“We have nothing to lose, absolutely nothing, no decent roof over our heads, no land, no work, poor health, no food, no education, no right to freely and democratically choose our leaders, no independence from foreign interests, and no justice for ourselves or our children. But we say enough is enough! We are the descendants of those who truly built this nation, we are the millions of dispossessed, and we call upon all of our brethren to join our crusade, the only option to avoid dying of starvation!” – Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) Declaration of the Lácandon Jungle, 1993
On January 1st, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect, roughly 3,000 Indigenous Mayans declared war on Mexico and simultaneously seized control of several cities and towns in the Mexican State of Chiapas including San Cristóbal de las Casas, Ocosingo, Las Margatitas, Huixtanm, Oxhuc, Rancho Nuevo, Altamirano and Chanal.
The armed Mayan insurgents were a part of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN). Zapatista’s set fire to police building and several army barracks and freed prisoners in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Read the Zapatista Declaration of War against Mexico here
Over the following weeks the Zapatista’s and the Mexican army engaged in armed battles before a cease fire was brokered.
Since the uprising, the Zapatista’s became a worldwide symbol for Indigenous resistance against colonialism and against free trade globalization which was about to be unleashed on the world through the passage of NAFTA.
The roots for the 1994 Zapatista uprising stem from 500 years of resistance to Spanish colonialism and occupation of traditional indigenous lands. For hundreds of years Spanish colonist had systematically removed Mayans, and other Indigenous peoples, off their homelands through violence, warfare, disease and enslavement. The Mayans were continuously pushed off their fertile lands as colonial plantations increased. By the turn of the century their homelands were occupied by colonial cattle ranches, and sugar, coffee and cotton plantations.
The 1940’s -1980’s saw an increased displacement of Mayan’s as their remaining lands were subject to intense clear cutting and a regional oil boom.
NAFTA a Death Sentence for Indians
During the mid – 1980’s the “leaders” of the United States, Canada and Mexico began negotiations to eliminate barriers to trade and investment between their respective countries. The outgrowth of these talks resulted in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
While opposition to NAFTA in the U.S., at the time, was largely led by labor unions, who feared manufacturing jobs in particular would disappear as corporations would seek to relocate to Mexico where labor is cheap and environmental regulations lax, Indian farmers in Mexico feared loss to their few remaining lands and cheap imports (substitutes) from the U.S. Twenty years after the passage of NAFTA both the concerns of Indian farmers and labor unions would be realized as Indian farm lands disappeared to multinational corporations and manufacturing jobs all but disappeared from the U.S.
The historical impacts of colonialism meeting modern day colonialism, via free trade, fueled the creation of the Zapatista’s.
In the decades after the Zapatista uprising free trade agreements have gone global creating what many have dubbed a race to the bottom as multinational corporations have increased profits at rates unseen in modern history. On a global scale the gap between the rich and the poor is at an all time high. Free trade agreements orchestrated by organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO) , World Bank, & the International Monetary Fund have fueled this great disparity in not only wealth, but also unleashed an unparalleled destruction on Maka Ina (Mother Earth).
There is no question that the Zapatista uprising brought global attention to the issue of NAFTA, especially taking notice was banks and multinational corporations. In response to the uprising an analyst for Chase Manhattan Bank issued the following one year after the uprising:
“While Chiapas, in our opinion, does not pose a fundamental threat to Mexican political stability, it is perceived to be so by many in the investment community. The government will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and of security policy.”
Within weeks of the Chase memo, the Mexican army broke its near year long truce with the Zapatistas and launched a surprise offensive leading to a military occupation in Mayan lands.
Inspired by the efforts of the Zapatistas, and seeing the impacts of free trade, activists of all stripes descended upon Seattle in 1999 for the World Trade Organization ministerial conference. The now infamous “Battle in Seattle” sparked global attention on the issue free trade as the streets of Seattle became literal battle zones between demonstrators and cops and the National Guard.
I joined in the streets of Seattle to block trade delegates from attending the conference and faced down the barrage of concussion grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and mass arrests with people from around the globe.
As we reach the 25th anniversary of Zapatista uprising we can see that the colonial impacts on Indigenous lands has hardly slowed. This is especially apparent in Canada where our 1st Nations relatives have seen a barrage in assaults against their lands and resources especially from oil and natural gas operations. The U.S. has also seen a continual assault on tribal lands and resources especially in the Northern plains with massive hydraulic fracturing projects which are leading to the drying up and mass polluting of aquifers, as well as, other desecration from other “energy” projects like coal mining.
It is important for us to critically understand that there will be no “political” solution to our current environmental and economic crisis because both politically parties are puppets to the multinational corporate bankster agenda. Our hope lies not with the election of some savior politician, but with the strength and beauty of standing together as common relatives seeking to protect the health and welfare of all nations and relations and future generations.
“Yes, Marcos is gay. Marcos is gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10pm, a peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains. Marcos is all the exploited, marginalised, oppressed minorities resisting and saying `Enough’. He is every minority who is now beginning to speak and every majority that must shut up and listen. He is every untolerated group searching for a way to speak. Everything that makes power and the good consciences of those in power uncomfortable — this is Marcos.” -Subcomandante Marcos
by Wakíƞyaƞ Waánataƞ (Matt Remle)