the other campaign,” an effort to mobilize an alliance of Zapatistas with groups in other [sic] provinces with more or less similar objectives – again spectacular but it did not change the actual politics of the Mexican government.

In 2006, the Zapatistas pointedly refused to endorse the left-of-center candidate for the presidency, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who was running in a tight election against the proclaimed winner, the very conservative Felipe Calderón.

Throwing the 2006 election to Calderón is arguably the only concrete political act by the Zapatistas that has succeeded. And I don’t think it was unintentional.   In my forth-coming book (Gods, Gachupines and Gringos), I argue in passing that the Zapatistas are simply traditionalists — and by definition — conservatives.  If not reactionaries.

The PRI has certainly ossified over the years, but it was always a “progressive” party, seeking to bring modernity even to agrarian regions.  It had its successes.  When the PRI became the “party of neo-liberalism”, backing globalization (don’t forget, Carlos Salinas was the father of NAFTA, not George Bush or Ronald Reagan) and largely giving up on Mexican agriculture, the PRD became the “real” party of the left.  But. it too is “modernist”  — Lopez Obradór’s “Benefit of All” campaign was suggesting more investments in education and business opportunity in places like Chiapas — certainly as much a threat to “traditional values” as Vicente Fox’s failed “Plan Puebla Panama” (which would have brought in roads and electricity, but not much else).

Wallerstein is mistaken in saying the “San Andres Accords” were never implemented.  Not completely, true: “usos y costumbres” were given legal recognition by the Mexican Constitution — mostly at the urging of PAN.

“The Other Campaign” did change Mexican politics.  By organizing an abstention campaign, the Zapatistas managed very neatly to weaken the PRI, keep the PRD-led coalition out of Los Pinos and retain the traditionalists in PAN to power.  AND… by not openly supporting PAN, they maintain their left-wing “mystique”.

Mexican politics has always involved contradictions and compromises, even within the same party.  Wallerstein is writing about global issues, and global effects.  But, in Mexico itself, and within Mexican politics, the Zapatistas are affecting “the actual politics of the Mexican government”.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. mexijo permalink
    12 January 2008 8:05 am

    PAN = catholic church interests
    Zapatistas = catholic church interests

  2. 12 January 2008 11:32 pm

    Zapatista, schmapatista!

    There’s an EZLN delegation here in Tampico right now, camped out on the site of a development project by the central lagoon. They hold protests, try and stop the work, hacen un mitin en la plaza etc etc – generally making nuisances of themselves in the way of all middle-class, idealist, ‘left’ youth the world over…sad asshats who can’t see that this country desperately needs investment, modernization and jobs.

  3. zapaturista permalink
    16 January 2008 8:27 am

    I am confused by your assertions…especially those concerning “traditionalism”. Maybe I’ll have to check out your book but your saying the Z’s and Marcos hate the PRI, PRD and Pan equally b/c they all seek to modernize the Chiapan campo? I wonder why in many Z communities they have modern schools with computers and access to the internet. Is it b/c they hate progress and modernization? If the Z’s are reactionary and support only “traditional” values wouldn’t that align them with the ultra-conservative faction of the PAN and the PRI dinosaurs?

  4. jemdem permalink
    11 April 2008 10:42 am

    Yes, I agree with the last comment. Associating Z’s to conservatism (or even reactionism) because they represent agrarian people and identity values is a very simplistic reasoning. If you analyse the sayings and actions of the Z’s (others than this ‘other campaign’) you can very easily see that they are not trying maintain or bring back old styles of life, but to try to find a place for these peoples in modern mexico…
    And to consider the PRI as a inherently progressive force is also a very bold shortcut of reality.

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