Nationalist Exclusion and Ethnic Conflict: Shadows of Modernity

By Andreas Wimmer | Go to book overview

5
Nationalism and ethnic mobilisation
in Mexico

On New Year's Day 1994, Subcommandante Marcos stepped out of the Lacandon forest and made his first public statements, surrounded by masked men in guerrilla uniforms armed with rifles. He declared that they were the heirs of the Mexican revolution, determined to continue the struggle against the forces of imperialism and to give a final blow to the bourgeois regime that had corrupted the ideals of the revolution. And indeed, the Zapatistas could draw on the support of the peasant organisations who had struggled, since the middle of the seventies, against the monopolisation of land and power by a small elite from Tuxtla Gutiérrez and San Cristóbal (Wimmer 1995c; Harvey 1998).

One year later, however, the Zapatista army fought for the cultural and political rights of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, for political autonomy of their communities and the official recognition of their culture — a considerable shift of discourse, well received by the national and international audience of NGOs, intellectuals and anti-globalisation groups for whom Marcos and his followers became heroes of the same quasimythical stature as Che Guevara. As it seems, the widespread support for indigenous rights and multicultural justice had led the insurgents to present themselves as an Indian uprising rather than a peasant revolution. The issues of land and power, central to the guerrilla movements of the seventies and eighties, have been relegated to the bottom of the political agenda.

The events in Chiapas have brought the so-called Indian question again to the centre of political debate in Mexico. Since the time of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, the relation between the state and the indigenous population has again and again appeared as one of the major issues of contestation. This chapter follows the major lines of historical development and shows how the role of ethnicity changed profoundly as soon as modern principles of political organisation were introduced. The first section describes colonial ethnic relations as part of a universalist and

Parts of this chapter have been translated from German by Isabelle Schulte-Tenckhoff.

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