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Breaking the Siege, Fighting for Life: For a New Internationalist Movement of the Oppressed

Updated: Apr 25, 2022

By Arturo Anguiano.

The rebels of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) have once again broken the siege by starting their journey around the world in the fight against neoliberal capitalism, and in the defence of life.

It’s easy to say so, but the rebel communities in Chiapas have suffered violent harassment and siege by both legal and illegal military forces of the various State administrations, for more than 27 years, regardless of the various political colours and parties. Such was the case from Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s administration (1988-1994) who even bombed communities, to Ernesto Zedillo’s (1994-2000) who – triggered by his pathological racism and lack of authority – abandoned the San Andrés Agreements, for which an outraged and in-alert society had pushed, leaving them in Limbo. Instead, he carried out massive military operations that led to a bloody low-intensity war implemented by paramilitary groups trained by the Army, as well as welfare policies aimed at tearing the fabric of the communities. Vicente Fox (2000-2006) pretended to recover the agreements signed by the State and the Zapatista command representatives, but – like everything else about him – his actions eventually turned out to be just a media masquerade validating more racism and marginalization of indigenous peoples condemned to vegetate as vulnerable populations destined for extinction. Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) led the war throughout the country, while they continued to corner, attack and seek to divide the Zapatista communities by all imaginable means and using very varied political forces at all levels of the State and parties (PRI, PAN, Greens, PRD).

Under Andrés Manuel López Obrador (2018-2024?), despite his demagoguery and all his alluding to leftist traditions, clothed with the old-neo-indigenous PRI, the siege against EZLN was reinforced with the help of more military forces, welfare programs (now seen as of charitable nature) and even with the sponsorship of recovered paramilitary groups, to which he adds a wall of lies and slandering against the Zapatistas and those who struggle to protect the life under threat – now even more – by the neo-colonial mega-construction projects with which the president seeks to ingratiate himself with the big capitals dominating the planet.

However, not even the entire force of the State – as rulers tend to boast – has been able to either silence or obliterate the Zapatista rebels, whose blazing appearance on the map on January 1, 1994 broke the siege by expanding themselves territorially, creating autonomous municipalities, precisely under the influence of the Popocatepetl Volcano eruption back then. They have used all kinds of initiatives that led them to tour all over Mexico once and again – from national consultations, delegates’ trips, the Colour of the Earth March, the Other Campaign, the 13 Baktun of 2012, to proposing an Indigenous presidential candidacy with María de Jesús “Marichuy” Patricio, as the spokesperson for the CNI-CIG (National Indigenous Congress-Indigenous Governing Council). Neither the militarized police’s fences nor the political-social and media ones (“I neither see you nor hear you”) and even walls of disgrace from a chieftain president, are of any use against peoples determined to fight and build alternatives for collective life through self-government and self-management. This is why, still in August 2019, surrounded and besieged in a thousand ways, the EZLN announced a new breaking of the siege, expanding its territory, already vast, with more autonomous municipalities and new “Caracoles,” ruled by its Good Government Councils, now making up to sixteen.

They are breaking the fence, making silence thunderous, making the invisible visible in a resounding way, not giving in, persisting in the rebellious folly of building alternatives on lands mined by the irrationality of a capitalist system considered fatal and insurmountable, and eventually showing that the nobodies, the excluded and oppressed ones, the outcasts, the condemned of the Earth, are those who truly want and can fight against a social order that has no remedy, being extremely unequal and pernicious for all humanity. Such are, in sum, skills, traits and strategies, yes, guiding the Zapatistas in their already long resistance against death and in their claim to contribute to linking the struggles for life, that is, for equality, freedom, justice, self-government and self-management, with the fight to protect the planet, endangered by Capitalism having spread everywhere, threatening with wars and an unhinged competition for profits against a planet that this system degrades, devastates and makes uninhabitable.

Five-hundred years after the alleged Spanish conquest and the destruction of Mexico-Tenochtitlan City, the EZLN once again took people by surprise when breaking the siege by setting sail to the sea. Instead of taking refuge in their territory to focus on advancing the construction of their autonomy, their new life and their non-hierarchical, egalitarian social relations, the Zapatistas update, again, the perspective of their struggle:

The territory of our actions is now clearly delimited – it’s within the planet called ‘Earth’, located in the so-called Solar System.

They know that what they have built is not an island of resistance that can survive in solitude in the middle of a raging capitalist ocean. “The survival of humanity depends on the destruction of capitalism,” which is precisely what destroys Mother Nature causing catastrophe after catastrophe and generates pandemics that isolate, exclude and abandon, and undermine human existence. “The destruction in any corner of the world has repercussions on the entire planet.” That’s why each one must fight in his corner, wherever one is, and in each one’s way, according to each one’s conditions and traditions.

That is the meaning of the new adventure of the EZLN, now accompanied by the National Indigenous Congress – Indigenous Government Council (CNI-CIG) – to resume exchanges not only of pain, but experiences, creativity and imagination, making use of critical thinking; of the multiple and inexhaustible sensibilities, so diverse, of very different peoples, of societies that do not stop resisting despite the advances of the right wing; of the renegades of the left and of loneliness in the face of pandemics. We must “take back the streets to fight,” sharing feelings in the beginning, but also articulating actions, social practices that organize collective resistance, and building collective alternatives for the defence of life, that is, of the Planet, that is, the destruction of an aberrant capitalist system whose modernity might bring us back to the Stone Age.

The Zapatista landing in Vigo, Spain, scheduled for mid-June, the invasion of the other Europe (the one that resists and fights), seeks the revenge of the native peoples that cannot be in any other way but finding their equals, spread their fraternal solidarity towards those who resist every war, every conquest, every depredation that an archaic and decaying social order has not ceased to propagate as an inevitable condition for its development and persistence. It is the search to remake the internationalism of the oppressed in the face of the globalization of capital. It is the search to remake the world for everyone from below. It is a longing for the future, a bet for having memories of tomorrow, to build collectively on very different worlds that can only continue to exist as long as they build a new one: a world where many worlds fit.

*Originally published in Spanish at Camino al andar /May 13th, 2021, translated into English for CounterPunch by Malú Huacuja del Toro.

Arturo Anguiano is a Senior Professor and Researcher of Political Sciences at the Xochimilco Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City.

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