Tikva Honig-Parnass: A community in arms: the Indigenous roots of the EZLN

On January 1, 1994, several thousand Indigenous Mayan people, organized as the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), rose up in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, and took the world by surprise. They were members of the 21 or so ethnic groups who occupied the areas in and around the Lacandon forest near the border with Guatemala. Their weapons were limited to rifles — and some of the rebels carried only wooden replicas. They seized government offices and occupied thousands of acres of private land while briefly taking control of the city of San Cristobal de las Casas and six Chiapas towns.

After 12 days of confrontation with the Mexican army, the rebellion was contained. President Salinas realized that he could not simply go in and smash the Zapatistas. The massive Mexican and global militant mobilization forced the government to declare a unilateral ceasefire and choose another tactic, that of a fake political dialogue while continuing the war in other forms: frequent attacks, massacres and dispossessions.

For their part, the EZLN agreed. Once they achieved the aim of the uprising — making the Indigenous voices heard — they laid down their arms and entered the so-called “peace talks” suggested by the government, while continuing to build the non-hierarchical, “horizontal” political and social system of Chiapas.

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